Posts Tagged ‘4-2-3-1’

Analysis: Five things that went wrong for England

“England dominated possession against Uruguay and saw plenty of the ball against Italy, but too often technical deficiencies and unnecessary haste betrayed them. With a team geared exclusively towards attacking at pace, England lacked players capable of drawing the sting from the match by putting a foot on the ball and slowing the pace. At 1-1 against Uruguay, England’s inability to control the game’s tempo proved their undoing. “I just thought when we got the equaliser, we just needed to be a bit more clever, a bit more cute, and a bit more difficult to beat,” admitted Steven Gerrard. “Maybe we should have accepted that going for a point might have been the best option.””

My take for AFP on the reasons behind England’s chastening group-phase exit at the 2014 World Cup can be read here.

Related link: England exit leaves Gerrard heartbroken again

Analysis: Mourinho still searching for winning formula

“Upon returning to Chelsea, Mourinho pledged that he would introduce a more proactive, passing style, but he is struggling to find an alternative to the counter-attacking approach that is his trademark. Chelsea have averaged a healthy 56.9 percent of possession in their 12 league games to date this season, but they seem happier when they have taken an early lead and can pick off their opponents on the break. Of their 12 victories in all competitions, 10 have come after they went ahead inside the first 33 minutes and on the five occasions when they have conceded the opening goal, they have come back to win only once, in last month’s 4-1 win at home to Cardiff City.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on José Mourinho’s search for a winning formula at Chelsea, and you can read it here.

Tactics: Willing Welbeck key to Moyes’ United blueprint

Danny Welbeck and David MoyesDavid Moyes is only two competitive games into his tenure as Manchester United manager, and his tactical strategies are likely to evolve as the season progresses, but his side’s early performances have already benefited from the unique skillset of versatile forward Danny Welbeck.

In both the 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield and last Saturday’s 4-1 win at Swansea City, Welbeck operated in a role that was difficult to define; hugging the left touchline one minute, darting into the box the next. In this respect he dovetailed with Ryan Giggs, who was United’s most advanced central midfielder in both games.

Welbeck and Giggs were the only players in the United XI who could be said to have taken up unorthodox positions in the two matches. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley patrolled the centre of the pitch – Cleverley slightly ahead of his England colleague – and while Wilfried Zaha (in the Community Shield) and Antonio Valencia (against Swansea) stayed wide on the right flank, Robin van Persie led the line as a conventional number nine.

Welbeck and Giggs, however, were harder to pin down. Giggs played slightly in advance of Carrick and Cleverley, and was often the player charged with carrying the ball forward into opposition territory, but he occasionally drifted wide to take up a role on the left. Welbeck orbited in support of Van Persie, typically moving to the left when Giggs was not there, but in the game against Swansea he also made a series of bursts into the penalty area from central positions, as his two goals demonstrated. The 22-year-old blends the stamina and work ethic of a central midfielder with the pace and dainty footwork of a winger, and his mobility equips United with both an outlet on the left flank and a foil for Van Persie.

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Tactics: How the Champions League quarter-finalists line up

The eight remaining teams in this season’s Champions League are drawn from seven different countries and range in experience from quarter-final debutants APOEL to nine-time champions Real Madrid. They are nonetheless united by a number of tactical factors. All eight sides deployed four-man defences in their last-16 ties, while the majority of the teams preferred single-striker formations. Benfica and Milan were the only two teams to play with no wide midfielders.

The diagrams below depict the eight teams’ tactical line-ups from the first legs of their last-16 ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams (screenshots from the UEFA website) show average positions from the first 15 minutes of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

APOEL: 4-1-4-1

The average positions of APOEL's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 defeat at Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

In the first leg of their tie at Lyon, APOEL played in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation and placed so much emphasis on defending their penalty area that they did not muster a single shot at goal until Gustavo Manduca tested Hugo Lloris with a rising drive in the 88th minute. Ivan Jovanović’s side were more proactive in the return leg, however. Esteban Solari played up front in support of Aílton, while Manduca was named in the starting line-up and scored the goal that levelled the tie in the ninth minute.

[Squad numbers: 22. Dionisis Chiotis; 7. Savvas Poursaitidis, 3. Paulo Jorge, 4. Kaká, 98. William Boaventura; 26. Nuno Morais; 10. Constantinos Charalambides, 31. Hélder Sousa, 23. Hélio Pinto, 11. Ivan Tričkovski; 8. Aílton]

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Tactics: How the Champions League semi-finalists line up

This season’s Champions League semi-finalists reached the last four with an average aggregate winning margin in the quarter-finals of four goals, making them the most comfortable set of semi-final qualifiers in the Champions League era (post-1992).

