Posts Tagged ‘4-3-2-1’
The clue was in the number. “A press conference will take place on Wednesday 1 February at 15:30 at Parc des Princes to present Thiago Motta, who will wear the number 28,” read the brief statement released by Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Motta is a European champion and an Italy international, who cost the not insignificant sum of €10 million, but he was not the star signing that PSG had been hoping to announce on the final day of the transfer window. To paraphrase Garry Cook’s famous remark about Richard Dunne, he doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in Beijing.
There are vacant numbers in the current PSG squad list that could have adorned replica shirts liable to be torn off the rails in the club shop. Alexandre Pato might have chosen the number 11 shirt that he wore at Internacional and has sported at times for Brazil. The number eight that Kaká wears for Real Madrid is also unattributed. With Jérémy Ménez in possession of the number seven shirt and Mohamed Sissoko the number 23, David Beckham had been lined up for the number 32 jersey. After the Englishman’s abrupt volte-face, that shirt was earmarked for Carlos Tevez. But neither he, nor Beckham, nor Kaká, nor Pato will be seen in PSG’s iconic strip this season.
PSG made four signings in January – with Motta following Maxwell, Alex and new fourth-choice goalkeeper Ronan Le Crom through the door – but none of them were the marquee names that had held the local media in a state of permanent breathless excitement since the transfer window loomed onto the horizon in mid-December. Although Motta was relinquished reluctantly by Internazionale, Chelsea were quite happy to cede Alex and Maxwell left Barcelona with little fanfare.
There are few more glamorous locations than Paris and few clubs in the world capable of matching PSG’s huge spending power, but Ligue 1′s low international profile – coupled with the absence of European football at Parc des Princes in the second half of the season – has frustrated the club’s efforts to attract the kind of players who generate global interest.
“PARIS — David Beckham may have elected not to sign up for the Paris Saint-Germain revolution, but new coach Carlo Ancelotti’s remit — to turn PSG into one of the world’s biggest clubs — remains the same.”
My latest feature for AFP analyses Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at PSG and looks at his likely impact on the club’s transfer policy and the team’s tactical approach. You can read it here.
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]
As the dust settles on a Premier League season that somehow managed to be full of surprises and yet completely predictable at the same time, Football Further looks at some of the tactical trends that characterised the campaign.
Wall-to-wall flat back fours
A flat back four, often with attacking full-backs, continues to be the overwhelmingly predominant defensive strategy in the Premier League. All 20 teams in the English top flight preferred a back four this season and the rare deviations often met with alarming results. Injuries forced Manchester United to deploy a makeshift back three of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Richie de Laet at Fulham in mid-December and they went down 3-0, while Wigan’s attempt to stymie Chelsea’s influence in wide areas on Sunday by lining up in a previously untested 5-3-2 was an unmitigated disaster.
Another interesting feature of the campaign has been the perhaps surprising popularity of two-striker formations. Tactical experts readily assert that one-striker formations represent football’s future, but in this season’s Premier League, only Arsenal, Blackburn, Everton, Liverpool, Wigan and Wolves regularly played with only one recognisable central forward in attack.
Elsewhere, strike partnerships were all the rage, from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka at Chelsea to Frédéric Piquionne and Aruna Dindane at Portsmouth. Some sides even played with three. Birmingham deployed James McFadden on the left of midfield in support of Christian Benitez and Cameron Jerome, Martin Paterson played in a wide role alongside David Nugent and Steven Fletcher for Burnley, while Sunderland managed to accommodate Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and Fraizer Campbell in their line-up towards the end of the season.
“The 4-4-2 structure is not his forte,” said Birmingham boss Alex McLeish on McFadden’s repositioning as a wide midfielder. “He has got an edge in the last third which is why in the middle part of the season we played him around the corner and narrowed the midfield – [Sebastian] Larsson, [Barry] Ferguson, [Lee] Bowyer – and we compensated a wee bit in that very good run we had. James played around the corner to support the front two and that is his best position. You do take a bit away from him trying to make him a 4-4-2 player.”
