Oct 03

Lone Striker Formations


As promised in the article on split forwards a few weeks ago, this week we’re going to look at strikers playing up there all on their lonesome.

Feed the goat…

In order to score, players need service. In two or more striker formations, that isn’t a problem at all. The creative man or the big man provides the balls for the goal scorer to put away. Not every team has a Maradona who can weave through a defence at will and score the necessary goals – even Diego needed a helping… er… hand as well as his magnificent slaloming goal against England in 1986.

Solving this problem is the key to getting a good lone-striker formation to work. Most of the following examples use the 4-5-1 as the base, simply because this is the most common real-world formation which uses a single striker. There are, of course, other possibilities – 5-4-1 (as we saw in catenaccio), even 3-6-1 if Hiddink’s South Korea were anything to go by. But, of course, not every 4-5-1 is the same.

The following two points are essential in creating an effective lone-striker formation:

  • The striker cannot play too far away from any midfield support
  • Enough midfielders must be allowed forward to support the striker

And there are three ways of doing this:

  • Play enough players in the AM stratum of the formation screen
  • Give attacking duties and enough forward runs to the midfield players
  • Play the lone striker with a support duty and a lower mentality than the most attacking midfielders

You don’t have to do all three, of course, but I would say you probably need two of these to really get the system to work well – unless you’re trying to “park the bus” like an Andorra or San Marino in a World Cup qualifier and are happy to play nine men behind the ball.

4-5-1’s finest hour

italy451 Lone Striker Formationsfrance451 Lone Striker Formations

On 9 June 2006, Italy and France walked out onto the turf at the Olympicstadion in Berlin with only two recognised strikers between them. The match ended 1-1, but it confirmed that the process of playing with fewer and fewer forwards (which had started in the 1930s when the Austrians decided to “only” play four up front) had reached its zenith. Or had it? Whatever – what is most important is the different ways in which each team solved the conundrum of playing with only one forward but still feeding him with enough opportunities to score.

You might say they failed, Zidane scoring an audacious penalty and Materazzi getting a header from a corner. That game really was all about Zidane versus Materazzi, wasn’t it?

But let’s look at the Italian formation on the left. Here, the support comes from the centre. An AMC (Totti), playing like the number 10 in the 4-4-1-1 formation, supports the target man (Toni). The wide players play deeper (Camoranesi, Perotta), and the ball is moved around by a regista or deep-lying playmaker (Pirlo). The emphasis here is on moving the ball well around the midfield and using the creativity of the AMC to provide the striker with a scoring chance.

The French formation (above, right) is different. The support here comes from an advanced midfield three. The wider players (Ribéry, Malouda) are given licence to cut inside and flank the lone-forward (Henry). The creative playmaker is higher up the field, and plays in the number 10 role at AMC (Zidane). And the midfield is supported from behind by the defensively minded, yet technically gifted anchor men (Vieira, Makélélé). Again, the emphasis is on the midifield moving the ball around well, but the attacking four (Henry, Ribéry, Malouda and Zidane) are each asked to be creative, to use each other and move around to create chances.


mourinho451 Lone Striker Formationsroma451 Lone Striker Formations

Both the Italian and the French systems don’t rely much on width. The French have creative movement and flair; the Italians have ball movement to work the ball in for the target man. There are, however, ways of using width to get the ball in to the front man. Chelsea under Mourinho had the driving runs of Frank Lampard, but also the width of Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff. Later (and less successfully), this wide role would be passed to the full backs Ashley Cole and José Bosingwa. The use of advanced wingers (AML/R) is another way of providing service, and is more favourable to sensitive British audiences. However, it also uses a midfielder with high energy to surge from the centre to support the “complete forward”, Drogba, who had speed, touch, strength and height – perfect for slotting away through balls (as the Italians would prefer), heading in crosses (Chelsea) or moving and providing for his other team mates (France).

Not every team has a Drogba. Toni is a good old fashioned poacher – so, providing good balls was the best way to score, hence the emphasis on midfield play. Henry was creative and blisteringly quick – so creativity and through balls were supposed to get the best from him (but then, has Thierry ever given his “best” for the French?). It is interesting that when Drogba went off the boil, or was injured, Chelsea also stuttered in the league and in Europe.

As always, then, it is important to play to a squad’s strengths. Which leads us to the final lone-forward formation from a couple of weeks ago – Spalletti’s 4-6-0. Without a poacher, and without a complete forward, Totti (the nominal centre-forward), was asked to drop deep and play as a creator – not with three other central players like the French, but with two central players and two wide men. The five of them could then support each other. However, without the advanced players (all four played AM) there would not have been enough players forward to score. Totti, then, was the focal point in the centre of the field. But Roma could supply him from behind, the side and with crosses from the wing.

So. You can go wide, like Chelsea. You can push the midfield forward, like the French. You can play with a support player, like the Italians. Or you can surround a deep-lying striker with options, like the Romans. I’m sure there are many other genius solutions too. But no matter how you feed the goat, he has to be fed. Surrounding the lone-forward with a well-constructed formation and game plan is essential to getting the most of your sole FC.

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.
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