Over the last seasons, quite a few people have fallen in love with Barcelona, Spain and FC Bayern’s tiki-taka brand of football. After Guardiola’s departure to FC Bayern, we’ve seen the Bavarians employ a mix between the more direct style Heynckes implemented and Guardiola’s own possession-based style. Either way, possession seems to be crucial, as its importance is preached ad nauseum.
Now I am not blind to the importance of possession, but sometimes keeping the ball just isn’t enough to break down a well-organised 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. This is the bane of possession-orientated teams such as Barcelona and Spain and to a lesser extent, Pep’s FC Bayern.
Breaking down such a team requires a different approach and in this case, I’ll be honest with you. @JLAspey‘s recent work on the Tactical Annals has been nothing short of inspirational for me. I quite enjoyed reading about his exploits with a 4-4-2 formation and I started thinking of putting my own spin on 4-4-2 formations, naturally adding a strikerless twist. In this particular case, I decided to merge my own strikerless antics with a few pages from the Tony Pulis playbook.
I really enjoyed the relative simplicity of the 4-4-2 formation his teams employ and their direct approach to football. The way Pulis lets his teams play is basically a sort of Occam’s razor theory of tactics; keeping tactics simple could be perceived as a the best way to approach a football tactic. That’s not to say Pulis’s teams don’t have a strategy, it’s just not quite “thump the ball down to the big man” full stop, but a bit more nuanced.
In setting up this tactic, I am not striving for a complete replication of Pulis’s work. Instead, I am opting for a synthesis of old and new, of brawn and brain, of long, direct passes, more intricate passes, and an amalgamation of the ideas that work for his teams and the ideas that make a strikerless formation tick. Basically, I want to try to rectify one of the greatest misconceptions about direct football; that it represents an absence of thought, a lack of method, a kind of footballing savagery, robbed of aesthetic merit.
I know this makes me sound like a self-aggrandizing prick, but when you look at some of these match clips, I am sure you will agree that it’s both direct and quite appealing to the average armchair-supporter’s sense of aesthetics.
So after this rather long and winded introduction, let’s get down to business by looking at the actual tactic.
Truth be told, this isn’t a very complex tactic. In the AM-strata, you can see the classic big guy targetman, fast guy runner combination. The AM(A) is tweaked to the role of our Withdrawn Targetman, whereas the Shadow Striker runs into space after through balls by nature. Crosses will be coming in from the flanks, from either the wingers or the complete wing-backs, whereas the deeplying playmaker tends to whip in the odd long ball as well. In all cases, the box-to-box midfielder tries to get inside the box as well.
This straightforward approach to things is reflected in the team instructions as well. Direct passing, a wide formation, high tempo and a disciplined approach make for a highly energetic, cohesive team, which tries to get the ball into the opposing box quickly to try and score goals. Naturally, I’ve incorporated several set piece routines into the tactic as well, including a Delap-styled throw-in routine I wrote about earlier.
That pretty much concludes the whole tinkering with settings process, which leads me to the part you probably all came here for… The download.