FIFA World Cup: The 5 Most Tactically Interesting Teams at Brazil 2014
The World Cup is firmly on the horizon, and the anticipation is building ahead of the first game of the tournament between host nation Brazil and Croatia on June 12.
Brazil are well fancied by the bookmakers, but they will face major competition for glory on home soil.
There are challengers aplenty, and in the following slides, we focus on five of the most interesting teams from a tactical standpoint.
What do you do when you have the richest collection of attacking players of any nation?
If you're Diego Maradona or Sergio Batista, you shove as many of them as possible into the side and hope their collective talents will somehow win out. If you're Alejandro Sabella, though, you build a solid base and only then start to add the fantasistas.
His back four lacks the star quality of the forward line, but it does have Javier Mascherano protecting it, with Fernando Gago (if fit) and Angel Di Maria shuttling alongside him, linking to a dazzling front three; Gonzalo Higuain as the physical presence in the centre, with Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero floating off him.
The coach Jorge Sampaoli describes himself as a "disciple" of Marcelo Bielsa, which is one of the reasons he has proved so popular in Chile, where El Loco essentially defined the national style.
He often uses the Bielsista back three that allows his midfielders to press the opponent as early as possible, trying to win the ball as high up the pitch as they can.
Like Bielsa, though, he will change shape according to the opposition, 3-4-1-2 sometimes becoming 4-3-3: The process is all about identifying the patterns of the other team and then looking to disrupt their natural rhythm as far as possible.
The front three is highly mobile, with Alexis Sanchez cutting in from the right, Eduardo Vargas doing much the same on the left and Jorge Valdivia of Palmeiras playing in a withdrawn central position as a hybrid of a false nine and an old-fashioned No. 10.
The shape, as it has been since the quarter-final of Euro 2008, will be 4-2-3-1, but that only tells part of the story.
Partly through necessity, Jogi Low has abandoned a centre-forward to play with a false nine eight times over the past two years.
Mario Gomez hasn't even been included in the squad, and while Miroslav Klose, at 36, could be given the chance to add to his 14 goals in World Cups, it seems likely that Low will start with Mario Gotze as a false nine, with Thomas Muller and Marco Reus on the flanks and Mesut Ozil as the playmaker.
That leaves another issue, though, which is that this is a front four that isn’t necessarily great at tracking back, which can expose the back four.
Low's attempts to make Germany a more proactive team have coincided with such defensive lapses that no side that finished top of its qualifying group in Europe conceded more goals than Germany.
Mexico were a shambles in qualifying, but the new coach Miguel Herrera, using largely players from the domestic league, has returned to the system they used at the last World Cup, which in turn was essentially the style Ricardo La Volpe used in Germany in 2006.
In some senses it is a 5-3-2, but there is a natural fluidity to it, with Rafael Marquez stepping out from the centre of defence and the two wing-backs, Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun, providing width.
Juan Carlos Medina sits deep in midfield, providing a fixed point, while Herrera is committed to a front two, usually Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta, so the shape can shift into 3-3-2-2 or 4-2-2-2 depending on whether Marquez or the wing-backs advance.
The big question is how Diego Costa fits in. The Brazil-born striker gives Spain a bustling, physical edge up front, and his arrival may mean the end of the false nine.
That, though, then gives Spain an embarrassment of riches in the middle. There has always been something slightly awkward about the role of Xabi Alonso in the national side. Superb player as he is, was he really worth disrupting the Barcelona trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta for?
That has only been exacerbated by the political fallout from Alonson allying himself with Jose Mourinho in the Chelsea manager’s final season at Real Madrid, something that has left him isolated in the national dressing-room.
And then there is Cesc Fabregas and David Silva: If they are included, does the team lack pace, is it just full of neat midfielders who hold the ball without doing much with it?