In the world of football, there are no invincible formations. Manchester United's 4-4-2 exposed their deficit in midfield last season, losing the title dramatically to their neighbours Manchester City, whose abundant talents allow them to switch between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, but the ultimate champion had also struggled against Stoke City and relegation battlers QPR. Italy flourished with Andrea Pirlo orchestrating in a diamond 4-4-2 against England who questionably emancipated the midfield maestro. However, the Euro 2012 runners-up couldn't find a solution against the Spainish 4-6-0.
In spite of the praise and admiration from media worldwide, the 4-6-0 that took the world by surprise is of no exception. It is not unbeatable. Chelsea and Italy have shown some success against Spanish Giant Barcelona and the Spain national team respectively in 2012. Here we summarise several tactical tips when playing against 4-6-0:
(a) Don't be outnumbered in the midfield
This is simple math; must not play 4-4-2. Well perhaps a Spanish 4-4-2 could beat a Chinese 4-6-0, but there will be no way you could deal with a Spanish 4-6-0 with less than 5 midfielders. The 4-5-1, 3-5-2, 3-6-1 or other innovative formations should be employed in order to make the passing game a bit harder for the midfield playmakers.
(b) Don't copy 4-6-0
If you do not have the skills, agility and teamwork of the class of Spain, don't copy them, or else you would basically be stuck between a striker-less and an unorganized and congested formation. Having seen how Drogba and Di Natale punished this formation, a strong and/or quick centre forward would be desirable to create a focal point on counter attacks and to keep pressure on the centrebacks.
(c) Use a striker with high work rate
The defence should start in the front line. A hardworking striker along with the wide players should unsettle the centrebacks and try not to let them play simple passes to their midfielders. When Hugo Almeida replaced the injured Postiga in Portugal’s semi-final against a 4-6-0 Spain, Paulo Bento’s men were in theory two men down in defence as captain Ronaldo was not interested or even not given any instructions in defending. Yet the captain’s pace and movement in counter attacks were indeed enough to keep the Spanish back 4 on their toes.
(d) Close the gap between the midfield and defensive line
This requires two industrious defensive midfielders with a highly disciplined mindset. And since your opponent is playing a striker-less formation, idle defenders could be pushed up to afford extra manpower in crowding and marauding through the midfield. It could either be a shift of centreback or pushing up full backs and dropping down a DMC (De Rossi the perfect example) to form a 3-6-1 from 4-5-1. As a result, a merged midfield and backline creates a bigger barrier than an ordinary midfield, and along with a hard-working striker, the 6 in 4-6-0 will be sandwiched and pressured.
- Don't be outnumbered, but try to outnumber them
Prandelli stuck with his victorious 4-4-2 diamond in the Euro 2010 final, installing Montolivo in favour of Thiago Motta in the starting lineup and such ambition backfired against a near-perfect 4-6-0, contrary to Italy’s evenly contested draw against Spain in the group stage. The above counter-tactics may already be in most of the managers’ minds but most crucially, a humble, realistic, patient and responsive mindset is the key to achieving positive results against the world’s most feared yet lineup in contemporary world.