Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Dragusin and Tottenham's high-line

A high-line requires complete coordination. It’s like synchronized swimming. Sub one player in and the timing is thrown off. That’s what happened when Tottenham started Radu Drăgușin for the first time. Drăgușin and Cristian Romero were not in sync.

Figure 1.1 - Cristian Romero looks back at Radu Drăgușin to see where he is.
Figure 1.2 - All four Tottenham defenders watch the ball as Antonee Robinson dribbles down the wing.

The purpose of that first scan from Cristian Romero is to check where Drăgușin is. He then aligns himself with Drăgușin to form one solid high-line.

Once the play continues and he’s now in-line it is the responsibility of the far-side center-back to stay in line with the ball-side center-back. Drăgușin is the one that can see both the opposition forward, Muniz, and the center-back leading the high-line, Romero.

Cristian Romero is not an owl. He can’t rotate his head 180 degrees. If he wanted to scan behind he would need to break his stride to rotate his hips away from the sideline. He is relying on Drăgușin to stay in-line with him.

Figure 1.3 - Antonee Robinson crosses to Rodrigo Muniz. Radu Drăgușin is not in line with Cristian Romero.

When the ball is played into the box, Drăgușin is behind Romero. There’s a pocket for Muniz to stay onside, Romero is keeping Muniz onside.

For the reasons stated before, this is not Romero’s problem. This is on Drăgușin because it’s his job to maintain that high-line. To not give Muniz a pocket to work in behind Tottenham’s back-line.

Figure 1.4 - Ball gets past Cristian Romero and Radu Drăgușin.
Figure 1.5 - Rodrigo Muniz shoots across goal and scores uncontested.

If Drăgușin is in-line with Cristian Romero, Muniz would have to cheat forward. Once that ball is played into the box, Drăgușin would be able to intercept the ball or Muniz would be offside because he would cheat forward. Even if Muniz somehow got to the ball first, Drăgușin would be close enough to put Muniz off when he would attempt the shoot rather than having over a yard of space to shoot uncontested.

The issue is that it does not matter who you put in there at center-back. This is not forever going to be a Radu Drăgușin problem, this is a temporary partnership problem between the center-backs and full-backs that takes time. They need to essentially read each other’s minds to hold that line.

If even one player is out of sync, the entire defense is exposed, because they’ll constantly be keeping someone onside.

It’s a game of mental tug and war. Patting their head while rubbing their stomach simultaneously.

One defender jumps, the rest stay, there’s a pocket for a forward to attack. The high-line doesn’t work. With time they begin to predict when they will jump, and the whole line jumps in unison. Then those pockets are never availble and the high-line works.

You even saw this awkwardness when Micky van de Ven came back into the lineup after a hamstring injury that kept him out of the team for 10 games. That partnership takes a few games to form or form again.

There was several other key plays throughout the match, opportunities Fulham created from lack of coordination between the defenders in the back-line with the introduction of Drăgușin.

Match: Fulham 3-0 Tottenham, 16 March 2024

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