With Barcelona forward Lionel Messi’s emergence it became a trend in FM and even professional football to use a ‘false nine’, a lone ‘number ten’ without a ‘number nine’ or any other form of advanced forward in support. Brendan Rodgers tried it with Jonjo Shelvey at Swansea and Roberto di Matteo with Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Messi is unique though and the false nine role is difficult to replicate with another player.
Death of the centre forward?
Ex-England forward, Gary Lineker, asked on Twitter 18 months ago: “Are we [centre forwards] a dying breed?” Personally, I do not care for the cocky presenter’s opinions but he is not the only one to ponder this.
I do think the centre forward of Lineker’s ilk has gone for good, strikers have more responsibilities now than scoring goals, most professional teams cannot afford to carry a player who is absent for 90% of the game before he pops up with a goal, such as another popular England man, Michael Owen.
Re-birth of out-and-out striker?
I could be premature in sounding the death knell for pure goalscorers though, as in the league where the false nine was born, such forwards are arguably making a return. In Spain, Diego Costa could be reviving the role of the attacking physical presence, who seems to find himself on the end of moves for most of his goals. I do not watch a lot of Atletico Madrid games though, he might contribute more to build-up play than I realise.
Valencia’s 20-year-old Spaniard, Paco Alcacer, appears to be another striker whose main aim is to get on the end of crosses and through balls without worrying too much about creating chances for his teammates.
Furthermore, Costa’s La-Liga and Champions League hopefuls, Atletico, play what some see as an old-fashioned style with a 4-4-2 and aggression and fitness at the heart of their game. This is something which has inspired FM players to experiment with more old-fashioned systems and roles.
The value of a strike partner
Some strikers, namely Spurs’ Roberto Soldado and Hull’s Nikica Jelavic, seem to struggle without a strike partner. Jelavic has improved since joining Hull City in January 2014, linking up with clinical Shane Long, including the 4-0 thrashing of Cardiff City in Wales in February.
I am excited about the possibility of introducing a ‘pure’, traditional, ‘nine’ and ‘ten’ striking partnership in one of my teams in Football Manager. I have only recently returned to using two strikers and it seems to have been one of the keys to my newly-discovered success on the game, especially in a 3-5-2 formation. Moreover, Juventus are one of the most dangerous teams in Europe on my save using a conventional-looking 4-4-2.
To recreate a ‘proper’ strike partnership though, I will need to consider what makes traditional #9s and #10s what they are and what I want from each. Pairs who spring to mind are Manchester United legends, Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole and Arsenal’s Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. Everyone’s heard of the ‘big man/ little man’ combination but the aforementioned duos are a great example of the variety we can find in successful strike partnerships.
I like to experiment with different tactics as much as the next FM player but I have always struggled to find use out of the DLF role which is a shame because it is one of my favourite in football. For me, that is the role some great players have employed; Bergkamp, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez for example. One of the reasons I rarely use this role is the right player never seems to exist. But maybe I am looking in the wrong places.
So my plan is to convert an attacking midfielder (centre) most likely, even an attacking winger might do, and create my own ideal DLF who can pass, finish, dictate the tempo (possibly from preferred move training) and come deep to get the ball. My demands of him might increase or reduce as I discover what works best.
This role always works well for me on Football Manager especially as it suits a fast, strong player, qualities that generally lead to goals in fm14. It is not particularly interesting but maybe I will explore its details at a later time.
So as this article has progressed, I have gone from wanting to create a pure #9 and #10 partnership to focusing more on developing a perfect DLF to accompany a more athletically reliant advanced forward. I would love to produce a more evolved target man as well, a bit like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but that might have to wait!
Until next time, goodbye!