Tactics Bored: Pitbull leading race for player of the tournament

The Rio Report

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The World Cup. Le World Cup. El World Cup. Die World Cup. Al World Cup. Ba World Cup. Truly, it is an international tournament. It is a game of clashing and complimentary cultures, that is the best of football, highlighting the worst, and throws a light on some of the social problems in the host country.


But what is more important, human rights, social justice, or tactical analysis? Exactly. Call it what you want - The World Cup, Le World Cup, El World Cup, Die World Cup, Al World Cup, Ba World Cup - there have been some amazing developments in the world of tactics at the World Cup. Let’s take a look


Guillermo Ochoa put in a wonderful performance - in some respects - against Brazil last night. He pulled off a string of saves, channelling the presence of Gordon Banks, Peter Schmeichel and Lev Yashin. It seemed like Brad Friedel had lost weight and grown hair, and somehow got himself a Mexican passport, and imagined he was playing Manchester United. There are no words to properly describe the feeling of invincibility he seemed to project, in a way that Brazil seemed to be disheartened by.

Sometimes you can just tell that a goalkeeper is in that oft-discussed, but only slightly understood, state of being known as ‘in the zone.’ It recalls the great performances - most by Messi, David Beckham against Greece, Maradona at Napoli, taking them to two Scudetti. At the other end, Julio Cesar also contributed to a match with fine goalkeeping displays. It was if the two of them were out to prove that for all the goals that had come before, defensive excellence could also be impressive.


So what’s the problem? Well, tactically speaking, they were very dull. Points are knocked off because they both played as traditional goalkeepers; neither of them were sweeper-goalkeeper hybrids, the only thing worth a tactician’s attention. Neither of them were inverted, as they refused to leave the central channel of the pitch, which hurt their tactical rating.

Also, if you examine the heatmap, you can see that they resolutely failed to subscribe to the new theory that the current era has witnessed the death of the specialist. If you take a look at Ochoa’s heatmap, particularly, you can see that this was in fact quite a tactically unimaginative performance:

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Chile have also let down the tactical movement with their failure to retain the services of Marcelo Bielsa. Yes, he left many years ago to perform middlingly with Athletic Bilbao, but it still hurts.

There was much discussion about whether or not Chile were playing a ‘false diamond’ in midfield. On the surface, this looks like utter wibble of the highest order, but it is also worth considering whether the lack of interplay between the midfield three is simply a symptom of a hangover of the extreme verticality that Bielsa used to play.

Verticality, for all the simpletons out there, means passing the ball forward, but is used by tactics experts in order to appear cleverer than they are, and inflict yet more damage upon the beauty of the English language.

Beyond syntactical disputes, it is still worth investigating the idea of a false diamond. If you take a look at the passing map below, you can see which of the combinations were used most often, and a coach would be able to get some joy out of targeting the most used areas to recover the ball from the other side.

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Another relatively recent description for a position, too, is ‘shadow striker’. It’s a new term, but is it a new role? Well, Tactics Bored decided to investigate for every single day of the World Cup to discover the ins and and outs (passes completed, passes not completed, tackles, remote controls lost, interceptions, blocks, turnovers, shots, crisps eaten, shot on target, shots off target, dribbles, take ons, touches, distance run, fish kicked, open letters to Liverpool fans written, saves, attempted saves, capitalisation of expG, and several thousand other metrics) of what makes a shadow striker, and can exclusively reveal some thrilling stuff.

Let’s put it simply for you: A shadow striker offers goalscoring threat from a starting position further back than a traditional No. 9. The focus, however, is on converting rather than creating chances, being brought into play either by a striker ahead of him or from wide players, so in effect he will be a kind of false 10, in the position of an inverted false nine, as a false nine was a kind of faux-striker more interested in allowing runners from deep - sometimes shuttlers, but often with the qualities of a velocista - or wingers, inverted or not.

All this from a false nine could be seen as a kind of regista played much higher up the pitch, or 20 yards forward for a trequartista. This could see the end of the box-to-box midfielder as, despite this supposedly being the age of the death of the specialist, offensive and defensive roles in the midfield become evermore striated. Tactics Bored has explained, and now you understand. It’s so clear you don’t even need a diagram.

Could you just say that the term ‘shadow striker’ is yet more solipsism? Only if you were a philistine - why don’t you smash up that typewriter while you’re at it, buddy.


Yes, there have been other impressive performances. Neymar’s two goals against Croatia made for an excellent first World Cup story. Andrea Pirlo has a beard and is therefore loved by insecure men on the internet, and of course Robin van Persie’s ridiculous header against Spain in the 5-1 demolition by Netherlands. All these would be strong contenders to be players of the tournament so far if we were talking about the World Cup 2010.

But this year has been something magical. A lot of people are positing that the reason is because it is in Brazil, and people feel the hand of history on their shoulder, cliches and aphorisms aside. But no, that would be a very shallow reading here. The man who is the best performer of all is Pitbull. Yes, he might not have played a single game, but if you have a look at the chart below, it is clear he has scored the most times of anyone who's been there:

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See you next week.

Alexander Netherton - @lxndrnthrtn

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