It’s been a while since the last tactical review, but we’re going CSI on yet another tactic. This time, we’ll be dissecting a tactic created by Jonathon Aspey (@JLAspey, give him a follow!), who has contributed to Strikerless in the past and has his own blog, The Tactical Annals. In one of his latest blog posts, he mentioned creating a strikerless tactic, which is ofcourse exactly my cup of tea.
As a result, I dug out my scalpel, dusted off the whiteboard and started cracking on an analysis of this tactical find by my buddy. Are you curious yet? You really should be…
The club I have taken control of is one from a succession save I’ve been playing on a Dutch forum. It’s Anorthosis Famagusta from Cyprus. The entire team has been geared towards strikerless formations, so the new tactic is almost at full capacity when introduced.
To get a proper impression of what makes this tactic tick, I played five matches, all on comprehensive view. Unfortunately, we played the same opponent three times due to a cup tie, but I still got a decent amount of useful information from the matches.
The results look pretty amazing, but I was expected to win four out of those five matches. Anorthosis is a pretty big club in Cyprus, whilst AEL Larnakas and Nea Salamina are not. The 3-0 win over APOEL is a win against the only league opponent on equal terms with us.
These five matches provided me with a lot of statistical information I wish to share with you. For all you statistic buffs:
Statistically speaking, we were only really superior in terms of shots fired and slightly better than the opposition in terms of our passes and pass completion ratio. Yet we still managed to win easily in every match. How can that be?
The basic shape
When we look at the basic shape, the team lines up surprisingly more diverse than you would have expected from the one-dimensional basic line-up. It just goes to show the amount of depth you can achieve by tweaking the player roles properly.
In reality, we’re seeing a 4-5-1-esque formation, with the wingers trying to link up with the trequartista and two of the central midfielders providing a sturdy block, whilst the third drops deep into the defensive midfield strata.
I’ll try and describe what makes this tactic tick; what are its strongest features, why should you play with this tactic. It’s mostly descriptive as I try to combine both match clips and screenshots to highlight the points I wish to make.
Lovely direct passing moves
Just to be sure you understand where I am coming from, I am not blind to the importance of possession, but sometimes keeping the ball just isn’t enough to break down a defence. The problem with possession is that, while having the ball is certainly more desirable than not having it, you force the other team into sitting deep in a low block defence.
In order to overcome this incessant and repetitive obstacle, the possession team must provoke the opponent with the ball either during a rapid counter attacking transition or during the build-up phase. This is where this tactic shows it possesses verticality. Simply put, verticality is a reference to a style of play where the ball is brought from back to front as quickly as possible using short passing combinations.
Each and every passing move was quick and incisive, aimed forward in order to bring a team-mate into position. They just passed the ball into the back of the goal in a quick and incisive manner. That’s just a lovely team goal and this tactic delivers football like this.
Iron defence combined with lethal counter-attacks
Is there anything wrong with defensive football? I realise that stellar defensive displays rarely make the highlight reel, but seriously, is there anything wrong with the concept? I don’t think there is. This tactic drops deep and tries to absorb the pressure, before breaking forward, using counter-attacking outlets ready to expose and exploit the usable space between and behind the opposing defensive line.
That’s just solid defending there. The team drops deep, to around the halfway-line and waits for a poor pass to break away. In this case, the opposing keeper hoofs the ball forward, whereas a simple short pass would see the opposing team in a lot less trouble. Either way, the long ball is intercepted and a quick break ensues. Let’s just look at that defensive stance though.
We can see the compact defence here. Both strikers are dropping into midfield, which forces the defensive midfielder to push up slightly, with one of the defenders trailing and the second central defender providing cover. This kind of en-bloc defending is quite typical for this tactic. Let’s look at another example of this tactic switching from defence to attack in a rapid pace.
Another great counter-attack goal. The opposing team loses the ball and the entire team switches from defence to attack in a matter of seconds. The goal is scored because the opposing team defends poorly, but it’s a great counter-attacking move. This move again shows the typical en-bloc defending, Total Defending if you will.
Look at how closely packed the team is. Fran Mérida, the most offensive player, is located just outside his own penalty area, the whole team no more than ten or so metres spaced apart. Whilst I realise that this is rather typical for defending set pieces, it isn’t an uncommon sight in normal situations as well, as the first screenshot shows you.
The second screenshot shows the transition from defence to attack, where the team again acts as a cohesive unit. They’re added by the opposing left-back being out of position, allowing space for the through-ball, as well as both opposing central defenders not knowing who to mark or how to position themselves. Still, a great run and ditto pass equal a great team goal.
The center or heart is vital to success in football. Ideally speaking, you want to to maximise the potential space which your pieces can move into. Your key players should be in a central position where they can have 360′ of potential movement as opposed to the side which is halved to just 180′. With no less than three central midfielders and one central player in the attacking midfield strata, this tactic aims to do just that, dominate the central area of midfield.
It should be noted that whilst the following points sound negative at times, they’re really just meant to identify the weaker points of the tactic and should be taken as constructive criticism, areas in which the tactic could be improved.
Take out the trequartisa, cripple the team
Offensively, the trequartista is both your primary passing outlet for the build-up from the back and your primary creator. That means that your offence is stifled whenever a team manages to take out the trequartista by either cutting off his supply or by man-marking him. Another example coming right up.
What you can see is one example where the opposing team effectively shuts down the supply and marks out the trequartista and a second example where they do manage to find the open space. If an opposing team fields a defensive midfielder, the trequartista has to maneuver around him or compete in a more physical way.
As the ball is played into the corner, the defender panicks as he is pressured. Instead of swivelling towards his left foot and playing an easy pass down the flank, he passes it back to the keeper. The opposition immediately surges forward, blocking the immediate passing routes, which means the trequartista is the sole passing outlet as the most advanced player. With a defensive midfielder in front of him and a defender behind him, the trequartista isn’t really a realistic option.
As predicted, the long ball cannot be directed towards the trequartista, highlighted in the blue circle. With a defensive midfielder in front of him and a defender behind him, he has no chance of keeping the ball for long. The team tries to work around this by having one of the wide players cut inside, but again, this move is easily blocked by the opposing team.
In cases where the team does get the ball to the trequartista, it’s absolutely vital that the midfielders link up soon, or the poor trequartista gets swarmed by defenders and is muscled off the ball. Most trequartista-type players are not the strongest or fastest, so he forms an easy prey for a physical defensive midfielder or aggressive defender pushing forward.
The match clip pretty much shows a situation I just described. The trequartista receives the ball, swivels and with no immediate passing options available to him, gets clattered by a defensive midfielder rushing in.
As you can see, the most advanced player, the trequartista, has no real passing options available to him. That makes him vulnerable because he has to wait for players to link up with him. That sort of leads me to my next point.
Lack of penetration
It’s not some kind of softcore lesbian porn flick (although what a great title would that be!), it describes the problem I was alluding to earlier. If we recap the last scene from my previous point and advance time for a few seconds, you can see my point even more clearly.
This is maybe a second before Mérida gets tackled. With his back towards goal initially, he has swivelled on the ball and now faces the opposing teams goal. He has no passing outlets what-so-ever available to him, he can only pass the ball back or sideways towards a team-mate. There is not enough penetration from the midfielders to help the trequartista deal with these kind of situations. When we look at the trequartistas passing chart for that match, we can see this as well.
This guy is supposed to be your primary creator as well as your most advanced player, yet most of his passes appear to go back or to the flanks, because there isn’t enough penetration coming from the flanks or the central midfielders. That is definitely an area that needs improving upon.