I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Hold Up Ball instruction because I’ve always dreamed of fast, flowing football stopping only for a pause of disbelief as my inside forward lobs the ‘keeper after latching onto a 40-yard ball from my deep playmaker. I don’t think, bar some cases where an opponent left one of my fullbacks in oceans of space and I wanted him to keep it before looking for a pass, I’ve ever actually used HUB on any player.
In my Everton save, however, I struggled to find an attacking midfielder who met my needs. I need someone who can play in the strikers in my team, score a few himself, play well despite the attention of multiple markers, dominate deep-lying playmakers and be the head of my “defensive triangle” in my 4-2-3-1.
I had a few options, with the main ones being Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini, but they all had some crucial flaw.
Barkley is under-developed and doesn’t really excel at anything, meaning he plays like a very average player, but is almost certainly a shoe-in for the role down the line. Pienaar, whilst possessing most of the qualities I look for in a playmaker, doesn’t really have the ability to find quality space or out-muscle any defensive midfielder who would try to mark him whereas Mirallas, whilst possessing the flair, dribbling ability and technique to escape markers and provide some excitement, doesn’t really have the passing ability, composure and, most importantly, the teamwork to be a very effective partner for my goalscorer, Jelavic.
Fellaini, on the other hand, would be able to survive in the hole against any man-markers due to his physical ability. He’d be a fantastic target for Baines’ crosses so would be able to net quite a few goals and, because he’s naturally a defensive midfielder, he’s great defensively and works hard so would be the perfect fit for my defensive shape. His playmaking abilities aren’t great, though. They’re about par with the others but his technical and creative abilities are more suited to an anchor man role. I have plenty of cover for those positions though and would rather use my best player for the things I’ve already mentioned.
I decided that, if I want Fellaini to play the AMC role to the best of his ability, I’ll need to change my view of it and the instructions I’ve given him. His poor creativity and decisions meant that he’s not going to be able to receive the ball and instantly play the best through ball or correctly switch the play, so he needs an extra few seconds on the ball. Thankfully, he has 18 balance, 19 strength, 16 anticipation and 16 composure meaning he can hold off any challenge whilst having another effect.
If I give him the instruction to hold up the ball whilst he has no direct marker, the opponent’s defenders will have to close him down, leaving a gap somewhere around the pitch. If it’s one of the centre-backs, I will have my striker and two wingers run into that space and, because of Fellaini’s strength and passing ability, have him play one of them in. If, instead of it being a CB, it’s one of the central midfielders, we can hopefully play it to the unmarked one and continue our attack.
I wouldn’t have to wait long to put my theory into practice as my next game is against Southampton, a team who rarely deviate from their 4-2-3-1 with, thankfully, their midfielders in the MC spots, which means Fellaini is, as mentioned above, the “spare” player with no direct marker. I gave him these settings for the role but, to be honest, his settings aren’t as important as the players around him I’ve instructed to roam into the gaps their defence will hopefully leave.
Fairly standard. Run with ball will hopefully encourage him to move with the ball if no-one closes him down right away whilst low RFD, no roaming and no wideplay setting means he’ll hold his position between the opponent’s defence and midfield unmarked.
In the game against Southampton there were a few instances where the HUB setting on Fellaini was effective. Most importantly, undoubtedly, is the goal he sets up for Jelavic.
Here you can see the shape of both teams as my defender dispossesses their #7, Rickie Lambert, and the ball falls to Gibson. You can see Fellaini between the centre-backs and central midfielders of Southampton whilst my three attackers, Magaye Gueye, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith all getting into position to help us counter-attack.
Because of Southampton’s defensive shape, the ball is spread wide to Gueye who immediately looks inside and finds Fellaini unmarked.
Fellaini picks the ball up and Jelavic reads into what is happening and positions himself brilliantly. He realises that #14 cannot close Fellaini down, that #8 is concerned with Gibson making a forward run and can’t catch up with Fellaini so hangs on to the number 6, just staying out of #5’s reach.
José Fonte decides to leave his position to close down Fellaini, leaving number 5 to deal with Jelavic but Fellaini holds up the ball and manages to angle a pass through to Jelavic before #5 can get there or Fonte can reach Fellaini, leaving him one-on-one with their ‘keeper…
Which he buries. Was there every any doubt?
The impressive thing about this goal was how Fellaini held the ball up just long enough for the defender to leave his position but didn’t hold onto it for so long he had to play in a winger. He quite easily could have played Jelavic in-behind, tried to find the run of Gueye or Naismith down the wing or, worse, try to run through himself but, instead, he picked the best option and made the correct decision because of the extra few seconds afforded to him by the Hold Up Ball instruction, despite his poor decision making and technical ability.
He was brilliant this game – almost as good as I’ve seen him play in real-life – and seeing this made me smile.
The HUB instruction when used on spare players is not limited to attacking players and creating chances. If you anticipate that your next opposition are going to play with one striker who is quite lazy, it can be beneficial to ask a centre-back to hold up the ball, giving him that extra few seconds to pick out a pass. As long as he isn’t prone to losing concentration, of course!
I’ve also dabbled with it being used on defensive midfielders when my opponent doesn’t play with an attacking midfielder – this player is perfectly positioned between the opponent’s front line and midfield – to great effect. He can get the ball off the defenders, look up and see whatever opposition’s midfielder has come to close him down and find the man he should have been played to. Or, even better, an opposition winger may come towards him and leave the fullback open.