The diagrams below depict their tactical line-ups from the first legs of their quarter-final ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams show average positions from the first half of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

Schalke: 4-4-1-1

The average positions of Schalke's players in the first half of their 5-2 victory at Internazionale in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final; UEFA

[Squad numbers: 1. Manuel Neuer; 22. Atsuto Uchida, 4. Benedikt Höwedes, 32. Joël Matip, 2. Hans Sarpei; 17. Jefferson Farfán, 14. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, 18. José Manuel Jurado, 11. Alexander Baumjohann; 7. Raúl; 9. Edu]

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Tactics: French sides flock to worship at altar of 4-2-3-1

A peculiar tactical phenomenon has been witnessed in France in recent months. In a microcosm of global trends that have shaped the game over the course of the last decade or so, Ligue 1’s top sides have all – without exception – begun to ditch their preferred formations in favour of a 4-2-3-1.

Marseille, whose title and Coupe de la Ligue successes last season were founded on a pragmatic 4-3-3 shape, were the first team to make the switch. For the crucial Champions League group game at Spartak Moscow in November, Mathieu Valbuena was moved infield from the right flank and allowed to adopt the central playmaking role that he covets. Didier Deschamps wanted to capitalise on the fact that Valbuena “is very accurate with his shooting” and the France international proved as much in the 18th minute when he put OM ahead with a precise, curling effort into the top-right corner. Marseille went on to win 3-0, in what was their most coherent performance of the season to date, and their 4-2-3-1 continues to emerge for high-pressure encounters, such as Sunday’s 2-1 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain.

Another team synonymous with the 4-3-3 in recent years has been Lyon. Towards the end of the first half in their 4-1 win at Saint-Etienne last month, however, Yoann Gourcuff was allowed to advance a little further forwards and occupy the role of the classic number 10 that was his at Bordeaux. With Jérémy Toulalan and Kim Källström retreating into deep, central positions, it meant Lyon were playing a 4-2-3-1 and Claude Puel reflected that it gave the team “a certain balance”.

The switch brought the best out of Lisandro López, moved to the left flank in support of central striker Bafétimbi Gomis, in much the same way that André-Pierre Gignac’s best form for Marseille has coincided with the times when he has played from the left in support of Brandão. Occasionally isolated when used as lone strikers, both López and Gignac appear to relish seeing more of the ball and both men are particularly adept at cutting inside and shooting at goal with their stronger right feet.

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Asian Cup 2011: Five tactical observations

There may have been comical goalkeeping, half-empty stadiums and a ticketing fiasco that marred the final, but the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar was also able to boast some fine football and a handful of breath-taking matches. Football Further looks at some of the tactical points of interest at the 15th edition of Asia’s showpiece tournament.

1. Barcelona have some devoted disciples in East Asia
Qatar’s French coach Bruno Metsu described Japan as “the Barcelona of Asia” after their 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia in the group phase, but the description could just as easily have been applied to South Korea. Both sides pressed the opposition high up the pitch, harrying defenders into conceding possession and constructing attacks based on rapid inter-changes of passes. “When we attack, just like Japan, we go forward and create chances at a high tempo,” said South Korea coach Cho Kwang-Rae prior to the last-four meeting between the sides.

Japan’s high defensive line got them into trouble on occasion – most notably when Sebastián Soria broke the offside trap to put Qatar 1-0 up in their quarter-final – but their football was very pleasing on the eye. Ji Dong-Won’s second goal for South Korea in the third-place play-off win against Uzbekistan, meanwhile, was as slick a strike as almost anything Barcelona have produced this season.

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Tactics: How Spurs changed their shape for the Champions League

“A lot of club managers will take note of what happened in the World Cup and adjust their tactics accordingly,” said Harry Redknapp in the September edition of FourFourTwo magazine. “I’ve gone on record as saying England were far too open in the tournament and I think 4-5-1 would have been the formation to get the best of our lads and also close the space in midfield. In the Premier League, you’ve already seen a lot of teams using 4-5-1, especially away. It’s a formation I’d consider playing on the road, for sure.” 

Redknapp’s reputation as an attack-minded tactical ingenue was always going to be tested by Tottenham’s participation in this season’s Champions League, and the diagrams below – taken from the press kits area of the UEFA website – show how he has adjusted Spurs’ formation in their six group-stage matches. 

