The Formation Dilemma: Most Effective Formation in Europe

Michele TardioliContributor IINovember 16, 2010

The Formation Dilemma: Most Effective Formation in Europe

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    The Formation Dilema

    It appears the days of a plain old 4-4-2 are long gone, with an abundance of formations being tried and tested in the modern game.

    We've taken a look at the formations used by the teams leading Europe's big five leagues – the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.

    Each of course has its advantages and slightly different requirements of personnel to fill the roles.

No. 1: The 4-3-3 of Premier League Leaders Chelsea

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    Chelsea

    The current Premier League leaders usually play in a 4-3-3 formation.

    When the Blues have all their players at their disposal, central striker Didier Drogba is flanked by Florent Malouda on the left and Nicolas Anelka on the right.

    Michael Essien has generally been on the right of a midfield trio with Jon Obi Mikel in the centre, and Yuri Zhirkov on the left.

    Carlo Ancelotti has been quite rigid in his formation, although Malouda has at times slipped in behind Anelka and Drogba, forming a 4-3-1-2, or with Drogba injured Salomon Kalou has played there.

    The formation demands a big strong front man (Drogba) and two fast and technically-gifted wingers (Malouda and Anelka).

    It also demands hard working midfielders, and led by Essien, Chelsea have that hard work in abundance.

    Attacking full-backs are also important, with Ashley Cole - one of the best left backs in the world - and the returning Jose Boswinga perfectly suited.

    Having three up top means it is an offensive formation while also being useful for quick counterattacks.

    At the same time, it is a flexible line-up, with Malouda and Anelka - in Chelsea's case -  slotting into the midfield when possession is lost, while ensuring they don’t get sucked too deep and isolate Drogba, which would diminish from the attacking threat of having three forwards.

No. 2: The 4-4-2 of Ligue 1 Table Toppers Stade Brestois

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    Stade Brestois

    Although there's nothing traditional about newly-promoted Stade Brestoisleading Ligue 1 – they have lately been playing in the traditional 4-4-2 formation.

    They began the season generally playing with Nolan Roux up front on his own but young Czech striker Tomas Micola has pushed up alongside him since the goalless draw at home to AC Arles-Avignon.

    Roux plays as more of an out-and-out forward, using his great speed and ability to score from any angle with his feet or head.

    Romain Poyet and Benoit Lesoimier are on the flanks with Mario Licka and captain Oscar Ewolo in the middle.

    Balance is key to this formation, with one of the central midfielders, in this case Ewolo, a ball winner, and the other, Licka, more of an attacking playmaker. Also, one of the two strikers, in this case Roux, plays more as an out-and-out striker, while the other, Micola - a real fighter who works the channels well - plays off his partner.

    Poyet provides creatively with his crossing from the right, and Lesoimier injects speed out wide on the left – perhaps comparable to Beckham and Giggs in Manchester United's 4-4-2 of old.

    It is a simple formation, but requiring wingers and full backs to work in tandem, covering each other defensively, while the full-backs must be ready to overlap the wingers on attacks.

    The midfielders, particularly Licka for Brestois, support the front-men on attacks, while Ewolo backs up the defenders when the opposition are in possession.

    It is a flexible formation in that it enables different forms of attacks, out wide or thorough the middle. It also allows quick shifts from defence to attack and vice versa.

No. 3: The 4-2-3-1 of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund

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    Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund

    The 4-2-3-1 is deemed by many to be a defensive formation typical of Jose Mourinho, but both Mourinho's Real Madrid and Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund are scoring hatfuls of goals at the moment.

    It is better described as a solid formation conducive to disciplined teams playing patient passing football, and an excellent set-up for when a team loses possession.

    It gives Real's wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria , and Dortmund'sKevin Grosskreutz and Mario Gotze , freedom to go outside or come in and support the front men, Gonzalo Higuain and Lucas Barrios respectively.

    It also requires two holding midfielders who at the same time are deep-lying playmakers. Real have the pairing of Xabi Alonso  and Sami Khedira , while Dortmund have Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender , and their positioning means the wide men get even more attacking freedom as there is less need for them to track back.

    Mesut Ozil is the attacking midfielder in the hole pulling the strings for Real's three front men, while Kagawa does the same job for Dortmund.

    Due to its narrow nature, attacking full-backs are imperative, and attack-wiseSergio Ramos and Marcelo are perhaps superior to Dortmund's Patrick Owomoyela and Marcel Schmelzer .

    Like any formation 4-2-3-1 is extremely effective provided the right players are available. In this case, what are required are disciplined players with high levels of technique.

    Despite the relative freedom of the two wide men each player has his clear zone and responsibilities.

    In addition, the front four must interchange, preventing predictability, while making sure they don't disperse too much, as that would isolate Higuain and Barrios. And they must also work hard in pressing the opponents as much as possible in their own half.

No. 4: The 4-3-1-2 of Serie A Leaders AC Milan

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    AC Milan

    AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri prefers the 4-3-1-2 formation, although he tried employing the 4-3-3 at the start of the season, more as an attempt to fit in as many of his star forwards as possible.

    Milan started playing with a rotation of Andrea Pirlo , Massimo Ambrosini ,Gennaro Gattuso , Clarence Seedorf and even Kevin-Prince Boateng to fill the midfield trio spots, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was partnered by two out of a rotating combination of Ronaldinho , Robinho , Alexandre Pato , Marco Borrielloand the now-injured Filippo Inzaghi .

    However, Allegri changed to a 4-3-1-2 for the last four games and has recorded three victories out of four, taking Milan to the top of Serie A.

    It is an organized formation with a focus on the playmaker behind the front two.

    Allegri has a dilemma with regards to his preferred personnel to fill his favoured formation. He would like to play with Robinho behind a front two of Pato and Ibrahimovic, but is undecided about whether the former Manchester City player is best suited to that position.

    Seedorf has been playing there lately, with Pato and Robinho rotating as Ibrahimovic's partner

    Ambrosini, Gattuso, Mathieu Flamini and Pirlo and have been rotating to fill the midfield trio positions, while Boateng has come in as a regular replacement. Meanwhile, Ronaldinho looks like he could be on his way.

    4-3-1-2 is a very flexible formation, which can shift form a very defensive set-up to a very attacking one fairly quickly. However, the problem for Milan could be an 'over-rotating,' due to some aging players and managerial indecision.  

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