Five World Cup tactical trends to look out for

This World Cup will be different from previous ones for numerous off-field reasons.

On the pitch, the Leeds United manager and Athletic Guest writer Jesse Marsch describes international football and club football as “almost two different sports”.

There’s a lot of talk about limited preparation time, the club season stretching into the week before the opening game, player fatigue and the physiological toll of scorching match and training conditions in the Middle East – but what does it all mean tactically?

Four games a day for almost the entire group stage could easily be overwhelmed by football. To help you navigate, Athletic Distill our eight highly detailed team guides into five tactical trends you should be paying attention to.

  • Group A: Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador, Qatar
  • Group B: England, United States, Iran, Wales
  • Group C: Mexico, Argentina, Poland, Saudi Arabia
  • Group D: France, Denmark, Tunisia, Australia
  • Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
  • Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
  • Group G: Cameroon, Serbia, Brazil, Switzerland
  • Group H: South Korea, Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana

The reshaping and rise of No.10

In 2019, Juan Mata told Athletic The number 10 role “may not be gone, but it’s not being used like it used to be”.



The death of number 10?follow up dad

But it is football’s cyclical nature that this World Cup looks set to be a No 10’s game.

Gareth Southgate’s reasoning for choosing Leicester City’s in-form playmaker James Maddison going into his final 26 games is that “sometimes we (England) Playing 4-3-3, not having a No 10 type image, it doesn’t fit.”

Maddison is an unlikely starter for Qatar, even though he is expected to miss England’s first game against Iran today (Monday) with a minor knee injury, but there are plenty of nations around 10 out of 32 players. No. to form the team.

The most obvious of these was Brazil, where Neymar was given permission to roam, finding space between the lines, or dropping deeper to catch passes from centre-backs.

This was evident in his assist for Richarlison against Ghana in September – starting high, he made the final run for Thiago Silva’s midfield split pass…. ..

…and find Richarlison who scored.

Japan changed their formation from 4-3-3 in qualifying to 4-2-3-1 in September’s friendly against the United States. Head coach Hajime Moriyasu said it was “a look at how we can bring out the best in each player”. Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada looks like their No. 10 choice, but former Liverpool striker Takumi Minamino, who moved to Monaco in the summer, could also play there.

Germany are spoiled for choice in attacking midfielders – Jamal Musiala and Thomas Müller are the top two contenders for a No 10 in Hansi Flick’s side .

Christian Eriksen feels like Qatar’s most authentic No.10.

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Denmark scored their first goal in their Nations League match against world champions France in September, placing himself in the blind spot of Eduardo Camavinga before moving into space to receive a pass from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg…

…and a diagonal switch to left winger Mikkel Damsgaard.

While those number 10s have excelled in teams with a back four, the role has been redefined in teams with a back three.

Dusan Tadic and Cody Gakpo are No.10s for Serbia and the Netherlands respectively, both in a 3-4-1-2 formation. They still have the same creativity and goal-scoring responsibility, but importantly act as a link between the central midfielders and the forward full-backs.

Belgium and Canada, although the latter are tactically flexible, use a double No. 10 back three before a double midfield pivot. Usually, their midfield is not rigid in position, with the number 10 dropping deeper to receive the ball and rotate positions. The tactical advantage of this is that it provides a numerical advantage against teams with a three-man midfield.

Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne and Canada’s Alphonso Davies were the standouts, at their best when they received a pass at half-time.

Below, Canada switches between a back three (passes shown as solid white arrows in tackles) before left centre-back Kamar Miller crosses the Uruguayan midfielder to Davies (blue arrows) .

Belgium and Canada meet in Wednesday’s Group E opener in what could be an intriguing top-10 tactical battle.

Notable No.10s: Neymar (Brazil), Eriksson (Denmark), Kamada (Japan), Müller (Germany), Davies and Hoilett Jr. (Canada), De Bruyne and Hazard (Belgium).

Set ball advantage

The 2018 World Cup, famous for its record-breaking set-pieces, also seems to underscore their importance at domestic level, with more and more clubs employing set-piece coaches.

While this is the first VAR World Cup, more than a quarter of goals have come from set pieces in three of the four major intercontinental tournaments since Russia 2018.

Goals from set-pieces in big games


Set ball target percentage

Copa America 2021


Gold Cup 2021

twenty one

EURO 2020


Asian Cup 2019


World Cup 2018


The FIFA technical team credited set-piece returns in 2018 to the fact that set-pieces are “easy to practice and difficult to defend”, making them a legitimate and trainable method of creating chances.

Ecuador were the top set-piece team in the South American qualifiers, with the passing styles varied between the two sides – Angel Mena on the right and Pervis Estupinan on the left were the main ones. golfer.

