Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Are defensive forwards the future?

author: Jonathan Wilson
source: The Guardian

date: 4 June 2009
editing: fcbtransfers.blogspot.com

Amid all the praise for the way Barcelona maintained possession against Manchester United in the Champions League final, one comment from their manager, Pep Guardiola, tended to be overlooked. "Without the ball," he said, "we are a horrible team. We need the ball, so we pressed high up the pitch to win the ball back early."

From a Barcelona manager, perhaps that isn't so surprising. After all, since Rinus Michels took charge there in 1971, they have favoured the classical Dutch model, which demanded pressing and an aggressive offside trap. "When I went to Barcelona," remembers Marinho Peres, the Brazilian defender who joined the club in 1974, "Michels wanted the centre-backs to push out to make the offside line. In Brazil this was known as the donkey line: people thought it was stupid. The theory was that if you passed one defender, you passed all the others.

But what Cruyff said to me was that Holland could not play Brazilians or Argentinians, who were very skilful, on a huge pitch. The Dutch players wanted to reduce the space and put everybody in a thin band. The whole logic of the offside trap comes from squeezing the game. This was a brand new thing for me. In Brazil, people thought you could chip the ball over and somebody could run through and beat the offside trap, but it's not like that because you don't have time."

What Barcelona achieved, in other words, was to find a way of pursuing the classic tenets of Total Football – short passing, intermovement of players, winning the ball high up the field – under the modern interpretation of the laws. Their solution, in truth, is not especially complex. Certainly it does not require the intellectual leap of faith Marinho found he needed to accept the efficacy of aggressive offside.

If defenders cannot move forward to defend high up the field because the weakened offside law makes them reluctant to leave space behind them, then logically forwards, when they do not have the ball, act as defenders. This is nothing particularly new but what is surprising is the extent to which Barcelona's forwards are deployed as ball-winners. To traditionalists who prefer to think of forwards as fragile artists who should not be troubled by such negative thoughts that may be unpalatable but the statistics are telling.

For Barcelona Dani Alves stands alone, having committed twice as many fouls as anybody else in the back four last season, but Opta stats show that Thierry Henry committed more fouls than any other member of the back four, with Gerard Piqué only one ahead of Samuel Eto'o, and Leo Messi and the other regular defenders within one foul of each other.

Full-back has become the most tactically interesting position on the pitch because full-backs, as Jack Charlton noted in 1994, tended to be the only players on the field who regularly had space in from of them. Logically, the next step was to close that down, which means forwards, and particularly wide forwards, taking defensive responsibility.

Of course the corollary to defensive forwards is that more defensive players must learn to create. The deep-lying play-making of Falcao and Cerezo for Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, it could be argued, was facilitated by the defensive work of the centre-forward Serginho. More recently, Shevchenko helped drive back the opposition defence to create room for Andrea Pirlo's successful reinvention as a deep regista (central midfield playmaker, literally 'director'). In the Premier League we have seen Michael Carrick and Xabi Alonso offer interpretations of the same role. Would Xavi or Andrés Iniesta be quite so effective without three forwards who tackle in front of them?

Lobanovskyi evangelised universality, foreseeing an age when players could interchange at will, and it is perhaps towards that that we are heading. Some defenders have always been selected with their creative qualities in mind; now we are seeing the rise of the defensive forward.

read the full and original article here

Read more:
Messi vs Ronaldo: The Statistics
Transfer Deals Explained
The Perfect Penalty

1 comment:

Sune said...

Interesting stuff!

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