Wednesday, 14 September 2011

True dawn of the false nine? A Brisbane Roar Preview

Brisbane Roar will undoubtedly be given very short odds to continue their rampant unbeaten streak and repeat their Double triumph. But with the rest of the A-League equipping themselves to combat Brisbane’s dominance and possession football, how will Ange Postecoglou keep the Men in Oranje one step ahead of the chasing pack?

Brisbane has publicly proclaimed their aspiration to become ‘Barcelona on a budget’, by implementing a mobile short-passing game to unlock rigid defences. Last season, Postecoglou was fortunate to be able to call upon the services of two hard-working and predatory central strikers; Reinaldo and then Solorzano. However, their departures present Ange with an intriguing tactical conundrum; the opportunity to implement a false nine.

False nines are a recent development in football tactics. The most famous examples of false nines include Totti at Roma, Rooney at Manchester United, Tevez at Manchester City, Van Persie at Arsenal and of course Messi at Barcelona. But what is a false nine, and what are the benefits of utilising one? Quite simply, a false nine can be conceived of as a No 10 playing upfront; an advanced playmaker who is designated as the highest player on the pitch.  When in possession, the false nine drops deep, in between the opposition’s lines of defence and midfield to vacate space and dictate play, creating an ‘extra-man’ in midfield and leaving the opposition centre backs with no-one to mark. 
Thomas Broich

Since their record breaking unbeaten streak and thrilling grand final triumph, much of the talk about the upcoming season has centred on other A-League clubs ‘catching up’ to or nullifying Brisbane’s passing game. In terms of nullifying the Roar, the most successful clubs have been Melbourne Victory (the sole team to emerge victorious over Brisbane) and Central Coast (scoring in the semi-final and grand final). Victory and the Marines achieved this through ruthless and rapid counter-attacking; conceding possession and territory and looking to score on the break. In terms of ‘catching up’ to Brisbane, both Coolen and van’t Schip have been attempting to implement possession football at Adelaide and Heart respectively (unsurprising, given their Dutch origins).

Postecogou has spoken publicly about the need to ignore or disregard the machinations and schemes of their opponents, and instead focus on continued improvement and innovation. This prompts the question; how to maintain Brisbane’s tactical advantage over the rest of the A-League?  In warfare, one of the central principles of tactical thinking is to never use the same device twice; eventually your opponent will be able to anticipate and defeat it (imagine the Greeks rolling up to the Egyptians with another gigantic wooden animal a week after Troy). Introducing a false nine would be the most obvious way to innovate at Brisbane, given the conscious semblance to Barcelona; and is the perfect device to pose new tactical conundrums for opposition managers, in the way that Messi’s deployment as a false nine continues to confound Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho in the Champions League.

In many ways, this Brisbane squad bear uncanny resemblances to their Barcelona counter-parts. Henrique, like Messi, is a diminutive South American trequartista, able to operate high on the wing, behind the striker and up-front. In Broich, Brisbane possess their own left-sided attacking maestro a la David Villa. Ivan Franjic, a rampaging right-fullback has been likened to Dani Alves in his explosive combination of aggression and endless stamina. Theoklitos, like Victor Valdes, combines superb shot-stopping skills with elegance in distribution. Brisbane’s midfield trinity; Paartalu, Murdocca and Nichols can be neatly divided and compared to Barcelona’s trio of Busquets the Holder, Xavi the Passer and Iniesta the Attacker. And in Postecoglou, Brisbane possess the most innovative tactician in the nation, just as Barcelona boast the genius of Pep Guardiola

The route to defending their titles has already been laid before them by Barcelona; by deploying Henrique as a false nine. Brisbane’s No 10 will then drop deep in possession, linking with Nichols and Murdocca to dictate play, increasing their dominance by providing an extra man in central midfield. Meanwhile Broich and Danning (a speedy wide player in the mould of Theo Walcott at Arsenal) cut-in from wide to exploit the vacated space. This will leave opposition centre backs with no obvious Roar players to mark, and will result in Brisbane players constantly running towards goal. Width will be provided by the fullbacks, as the two central defenders spread wide, while Paartalu drops deep to act as an additional centre back as Busquets does for Barca.
If Postecoglou does indeed utilise Henrique as a false nine this season, the likelihood of which is admittedly somewhat questionable, it would represent another giant leap in the level of tactical thinking in Australian football. Last season was widely hailed as the year the A-League came of age; the advent of the false nine could herald the arrival of Australia, and Postecoglou, at the forefront of tactical innovation

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