The shift in attacking emphasis is borne out by the statistics. Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tévez and Bent all scored in excess of 20 goals this season (and Fernando Torres would definitely have joined them had it not been for injury), which was the first time since the 2003-04 campaign that four strikers breached the 20-goal barrier in the same Premier League season. With Frank Lampard also chipping in with a superb 22-goal haul, 2009-10 was also the first season since 1994-95 that five players broke the 20-goal mark.
Manchester United have already demonstrated this season that they are capable of overwhelming teams despite fielding what on first glance appears to be a conservative 4-5-1 formation, notably in the 3-1 Carling Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City in January.
They were at it again in the 4-0 win against Milan last week, when a side fighting hard for the Serie A title were simply torn apart by a United team fielding only one dedicated attacking player in the form of Wayne Rooney.
United’s tactics in that match (see right) saw Rooney fielded once again as a lone striker. Nani and Antonio Valencia were stationed on the flanks, with Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher occupying deep positions in central midfield. Park Ji-sung played a crucial role in the middle of the pitch by breaking forward to harass Milan’s deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo.
“Park made a sacrifice, and showed intelligence and discipline. We needed that against Pirlo who’s a very good player for Milan,” said United coach Sir Alex Ferguson.
Park subsequently spent a significant amount of time just in front of the Milan defence but his role was principally a destructive one. In United’s defensive phase, Rooney was the only player in the remote vicinity of the Milan centre-backs, with Park dropping back alongside Fletcher to present Milan with a five-man wall in midfield.
The key to United’s victory, as it was against City, lay in springing Park and Fletcher forward from midfield to add weight to United’s attacks. With Rooney having converted a cross from either flank to put United 2-0 up, Park and Fletcher killed the game off with late strikes in the second half. Both, crucially, had drifted into Milan’s penalty area unseen.
The principal purpose of the 4-5-1 is to give the team a solid base in midfield, but one by-product of the system is the manner in which it renders deep-lying opposition midfielders redundant by vacating the space usually inhabited by playmakers and attacking midfielders. One of the reasons for deploying midfielders to shield your defence is to prevent your opponent’s attacking players from exploiting the space that used to exist between defence and midfield in a traditional 4-4-2. But by completely withdrawing his midfielders from Milan’s defensive territory, Ferguson left Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini marooned – unable to engage with United’s attacking midfielders but prevented from picking out a team-mate upfield due to the wall of opposition midfielders ahead of them.
The news that Michael Owen will miss the rest of the season with a damaged hamstring prompted strange paroxysms of grief from those pundits who felt the injury had crushed the 30-year-old’s dreams of playing at a fourth World Cup with England this summer. In reality, his hopes have been dashed for some time.
As an out-and-out central striker whose game is fundamentally about scoring goals, he is a dying breed. The modern striker must do more than just score and all of Owen’s rivals for a seat on the plane to South Africa give more to the team than goals alone.
The following diagrams, screenshots from ESPN Soccernet, are heat maps detailing the involvement of Owen, Aston Villa’s Emile Heskey, Tottenham’s Peter Crouch, West Ham’s Carlton Cole and Fulham’s Bobby Zamora in the last Premier League home games in which they completed 90 minutes.
Michael Owen, Manchester United 3-0 Everton (21 November 2009):
The advantages of asymmetrical formations have been documented in detail by the game’s foremost tactical thinkers in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t teams out there still deploying perfectly symmetrical systems.
Step forward Carlo Ancelotti. The below screenshot from ESPN Soccernet shows the average positions of the Chelsea players during their 3-0 Premier League victory over Birmingham City on Wednesday and reveals that they took to the field at Stamford Bridge in an almost flawlessly symmetrical shape:
Average position data is obviously flawed by the fact that it provides only a vague idea of a side’s on-pitch tactics and gives no real insight into player movement or the exchanging of positions, but the diagram nonetheless highlights the clearly defined roles in Ancelotti’s 4-3-2-1.