Creating overloads is one of the clear tactics that managers such as Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool use when in attack and attacking transitions.
An overload is a situation in which a team will have more players than usual in a certain area of the pitch. This leads to either a superiority in numbers in that area which the attacking side can exploit or space being made in other areas by opposition players who also move into this area.
There are multiple different ways of how to create an overload, and one of them is through the use of a roaming playmaker. This tactical analysis will look at how a side can create overloads with a roaming playmaker and it will explain, using tactical theory, how these situations can be taken advantage of by the attacking team.
A roaming playmaker
A ‘playmaker’ is a player who will control the attacking flow of a team’s transition and attack, often operating in front of the midfield in the ‘number 10 role’. They need to have good dribbling, creativity, technical ability and passing at the very least.
A ‘roaming playmaker’ is what you think it is, a player who has the responsibility to control the attacking flow of a team’s transition and attack but they have the licence to move freely around the pitch in attacking phases and transitions. These players need to have great awareness of the areas on the pitch where they can help their team most; Their movement can create overloads and that’s what we will be looking at in this analysis.
This tactical analysis will use Bruno Fernandes and Eden Hazard as examples of roaming playmakers. The Portuguese midfielder has been operating as one for Manchester United, while the Belgian operated as one during his time with Chelsea in the Premier League.
Creating overloads in wide areas
The wide spaces on the pitch are usually the best areas to create overloads. This is because it is much harder for the defensive side to commit the same amount of players into wide areas as the overloading team as they would then open to be punished centrally, which is more dangerous for many teams in defence or defensive transition.
This is why some teams allow the opposition to create a wide overload. The below image shows a standard situation with two wingers and two full-backs on each flank.
With a roaming playmaker operating as the red number 10, they have the licence to drift into wide areas to create a numerical overload. This is shown below.
With the attacking team now having a numerical overload on the left-side (3v2), they have the ability to bypass the opposition in multiple different ways.
If there is no movement towards the roaming playmaker, he can receive the pass, turn and drive inside. He then opens the pitch up and has multiple options while operating in the half-space as shown below.
Here is an in-game example, where Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes creates the 3v2 situation, receives the ball and plays a cross into the opposition area.
Another option when having a wide overload is taking on the opposition on the flank with either a third-man run or a one-two.
Both of these can be viable options to bypass the wide defenders and create a crossing or passing opportunity. Examples of both situations are shown below.
Here is an in-game example, where again Fernandes creates the 3v2 situation and is able to play a one-two with Luke Shaw, who then can attempt a cross.
Sometimes the roaming playmaker will be tracked by an opposition midfielder, creating a 3v3 situation in the wide area and no numerical advantage for the attacking side.
Yet, this subsequently leads to space in the middle being created and making a pass into this area for an advancing midfielder possible as shown below.
Here is an in-game example, with Fernandes again, where his movement is followed by an opposition so that there is no numerical overload and it is a 3v3 in the wide area.
Yet, this leaves Fred and particularly Scott McTominay is tons of space in the middle.
Creating overloads in deeper progression
Sometimes progression of the ball can be difficult – against a 4-4-2 the opposition can have both strikers blocking the passing lanes to the centre midfielders as shown below.
The red number 10 (the roaming playmaker) can drift into deeper positions to create a 3v2 with his defensive pivot against the opposition strikers, this is shown below.
Now with the numerical overload in the deeper area, the centre back will have the number 10 to play to or if the strikers aim to block his passing route; it will open up for one of the other centre-midfielders as shown below.
One of the deeper midfielders of the opposition side could potentially track the number 10’s movement to create a 3v3 in the area, however, this would leave an area for either the winger or striker to drop into and a longer passing option to be available further up the pitch as shown below.
Here is an example of a deep progression which was helped by the roaming playmaker, Fernandes. He drops in deeper so that there is a 3v2 centrally.
This, in turn, causes two things to occur. The opposition 26 who is playing in a midfield role for the opponents steps up to take away the overload but this opens up space behind for United to exploit.
Nemanja Matić’s marker also becomes wary of the initial overload from Fernandes and is unsure whether to keep marking Matić or to try and follow Fernandes, allowing the passing lane to Matić to open up and he is allowed to turn.
Once Matić receives the pass, he has a clear option to pass to Odion Ighalo’s feet due to the opposition midfielder leaving his initial position to follow Fernandes into the area of overload.
The overload in the deep area from Fernandes, the roaming playmaker, is ultimately what allowed United to bypass the opposition and progress the ball from deep in this situation.
Creating overloads in the midfield
Often the midfield battles are the most important in winning a football match. The reason many teams deploy a midfield three is due to the fact they want superiority in the middle of the pitch. Having an overload in the middle can become crucial in games, but is harder to implement than a wide overload.
Here is a typical shape where both teams are operating with a three-man midfield, with the red team in possession of the ball.
In this example, the red number 11 will be operating as a roaming playmaker. A movement into the middle by the 11 can create a midfield diamond and overload like the one below.
Creating the midfield overload allows the side to bypass the opposition in different ways. The holding midfielder can play through to the top of the diamond and then the roaming playmaker can either play to a third man runner or turn and run at the opposition himself, both examples are shown below.
Here is an in-game example where Hazard is operating as the roaming playmaker for Chelsea and moves into midfield to create the diamond and overload.
He then plays the pass to Ruben Loftus-Cheek who is making the third man run.
Like the other two overloads, creating one in the midfield can lead to an opposition player following the roaming playmaker to stop the overload, but again, like the other overloads that have been already shown, this creates spaces in other areas for teammates to exploit.
The main area to exploit would be the wide area. An attacking full-back can take advantage of the wide space that would be created by either the opposition full-back or centre-back following the roaming playmaker, this is shown below.
Here is an in-game example where Hazard is followed by the centre-back and the full-back has to tuck in to cover, leaving space for Emerson to receive the ball in the wide area and attack the open space.
To conclude this tactical analysis, we can see that overloads are a clear way for teams to progress the ball and get into dangerous areas. Using a roaming playmaker is certainly a viable way to create overloads in different areas of the pitch.
This analysis has also shown that the movement of the roaming playmaker to create overloads can lead to spaces in other areas being created and exploited.