Another astute manager off Portugal’s production line, Paulo Fonseca is finally receiving his due exposure after Shakhtar’s impressive run in the CL this season.
Initially plying his trade at numerous lesser sides in Portugal, it was at Paços de Ferreira he caught the eye. Making the most of Jean Seri, Antunes and Josue, he spectacularly led them to 3rd in the Portuguese league before moving onto Porto. Though sitting in 3rd place, 11 points behind leaders Benfica in the second half of the 13/14 campaign, he didn’t last one full season. His struggles however weren’t particularly helped by major departures in the form of Joao Moutinho, Otamendi and James Rodriguez. Following this setback, he returned to Pacos working his magic once again but narrowly missing out on EL. Come the 15/16 season he would find himself at Braga, finishing 4th that season while winning the Portuguese Cup. Then Shakhtar came calling. Fonseca has built on his predecessor, Mircea Lucescu’s success continuing their domestic dominance with 2 league titles in his time at the club while implementing a more attractive style.
Fonseca is an exponent of progressive, attacking football and looks to incorporate positional play aspects. Numerical superiority is quite evident at times in Stepanenko’s seemless splitting of the CB’s to facilitate build up from deep. This is particularly useful against opposition who field a striker duo that look to prevent distribution from the back and force Shakhtar to go long. Furthermore, his sides look for qualititative superiority which is displayed in his supremely talented widemen including the likes of Marlos, Bernard, Ismaily and Srna. Fonseca looks to exploit these quality advantages in wide areas. Despite this abundance in talent, Shakhtar aren’t excessively reliant on their flanks, and often instigate quick vertical play in central areas mostly via Fred and Rakitskiy. Finally, Fonseca seeks positional superiority in the movement of the attacking trio (Bernard, Taison, Marlos) finding space behind opposition midfield lines. Likewise, Ferreyra can often be found looking to run in behind and capitalise on defenders facing the opposite direction.
Out of possession, his Shakhtar team seek to maintain a high line and look to aggressively press their opponents. His team shifts from their nominal 4-2-3-1 in possession to a more accustomed pressing shape in 4-4-2. Taison will push forward, supporting Ferreyra’s efforts to win the ball back. Meanwhile Bernard and Marlos move inwards to form a horizontally compact, narrow unit.
As previously mentioned, Shakhtar are an attacking side in all aspects of play.
Fonseca drills his side to be vertical and horizontally compact to force opposition wide, restricting their ability to play centrally.
Normal tempo - Fonseca’s side use possession purposefully with forward-thinking intent. The control mentality is already quite attacking, thus I feel normal tempo provides a bit more balance.
Play out from defence - A major component to Fonsecaball. Shakhtar’s sides are often seen playing it out from the back even under intense pressure. Only on rare occasions will Pyatov go long
Mixed passing - Shakhtar’s buildup can vary in passing range. They will go more direct when required, but early buildup phase usually involves short-medium interchanges.
Higher defensive line - Part and parcel with the press, looking to suffocate the opponent.
More closing down - Shakhtar aren’t as intense as a Bielsa press but rather a bit more pragmatic while still harassing opposition. Additionally a control mentality and high defensive line already further its influence.
Work ball into box - Shakhtar’s inside forwards look to play in teammates centrally or take on opposition themselves.
Look for overlap - Despite Srna’s absence this season, the fullbacks bomb on, notably the attacking Ismaily. Increasingly synonymous with modern football, the fullbacks are expected to provide with and supplementary attacking options as Shakhtar enter the final third.
Play Wider - In possession, Shakhtar fullbacks typically adopt high and wide positions enabling the IF’s to move into the half spaces and link up. Shakhtar make full use of the pitch looking to stretch teams.
Be more expressive - Fonseca allows his attacking players freedom to roam, find pockets of space between the lines and cause problems.
This is just my interpretation of Fonseca’s football. Feedback is much appreciated.