Posts Tagged ‘4-3-1-2’
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.
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]
Despite being prefaced by a World Cup that was characterised by stodgy, unadventurous football and which produced the lowest goals-per-game ratio (2.27) since the notoriously defensive 1990 tournament (2.21), the 2010-11 European football season was generally a positive one for teams that sought to keep the ball on the deck and play an expansive game. Football Further examines some of the tactical trends that have emerged in the continent’s major leagues over the last 10 months.
1. Keepers with good feet
The recent retirement of Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar has drawn attention to the value of goalkeepers who can set attacking moves in motion by distributing the ball in an intelligent and enterprising fashion. In a masterful piece for the Financial Times last week, David Winner explained how van der Sar’s coach at Ajax, Louis van Gaal, made a priority of developing his ability with the ball: “Van Gaal… had something more sophisticated in mind: to turn van der Sar into the first ‘sweeper-keeper’, the pivot of his new, high-speed ‘circulation football’ (which became, among other things, the precursor to the current Barcelona style).”
With teams better organised defensively than ever before and attacking players more and more adept at pressing opposition defenders, a goalkeeper who passes the ball well can be a priceless commodity. Victor Valdés provided a superb recent example in the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. With the score 0-0 early in the second half, Valdés used a goal-kick to play a one-two with Gerard Piqué – positioned near the right-hand corner flag – that lured Real’s attacking players up the pitch. Upon receiving the return ball from Piqué, Valdés curled a risky but perfectly executed first-time pass to Dani Alves on the right flank, taking five opposition players out of the game and setting up a counter-attack. Seconds later the ball was in the net, and Barca were on the brink of the final.
Right-footed, left-sided attackers are currently one of football’s most fashionable commodities (think David Villa and Robinho at the World Cup; Franck Ribéry at Bayern Munich; Nani at Manchester United), and like any self-respecting wealthy Italian man, Silvio Berlusconi has to be up with the latest trends. So he bought two. But while Robinho is hoping his transfer deadline day move to Milan will allow him to re-launch his stuttering club career, his arrival at San Siro may well turn out to be bad news for Ronaldinho.
Berlusconi might be the most ardent Ronaldinho fan on the planet, but he seems obsessed with the idea that his hero should play in the centre. Earlier this summer he spoke of his desire to see Milan play with two strikers, supported by Ronaldinho as a central playmaker. It’s a seductive idea, motivated no doubt by memories of players like Gianni Rivera and Manuel Rui Costa who wore the red and black number 10 shirt with distinction, but it’s not a role that Ronaldinho seems to enjoy.
Almost all the most enduring images of Ronaldinho during his time at Barcelona – be it his sensational goal against Sevilla or his one-man demolition job against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu – saw him picking up the ball wide on the left and cutting in at goal. As he said himself last season: “I feel great and where I’m playing I can do my best. I’m happy to play behind the strikers, but where I’m playing now [on the left] is my best position.”
On the eve of the World Cup, Football Further asked whether the 4-2-3-1 formation would continue to dominate as it did at the last tournament in 2006. The average position diagrams below, taken from all eight last-16 matches, demonstrate that while it remains the most popular shape in the international game, variations in tactics mean that it is being deployed in very different ways.
Uruguay began the competition as predicted by playing in a 3-4-1-2 but after a dour goalless draw with France in their opening game they shifted to a flat back four, with Jorge Fucile shuffling along to left-back from central defence, Alvaro Pereira pushed forward from left wing-back into a genuine left-midfield role and Edinson Cavani brought in on the right side of the attack in place of playmaker Ignacio González. Reading of the formation depends on Diego Forlán’s positioning. He tends to play much deeper than Suárez, and slightly to the left, turning the shape into a 4-3-1-2, but Cavani’s tendency to pull wide means he often operates on roughly the same line as Forlán, with Suárez left to lead the line alone.
[Squad numbers: 1. Fernando Muslera; 16. Maxi Pereira, 2. Diego Lugano, 3. Diego Godin, 4. Jorge Fucile; 15. Diego Pérez, 17. Egidio Arévalo Ríos, 11. Alvaro Pereira; 7. Edinson Cavani, 10. Diego Forlán; 9. Luis Suárez]
When it comes to surviving in the latter stages of the Champions League, it seems versatility is the key to vitality. One of the most notable things about the four sides that have made it to this season’s semi-finals is that all four have, to a greater or lesser extent, deployed formations and tactical systems that they do not use in domestic competition in order to reach the last four.
Defending champions Barcelona romped to an unprecedented six-trophy haul last year using a fairly classic 4-3-3 system that featured three narrow central midfielders and two goalscoring wingers (Thierry Henry on the left, Lionel Messi on the right) either side of a central forward (Samuel Eto’o).
This season, however, their shape has morphed into an assymetrical 4-3-3 that more closely resembles a 4-2-4. Messi has abandoned the right flank in order to occupy a roaming central role, from which he wreaked such havoc in Barça’s 6-2 humiliation of Real Madrid towards the tail-end of last season and the 2-0 Champions League final victory over Manchester United last May.
“Last year we won six titles and he played wide but we need him involved and sometimes he sees more of the ball when he plays more in the centre,” said coach Pep Guardiola after the 4-0 demolition of Stuttgart in the second leg of their last-16 encounter.
Messi’s place on the right flank has been taken by Barcelona B graduate Pedro Rodríguez – himself a capable goalscorer – with Bojan Krkić playing as the central striker in Zlatan Ibrahimović’s absence in the 4-1 quarter-final second leg win against Arsenal last week (right).
Seydou Keita, a goalscoring carillero in La Liga, plays almost as an orthodox left-midfielder, with both he and Pedro instructed to put pressure on the opposition’s full-backs when they lose possession. The attacking instincts of right-back Dani Alves allow Pedro to abandon the right flank when Barça go forward, with Messi also drifting into his former role on the right from time to time.
Internazionale, who will meet the La Liga leaders for a place in the final, have exchanged their 4-3-1-2 standard Serie A shape for a 4-2-3-1 that accommodates playmaker Wesley Sneijder and three strikers in the form of Goran Pandev, Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito.
The 2009-10 Serie A campaign was all set to be the season of the trequartista. Juventus’s major pre-season signing was Brazilian playmaker Diego from Werder Bremen, Milan were so keen to get the best out of Ronaldinho that club owner Silvio Berlusconi made him stand on a table at a pre-season training camp and promise to stay out of trouble and Jose Mourinho, who has as much romance in his soul as the Terminator, was happy for Internazionale to shell out €15 million on the sublimely gifted Dutchman Wesley Sneijder.
Four months into the season, things have not gone strictly according to plan for Serie A’s most alluring talents. Diego is being booed off the pitch by his own fans, Ronaldinho’s ineffectiveness in a central role has seen him restored to the left-wing role synonymous with his Barcelona pomp and Sneijder has started just four of Inter’s last 10 league games due to a combination of injury and suspension.
Sneijder’s situation is the least troubling of the three. When fit he is usually assured of a starting role and, in any case, he is not a true trequartista. But what about Diego and Ronaldinho? How is it that two of the world’s most talented playmakers have failed to shine in a central playmaking role at two of the world’s most well-resourced clubs?