Formations. How your team is going set up against the steel of Chelsea or the bounce back ability of Manchester United or the Possession Catenaccio (Tiki-Taka) of Barcelona. Formations is only a quarter of what wins you game the other three being your philosophy, the ability of your team and your manager but an extra impetus have been put on formations recently especially considering the backlash of the 4-4-2 England used at the World Cup when the media cried for the 4-2-3-1. And this got me thinking what the best formation is?
There will be four formations which will be discussed and analysed to see the strength and weaknesses. The formations will be the: traditional 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and the diamond 4-4-2. Every single one has their strengths but the best formation will be decided on how much strength to weaknesses they have.
We will start with the 4-4-2 which has been used since the earlier years of football but has faded from the spotlight because of changes in football strategies and philosophies. It works best when the wingers and the full backs get far up the pitch and crosses are constantly put into the box where the strikers are most likely going to be unless one of them is a striker who plays between the lines e.g. Rooney. In the heart of the midfield, they often have a player who marshals the backline for attacking midfielders or second strikers and the other is a box to box midfielder who defends when their team is on the back foot and is in the other team's box when his team is making waves of attacks. If all of this goes to plan then it is virtually unstoppable and even the formidable Barcelona have been undone by it by Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Note all the teams come from England where the 4-4-2 still lives on strong. The problem with it is that it is susceptible to being nullified if the game is based in the midfield. If faced with the 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 then the possession is normally with the other side meaning that the odd chance is created and has to be taken otherwise they might not get the ball back for 5 minutes (cast your mind back to whenever Barcelona play). This is the reason why it has fallen out of love with so any coaches as it modern football it is about possession because the more possession you have the more you are able to do with it.
Many think that the 4-3-3 and the 4-5-1 are different. Well, they are but only when specific details are followed. This will crop up in the 4-5-1 paragraph. The 4-3-3 when played proper is a great formation when you want to amalgamate possession with attacking football. 3 strikers. Often works best one there is one velocista (speed merchant), prima punta (goal scorer) and fantasista (Playmaking striker). Each do a specific job and each cause a different problem which means that the defenders have to change tactics each time they face up to each one of these strikers. This helps with the unpredictability factor and soon enough the defender is going to use the wrong tactic on the wrong striker which means that he will get past his man and get a goal for his team. The midfielders will probably have an anchor man there to marshal the defence for the same reason as in hte 4-4-2 two. Then it starts to diferentiate from the four four two as they have a deep lying playmaker added to the ranks along with the box to box midfielder. In Italian terms, they are called the regista and are often at the base of the midfielder in Italy but because they often don't have the defensive acumen to carry out the dirty work of a anchor man, in the 4-3-3 they are play alongside the box-to-box midfielder. On the team sheet, anyway.
Going back to the start of the last paragraph, 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 are now basically the same formation. The only difference now in modern football is the in the 4-3-3, the wide players are wingers instead of wide midfielders. When I talked about the 4-3-3, I never once said anything about wingers because when played at it's best, like Barcelona, it is played with three strikers. Anyway, the great thing about the 4-5-1 is that whenever a manager sets his team up is to stifle the other team because there are 5 midfielders in there to make it as difficult as possible to build attacks through the midfield so they either have to go over the top or get frustrated for 90 minutes. If your defence is lacking in height and heading prowess then the over the top option will identify a weakness in your team which cannot be fixed with a congested midfield. And, it could also mean cutting off supply from your lone striker which means that if he cannot hold up play it would mean that wave after wave of onslaught will be pounded upon your team.
Diamond, of which I talk of, is the formation played with 4 midfielders. Popularised recently by Carlo Ancelotti with AC Milan and Chelsea in the first part of the 09/10 season, it is a formation which is brilliant for possession and intricate, quick short passing football that often cannot be combated. Milan, as an Italian team with an Italian manager, they followed the Italian philosophy to the tee which meant they had the regista (deep lying playmaker), Battaglia (midfield battler) and tuttofare (all-round midfielder). They also kept the instructions of only having three attackers with the prima punta and fantasista along with the segundo which comes in many different forms like the velocista. If you want to see how just look at the AC Milan midfield that won the 2007 Champions League, you'll see what I have just been talking about...
Kaká: Segundo Punta
Inzaghi: Prima Punta
Even in the 2005 final when the 'Miracle of Istanbul' occured, you could you see that they used the same formation and philosophy...
Shevchenko: Segundo Punta
Crespo: Prima Punta
After Ancelotti left, the formation changed and the football changed and AC Milan haven't been the same since. With Chelsea, the reason why it didn't work was because of the fact that they didn't have the right player for the right roles. For example, they often played Essien as the base when it shoudl really be a regista. Essien should be playing as the Battaglia. Deco played as the Tuttofare when he can't do all the jobs so he would be more suitable for the regista. Ballack played as the Battaglia when he is better for the Tuttofare. Lampard played the point when he is not a creative force but more of a Tuttofare and when there's no point of creativity then all else fails because it is arguably the most important position. This is why he had to switch to the 4-3-3 and the same reason why they won the title. They still had the train of thought that they played in the diamond which meant that their first thought wasn't ot immediately pass it out wide, which is the other problem with the modern 4-3-3 and 4-5-1.
So what is the best formation?
Each formation have their own strengths and weakness more so than others. Like the traditional 4-4-2 being built for it's pace but being vulnerable to being over run in the midfield. Or the 4-3-3 with obviously lacks width but is a signal of intent to attack the other team and win the game. 4-5-1, which has the ability to nullify the other team with 5 midfielders but cuts you off from your lone striker, mainly making it a defensive formation. Then, there's the diamond with the elaborate quic passing to feet which is difficult to cut out. Which one do I think is the best? I would rank it as:
1st. Diamond 4-4-2
2nd. Traditional 4-4-2
It is in these position because the amount of methodical thought that goes into each position from the defence up is incredibly detailed which means when things are orchestrated then the manager knows exactly what is to blame and change without hindering the aesthetics of the roles in these positions. The traditional 4-4-2 I love because it encourages attacking, direct football, which teams are often trying to move away from to get more possession of the ball. Because I hate the thought of five midfielders in the middle of the park just to stop the other team playing is such an annoying prospect for me that it had to be last which left the 4-3-3 in the third position which it would of ended up in, anyway.