Not many publicly available tactics include trequartista’s. It could be an issue of relatability, as they aren’t commonly used in English football. It also doesn’t help that their most notable trait, in the in-game role description, is their lack of tracking back. It all culminates in the idea of a ‘luxury’ player, who uses his intrinsic skill to do what he wants, and when he feels like it; this eschews everything about English footballing traditions, where the sign of everyone tracking back and running is often enough for commentators to conclude that the manager is doing their job.
Is this a fair summary of their role? No, not at all. Unless you’re from the school of thought that believes that tackles are the only plausible demonstration of ‘true’ commitment.
Their similarities to an advanced playmaker are crucial, as the latter role is commonly used among FM players. They’re expected to penetrate the gap between the opposition’s midfield and defence. To do this, they stand in a more advanced position than other midfielders, assigned by their instruction to roam from position, and thread through more risky passes when they receive the ball. If they have an attack duty, they also ‘dribble more’, which can exacerbate opposition players’ dilemma of whether to close them down and leave space behind, or wait for them to drive forward and execute their plan. In other words, advanced playmakers are primarily creative players; every action they take on the ball is directly designed to either set up an attacking move, or unsettle the opposition’s defensive shape.
Trequartista’s are similar, except their movements off the ball are also designed for the same purpose. The benefits of this ploy are not restricted to when the team attack.
This screenshot is a prime example of how trequartista’s movements into channels affect opposition defenders. Even with five Roma defenders facing three Everton attackers, they’re all so far behind the midfielders and in a heavily constricted shape. As the Everton attackers are solely designed to be effective out-balls and exploit gaps in Roma’s defence, they take up the entirety of the defenders’ attention. This causes the midfield three to drop off Everton’s midfield, and Everton’s full-backs to have a superlative amount of space to roam forward. If the trequartista’s vacated these positions off the ball to press, then Roma players may have felt incentivised to take more risks going forward, knowing that the same persistent threats might not have been in position and ready to pounce on any lapse.
As someone who sets up and engineers attacking moves on the ball, and creates space for the team off it, a trequartista can thrive in many systems, provided the team is built around his speciality. The role description itself says: “The rest of the team need to carry him when defending, but use him as the main outlet when attacking”. For the team to win the ball back, and create space in an attacking sense, the trequartista needs players that do a lot of closing down around him. Furthermore, he’s likely to need more attacking support than someone like a target man or false nine would. Unless you have a human demigod on steroids, a trequartista as a lone forward in a defensive formation seems unlikely to work, because he will have little ammunition to create breakaways himself. After all, his role is not to hold the ball up. Also, the opposition are likely to be able to intercept the ball before it reaches him. In the right system, however, trequartista’s can almost single-handedly spring the team up the pitch, by roaming around every hole in the opposition defence.
This is where ball-winning midfielders come in. Everyone knows what they do: kick a football. Along with having lungs, legs and a brain of course. Saying ‘win the ball’ is too easy. As they have ‘close down much more’ and ‘tackle harder’ on their player instructions, ball-winning midfielders seem to be the antithesis to trequartista’s, in that they do the much-needed leg work. While that admittedly explains the main aspect of their usefulness, at its absolute essence, it doesn’t begin to demonstrate their full impact.
Because ball-winning midfielders have one core function, like trequartista’s, they can be flexible with their positioning and fill in where needed. On the ball, they’re utility players who simply support attacks and are ready to pounce when the ball is lost, when they’re on a ‘support’ duty. Ball-winning midfielders are likely to stay near attackers, while also maintaining their defensive purpose.
In this screenshot, Manchester United had just won the ball. This means the three Everton trequartista’s were not yet in position to discourage their opponents from breaking forward. However, the quick, aggressive counter-press here prevented Isco from being able to manoeuvre the ball into space and forced Manchester United’s three central midfielders to spread out in deep positions. Ball-winning midfielders often prevent the back four being engaged on counter-attacks; this removes potential glaring gaps for the opposition to exploit, and a probable goal-scoring opportunity if the engaged defender’s challenge fails. While my sweeper keeper and ball-playing defenders play the ball out of the back, and my wing-backs roam forward, the ball-winning midfielders shuffle everywhere to stop them being exposed in quick breakaways. In other words, they make the transition between attack and defence relatively seamless, which is so fundamental in a possession-based tactic.
Here’s how that move ended up nine seconds later:
With the trequartista’s back in position, Manchester United’s defenders were hesitant to roam forward. As the ball-winning midfielders would not allow Isco or his midfield partners to rest in possession, while also ensuring centre-backs Mammana and Keane could hold their positions, Isco could only embark on a desperate run out wide and win a throw-in. In that screenshot, it’s notable how all three ball-winning midfielders are occupying Everton’s right-hand side so aggressively, allowing a lot of space for cross-field balls. Ultimately, provided that the back four are in position off the ball within a few seconds of the ball being lost, that’s a risk worth taking, because the ball needs to be won quickly and consistently for the opposition to be threatened by the presence of the trequartista’s. Put simply, by not having set positional and attacking duties, the ball-winning midfielders ensure my midfield cannot be bypassed by the counter-attacking team at any time in this tactic. Although it wouldn’t work without the three trequartista’s for attacking support, or a similar substitute.
When building tactics, it’s often crucial to consider the relationship between creators and facilitators. Would a midfield playmaker under Pep Guardiola work as effectively without the selfless runs of the false nine’s, floating wide players, or inverted wing-backs? If every part of the team has a completely distinct role designed only for their area of the pitch, which isn’t part of a collective purpose, then few players are likely to be able to use their particular skill to its full potential. Roles such as the trequartista can be invaluable, but their unique attacking and defensive instructions could be incongruent with the team’s tactics if they aren’t accompanied by facilitators in an attacking and defensive sense.