Over the past few weeks, the position of false no.9 seems to have attracted a lot of attention among managers, especially the Premier League. It seems that the changing dynamics of the league has brought to the fore the demand for this tactics.
However, it has not always fetched the right fruit for everyone. The right players are needed to pull this out and not any manager can superimpose this tactic, it seems.
So, what is a false 9?
Simply put, a false 9 is that center forward, who is placed up front but he gets deep down as the match progresses. The fundamental aim is to confuse the center backs, who have been assigned the task to mark him.
Jurgen Klopp, for example, has heavily got the most out of it with Roberto Firmino playing the false 9. Firmino’s movement has given the much of space to the likes of Coutinho and Emre Can to get past defenders.
In their most recent game, Klopp’s deployment of Firmino up front brought to the fore what didn’t click. Firmino started in the flank with Sturridge in the middle and with the games progressing, shifted deep in the central midfield giving Sturridge ample space to work his pace. The fact that it failed to bring any effect was because of the congested backline Mourinho had engineered.
If one wants to get a better idea of a false no. 9, watch Lionel Messi when Guardiola was the manager. It was only Messi, who truly did justice to that position in the modern era. Ironically, Guardiola’s tactics to do the same with Kevin De Bruyne in their match against Barcelona backfired.
The reason was simple; De Bruyne is not the type who could run throughout the game with unparalleled stamina. The fact that he had Sterling and Nolito at the flanks, also added to the cause.
Many other managers used the tactics to the decent effects like Ferguson’s trio of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo, or Wenger’s use of Van Persie to provide space for Eduardo or Bendtner. But, it has failed to produce that magic yet.
Wenger’s redeployment of Alexis Sanchez has been another such example of the false number 9. In the last match against Ludogorets, the Chilean was unstoppable in the final third. While he scored one, his movement opened spaces for the rest at the attacking third. Consequently, Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil bagged goals too.
However, this isn’t some invincible tactics and it can be combated too. Given the tactical genius Mourinho is, he rightly chose two deep-lying midfielders ahead of the back line, which makes the area too congested to provide passes.
His ‘park the bus’ is an exemplary strategy here. Hence, the positioning of Andre Herrera and Fellaini were key to Firmino’s ineffectiveness. Herrera and Fellaini had 10 and 8 successful ball recoveries respectively.
Hence, when Mourinho boasted at the post match press conference, “How many shots on target did Liverpool have on target today? Two. Two shots on target with 65% possession, you have to be critical of Liverpool. It is their problem, not our problem,” we understand what he was calculating the entire match.