TACTICS: An insight into the Inside Forward tactical role

It is no secret that biggest football stars aren’t just players. They earn as much shooting commercials as playing football. Cristiano Ronaldo is selling us anything from underpants and deodorants to cars. Did you ever ask yourself why is that? Popularity comes with success and various brands employ footballers to sell us their products. It is very much the same with tactics. The whole football world wants to emulate successful teams. This past decade, it was Barcelona so everyone wanted to play like them including the Spanish national side.

As teams throughout the world strived to be as successful as Catalans, we have seen the rise of popularity of 4-2-3-1 formation with wide strikers. Their success made a worldwide trend in football and today most of the teams use the same formation and even roles. It is, therefore, worth to take a look at the role that is widely employed at all levels and see what makes it so important and popular.

Inside Forwards: Arjen Robben, Thierry Henry, Nolito, Neymar, Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo

Essential attributes: Decisions, off the ball movement, acceleration, technique, finishing.

While the 20th century was dominated by prolific wingers, today it is difficult to find one in any of the top teams. In the modern game, it is the full-back’s job to bomb forward and put the crosses in from wide. Where winger used to rule, today you will often find an “inside forward”. Think of Thierry Henry in Barcelona or Robben at Bayern to get an idea.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said: “It’s funny when I see centre-forwards starting off in the middle against their markers and then going away from goal. Strikers going inside are far more dangerous…”

While inside forwards emerged within 4-2-3-1 formation, they have different roles in different teams. They are players who are either two-footed or play on opposite side of their preferred foot. This makes it hard for inside forward to cross the ball but his assignments rarely include crossing. The main job of an inside forward, or inverted winger, is to use his acceleration and technique to take on their man and drive towards the goal.

Tactically, Guardiola’s inside forward provides a challenge for the full-back that is marking him. When his team is in possession, inside forward needs to stay wide to keep the defense stretched. This makes gaps between the defensive line wider and more exploitable.

Guardiola’s IF Nolito is holding the touchline to spread the United defence. The attacking midfielder, Silva is making a run from deep into the undefended space

Above you can see Guardiola’s Manchester City in possession. Nolito is playing an inside forward role and you can see how important it is for him to keep discipline and stay wide. His positioning means Manchester United needs to stretch their defense which is then exploited by Silva. Off the ball positioning and teamwork is essential for a player in this role. If he was a bit hastier and wanted to score, he would go inside and cancel the option of a pass to Silva.

Once on the ball, inside forward needs the technique and dribbling combined with acceleration and good decision making. All these come together since he needs the ability to go past the full back that marks him. Once away, he can shoot since his stronger foot has a wider angle on the goal, or pass to one of the teammates.

From the tactical side, good inside forward provides a challenge for any defense. His movement from wide towards the center creates confusion in the defensive line. This comes from a fact that an inside forward is first marked by a full back. But, once he moves more to the center, responsibility for marking him becomes a gray area.

If the defense isn’t well coordinated and lacks communication, inside forwards can create all sorts of problems since the full-backs need to make difficult decisions in the short time window. Do they shadow the forward’s run inside?

A text book example of situation in which the Full Back decides to follow the Inside Forward

Above you see a situation where a full-back decides to track the inside forward. This creates space for the onrushing opposition full back who has acres of space to either cross the ball or pass it back into the central areas.

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A text book example of situation when the Full Back decides to leave an Inside Forward to his team mate while covering the opposition Full Back

The second GIF demonstrates a situation where full-back decides to pass the inside forward to his center back and tracks the run of full back. However, this creates a potential overload on top of the box.

Obviously, full backs do not defend alone but as a part of the team which makes it harder for forwards. For that reason, a good inside forward must be able to make a decision quickly as to exploit any hesitation, slip of concentration or misunderstanding in defense. Only then physical attributes such as acceleration and pace come into play.

While inside forwards have different tasks and responsibilities within different teams, they all pose a same fundamental dilemma for the defense. This is the main reason why coaches love to use such player on the pitch. Come back to see the next part where we will examine another important role often used with inside forwards. The false nine.


The article originally appeared at Fieldoo , a service for connecting footballers, agents and football clubs.

EURO: Portugal – Poland analysis: Portugal better at adapting

There is quite an outrage in media and social networks after Portugal won against Poland and progressed to semi finals of EURO without winning a single game in regular time. Quite unfair, as far as I am concerned, since Portugal is playing within the rules and did nothing wrong. If anything, they have adapted very well to opposition in the knock-out phase much of credit goes to Fernando Santos who is one of those managers that aren’t afraid to change when they see they made a mistake.

Poland came into the match after late winner against Croatia, and compared to that game, were much more willing to decide the game in regular time. Soares wasn’t so impressed with Poland. He expected attacks down the wings and was fairly confident he can block those. Well, until second minute when his right back, Cedric, missed an interception and allowed an assist to Lewandowski. Nevertheless, Portugal remained positive, reacted well and continued as nothing happened.

Poland on other hand came in the match after penalty shoot out with Switzerland full of confidence they can hurt once mighty Portugal team. And they did, perhaps sooner than they had hoped. First 20 minutes they had an advantage mainly as Portugal failed to break the link from defence to midfield due to few factors.

