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Talking points: the Lerch view

Talking points: the Lerch view
Wolfsburg head coach Stephan Lerch ©Getty Images

Talking points: the Lerch view

What were your priorities when you took over from Ralf Kellermann?

For me personally it was about continuing the good foundations that Ralf Kellermann had established; to maintain our good conditions. We were able to have good fitness foundations, maintain a high tempo and to keep putting in good performances throughout the season. Then also development in key areas, to slightly mix things up but not too much. As a coach you have ideas and you want to bring them to the table. A lot was going really well and we've continued a fair bit from the previous season but we also knew we will probably play teams that are very compact and will make it even more difficult than in previous years. So we have to find ways around this and that's when your previous ideas come into play. How can we cope under pressure, how can we create goalscoring opportunities and I think that's something we've tried on an individual as well as group basis. The team tactics come afterwards but it's essentially about finding solutions in tight spaces.

Do you find the demands of the Bundesliga and the Champions League very different?

I think there are differences. In the women's Bundesliga you'll often come up against teams that are defensively well-organised, that often play with five at the back. We have to find ways to play against this. In the Champions League there is definitely more pressure, especially with no group stages, just the knockout system, so there is more pressure as a player and as a team. Often it's the way that further into the competition you have to be more courageous. The teams you play also want to qualify for the next round and the games become more open. I think in the Bundesliga, the level is very high and certainly on a good day would be enough for a quarter-final team. I think throughout Europe the players are thoroughly prepared to the extent that there is another tempo. In the Bundesliga you have to produce a good performance week in, week out. But when you look at a league where there are only two or three top teams, the level doesn't have to be so consistently high. The technical aspect changes. When you have to create more with the ball the players can't achieve that.

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Did playing extra-time against Bayern München in the German Cup final affect your performance in Kyiv?

Firstly, I think Lyon deserved to win on the day and they were the better team. But a few days before we had a very intense game and even some before that. The succession of games was immense. We went into the final with three injured players, Carolina Hansen, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir and Ewa Pajor. One had to go off at half-time; one in the middle of the second half; Ewa Pajor tore her meniscus…we didn't achieve our best especially concerning our freshness.

Were there any other things you needed to prepare for the Champions League final?

The priorities for us were to try and have fun. To be able to play in a final is something special. We tried to enjoy the game, to be optimistic and confident. Tactically you can't really impose yourself on the other team. You have discussions before and try to dig deeper into a few points. But you try to have a fresh team on the pitch that is optimistic and has a lot of self-belief.

Is 4-2-3-1 your preferred formation?

This question is something you ask yourself as a coach. Firstly, we wanted to be flexible in attack and we are in the position of being able to play in many different formations and take opponents out of their comfort zone. That is the philosophy. We had a clear concept for the defence; we had a clear idea against their attack. We have many players who are creative and to put them in too rigid a formation would affect their play. We wanted to be flexible; four at the back, three at the back…to set new challenges.

In the final were you maybe too respectful?

You know you aren't playing against any old team. You are playing the best team in Europe. Then you have to say OK, who is playing in what position at which points of the game. We could have rotated more up top, certainly, but we didn't have the amount of possession we usually have. With hindsight we can say we would have liked to have had more phases of ball possession. We were a bit more defensively set-up. Of course we had a plan. We wanted to be flexible and not static at the back. But it was a final, we were against a strong team and perhaps this element of flexibility was lacking.

What's your playing philosophy?

The first thought is always the most direct way to goal, which is through the middle. And also to defend properly. So many teams have a strong defensive philosophy. For us it's important to say OK, if we can't go through the middle, fine, but we always need to look for alternative ways through, maybe using the wings. When teams work it forward from the back, to really utilise the wings. That's how we scored many goals in the Bundesliga and this is something we are always looking for: 1 v 1s or to get forward on the wings.

In the Champions League were there teams apart from Lyon that impressed you?

We've played Chelsea frequently in the past few years and you can recognise how they have developed and got more quality in terms of individual players. They have progressed, technically and tactically, and they have become more dynamic with a really good front line and great players who can decide a game. If Chelsea keep going the way they are going they will consistently get to the final. We played Slavia and this Czech team physically speaking is strong. The defence is good. They have players with international and Champions League experience and made it difficult for us in the away leg.

How did you scout your opponents in the Champions League?

Either watch directly or work with an external scout who will produce a report. In terms of sharing information with the team, I say no more than who is playing where, who you will be up against and some specifics in terms of attack and defence.

Would you agree there has been a trend away from three at the back?

Defensively I can't see a trend. Among top teams you always see the problems that they have to find solutions against deep-lying teams. So either your full-backs play very high up the pitch or you play three at the back. I see many preferences for three at the back but it depends on the players at your disposal.

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Why do you think we have seen so few goals in the Champions League finals?

On the one hand, the best teams play each other with a huge amount of quality on either side so it can come down to little things and mistakes. That's why there are so few goals.

What can teams in the second or third tier in Europe do to emulate the top teams?

I think the smaller clubs do a lot and try a lot to offer a lot football-wise. It's nice to see in England many top teams invest heavily in training opportunities to improve everything. You have to have meaningful investments and achievable goals. It is often about the recognition and acceptance of women's football. What I can say from my experience as a youth trainer is that you should try and work in cooperation with youth or men's teams so that the players can be more challenged in physical aspects. The knowledge exchange can also create a springboard. Those are small things that really can make a difference.

How important is it to have a mix of home-grown talent and international stars?

That is definitely very important and I think in the next few years the significance of this will increase. It is important for us to make attractive offers to top players and to develop the youth teams as well. I think the importance of developing talents from the youth set-up will increase.