Connect with us

Specials

Evolution of the Sweeper

Gaetano Scirea

A sweeper is a kind of withdrawn center back, playing slightly behind the center backs/defensive line. Also known as a ‘libero’, the mastery of this position is widely credited to the Italians, led by the legendary Gaetano Scirea in the 60’s and 70’s. Franz Beckenbauer is also widely considered by many as one of the greatest proponents of this position, along with others like Franco Baresi, Mathias Sammer and Lothar Mathauss. The sweeper is essentially what we now know as a ‘spare man’ in defence. His job involves a lot of game knowledge, tactical awareness, technical skill and anticipation. His ability to read the game and direct the rest of his defence is vital to his effectiveness. Apart from performing tactical functions, he’s expected to sweep up through balls, win tackles if the situation arises, and play the ball out of defence, or even step up and bring it out himself. The term ‘libero’ (free in Italian) is the best way to describe this player, he is free to roam around in his defensive half, or even the field, but this freedom comes with a great deal of responsibility.

Evolution: 

Many credit Franz Beckenbauer and the Italians for the invention of this position; however, it was created by Alexandru Apolzan, a little known Romanian legend who plied his trade just after World War II. The position came into vogue as a response to the Brazilian samba masters, who used a very popular 4-2-4 formation. Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan team that won 2 successive European Cups in the 60’s very successfully employed it. The sweeper flourished in the ‘catenaccio’ style of play that the Italian teams of the age thrived on. As a response to the success the Italian teams achieved with these tactics, a lot of teams also adopted them, most famously West Germany, with Franz Beckenbauer leading them to a Euro (1972) and a World Cup (1974). However, teams soon found a way to break the ‘catenaccio’ and its success began to wane. Cruyff and his Total Football brigade especially undermined the tactic’s effectiveness. It was in this period that the sweeper underwent a transformation as the Italians came up with their ‘Zona Mista’ system, a predecessor to modern zonal marking in open play. The sweeper once again played a crucial role in this system as marking was added to his list of duties. The sweeper maintained his pre-eminent position in football until the late 90’s, which is evidenced by the fact that the sweeper Mathias Sammer was not only one of the players of Euro 96, but also scored a number of goals from open play. By this time the sweeper was being looked at as more of a deep lying playmaker with more attacking duties as well, and along with the development of the offside trap, and it’s increased use, many managers shifted the sweeper from behind the defence, to in front of the defence. The defensive midfielder is expected to do all the duties of the erstwhile sweeper, from in front of the defence.

Mathias Sammer

In the new millennium, we’ve seen teams go from playing 2 strikers, to playing only 1, with formations like 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 becoming the rule, rather than the exception. In such cases, playing 3 at the back allows the opposing attacking midfielders more time and space, and is a waste of players who could be otherwise asked to mark players. Hence, one center back is charged with marking duties, and the other is given a relatively free role, what we commonly know as the ball playing center back (Rio Ferdinand, David Luiz, Daniel Agger, Lucio etc.).

Sergio Busquets

Another modern twist to the sweeper can be attributed to Barcelona and the great Josep Guardiola. Starting as a defensive midfielder, the ‘sweeper’, whose role is commonly played by Sergio Busquets, drops into the space in between the 2 centre backs, who move wide, allowing the wing backs to bomb forward and offer the team options out wide and in the middle. This feature of the defensive midfielders game is crucial to retaining possession as it effectively creates a 4 vs 2 situation at the back, aiding in ball retention, and defensively, it is the sweeper/defensive midfielder who covers the center-backs when the opposition is launching a counter attack, and aids the teams transition from attack to defence. Though the role played by Busquets isn’t the same as that played by the likes of Scirea in the 60’s and 70’s, the purpose is very similar.                                

Barcelona without the ball

Barcelona with the ball

“Player 6” being the sweeper/defensive midfielder in both diagrams

Modern Applications:

In the modern game, the sweeper is widely considered to be extinct due to the offside trap; however, it can still prove to be a very useful tactic at times when defending becomes a priority. It is still widely used at junior levels due to the lack of cohesion between the defenders, and the resulting inability to play an offside trap effectively. Teams may also use the sweeper as a deep lying playmaker, and an additional line of defence on occasion where the opposition plays with 2 strikers. The sweeper as an attacking tool can be very useful in terms of possession retention, and can be a driving force from deeper areas should he choose to step up and enter the midfield, as evidenced by Mathias Sammer’s performance at Euro 96.

The sweeper in it’s modified form is also a crucial link in the tiki-taka system employed by teams like Barcelona as his intelligent use of space and technique are critical in deciding the success of the tactic in terms of ball retention in deeper areas of the pitch. The sweeper in such a system is also entitled with the responsibilities of picking longer passes as and when the opportunity arises, and linking play in the deeper areas with that higher up the pitch. Joe Allens performance on Sunday evening against Manchester City serves as a prime example of what the defensive midfielder/sweeper can achieve from deeper areas of the pitch as a playmaker.

