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Has 4-4-2 had its day?

By Jay Harris :  12/05/2008 :  Comments (17) :
Arsene Wenger once described 4-4-2 as ?the most efficient way of covering the greatest percentage of the pitch?. But recently the majority of successful teams are playing 4-5-1 or variations of it.

I have never been in awe at David Moyes the way some supporters have but, contrary to some of his detractors' opinions, I do have to say he has regularly been at the forefront of new tactical developments. He was one of the first to up the players' physical contribution and raise the pace to create the "pressing game". He was also amongst the first to introduce 4-5-1 to the Premiership. So what is the next development of tactics and formation to give teams an edge?

I guess first and foremost it starts with the players you have available. It is no coincidence that 4-4-2 usually depended on having a "Big" striker alongside a pacy skilful partner a la Sharp and Heath. But as players became fitter and faster the lone striker developed such as Torres and Drogba players who were not just powerful but pacy and skilful. As players become bigger and quicker, they fill more of the pitch. Teams defend higher up and as a result the space in which to play shrinks.

A side-effect is that it is easier for midfield players to get into the penalty area as pace and stamina improve. It is no coincidence that players such as Frank Lampard, and Cristiano Ronaldo are so prolific; they have the physical tools to get into the area far more than their predecessors.

And so, if your midfield players can effectively double as strikers when you have possession, is there any point in playing two up front? Better to have an extra man in the middle of the park, where games are won and lost.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it raises the question of why have strikers at all. Why not, rather than three banks of players, employ only two: defence and midfield? You could say that United are already playing that way.

Two strikers are (nearly) dead as a concept. And now we are questioning even the lone striker...

Football continues to evolve.

Reader Comments

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Si P
1   Posted 12/05/2008 at 16:20:01

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Roma were playing 4-6-0 a few years back as a result of injuries to strikers. Found that this best suited players such as Totti, and have used it on/off ever since. United are playing a variation of this 4-6-0 which is why you so often see Ronaldo, Tevez and the other little twat seemingly playing so much more deeper than you’d expect.
Michael Hunt
2   Posted 12/05/2008 at 17:04:29

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3   Posted 12/05/2008 at 18:03:50

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Great article, totally agree. Statistics prove we’re a better team with 5 in midfield, and a soft touch with 2 up top.
Michael Hunt
4   Posted 12/05/2008 at 18:31:54

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Two of our best performances this season were when we played 4-4-2 i.e. home Vs Fiorentina and the Barcodes.
It just needs a good, on-song midfield and forward with good movement to keep their defenders busy.
5   Posted 12/05/2008 at 18:38:25

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Good point Michael but I think in both games the Yak was buzzing and dropping deeper to link up with MF and I would also have to say in both those games the opposition was poor.

I am not advocating 4-5-1 or 4-6-0 I’m just looking at the development of the game that used to be 3-3-5.
Michael Hunt
6   Posted 12/05/2008 at 19:00:23

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I think formations are generally becoming more fluid for the top sides. Interchangability is a real weapon and Arsenal are particularly good exponents. If you have players adept going forward and back with others able to switch as well it makes marking much more difficult. Especially dangerous when very strong in retaining possession, making such adventurous forward play less risky.
Athletes with top ability and stamina are required.
7   Posted 12/05/2008 at 19:06:52

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Good point Michael but I think in both games the Yak was buzzing and dropping deeper to link up with MF and I would also have to say in both those games the opposition was poor.

I am not advocating 4-5-1 or 4-6-0 I?m just looking at the development of the game that used to be 3-3-4.(TYPO)
8   Posted 12/05/2008 at 19:55:41

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Michael good point again about the athleticism and flexibility.
Makes you think about Dutch "TOTAL" football all those years ago.

I wonder why all those supporters critising Moyes tactics havent joined the debate.
Dominic Bale
9   Posted 12/05/2008 at 20:03:41

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The Eastern-European teams often have recourse to a 3-6-1 formation, which can easily be converted to 5-4-1 and 3-4-3.

If we?re gonna play with a single forward, then the Yak is not the right man for the job. We?ll need someone like Torres, Crouch, Koller, or that German bloke with the Polish name.
Kiern Moran
10   Posted 12/05/2008 at 20:46:05

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Very good article. Im starting to think that when Everton play 5-3-2 or 4-4-2 it is in away the same system. Essentially we have on the flanks two players that interlink and overlap. Two central defenders. When we play one up front and three in the the middle we have two of these to burst forward to join the lone striker, plus the flanks. And when we have two strikers and two in the middle we have a midfielder lisensed to join the attack, plus the flanks. And whilst defending with two up front Everton all ways seem to ensure that one of the strikers tracks back to help the defence.
Kiern Moran
11   Posted 12/05/2008 at 21:41:02

