Striker partnerships are tricky beasts to get right. Especially since the rise of single-striker formations (or, as we saw last week, strikerless formations). However, a good number of people like to play 4-4-2 or 3-5-2, and to get these to work effectively the manager has to look at his forward line.
Playing two up front may have lost a lot of its popularity in recent years, but for years setting up a good partnership between the two “centre forwards” was one of the foremost concerns of football managers. The “number 9” and the “number 10” were supposed to work together and complement each other. Usually the 9 had the job of sticking it in the onion bag, while the 10 was the provider, be that through skill and cunning, or brute force. Newcastle United fans revere the goal scoring exploits of their classic number 9s Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer, while the number 10 shirts of Bergkamp at Arsenal and Pelé for Brazil epitomise the creative forward who could also chip in with brilliant goals of their own. But for all that, it is difficult to think that Millburn and Shearer would have worked well in the same forward line. And while Pele and Bergkamp may have been awe-inspiring in the same team, Tostão and Henry were just as important to the whole team dynamic.
Strike partnerships tend to fall in to one of two categories. The “tall guy, quick guy” combination and the “creator, scorer” combination. The former has been a favourite on the Football Manager forums for years, utilising players such as Eddie Johnson and Nikola Žigić as the lump who wins the ball up front to allow s***-off-a-shovel strikers such as Darren Bent and Theo Walcott to put the ball away. The other, more akin to the Sheringham-Shearer combination for England, or Bergkamp-Henry for Arsenal is perhaps a little less popular, but no less potent if set up correctly in the game. Perhaps the popularity of the tall-quick combo has led to it seeming more useful in FM and FML, simply because managers are more experienced and more confident in using it.
x-x-1-1 or x-x-2?
There are, of course, two ways to set up a striker partnership. The tall-quick combination lends itself particularly well to using two players in the FC position. The tall man will tend to be selected with a support duty and a target man role and will receive the ball, using his strength and height to hold up the ball and then flick it on or pass it through to the striker ahead of him or a midfielder in support. Think Emile Heskey. The quicker player will perhaps be used with an attack duty as an advanced forward, or even a poacher, playing ahead of everyone else, not tracking back and playing with an eye to running on to through balls and scoring goals. Essentially, the tall man plays with his back to goal, while the quick man plays with his back to his teammates. Think Michael Owen.
The other combination leads itself to different settings however. With two FCs, the creator may be an inside forward, deep-lying forward, or trequartista, playing deeper with a support duty and looking to receive the ball and play. Which one suits your creator will depend on his skills, and movement, and may well take a few goes to get right. Ultimately, however, he should be looking to receive the ball in space and distribute it to team mates who can open up space to either score themselves or work the ball into better attacking positions. He may even go on to score himself if the chances open up. Think Wayne Rooney. The goal scorer could be a poacher, advanced forward or even (if his skills allow) a complete forward, designed to receive the ball from others and look for goal rather than spending too much time looking for a pass. Think Thierry Henry. This combination can be incredibly effective, but does require a good creator and an efficient goal scorer. It also relies on good technical abilities, where as a good tall-quick combo can be created simply by finding incredibly good athletes to fill the roles. At least, it can at lower levels.
But some “4-4-2s” actually play with more of a “4-4-1-1” shape, with the supporting forward dropping deeper to the AMC position. This would be set up very similarly to the above, although it would give the AMC the chance to be an advanced playmaker too. Think, Kaka. And because of this, the system is transferable to other formation that include an AMC and a single FC, such as the Brazilian or Spanish 4-2-3-1s with a midfield line of AML, AMC and AMR. The support player (the number 10) drops back into the midfield, but essentially it can be seen as a modification of the 4-4-2.
Lone striker formations are a little more tricky, and we will cover those at a later date. However, for those of you who still believe a forward two is the way to go, hopefully this will show the ways in which you can get that to work with your side.
|Written By Gareth Millward
"Millie" is a long-standing member of the FM community and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com. As part of FM-Britain, he was a contributor to TT&F and involved with the new tactical interface in FM2010.