As I said earlier, I wanted to re-new the whole Withdrawn Targetman role. I basically want a player who will hold up the ball and bring his team-mates into play, choosing how and when to pass the ball to maximise the potential of the attacking movement. Because this Withdrawn Targetman is also supposed to be my Plan B, he would have to offer some physical brutality as well as footballing skills.
I basically want a player who can beat opposing players for headers and contribute with flick ons, and hold up the ball by controlling aerial balls played into his chest. Such a player will play with his back to goal to help relieve opposing team’s pressing and allow our runners to link up. I want this player to play a typical targetman role about 15 metres deeper than where a targetman usually plays. He would pair up with a shadow striker making runs forward to get on the end of a flick-on or get the rebounds from the headers. In a nutshell, I want the role Fellaini plays for Utd at times or how Cahill plays for Australia and Everton.
The Withdrawn Targetman Mk. II
With the Enganche role being a fairly static one, I really want him to be as close to the forward runners as possible without taking up an advanced position. If the Enganche drops too deep, he will be isolated and unable to play the kind of passes I want him to play. Since the Enganche seems to drop slightly deeper in the FM15 Match Engine, I needed to come up with a new plan.
Where the Enganche was a fairly static player, the Attacking Midfielder (A) is a more mobile threat. He’ll be asked to be more direct, roam from his position and take up wide positions if necessary. He is asked to dribble more so he will keep hold of the ball a bit without significantly slowing play down, which adds a bit of static nature to his role. I also want my Withdrawn Targetman to move laterally over the pitch, so he can combine with all the onrushing midfielders in the team, playing the typical one-two’s and flicked-on passes you would expect a targetman to play. The roam from position, move into channels and run wide options are there to ensure that the Withdrawn Targetman stays mobile as opposed to the more static Targetganche. By nature, he’ll be positioned slightly deeper than the two runners besides him, which makes him ideal for the kind of play I want to see. Just look at the picture below.
As the pass is played towards the Withdrawn Targetman, you can clearly see how the other two attacking midfielders have taken up slightly advanced positions, making themselves available for a quick pass or flicked-through ball. That’s the vertical movement I want to see from my Withdrawn Targetman.
The two dimensions to this role within my strikerless style of play
After playing a few seasons with the new and improved Withdrawn Targetman, I can conclude that the role shows several dimensions in terms of style of play, these being:
- the advanced pivot;
- the withdrawn targetman;
- the goal-scoring threat.
The advanced pivot, receiving the ball to feet
The pivot role is basically how the Withdrawn Targetman plays during the normal stages of play. He often takes a touch before quickly passing the ball along, instead of holding it up to ensure players link up or move into advanced positions. He’s not supposed to delay play, but keep the ball moving, keep the tempo high, contributing to fast and fluid ball retention. Just look at the match clip below.
You can see the Withdrawn Targetman as he takes up his standard position slightly behind the two other attacking midfielders. This is quite a high-paced attack, the pass comes in, he takes a touch to control the pass and quickly moves the ball along into the path of one of the two Shadow Strikers. The goal is created by a piece of individual brilliance from the Shadow Striker, but the Withdrawn Targetman played his part in this attack by keeping up the tempo of the attack.
It also becomes evident why I chose not to use the hold up ball instruction. Had I instructed the Withdrawn Targetman to hold up the ball, then he might have taken more time on the ball there to allow one of the central midfielders or wingers to link up as well, wasting the available space. Another prime example of the importance of speed in this element of the role is visible in the next clip.
Again, we see a fairly quick and incisive attack. Whilst the attack gets smothered on two occassions, the attacking players constantly try to maintain a high tempo when going forward. The assist is another instance where the Withdrawn Targetman controls the ball and passes it along almost immediately.
In employing a single pivot at the base of offensive structure, I try to ensure that the ball is regularly funnelled from that strata either to the two more advanced attacking midfielders or to the on-rushing wide men, meaning that there is plenty of attacking intent at a fairly high pace. Let’s just have a look at what I mean by that.
In the above image we can see Withdrawn Targetman acting as a pivot in possession. When the pivot receives the pass from the centre back, there is a short lateral pass available, as well as two more risky passes to more advanced players. The pass towards the wing-back is one ideal for stretching the defence, whereas the pass towards the left would be ideal to set up a one-two, which would make the pivot continually available should the ball need to move back to start again.