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I meant 4-5-1/4-4-2 but i guess you get what i meant.
Jason Lam
12   Posted 13/05/2008 at 02:27:38

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Some interesting and thoughtful comments, to play a single center forward, be it 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 in the tradition of Ajax, I believe you need the tall strong targetman type of forward, who can hold and spray it to the wings, or have the midfield pushing in support. I guess it’s all about balance, the players we’ve got (the current staff play better with 5 in the middle I agree), and also adapt to the opponents - KK’s Newcastle United anyone? :-)
Eri Myles
13   Posted 13/05/2008 at 02:34:40

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Jay Harris, I remember when football used to be 2-3-5 in the ?School of Science? days.
Christine Foster
14   Posted 13/05/2008 at 04:59:38

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Jay, I often wonder what would happen if a team went out and played the old style 2-3-5 formation. I wonder if today's systems would be able to cope with a forward line attacking them as per old.
I actually believe there may be some merit in trying it out because teams would not be able to defend as easily and it would surely make the days of hoofball redundant..
I know this may be a little tongue in check but heck Moyes was the first real manager to use the lone striker ad a 5 man midfield.. I wonder what would happen if he turned it back on its head..
Derek Thomas
15   Posted 13/05/2008 at 06:05:29

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Jay Harris, excellent post, especially now the season has finished and the only options will be the old chestnuts, FM / who will we buy... and / or Kirkby.

Football has been Darwinian since day one, 130 odd yrs ago (say 1870s) the passing game was introduced in Scotland, to counter the basic Hacking game, which was only 2 steps above a brawl. Fast forward to the 1970 and looking at some of the video of Dave Thomas, the Hacking game, Mk 2 was back, some of those tackles, by Yorath et al would see you banned sine die now, then they didn?t even get a finger wagging, just a free kick and get on with it.

But as Mr D says, evolution moves slowly, then, if effective, it changes and the pressure builds up again for change, slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, as Mr Sylvester used to say (ask your grandad).

These days the change is somewhat faster, as in everything or so it seems, except maybe for the offside rule, the fanny-ing about with interpretation not withstanding. The last major one was before Dixie scored his 60 (with a minor one in 1938?).

There were a number of changes upto and including the mid-20s as the pattern of the game changed to meet the previous change etc etc .

Dixie didn?t score all his gaols because with the new rule he wasn?t offside so much, more like like, with the new rule the ball was actually in play for a longer time so there were more chances.

The old rule of 3 between you and the goal line, which effectively meant 2 plus a goalie, allowed the 2 fullbacks (from Christine?s 2-3-5) to stand on the halfway line with one about, 5 yds deeper than the other, as soon as the forward came into the other half, one would step over the halfway line, result; only 2 between you and the goal line ,flag up, offside.

The numbers were, then as now, only an indication, with many fluid variations of the 2-3-5 W Plan.

There were defensive winghalfs, and attacking winghalfs as well as defsv and attacking inside forwards 4 and 6 and 8 and 10 in old money.

Don Revie was a deep lying centre-forward, which was used as a counter to the centre-half dropping back to make a 3 with the fullbacks, to pull him out and open the space.

To counter this, the Italians evolved the sweeper INFRONT of the back 3 to counter that. In the late 50s early 60s Brazil and others were playing a type of 4-2-4. The defensive form of this was to pull back the wide men, 4-4-2

By 64-65 Shankly (and others) put Tommy Smith into the back 3 of Lawler Yeats Byrne.

By 65-66 Catterick had moved Brian Harris into the 3 of Wright Labone and Wilson.

Alf Ramsey?s so called 4-3-3 wingless wonders (England c 1966) was actually Moyes?s 4-1-4-1: Cohen Charlton Moore and Wilson, Stiles in the Carsley Role, Hurst up front on his own, Bobby C doing the Arteta (we should be so lucky), Peters the Osman role, again we should be so lucky and Roger Hunt as Cahill.

Short version 4-4-2 can?t die off as it wasn?t really there, ask Steve Coppel and Gordon Hill.

The more things change the more they remain the same.
Derek Thomas
16   Posted 13/05/2008 at 07:05:59

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Yes I know I forgot Bally, but you get the picture, Brain going quicker than fingers syndrom
Colin Grierson
17   Posted 13/05/2008 at 14:08:30

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A thought provoking post Jay.

I think apart from the odd game (and unless you’ve been watching Arsenal or Man U now and again) that a lot of the teams’ tactics have cancelled each other out.
I hope that football continues to evolve and we see some more of the exciting stuff that the 2-3-5 formations must have brought.
Maybe next year if we get someone shit in the cup, Oldham say, we could give it a try. What d’ya reckon?

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