By Thom Harris
As modern football continues to evolve into a game that demands perfection in possession, the idea of style, identity and aesthetics in top-level European football has never been so influential.
Yet, while Pep Guardiola and his disciples continue to blaze beautiful Cruyffian trails – able to sacrifice effectiveness for elegance, power for precision – some of the game’s more traditional philosophies look to be making a fightback amongst the more modestly funded sides, looking for ways to unsettle the elite. And, over the last five years, no player role has seen more adaptation and modernisation than the good, old-fashioned target-man.
As more teams look to emulate the aggressive counter-press of Guardiola’s “Juego de Posición” and Jurgen Klopp’s Gegenpress, the value of more athletic target-man has skyrocketed, offering a mobile outlet – running the channels, dropping deep and using the ball effectively – all while continuing to offer the aerial presence that allows their team to bypass a high-press with long, vertical balls.
Throughout the European Championships, Ukraine’s Roman Yaremchuk was a six-foot-three shining example of not only how power and physicality up front can be used to provide an out-ball, but also how increased mobility and aggression can be used to open up space for other attacking players, in this case Andriy Yarmolenko, to exploit. Furthermore, with surprising pace and powerful dribbling – as seen throughout England’s comfortable 4-0 win over Yaremchuk’s side – the modern target man can still cause problems and create chances on his own, even when the service to him is relatively limited.
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