In this blog post, I’ll be exploring a couple of different subjects in the hope of adding context and perspective to the Operation: Suffoco save.
And whilst I’ll be giving information where possible, I’ll also be posting a lot of links which I think you should explore.
I’ve included them because not only do I think they’re a great selection of resources on a position and role which technically doesn’t exit in FM, but it also gives me the opportunity to turn out this content as quickly as possible so I can do the second most important thing that’s posting on here. Which is playing Football Manager.
The Suffoco – Tactical Background
With the continuing trend of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, both of which use at least one (if not two) defensive midfielders sitting in front of the back four, those teams that have achieved a certain degree of success over the years have done so through several fairly recent footballing concepts, which include playing out from the back, positional play and tactical fluidity.
Some of these concepts that include a player (or players) starting out in one position, but moving across the field into another.
For example, Winger’s generally move up and down the pitch, and thus aren’t a massive part of this topic. But positions such as the Mezzalla – a midfielder that moves into the channels to become almost an attacking midfielder-slash-half-winger – or an Inverted Wingback are perfect examples that incorporate positional play.
Similarly with the concept of playing out from the back, which has close ties with positional play and the concept of progressing the ball through different areas of the pitch by creating passing triangles to help with forward passing movements, the need for a deep lying ball playing midfielder has become an integral part of the 4-3-3 and variations on the 4-2-3-1.
But what does this have to do with the Suffoco / Pressing Forward on Defend?
What is a Suffoco?
The first reference to the term ‘Suffoco’ seems to have come from this article by the Bleacher Report back in September 2012.
The one common theme when googling the term Suffoco (or Advanced Destroyer; these terms will be used interchangeably) is the reference to both Mario Mandzukic and Mourane Fellaini and they’re advanced positions on the field in relation to the rest of the team, either being used as an outlet to hold up the ball or working hard to nullify the oppositions most creative and/or deepest lying player with which the build up [play usually starts with.
This article, which came out in May 2013, gives examples of players who have played in the Advanced Destroyer role, although the work done by Guido over at Strikerless has been some of the most insightful and innovative on the subject (links to his content can be found here. The Withdrawn Target Man, another fascinating concept and also worth a read, can be found here.
The False 9 website published this piece in early 2013 – again referencing Fellaini – although some of the best user-generated content can be found on reddit in this link.
interestingly enough, its a position / role that seems to have disappeared as quickly as it came about. Despite coming to fruition over a decade ago, the role hasn’t really been expanded upon, presumably because of the frequency and popularity of the Flash 9, a role that occupies a similar space on the field albeit with different responsibilities.
Other subjects such as positional fluidity – such as the Inverted Wingback, or the role that John Stones plays at Manchester City, for example – have also become important parts of playing out from the back, a style of play that requires positional flexibility that an Advanced Destroyer would find difficult to shutdown.
In Defense of the Suffoco and the Pressing Forward
Googling the term ‘Pressing Forward (Defend)’, followed by any version of Football Manager or the request of potential tactics that include the aforementioned, and you probably won’t find much.
I’m pretty sure there’s material and content out there about what a Pressing Forward on defend duty does; but gaining access to it is another matter.
This Reddit thread that I came across a few months ago mentions how a two striker partnership is a great way to get the best out of one, especially when paired with an Advanced Forward.
And this link is from content produced for FM20, which talks about the importance and usefulness of both Pressing Forwards and Defensive Wingers – aka Pressing Wingers or Box-to-Box wingers – although doesn’t talk much about the Pressing forward on Defend, despite utilizing them in the tactic.
But in the real world of football and in game tactics, who have we ever seen play as a Pressing Forward on Defend?
Roberto Firminho is a name that sometimes springs to mind. An incredible forward with a selfless and hardworking nature, the Brazilian plied his trade in Germany before moving to Liverpool, although it took a hot minute (and a manager who had seen him play in Germany) before he became acclimatized to the rough and tumble of the Premier League
Firminho was more affiliated with the False No.9 role than the Pressing Forward, although his work ethic and off the ball intelligence meant that he relied more on his technical skills in play intelligence instead of brute strength and raw power.
In reality, Firminho took aspects from numerous forwards roles – including the Deep lying Forward – and embodied the best of all of them, becoming a nuisance for defenders with his endless running and hold up play, dragging defenders our of position so that the power and athleticism of Mane and Salah could do the real damage in the opponents penalty area.
Similarly, Wayne Rooney’s golden years at Manchester United could be summarized by his tenacity of playing in a position that wasn’t his preferred choice.
Usually positioned on the right wing, his more illustrious Hollywood teammate Cristiano Ronaldo would focus on grabbing the goals.
And when Rooney was allowed to play in his favored role through the middle once R7 had left for Real Madrid, Rooney’s (and United’s) success was defined as much by his tenacity and industriousness up front as it was for his double digit goals tally. As such, Rooney exemplifies that of a Pressing Forward on Attack more than anything.
So this begs the question; who in recent memory has played as a real life Pressing Forward on the Defend duty, how successful were they and how do we remember them?
For the younger football fan reading this, let me introduce to you Emile Heskey.
In Defense of Emile Heskey, the Greatest ‘Non-Striker’ of a Generation
Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, Emile Heskey was either one of the most hardworking and underrated forwards of a generation, or an over physical and profligate one.
A battering ram of a player who obliterated opposition defenses – England’s 5-1 win over Germany in their own back yard is one of the best examples of what Heskey did repeatedly in one match – Heskey was one of the last great target man of a bygone era, a player who was tasked with doing the dirty work alongside a more selfish goalscorer in a two striker partnership.
Alternatively he was seen as wasteful and inconsistent striker who hit a barn door, struggled to offer anything outside of physicality, and was woeful at both passing and finishing, representing an outdated style of play that was being overtaken by preferences for possession football.
This article by The Guardian is a thoroughly enjoyable read, playing devils advocate to Heskey’s style of play and lack of goalscoring prowess whilst humorously praising but also semi-dismissivley stating the work that Heksey put in during matches didn’t really lead to anything.
This thread on reddit also debates the greatness of Heskey and his partnership with
Interestingly described as a ‘ground weapon’ just as much as an old school forward who possessed both pace and power, Heskey was a mobile target man, a true Pressing Forward who would drag the opposition defense all over the shop and would put his body on the line for the benefit of his team mates.
Because of Heskey’s style of play, work rate, physicality, speed and selflessness, Heskey is a great choice when looking at creating this save.
As such, Operation: Suffoco will focus on Heskey’s first professional club, Leicester City.