This aspect of the Withdrawn Targetman is quite common, as the team style is generally centered around ball retention and quick, incisive passing. There is no need for headers, flick-ons and battering ram-esque activities when the ball is being passed from A to B to C in a smooth and silky fashion. What is important is a player who, with his positioning and skill, helps to ensure that the player in ownership of the ball has a variety of options in close proximity so that the ball can be safely shifted to change the angle or the depth of the attack.
The withdrawn targetman, flicking the direct ball on
Whilst I am not blind to the importance of possession, 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. This is the bane of possession-orientated teams such as Barcelona and Spain and to a lesser extent, Pep’s FC Bayern.
When the chips are down and our slick passing isn’t getting the job done, we can switch to a more direct approach, which is when the more brutal side of the Withdrawn Targetman comes into play. The goalkeeper is asked to distribute the ball with a long kick towards the Withdrawn Targetman and the entire team changes its passing-game. You get situations like this one.
You can see that play down the middle gets congested, progress is delayed by a lot of defensive players forming a sort of human wall in the central area of the pitch. At this point, the team plays the ball wide, tries to stretch the defence and whips the ball in high towards the Withdrawn Targetman, who has dropped a bit deeper than the runners ahead of him. His headed through-ball is finished by one of the runners, albeit in an off-side position. Whilst such assists are not uncommon, the following situation is more typical for the targetman behavior we wish to see.
The Withdrawn Targetman is now playing with his back towards the goal and has to beat opposing players for headers, flick ons, and aerial balls played into his chest. He’s a big and strong presence in the AM-strata, strong on the ball and creative with a fantastic first touch. The Withdrawn Targetman is using his athleticism coupled with his technical ability to act as a completely different kind of pivot. Gone is the smooth passing, silky one-touch footballer. The more stereotypical battering-ram now enters the fray to act as a Plan B to break down the defensive and batter through the congested heart of the defence. Let’s look at another match clip.
This is full-blown proper targetman stuff. A long ball fired towards the big guy upfront, who battles a few defenders for possession before flicking the ball towards a team-mate. If you can’t succeed by playing fancy football, you can always try to break through using brute force and that’s where the Withdrawn Targetman comes in. When you are fielding strikers, you can use an actual Targetman, but there is no real role like that in the AM-stratum, so we’ve created a somewhat similar role by asking the goalkeeper to hoof the ball towards the AMC and by applying a more direct passing style.
You can see the long ball coming in, which forces the defenders back, so they do not risk being caught out of position when the ball is flicked on. When the targetman wins the header, he has plenty of options nearby. The two attacking midfielders are making their runs, whereas the central midfielder is available for an easy header back into feet. It really looks like it’s coming together nicely.
The goal-scoring threat
The third dimension of the Withdrawn Targetman’s game is the goal-scoring threat he offers. With the two Shadow Strikers acting as diversions, defenders tend to be rather susceptible to a late run into the box to meet a well-placed cross. That would look a little something like this.
In both clips you can see the same scene developing. You can see the winger beating his marker down the flank before swinging a cross in. The Withdrawn Targetman has made a late run into the box, darting past the two Shadow Strikers and their markers and appearing unmarked in a position to receive the cross and coolly put the ball past the goalkeeper. This is fairly typical for a targetman and our man tends to score a fair few goals like this.
On the other hand, this is usually what happens when the team applies a more direct style of play. We mentioned the more technical and aesthetically pleasing aspect of the Withdrawn Targetman, where he acts more as an advanced pivot. Our physical brute suddenly becomes a smooth technically gifted player, setting up one-two’s before penetrating the opposing box and scoring. Such a move would look a bit like this.
In this case we can see the ball is played in to the Withdrawn Targetman, who is looking to drop off the defensive line to pull the central defenders out of position. As soon as he takes possession of the ball, the two flanking attacking midfielders attack the space that his initial movement has created. On the near side (closest to the ball) the wide player is holding a much wider position to create space while on the far side the wide attacking player has already moved in to connect with the play. The defenders pick up these various moves, but are stretched and thus powerless to resist a quick exchange of passes and a penetrating run into the box.