First, there was a lot of transformation going on as Poland progressed into middle of the pitch that Portugal found hard to track. Krychowiak dropped deep and full backs pushed high, while Lewandowski was taking up position of Krychowiak they transformed into sort of unbalanced 3-5-2 in which left winger Grosicki went very high to play as wide attacker along with Milik. You can see this transformation on the still image below.

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Poland transforming to 3-5-2 when in transition to middle third

Whenever this worked, Lewandowski or Blaszczykowski were able to turn with ball and spread the attack to either wing, usually left to Grosicki and Polish transition worked very well in this regard creating lots of problems with crosses and players running from deep.

However, this didn’t last long as Fernando Santos adapted midway through the first half and moved Renato Sanchez to right to disrupt this transition with his physical presence. Portugal was mainly pushing down the left trying to tie together a number of short passes with frequent change of positions from advanced players. Once around the box they went either for crosses by left back Eliseu or combination of passes to penetrate into the box. Doing so, they often overloaded the left offensive zone as even right winger, Joao Mario, Adrien Silva or, later Renato Sanches, drifted centrally allowing space for lone Cedric who would venture forward widening the play and giving an option to switch the point of attack as seen bellow.

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Portugal overloading the left flank

Portuguese attackers are marked with red circles while midfielders are blue and full backs yellow. Image was taken in 6th minute while Joao Mario was playing on left and Adrien Silva on right. However, you can clearly see Adrien Silva also on left while Cristiano Ronaldo dropped back into Silvas’s nominal position. Frequent changes of positions to overload left is similar approach Portugal had taken against Croatia. It also has sense as Croatian right back Srna and Poland’s Piszczek are quite offensive and the latter even more so.

However, despite few crosses, and blocked shots, Portugal failed to do anything particularly dangerous in first 25 minutes. It is the second half of the first period that made Portugal more of a danger to Polish defence. Once Fernando Santos adjusted, and put Renato Sanchez on right side, Adrien Silva in center and Joao Mario left, Portugal was less predictable, more balanced in their approach to goal and more dangerous.

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More balanced attack midway through 1st half as Renato Sanches shifts to right flank

Renato Sanchez wasn’t drifting in center as Joao Mario and Adrien Silva previously did and he offered much more support to his right back Cedric. As Polish defenders didn’t have only one player to take care of in that area, passing on the right became much more precise and convincing as you can see on the diagram above. After all, Portugal manages to connect few quick passes that release Renato Sanchez on edge of the box and his long shot ends in the net.

Despite the equalizer, Poland manages to recover and the half ends in, statistically, fairly even match despite Poland creating more dangerous chances down the wings on counter attack than Portugal managed with their short passing game.

Poland upped their game at the beginning of second half, at least in sense they had more possession on the ball. This was mainly due to better positioning in their defensive zone which allowed them to take the ball into middle third of the pitch with fewer problems as Portugal pressing was largely ineffective due to better spacing. However, this brought little to their game as Portugal was largely able to negate them any significant chances, while being able to threaten nonetheless.

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Renato Sanches in RB position covering Grosicki who disappeared in seconf half

You can see above how Poland managed to break the Portuguese pressing, however, they found them self without passing options. While this transformation to 3-5-2 was working to a point in first half, you can see that in second period with Renato Sanches on right, things closed down for Poland. Even if in this shot Sanches is out of position, he is actually covering for Cedric who went up the field to close down. A move Joao Mario rarely did which was a reason that Grosicki was able to maraud high up Polish left flank.

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Although Poland started the second half with more of the possession, their preffered left wing was innefective and attacks shifted to right wing in second half

Above you can see how Polish game down the left slowly winded out during the second half shifting to right as the time went on. However, they failed to find same incisiveness they had in first period and game slowly went in favour of Portugal after 70th minute.

It is roughly the same time Portugal formation changed to more of 4-3-3 with Cristiano Ronaldo as lone striker while Renato Sanches and Nani occupied wide winger roles. With Quaresma entering the game in 80th minute, the marauding Sanches changed to middle again while Quaresma remained on right till the end of the match.

Whether it was this tactical move midway through the second half that shifted the game, fatigue or fear of losing, Poland failed to get the grips on it and failed to adapt. Adam Nawalka reacted to Portugal domination by changing his defensive shape to 4-1-4-1 as you can see bellow.

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Midway through second period Portugal changes to 4-3-3 and gains upper hand, Poland goes on back foot and 4-1-4-1

Neither of changes produced significant advantage however, Portugal seemed more comfortable with the ball and ready to take any chance. While the team was, Cristiano Ronaldo certainly wasn’t since he missed a few before the game went to penalty shoot out.

To conclude, Poland had an edge in the beginning but Fernando Santos adapted very well to neutralize right wing by moving Sanches there which disrupted Polish flow and produced a goal for Portugal at the same time. Even if Poland got possession at the beginning of second half Portugal adapted well enough again by changing to 4-3-3 and remained in control of the match till the end.

While it was pretty even encounter, credit has to be given to Portuguese manager who did right moves and looked more interested to score than Pollocks.