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Cornell Soccer vs. The Pros: The False Nine

Modern soccer has been changed recently by the “false nine.” Teams used to line up with four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers. Then, along came Barcelona, with the idea that players didn’t need to have set positions. With this new strategy came the false nine — a striker who roams the pitch looking for space, never remaining in one place. Other managers took this idea one step further and changed their defense, with three center backs and wing backs who go up and down the pitch, covering enormous amounts of ground. But, fluidity in the position of your players is now crucial.

The importance of having a formation that is hard to defend against was evident this weekend, both in the professional game and at the collegiate level. In the pros, it was Liverpool who put on a clinic in movement and fluidity. In the team’s 4-2 win against Crystal Palace, all attackers rotated positions very well and made it impossible for the defenders of Crystal Palace to mark them. The movement of Liverpool attackers was perfectly captured during the squad’s fourth goal, when two midfielders pulled the defense apart by advancing forward and gave Liverpool the space of the park to slot home and effectively end the game.

The Cornell men’s team also struggled to deal with the fluidity of their Princeton opponents last weekend. The Tigers lined up with a three-man back line and two wing backs, an anomaly in the college game, but a tactic that is becoming more common in the pros, as evident by its use by both Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Princeton was able to gain great width from wing backs, but, because they did not have set positions, they were always in between the fullbacks and the wide midfielders of Cornell. The Tigers’ second goal occurred when the right fullback was left wide open in that gap between midfield and defense. Princeton then played a terrific cross into the striker to slot into the back of the net.

Cornell’s defensive struggles also affected the team’s offense. The Tigers’ right fullback was regularly too involved in attack and left his space wide open for the Big Red’s wide midfielder to run into. But, since they couldn’t understand the spacing and fluidity of the Princeton midfield — with players doing a great job of rotating and pressing in waves — Cornell very rarely exploited that space.

The squad’s one goal came when the Tigers’ left wing back was caught up the field and the Big Red’s wide midfielder attacked the remaining space. However, in an ever-evolving game where positions are less fixed, Cornell’s “by the numbers” approach was undone by the constant movement and fluidity of the Princeton Tigers.


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