Thoughts of Wembley and Barcelona drifted across my mind as I watched Sheffield United on television last Monday.
Yes, not quite the usual thoughts when watching two League One sides slug it out but, as we all know, football is a funny old game. Let’s do the Barcelona bit first.
In recent times, a new phrase entered football’s lexicon. The false No 9. Lionel Messi (ignoring the fact he wears No 10) was that very such player.
Barca’s teamsheet had him at what we might call centre forward. Except he wasn’t. He drifted off, played in other areas. Barcelona didn’t have a traditional ‘centre forward’ as we know it or a lone striker up against the opposition’s central defence. They had a false No 9.
On Monday, and a couple of times recently at the Lane, I’ve looked at the way Jose Baxter operates for United. Looks like a false No 9 to me!
No way is Baxter your traditional centre forward. When he arrived, we were told his operating area was ‘in the hole’, that nice little comfort zone playing in behind the traditional centre forward or No 9.
Yes, he’s the one who starts up front. Except he smartly drops off, into areas where his markers, ie either of the central defenders, don’t wish to venture. Then he looks to utilise his passing skills by picking out colleagues making forward runs into the sort of area he has vacated.
OK, we’re not talking Messi here but it looks rather like a false No 9 to me. Perhaps United may not be regarded in certain circles as ‘fashionable’ enough to be talked of in the same breath as Barca. We’ll have to wait for some London side to do it.
Anyway, on to Wembley.
When I watch England on tv playing at Wembley, they have their own half to themselves. Often there’s no opposing player, or maybe one, on view on the screen. They’ve all retreated back into their own half, organised themselves and said “Come on then, break us down.” Then there’s the swift counter-attack. I saw all that on Monday from United.
Not knocking it one bit. A club record eight successive clean sheets (to go with their record straight wins) shows how superbly organised they are. They’ve become so difficult to break down, rather like those foreign opponents at Wembley. Perhaps that, and the false No 9, might just get United there!