It’s a question that’s plagued mankind since the dawn of time, or maybe even several million years before that – because, you know, we’re existentially omniscient and whatnot: If you could pick five professional soccer players and plug them into a basketball court with a couple small goals, who would you choose? On Monday we announced our own indoor soccer five-on-five draft. The results are now in. Four of us took turns choosing from a forty player pool until half the players were taken. Below, we explain our draft picks, preview our formations, and justify our tactics. Of course, we’ll each be a bit biased about which side is the best – leave a comment below and let us know your favorite squad.
- Eric Betts, O87 writer
- Ogo Sylla, blogger and Senegal NT correspondent
- Adams Sibley, O87 writer
- Wes Pickard, O87 writer
|Round 1||Eric||Sergio Busquets|
|Round 2||Wes||Robin van Persie|
|Round 3||Eric||Edinson Cavani|
|Round 4||Wes||Eden Hazard|
|Round 5||Eric||Phil Jones|
Yaya Toure, Mesut Ozil, Diego, Neymar, Falcao
The key to a good five-a-side team is having diverse avenues of attack. Unlike in a balanced 11-on-11 match, defense plays second fiddle to offense here. Having a strong man in back to stifle counterattacks is a sound strategy, but the truth is shots will come from anywhere and everywhere, and winning boils down to scoring one more than the other guys. This squad doesn’t abandon defense, but it also doesn’t make it a priority.
Yaya Toure stabilizes the team from the back. He has experience playing defensive roles at Barca (even starting at center back in the 2009 Champions League final), but also has the attacking prowess and long ranged shot to prove threatening all over the court. Therefore he plays a dual role: stifling counterattacks, and beginning attacks. In front of him, Ozil and Diego take turns setting plays. Each player, typifying the Spanish style, favors passing, dribbling, and close control, three of the most important attributes in small games. Ozil provides pinpoint passes into the box while also boasting a keen crossing ability that stretches an already perplexed defense. Diego, as well, provides shrewd outlet passes while also begging the opposition to defend his shot. My two playmakers alternately set up Neymar and Falcao. Neymar, for his part, lacks a traditional position in this squad – but that’s exactly what makes him so dangerous. If the opposition stifles Ozil or Diego creatively, Neymar wastes no time making lightning end-to-end runs before slotting past the keeper. Given his sheer pace and dribbling prowess, several defenders are often required to dismantle his attack – a task which more times than not seems impossible. Opposite him, Falcao is the team’s traditional target man. He can just as easily score with his back to the goal as from a power header off an Ozil cross. His strength pays huge dividends in creating what little space is needed to put shots on target in and around the goal box. Leave him unmarked and he will find a way to score.
Toure, in general, provides a body to mitigate counterattacks as best as possible, but the name of the game here is bagging goals. This squad features five different scoring options – Toure rockets, Ozil curlers, Diego blazers, Neymar wondergoals, and Falcao screamers. If any one player raises a red flag and the opposition responds, that opens up the space for the other four players to attack more freely. The opposition will have no response – mark any one of my players out of the game, and the other four flourish all the more. This side may concede a few goals, but they more than makes up for it with their lethal strike rate. Enjoy the fireworks.
Sergio Busquets, Phil Jones, Dani Alves, Shinji Kagawa, Edinson Cavani
I wrote about what I felt worked in something like this before, back in July, when we published a five-part piece on Street Soccer USA and their national championship. Those games are four-a-side, but with the small court and the walls, it’s close. That in mind, I was looking for two things in the draft: versatility and energy.
The latter is important because even if the space is smaller, the constant back and forth, starting and stopping required in small-sided requires a tremendous amount of endurance. Our diamond system is designed to be defensive first, and to catch opponents out on the break after they’ve left one defender or just their goalkeeper behind. That means the two sides of the diamond will have to go back and forth constantly, and so I specifically went after players who can run all day and most of tomorrow too.
This squad’s versatility doesn’t just stem from the fact that nearly all of the players can play multiple positions, though that certainly helps. It’s more about the fact that they can each fulfill multiple roles. Busquets at the base of our diamond plays as some combination of defensive midfielder, sweeper and regista: the first in breaking up counterattacks while the rest of our team retreats, the second when we’re set up in defense, with the two sides of the diamond retreating to form a three-man bank and the third when we win the ball back, where he can play quick outlets to Cavani up top or to a streaking Alves, and he can always serve as a reset button if our attackers find themselves stuck in a corner, and know that even if he’s under pressure he’ll keep the ball and keep it moving forward.
