The Re-birth of the Target Man


Andy CarrollThis year saw Bayern Munich dominate on the European stage with an efficient and organised brand of football. The 7-0 thrashing of Barcelona showed that perhaps a shift in the European superpowers is on the horizon. Bayern won the treble, including lifting the Champions League trophy at Wembley in an all German final. Two contrasting football styles were on show that night from the two German clubs, however both clubs played with emerging philosophies.  Dortmund played with pace and vibrancy, looking to run at Bayern with players such as Reus and Błaszczykowski and were attacking in their mindset, whereas Bayern remained responsible at the back and organised, looking to exploit gaps in the Dortmund defence with fast paced counter attacks. The game will be remembered not only for the great quality of football on show, but also as the moment that Bayern exploded back onto the European stage after years of heartbreaking finals.

The era defining Barça team were outclassed by Jupp Heynckes clinical and defensively solid side. The only time we ever saw Bayern struggle defensively was when Arsenal put two past “Der FCB” and exited the competition on away goals. Despite the shaky performance against Arsenal, Bayern improved to smash Barça on their way to their fifth European Champions League title. Not only did Bayern look to counter attack quickly and exploit the weaknesses in the Dortmund and Barcelona sides, they also put men behind the ball very quickly, making it hard to break through their defence. Even though they looked to counter attack against Dortmund, they still had a larger percentage of possession, suggesting that they knew when to attack quickly and when to be more patient and build slowly from the back. Often, the two centre-backs would split when in possession, allowing the full-backs Alaba and Lahm to push higher up and therefore giving licence for the wingers to come in-field and play closer to their lone-striker.

One of the most interesting parts of the Bayern team, is that they lined up with a fairly rigid formation. The use of a “number 9” style striker, who held up play and laid it off to other, more expressive and creative players such as Robben and Ribery. Mario Mandžukić was often used as a target man, where balls could be played into feet and then played out wide to exploit the holes left by full backs. The speed and sharpness of Robben caused many problems for Barça during their two legs and Mandžukić played a key role in bringing him into play. Bayern are not just a counter attacking team however, they often dominated matches in the Bundesliga, however they always looked to quickly get men behind the ball.

“Tika Taka first came to our viewing screens over in England when Barça beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League Final in Rome in 2009 and became the first Spanish side ever to win the treble. This was a culture shock for English views to watch Xavi and Iniesta, both 5ft 7, dominate throughout, not forgetting Barcelona’s protagonist, Lionel Messi. Barcelona started seven players who had come through their youth system at ‘La Masia’. Barça’s flowing, attacking football showed the world the direction that football was going and they hadn’t finished yet.”

The paragraph above is from the first entry into a series of articles titled “Death of the Target Man” which I wrote last year. The focus of the article was looking into the new style of football, implemented by Barcelona and the Spanish national side in which a “False number 9” would play. These teams would play without a focal point in attack. Their main central attacking player, for example Lionel Messi at Barça, would drop deep when in possession, thus creating a gap in a more advanced area if the defender was to follow him, if the defender decides to stay in position, Messi would have time to turn and run at defences, putting them on the back foot. This formation and style has been hugely successful for Barcelona and also for Spain. It is no wonder that managers such as Brendon Rodgers has tried to emulate the style in which these teams play. Teams in the Premier League are trying to play out from the back and retain possession. Even West Ham have looked to move the ball across the back on occasion, before looking get the ball forward into more advanced areas.

The arrival of Josep Guardiola at Bayern will provide some very entertaining football at the Allianz Arena. Guardiola, hailed as one of the most successful managers in recent history, demonstrated this new brand of football at Barcelona between 2008-2012. With players like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, Barcelona went on to dominate in Spain and in Europe. Guardiola won 14 trophies in the 4 years he spent at Barça and the Spaniard will take over at Bayern this summer.

