Capello like many Italian coaches is thought of as being a pragmatic coach who favours defence over attack. Being described as pragmatic in football is often seen as being negative compared to a coach with a distinct philosophy like the total football played by Johan Cruyff’s sides. Coaches like Guardiola speak about their principles and are steadfast in that is the way their teams will play no matter what.
During his long coaching career, Capello showed a willingness to adapt, being flexible with his tactics. Coaches like Capello and Mourinho to a degree assess what players they have at their disposal and then go about building a tactical system around those players strengths to achieve the best results. He was quoted in 2007 as saying “You have to look closely at the players you have, analyse them and know how to bring the very best out of every single one. How do you do that? By finding a playing style, a system, that allows the players to produce their best.”
This flexibility was illustrated perfectly in his first managerial role taking charge of Milan in 1991, he had the unenvied task of following Arrigo Sacchi who had just lead the Rosseniri to back to back European cup wins. No doubt the squad inherited was talented and capable of continued success but as a managerial novice, this was a difficult task.
In his first few seasons in charge, there wasn’t a distinct or drastic change in style from the previous manager, Capello continued to use the 442 perfected by Sacchi. Milan would win the Scudetto in Capello’s first two seasons going unbeaten in his first winning the league by 8 points scoring almost 30 goals more than the next best team.
In 1993 following the retirement of his primary attacker Van Basten, Capello changed his approach the 442 remained but Milan know focused on the strength of their defence, in midfield Rijkaard was replaced by Desailly the high press was gone and Milan now focused on securing 1-0 wins. They would retain the Scudetto scoring a mind-boggling 36 goals, however, they would beat Barcelona 4-0 in the European cup final.
After a disappointing return to Milan in which they could only muster a midtable finish, Capello took responsibility for the failure and took a year out from management. Upon his return, his options were limited as he didn’t want to work overseas. His next job was in the eternal city with Roma, upon assessment Capello would use a 3-4-1-2 formation differing from the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 used previously. The two main reasons for this were that the number 10 role was Totti’s best and the attacking quality along with the engine of Cafu meant he was capable of providing the attacking width.
In his first season in charge, he made small tweaks and changes however Roma could only manage a 6th place finish this was compounded by city rivals Lazio winning the league. In his 2nd season in charge, his system came to fruition with the additions of Gabriel Batistuta and Walter Samuel the final pieces of the jigsaw were complete and Roma went on to win the league by 2 points.
Capello stated that his tactics were built around the culture of the club, he believed Roma needed to establish a winning mentality like Juventus and Milan, he, therefore, needed his players to believe in themselves so he instructed his team to play with initiative, controlling the ball to mould a positive mentality.
In order to get the most out of the front 3, the midfield was more industrious and workmanlike than creative. They played a key role in just holding in front of the back 3, this allowed the wingbacks to advance further forward knowing the 2 sitting midfielders offered protection and could cover when needed.
The outside centrebacks would also move aggressively to cover any gaps in the channels and often with a wingback on the opposite dropping in to create a 4 man defence.
As Capello is flexible in his tactics and Roma played patiently but in a disciplined manner I have gone with a structured fluidity and I also start each game on balance and then adjust as I see fit depending on the opponent. Roma liked to get the ball to Totti to make things happen in the final third so play through the middle is used with the right wingback overlapping to create the asymmetric nature of their attacks.
Without the ball, Roma played a patient man-oriented marking game, they would sit back and allow the opponent to have the ball whilst man-marking the passing options to nullify the opposition’s attacks. When they did go to make challenges for the ball they were aggressive and strong in the tackle, therefore tackle harder is selected.
The central midfield tended to be more aggressive than the rest of the team’s press as looked to break up the play. At times this would look like a 5-2-1-2 and they would be able to successfully frustrate the opposition as they were difficult to break down.