Having built last season’s triumphant campaign on an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, the deadline day signing of Rafael van der Vaart hinted at an evolution in Redknapp’s tactical thinking. That new, subtler approach has been evident in the Champions League. The apparent default shape, when van der Vaart is available, is a 4-2-3-1, with Gareth Bale wide on the left, Aaron Lennon on the right and the Dutchman in the centre. (Luka Modrić looked set to take up van der Vaart’s role in the 4-3 defeat at Internazionale, until he was replaced by Carlo Cudicini following the early dismissal of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.) 

Only in the eminently winnable games – at home to FC Twente and Werder Bremen, and away to Twente (when Spurs had already qualified) – did Redknapp field anything resembling a 4-4-2. Even then, the right-sided midfielder was often instructed to tuck in (van der Vaart at home to Twente, Niko Kranjčar in the return fixture). In the magnificent 3-1 win at home to Inter, meanwhile, van der Vaart played so close to Peter Crouch that he was effectively being used as a second striker in a 4-4-1-1. 

NB: The diagrams show average positions from the first half of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how Spurs approached each game in terms of formation. 

1. Werder Bremen 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur, September 14 

The average positions of Tottenham's players in the first half of their 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen; UEFA


[Squad numbers: 3. Gareth Bale, 4. Younes Kaboul, 6. Tom Huddlestone, 7. Aaron Lennon, 8. Jermaine Jenas, 11. Rafael van der Vaart, 15. Peter Crouch, 22. Vedran Ćorluka, 23. Carlo Cudicini, 26. Ledley King, 32. Benoît Assou-Ekotto]  

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What does Mourinho have on the drawing board?

In January this year, Football Further examined the first few months of Manuel Pellegrini’s stint as Real Madrid coach and discovered that he fielded 16 different midfield and attack configurations in his first 16 league matches. Pellegrini’s time at Real ended in disappointment – despite phenomenal success in the goalscoring department – and a look at how his successor, José Mourinho, has approached team selection in the early weeks of his tenure reveals a very different style.

Where Pellegrini chopped and changed (unaided, it must be said, by injuries to key players), Mourinho quickly settled on a first-choice XI and has sought to deploy it at every available opportunity. Below are the midfield/attack combinations that Mourinho has used in the league this season, in the order in which they have appeared:

1. Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra; Ángel di María, Sergio Canales, Cristiano Ronaldo; Gonzalo Higuaín (0-0 v Mallorca, a)
2. Alonso, Sami Khedira; Karim Benzema, Mesut Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Osasuna, h)
3. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-1 v Real Sociedad, a)
4. Alonso, L. Diarra; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-0 v Espanyol, h)
5. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (0-0 v Levante, a)
6. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Deportivo, h)
7. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (4-1 v Malaga, a)
8. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Racing Santander, h)
9. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-1 v Hercules, a)
10. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-0 v Atlético, h)
11. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Sporting Gijon, a)
12. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (5-1 v Athletic Bilbao, h)
13. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Benzema (0-5 v Barcelona, a)

The consistency is striking. Prior to Real’s humiliation at Barcelona on Monday night, Mourinho had aligned the same six players in midfield and attack for eight successive games, and had Higuaín not sustained a back muscle injury prior to the trip to Camp Nou, it is certain that that statistic would have been extended to nine games.

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Tactics: What should England expect from France?

The press pack accompanying the France squad to England may have been slightly miffed at the lack of attention given to Les Bleus in Fabio Capello’s pre-match press conference, but Laurent Blanc’s side will have plenty of opportunities to make themselves headline news when tonight’s match at Wembley kicks off.

France lost 2-1 to Norway in Blanc’s first game in charge and were then stunned 1-0 by Belarus in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier at the Stade de France, but have since recorded consecutive 2-0 victories against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Luxembourg. Upon taking the reins following the World Cup debacle, Blanc spoke of his desire to create a France team “that opposes its style upon its opponents”, and although we are still in the early days of his tenure, his vision for the national team is beginning to emerge.

In France’s last game, a rather laboured 2-0 defeat of Luxembourg in Metz, Blanc set France out in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield supporting Karim Benzema and Guillaume Hoarau in attack. He occasionally used a similar system during his time at Bordeaux, but against strong opposition his preference is for a midfield configuration that makes sure France cannot be outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.

“Playing with two strikers does not allow us to have numerical superiority in midfield,” Blanc explained in September. “You can use it against weaker teams. Against strong teams it’s vital to win the midfield battle. You have more options with two strikers but you can only play with one holding midfielder. That can weaken your team.”

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