Tactics and Formations used in Football

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Over the years many different forms of tactics and formations have been employed by managerial teams in order to give their teams that cutting edge. But which ones have been the most popular. Read on to learn more.

In the very early days of football attack was the name of the game. Teams would typically play with 2 wide men, an inside right, an inside left, and a centre-forward. Skillful and tricky players would take up the wide rolls supplying the crosses for typically big and tall centre forwards to get on the end of. Such approaches to the game must have been easy on the eye with results often ending 11-7 or the like.

 

As time progressed however and with foreign influences different approaches were being developed. The Italians would go on to develop the more defensive approach, which we know so well today with a bank of four another bank of fours then two strikers. This approach, having produced a fair degree of success, would go on, in a small amount of time, to become adopted as the international standard. 

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Foreign coaches were still bringing fresh approaches though and an early Hungarian team would bring the world the first example of ‘Total Football’ where player’s positions were less static, the idea being quick interchanges between the positions and to attack as a whole team when in possession. 

By this time a few different main tactics had been developed. South American teams would base their game of flair and skill, attacking with finesse. Italian and Spanish teams were favoring technical ability too but with slow passing build ups, this approach becoming known as the continental style. The English game being more frenetic and aggressive with more tackles and the ball in the air for more time. 

Despite the 4-4-2 formation probably still being the popular, a number of other formations have been employed to good effect in recent times. Wingers have been dismissed in favor of wingbacks in many cases and in the last few years playing 5 across midfield with a solitary striker has been a tactic of choice particularly in away games.  

Classic 4-4-2

This is one of the oldest formations in football. Despite going out of fashion in recent years, 4-4-2 has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence, mainly thanks to Leicester City in the Premier League and Atletico Madrid in La Liga.

The key to 4-4-2 is partnerships. The two strikers, midfield pairing and full-back and wingers each need to have to have a telepathic understanding of their role on the pitch.

The wide midfielders are often skilful, with pace to burn and a deadly accurate cross. To help them, full-backs look to overlap to provide an extra attacking option. What it results in is plenty of service for your two strikers, who should always be lurking in the box sniffing out a chance at goal. Often, these strikers compliment each other by having a different set of skills – for example a tall striker who is good in the air and a smaller, more agile forward who can feed off any knocked down balls.

The weakness of the 4-4-2 formation is the rigidity and amount of work expected of the two central midfield players. In modern football, it's more fashionable to have at least three players operating in and around the centre of the pitch, leaving a two-man central midfield short of bodies.

When playing 4-4-2 then, it's imperative you select tireless central midfielders who are comfortable when both creating and defending.

A fine example of Classic 4-4-2 is the treble winning Manchester United side of the late 90s. They had all the ingredients required: two of the best wingers in a business, a strike partnership that knew where the back of the net was, and two busy central midfielders who could attack and defend.

Managerial approaches will no doubt keep evolving over the coming years bringing still more strategies and tactics to the game. Exactly what these new approaches will be is yet to be seen, but this avid follower of the game at least, will certainly be following developments with interest.

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