Soccer Formations For Dummies

Everyone who follows football might have come across the following jargon:

“We played with a 4-4-2 but were being outnumbered in the middle so we changed back to 4-2-3-1 to pack the midfield”.

Ever wondered what’s up with these numbers and what’s it got to do with those players on the field. Well, these are called Formations. The formation decides which player plays in what position on the field. The first digit in a formation indicates the number of players playing in defence. The second one indicates the number of players playing in midfield and the third digit indicates the number of forwards. So a 4-4-2 indicates that the team played with 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. This is a basic explanation of what a formation is and there are a lot of nuances with each one of them. Let’s take a look…

1.) 4-4-2

4-4-2 is a classic formation used by a number of teams across the globes. The most basic of formations, it involves playing 2 central defenders, 2 full backs, 2 central midfielders, 2 wingers and 2 forwards. Here’s what it looks like:

This formation relies heavily on wing play. The wingers and overlapping full backs make it a point to put crosses in the box for the forwards to attack them. The central midfield pairing usually involves a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, to break up play and spread the passes to team mates, respectively. On the defensive side, it is important for the wingers to cover for their supporting fullbacks because the system is prone to counter attacks.

A little tweaking in 4-4-2 can change it to a 4-4-1-1 where one of the two forwards takes up the role of a support striker and sits a little deeper than the other to link up play between midfield and attack.

Teams Using 4-4-2: Tottenham, Manchester United

2.) 4-5-1

The safety first formation. The formation basically involves packing the midfield with 3 central midfielders and 2 wingers. The idea is to keep possession in the middle of the park and nullify any threat from the opposing full backs or wingers. While attacking, the lone forward holds up the ball until support arrives from the midfield. Defensively, it is a strong formation because there are banks of 5 and 4 players for the opposition team to pass through.

 This formation is widely used by managers when playing away in European competitions, because of the Away goals rule.

Teams Using 4-5-1: Chelsea(Mourinho era)

3.) 4-3-3

4-3-3 is an attack minded formation that is the rage these days. The midfield usually consists of one defensive midfielder with two box-to-box midfielders. The forward line consists of three attacking players- left, right and centre. The left and right attackers can be traditional or inverted wingers so there are multiple options in attack. The success of a 4-3-3 depends on quick passing between the front three and midfield and an urge to keep possession in the tightest of situations. Due to the emphasis on attack, the defence is prone to counter attacks or balls played over the top.

4-3-3 is guaranteed to bring goals but can be carried out by very few teams because of the quality of players required to play it.

Teams Using 4-3-3: Spain, Barcelona, Arsenal

4.) 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3

A rather modern formation which is capable of morphing into many others while in play. The system basically involves using 2 midfield anchormen who break up play and support the other 4 attack-minded players. The central attacking midfielder acts as the link between the midfield and forward line. If the right players are involved, this can be one of the most dynamic of formations capable of turning into a 4-5-1 while defending to a 4-3-3 while attacking.

The central attacking midfielder is the most important link in this formation who can be capable of dictating play because of his position. However the whole attacking threat can be nullified by tightly marking the CAM.

Teams Using 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3: Real Madrid, Manchester City

5.) 3-5-2/3-4-3

The most radical formation of all. The system involves playing 3 central defenders who act as sweepers. The 2 wide men in midfield are required to track back while defending to act as wing-backs. Counter attacks can be carried out very lethally with this formation because there are always a number of options to pass the ball upfront.

Teams Using 3-5-2/3-4-3: Napoli

6.) 4-1-2-1-2

Also known as the Diamond. The midfield is arranged in the form of the diamond where the central attacking midfielder plays at the tip of the diamond and the base is occupied by a defensive midfielder or a deep lying playmaker. The remaining two midfielders can either act like wingers or central midfielders depending upon the situation. If employed effectively, this formation can act as a lot of trouble for the opposition because of the movement and interchange that can happen in between the diamond.

The formation suffers from a lack of width and is easy to attack against if there are speedy wingers and full backs in your team.

Teams Using 4-1-2-1-2: AC Milan, Paris St. German

Positives & Negatives : Chelsea 3 – 3 Manchester United

First and foremost, any team leading 3-Nil, after 55 minutes, at home, should bag all the three points. The very fact that Chelsea failed to do so, puts them in the category of the losers this week. Manchester United were brave and hungrier than Chelsea and at later stages looked like the side which deserved to win. It is a case of two points dropped for both the teams as those two points could have kept the competition away from Chelsea and would have helped Manchester United to pile up the pressure over Manchester City.

