Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Gold Coast 1-2 Heart: Match Analysis

This match was an intriguing tactical proposition and a prime example of why pure 4-4-2's, in its attacking incarnation, have become obsolete, and why striker-less 4-6-0's are the future. Gold Coast were completely overwhelmed in midfield, the classy Dutch pair of Beekmans and Jungschlager were overrun by Heart, who were able to deploy four players in central midfield, yet still field two wingers, by ditching a central striker. 

The pattern of play was established early, after Thompson pilfered an early goal. Heart dominated the rest of the first period, monopolising possession and chances. Gold Coast retained a threat through the predatory Rigters, whose direct and aggressive running very nearly undid Madaschi on the counter-attack, as well as dangerous deliveries by Jungschlager at set pieces. Bleiburg's tactical changes after the break allowed Gold Coast to get back into the contest, but their equaliser was then cancelled out by Germano's late goal. 
Gold Coast System:
Bleiburg deployed Gold Coast in a 4-4-2. Moss remained as custodian, Rees and Thwaite were paired in central defence, with Traore advanced and Brillante withdrawn at left and right fullback. Beekmans and Jungschalger were partnered in midfield, Mehbrahtu and Bevan were at right and left wing, with Rigters and Macallister in a strike partnership. 

Bleiburg is usually quite adept at the tactical side of management, so it was strange for him to opt for a 4-4-2 shape. Even without van't Schip's exotic modifications, Heart were always going to set out in a 4-3-3, and have an extra man in central midfield. 
Bleiburg would have been better served dropping target man Macallister, who was relatively ineffectual, pushing Rigters up to the No 9 role, and fielding an extra midfielder, likely Robson. 
Heart System:
Van't Schip deployed Heart in a 4-3-3 shape, with extensive modifications rendering it, in effect, a striker-less 4-6-0. Bolton was between the sticks, Madaschi and Hamill were paired in a makeshift central defence, Good was deputising at left fullback with Marrone in his usual right fullback berth. Shroj, Germano and Thompson formed a fluid midfield trio, with Germano shuttling to the right. Worm made his season debut, stretching the play at left wing , while Maycon was shifted to the right wing as a narrow inside forward. Fred was deployed as a False Nine, dropping deep into midfield. 

The most significant point regarding van't Schip's tactics was the lack of a conventional front man; Heart were essentially playing the mythical 4-6-0 'striker-less' formation predicted by Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil's World Cup winning coach. As PM have elucidated previously, only the greatest of Champions League sides have dared to implement striker-less formations, most commonly by using a False Nine. 

Numerical advantage in midfield:
This match was a fairly stereotypical tactical battle, between a possession oriented 4-3-3 and a direct and counter-attacking 4-4-2. Even for now disregarding Heart's False Nine, the visitors always had an extra man in central midfield; with Beekmans and Jungschlager occupied by direct opponents and Rigters eager to stay in attacking positions instead of tracking his direct opponent, Shroj was always free, and he made good use of his freedom, making intelligent passes to the wide players and offering himself as a passing option.  

Lethal on the break and at set-pieces:
Now while Heart generally held into possession rather well, Gold Coast were still dangerous on the break, thanks to the efforts of one Maceo Rigters. The former Blackburn striker was intent on picking up the ball and running at the defence at pace. He created worrying situations for Madaschi, and looked like Gold Coast's best goal threat in open play. 

His direct running forced Heart into last-ditch fouls, which resulted in free kicks in likely areas. Jungschlager displayed his quality at dead ball situations, drawing desperate saves from Bolton. 

Why was ten scared?:
For the past four matches, John van't Schip has displayed a penchant for tactical innovation, in deploying Alex Terra, a versatile forward/trequartista, as a False Nine. In this match, Terra was unavailable, with the role of the False Nine performed by Fred, a classic trequartista/regista. This changed the characterisation of the False Nine from a more mobile incarnation, similar to the interpretation of Messi, Rooney or Van Persie, who are all natural withdrawn forwards, to a more static incarnation, similar to the displays of the original False Nine, Francesco Totti, Roma's classic playmaker. 

This resulted in a shape that looked like a 4-3-1-2 when Heart was in possession; Fred frequently dropped even deeper than Terra, with Maycon cutting inside from right. Maycon's deployment also hearkened back to Roma, where nominal quick striker Mirko Vucinic was shifted out wide to present a goal threat when Totti dropped deep. 

But with no forward performing hold-up play or stretching the defence by sitting on the shoulder of the last defender, Heart were effectively playing without a striker, in a 4-6-0.
It would be instructive to examine the general theory behind the False Nine, which is explored in more detail by Michael Cox and Jonathan Wilson. The False Nine can basically be conceived of as a 'No 10' fielded as the most advanced forward, in lieu of a true striker.