Ecuador’s set pieces – WCQ 2022

They cluster players around the penalty spot, scatter runners in different directions, create confusion, and get a clear run on catch. Central defender Piero Hincapie is their biggest aerial threat.

Ecuador would position a player at the back and use the cluster near the penalty spot as a decoy.

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England (13) and Wales (10) are the two teams with the most goals from set-pieces in European qualifiers and they meet next Tuesday in the Group B final. Rob Page’s Wales not only scored for themselves, but also for their opponents – they would keep multiple players high in defense of corners and look to launch counter-attacks.

This could be seen against the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier last October, when eventual scorer Aaron Ramsey cleared the ball to Ethan Ampadu…

… who dribbled the ball before the pass to Neko Williams, who played alongside Daniel James.

Williams then found out that Ramsey’s run was an early cross – just 16 seconds from the Czech corner to the net.

American midfielder Weston McKennie provided the tournament’s most promising long shot. Coach Gregg Berhalter doesn’t use that often in qualifying, although it was evident in the 2-0 loss to Canada in January’s qualifying.

South Korea’s Son Heung-min looked the most likely direct free-kick threat. He has scored three of those goals for his country this calendar year.

Set-piece specialists to watch: Ecuador, United States, England, South Korea, Wales.

Expect middle blocks under high pressure

To press effectively you need two things: a coherent pressing structure – players know who they have to press and how and when – and a lot of energy.

Since the group draw in April, analysts and coaches have had ample time to decipher opponents’ playmaking patterns, shape and tendencies, but training the press will be challenging as players have limited time to prepare physically.

In any case, it may not be worth the risk to press high at this World Cup, given how fatigued the players are.

Instead, it seems more likely that teams will sit further back and try to compress the middle third of the pitch – a middle area.

Teams may charge out of their formation when opportunities arise, such as a bad pass, but generally want to see more passive defense than active defense.

Costa Rica, Tunisia and Qatar all prefer to play centrally, placing wingers next to the midfielders, as shown in the image below.

This may increase the frequency of set pieces: if more teams defend deeper, teams have a greater chance of passing the ball further. This means more fouls close to goal (free kicks) and more crosses and passes into the box which will result in more corners and throw-ins.

Teams to watch: Costa Rica, Tunisia, Wales, Ghana, Qatar.

Focus on “Terminator”

It’s a term used by England rugby union coach Eddie Jones and Southgate invoked it when referring to the role Jude Bellingham played for him in last year’s European Championships.

In Championship football it is essential to have substitute players who can positively influence the result. Compared to four years ago, players are more likely to come off the bench given the increase in team size (23 to 26) and the number of substitutions allowed per game (3 to 5) .

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Sarina Wiegman has guided England to Women’s European Cup glory this summer with an unchanged starting XI and five key ‘finishers’.



Football’s ‘Terminator’: The psychology and tactics behind Holding’s ‘lockout’ role

For the first time, a World Cup coach can use five substitutes per game, or six if a knockout game goes to extra time.

Expect more substitutions than usual, given that many players are already tired going into the mid-season tournament. This rule also applies to romances involving professional goalkeepers in penalty shootouts.

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Kaoru Mitoma is famous for scoring twice in seven minutes to give Japan the finisher in their last decisive qualifier away to Australia in March.

The young Garang Kuol showed his impact as a substitute at club level in the A-League, and also inspired Australia’s win over New Zealand in September from the bench.

Olivier Giroud is the second-highest scoring substitute in Premier League history (20) and should have made the mark for Didier had he not started following Karim Benzema’s retirement through injury. Deschamps offers a solid French Plan B. He will likely start for Wales, but Kiefer Moore is a similar target man/aerial threat profile.

Finishers to watch: Mitoma (Japan), Kuol (Australia), Giroud (France), Moore (Wales)

Rotate player mode when playing from behind

The limited preparation time at this World Cup should reduce the tactical complexity of the game, but many teams are making interesting use of their midfielders.

For teams with a back four, moving from midfield to pivot between the centre-backs can create a functional three-back formation.

This relatively simple rotation can manipulate an opponent’s defense by encouraging them to push further forward. It gives midfielders a wider range of passing angles and can give teams extra body to organize the game while providing extra cover when passes are intercepted.

While it might be as simple as teams letting their best ball-handlers play in midfield, this pattern allows them to have the ball more often.

Under Berhalter, the U.S. often put a pivot player between or next to the centre-backs – Tyler Adams below – to push the full-backs (highlighted with yellow dots) forward.

Uruguay cast Federico Valverde in the role in their final friendly against Canada last month…

…For Ghana against Nigeria, in March’s World Cup qualifier play-off, it was Iddrisu Baba…

… and Ellyes Skhiri thrived in a Tunisian quarterback-style role.

Pivot points to watch: Tunisia, Uruguay, Ghana, US.



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