“The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines”, Michael Cox. Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2017
The Premier League is twenty-five years old this year and as a consequence there has been any number of retrospective pieces looking at the greatest games, the greatest players or the greatest goals of the Premier League era, what was needed from our perspective is a book and one to please us that looked at Premier League Tactics; here it is. “The Mixer” is a book by Michael Cox of the website www.zonalmarking.net and until very recently the Guardian newspapers voice on all things tactical, as such the focus is squarely on tactics. What Cox has produced is a book picking out the tactical evolution of the game identifying the key defining tactical approaches which became something of an orthodoxy at any particular point in that era.
The book has a loose structure and follows a rough chronological narrative. The chapters are grouped into eight parts, each part picking up a theme and roughly focusing on an era in that twenty-five year time span, each chapter focusing on a tactical strategy or aspect of the game. This means that whilst the chapters go from trend to trend rather than season to season it is still possible to trace an evolution over time and so appreciate how one tactical phenomena influenced the development of another. But it also allows the book to look in detail at specific key teams and players considering their influence on the game generally and the tactical trends described. If you have lived through this era you will recognise most of what’s here but Cox uses his nuanced observations, analytical mind and ability to “read the game” to link them together in a way that explains the evolution of tactics in England from 1993 onwards.
Of course United have won 13 of the 25 completed Premier League title races so as you would expect there is plenty here of interest to United fans. You can roughly trace the evolution of Sir Alex’s tactical approach through the period but as a book about the English league in general all the United content is all carefully placed in the context of what was going on elsewhere, the reaction United provoked in others and the reaction at United to what was going on at rival clubs. This is a truly excellent read and we would recommend it to anyone.
Perhaps the most illuminating section for www.manutdtactics.com is Cox analysis of a non-Premier League event but one that involved two Premier League clubs; the Moscow shootout in the 2008 Champions League Final. Illuminating because we weren’t aware of the subtleties of what went on here, perhaps others already are.
We won’t go into the detail of this; buy the book and read it for yourself but in summary Chelsea had a pre-prepared strategy for a penalty shoot-out which they broadly followed. This worked in general terms but one player did not follow the strategy. His action in going against the plan taken together with the actions of the other players meant that by the final penalty United thought they had identified the strategy. They hadn’t but they were aware of aspects of it and were able to bluff the final penalty taker Anelka into believing that they knew where he would place the ball. As a consequence, he changed his mind about what he was going to do, delivered a weak penalty and Van der Sar saved. Boom! This all goes to show that whilst tactics are important, in of themselves they won’t necessarily deliver the result; one of the reasons why we find them so fascinating.
This is a great book and in our opinion a must read. You can buy it here, you should:
The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, Route One to False Nines, by Michael Cox, available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mixer-Story-Premier-League-Tactics/dp/0008215545/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504557468&sr=1-1&keywords=the+mixer+michael+cox