In possession, the False Nine drops deep, looking to dictate play between the opposition lines of defence and midfield. With an extra player in midfield, the side using a False Nine is extremely fluid and possesses an enhanced ability to retain possession. The space vacated by the False Nine can be exploited by counter-attacking runners. The False Nine also leaves the opposition centre backs with a dilemma; if they stay in position, they become redundant, with no striker to mark leaving a shortfall in midfield. But if one of the central defenders decides to advance to track the False Nine, they might leave the defensive line undermanned and vulnerable to runners from deep. This is the essential advantage of a False Nine; it can severely disrupt the marking scheme of the opposition. 
The False Nine is a tactic that only a handful of Champions League clubs have dared to employ; Francesco Totti at Roma, Robin van Persie at Arsenal, Carlos Tevez at Manchester City, Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, and of course Leo Messi at Barcelona are really the only examples.
To summarise; against Gold Coast, van't Schip fielded Fred as the False Nine, nominally the most advanced player. But Fred did not play as a true striker, dropping deep between the lines into his usual trequartista role. Maycon, stationed wide on the right, exploited the space vacated by Fred with direct runs. 

Because seven ate nine
But van’t Schip also borrowed from the example of Arsenal, and the recent alterations at Barcelona. As outlined by Tom Williams of Football Further, the False Ten is a logical extension of the False Nine. Whereas the False Nine is a creative player fielded in the striker’s usual berth, whose primary role is to dictate play and vacate space, the False Ten is the inversion. A creative player, fielded in the playmaker’s/withdrawn striker’s/No 10’s usual berth, who primary role ISN’T creative, but attacking; to directly exploit the space vacated by the False Nine. 
There are only a handful of genuine False Nines in elite European football; even so, the number of False Tens is minuscule, with the most common method of exploiting the False Nine role through inverted wingers. In fact there are really only three players who have regularly been utilised in this role; one exclusively at club level and two exclusively at international level.

Cesc Fabregas is the premier example, and like Totti, was the original pioneer of his 'False' role. At Arsenal, and now at Barcelona, even though he was fielded in the advanced playmaker role, a larger proportion of his duties were/are 'overtly' attacking, in making driving runs from deep to exploit the space vacated by Van Persie and Messi as False Nines. Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Ozil fulfil similar identical roles for Holland and Germany respectively, exploiting the space vacated by Van Persie and Klose. 

Against Gold Coast, Matt Thompson, a versatile and intelligent midfielder, was fielded in the 'Fabregas' role, and it is one Thompson is able to play to perfection, having demonstrated his aptitude as a False Ten behind Alex Terra's False Nine in the Melbourne Derby

His excellent performances in attacking midfield raises questions about his positional future. Thompson has demonstrated a remarkable versatility and intelligence, and clearly van’t Schip regards him as an integral player. He has now been prioritised in midfield over the likes of Sarkies and Kalmar and in central defence over Beauchamp, Colosimo, Hamill and Good. So why has van’t Schip seemed reluctant to field Thompson in the most logical compromise between the two extremes – defensive midfield. As the holder, Thompson would still utilise his passing ability to distribute possession out of the backline, he would still have license to perform driving runs in support of the attack with central defenders behind him, and his defensive awareness would be an asset in tracking runners from deep. It’s fair to say of his myriad positions, central defence is where he has looked most vulnerable, despite the improved circulation he offers. This is something evident at Barcelona; Guardiola wanted to field Mascherano and Busquets in central defence to improve circulation of possession, but when caught on the counter, both have looked hesitant and uncertain.

Because of the subtle distinction, it can be difficult to discern the difference between a False Ten, and the trademark late runs of attacking midfielders like Tim Cahill or Frank Lampard. Well quite simply, Cahill and Lampard always play behind orthodox strikers, and neither are trequartistas by any stretch of the imagination; with the False Ten, there is an element of deception in regards to the role.

Return of the Worm:
Rutger Worm made his season debut, after being a regular if not spectacular presence last year. As a conventional left winger deployed wide on the left, Worm raises questions about van't Schip's False Nine. When Terra was fielded as the False Nine, van't Schip inverted Williams and Dugandzic, stationing them on their non-preferred wings to enhance their ability to cut-in central. So why didn't van't Schip do the same with Maycon and Worm?

Van't Schip asked Worm to stretch the play on the left because of the absence of marauding left wingback Aziz Behich. In Heart's normal 4-3-3, the wingers cut inside with the fullbacks overlapping to provide the genuine width. Behich's absence forced van't Schip to field Good, a nominal central defender, at left back. Had Maycon switched flanks with Worm, Heart would have suffered from a lack of width. 

Bleiburg the Magician:
Bleiburg realised his side were being overrun in midfield. Jungschlager and Beekmans were up against four midfielders, with Fred dropping deep. After the break, realising there was no striker for Thwaite or Rees to mark, he instructed his centre back captain to advance into further into midfield. 

Thwaite is far better technically than he is given credit for, especially in his tackling. So far this season, he has showcased a remarkably aptitude for pirouette tackles on multiple occasions. With Thwaite advancing into midfield, Gold Coast were able to gain more possession. 

