The false number 9 in football

The attacking trios of FC Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid and even more recently Liverpool FC have enchanted football fans. What do they have in common? The presence of a false number 9.

A false number 9 is an attacker who drops a lot from his position to come and participate in the game. If classic forward attackers are used to playing higher than the wingers, the false number 9 plays on the same line, which aims to multiply permutations and destabilize the opposing defensive line.

Pep Guardiola's FC Barcelona has notably democratized this tactic by developing Lionel Messi or Cesc Fabregas in this position. This positioning made it possible to attract opposing defenders by bringing the false number 9 closer to the heart of the game, and thus free up space for the wingers who generally have great finishing abilities.

An attacking trio of a false number 9 and hard-hitting, dribbling wingers is a nightmare for modern defenses. In the case of an individual marking defense, the wingers regularly find themselves in a one-on-one position, while in the case of a zonal defense, the false number 9 has more space to play against the aim.

The most striking current example is that of the Liverpool club, with its attacking trio made up of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. The Brazilian has become a reference for the false number 9 position through his ability to free up space for his teammates, keep the ball in the face of pressure from the opposing defensive line, and also make goal-scoring actions happen. Like most false number 9s, Roberto Firmino does not have a statistical record as impressive as his attacking counterparts (8 goals and 4 assists in the Premier League last season, compared to 16 goals and 4 assists for Mohamed Salah, and 14 goals and 6 assists for Sadio Mané). However, observers of English football are unanimous in emphasizing his immense impact on the team's good results.

The playing register of the false number 9 therefore makes its impact on the field sometimes obscure, but its role remains essential in the construction and realization of goal actions.

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In summary, here are the main characteristics of the false number nine:

  • Moving out of one's traditional position : To participate in the game and destabilize the opposing defense.
  • Ability to free up space : For wingers and midfielders, thanks to his intelligent movements.
  • Participation in the construction of the game : By moving away from the front of the attack to touch the ball and participate in the development of offensive actions.
  • Efficiency in finishing : Despite a number of goals often lower than that of traditional attackers, their contribution to the game and the finalization of actions is crucial.

Curious to find out more about football-specific roles? Browse through our articles for a deep dive into each position:

  • Libero - The tactical goalkeeper behind the defensive line, orchestrating the play.
  • Box-to-Box environment - The embodiment of endurance and versatility.
  • Regista - The conductor from midfield.
  • Carrilero - The lateral midfielder ensuring the balance between defense and attack.
  • Mezzala - The artist of half-spaces.
  • Trequartista / Enganche - The creative intermediary between the midfield and the attack.
  • Inverted winger - Uses his strong foot to penetrate and threaten the goal.
  • Fake New - The attacker who deceives the defense with his movement.