THE BOOK OF ROLES *UPDATED*
When creating tactics we need to know how we are going to win games with the players at our disposal. Visualising how we score goals helps. Knowing which area of this pitch we can control with our players is vital.
There are many ways to build a tactic, you can go ground up by analysing your team to find a tactical shape that suits them or you can impose your own tactical shape on them and slowly mould them into how you want to play. There is no right way, only your way.
Ultimately football is just a battle on a pitch where sides try to win battles across the pitch. Weaker sides will try and win the battles in defence and try and launch quick counters. Sometimes they will try and force stronger sides on the backfoot and deny them a chance to play their game. Stronger sides could try and impose their will on a game and try and control the bigger areas of the pitch forcing weaker sides into an endless barrage of attacks. That’s the beauty of the game – there is no one tactical approach, and that’s the same with creating a tactical system. There are many ways to do it.
There is one thing that stands true in any system. You need to find the right player to do the job you want. If you aim to play a defensive game then you need the right kind of players to do the job. With that in mind I will explain certain roles in the game to begin with so that I get the basics out of the way before constructing a tactic. A role can be played in different ways and it can work in combination with other instructions in the game to offer you choices. How these roles play on the pitch can affect your tactical shape, so its important to understand the basics first. Once you understand roles you will be able to make effective combinations with the players that you have.
The Short and Sweet of Roles
· Technically proficient, good first touch, dribbling and kicking are attributes needed apart from typical keeper attributes
· Ideal for possession football and countering prevent short goalkeeper distribution and the high press.
· Used well when we have players in close proximity to offer passing options. Eg. Ball Playing Defender, Deep Lying Playmaker
· Might leave the box to launch attacks from deep
· Real Life Example: Allisson, Liverpool
· Works well in combination with a BPD, to counter the jigh press or prevent short goal keeper distribution.
How a sweeper keeper and a ball playing defender can create passing combinations to beat a high press. They draw the team in before releasing the ball either to a playmaker or they can use the BPD to do a deep diagonal. Without these roles the Sweeper Keeper could try and pass the ball to the nearest fullback.
· Orthodox keeper, doesn’t need to have good first touch
· Can still play the ball on the ground with the “Play out of Defence” team instruction
· Stays in the penalty area, rarely ventures out of the box
· Real Life Example: Kaspar Schmiechel, Leicester (Before Brendan Rodgers as manager)
· Generic defenders who are a good option for any side
· Will play the ball out of defence or in the air.
· Team instructions and mentality can influence their play, sometimes they will play the ball long when there are no adequate passing options.
· Movement – Does not leave the defensive line
Ball Playing Defender
· Technically proficient player, good first touch, dribbling, passing, vision and technical defender attributes
· Can launch deep diagonal attacks from the back if there are good options in front. Eg an Inside Forward on attack duty playing against the high press, with space to attack.
· Risky role if used with players who have poor first touch, composure and dribbling
· When paired with a sweeper keeper they can counter a high press or prevent short GK distribution
· Can be used very effectively in a 5 man or a 4 man defensive line.
· Movement – Dynamic role that can leave the defensive line to initiate attacks or break lines (eg, Move from defensive line to midfield)
· Real life example: Virgil Van Dyke (Liverpool), Matthis De Light (Ajax)
· Creative central defender, passing, decisions, vision, and dribbling are recommended attributes to have in addition to central defender attributes
· Technically proficient player
· Can push out of his defensive line when he brings the ball out of defence
· To bring the best out of him, it’s best not to have playmakers ahead of him
· A good role for playmakers who need to be retrained as they get older as long as the defenders around them are fast.
No Nonsense Central Defender
· Ideal role for players who are not great with passing, first touch or dribbling
· A role that plays direct balls into space or towards a player
· Ideal role for sides that want to play defensive football where clearing the ball is the first priority
· Can be used by any team as an option for a deep strike when they are playing with attacking duties in the final third
No Nonsense Fullback
· Does not overlap
· Simple fullback role whose priority is to guard the flanks
· His starting positioning is usually too deep to offer support to attacking players in central positions because he holds position
· His job is to help the team recycle possession so he will not be expected to cross often.
· He may clear the ball when he has no good options to pass to
· Versatile with plenty of options offered by duties, including automatic duty, which makes this a very customisable role that can be abused.
· If a team is on attacking mentality and you use a FB on auto he will follow the team mentality and you can instruct him to do things that may not be available to other duties. It’s a duty I avoid.
· On defend duties he holds his position and crosses from deep
· On support duties, decisions and his individual mentality will influence his play. He will choose when to do cross, play the through ball. His job is to support the midfield and attacks.
· On attack duties, the fullback will cross more often and look for chances to move higher up the pitch.
· A fullback on support can be positioned higher to support midfield with the overlap/underlap shout. This will place them close to midfield, but can run the risk of putting the team in danger if the side is not good at circulating the ball.
