A traditional no.9 seems to be all lost in this midfield dominating football. The possession-based football, keep the ball, find yourself as near as goal system has ruled the world in this decade. We really felt short of ourselves enjoying the game of a traditional no.9. We lost the flair for quick, tall, physical, good in air strikers who can put every crosses coming from the wings into goals. But, this week we saw how they can be still valuable when you need quick reactions. AS Roma and Juventus comeback in Uefa Champions League quarterfinals reminds us the need of a traditional no.9.
AS Roma 3-0 victory over FC Barcelona at Stadio Olimpico was all about the physical play. Roma dominated the physical play putting Edin Dzeko and Patrick Schick together in their forward line. Giallorossi capitalized on its aerial threat through Dzeko and Schick as they win most of the balls in Barcelona final third. Your physicality helped in one and one situation against a defended. A defender may be six feet four but he still has lesser chances to win the ball in the box than a forward because his fear to not foul the forward. And, here someone like Dzeko, Ronaldo, Mandzukic, and Lewandowski make the most of the situation.
Edin Dzeko scored Roma’s first goal because of his physicality. Daniel De Rossi set up Dzeko’s goal with a straight ball and the Bosnian striker muscled off defenders to shoot past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen with his left foot. He constantly created a problem for Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique’s center pairing. Pique fouled on Dzeko and it resulted in a penalty and De Rossi converted from the spot. Kostas Manolas scored Roma’s third which was also about physical play. The Greek defender was very good in the air and he made the most of his aerial threat.
AS Roma game proved that your aerial prowess and physicality give you an advantage over the possession-based system. When you attack from the wings you leave your opponent without the ball and that’s where you can create your chances from the crosses put in.
It goes same with Real Madrid vs Juventus game at Santiago Bernabeu. Juventus were without their star playmaker Paulo Dybala and it gives room for Mario Mandzukic to show his potential down the left. However, it’s not his natural position but he excelled finding himself at the right time in the penalty box. He headed in both goal for Juventus in their fight back from 3-0 down result from first-leg.
Real Madrid short of physical defenders due to Sergio Ramos suspension finds themselves helpless against Mario Mandzukic’s aerial threat. Daniel Carvajal, Marcelo, and Vallejo had no clue about the Mandzukic threat in the air, and Croatian makes the most of his chances from the near post. Sami Khedira’s cross found Mandzukic near the post and within two minutes Juventus were on front-foot at Bernabeu.
He again proved his aerial prowess as he met right-back Stephan Lichsteiner’s cross and headed in for Juventus’ second. Miralem Pjanic continued on with his holding midfield role and it allowed Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira to run forward. Matuidi make the most of Navas fumble in catching the ball and tapped in Juventus’ third. Although a cruel luck denied Juve their semifinal berth without going into the extra-time. They’re real winners at Santiago Bernabeu.
Both of the Italian teams made a comeback possible not because of the so-called perfect game but because of traditional football. Full-backs should be able to put in good crosses from both sides and player inside the penalty-box must know how to put in those crosses into goals. They may not be technically gifted to make good passes but they should know how to connect the ball in the air.
A possession-based football and playing in opposition half most of the times create chances which often parried away by rivals stubborn defending. It allows them to defend with their full potential, and it left you crowded in the box and any deflection only helped to win the corner. And, from a corner, you need players who are good in the air and make the most of their aerial prowess.
The possession-based game thinkers and coaches haven’t been able to find a solution for that. They must go through their stats: How many corners they win because of deflection caused by crowded space, and how many of those they convert. If in both situations, the result will be delivered in the air, why to go for a technically superior player with the ball in every position. You need a mix of physicality and technicality to win the games.
Barcelona is still poor with aerial balls, whether it’s defending or attacking. They are winning most of the corners and free-kick situations, but their conversion ratio is poor from those situations. It goes same with Manchester City since Guardiola arrived at Etihad. They need to evaluate their model and find some space for physical and aerial threatening player in their squad for their plan B.