Guardiola has taken over a year out to analyse his style of football and to critic different philosophies, before taking the Bayern job. He is taking over a club which had a hugely successful season, as discussed earlier, but also with a large transfer budget and a strong defensive line-up. Barça, over the past few years, despite their appealing brand of football and immensely talented attacking players, have always looked vulnerable defensively, hence why they look to defend high up the pitch, with intense pressing from the midfield and front 3.

The idea behind this article is to try to delve into the philosophies behind Europe’s most successful clubs. Styles, formations and players change constantly, but philosophies often sustain changes in management. West Ham are a prime example as over the past 40 years the club has looked to field a side full of home-grown talent, often from the youth academy. West Ham players have more often than not been very good technical players who look to play a good passing game. This goes back to the Ron Greenwood area, an unsung hero in the movement of football philosophies. His coaching strategies were revolutionary and his style of play entertained as well as being successful.

Allardyce’s job was to get the Hammers promoted at the first attempt and secure a spot in the Premier League the following year. To his credit, he has been a success in these terms. Not many Hammers could argue that defensively we have looked competent for the first time in recent memory. Winston Reid has improved dramatically from his first season in the Premier League and this is in part down to the work of Allardyce and his backroom staff on the training ground. Allardyce’s teams are always strong and physical, however he does like creative players; Jay Jay Okocha being the prime example during Allardyce’s Bolton era. With the imminent signing of Andy Carroll, it looks as if we will be lined up in a similar manner as we did last season, with the objective being to bully defenders and utilise the wingers. Matt Jarvis continued to improve throughout the season and started to look like a real threat down the left hand side. The draw against Manchester United was a prime example of the way West Ham set up last season. The team worked hard defensively and were well organised and then looked to counter attack quickly out wide. The first goal being one of my favourite goals of the season; West Ham regained possession after a long spell from United and broke quickly with Jarvis, who put a fabulous lofted cross into Andy Carroll, who in turn found Vaz Te, who had an easy finish from close range.

This goal sticks in my memory. Not only because it was scored against United, in a game we were expected to lose but mainly because of the way it was scored, the culmination of everything Allardyce had been working towards had paid off. Jarvis’s pace created the opportunity for Carroll to peel away from his man towards the back post and his knock down was perfectly weighted for Vaz Te. This counter-attacking style has been evident this season when playing against the top 4 especially.

Returning back to the all German Champions League final, even Dortmund utilised Robert Lewandoski’s strength by playing balls into his feet, with his back facing towards goal like a conventional target man. However, Lewandoski is a much more complete forward as was evident with his movement and his eye for a pass. However he also brings players such as Reus, Błaszczykowski and Gotze (now moving to Munich of course) into play. The 4-2-3-1 line-up used by Dortmund means that the attacking 3 midfielders can roam more and therefore they are more difficult to mark. Reus may move more centrally, leaving space for the left back to move up into. Lewandoski may also come deep to allow space in behind him to be exploited by the likes of Gotze and Reus especially. The lone-striker is becoming more of common sight in modern football and some fans have called for changes, especially at Upton Park. Many Hammers fans do not like the one striker approach brought in by Allardyce and would prefer to see two strikers up top.

In part two of “The re-birth of the Target Man” I will be discussing formations, “two up top”, signings and whether Allardyce is just a “one trick pony”

Will we see Tika-taka at Bayern? Is Carroll to rigid in this style of play? Can we try to emulate the style of Bayern with an organised defence and swift counter attacks? Tweet me @TollyCoburn

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  • Johnsey says:

    That was a very long article that merely pointed out that some clubs play in a different style to others.
    The “target man” has always been (and will always be) a fundamental tactic within football clubs, the notable exception being Barca who played a more fluid style with midfielders to the fore, and who wouldn’t with Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas and Messi to call upon.

  • The Cat says:

    Well done Tolly, very interesting, informative and a good read.

    Proves the subject matter doesn’t have to be the same re-hashed articles, but something that sparks the imagination on football, tactics and styles!

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