Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Analysing Robbie Neilson’s Hearts’ Attack: Chance Creation Methods

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The Maroon Report
Tactical analysis for The 4th Official.

HMFC v ICT — Starting line-up and systems

When conducting post-match reports, I won’t focus on individual goals or attempts on goal, etc., everyone can explain goals/situations leading up to them. In this short article, I have focused on Hearts’ chance creation methods, or simply how they are organised in the attacking phase of play. This article is regarding yesterday night’s match at Tynecastle against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The majority of this section will focus on the concepts used to create chances but, first, a brief note on the process used to arrive in the final third.

The first phase of build-up play — The scheme was fairly simple in its idea. Passes through the centre were heavily discouraged by the tight marking as well as the access the wide players had to double up in the middle if required. In terms of attack, Hearts under Neilson usually follows the “diamond rule”. To summarise, the “diamond rule” means starting play at the centre, going wide out into the midfield, before coming back into the centre in the opposition half like so:

Typical Attacking pattern from Hearts under Robbie Neilson

This is achieved through several different means. It was a long ball from the Halkett/Popescu through the channels, or drawing the opposition to one side of the pitch, before switching play and releasing the full-back & winger on the other side. However, Neilson’s Hearts often played “in-out” with the fullbacks, wide midfielders and Wighton who was deployed as the forward, all combining down one side of the pitch.

Method of Attack — Wide 1v1

This concept, in many ways, speaks for itself and is primarily the remit of Walker and Ginnelly as both have the profile to beat defenders consistently. Much of Neilson’s work around this concept seems focused on teaching the team how to create more, and better, opportunities for this situation to occur. As the gaffer stated in his post-match interview, getting the ball into players in certain areas of the pitch is fundamental to his attacking play for Hearts.

Right side — Balance, Cohesion & attacking success

Brandon and Ginnelly were predominantly responsible for occupying the wide right side of the Hearts system, with the emphasis on combination play and 2v1 numerical advantage with Brandon on the overlap. The advantage of the overlaps starting from a deep position was that it allowed the runner to build up a great deal of speed in comparison to the relatively static opposing fullback (who was intentionally engaged and slowed down by the ball carrier).

Finishing action(s): The slide pass tended to place the crosser close to the goal line, so cutbacks or crosses into space between defensive and midfield lines were predominantly used. As soon as the last line was broken, Wighton and any other close supporting runners attacked the space between the defensive line and GK. This often became a sacrificial run from Wighton, allowing later arriving players (Walker, Naismith) to attack cutbacks and low crosses.

Left-sided attacking movements from Hearts

Left-side attacking structure — lopsided, isolation, unbalanced

As seen in the image above, one of the biggest issues that occurred in Hearts attacking movement was with Walker being deployed by Robbie Neilson on the left of the attacking three, with Naismith playing as the number 10. It was clear Jamie Walker was given the freedom to vacate the left side and play in the spaces where he has looked impressive in pre-season. This created an issue with both Walker and Naismith occupying much of the same areas of the pitch, thus, congesting Zone 14 between the opposition midfield/defence.

Aidy White was tasked with providing width and horizontal depth in attack. A lot of breakdowns’ in the Jambos attack occurred because White found himself frequently outnumbered in a 2v1, with Walker not always a passing option and with White not having the characteristics to successfully overcome the 1v1/2v1 situations he found himself in.


Robbie Neilson has a positive headache to think about regarding how he will rectify the left side of his team’s attacking play. To assemble an effective, exciting attack on the left-hand side of the pitch as it is on the right. He has players with the profile to do so; I believe he has to think about the team holistically and not individually. In my next tactical report, I will post possible solutions to rectify these.

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