x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Catania's cheeky move

Catania's victory over Serie A rivals Torino on Sunday caused a controversy to rear its head in Italy after the home side used a rather unusual tactic.

The Catania forward Gianvito Plasmati, far right, is seen with his shorts half down as teammate Guiseppe Mascara scores a free-kick past the distracted Torino keeper Matteo Sereni.
The Catania forward Gianvito Plasmati, far right, is seen with his shorts half down as teammate Guiseppe Mascara scores a free-kick past the distracted Torino keeper Matteo Sereni.

Catania's victory over Serie A rivals Torino on Sunday caused a controversy to rear its head in Italy after the home side used a rather unusual tactic. Goalkeepers have long been distracted by the number of players in a defensive wall, but never in this way. As Catania's Giuseppe Mascara prepared to take a free kick against Torino on Sunday, his teammate Gianvito Plasmati lowered his shorts. It was a somewhat cheeky move that had apparently been planned by coach, Walter Zenga and it worked. Mascara scored, one of a hat-trick of goals, as his side triumphed 3-2. But it's not the first time a football team have deployed unusual tactics to get the upperhand.

Rahdi Jaidi's huge figure has long been an asset in attack as well as defence and the Tunisian contributed to two of last season's most controversial goals in the English Premier League. Jumping, staring and waving, facing the goalkeeper and ignoring the ball, the Birmingham defender helped teammates Mauro Zarate and Seb Larsson score free kicks against Everton and Liverpool respectively.

Set-pieces are an acknowledged weapon throughout football. At only one club, however, are throws prized more than corners and free kicks. Rory Delap, labelled "the human sling", has supplied more than half of Stoke's goals this season with throws of up to 45 metres.

One of the game's cliches is that attack is the best form of defence. In his time managing Tottenham Hotspur, Ossie Ardiles took it a bit too literally. Fielding five forwards - Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham, Nick Barmby, Darren Anderton and Ilie Dumitrescu - contributed to plenty of goals, but at both ends, and left the sole defensive midfielder, Gica Popescu, heavily outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.

New systems are rarely created, but Luciano Spalletti may have found one. Roma's shape is often called 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1, but the sole supposed forward, Francesco Totti, belongs to the tradition of Italian trequartistas and fantastistas. He drops deep in a fluid formation that can be called 4-6-0. Carlos Alberto Perreira, for one, believes it could be the future of football.

Most matches last a minimum of 90 minutes. West Brom's win at Sheffield United in March 1982 was a mere 82. With Albion three goals up and United reduced to eight men by three red cards, first Rob Ullathorne and then Michael Brown came off with apparent injuries, reducing them to six men and forcing the premature end. The result stood, but only after Albion manager Gary Megson claimed United boss Neil Warnock was trying to get the game abandoned.

John Beck was briefly hugely successful at Cambridge United, aided by a variety of plans that definitely class as gamesmanship. They included giving the opposition poor-quality balls for the warm-up, overheating their dressing room, filling their tea with sugar and growing the grass longer in the corners of the pitch to suit Cambridge's long-ball game. Beck also barred his players from passing the ball backwards, making passing moves brief.
Turning the Corner Many teams have kept the ball in the corner to waste time. Few, however, have done it as errantly as Manchester City. Drawing 2-2 against Liverpool in May 1996, City incorrectly thought they would stay up. Steve Lomas wasted time, little realising City needed another goal. They were relegated.

Managers devote plenty of time attempting to guess their opponents' tactics. According to the former Burnley boss Stan Ternent, Neil Warnock attempted to gain some inside knowledge by dispatching a spy to listen to Ternent's team talk. Warnock disputes it, but Ternent has admitted butting Sheffield United's assistant manager Kevin Blackwell that day. rjolly@thenational.ae