Moving on…

3 Positives For Manchester United

1.) Javier Hernandez again proved his worth in his substitute appearance. He is a better player, as compared to Danny Welbeck, to play alongside Wayne Rooney. Welbeck for all his running and harrying capabilities does not have the movement to create space or ghost inside the penalty box. Chicharito does. But, Sir Alex knows better, and if it ain’t broke why fix it.

2.) Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, with a combined age of 75 years, proved to be the difference makers in the end. Giggs provided a peach of a cross for Hernandez to score and was involved in almost every forward move that United made in the second half comeback. Paul Scholes, bossed the midfield after his introduction and put up a delightful array of long passes that included everything from over the top through balls, cross field passes and simple clearances. As long as United are able to reap the benefits from these two legends, they should do so.

3.) Wayne Rooney’s passion to play for United seemed to come back in this match. He was visibly upset when United did not get the penalty appeal, and seemed the most pumped up player when United started sensing a comeback. He is an altogether different player when he is at the right place mentally, and going by Sunday’s performance, he seems to have put behind his issues with Sir Alex (at least for now) and concentrate on the bigger challenge.

3 Negatives For Chelsea

1.) AVB’s poor decision making when it comes to substitutions, continues. An absolutely baffling decision to replace Daniel Sturridge with Oriol Romeu. Agreed that the substitution in itself was correct, as Romeu helped stem some of the attacks from Manchester United. But the choice of player for substitution was wrong. If there was any player who deserved to leave the field at that point of time, it had to be Florent Malouda. The Frenchman was absolutely anonymous and ineffective in the second half, and should have been the person to make way.

2.) Gary Cahill’s stuttering start to his Chelsea career. Throughout the match Cahill, looked threatened by the power and pace of Welbeck and was lucky not to get sent off within the first 15 minutes. There is a theory that says he will improve if he is put alongside John Terry instead of the eccentric David Luiz, as Terry is a more vocal defender and organises the defence better, but shouldn’t Cahill be better.

3.) Fernando Torres has had enough chances now and is still not gaining confidence, even after the pressure on him has relieved a little, following Drogba’s departure to the African Cup Of Nations. His ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender is lost. His shot taking ability is lost. His decision making ability inside the box is lost. If at all anything has improved, it is his overall work rate and assists. But he was brought in to score goals, and he is not doing it at the moment. Quite frankly, if he hasn’t been able to do it so far, it would be foolish to pin your hopes on him for the rest of the season.

It’s That Time Of The Season Again For Arsenal

There is always a season defining moment for every team in the league. For some, it is a hard fought win that shows maturity and fighting spirit. For others, it is a demoralising loss that saps away all their hopes of achieving anything. Unfortunately for Arsenal, in the recent past, it has always been the latter. None more so, than the last minute loss against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final last season. At exactly the same stage in the season. Arsenal were fighting on four fronts before that loss. Within a span of 20 days, they were out of three.

Last week’s loss against Swansea City can prove to be that season defining moment for Arsenal this time around. Not because they lost to a promoted side who happened to play better football than them and beat them at their own game. Not because they lost the match before that as well. But, because these are exactly the sort of matches which have drained the confidence out of the side in the recent past. Arsenal were in a winning position in both of the matches. However due to profligacy in front of goal and a bewildering choice to sit on their lead for the remaining 70 minutes, they ended up on the losing side on both the occasions.

It can be a matter of great interest for psychology students to understand and compare the mindset of Arsenal and other champion teams. No matter the personnel, somehow Arsenal always manage to come under pressure, always manage to get bullied, always manage to break down. However when you compare this to Manchester United (or Barcelona or Manchester City for starters), their philosophy has always been about, not giving up and fighting till the last breath. It was argued that Arsenal lacked enough experienced players in the seasons before. However they haven’t been able to turn things around this time either, even with the signings of Arteta, Benayoun and Mertesacker. All experienced players and of enough quality.

So, the problem should lie somewhere else, right? And it does. The finger has to be painfully pointed towards Arsene Wenger for this. Wenger’s refusal to look at his squad’s shortcomings is not protecting them from media abuse, as he might think. It is his blatant refusal to accept his own mistakes. A refusal to accept his stubbornness, transfer tactics and tactical naivety. Arsenal desperately need to get out of the Financial Fair Play dreamland and realise that the big clubs will not budge to UEFA rulings and that there is always a loophole. Manchester City’s sponsorship deal with Etihad and Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship deal can point to this. Also, somehow, the feeling of settling for mediocrity has been unfortunately accepted by the board, the coach and the fans themselves. Peter Hill-Wood’s recent comment that failure to qualify for Champions league would not be a disaster, points to this fact. The feeling was bound to seep into the players at some point of time.

