I’ve been meaning to write this up for ages but never really found the time until now. This is my take on a strikerless formation featuring a libero, something I wanted to try for a while but had to wait until I found a suitable player to retrain as a sweeper. This came towards the end of my tenure as C.D. Torrevieja boss, I had some of the world’s best players at my disposal and it seemed the perfect time to give this a try.
Before I get into the tactic I have to say I would have never been able to get this to work without the sterling work of Guido on this site, particularly Project Arrowhead and The Four Horsemen, and another tactical write-up I borrowed/learned from As Cunning As A Box With A Tail On It Calling Itself A Box over at the higher tempo press. If you haven’t read the articles I’ve linked here you should do yourself a favour and check them out.
Table of Contents
When I decided to implement this the team were using a tweaked version of the Four Horsemen tactic that I mentioned above. I wanted to retain the elements of the tactic that had worked so well for us whilst utilising a libero.
One of the defensive midfielders was pulled back into the libero position, the other was moved into central midfield. My thinking was that if we had a sweeper we wouldn’t need anyone in the DM strata. The fullbacks were pushed up to become fully fledged wing backs. One of the attacking midfielders was dropped back to make it two in central midfield, the other attacking midfielder was shifted centrally. The end result of this tinkering can be seen below.
Team Shape – Very Fluid
I want all of the players to be involved in all phases of the game, I want everyone to both defend and attack, also I want my players closer together so we are nice and compact. The very fluid team shape gives me all of this. It also gives the players a certain level of creative freedom, which I like.
Tempo – Normal
With the control mentality, the tempo is fairly high anyway, I don’t need it any higher. If it was any higher we could run the risk of rushing our passes and losing the ball.
Mentality – Control
Control is an attacking mentality, just not an all out attack one and that’s what I’m looking for. I want us to attack but with responsibility, not rushing things.
Width – Balanced
I don’t want to allow the opposition to play through the middle, I want to force them wide where we will make an effort to win it back and launch an attack of our own. I want them to be compact but not too tight together, there needs to be room to pass.
Defensive Line – Slightly Higher
I want to condense the pitch vertically as well as horizontally, this instruction and the next allow me to do this.
Closing Down – Close Down Much More
When we haven’t got the ball the players need to work as hard as possible to win it back. With this instruction and the narrow formation, I hope to squeeze the life out of any attacks before that can fully form.
Closing Down – Prevent GK distribution
We want to press and harass the oppositions defence at any opportunity, forcing them into an error or clearing it long where our centre backs should be able to tidy things up.
Closing Down – Tighter Marking
I want my players to be in the faces of their opposite number, not giving them a minute’s peace. This instruction, in conjunction with the Close Down Much More instruction, should mean that we force the opposing team into rushing their passes, hopefully leading to our team re-gaining possession.
Passing – Play out of defence
While this formation is not about possession for the sake of it I don’t want to give the ball away needlessly, we’ll build from the back and not just launch hopeful balls forward.
Passing Directness – Shorter passing
I want us to control possession and shorter passing seems the perfect way to do this. It also has the added benefit of bringing the team closer together, making us more compact.
Final Third – Work ball into box
I’d like the team to create quality chances rather than taking speculative long range efforts, or rushing things. I’ve found this instruction helps create the lovely interplay in and around the box that I think of as the hallmark of strikerless football.
Freedom Of Movement – Roam from positions
I trust the players to move from there positions in order to find space to receive a pass, or to help with the press. This also adds an amount creative freedom and as I mentioned earlier, I’m all for that.
The aim of the opposition instructions for this tactic is to try and force my opponents wide and try to win the ball back there, then we can launch our own counter attack.
There are certain attributes that are important for how I want my teams to play. These attributes are Teamwork, Work Rate, Decisions, Determination, Anticipation, Passing and Aggression. The important attributes for each role are noted under the role descriptions.
As I did with my previous tactical post I’ll use examples from my team to give you an idea of the sort of player that you are looking for with each role. If you’ve read my previous post you may recognise a few of these players.
GK – Goalkeeper (defend)
With an actual sweeper, I felt there was no need for a sweeper keeper. He should keep things simple and give the ball to the defenders or libero to bring out.
Player instructions: Distribute To Centre Backs.
My current keeper, Ivica Labudovic, is world class. His balance may be a bit low but he has high ratings all of the main attributes I’m looking for in a goalkeeper, Aerial Reach, Command Of Area, Communication, Anticipation, Reflexes and Positioning.
SW – Libero (attack)
The libero is what this formation is all about. I expect him to be solid in defence, making interceptions and tackles and marshalling the defensive line. His other task is to act as a playmaker from a defensive midfield position, carrying the ball forward and playing it towards his team mates.
Originally a midfielder, David Delmas, took to the sweeper role brilliantly. He really can do it all. For me he’s the perfect libero, great Vision, Anticipation and Positioning, he’s quick (Acceleration + Pace), he can Tackle, he’s Agile, he can Dribble and has decent Off The Ball movement.
DC – Central defender (defend)
Just good old fashioned centre backs. I want them to be strong, brave, good in the tackle, but mainly good in the air. We are going to try and force the opposition wide and steal the ball there, we will, therefore, concede a number of crosses into our area and these guys are there to deal with that.