The sweeper may be considered dead by many, but we must realize that its applications are widespread, and if used innovatively, the sweeper can be a very effective defensive and offensive option.

Picture Credits to:

forzaitalianfootball.com

uefa.com

thehardtackle.com

Graph Credits to

this11.com

Vishal Patel

Vishal Patel

Massive Chelsea supporter. Follow Mourinho and love Ronaldinho. Enjoy discussing tactics anytime, anywhere. Enjoy watching the Italian National team as well.
Vishal Patel

100 to Watch

Latest

Talent Radar2 months ago

2018-19 U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Week #6: Luka Jovic, Anthony Martial and Reiss Nelson feature

A regular feature on our website is the Talent Radar Team of the Week with the best young players compiled...

Talent Radar2 months ago

Talent Radar: A-League’s 10 Young Players to Watch in 2018-19

Brian Bertie writes about the 10 young players to watch in this season’s A-League. Australia have made rapid strides forward...

Interviews2 months ago

Interview: Abneet Bharti on Indian footballers abroad

SU Sintrense defender, Abneet Bharti, the only Indian footballer to be plying his trade in Europe, talks to Kaustubh Pandey...

Talent Radar2 months ago

2018-19 U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Week #5: Matthias De Ligt & James Maddison feature

A regular feature on our website is the Talent Radar Team of the Week with the best young players compiled...

Opinions2 months ago

Borja Fernandez: The underappreciated genius of ISL’s infancy

On the eve of the latest edition of the ISL, Arinjay Ghosh pays a tribute to Borja Fernandez, an ISL...

Opinions3 months ago

Tactical Philosophy: Domenico Tedesco

While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it...

Tactical Analysis3 months ago

Liverpool 3-2 PSG: Liverpool edge deserved victory against dysfunctional PSG

Siyang Xu writes a detailed tactical analysis about the UEFA Champions League match that ended Liverpool 3-2 PSG. Liverpool faced...

Talent Radar3 months ago

2018-19 U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Week #4: Matthias De Ligt & Ousmane Dembele feature

A regular feature on our website is the Talent Radar Team of the Week with the best young players compiled...

Opinions3 months ago

UEFA Champions League: The 5 hipster sides to follow this season

Gear up with your organic ginger ale and mystical moustache oil, as Richard Pike briefs us about 5 off beat...

Talent Radar3 months ago

2018-19 U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Week #3: Maxi Gomez & Marco Asensio feature

A regular feature on our website is the Talent Radar Team of the Week with the best young players compiled...

Opinions3 months ago

Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea: Tactical Approach & Key Players

Miles Olusina writes about Maurizio Sarri and the approach he is likely to take at Chelsea. Despite a successful 2016/17...

Talent Radar3 months ago

2018-19 U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Week #2: Joe Gomez & Bertrand Traore feature

A regular feature on our website is the Talent Radar Team of the Week with the best young players compiled...

Talent Radar4 months ago

2018-19 U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Week #1: Joe Gomez & Kylian Mbappe feature

A regular feature on our website is the Talent Radar Team of the Week with the best young players compiled...

Opinions4 months ago

Julen Lopetegui at Real Madrid: Tactical Approach & Key Players

Aamer Aslam writes about what we can expect from European Champions Real Madrid after the arrival of Julen Lopetegui On...

Opinions4 months ago

Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli: Tactical Approach & Key Players

Charles Onwuakpa writes about Carlo Ancelotti and the approach he is likely to take on at Napoli. After three intense...

Scout Report4 months ago

Scout Report: Gonçalo Paciência | Eintracht’s exquisite forward

Jose Miguel Saraiva writes a detailed scout report about Eintracht Frankfurt’s striker, Gonçalo Paciência. For those who have been attentively observing...

Talent Radar4 months ago

Talent Radar: Liga MX’s 10 Young Players to Watch in 2018-19

Thomas Harrison writes about the 10 players to watch out for in the Liga MX for this coming season. Mexico...

Talent Radar4 months ago

20 Key Young Players to Watch from 20 La Liga Teams

Tom Canton takes a look at they key young players to watch from each of the 20 La Liga teams....

Scout Report4 months ago

Scout Report: Alphonso Davies | Speedy Canadian winger

Griffin O’Neill writes a detailed scout report about Alphonso Davies, the Vancouver Whitecaps winger. While many still believe that the...

Scout Report4 months ago

Scout Report: Diogo Gonçalves | Benfica’s tricky winger

Jose Miguel Saraiva writes a detailed scout report about Benfica’s tricky winger, Diogo Goncalves Having been deprived of their biggest...

Talent Radar Award History

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this site and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More on Outside of the Boot

Previous Next
Close
Test Caption
Test Description goes like this