Once again I thought I would share an older tactical article with you as part of the mechanising the play series. This is one that I have used in a variety of different tactical setups so far.

Former Chelsea coach Andres Villas Boas is one of the more interesting coaches in football today and is always willing to share his footballing vision and philosophy with others.

In a recent article published by the Telegraph we see an exert from an interview Villas Boas gave to a Portuguese student back in 2009. In this piece there is one idea that caught my attention..

Top teams nowadays don’t look to vertical penetration from their midfielders because the coach prefers them to stand in position (horizontally) and then use the movement of the wingers as the main source to create chances.

So, you, as a coach, have to know exactly what kind of players you have and analyse the squad to decide how you want to organise your team offensively. And then, there are maybe some players more important than others.

For instance, many teams play with defensive pivots, small defensive midfielders.

And, except Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso, and maybe Esteban Cambiasso and one or two more, they are players that are limited to the horizontal part of the game: they keep passing the ball from one side to another, left or right, without any kind of vertical penetration.

Can’t you use your defensive midfielder to introduce a surprise factor in the match? Let’s say, first he passes horizontally and then, suddenly, vertical penetration?

The idea that we can use the DM as more than a purely defensive weapon has often been one that I have tried albeit only as far as the player joins the central midfield to make a three. Using the player from deep as almost an advanced libero was something I had never tried though and it should be something the AI struggles to cope with.


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Nothing all that fancy here. The DM is set to push forward and as are the fullbacks. I have set the central midfielders up so that they act as a screen splitting apart to both allow the DM space to exploit and to cover the wide areas vacated by the fullbacks.

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Again the individual instruction for the DM is self explanatory. He is free to move up the field and into space at will and should be able to use the ball well in these areas. It should be noted that I don’t expect the player to burst through into the box often but rather sit in the traditional Am position 20-30 yards from goal where he can provide an extra option and draw the defence out of position.

Theory in Action

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Here you can see Essien has burst from deep to link with the attacking players. Our midfield screen has split further apart than you would usually see in order to provide defensive cover. With the wingers also looking to make diagonal runs inside we are effectively providing an overloading opportunity that should pull the AI defence completely out of position.

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This time I have tracked the run made from deep by Essien again as he looks to link with the forwards and provide another option. You can also see that as Ivanovic bursts forward from right back Mikel is holding a wider position in order to provide cover on a number of angles. This is the best example of the screen in action as should the AI recover and transition into attack we have a solid defensive base.

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This time you can see the move as it begins. With Ivanovic in comfortable possession Essien moves ahead of the midfield screen and as the ball cycles into the feet of Drogba he is free to take the short pass and from there open up the angles of the pitch for a pass or drive forwards into the space behind the AI midfield.

Again this isn’t a tactic in itself. The theory is just one that you can choose to add into your own tactic in order to add another layer and attacking option. With the right player in the DM position there is no way in my opinion the AI could effectively deal with the thread with out putting itself firmly on the backfoot.