Posts Tagged ‘4-3-3’

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.

Right-wing repositioning opens Ben Arfa’s route to Euro 2012

In recent weeks, Hatem Ben Arfa has started to look like the player he had always threatened to become.

With two goals and three assists in his last four appearances, the 25-year-old is the form attacking midfielder in the Premier League. There have been flurries of eye-catching form in the past, but he has rarely played such daring, decisive football on such a consistent basis and against such strong opposition.

The catalyst for his spring renaissance was the January arrival of Papiss Demba Cissé, who was signed to link up with his Senegal team-mate, Demba Ba. With two prolific strikers at his disposal, Newcastle United coach Alan Pardew was forced to abandon his long-held ambition to deploy Ben Arfa as a number 10 behind a lone striker. He has re-emerged on the right.

Ben Arfa started on the right flank for the first time in the league this season in Newcastle’s 5-2 defeat at Fulham on January 21 (a game in which he scored), but it was not until March 18, and a 1-0 win at home to Norwich City, that he was included in the same starting line-up as Cissé and Ba. The trio subsequently started in the slick 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion and last weekend’s 2-0 defeat of Liverpool at St James’ Park. After opening the scoring in the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, Ben Arfa scored once and created the two other goals at West Brom and was then instrumental in both goals against Liverpool.

Over the course of those recent games, Newcastle’s shape has slowly morphed from a lopsided 4-4-2 into something resembling an orthodox 4-3-3, as Ben Arfa has become the focal point for his side’s attacking play on the right flank and Pardew has responded by adding more ballast to the centre of midfield.

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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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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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Tactics: Can France play without a playmaker?

The team that Laurent Blanc aligns against Romania on Saturday may herald a significant change of direction in the tactical evolution of the French national side. Teams representing the country have long been built around a single, richly talented creative player, from Raymond Kopa in the 1950s through Michel Platini in the 1980s to Zinedine Zidane at the turn of the last century. But that could be about to change. 

The basic shape of France's midfield and attack in the 2-0 Euro 2012 qualifying victory against Bosnia-Hercegovina in Sarajevo in September 2010

France’s 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Hercegovina in Sarajevo last month was probably their most impressive performance in a competitive match for four years and they achieved it without a playmaker in sight. Instead, Alou Diarra anchored a muscular midfield with Yann M’Vila alongside him and Abou Diaby operating slightly further forward. Florent Malouda and Mathieu Valbuena were deployed on the flanks, in support of lone striker Karim Benzema.

Diaby has long been typecast as a defensive midfielder, presumably because of his height, his build and his physical resemblance to Patrick Vieira, but against Bosnia he was given the freedom to express his attacking gifts, embarking on lolloping runs into opposition territory and making a number of incisive passes. A playmaker, however, he is not. 

Yoann Gourcuff, the heir apparent to Zidane, and Samir Nasri missed the game in Sarajevo, through suspension and injury respectively. Both are now back in the fold, but Blanc has promised that the players who starred against Bosnia will be given an opportunity to stake a claim to a first-team place. 

“Nothing forces us to play with a number 10,” said Blanc this week. “In Bosnia, because we couldn’t do anything else, there wasn’t one. The train had passed, the team was put in place and it did a pleasing job.”

Blanc has admitted, however, that “players who are capable of making the team play better [i.e. playmakers] are always useful” and he has also expressed a conviction that Gourcuff and Nasri can be fitted into the same starting XI, most probably with Nasri playing wide on the right and Gourcuff in the centre.

The prototype 4-3-3 that breathed new life into the French national team’s play in Sarajevo was a world away from the stodgy, unimaginative football associated with the 4-2-3-1 of the Raymond Domenech era, but Blanc’s stated mission to create a side that “imposes its style upon its opponents” would perhaps be best served by a team containing at least one playmaker. In any case, Diaby’s ankle injury suggests at least one of Gourcuff and Nasri will make the starting XI against Romania.

Nevertheless, the performances of Diaby, M’Vila and co against Bosnia proved that France can function perfectly well without a number 10. The team-sheet at the Stade de France on Saturday could give the clearest indication yet that France’s love affair with the playmaker is about to be put on indefinite hold.

Tactics: Robinho arrival threatens Ronaldinho’s renaissance

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.”

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Tactics: How the Premier League title contenders shape up

The Premier League season is less than two weeks old, but a look at how the top sides lined up in their opening matches provides an interesting indication of how they plan to approach the season from a tactical perspective.

The diagrams below, screenshots from the ESPN Soccernet website, show the average positions adopted by the players from Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool in their teams’ opening home games of the season. (Data is taken only from home games because ESPN’s average position diagrams inexplicably go a bit haywire for away teams.)

Average position diagrams do not give a water-tight representation of a team’s formation – which is necessarily in a constant state of flux – but they do offer useful insights into basic shape.

Chelsea: 4-3-3

In the 6-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on the season’s opening day, Chelsea lined up in the same loose 4-3-3 formation that they adopted during last season’s title run-in, but with Florent Malouda playing on the left of the front three, rather than the midfield three. Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka both drop deep to get fully involved in the team’s build-up play and Malouda has become wonderfully adept at exploiting the space they vacate – as he did when he scored the sixth goal against West Brom from Anelka’s lofted pass.

The average positions of Chelsea's players in the 6-0 win at home to West Bromwich Albion on August 14 (starting players circled); ESPN Soccernet

[Squad numbers: 1. Petr Čech; 19. Paulo Ferreira, 33. Alex, 26. John Terry, 3. Ashley Cole; 5. Michael Essien, 12. John Mikel Obi, 8. Frank Lampard; 39. Nicolas Anelka, 11. Didier Drogba, 15. Florent Malouda; Substitutes: 2. Branislav Ivanović, 10. Yossi Benayoun, 21. Salomon Kalou]

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World Cup 2010: A tactical review

At the dawn of the tournament Football Further posed ten tactical questions that the World Cup would answer. Three days after Spain’s tense extra-time victory over the Netherlands in the final, the answers to those questions reflect a tournament in which defensive rigour was overwhelmingly de riguer and tactical innovation conspicious by its rarity.

1. Will freshness or preparedness prevail in Group A?
Having played just one game in the build-up to the tournament – a 4-1 win over Israel in Montevideo on May 26 – Uruguay took control of Group A before scrapping their way to the last four for the first time since 1970. How much of that was down to their fitness, and not the obliging manner in which the big teams benignly opened up the path to the semi-finals, is debatable. Mexico played 12 preparation matches and also made it out of the group phase, while their 3-1 defeat by Argentina in the last 16 showed no discernible signs of fatigue.

2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work?
How to put this? Not only did France’s 4-3-3 fail to work, but Raymond Domenech lost all faith in it before the tournament had even started. In their opening game, a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, they reverted to their tried and tested (if not actually effective) 4-2-3-1, with Jérémy Toulalan and Abou Diaby in the holding midfield roles and Yoann Gourcuff as the playmaker. The 4-2-3-1 remained in place for the 2-0 defeat by Mexico, but this time with Franck Ribéry in the playmaking role (to which he is wholly unsuited) and Nicolas Anelka reprising his great disappearing centre-forward act until matters came to a head at half-time. It was not until the 2-1 loss to South Africa that the long-awaited 4-3-3 finally made its appearance, but by then it was already too late. Over to you, Monsieur Blanc.

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