The evolution of "La Salida Lavolpiana" in modern football
In a world where possession, build up play and creating numerical advantages through ball movement becomes more attractive to coaches, clubs and fans; "La Salida Lavolpiana" continues to be seen and applied in the highest levels of play but not without adjustments and improvements to it's founding tactical purpose.
Let's begin with Ricardo La Volpe whom this tactic is named after. As a manager he has worked with many teams, including the Mexican national team from 2002-2006 and Boca Juniors (one of the best clubs in the history of South America) from 2006-2007. Ricardo La Volpe's methodology, philosophy and style of play are referred to as "Lavolpismo". He is known for his attacking brand of football and his stubborn confidence as a manager.
Now onto the tactics. The approach and purpose behind "La Salida Lavolpiana" is simple: create numerical advantages when building an attack from the back third by having a backline of 3 players advance the ball utilizing the midfield and arriving in the final third with purposeful possession.
Tactical explanation of the principles behind "La Salida Lavolpiana"
The #6 (Defensive Midfielder) drops in between both Center-backs which splits their shape, the #4/#5 (Center-Backs) stretch their position to about the edge of the 18'. This movement creates a 3v2 overload vs the opponent's front two. An area often overlooked is the role of the goalkeeper during this situation in the match, the #1 (Goalkeeper) needs to provide support underneath and help create a diamond shape during the build up phase in the back third.
The #2/#3 (Fullbacks) stretch their position higher up the field (close to the midfield line). The #8/#10 (Attacking Center-Mids) work on finding a supporting position left by the #6 or finding a pocket in between the opponent's midfield unit to help break defensive lines.
The #7/#11 (wingers) shift centrally into the half-space to overload in the center of the pitch or move higher up into the final third to occupy the opponent's fullbacks, keeping them deep in their defensive shape. The #9 (Center-Forward) works on stretching the opponent's defensive shape by starting high in between the opponent's center-backs. These movements provide the opportunity for wide areas to be free and/or create penetrating passes to the center-mids due how separated opponent's defensive shape has become.
This tactic has reached the highest levels of German football where a young energetic manager named Thomas Tuchel implemented this tactic with Borussia Dortmund. Tuchel added another step in the evolutionary process of "La Salida Lavolpiana", this small adjustment when performed correctly from a tactical and technical standpoint helps achieve the ultimate goal of build up play: Eliminate defenders and break defensive lines through numerical superiority and arrive in the final third with clean possession of the ball.
Tuchel organizes his team in a 4-2-1-3 or 4-2-3-1 shape. During the build up phase instead of having the #6 (defensive midfielder) split the Center-backs as shown previously, one Center-back shifts inside and takes over a sweeper role, the opposite center-back stretches the shape wide to about the edge of the 18', these two movements provide an opportunity for the #8 (Center-Mid) to drop as a wide Center-back. This simple tactic forms a back 3 shape which helps create an overload in the flanks or in the central area of the pitch which forces the defensive team to become separated and provide numerical advantages for the team in possession.
The latest example in the evolution of "La Salida Lavolpiana" is none other than Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. A familiar face to the methodology implemented by Ricardo La Volpe. Guardiola spent a brief time in Mexico as a player and has been vocal about the influence that Ricardo LaVolpe has had in his foundation as a football manager. He has implemented different variations on the tactic throughout his coaching career.
The adaptation to the tactic implemented by Guardiola has been described as the "inverted fullback". Manchester City use their fullbacks to help create numerical superiority in the build up phase which discourages teams from pressing high up the field, due to the threat of having defensive lines penetrated by overloads.
Guardiola organizes his team in a 4-1-2-3 or 4-1-4-1 shape. During the build up phase the same initial principles of La Salida Lavolpiana apply. The #4/#5 (center-backs) stretch their position in line with the edge of the 6' yd box. The #6 (Defensive Midfielder) shows in a supporting angle closer to the #4 (Right Center-back), #3 (Left Fullback) shift inside and takes the role of the #8. This is where the brilliance occurs, the build up shape in the back third becomes a line of 3 center-backs (#1, #4 and #5) and 3 Midfielders closest to the ball (#6, #3 and #2)
The movement of the #8/#10 to find pockets in the midfield is crucial to achieve the objective of breaking defensive lines during the build up (diagram below). The middle third is overloaded with 4-5 players which in many cases creates a 5v3/5v4 numerical advantage. The #7/#11 (Wingers) and #9 (Center-Forward) stretch the attacking shape high into the middle/final third which occupies the defensive backline due to the threat of a long pass that can eliminate the entire team. When a wide run is made by the #8 or #10, the #11 or #7 recognize the moment to shift centrally and continue the philosophy of overloading in the middle third.
In conclusion, the key lesson to learn is that this beautiful game is an open canvas for growth, adjustments and improvements. It is important to have an open mind when learning tactics and understanding that the game is always changing and evolving. I will leave you with this quote by french philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire.“The more I read and the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”