I blame ‘Inverting the Pyramid’. Since its release there have been countless tactical blogs, websites and twitter accounts created and although many of them are genuinely extremely interesting there are others that seem only to exist to unnecessarily complicate matters and seemingly reinvent language in the process. It’s this breed of blog/site/account that has led to something of a populist backlash against those that like to research and talk tactics with the term hipster in particular being assigned all too readily, from false 9’s to inverted wingers and registas it’s all to easy to lose sight of the fact that football is in fact a simple game. The subject matter of this article however is one that has been a recognised part of football and indeed coaching vernacular long before Jonathan Wilson released his tactical bible (don’t take this as a slight on the book or its author, it remains one of my favourites) this article will look at the nature and the use of a pivot at the heart of the midfield.

There are two types of deep pivot that you can utilise in your games, the single pivot and the double pivot. I myself have a preference to use a double pivot although in truth there is not really one option that is better than the other you just have to decide and choose which of the two options fits your overall strategy better. Before we look at the use of the pivot within FM though it’s worth recognising the use of the pivot in real terms.

Behind all the aesthetic perfection not many people realise that Barcelona actually play a highly systemised game with hours or repetition of passing patterns and angled runs being played out at the Camp Nou for us to watch. Indeed this is the reason that over the last few seasons there have been highly talented players that have failed to adapt to the Barcelona blueprint and why so many La Masia graduates have excelled. Their systematic style is governed in the midfield not by Xavi or Iniesta but by Sergio Busquets at the base of the midfield. In employing a single pivot at the base of the structure Barcelona ensure that the ball is regularly funnelled from that strata either to the two more advanced midfielders or to the on rushing fullbacks meaning that there is more attacking intent as opposed to the lateral passing of a double pivot.

That said the double pivot isn’t exactly a defensive mechanism within the game, rather it can be used as a solid base for you to build your entire attacking strategy around. The best example of this lies with Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund operate in as close to tactical chaos as you are likely to find in the worlds top sides. That’s not chaos in the sense that they are disorganised rather that they have the freedom to react and redirect the play as they see fit in real time as opposed to following set patterns in the style of Barcelona. This ever changing style is enabled by the use of Gundogan and Bender as a double pivot that is always available to receive the pass and when in 2nd or 3rd phase attacking play they offer a platform to build the next attacking series from.

Single Pivot

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In the above image we can see from the first time that the single pivot in possession tends towards a more attacking pass, When the pivot receives the pass from the centre back there is a lateral pass available but it’s too the left back who is already transitioning quickly from defence to attack in order to support his teammates higher up the field, indeed we can see that if the pass to the fullback is made he still has space to move forwards in to. The other two passed that I have highlighted are the more common choices as both central midfielder are ready to take the pass. By feeding the ball to either central midfielder at this point the pivot is also continually available should the ball need to move back to start again.

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As you can see the pivot is also the player that takes possession of the ball in the deep areas of the field as we begin to transition from defence to attack. In the above screenshot the pivot has taken the ball just out of the penalty area and once again the passes available are clear, This time one of the central midfielder has dropped deep to cover and can take the ball laterally and move in to space. The right back is again ready to move forward with the ball and attempt to stretch the AI. The third pass is slightly more tenuous but depending how attacking you are set up it is entirely possible with the advanced central midfielder ready to move away from his marker to take the ball at an angle and move in to space.

Double Pivot

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Here we can see an effective double pivot for the first time. Out two central players are holding a relatively deep line with the player on the near side (side where the attack is based) has moved to support the play while the second player in the pivot is holding the centre of the field. It’s also interesting to note at this point that the AI has set out an extremely efficient defensive screen to try and trap our ball carrier against the sideline and press him to lose possession. Having two deep players in a double pivot is excellent to relieve pressure and to quickly shift the angle and the emphasis of the attack.

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Again we can see our attack running out of steam in the wide position as the AI looks to apply a pressure trap to force a transition. Once more the double pivot is positioned in a deep position just inside the opposition half and again they operate as a release to allow us to escape the pressure, keep the ball and change the attack. This time as the ball cycles quickly from near side pivot to far there is an option to quickly capitalise on the shaded central space and effectively take out the players that were applying initial heavy pressure. The far side of the pivot has the option to play the ball in to space for the attacker to collect or alternatively he can drive in to the space.

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I’ve tried to show the flexibility of the double pivot in the example above. As the ball is to cleared by the AI and the initial phase of attack has broken down. This time the double pivot splits as De Rossi moves to the edge of the area to collect possession and continue the attack. The interesting aspect is that the other member of the pivot is then able to effectively manage the two shaded areas of the pitch meaning that we controlling a large section of the space in the AI’s half. This enables us to build continuous attacks and to increase the pressure on the AI.

How you set up your midfield will largely shape your strategy and the way that your team plays tactically – this is due to the importance of controlling the centre of the pitch. There is no right or wrong way to set up a pivot and single pivots have as many positives as double pivots. I have a preference for the double pivot due to the added strength and flexibility it offers. Setting up with no pivot at all will lead to your side struggling to control areas of the pitch as much as possession.