· A fullback can be influenced to pass inside more by using the “Sit Narrow” instruction. This will move them narrower during buildup play. This can be useful for sides that have issues with keeping the ball when they are building play from the back.
In this image you can see how the fullbacks position themselves. When playing on support or defend they will not commit to attacking transitions early, instead they will wait till your side exerts control over the opposition area.
Here the FB(D) on the left flank is helping the team circulate possession, he will have plenty of passing options.
The FB(D) may not overlap but if you have the right distribution of roles in midfield you can use them to control midfield creating space for him to be an unmarked cross deliverer from deep.
Never look down on a FB(D).
These are some of the movement patterns we can expect from duties and from certain player instructions like “Sit Narrow” and “Overlap/Underlap”
· More aggressive than the fullback
· Good role for sides opting to play an aggressive possession game in midfield and the opponent’s third
· A wingback on defend duty will help the side keep possession of the ball, help the ball move the ball through the midfield transition phase but will prioritise returning back to a defensive position when needed
· Wingbacks on Defend duty are positioned higher up the pitch than a fullback on support
In attacking transitions they will get themselves higher up the pitch
Here is a wingback on defend duty supporting the attack, if the side loses the ball he needs to track back quickly.
His priority is to cover the threat that is on the flank.
Wingbacks on defend do not cross from the byeline, they will hold position and cross from deep
- A cross between a defensive midfelder and a fullback
- Positions himself in the defensive midfield tier when the team has the ball and they are moving from defence to midfield
- On defend duty he will hold position, unless you have the overlap instruction, which could influence him to down the flanks if you are in control of the opposition third
- On support/attack duty he can end up attacking the box centrally. In some cases he may move further than a central midfielder on support.
This role requires specific requirements to work, failing which they default to playing as wingbacks
- If used with two defensive midfielders, the role defaults to playing like a wingback because the defensive midfield strata is already occupied
- If only one defensive midfielder is used but he is not centrally placed the IWB closest to the DM will default to playing as a wingback
- If there are no wingers/wide midfielders playing in the AML/AMR/MR/MR slot, then the IWB defaults to playing as a wingback
- These are done by design by SI.
- Real Life Example: Phillip Lahm, (Bayern under Pep Guardiola)
Here we are playing with two IWB, behind two wingers, note how the IWB’s are positioned slightly ahead of the DM. These IWB’s have been given the overlap instruction.
We are in control of the opposition space, and the IWB goes forward to overlap and receive the pass out wide
IWB’s can also break through lines quickly, here our IWB has dribbled all the way from his starting position, out to the right flank, even before the other IWB has got into position.
He holds the ball long enough for the rest of the team to catch up, plays the ball to the central midfielder
The central midfielder moves wide to play the ball out back to the IWB as he comes in free to cross the ball.
This IWB was played on support, with the overlap instruction to create this style of play.
However this kind of dynamic attack also has its risks. His driving runs can sometimes leave your flanks exposed. To use this role effectively you will need a technically capable player who can do the task without losing the ball. He will also need to have good acceleration, stamina and work rate. When used with high defensive lines, choosing the wrong player for this role can be catastrophic.
Along with the IWB this is the other wingback role that has roam from position making their play-style unpredictable
CWB can cut inside or go wide
Suited for players with good technical, mental and physical attributes.
Since they roam they need to have good decisions to make the right call whether to go wide or narrow.
They start from wider positions and will dribble more.
Before looking at their roles it’s worth noting that one can play with up to 3 defensive midfielders in that strata but whether it’s a good idea or not I leave it to your imagination.
- The most disciplined defensive midfielder
- Positions himself in front of the two central defenders and does not venture too far from them.
- Plays simple passes and does not do anything extraordinary
- Is a great choice when you want to move the ball safely to playmakers positioned in central midfield
- One of the best roles in the game for disciplined defences
- Effective against lone man striker formations in isolating them as passing options
An anchorman’s position in front of the central defenders and in the opponent’s third when you have possession
Forming a tight partnership with the central defenders, not expected to close down players on the flank
An anchorman will not venture too far away from his defenders
- Another excellent role for protecting your defences
- A bit more creative than the Anchorman and might try longer passes and risky passes
- He may close down further away than an anchorman.
- If there are other players closing down in midfield then this could lead to complications as the DM may also enter the mix leaving you vulnerable.
- Ideally you want someone with good positioning, concentration and decisions to play this role, because they can sometimes commit to actions that reflect poor decisions.
- This may be a generic role but it is also a simpler role without being locked into player instructions and can be a good option for more creative players, as they wouldn’t be shoe-horned into a particular playstyle
- Real life example: Javi Martinez
A defensive midfielder generally occupies the same area as an anchorman
Here the DM has joined other roles in midfield to close down a player even though the team is playing on balanced and he is on defend duty. This leaves the defence vulnerable. With a good defensive line and the right players this may not be an issue, but it’s worth paying attention to.
