Many football fans will remember Michael Laudrup for his time on the field, but what if we told you his managerial ideas shaped a key concept in modern football?
In recent times, positional play, also known as juego de posición, has been key in the modern game. Managers like Mikel Arteta, Thomas Tuchel, and Pep Guardiola embody those ideas.
However, it wasn’t any of the men mentioned above that shaped this. It was Michael Laudrup when he took the helm of Swansea City.
“The best player in the world, I can’t believe he hasn’t won the title as best player.”Pep Guardiola on Michael Laudrup.
Michael Laudrup’s Swansea
Remember players like Michu, Nathan Dyer, and Wayne Routledge? They were key elements in Laudrup’s first season at Swansea, which saw the team finish 9th in the Premier League and win the League Cup by 5 goals in the final.
It was a team that many won’t remember, but in truth, we should. The 2012/2013 Swans were an impressive side. They were well-drilled, tactically sound, and even got their hands on a major trophy.
Laudrup set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation away against QPR in Matchweek 1 of the 2012/13 Premier League season. They won that game 5-0, and a historic season was about to begin.
Laudrup had his core principles in positional play, with Michu being the epitome of his attack. When building up on the right, Ángel Rangel and Nathan Dyer interchanged, so when one was in the wider area, the other would step into the half-space. This helped create triangles and lines for overloads on each side of the field.
“To think about attacking is also to think about positioning. I’m talking a lot to the players here about having lines because for every line you have, you have the possibility of triangles – angles to pass the ball.”Michael Laudrup on attacking.
Exactly this is seen in the way Pep Guardiola’s winger and fullback interchange, only two players maximum are on the vertical lines and three players on the horizontal lines.
The Welsh side dominated the inside channels, and their third-man runs made them very effective.
Michu, often in transition, drifted to the left, with Routledge or Dyer carrying through the middle, to then attack the channels with well-timed runs. De Guzmán crashed the box with Michu either dropping deep or going to the back post creating space for him.
In the build-up, the players acted very fluidly; rotating and finding spaces to acquire. As an example, Nathan Dyer inverting to form a pivot with Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzmán shifting out wide –
before coming back in, letting Ángel Rangel be the wide man. Ben Davies then holds the vertical lines with Pablo Hernández. The two wingers are now ready to attack the half-spaces, with their two creative midfielders feeding them. The fullbacks are out wide, ready for third-man runs, creating cutbacks, or releasing a shot.
The overload sees a dead end, and the play is shifted towards Àngel Rangel with a lot of space, due to Bradford’s mid-block, to attack the fullback.
According to official Premier League stats, Swansea ranked third in total passes while also being the eighth-best team for through balls in the 2012/13 Premier League season. They were the least dispossessed team that season as well, which showcases how much of a nightmare they were to play against.
“Who will remember if we have 43 or 48 points. It’s overall — how did they play? I think if you asked the people on the street here, ‘What do you prefer, 10th and changing the style of play or 14th and remain the same style?’, the answer is obvious.”Michael Laudrup before the 2012/13 season
The Danish manager showed how much you can achieve by sticking to your principles and got a major trophy to show for it now. The fluidity and player profiles of that team were so admirable, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out great in the end, with Laudrup being sacked. He then went to Qatar and has not managed since.
Michael Laudrup is now a pundit on Danish television, sharing his experiences both as a manager and player. A great playing career, followed up by a beautiful team in that famous 2012/13 season with Swansea.
However, it is evident that his philosophy was effective, so much so that a manager like Pep Guardiola would adopt it. The Spaniard is known as one of the best in the business, and he isn’t shy about using other people’s principles to improve his side.