Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite attackers - 2023 Advent Calendar Series, Day 1

Celebrate Advent with excerpts from Scott Martin's top articles on Total Football Analysis. Head to scottmartinmedia.com or Scott's LinkedIn profile each day through December 24th for the next installment. 

Today's featured excerpt comes from the October 2021 magazine. It's called, "Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite attackers."
Scoring goals is the most difficult part of football.

Movements that lead to goals are the hardest things to coach. That got me thinking..."how do elite forwards move off the ball and which ideas can I deliver to my players?"

Here’s what I came up with.

The article focuses on three forward profiles: 1) deep-lying playmakers, 2) complete attackers, and 3) poachers.

To develop the spatial orientation and movement patterns, I turned to 10 of the game’s elite forwards.

The first group of players is the deep-lying playmakers, represented by Harry Kane, Lionel Messi, and Karim Benzema.

They're the stars of this post.

Let’s start with Kane.

With Crystal Palace’s middle block cutting off any opportunities for progressive passes into the central channel or half-spaces, Kane’s decision to check in front of the midfield four was designed to draw that line higher up the pitch, disconnecting them from the backline.

His movement also signaled a dynamic positional rotation, cueing a teammate to move into the high central position Kane had just vacated.

As Kane drops, he pulls centerbacks with him, disconnecting the central pair.

That often spurs an unbalanced movement for central cover. With that increased distance afforded Kane, it was easier for him to pick out a high target on minimal touches.

Kane then drifted right, following his pass.

What followed was a brilliant, bent shot that would put a smile on David Beckham's face.
The added advantage is that, with the check into a deep position, Kane has effectively dismarked from the centerback, giving him the freedom to drift behind the intense recovery run of Crystal Palace’s midfield four.

Playmaking from deep created his opportunity moments later.
That’s the perfect segue to Lionel Messi and the art of dismarking.

Known for standing still or walking, Messi uses stillness to drift into pockets of space. In a sense, he removes himself from the run of play to pick optimal conditions of engagement.
In a match against Real Betis, Messi played the run of Ousmane Dembélé into the right-wing, cueing a dynamic positional rotation.

But Messi did not make the anticipated sprint into the right half-space—at least not initially.
After releasing the pass, he used a hesitation move to deceive his opponent.

Messi did not give the impression that he would run into the right half-space, so the Betis back left him to track down Dembélé. Messi’s deception, signaling inactivity, was his dismarking approach.
With his direct opponent picking up the cue of inactivity, Messi was free to move into the right half-space and receive a return pass from Dembélé. Just look at the space he was able to claim because of a single moment of stillness.
Stillness is a means of influencing the opposition's defensive shape.

Its deceptive inaction, offering a sense of security against a potential threat.

In this example, Messi uses stillness to bait the opposition into an unbalanced presence near the ball, freeing himself.
Our final deep-lying playmaker in the post is Karim Benzema.

Big Benz will drop into midfield as a means of dismarking, but also to put him in a forward-facing position between the opposition’s lines, leaving his runs largely untracked from those deeper positions.
As with Messi, Benzema is often not the highest-positioned attacker, which is by design.

As his teammates provide the highest point in the team’s attacking shape, Benzema can then tailor his actions as a response to the reactions of the opponent’s backline.
If the centerbacks slide aggressively to the left or the right, Benzema can make counter-movements to take advantage of their unbalanced structure.

A forward-facing body orientation with a clear sight of the backline’s movements and gaps tells him exactly where he needs to go. Benzema, just as we saw with Kane and Messi, used this deeper starting position as a means of creating better attacking conditions for himself higher up the pitch.

As he drops, someone else steps higher. That rotation impacts the way the backline sets up, which is all seen by the forward-facing, deep-lying forward.

With an improved range of vision, the forward’s best options become rather obvious, as does his teammate's.
To review, some of the key concepts in the deep-lying playmaker's section include...

1) Disconnecting the opposition's press
2) Dismarking
3) Stillness as a deceptive countermovement
4) Getting forward-facing between the lines
5) Improving vision
To read about the intelligent movements of complete forwards and poachers, head to Total Football Analysis.

Read about...

Complete Attackers: Kylian Mbappé, Erling Braut Haaland, Neymar, and Romelu Lukaku

Poachers: Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zlatan Ibrahimović
Read and share with someone who would find this analysis interesting.

Come back tomorrow, either on scottmartinmedia.com or Scott's LinkedIn profile for the next installment of the Advent calendar.