Date: 19th February 2014 at 3:36pm
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Journalism student Billy Hawkins acknowledge Beppe Sannino’s success in tightening up the Hornets, but says it’s time to look at the offence

GIANNI Brera – illustrious football writer and tobacco pipe savant – once remarked that ‘the perfect football game would finish 0-0`, believing that every goal scored was caused by a defensive mistake rather than any attacking skill.

For the man who invented the word ‘Libero‘ and fanatically reinforced the Catenaccio system of Helenio Herrera, a successful team was a defensive one.

Beppe Sannino, on extending his unbeaten run to five games – with four clean sheets in that period – is certainly living the vision of Brera.

Drawing away to Yeovil – seen as prime example of the current management regime – has been taken as a low point for the current season.

The distinctive lack of attacking potency – the game only produced two shots on target for Watford – has been an ongoing theme for the duration of Sannino`s reign, and a focus upon direct play – a style more heavily associated with Watford than Gianfranco Zola`s pass-and-move philosophy – is seen as rudimental in the current footballing age. Yet, as Herrera himself said apropos the need for directness: ‘In attack, all the players know what I wanted: vertical football with great speed, with no more than three passes to get to the opponent`s box. If you lose the ball playing vertically, it`s not a problem – but lose it laterally and you pay with a goal.`

The current propensity to play the ball across the backline – as evidenced under Zola`s regime – leads to a propensity of errors; Fernando Forestieri`s goal versus Brighton was a result of defensive overplaying on the lateral axis by the Brighton defence – once the ball is stolen by the forward, the defensive line is always playing catch-up.

It is telling that the majority of the goals scored since the arrival of Sannino have come from opposition defensive errors. For a man who vowed upon arrival to improve the defence before moving further up the field – a fact many people seem to have forgotten in the current turgid climate – it is promising to see that the intelligent play of the forwards comes from a defensive mind-set – Sannino`s theory is being heard and the improvements are visible everywhere on the pitch.

The four clean sheets out of five suggest that the defensive side of the game has been almost solidified – although the dropping deep analysed in my last article in a risky tactic when drawing 0-0, inviting pressure in an unassailable quantity – and it is now Sannino’s task to improve the attacking side of the game; a task that could be as hard as sorting out the defence.

For all the offensive brilliance of Zola’s reign, much of his philosophy is based upon individual brilliance rather than cohesion to a unit of attacking focus.

Valeriy Lobanovskyi – legendary Dynamo Kyiv coach – was a key believer in the ‘science’ of football; aided by Anatoliy Zelentsov, and influenced by the rise of the computer age in the 1960’s, he implemented the theory that a football match was comprised of 22 elements – two sub-systems of 11 elements.

As both sub-systems are restricted by the laws of the game and the pitch, it is the strength of each sub-systems that defines the outcome of the game; if one is stronger than the other then they will win. For Lobanovskyi, and his methodological mind, the efficiency of each sub-system was more effective than the sum of its parts; or, the team was best when combined as one, rather than 11 individuals. Oleg Blokhin proved that a flair player can exist in a cohesive unit, and the connections between the team will be better as he is more talented.

Sannino has his team playing as a unit, as evidenced by the attacking aid of the defence; and it is his priority to complete his sub-system with a attacking prowess.

Even Brera was a man who accepted the importance of attacking play; Gigi Riva – all-time leading scorer for the Italian national team – was christened Rombo di Tuono (Roar of Thunder) by Brera due to his unstoppable attacking prowess. Now that Sannino has sorted out the defensive frailties that have characterised Watford for years, he could do with working on the attacking side of the team and finding his own Rombo di Tuono.

After all, even La Grande Inter had to score to win.