When you are coaching a football team, there are many different ways to approach a game and it is very common to find managers that have a very established playing style. Having said that, there are some styles that can be quite practical and beneficial for a team based on the type of players they have, which prompts some managers to go for a less orthodox way of playing. In this regard, one of the most pragmatic and straightforward ways of playing football is the route-one tactical style, which can provide a solution for teams that perhaps don’t have the resources to play in a much more elaborate manner. And here we are going to tell you everything you need to know in that regard.
What is the Route-One Tactical Style?
Route-one is a brand of football that is based of playing long ball to the target man upfront to skip the build-up phase of your team and focusing of getting to the opposition’s box as fast as possible. There are cases where the route-one tactical style has been tagged as “no nonsense football” and it is a fair assessment because it is a style that is focused on simplifying your team’s efforts and getting the necessary results.
For many different reasons, including financial resources and lack of top quality players, the route-one tactical style is often used by weaker teams in an effort to compete against stronger opposition. This is also a football style that was fairly common in British football a few decades ago and it has a few representatives of the style (of course, with a modernized approach to it) in managers such as Sean Dyche or Tony Pulis and it still has its uses in the modern game.
Is Route-One a Good Style of Play?
The route-one tactical style is certainly a way of playing football that is not suited for a lot of teams and context matters a lot when trying to implement it. For example, the route-one tactical style is not particularly recommendable for big teams that have a lot of quality players because they tend to be very technical and it can be a waste of their own abilities, so it’s important to point out that the route-one tactical style is a brand of football that can be viewed as very reactionary and it is focused more on how to respond to what the rival is doing.
For example, passing from the back is a trend that has been developed in the last decade and it is one that is going to remain (and be developed) for the foreseeable future. In this scenario, the opposition is going to try to press your goalkeeper and defenders when you are trying to build from the back, making things a lot more complicated for you. That is when the route-one tactical style comes into play: you can skip the building up from the back section and go straight to your target man, avoiding your opponent’s pressing.
It can also be very useful if you don’t have very technical players and you feel that they can’t pass from the back, so you play in a much more straightforward manner that can play to their strengths. Sean Dyche has done that with great effect at Burnley, getting the English club promoted to the Premier League, making them qualify for the Europa League one season and keeping them in a balanced position in the most competitive league in the world as we speak.
Another manager that has found great success with the route-one tactical style has been Chris Wilder, who surprised everybody last season in the Premier League with his Sheffield United side. And while the inverted centre backs in his back three got a lot of recognition from tactical experts, it is worth pointing out that Sheffield were one of the teams that played from the back the least and their two strikers, often lead by the Scotsman Olie McBurnie, were often the target men that helped lowering the ball to their teammates once they started playing the route-one tactical style.
This is a style of football that can also be quite beneficial for you in the case that you have a quality target man that can win the ball on the air–it lessens the arbitrary factor of throwing a ball long. Peter Crouch was a great example of this, being one of the tallest players to ever grace the Premier League and he was a very useful player to play this brand of football. Of course, it’s a resource that even the best teams can have. 2020 Champions League winners Bayern Munich have Robert Lewandowski, who is a very complete forward and who could also provide target man duties if the German club decided to play the route-one tactical style. It’s another tool in the arsenal that is worth having.
How is the Route-One Tactical Style Played?
There is this assumption that the route-one tactical style can only be played by lumping the ball to the big striker on the other side of the pitch, but the reality is that, in order for it to work, there has to be a plan behind that play, like in every single type of tactic.
It usually has the target-man lowering the ball for his teammates, who they tend to move in a planned manner to attack. This can be beneficial for your team because off the ball movements are sometimes harder to follow for some rivals and it can also give you the chance to some alterations in the movements (for example, wingers switching sides, midfielders rotating and similar stuff). It’s also quite useful to exploit defences that are not that solid–it sends your team straight to the point and it can prove to be quite beneficial during the game.
The downside to playing the route-one tactical style is that it can become a bit predictable. The moment your rival knows that you are going to play long, they can set up to counterattack that. Sure, you could argue that is the case with every single tactic and approach in football (and you would be right), but the route-one tactical style is particularly straightforward in its way of doing things and it can be a lot more complicated if your rival has strong centre-backs that are good on the air. An example of that was the total domination that RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano had over Atletico de Madrid’s striker, Diego Costa, when the Spanish side was trying to play it long in the 2019/20 Champions League quarterfinals. It nullified Atletico’s plans of playing it long.
Another potential downside of playing the route-one tactical style is the fact that rival teams can start to sit deeper on the pitch to guard themselves against your long throws, thus being better suited to deal with your target man and other possible passing options.
The route-one tactical style is a very clear and straightforward way of playing football and it definitely has its uses, especially if you don’t have much to work with in terms of technical abilities to build from the back and if you have a strong target man to rely on. It is a style that smaller teams tend to use and also teams that are in dire need of a result and don’t have other plans to work with in that particular moment.
In a day and age when passing from the back and pressing as a result has become the norm, it is recommendable to teach your players this alternative, not as the first option, but rather as an alternative when your rival is trying to pressure you to give away the ball. It is key that your players have as many tools as possible to deal with the circumstances that can happen in a football game and the route-one tactical style is another useful one to have at your disposal.