UEFA Euro 2020

Euro 2020 could be the tournament to usher in the return of the big man up top

Ross Jackson
Kieffer Moore has been brilliant for Wales this tournament
Kieffer Moore has been brilliant for Wales this tournament / Marcio Machado/Getty Images
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Remember when you couldn't watch more than ten minutes of a football match without hearing phrases like 'chuck it in the mixer' or 'hit the big man'?

Football's a totally different beast these days, with managers verging on being obsessed by the theory that teams have to play so-called 'pretty football' if they're to be classed as a good side.

25 years ago you'd have struggled to find a club in England that didn't employ a target man who was central to their style of play, yet the ploy didn't translate terribly well onto the international scene.

Players like Chris Sutton and Dion Dublin - two strikers with a Golden Boot each and three Premier League titles between them before you scoff - mustered a combined total of just five England caps, while players you'd class as slightly more intelligent yet less physical like Teddy Sheringham were thriving with the national team.

But could that all be about to change?

The noble target man has become almost extinct over the last few decades, with even lower league teams looking to play with fluid front threes and false nines as opposed to having a focal point to their attack.

Kieffer Moore has been central to Wales' success so far
Kieffer Moore has been central to Wales' success so far / BSR Agency/Getty Images

International football naturally has a huge bearing on club level football, with players often earning themselves huge moves off the back of a few decent games, and the systems teams adopt also tend to make an impression on club managers.

Euro 2020 may not even have even reached the knockout rounds yet, but the one major difference between this international tournament and so many that have gone before it is the use of the big man up top.

The Netherlands' Wout Weghorst, Romelu Lukaku (he hasn't really 'emerged' so to speak but we're using him as an example anyway because he's a forward and he's massive) and Wales' Kieffer Moore have all been superb so far this tournament.

All three have opened their account for the competition already and have been key parts of their team's approach to the games, with Wales in particular utilising Moore's aerial ability - in both boxes might we add - in their quest to make it out of Group A.

Weghorst has been a key player for his side
Weghorst has been a key player for his side / ANP Sport/Getty Images

The Cardiff man may not be the most fashionable of footballers by modern-day standards, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with building your team on solid defensive foundations and then making use of a target man's qualities to bring others into play.

Moore's hold-up play and flick-ons have helped alleviate pressure during both of Wales' two outings so far, while the aforementioned facets of his game have meant the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have been far more involved than if every time Rob Page's side cleared the ball it was just picked up by the opposition before launching another wave of attack.

Weghorst has been used in a very similar way in Frank de Boer's setup. The Netherlands are no longer a squad brimming with forward talent and haphazard defenders, instead they're quite the opposite with players like Stefan de Vrij and 90min's Our21 star Matthijs de Ligt providing solidity in the backline.

Without the quality frontline they used to boast the Netherlands aren't able to maintain possession as easily in the final third and so having a player they can rely upon to keep hold of the ball and drag the team up the pitch is imperative.

Weghorst's aerial ability was huge in the Netherlands' win over Ukraine
Weghorst's aerial ability was huge in the Netherlands' win over Ukraine / ANP Sport/Getty Images

Lumping the ball up to a monster centre-forward so he can maintain possession before laying it off to one of his advancing teammates may not be as pretty in some people's eyes as teams making 55 passes and still being in their own half, but it's certainly effective.

If we've learned anything from the opening week or so of Euro 2020, it's that target men still have a huge part to play in the game, and we may well see the return of phrases like 'chuck it in the mixer' and 'hit the big man' to the English game very soon. Hopefully.


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