Unai Emery: The man to lead PSG to the Champions League title?
A look at the tactical genius of Unai Emery, who just took over as manager of PSG.
The three-time Europa League winner, is one of the most sought-after coaches in the world, we take a look at his career, his tactics and what he brings to the table for PSG.
History and Biography
Not many know that Unai Emery had a decent career as a midfielder in the second division of the Spanish League, he was a youth product of the Real Sociedad academy but never really broke into their starting lineup for the La Liga side. Being a third generation footballer, the sport was in his blood, and after a serious injury to his knee in his seventh season as a footballer (at the young age of 32), he was offered the vacant role of the manager by the President at his then club Lorca Deportiva.
Successes and Failures
Under his leadership, Lorca was promoted to the Spanish Second division, their first ever promotion to that level. Subsequently, he led them to a fifth-placed finish the following season, just five points behind the table toppers. His achievements with a very limited Lorca squad didn't go unnoticed (an upset against Malaga in the Copa del Rey helped) and he was appointed as the manager of Almeria (who also were in the second division).
His achievements at Lorca can truly be put into perspective, by the fact that after his departure, Lorca were relegated from the second tier of Spanish Football. However, continuing with his story, he overachieved with the Almeria side too, guiding them to the first division in his first ever season at the south-east club.
As seen often, the main challenge for a newly promoted club is to stabilise themselves in the first division, Unai did one better and led Almeria to eighth in the table. By now, the big boys had sat up and started taking notice, and in the following season, he was appointed as the manager of probably the third biggest club in Spanish football, Valencia.
At Valencia, his achievements were considerable, the club being in serious financial conundrums couldn't afford him big name signings, but he overcame those difficulties and guided them to a sixth place finish, and a Europa League spot. In the next year, he did one better and led the team to a third-place finish, and a ticket back to the Champions League.
But, his greatest achievement during his time would be the moulding of some of the best attacking players in the world. The likes of David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez all flourished under his guidance. David Villa, already a considerable name, went on to top score in the La Liga and earn a move to Barcelona. Emery left the Valencia club in 2012, after finishing third again.
The next chapter of his managerial career represents perhaps his only failure, his tenure at Spartak Moscow. He took the reigns of the club in May 2012 and was sacked in November of the same year, after a 5-1 loss to traditional rivals Dynamo Moscow. During the 26 matches he was the manager at Spartak, he lost 11 games, and for a manager who boasts the compactness and defensive organisations, which his sides generally possess, that is a poor record.
Most of us know the rest of the story, someone said, "Failures are the stepping stone to success", and his failure at Moscow, motivated Unai to do wonders at Sevilla after he was appointed their manager in 2013. At his first season, he guided the club to a fifth position finish and won the Europa League, beating Benfica in the finals. What followed is quite astonishing, especially for a club with limited resources.
Though fifth was the highest Sevilla finished under Unai Emery, his acumen to mastermind three back to back titles in a very difficult and often surprising Europa League is a success story, which will be very hard to replicate. At, the end 2016 campaign, Sevilla and Unai Emery parted ways.
The next chapter of his managerial career is at PSG, and it is highly likely that the story would also be written in gold.
Managerial Style and Tactics Talk
Now, we are talking, Unai Emery is right out of the Marcelo Bielsa gegenpressing wardrobe. He prefers to use two defensive midfielders, with one occasionally trying to get to the end of things. At, Sevilla he has used mainly the 4-2-3-1 formation, which changes to 4-3-3 while attacking to avoid teams countering against them.
What is more interesting is how his teams press, they're not exactly the Barcelona under Guardiola, or the Dortmund under Klopp, pressing each and every ball or harrying teams to the extreme, they are more of a tactical press side, able to switch between pressing and sitting back with the ease of cutting cheese with a heated swiss knife.
When the opposition ball comes to midfield, it's relentless, players hunt in trios, trying to force the man on the ball into making a hasty pass, which on more than one occasion makes the player over-hit the ball. The next step is the transition when they get the ball, they counter with speed and try to get an overload of bodies on one side of the pitch.
Case Study: Sevilla vs Barcelona - 2015 Super Cup
Barcelona fresh from a treble is definitely one of the scariest of oppositions possible on a Football pitch. In what was one of the most unorthodox of tactics recently seen on the football pitch, Sevilla aimed to separate the Barcelona front six from their back four, by beckoning their midfield players to play more and more forward.
The likes of Timothée Kolodziejczak and Daniel Carriço in midfield played so close to their centre backs that it made them look like opposite poles of a magnet. When the had the ball, the ever excellent Banega kept hitting the ball to the likes of Vitolo and Kevin Gameiro (whoever broke forward). And against the likes of Mascherano, with Antonio Reyes almost always there to pick up the second ball, it enabled them to get four goals against Barcelona (though they ultimately lost the game 5-4).
What he brings to the table for PSG
One thing is obvious, PSG have got him for one thing and one thing only, that is the Champions League. Given, the snooze fest the race to League 1 title is, domestic trebles won't save his job. PSG have one of the best squads in Europe, with great young players like Veratti, Marquinhos, and Rabiot, and considering his success with the likes of Banega, Mata and Alba, the PSG hierarchy will be hopeful.
He brings tactical nous, fight and all the antics on the touchline that PSG perhaps had been missing in the last few campaigns. He also brings, European know-how and ability make a team overachieve, and with Zlatan gone now, they might not be able to match the likes of Barcelona, Madrid and Munich man by man, and that is where he will come in.
The only problem though, is that Mr. David Luiz has a habit of having an occasional brain freeze at the back.