3. Managers must understand the league
Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri implemented similar styles at Chelsea. They both took a quintessentially Italian approach to training and match philosophy. But whereas Conte rolled the Premier League in his first season, Sarri never got much out of first gear.
Conte made a few key adjustments to the Premier League and to Chelsea that Sarri never did. The two most important were mixed marking in the midfield and dispensing with circuits in the final third so as to serve Eden Hazard.
The Derby d’Italia was a classic Italian game between two clubs playing the fluid chess match style that the top two teams in Serie A should be playing against each other. It was structure vs. structure, plan vs. plan, right up to the moment when Cristiano Ronaldo or Paulo Dybala were in a position to do something only they could do, such as Dybala’s opening goal.
Both managers and their systems seemed at home at the San Siro, even accounting for Conte’s two English trophies.
Frank Lampard knows the Premier League as well as anyone, so his methods and game approach are endemically English. His counterpart on Sunday, Ralph Hasenhuttl, is still working to adapt the quick, vertical and narrow 4-2-2-2 that produced so much success at RB Leipzig. The Bundesliga is the most similar and transferable of the other top-five leagues to the Premier League, but he is still making his way.
Understanding the tactical and player culture of the league is essential for managers to keep the team’s ceiling at the level of the players’ ceiling. If the manager tries to graft their system onto a league and squad unfit for it, they will be found out. Once again, the manager’s role is facilitatory; and to a certain extent, they can only bring their team down.
Ambitious managers should work in as many leagues as possible so they can broaden their football knowledge and introduce new elements to each club to provide a competitive edge. But they will fall flat if they think that what worked for them or someone else somewhere else will be the key to success everywhere else.
They must respect their environment and understand how they fit in to something bigger than themselves.