Almost every football fan has at some point of their lives dreamed about becoming a football player. The likes of Ronaldo Nazario, Roberto Baggio, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy made us all dream about becoming strikers, 9s.
Growing up watching football also made us learn to read the game in a certain way and also finding out new things about it almost every week. Modern football is known for the rise of the “false 9”. A striker somewhere between a “10” and a classic “9”.
As we all know, the 9 has always taken up the central, most advanced position in football.
The normal 9 leads, scores, gets on the end of crosses and runs for through balls. He is a focal point, leading the line and playing against the centre backs trying to find space in behind them to score.
A false 9 however, is essentially a striker who drops deeps, he drifts back into midfield rather staying around the penalty box for various tactical reasons.
When was it first used?
During the early 30s,the Austrian national team was known as the wunderteam, and leading the team was the withdrawn center forward Matthias Sindelar. Sindelar was one of the first strikers who dropped deep to create havoc among defences. In modern football,the earliest example one can think of is, Francesco Totti for Roma under Luciano Spaletti back in 2006/07.
What does a false 9 do ?
The modern false 9 is all about creating superiorities between lines of pressure through rehearsed movements and rapid passing. This creates at least a triangle, if not a diamond of passes for the midfielder in possession making at least one of the passing options between the lines of the opposition midfield and defence.
The false 9 is a deeper lying striker, who drifts away from the centre backs into a danger are between the lines, creating uncertainty in the defence about whether to track or stay
While most modern teams have moved from man-marking to zonal marking, the movement of a false 9 will create a problem for any back line. He will either make a centre back push up, and therefore making him isolating his partner, dragging in a full back to cover or leaving an exposed space, or he leaves the false 9 to drop, allowing him space and time to pick a pass or shoot.
A midfielder could drop to pick up the false 9 but that creates another overload further up the pitch.
Current false 9s
Let’s take for instance Benzema during Zidane’s first spell at Real Madrid. The club’s success was most importantly due the ZZ’ 4-4-2 Diamond.
With both Isco and Ronaldo tending to move toward half spaces, Karim creates space for them with clever movement. He would drag defenders towards him, which would allow CR7 to be in a perfect position for scoring.
As you can see in the video, Benzema managed to keep both Barzagli and Chiellini busy, which allowed Cristiano to find himself alone right in front of Buffon and to score the opening goal of Madrid’s 3-0 victory in Turin back in 2018.
It goes without saying that a false 9 needs a goal scoring machine by his side. Just like Benzema had Ronaldo, Firmino has Salah.
Firmino is a typical false 9, a very great one. He has all what is needed to master this role: speed, technique, awareness, dribbling and finishing.
Firmino often drops deep and makes positional sacrifices to complement his attacking partners Salah and Mane, who have definitely benefited from this as you can see in the video below.
To make a long story short, sacrificing a true forward is a risky move, and if the man who takes the reins from deeper in the formation isn’t a world-class prodigy, you’re likely to have some trouble. When he is, you are likely to have some great success.