These two have been my preferred centre-back pairing for quite some time now, key attributes here are Positioning, Marking, Tackling, Anticipation, Heading, Concentration and Bravery.
WBR/L – Inverted wingback (support)
I went with inverted wingbacks to try and create overloads in the dangerous half space areas. While the will go wide and overlap the winger, I think the real danger comes when they cut inside.
The two players shown above are some of the best wing backs around, they too have been with the team for quite some time. The most important attributes here are Pace, Acceleration, Stamina, Positioning, Anticipation Marking and Passing, a good rating in Crossing is also useful.
MCR – Box to box midfielder (support)
The midfield runner, he’ll get up and down the pitch. On occasion he will get beyond the attacking midfielders an I expect him to be a goal threat, but he can’t shirk his defensive responsibilities.
Player instructions: Tackle Harder.
Ernesto Sanz has grown with the club. He’s been with the club for 8 years now, having joined as a 17-year-old. The box to box midfielder needs to be able to a bit of everything. I like high ratings for Off The Ball, First Touch, Long Shots, Passing and Stamina.
MCL – Roaming playmaker (support)
The roaming playmaker is my favourite of the playmaker roles. They get up and down the pitch much like a box to box midfielder an thus provide a defensive aspect to their creative duties.
Player instructions: Move Into Channels, Tackle Harder.
Even though he’s only 22 Ignacio Borras is an exceptional player, he’s the key playmaker in the side and everything good that we do seems to go through him. In my roaming playmaker, I’m looking for Vision, Anticipation, Passing, Off The Ball, Decisions, and Flair.
AMR – Winger (attack)
The winger in this system is there primarily to provide ammunition, in the form of crosses and through balls, for the shadow striker, inside forward and any of the central midfielders that may find themselves in advanced positions.
Player instructions: Tackle Harder, Mark Tighter.
Tim Aeschilman is one of my favourites, mainly because he’s so good in a number of roles, his best position/role though is a right winger. Important attributes for a winger are Pace Acceleration, Dribbling, Off The Ball, work Rate, Vision and of course Crossing.
AMC – Shadow striker (attack)
This is the team’s main goal threat, he’ll make attacking runs from deep, looking to get on the end of crosses or through balls. He should also look to play in his team mates if given the opportunity. When we’re out of possession I expect him to harry the opponents defensive line.
Player instructions: Tackle Harder, Mark Tighter.
I picked Jaime up on a free transfer from Real Madrid where he had been languishing in the reserves, he fulfilled his potential at the club and is now a wonderful shadow striker. Key attributes here are Flair, Vision, Pace, Acceleration and Dribbling. Finishing and Composure are also useful.
AML – Inside forward (attack)
The inside forward acts as a kind of wide striker, stretching the opposition until he cuts inside in the final third, driving towards the box. When the ball is on the opposite flank he’ll look to attack the back post to connect with a cross from the winger or wingback.
Player instructions: Tackle Harder, Mark Tighter.
Killian Gimenez is another player I picked up on a free, he was never given a chance at Barcelona but their loss was my gain, he’s gone on to become a top class player. What I look for in my Inside Forward regarding his attributes is Pace, Acceleration, Flair, Anticipation, Dribbling, Off The Ball. Good Finishing would be a bonus, although it hasn’t held Killian back.
The libero in action
If you take a look at the screenshot of the average positions below, you can see the positioning of the libero both with and without the ball. Without the ball, he drops in just slightly behind the centre backs. With the ball, he steps up into a defensive midfield position. He almost acts as a reverse halfback.
Have a look at this clip of the libero in action from a match against Deportivo. I think it highlights perfectly both the defensive and offensive parts of the libero’s game.
I have broken the clip down into a series of screenshots and I’ll walk you through them.
From the goal kick the libero (circled in yellow in all of the screenshots) receives the ball from the keeper.
He lays the ball off to the roaming playmaker who has dropped deep to get the ball, he then immediately begins to make a forward run.
The ball is played up to the shadow striker and the libero has continued his run, he is now almost level with the two central midfielders.
The move breaks down and sensing a dangerous situation the libero drops back to cover the runners.
Deportivo plays the ball long but the libero is there to win the header and start us off on the attack again.
The ball goes to our box to box midfielder and the libero once again begins to move forward.
As the ball is played out to our left wingback the libero holds his position in defensive midfield.
The wingback has run down the left but finds himself with nowhere to go, fortunately, the libero is unmarked and the wingback finds him to recycle possession.
The libero receives the ball but doesn’t notice the player behind him moving to close him down.
He loses possession to a sliding tackle from behind, which in my view was a foul.
We manage to regain possession and begin to play out from the back.
Seeing the roaming playmaker is covering behind him the libero holds his advanced position.
The roaming playmaker elects not to use the libero, choosing to play the ball out to the right winger. The libero immediately begins to make a forward run towards the box.
He continues his forward run looking to get in behind the central defenders.
The libero has continued his run into the box and is now perfectly placed for a ball rolled across from the winger. Unfortunately, the assistant referee raises his flag for offside and the move breaks down, but I think this illustrates how far forward the libero will get given the opportunity.
Well, all that’s left is to offer you the download link, if you use the tactic why not let me know how you got on with it in the comments section below.