How Lokomotiv has changed under Marko Nikolic, tactical analysis
Lokomotiv won against CSKA and came closest to the group stage of the Champions League. It would seem that here the fans of the “railroad workers” would be happy for the team from the bottom of their hearts – but no, at every step one can find references to the “villain” Kiknadze, “Adventurer” Nikolic and so on, and victories are explained only by luck or baggage Semina…
In this turbulent and turbulent time for the club, it is extremely difficult to meet people who would support the new coach and try to objectively look at his intermediate results.
Although these results, in my opinion, are more than worthy. And so are the working methods.
Nikolic did without a revolution – the main structure remained the same
The mistake that many coaches who come to a new club right in the middle of the season make is that they immediately begin a global restructuring according to their vision. In such conditions, a team can simply swim, since it is not always easy to learn fundamentally new requirements, especially in a stressful situation (when the pressure is great and when it is urgently necessary to get results).
We already toldthat Nikolic has a non-standard vision of football. His favorite formations used in Hungary are 4-3-2-1 and 4-3-1-2 with a diamond in the center of the field, no flank midfielders (width of the field in attack is filled by defenders) and a strong point guard lower defender. I believe that if Nikolic had immediately implemented his ideas in Lokomotiv, nothing good would have come of it: the team does not have a bright defensive point guard (Barinov not suitable for passing characteristics, Krykhovyak with its range of motion more useful in higher positions), and the two flank defenders are unlikely to handle the full volume without the help of the wing midfielders.
Therefore, now Nikolic did not dare to revolution: he left the basic structure the same. Most often, the team plays either 4-2-3-1, or 4-1-4-1 with a defensive player-destroyer between the lines, as in the match against CSKA. We saw the same thing under Syomin. In the final third, there is still a lot of improvisation. Alexey Miranchuk, who scored as many as seven goals out of eight overall. Yuri Pavlovich’s luggage? Perhaps yes.
But it’s great that Nikolic did not destroy anything! If he showed with all his actions that before him Lokomotiv had played wrong for years and had started to change everything, it would have been much sadder. You can break it quickly, but building a new one right in the middle of the season is problematic.
Lokomotiv will not miss the Champions League! Two penalties decided the outcome of the CSKA derby
CSKA is not to blame for the defeat of the VAR system. Everything was decided by the mistakes of Diveev and Nababkin.
Nikolic shows that he will still change the team. It can be seen in the nuances
Sooner or later, you will still have to part with the “luggage” – rest assured, Nikolic will do it. Already now he is adjusting some details for himself.
First: set defensive positions. Previously, Lokomotiv defended on a mixed basis (two free players act on the ball, the rest – personally), now they have moved to the “zone”. Statistics of recent years show that the zone method is more reliable, sooner or later most clubs will come to it (or at least to an increase in the number of players playing on the ball in order to expand the closed area of the penalty area). So far, Lokomotiv have not conceded a goal from corners, although there have been dangerous shots – let’s not hide -. And with “Orenburg”, and “Rubin”, and with “Ufa”.
The second detail: going from defense to attack, in which defensive midfielders are now more involved. Previously, the flank defenders in the initial stage of the “build-up” sank low, now Ignatiev on the right, most often immediately goes upstairs, and Barinov or another defensive player sits in his zone. This makes it easier to initially create an attack width and create a numerical advantage when playing the ball.
But these are all nuances. In the future, in a calmer time for training work, Nikolic will try to influence the structure of the game much more seriously. We will not predict whether this impact will be positive or negative, but it will definitely follow.
Nikolic makes thoughtful rearrangements during the matches and makes precise adjustments to the line-up for the opponents
Lokomotiv have already won three times over the summer (Krylia Sovetov, Spartak, Ufa), and in the key match with CSKA they snatched a victory in the end. It’s not just luck or good physics – Nikolic also helps the team with replacements and rebuildings.
Let us recall, for example, the statement of the head coach of Krylia Talalaeva in an interview with Sport-Express: “Nikolic changed the structure three times in our match. At first he tried to open us between the lines – at the expense of João Mario and Alexei Miranchuk. When I realized that there was no way to break through, I recommended the central defenders to switch to a long pass. We sat deeper, closed ourselves. We acted reliably in defense. Then Nikolic shifted both João Mario and Miranchuk to the flank. From there, in the end, the goal came ”.
You can also mention the penultimate game with Ufa: at first, Lokomotiv also tried to persistently penetrate the center or take advantage of shots from medium distances, and in the end switched to the flank game. For greater efficiency, Nikolic simultaneously released Suleimanova (invoice forward) and Farfana (great heading and jumping). Doubling the center of the attack led to the saving goal of the Peruvian in the end.
The structure was absolutely adequate in the last match. Nikolic donated Anton Miranchuk and Zhemaletdinov, but simultaneously released three defensive midfielders: the obvious destroyer Magkeev, as well as the voluminous Barinov and Krykhovyak. So Lokomotiv tried to destroy the positional attack of CSKA, in which the main threat comes precisely from the movement of players between the lines and in the semi-flanks, saturation of these zones and individual actions. It was possible to stop the “army men”, and the same Magkeev, in a disciplined manner, except for two episodes, played against Vlasic and Dzagoev.
In the xG model, Lokomotiv has the best defense and the most points
Figures that can be perceived in different ways, but you need to pay attention to them: over the past seven matches, Lokomotiv has the best defense in terms of admitted moments (Dynamo has less per game), as well as the most expected points. With a penalty kick? Maybe. But the defense has statistically become even more reliable than under Syomin: there were 24.52 xGA for 22 games (1.11 on average), now – 5.49 for 7 rounds (0.78). Yes, I admit that the comparison is not entirely correct due to the different lengths of the segments.
Where is the spectacular attacking football and the bet on the pupils?
Nikolic became a victim not only of Syomin’s dismissal, but also of Kiknadze’s outstanding speeches. The general director framed the coach with shocking and fiery promises, promising both attacking football and a stake on the pupils.
Of course, now there is neither one nor the other. And this is logical: a higher priority task right now for Nikolic is getting results and money from a direct hit in the Champions League, and not pleasing the fans and flirting with them.
I have great respect for Semin and do not agree with the form and the moment of his departure from the club, but I do not understand why Nikolic is suffering now, who works in conditions of pressure and limited human resources is really great. There is such a definition, which is usually applied to football players, – “reliable”.
Here Nikolic appeared as a reliable and stable coach in this segment.