The false nine is intended to work as the above diagram describes it. No surprises there. Instead of battling directly with the centre-halves and making every ball they could win a lottery, the striker drops deeper into midfield. In turn, this causes havoc; the opposing centre-halves don’t want to jeopardise their defensive line’s stability by following the striker into midfield, while the midfield ahead of them is outnumbered if they don’t. It’s a clever way to avoid offside traps, involve the striker without risking the ball being lost, and attack when opposing teams have blocked off your playmakers.
However, when building a tactic on Football Manager, it doesn’t automatically work like that.
Here, inside forward Moise Kean is cutting inside. The Marseille left-back and two central midfielders are closing him down, while their midfield is occupied by false nine Francois Boisson. The two centre-backs are dropping off. Since every Marseille player besides striker Adama Diakhaby was sat behind the ball, their midfield wasn’t outnumbered.
Technically, Boisson’s position could still cause problems. He had a fair amount of space to collect the ball and hold onto it. He could even unleash a shot! It’s a hell of a smarter position to take than trying to get behind the centre-backs.
However, while Kean cuts inside, shouldn’t Boisson or someone else be exploiting the vacant space on the outside of left-back Leon Meulenberg? Wasn’t the purpose of a false nine to enter positions that cause havoc between the opposition midfield and defence?
The closest player to entering that space is right-back Darwin Rodriguez; he has too much catching up to do and the Marseille left-winger is following him in any case.
The false nine isn’t as versatile off the ball as you might imagine. Boisson is indeed the striker sitting off the Marseille centre-backs. Nonetheless, while my left centre-back is set to bring the ball out of defence, Boisson’s solely focused on where those centre-backs are, rather than shifting his position to the left in conjunction with the ball’s position and the opposition midfield’s press.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, or a reason not to use a false nine.
It’s just worth remembering that despite the role giving the striker clear instructions to drop slightly deeper, enter the channels and link up play, their instincts are still that of a striker. If a false nine has a PPM of ‘tries to break offside trap’, that’s exactly what they will do.
As the screenshots show, the false nine is usually set to position themselves in the line ahead of every midfielder. Often, when the ball goes out of play, their starting position is extremely deep, but they quickly get forward regardless of which team has the ball.
Conversely, the false nine shares many similarities to the advanced playmaker on the ball. Here, Boisson received the ball deep from Kean, with the left-back being drawn inside to follow him. To get away from the crowd of players swarmed around him, Boisson drifted out wide in the hope of creating space for the onrushing midfielders or winning a free kick.
In a nutshell, false nines are serviceable at creating space and great at linking up play, but not the players you’d want to rely on for overlapping and underlapping runs. They rely on movement around them; even more than in real life.
These traits are accentuated by my current tactic. As there’s only one striker and no outfield player with an attack duty, the false nine tends to assume himself as the focal point. In addition, my team shape is ‘highly structured’, which means the striker is expected to stick to their role and focus only on their phase of play. Might this explain why they resume their striker position so quickly once the ball goes back in play?
With a few subtle alterations, the role might work much differently. For instance, if you changed the team shape to ‘very fluid’ and paired the false nine with an advanced forward or another orthodox striker role, they would have a greater propensity to drop especially deep.
However, in this game, it’s virtually impossible to create a team fluid enough to play in triangles in whichever space is most likely to catch out your opponents.
To sum up, a few quick pointers to keep in mind:
- Have players around the false nine creating space in front of the opposition backline
If the opposition centre-backs have enough space to stand off the false nine, and the midfielders ahead of them can stay tight, they’re crowded out and relatively easy to defend against. The attackers around them could be inside forwards, but trequartista’s have also worked for me in the past. There could even be a second striker. The false nine isn’t fluid enough off the ball to consistently move into the most advantageous channels, particularly if that would involve deviating further away from the opposing centre-backs.
- Expect a lot of tweaking to avoid too many long, hopeful shots
The reasoning behind this is two-fold. Firstly, being just off the opposition centre-backs, the false nine will typically find themselves with space to shoot from just outside the penalty area. Also, if they’re the furthest player forward and are crowded out, shooting will become their only viable option. I often experiment between having ‘look for overlap’ and ‘look for underlap’ to mitigate this problem, depending on the state of my current tactic. Having ‘work ball into box’ should go without saying.
‘Look for overlap’ can be more penetrating but having a wing-back on support in conjunction with that instruction can be problematic. As the wing-back is set to ‘go further forward’ anyway, the combination can result in frequent offside runs and space vacated for the opposition to counter-attack. An over-reliance on hitting the ball to onrushing full-backs can also result in a lot of lost possession if the opposition are well-equipped, particularly given the distance between the full-back and their teammates.
On the other hand, an effective underlap relies on players frequently making inside runs beyond the player on the ball, which can be hard to find the space to execute.
- Avoid too many advanced playmakers in attacking midfield
The problem? You run the risk of overcrowding the area where the false nine operates. On a structured setup, the advanced playmakers should sit deeper, but they often drive forward from their hole. Without enough attacking options to support the advanced playmakers runs, the false nine might be forced to make a quick attempt to run behind the opposition defence; this can make them unavailable and cause offsides. Considering the number of players that they’re occupying, it’s tough to pull this strategy off effectively.
In a number 10 role, trequartistas are a safer bet; they drift wherever the space is.
- Pick players accustomed to occupying the right areas
In a structured setup, I would only usually consider a natural striker or attacking midfielder for this role. In most teams, that leaves plenty of options left to choose from. On my scouting bar, I have searched for everyone’s whose natural role is a false nine.
The standout attributes here are flair and off the ball. A player who can run free of the opposition’s shackles and muster an opportunity is a must. Nearly every one of these players is accomplished in one or more of the attacking midfield positions behind them. Looking even further, false nine’s often have impressive agility, balance and quickness.
Instead of relying on their strength to beat centre-backs directly, the false nine should be alert and nimble enough to find small amounts of space in tight areas. But somehow, it isn’t enough to just find the space! The false nine should then quickly redistribute the ball away from the crowd, into an area more conducive towards creating a goal-scoring opportunity.
Ultimately, even though I’ve highlighted the false nine’s positional rigidity on the ball, the first attribute I’d look for is ‘off the ball’; the smallest details in their movement can make the biggest differences for everyone around them. In most cases, the result is picking the player with the most naturally aggressive role.
So how do you utilise your false nines? What are your experiences like using them, if you have any?
Other articles you may enjoy:
- Who to Manage for FM19?
- Why Football Manager is more than a game?
- How To Score More Goals On Football Manager 2018
- How to keep clean sheets on Football Manager 2018
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