Like any sport, tactics are crucial to the game of football. They determine strategy and lay foundation for a team’s success. The developments in sports science and a deeper understanding of the game over time has forced tacticians to move with the times and create new methods in the way we play the game, just to keep up.
Modern football is fast becoming a game of poker where one manager tries to outfox the other with similar tactics and strategies. Roughly 85% of the current teams in Europe either use 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation these days, so how exactly a team can gain the tactical advantage over their opponents?
One plausible way is for the teams to be more expansive and send an extra player to join the attack. That extra man can be the central midfield player who loves to make darting or shall we say ghost-like runs in the penalty area. Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have been the modern day masters of that very art.
The same advantage can be achieved if a team possesses attacking full-backs who can bomb-on to support their wingers and be an able source of attacking endeavor. Manchester United were once the epitome of these ideals but they are now far away from the team who once played beautiful football.
Among the current crop of Premier League teams if any team is using the extra runners to bolster their attack, it is Tottenham Hotspur. Mauricio Pochettino has brought several changes at White Hart Lane, one particular which has fascinated me the most is the way he has used his full-backs and central midfield players.
At present Tottenham’s front four (Kane, Lamela, Eriksen and Alli) know their roles and are solely responsible to score and create goals. They do fulfill their defensive duties but it is not something they prioritize.
Despite their brilliance, Tottenham are reaping rewards from the work Eric Dier, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are doing. In Dier, Spurs have found a midfield gem who is equally effective playing with or without the ball.
When in possession, he has an eye to pick out the forward runners and join the attack himself. However, his off-the-ball intelligence is the real reason behind the success of Pochettino’s winning formula this season.
When Spurs have the ball and are going forward, Dier tucks behind in between Alderweireld and Vertonghen to be the extra man in defense. By doing so, it allows Walker and Rose to push forward and join the attack. Both fullbacks in the opposing area makes Spurs a dangerous side to defend against.
Dier’s sound tackling and intercepting technique allows Spurs to hurt team on the counter attack. When Dier breaks up the play, he is more than capable of picking out either Eriksen, Lamela or Alli who then look for their finisher-in-chief Harry Kane.
At times when Spurs are attacking and need extra body forward then the likes of Eric Dier and Moussa Dembele are more than capable of joining the attack as well. Dier has a sweet left foot, and is never afraid to have a pop at goal.
Leicester City are another team who have followed this path this season where N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater have given the likes of Simpson and Fuchs the license to charge forward and create goal-scoring chances for their team.
Regardless of how much football evolves in coming years, the ability to use full-backs and extra runners from midfield will always give teams the edge over their opponents. Such is the impact of this technique is that the team who manages to execute these skills and has better players in those position will eventually come out victorious on the day.
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