« A very demanding position »… The piston, the new hybrid of modern football

They evolve on the sides, but occupy an increasingly central role in the Ligue 1 teams. Look at OM, for example, Sunday in Nice. A very high ball recovery followed by an decisive pass on a plateau for Alexis Sanchez for one, the break goal of a perfectly placed right shot for the other… It is an understatement to say that Jonathan Clauss and Nuno Tavares hurt the people of Nice. Benefits that almost alone sum up the importance taken by those who are called « the pistons ».

“The first day I arrived, the coach showed me a picture of a pitch line. He told me: you have to go from this line to the other and come back running as a full-back, but also as a winger, ”described Nuno Tavares during his presentation this summer. With three goals already scored in four games and countless round trips in bulldozer mode, the player on loan from Arsenal seems to have assimilated the demands of Igor Tudor well. His counterpart on the right is not to be outdone, with two assists to his credit.

“A very demanding position”

A true jack of all trades, the piston does not have an easy role. Marvin Senaya, a 21-year-old player who occupies this role in Rodez, in Ligue 2, described for 20 minutes « a very demanding position », which requires being both « present defensively and offensively » through « speed », « crosses » and « one against one » to sometimes « finish the actions in attack ». And “support from the three centrals during the defensive phases”, if that was not enough. « It’s a very physical position because when you play piston, you’re alone in your lane », sums up the player on loan from RC Strasbourg.

This role is used more and more, whether within the national selections (the French team, at random) or in the European championships. In Ligue 1, the coaches of the current top three use it: PSG with Mendes and Hakimi, OM with Tavares and Clauss, and Lens with Machado and Frankowski. Alain Casanova, one of the first coaches to have implemented this system in Ligue 1, in 2013 with Toulouse, knows its advantages well:

Many people were mistaken in believing that playing with three centrals and two pistons was a very defensive system. I see it as a very offensive system: To have the ball in the opposing camp, with a positional game and create excess numbers, to recover quickly and high thanks to very high pressing, and to have a lot of players in the game. opposition and lots of forward projection. While being able to quickly close an opposing action. »

But this role is above all “one of the most physically demanding”, according to Marvin Senaya. « In general the pistons have an athlete’s physique, I have rarely seen a piston on the street physically », recalls the player loaned to Rodez. To bring the surplus, to be able to make the difference in one against one, or to cross. Hence often offensive profiles, converted to the position of piston.

Do not forget the defensive aspect

“As a youngster I was a striker, I was still playing as a 9 in U17. Over time, I moved to the wing as a winger and it was during my second year in U19 that I started to come down as a full-back. This is the first season for which I am preparing as a piston and I am discovering the requirements of this position, ”says Marvin Senaya.

An offensive requirement, without neglecting defensive work. The piston must also be able to help his three central defenders. “At the beginning I had a little trouble defensively, and I quickly realized that these were important qualities and a major criterion for this position. It’s a very versatile position in which you have to work a lot on the defensive aspect. How to get one on one, two on one. It’s a position that requires great tactical rigor, with the need to communicate a lot. With the midfield in front of you, with your central defenders. You work on it in training, but above all in matches, with automatisms and affinities with your teammates. Who will press, who goes up, who does not go up? “, continues the young Marvin Senaya.

“A big tactical culture”

At the time 2012-2013 when Alain Casanova set up this system with two pistons, he had Serge Aurier, Issiaga Sylla or Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro. “They were players with a high volume of play, capable of running 13 kilometers per game, with very significant changes of pace. But also a big tactical culture which allowed them to know when to take the corridor, when to come back to defend, on whom to go out depending on an opposing defense of four or five, knowing how to line up with the axial ”, summarizes Alain Casanova. For him, the perfect prototype of the piston role is today embodied by that of OM, who has just made a small place for himself with the Blues, Jonathan Clauss.

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