The Brazilian will also have a dual role. First of all, his stamina is perfect for a small-sided, small-field game like this, where the game is marked by constant attacking thrusts and defensive retreats. When Kagawa and Cavani are both on the field, he’ll have to play a more defensive role, breaking later and retreating sooner. Any worries about his defense are mitigated by the small spaces, he’s got the speed to play basketball-style help defense when it’s necessary to throw himself in the way of shots. When Jones and Busquets are on the field, he’ll have a more attacking role, still retreating in defense but immediately looking to break and catch the other team out. He can stretch the play all the way to the right wall or come inside if necessary, has a hard shot to test our inexperienced keepers from distance, and on a slick gym floor his skipping crosses from that side will need only a touch to be diverted into the net.
Kagawa is nice because he’s somewhere in between playmaker and goalscorer (15 goals and 10 assists in 39 games for Dortmund thus far). He can play as the tip or as one of the sides of our diamond, and rely on different parts of his poaching or creative abilities in each spot.
Cavani is an ideal striker for this kind of game, particularly with the walls in play. (To be honest, I was a little disappointed Fernando Llorente didn’t show up, because then I could have taken Yaya Toure and Llorente later. Alas, the world’s most in-demand striker will have to do.) His finishing abilities speak for themselves, and he’s used to leading the counterattack as we’ll be doing, but just as important for a team built around the quick counter is his big frame. Since the ball can’t go over the endline, we’ll have him as an outlet when we’re defending, and if that pass doesn’t lead to a quick score then he’ll be able to take it off the walls and hold it up while he waits for support. Plus, his size and strength makes him perfect for one of my favorite indoor moves, maneuvering your body to simultaneously set a pick on the last defender and screen the vision of the goalkeeper. If the player with the ball gets by his man and cuts the right way, it’s a free shot on goal.
Jones, meanwhile, will be our super-sub, filling in for Busquets as sweeper, Alves as wingback, and Kagawa as the left-sided midfielder when he’s playing keeper or striker. It’s in this latter role that he’ll particularly excel, serving as our all-action bulldog, closing down and physically bullying the Pirlos, Ozils and Gotze’s of our imaginary tournament.
Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Silva, Marouane Fellaini, Andre Ayew, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
When I first thought about my team I opted to try to get as balanced a side as possible and so split all players into 4 basic categories, which would correspond to their roles on our 5-a-side pitch. The first is the “Striker”, in charge of banging in the goals. At the opposite end of the pitch would be the “Stopper”, in charge of stopping the opposition and being the last rampart of defense by either clearing the ball away or simply tackling the ball away when a player has broken through on goal. The third type was the “Playmaker”, in charge of producing the ammunition for the “Striker”. The intermediary role would be the “Engine”, because every team needs a workhorse to go and do the donkeywork. He’s in charge of helping out the defense but also supporting attacks, contingent on the given phase of play. In other words, his role is simply to always be either the out-ball or simply an extra man. The last role is the “X-Factor”, that player with a bit of magic who is so atypical that he can’t be pigeon-holed in a role nor will he have any particular assignment on the pitch other than what he does best.
As I said, balance in those roles was my original goal – which I stuck to given I’ve picked one player to suit each one – but the theme is a very clear one once my selection is closely scrutinized: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, André Ayew, Marouane Fellaini, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo. The common thread about this selection is that, barring Pirlo – which only further cements his role as the “X-Factor” – all my players are very athletic and physical. Indeed instead of favoring flair, I’ve opted to simply bully my way through the opposition.
Ibrahimovic, a well-known flat-track bully, will spearhead the attack. A tremendous aerial threat, quick-footed and super skilled, and with the ability to single-handedly conjure up moments of genius, the Super Swede was my 1st pick and a must-have to lead my line of brutes. Any opposition – barring Chiellini [haha] – should fear the great Ibracadabra!
Thiago Silva was my third pick of this draft. A ball-playing defender with great skill & athleticism – in other words the typical Brazilian stopper with pace, strength, and a great vertical leap to boot. Thiago Silva also is very comfortable in possession, reads danger well, and boasts of a great range of passing that will allow him to cleanly transmit the ball to the players ahead of him even when under pressure.
Fellaini, the twinkle-toed giant, was my fourth choice and a crucial one at that. I’d missed out on Yaya Toure who was my initial first choice for the “Engine” role but the Belgium does the job just as well. Great in the air, super physical, and retaining some nice ball skills, he – just like Ibrahimovic – embodies the ideology of my team in mixing skill with strength. His ability to play all along the spine of a team (as CB, CDM, CM, CF or ST) makes him perfect for the “Engine” role as its main basis is to always be the extra man, whatever the phase of play we might find ourselves in.
Andre Ayew was my fifth choice and the one I chose for the “Playmaker” role. I at first hesitated and considered Mario Balotelli, with him moving in as my “Striker” and Ibrahimovic as my “Playmaker”. Such a setup would give me extra brawn to work with while still keeping the high level of technical skill in my forward line. In the end though, maybe a slightly smaller and more nimble player like Ayew was the right call. Although he’s much smaller in size, the Ghanaian is a scrappy one. Technically gifted and great at eliminating in 1v1 with his dribbling & pace, he offers me that direct approach I am going for in my team. More important is the fact that my playmaker had to be an athletic one as opposed to a player known for flair (such as Goetze, Hazard, Oezil, etc) and so Ayew fits the bill nicely.