Goal Analysis:
Thompson 3' - Bolton's goal kick was partially cleared by Thwaite, but to Shroj. Shroj flicked it over the top for Worm to chase, with only Brillante near to cover. Thompson made a run from deep to the left, Worm laid off and Thompson finished. This showed Thompson's best attributes as the False Ten, in making those driving runs deep from midfield, which are hard to track. 
62' Jungschlager - Hamill fouled Rigters on the edge of the area. Jungschlager took the free kick, drove it through the wall. The Dutch journey man looks like a dead ball specialist, which is very useful when Coast can call upon Rigters, a striker who draws fouls with his direct running, a la Luis Suarez. 
67' Germano - This was a few minutes after an orthodox striker, Eli Babalj, was substituted on, and he displayed his ability in the air. Germano lofted the ball into the box, Babalj knocked back to Thompson, who played a 1-2 with Germano making a run, who finished past Moss. 
The remarkable thing about all three goals, were that they were all the result of deliberate tactical strategies; Thompson as a False Ten, Jungschlager's deliveries from Rigters winning free kicks, and Babalj's aerial ability. On that last point, if Heart are failing to retain possession, van't Schip has the ability to call upon the gigantic striker to win balls in the air. This bears similarity to Fernando Llorente, who is an alternative target man option for Spain, or Ibrahimovic, who was supposed to fulfil this Plan B role at Barcelona. 
Again, a fascinating tactical plan by van't Schip. As PM has noted previously, "he continues to exploit the qualities and abilities of his players in unconventional and unexpected ways, inverting and converting positions, utilising new shapes and formations, but always in the pursuit of his purist philosophy of football". With Bolton back, and a central defence with more depth, Heart look like making a concerted title challenge, always offering excitement; what other A-League club fields inverted wingers, False Nines or False Tens.

Initially a naive formation by Bleiburg, but his corrections enabled Gold Coast to compete better in the second half. Rigters looks like a predatory striker, and Jungschlager's delivery from dead ball situations was impressively lethal. 

Player Rankings:
Gold Coast | Heart
10) Brillante |Madaschi
9) Rees | Marrone
8) Beekmans | Hamill
7) Jungschlager | Good
6) Bevan | Germano
5) Macallister | Shroj
4) Mebrahtu| Worm
3) Traore| Maycon
2) Thwaite| Fred
1) Rigters | Thompson

This is the second game where Rigters failure to track back has turned into a significant weakness for Gold Coast. Against Brisbane, Rigters was deployed on the left, but his coming central meant that Brisbane's left flank was vacant, allowing Broich and Stefanutto to run riot. 


Anonymous said...

great piece love it.
although to me Fred seems to play a typical box-to-box CM role against Gold Coast

Pass and Move said...

Cheers Anon, appreciate the comment.

Well that's what he wanted you to think! False Nine is all about vacating space and dropping deep, disrupting the opposition's marking scheme.

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

absolutely ripper article, well done

Pass and Move said...

Thanks for the comment Anon, appreciate the support.

Come back for more, and tell your friends about PM.

Bela Guttman said...

Tactically Heart still lack a specialised set-piece player. Mate is usually used for this but really Sarkies is the player best suited for this role. It would be good to see the 2 wingers swap during the game to bring some more variation to Heart's play. JVS's philosophy is really starting to show fruit now with a very versatile attacking team, it's the ability to play players in multiple positions and formations that must cause headaches for opposition coaches. Miron was obviously caught out this time, it's surprising that he took so long to change things around whilst his mid-field was being over-run. The other Heart player you didn't mention much and an example of JVS's philosophy was Germano, who was used further forward than usual where he also looks very comfortable. Shroj seems to cop a lot of flack from the fans,, unfairly IMHO as he's an important midfield link - just keep him away from the goal!

Anonymous said...

Just like to say thanks for the interesting and very educational piece. It's good to see Heart coming to together as a team and given JVS's strategy I guess it's no wonder a lot of time is needed to implement his strategy. It also makes me wonder about the NT and the legacy of Viduka. While we always seem to want to find someone of his quality (and won't for a long time), perhaps we should be looking at a completely different type of player as you have discussed here.

Pass and Move said...

Hey Bela,

I don't know much about Sarkies, Dugandzic seems good at corners, less good at direct free kicks.

The wingers changing flanks could certainly help things, but that's probably going to be dictated by what kind of striker JVS uses, either Terra or Fred as False Nines, which means they need to be inverted, or Hoffman, Williams, Maycon or Babalj as true 9s, where they can be orthodox. It's something that I would like to see, particularly for Maycon.

Yeah Germano is strange. It's hard to peg him down to a position, his best work came when he was man marking Nick Carle.

Shroj's discipline has really improved, I don't think he's been carded yet. And you're right of course, he's very important in distribution

Pass and Move said...

Thanks for the comment Anon,

Yeah watching JVS do his thing has been very intriguing.

But you've actually answered your own question! We are unlikely to ever see False Nines at international level, because, as you point out, they take a lot of time to generate the necessary fluidity and familiarity. Unless of course, we get a situation mirroring Spain, where most of our team comes from one club.

That's the prime reason the quality of international football has now declined relative to club football.