Mauricio Pochettino’s use of his striker to have a pull effect on man marking centre backs to move them out of position was key to our season.
Most coaches uses their strikers to be goal scorers, hold up players or even as linkmen. Not many will also include the term ‘decoy’ in their job description. Mauricio Pochettino does though, as he seeks to use his striker to not just get goals, but also to have a pull effect on man-marking centre backs.
The striker pull effect
Harry Kane is one of the most devastating forwards in the Premier League. His effectiveness comes from his ability to do a number of things. He takes shots on early to catch keepers off guard. He often shoots from abnormal angles. He combines this with pinpoint accuracy that makes his efforts difficult to predict, let alone save. Wrap this up in a sizeable frame that can shield off defenders, with decent speed and a non-stop motor, and it makes him a nightmare for the opposition to cover.
It is for these reasons that opposition centre backs will often be detailed with man marking Kane. Rather than try and pick him up when he moves in to their zone, when often it is too late to stop him shooting by then. Defenders will be tasked with picking him up early and tracking him.
This might put an opposition manager’s mind at ease that Kane is always accounted for. He should be picked up and his early shots from unpredictable angles and distances wont catch them by surprise and off guard.
However, in these situations, Mauricio Pochettino uses Harry Kane as decoy. The striker will drift out wide or come deeper in the formation, dragging a centre back with him and opening up a lane for a midfield runner to burst in to the space created.
The tactic is quite simple, but it has often caught opposition defences unaware this season, with devastating consequences.
Pull effect in games
In our opening game of the season, we saw Man Utd try and congest the centre around Kane to stop him being effective. No problem as he sucks in four defenders and picks out a neat lob pass over them for Christian Eriksen to run in to the space behind.
Next up in our 2-2 draw with Stoke, Mark Hughes was short on centre backs and used Geoff Cameron alongside Marc Muniesa. Knowing they couldn’t physically match up with Kane, Hughes had Cameron track him to try and nullify our striker.
Cameron would go wherever Kane did in the Stoke half, which included being pulled out to the touchline. Ben Davies shot past Harry Kane in to the space created and crossed for Nacer Chadli to score.
Against Sunderland, Kane drew Younes Kaboul with him, who should’ve known better having had a season under Pochettino. This allowed Erik Lamela to pick out the run of Ryan Mason to edge a tight game with the only goal.
Days later in the Europa League and Qarabag centre back Rasad Sadiqov was trying to track Kane. He was pulled out from his position at the heart of the back four by Kane’s movement, allowing Erik Lamela in to score through the space that Sadiqov had vacated.
Perhaps the most devastating game where we’ve seen this tactic at its best was the 4-0 hammering of Stoke at the Britannia. The Potters again went with their centre backs tracking Kane and he pulled them all over the place.
Our first goal of the night saw Kane pull Philipp Wollscheid out from the centre to track him by the touchline.
Kane found Mousa Dembele, who returned him the ball back to him to curl it in to the corner.
Not long after and Christian Eriksen was put clean through but pinged his shot off the bar. Again, Harry Kane had dragged Wollscheid away from his starting position as the right centre back. Wollscheid had even overlapped his left-sided partner Ryan Shawcross to follow Kane. This created a beautiful alley for Eriksen to run through.
One became two, as both Lamela and Kane sucked the centre backs short. Wollscheid went with Lamela, Shawcross with Kane. This allowed Eriksen to pick out Alli’s run beyond them.
Alli should’ve had a second, but inexplicably hit the post with an empty goal at his mercy after rounding the keeper. Once more, Kane had sucked Shawcross up-field, creating the lane for Alli to run through.
Kane would score the third as we rampaged up-field after breaking forward from a Stoke corner. However, he would also be heavily involved in our fourth without touching the ball this time.
His movement towards the touchline dragged both Shawcross and Wollscheid with him. One defender tracking him would’ve been ok, but two spelt disaster. They were both late to recover their positions after falling for Kane’s decoy run. This let Christian Eriksen in to deliciously tee the ball up for Dele Alli to sweetly volley it in to the corner of the net.
With this tactic, this game was definitely Kane’s and our performance of the season.
Striker pull effect overall
When you have a striker that is not only a threat to score goals, but can also pass the ball, then you have a great threat to use him as a decoy against man-marking defenders.
Harry Kane has had a sensational season from a goal scoring perspective, but he also brings so much more to the team. Defences are scared of him and will try to take him out of games by tracking him wherever he goes. Using either his passing or just simply his movement without the ball, he opens up lanes for others to run in to when opposition centre backs are keeping too close tabs on him.
It might not be applicable every game, as not every team will track him, but when opposition centre backs do over pursue, they leave themselves open to this pull effect. It’s a big reason why we scored the second most goals in the Premier League this season.