I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been scared of the Target Man role for a long time. I don’t think I’ve used one since FM12 or FM13. Even then, it was on a tactic I’d downloaded. Since I learned a bit more about the game, the Target Man role didn’t have what I wanted or needed from a striker. It’s not that I dislike the role or that the team will tend to hit the ball forward to him more, it’s just that I like my strikers to be able to run with the ball at their feet and take players on. I like them to be all rounders that can score, create and assist in build up play. Having watched my team play incredibly boring football with Villarreal, I thought about doing something totally different to how I normally play. With the arrival of Sam Allardyce as England manager and all the talk of his “long ball football”, what better time to try out some long ball football of my own. I’m not looking to replicate any team, but I’m using elements from a few ideas I’ve seen and combining them into this tactic.
I’m going to state in advance, this isn’t a “how to use a Target Man” article, it’s just my findings on the role and how I’ve enjoyed his contribution to play. I’ve got a lot out of my target man and it’s not a role you see written about much these days.
I posted the tactic up before, but it’s changed ever so slightly, so it’s worth putting up again. It’s a basic 442. I want my defenders to stick deep and work as a flat back four. The midfield has my left midfielder cutting inside with a winger on the opposite side. My central two are standard roles, nothing fancy. Up top I’ve got a target man along with a poacher, a classic big man/little man combo. I’ll not get into the team or player instructions, I’ll just say that we play fast, direct and aim to win it quickly. Our strategy is counter and I usually use a structured team shape. Against top teams, I use a fluid team shape.
There’s a couple of roles you could swap in instead of the Target Man. A Deep Lying Forward is a popular alternative. With a few player instructions, you can make the DLF a very versatile Target Man type.
What Do I Expect?
You might be thinking that I want the Target Man to just get into the box and get on the end of perfectly floated crosses with a perfect header, rinse and repeat. Actually, I’m not expecting a huge influx of goals from him. My main idea is to get the ball forward to the target man and for him to flick it on with a header or lay off a simple pass to his strike partner or any nearby midfielders. I also want him to act as a link man that can be strong and hold off defenders. He’ll also offer the option to give some relief to the backline when they want to clear it out to give them a break.
I posted up my Target Man in an earlier post, but if you missed him, here he is in his second pre-season. He’s basically a shampoo model in waiting.
As you can see, he’s tall, strong and has very good mental attributes for a young player. He’s rather quick for a target man. Annoyingly, he has a ‘shoots from distance’ PPM, but I’ll not be focusing too much on that. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference for us anyway.
When hunting down a player to fill this role, I was obviously looking for classic target man traits, but with good intelligence to play the ball into the right places. I needed him to have a good first touch too, what’s the point of playing it to him if he’s going to lose it all the time.
I apologise to those that hate using stats, but this is actually the best way to see how the teams hit the ball to him short of recording every single pass into a video. There will be some video to come, but hopefully this helps build a picture. I’m only using analysis from two games as much more than that could make this article rather long. The games featured are victories, but his contribution to both were telling.
The team play direct passes forward a lot. That’s what they’re instructed to do. Due to the nature of the Target Man role, he attracts the ball, much in the same way a playmaker would for example. Players look up, look for the big tall guy and hit it to him. You don’t have to look any further than the pass received map to see the effects of this.
It’s obvious just from looking at the passing lines that the ball is being kicked out long. A lot of times, the keeper aims directly for him. Our defenders are also keen to get the ball to him to try and get attacks going or give themselves a quick breather.
The number of passes received is quite interesting, but the areas are too. He’s not just a static player, he does move a bit. You’ll notice that he receives most of his passes around the halfway line, which is due to the team clearing a defensive situation and trying to release a counter attack. He’ll usually try to hold the ball up and way for support from midfield. He will get around the box and offer the odd knock down from time to time too. In both games he received more passes than any other player on the pitch. In the Arsenal game, the closest anyone came was with 31 and in the Everton game, 39.
Target men are known for their aerial work, so how many of these received passes were aerial challenges? There’s no easy way to show this unfortunately, so I’ve had to blend the received pass map together with the aerial challenge map.
There’s a lot of pass lines and it’s difficult to spot which one goes where, but some are pretty obvious. The bold green dots note an aerial challenge won and red shows one that was lost. In the Arsenal game, he won 13 and lost 7.
And the Everton game below, where he won 18 and lost 9. A couple more around the edge of the box in this one.
Some of these aerial challenges will be a result of clearances from opposition players which is why they don’t all have passing lines going to them.
What about what he does with the ball? He’s not going to be picking 30 yard passes like Pirlo or dribbling past three defenders like Messi, but he can pick a pass out. Usually, he tends to play the safe short option though and moves into space. I’ve only shown the successful passes as it gives a clearer indication of where the ball goes, without me having to put a key on the pass maps.
Admittedly, his passing numbers aren’t amazing. It’s entirely dependent on who’s around him. Sometimes the ball will be hit forward to relieve a defensive situation and there will only be the poacher around to help out.
I’m just going to touch on something here as I think it builds the picture about my sides style of play. We play a counter attacking system with direct passing. We’re never going to have the ball a lot. That’s not how it’s going to be with my idea of playing with the target man. We defend deep and narrow and the target man is our out. You obviously don’t need to use a target man, this is just the method I’m using right now.
Look at the stats and guess the score. I’ve already stated that we won the games, but can you guess the margins?
33% possession is low, even for us. We averaged only 41% across this season so the Everton game is bang on the money. We’re not a team of superstars with amazing passing attributes, so direct passing is a risk/reward type thing for us. It’s a totally different way of playing, even for me.
Did you guess the scores?
- Aston Villa 6-4 Arsenal
- Everton 0-4 Aston Villa
They say that you can make any player look really good in a Youtube compilation and that’s exactly what I’ve done here. I’ve got a couple of videos for you to look at. Nothing fancy as I’m pretty much learning how to work the video editing software as I go along.
This first video just shows some assists from a few different games. His link up is obviously evident in some of the long balls that get played forward to him. It’s not all smash the ball forward stuff, the last goal is a really nicely worked move I think. He has a nice touch for a big man. The second goal is a classic target man knock down. It’s only a couple of minutes long so I hope you can spare the time. I recommend opening it full screen and watching it in HD mode.
This next video looks at Roussel’s key passes in the game against Arsenal. I was going to use footage from the Everton game as well, but I’m so slow at video editing and the export highlight function doesn’t work on Mac. One game might be better for looking at a performance though, so hope this is ok.
He’s quite adventurous with his passing. He’s got a good eye for a pass as you can see from his attributes from earlier in the post, he has excellent vision, anticipation and decision making. The passes don’t always work out, but he’s getting the ball into good areas and creating nice little situations for other players.
This final video just shows some of his general involvement in play, some headers, his goals, an assist and his hold-up play. I know some of it is a bit, for lack of a better word, ‘compilationy’ but it just shows how he plays. Not all the passes come off and not all the knock-downs go to plan.
Hopefully this has given you some sort of insight into how I’ve been utilising a Target Man within my system. It’s far from perfect and it’s disgustingly direct, but it’s actually a rather fun way to play. I’ve sort of dispelled some of my own thoughts about the role as well, I thought he’d be very static and not move very much at all. On the ball, he doesn’t, but off the ball, he finds nice little gaps to play in.
In future, I’ll be less likely to be put off by the Target Man and might carry someone who can play the role as a “Plan B” when all else fails.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this as it’s been interesting to analyse.