Ball Winning Midfielder
- A very interesting role, this player is a disruptor
- He breaks down play, has a big area of influence and needs to be used with care.
- If used in the defensive midfield tier, he can leave the central defenders to close down the flanks.
- If used in midfield as a support duty he can close down further up the pitch.
A good position to use him is in central midfield on support where he can disrupt sides and make it hard for them to build up play in midfield
Here we have a BWM who has left the area in front of the central defenders unprotected as he goes to close down the opposition in their half.
In your own half he could leave one of the central defenders unprotected as he goes to help out the flanks. Note his positioning and compare that to the anchorman and defensive midfielder. While he can be a very good player at winning the ball, you will still need good players with good positioning and concentration around him.
The combination of these roles and the use of FB(S) and FB(D) allow us to build play out of the back.
When we get to the final third our trio of midfielders do a fairly good job of controlling the centre while we are safe down the flanks. This gives us a chance to deliver crosses from deep
Segundo Volante – Roaming Playmaker – Regista
All three roles are variants of playmakers. All three can be played from the defensive midfield position, but only the Regista and Playmaker can be played from central defensive midfield positions. Careful thought needs to made about roles and duties around the Segundo Volante and the Regista to get the best out of them. Otherwise they will get bypassed as passing options
- Cross between the DLP/BBM/DM
- Demanding role – covers, defends, creates and can arrive late to score
- Played in the DM tier, either alone and offset from the middle or part of a pair of DMs
- Requires work rate, decisions, first touch, dribbling, vision, off the ball and stamina as main attributes. Other attributes enhance the role – Positioning, Tackling and Marking will strengthen his defensive contribution and Flair will enhance his attacking style.
- Very good option for any kind of side that wants to play possession football with a defensive tactical shape
- His driving runs can be hard to handle for opposition side
- When paired with a W(S) down a flank they make an extremely strong flank attacking pair
- Can operate in the half-spaces to draw players to him
Here I am using the Segundo Volante as a pair with one on support and another on attack. They are supported by a BWM(D) playing ahead of them. Note the movement of the SV(A) as he arrives late in the box.
In the next image I have paired my SV(A)/SV(S) with an F9 in attack. In an attacking transition I can expect my F9 to drop deep vacate the space for the SV(A) to attack.
You can expect the SV(A) to go quite high up the pitch to support attacks. Here is almost on par with the W(S) who has the ball. He starts out in this position when we have the ball in midfield
And follows the W(S) to lend support as he moves higher up the pitch
And then finally arrives late in the box to be a goal scoring threat
- Less aggressive than an SV(A), More aggressive then a DLP.
- Ideally used with systems that play higher up the pitch and can dominate possession
- Creative player that does not run with the ball as much as an SV but makes himself available
- Ideally suited for lower tempo systems, on higher tempo settings he could be bypassed and will likely be used only if your side can camp in the opponents half.
- Mainly acts like a link player for defense and attack with the ability to play the creative pass, not dissimilar to the roaming playmaker
- Real life example : Andrea Pirlo
Our regsta dropping deep to make himself available for the pass from the keeper.
He is a more aggressive creative player than a playmaker and will position himself fairly high in the attacking transition.
His behaviour is not to different from a Roaming Playmaker who can also position himself fairly high in the attacking transition
I grouped SV, RPM and Regista in one group because they have slight variations from each other. People normally assess the effectiveness of these players in a wrong way, by looking at their assists numbers. The best way of seeing their effectiveness is to assess their passing completion percentages and whether they are the source of key passes that lead to assists.
He is also a link player that helps build transitions, this is why his passing completion numbers need to be good. You do not want any playmaker or quasi playmaker role to be losing possession or making bad passes.
In other words, did he play a key pass to a player who generated an assist. You can either drill to statistics or pay attention to games.
- Needs good decisions, passing, vision, off the ball, first touch
- Roams a lot so he needs good work rate, stamina and natural fitness
- Can be played under any tempo settings
- Positoning and behaviour is similar to the Reg
- Shares smiliar weakness to the SV and the Regista, the roaming can place his side under pressure
- His roaming is also a strength for sides that are good at keeping the ball
- When using any roaming role in the centre of the pitch in the defensive midfield area, you need to think of how the roles and duties around it will defend the space once the player is not there to defend it.
- The RPM will move all over the pitch to support play and does not make an ideal defensive player.
- May leave central defensive midfield are unprotected when you are in possession and are building play up in midfield
In this image the RPM is not in a good position when his side’s attack breaks down. The opposition have played a clearance in the direction of a player who is free.
As the attack builds up you can clearly see the problem as the opposition player has the option to free a player to attack space or drive the ball himself down the left
The RPM will move all over the pitch to support play in this image he moves to the left where he is needed