Considering these points, the next home match against Manchester United could not have come at a worse time for Arsenal. Though United haven’t exactly been spectacular this season, they are still there at the top, fighting for the league title. A loss against United at this juncture will all but end Arsenal’s hope for qualifying for the Champions League positions. A draw would still be a favourable result, but more so for United. A win will probably delay the inevitable, but the duration surely can only be a matter of debate.

Time To Right The Wrongs For Sir Alex

When Manchester United lost to Newcastle at the weekend, Sir Alex refuted the suggestions of a panic situation in the Manchester United camp. And on the face of it, the denial seems to be justified. After all, they are just 3 points off the pace in the league, still in the thick of the two-horse race for the Premier League title. But deep down Sir Alex knows that the situation is not what it should have been.

Last season, when Manchester United won the record 19th title, everyone agreed to an extent that this title was not won because of Manchester United being stronger or better, but because of the challenging teams not being up to the mark. Back then, Manchester City were not as experienced, Chelsea were going through an extremely bad patch and Arsenal were in shambles as usual. The shortcomings of their squad were rather cruelly highlighted in the Champions League final at Wembley where they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona. It was clearly evident that midfield reinforcements were required post Paul Scholes’ retirement. Somehow, Sir Alex chose not to invest in the midfield position and decided to go the Wenger way of promoting youth. A choice not turning out to be a wise one at the moment.

After Paul Scholes’ retirement and Darren Fletcher’s forced exile from football, Sir Alex opted for the central midfield pairing of Tom Cleverly and Anderson. Although the pair worked well in the opening matches, injuries have caused a rather precarious midfielder shortage at the club, a situation which ideally should have been handled in the summer transfer window itself. Had United completed the signings of a proper central midfielder and a defensive midfielder instead of signing a winger and a defender, their position might have been much stronger.

The winter transfer window presents the perfect opportunity for Sir Alex, to correct these mistakes. First and foremost United need to buy a proper defensive midfielder. Carrick’s failed auditions in this position should signal a move for Danielle De Rossi. Although people may argue that Phil Jones seems more than capable of playing as a central midfielder, he is first and foremost a central defender and should be seen as a long term replacement for Rio Ferdinand rather than Roy Keane’s reincarnation. Central Attacking midfield is a position where United can afford to risk not buying a player. With Tom Cleverly returning from injury, this position can be taken care of. Also Wayne Rooney may also enjoy playing in this position as it will allow him a greater chance to roam across the pitch and pick holes in opposition defence. Next up, a left back. Patrice Evra has been distinctly average for a couple of seasons now and his deputies, Da Silva twins are more often than not in the treatment room. United needs to buy a good solid left back and ask Patrice Evra to move on. Leighton Baines, anyone.

Recent return of Paul Scholes to the squad can at best be described as a move to paper over the cracks. He still has the awareness and vision, if not the legs to compete at the highest level. He managed to complete 71 passes while playing just 35 minutes during his return to the pitch against Manchester City, i.e. more passes than any other player on the pitch during the entire game. But if he found it hard to complete 90 minutes during the last season, it is debatable how he could cope with it this time around.

At the time of writing this article Sir Alex has rejected the idea of signing any player during the winter transfer window, a decision which might backfire in case of any further injuries to Phil Jones or Carrick. The squad is threadbare at the moment and Paul Scholes will certainly not solve the problem. Maybe Sneijder or De Rossi will.

 

The Convenience Of Neglecting Stoke

Every year the most interesting discussions about the Premier League revolve around the Champions League Places, the relegation battle and Liverpool’s continued failures to reaffirm their status as one of Premier League favourites. Amongst all these discussions, it is sometimes safely assumed that the mid table will most surely be filled by the Aston Villas, Fulhams and Evertons of the league. And more often than not, this used to be a correct prediction as well. But this year, a cursory look at the mid table will suggest a significant change in the proceedings. Stoke City are sitting 8th in the table, just a point behind 7th placed Newcastle and 4 points above 9th placed Norwich City.

When Stoke got promoted to the Premier League in 2008-09 season, every football pundit tipped them to be relegated in their first season back in top flight. Three years past, Stoke are sitting comfortably in mid table and are in the last 32 of the Europa League. Over these three years Stoke’s style of play has evolved from being brutally physical to being reliant on wing play and using set pieces wisely. Agreed that their style of play is still overly physical, especially while at set pieces, no one can argue that the other facets of their game have improved considerably. But while opposition managers can continue to harp on them for  using rugby tactics, it can be simply nullified by countering that it is a style of play nonetheless. It is clear that Tony Pulis and his squad realises that they cannot play the game with as much technical astuteness as say Arsenal or Tottenham, so,  they have mastered their very own style, of dominating aerial battles and sharp counter attacks.

