EPL Tactics Talk: The Most Dominant Formation of 2011
When it comes to the modern game of football, tactics is usually what separates the winning team and the losing team. It is a huge part of the managers job, and if done correctly, success is inevitable. This year we have witnessed a big shift in the tactics department. No longer are we seeing the usual 4-4-2 being used game in game out. It seems that managers are taking more risks with their formation choices and are experimenting elsewhere.
This year we have seen a big influx in the use of one striker, specifically in the Premiership, and it has brought mild success. In this slideshow article I will review a few of the tactics that have been used widespread this season, and will come to a decision on the best of the bunch.
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The diamond in the formation refers to the midfield, with an attacking midfielder and a holding midfielder employed and flanked by two wingers, who move in-field slightly to shore up the gaps in the centre. To cover for the lack of width in the side, the full-backs become wingbacks and start slightly higher up the pitch.
The formation suits a team like Liverpool, with Carroll & Suarez up front, and Gerrard in behind supporting the pair. Carroll provides the height, while Suarez provides the finesse. It wouldn't surprise me if Kenny Dalglish chooses to build his side around this formation next year, as his team have the foundations to create a very fluid diamond.
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A formation which has grown in popularity in recent times, the 4-5-1 is fundamentally defensive, but can be tweaked to provide more of an offensive threat. The essential qualities of the 4-5-1 are a three-man central midfield and a lone striker, typically a target man.
By packing the midfield, a technically strong passing side will come unstuck and provide opportunities for counter-attacking football. When on the attack, the 4-5-1 is heavily dependent on the wingers supporting the lone striker.
Perhaps the best illustration of 4-5-1 in full flow is Jose Mourinho’s system. At Chelsea, his defensive stalwarts were the captain and central defender John Terry and the holding midfielder Claude Makélélé. Alongside the Frenchman, Frank Lampard provided the bulk of goals from central midfield, ably supported by Joe Cole and Arjen Robben on the wings and Didier Drogba’s efforts up front.
The side was extremely successful, picking up back-to-back Premiership titles in 2005 and 2006 and building on Mourinho’s previous achievement at Porto in winning the 2004 Champions League trophy.
In Premier League terms, this formation has been used week in week out by Arsene Wenger with Arsenal, and it shows with their dominant possession football and their brilliant passing. If they had a better defence, they would be even stronger title challengers.
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In some ways, the 4-3-3 is covered in the description of the 4-5-1. However, whereas the 4-5-1 starts with the wingers supporting the central midfielders, the 4-3-3 encourages the wingers to act as true forwards, and the formation generally emphasises attack more than defense.
This theory was put into action by Frank Rijkaard as manager of Barcelona. Faced with the problem of how to accommodate Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi, as well as a host of central midfielders, Rijkaard adopted a 4-3-3.
The triangle up front of the aforementioned players was supported by a creative and defensive midfield backbone of the playmaker Xavi, the holding midfielder Edmilson and either Andrés Iniesta or Thiago Motta as an all-rounder. The side was hugely successful, picking up back-to-back La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006 and the Champions League trophy in 2006.
This year in the Premiership we have seen Avram Grant try and use this formation with West Ham, but he has failed miserably, leading them to relegation. It requires three very talented forwards or else, as shown in West Ham's case, they will fail to make an impact. This formation would really suit a team like Chelsea, who have three very talented strikers in Drogba, Torres and Anelka, and this way all three could make an impact.
And the Winner Is... 4-2-3-1
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This year has seen a massive boost in the use of the 4-2-3-1. It features two holding midfielders, two wingers, a central supporting attacker, and a striker. We have seen Manchester United use it on a regular basis, and although it may not produce the most entertaining of games, it is without a doubt the most solid formation of the year.
It is a formation that helps to break teams down. Both Manchester United and City have used it to great effect. In City's case they went with De Jong and Barry in the holding roles, while Silva, Johnson and Milner all supported Tevez in attack. With the two very defence-orientated midfielders, there were always six men behind the ball when the opposition broke into attack. On the flip side, you had four very capable attackers on the attack at each time. It really is a formation which demonstrates good attack, and solid defence.
So now onto the next question... will it be used next season? The simple answer to that is: yes, it will. It grinds out games, it wins the team matches, and most of all, it is a title-winning formation.