New Hearts tactic turns defence into attack inspired by Pep Guardiola and Ange Postecoglou

Big-name coaches in England and Scotland use a similar approach to that favoured by Steven Naismith.
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A feature of Hearts’ enthralling win over Aberdeen was a new tactic designed to get defenders influencing attacks. Inverted full-backs is something implemented by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and introduced in Scotland by Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou. It is also working at Tynecastle Park.

The interim Hearts manager Steven Naismith used this approach in last month’s 6-1 win against Ross County. Nathaniel Atkinson and Alex Cochrane thrived at right-back and left-back respectively that day and were heavily influential again during the weekend’s 2-1 win. Stepping into midfield seems to suit both players.

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When Hearts defenders have the ball, one full-back moves inside to the central midfield area to receive a pass. This allows other midfielders to press forward towards the attacking line and potentially outnumber opponents in the final third of the pitch. The other full-back can stay put or move higher to join the attack.

Atkinson and Cochrane are revelling in the freedom, the Australian producing arguably his best display in maroon against Aberdeen. “It’s exciting, the best type of football is attacking football, that’s what I enjoy and we’ve got the team to do that,” he said. “Naisy was a class player and he’s picked up a lot of things through the years.

“From the day he came in he showed us the way he wanted to play with full-backs going inside, outside and wingers joining in. I think I’ve got a good partnership with [Yutaro] Oda going on. It’s a bit tough with the language barrier but he’s getting better and he is another one that has been exceptional coming in.”

Mattie Pollock’s header put Aberdeen ahead after the Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark failed to connect with Leighton Clarkson's corner. Josh Ginnelly’s exquisite 25-yard equaliser levelled the scoreline by half-time, and Lawrence Shankland calmly converted Cochrane’s left-sided cross for the winner 10 minutes after the break.

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It was potentially a monumental result for Hearts as they closed to within two-points of third-placed Aberdeen. Their final two league games are at Rangers on Wednesday and at home to Hibs on Saturday. “Third is what we’re aspiring to do, finish as high up the table,” said Atkinson. “I don’t think we’ve met our standards this season but we have two more games to do that. Aberdeen are on top of us, to beat them was a positive. Hopefully some results can go our way and we can get more points on board.”

Nathaniel Atkinson skips past Bojan Miovski during Hearts' 2-1 win against Aberdeen.Nathaniel Atkinson skips past Bojan Miovski during Hearts' 2-1 win against Aberdeen.
Nathaniel Atkinson skips past Bojan Miovski during Hearts' 2-1 win against Aberdeen.

He is confident that a result at Ibrox is within Hearts’ capabilities, while Rangers are playing only for pride. “I don’t think it helps in any way. No team or player goes into a game wanting to drop points or wanting to lose. That’s the beauty of football, anything can happen. I think every game we go into it to win. The way Ibrox is going at the moment, they are sort of in a rebuild stage and looking on to next season but we’ve still got stuff to fight for this season. With a performance like Saturday, we’ll go there with confidence.”