It is hard to argue that Stoke’s current position in the Premier League is a misleading statistic. Under Tony Pulis, the club has gone from strength to strength each season, reaching the FA cup final in 2010-11 season and qualifying for the Europa League in the same year. This season, the squad is even stronger with shrewd signings of Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Jonathan Woodgate, while retaining the usual suspects Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Matthew Etherington and Rory Delap.

This season, Stoke have held Chelsea and Manchester United to draws at home, while defeating Liverpool and Tottenham at home as well. Their away form has not been as good as their home form, but that can be attributed to the fatigue caused by midweek Europa games as well. Still with the position that they are in the Premier League and Europa League, they would be more than satisfied with what they have achieved so far.

When Andy Gray said last year that Barcelona would suffer on a cold night at the Britannia, he was laughed and ridiculed. A year later, Stoke are getting ready to invite Barcelona’s challengers Valencia to the Britannia stadium. Is it the same as facing Barcelona? No. But is it a step in the right direction? Probably yes.

Comparing The Bench Strength Of the Top 6 Premier League Clubs

As the Premier League heads into the busy festive period, all the teams in the league are scheduled to play almost twice every week. Although this can be a treat for the fans, it is more often than not, a headache for most managers due to injury and exhaustion concerns. Couple this busy festive period with the impending African Cup of Nations, and the need for a strong squad is felt more than ever. A good bench can save the managers of this dilemma, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

As six teams: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, battle it out for the League title and Champions League spots, let’s take a look at the bench strength of these teams.

Manchester City
Manchester City

Bench: Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson/Nigel De Jong, Alexander Kolarov, Kolo Toure, James Milner

Manchester City, the firm favourites for the title, boasts of a bench which has players which can walk into the starting 11 of any other Premier League team. Such has been the amount of investment in the squad that City will have no problems heading into the tight fixture list. Strong competition for places can be a double edged sword as, though it can bring the best out of players to push their claim for a starting 11 spot, it can also lead to dissatisfaction due to lack of playing time. However, with the success that City is enjoying, it will be foolish to jump ships at this juncture.

Manchester United
Manchester United

Bench: Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji Sung/Ashley Young, Fabio/Rafael

Pretty much like Manchester City, Manchester United also boasts of a world class bench. However, lack of playing time is not a concern for these players as Sir Alex has been rampant this season with his rotation policy, even rotating his goalkeepers at times. United also won’t have problems with the African Cup of Nations as they will only lose Antonio Valencia from their starting 11. United traditionally have always performed better after the Christmas interval, and with the bench strength that they have, it is hard to argue against the idea of them not doing it again.

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur

Bench: Niko Krankjar, Steven Piennar, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Sebastian Bassong, Sandro/Tom Huddlestone

Tottenham have arguably the weakest bench among the top four at the moment, but with the motivation of pushing for a third place, the players coming off the bench are also putting in better than decent performances. Spurs have effective backups for all the positions on the pitch, but lack a game changer in their ranks, unlike City and United.

Chelsea
Chelsea

Bench: Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz/Paulo Ferreira, John Obi Mikel

Similar to United, Chelsea also have a strong rotation policy but that seems to have been dumped at the moment due to the tough times that the club faced in the recent weeks. Chelsea have a host of top class players to choose from the bench, capable of making an impact whenever they are on the pitch. They are lucky not to be facing an injury crisis at present and are only poised to lose Mikel to the African Cup of Nations.

Arsenal
Arsenal

Bench: Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun, Ignasi Miquel, Tomas Rosicky/Emmanuel Frimpong/Francis Coquelin

Arsenal are currently serving their customary defensive injury crisis that hits them at this point of time every season. With all four full backs out, Arsene Wenger is having to field four central defenders at the back four. They are also likely to be hit hard by the AFCON as they will lose Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho during this period. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park Chu Young and Ryo Miyaichi are most likely to be introduced to the bench in the coming weeks.

Liverpool
Liverpool

Bench: Andy Carroll, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey/Jay Spearing, Dirk Kuyt/Maxi Rodriguez, Martin Kelly

Liverpool too have a strong enough bench but are a little inexperienced when compared to their rivals in this regard. With Lucas Leiva injured for the rest of the season and Luis Suarez set to serve his 8 match ban, Kenny Dalglish will be forced to rotate his central midfielders and strikers, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as Dalglish would most probably use Jordan Henderson and Craig Bellamy in these positions.

P.S. – The list above does not take into consideration the goalkeepers of respective teams and lists only the most probable bench line-ups.