Last, but certainly not least, is the “X-Factor”: Pirlo. He was my second pick, as I wanted to make sure no one took him away from me. The most talented deep-lying playmaker in modern football and one of my favorite central midfielders, Pirlo is who this team is built for. With the size of Ibrahimovic and Fellaini as the targets to take advantage of his clairvoyant vision and radar-like passing, Pirlo is very much the quarterback –in every sense of the word – of my team. A little man in a land of giants, he is the antithesis of this entire team. He’s not athletic, nor is he physical. But he retains the ball tremendously well and is a super direct player, which plays exactly the way I want. With Fellaini as the “Engine” next to me, and an energetic “Playmaker” like Ayew, they can open up space for Pirlo and pretty much serve as guard dogs to offer him some protection.
I see my team playing with Pirlo behind everyone. Thiago Silva will be right ahead of him and serve as the short option when simply keeping possession. Silva would not move too far away from his zone, with Pirlo having the liberty to advance beyond him, should the space be provided, and become an extra man in midfield. Ayew and Fellaini would both be on the same line ahead of Silva with Ibrahimovic at the tip of this diamond. Thus the formation is a 1-1-2-1.
I went with bigger & more physical players because of the context of a 5-a-side game. Bullying and intimidating is the primary strategy. There are no referees in a 5-a-side game so I can get away with fouling and getting stuck in (indeed it’s a shame Mark Van Bommel was not an option [haha]). Bigger players might struggle against smaller ones with lower centers of gravity, but as long as I kick them off the pitch it should be fine. Plus bigger players are harder to dispossess when shielding the ball, harder to knock off the ball, and harder to get around due to their sheer size and bulk. Plus the height also helps me deal with most little cheeky chips over the top and I can play the ball long and high to more effectively dominate the air and head the ball against the 5-foot-nothing midgets I’ll be playing against.
The main aim of this team is to bully, as I’ve mentioned it before. Therefore it looks to take advantage of its physical and athletic dimension in order to play a quick and direct game into vertical spaces. The strategy is to get to goal with as few passes as possible, and hold-up play (with Ibrahimovic & Fellaini) will be privileged over tiki-taka style pretty patterns meant to unbalance a team. Consider it a very “Big Sam”-like tactic… except with actual ball-players [haha].
Gerard Pique, Michel Bastos, Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard, Robin Van Persie
My strategy going into this draft was to draft one out-and-out striker, one out-and-out defender, one out-and-out creative midfielder, and then two wing guys, one more offensively oriented and the other more defensively oriented. The idea being that we’d have every zone more or less covered. Another priority I had was being able to control possession and pass it around, both obviously crucial in five-a-side. I hoped to get at least four players all of whom could be creative, high energy, possession oriented, and goal oriented. You can’t really afford to have any of your players suffer in any of these respects, so I did my best to address all of these areas.
I picked Pique first overall, the idea being that his Barcelona pedigree would underline an astuteness at keeping possession and moving the ball forward. He’s no slouch defensively either. His one weakness might be in his quickness, but on a basketball court, he can play in the defensive zone and really command the area. He won’t have to cover that much ground. We also know he can score if he needs to. Goetze was the ideal quick, tidy, creative player who will pull the strings through the middle for me. There were lots of good options for that role, and I thought Goetze was the best available at the time. Van Persie was my second overall pick. To be honest, I’m surprised he fell that far (sixth overall). He has been on-form all season for Arsenal, and he just freaking scores. All the time. He’s ideal for 5-a-side. Large, technically proficient, a nose for goal, can score with right or left, and quick. Eden Hazard is my offensively-oriented wing guy. That’s his natural position for Lille, and the Goetze-Van Persie-Hazard triangle will mean lots and lots and lots of offensive production. Pique will be responsible for covering the right side defensively, but Hazard is fit and able to track back when he needs to. My final pick was Michel Bastos. I wanted another defensively oriented player, but one with the chops to get forward on the wing. Bastos plays both LW and LB for Marseille and is Brazilian. You honestly cannot get enough creativity in 5-a-side. With such a small space to work with, we’ll need him to utilize every axis possible.
My team is going to score goals. Lots of them. Like Barcelona against anyone in the La Liga not named Madrid lots of goals. If there is any issue with my squad, it’s that we might be slightly weak defensively. Be that as it may, we’d still win most every time in a shootout. I’d also rely on retaining possession to keep our opposing team’s opportunities to score low. I was very happy with my picks, overall.
We’d like to hear from you. Which of these four sides would win in a hypothetical tournament? How would you have drafted differently? And when will Ogo relinquish his seething hatred for Xabi Alonso? Comment below or hit us up on Twitter and let us know who you’d put in your squad.