EPL 2016/17: Liverpool, Arsenal and the rise of the false nine this season
After 10 games in the Premier League, Arsenal and Liverpool are level on points (23) with league leaders Manchester City, with goal difference proving to be the only differentiator between the three sides.
Of these teams, the Londoners and Liverpool have enjoyed success on the pitch by employing a free-flowing and attractive style of football this term playing in a false nine system.
Roberto Firmino and Alexis Sanchez have starred for the Merseysiders and the Gunners respectively, with able support from their ultra-mobile frontline. Both teams have enthralled their fans with Liverpool scoring 24 goals during this run and Arsenal one fewer.
In this segment, we delve a bit deeper into the role of the ‘false 9’ and its rise in this Premier League season.
The ‘false nine’ concept
The primary idea of the false nine is to play without deploying a conventional centre-forward, i.e., the number nine.
Football is played using various systems, be it 3-5-2, 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 and there may be a difference in philosophy about how you manage to get the ball to the striker(s) up the pitch but, most teams had a recognised target man at the top end of the field. The false nine was a deviation from this style.
Also read: Tactical systems explained: 4-4-2
In order to be implemented successfully, it requires players who can drop deep and draw away defenders with skill. Other teammates – preferably those with immense work-rate and mobility – are tasked with complementing the said ‘false nine’ and get into the box in goal-scoring positions.
Those playing the role of a false nine are not the target but facilitate attacking moves from all across the pitch in a free role.
The player in the most advanced central position in this system is neither a traditional striker (number 9) nor an attacking midfielder (number 10). Since centre-forwards usually wore the number 9 shirt, this shift to a system without the target man in a fixed position came to be called as the ‘false nine.’