June 10, 2010


One striker or two? (When Saturday Comes, 6/10/10)

The level of knowledge saturation in the global game means no teams will be able to spring radical tactical surprises at the World Cup, but there is nonetheless likely to be plenty of diversity on show when it comes to formations. The 4-2-3-1 was the dominant shape in 2006 and will probably be so again in South Africa, with England, Brazil, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands among the sides predicted to adopt 4-2-3-1s or hybrids thereof.

France, however, are set to ditch their usual 4-2-3-1 for a 4-3-3, while Italy and Argentina are both believed to be flirting with the idea of a three-man defence. Chile are strong contenders to be the tournament's most pioneering team with the 3-3-1-3 system.

There is variety in the Premier League too, with champions Chelsea leading the way last season by flitting between a 4-1-2-1-2 (midfield diamond), a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree and an ultra-attacking 4-3-3 over the course of the campaign. And yet, despite Sam Allardyce's belief that it has become "antiquated", the formation of reference for England's top clubs remains the hardy 4-4-2.

Amid the soul-searching sparked by England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008, the 4-4-2 was held up in some quarters as a symbol of the country's slavish devotion to an outmoded tactical formula. José Mourinho had already wreaked havoc in his first two seasons at Chelsea by deploying a counter-attacking 4-3-3 that gave his side numerical domination in the middle of the pitch, and seemed to emphasise the lack of tactical awareness in the English game. "There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop this," he said.

Jonathan Wilson has written that the logical conclusion of soccer evolution is a formation with no forward at all. The US can make hay by uninverting the pyramid, as we do when Dempsey and Donovan are technically positioned in midfield but thrust forward into the attack. Big clubs these days pretty nearly resent being attacked and tend to respond poorly, but the lesser ones are generally too fearful to do so. What do we have to lose?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2010 6:13 AM
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