Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

The Importance of Attacking the Centre-Backs

July 12, 2023 — Pep Guardiola describes his first impressions of Andrés Iniesta and how he used runners to force center-backs to jump, unlocking space.

From the Guardian:

“On my way out of the ground after that final when Andrés was the best player on the pitch, I came across Santiago Segurola, the football writer. I said to him: ‘I’ve just seen something incredible.’ I had this feeling that what I’d just witnessed was unique. That was my first impression of Andrés.

“But later,” Guardiola admits, “I came to really value something else Andrés does, something that he had made me see with time: the importance of attacking the centre-backs. No one does it. But watch and you see it. If the central defender has to step out, everything opens up; the whole defence becomes disorganised and spaces appear that weren’t there before. It’s all about breaking through lines to find space behind them. Open, then find.”

Figure 1.1 - Example of the space created when Andrés Iniesta draws a center-back out.

“For example, we set up our attack so that Leo Messi could attack the central defenders,” Guardiola explains. “We had to attack in such a way as to get the ball to Andrés and Leo so that they could attack the central defenders and that opened them up. When we managed that, we knew that we would win the game because Leo scored goals and Andrés generated everything else: dribbling, numerical superiority, the ability to unbalance the game, the final pass, both to the outside and filtered through the middle.”

That’s why Mateo Kovacic is appealing to Manchester City. He has all those qualities except for the final pass, but that can be trained into him. He’s Croatian after all; passing ability is in his blood.

“He sees it all, and he has that gift for dribbling that’s so unique to him. That dribbling ability is everything today. And it was Andrés who opened my eyes to the importance of an inside forward or midfielder being able to dribble too. If he dribbles, if he carries the ball and goes at people, everything flows. With time, I saw that.”

Runners are what unlock the defense. That’s a term you’ll see Pep use often: ‘runners’.

Pep Guardiola on the term ‘runners’:

“When I want runners in attacking midfield, I’d put Phil [Foden], [Ilkay] Gundo. They’re better than Kevin [De Bruyne] when it’s more close to the box. When I want more control, I’d play Bernardo [Silva], I’d play another type of player…”

Mateo Kovacic, Phil Foden, Oscar Bobb, and Rico Lewis will be next season’s runners.

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