Tactical Evolution at Euro 2012

With the UEFA Euro 2012 having drawn to a close, pundits decipher the new trends in football. While some tactical displays have caught the eyes and might just pave the way for future of football, some strategies simply did not work and will pass on like a fad. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings it all under one roof here

Azzurri turn the clock with a three-man backline

The Azzurri started the tournament with an abandoned 3-5-2 formation. Their three-central-defender ploy worked to an extent as they were able to hold on to a hard-fought draw against the mighty Spanish team. They must have been influenced by Juventas and Napoli, who deployed a pure three-back system successfully last season in Serie A. Such was their influence, 16 other teams had experimented with this strategy sometime or other in the last season.  Elsewhere, Barcelona also plays with a lop-sided 4-3-3 where Dani Alvez pushes further up the flank to make it similar to 3-4-3. Major criticism of this system has been its tactical deficiency especially playing against a solo forward. One of the central defenders marks the lone striker when another one covers him. The third member of the back trio now becomes redundant and hence the opponent gets a man advantage. This is exactly what happened when Spain had a focal point in attack in the form of Fernando Torres as he exploited the high line of Italy. Yet Cesare Prandelli used the system well as a shock element and bamboozled his opponents. It allowed the strikers to play further up the pitch and their interlinking with the advanced central midfielder duo became more dangerous. As the tournament went on, Prandelli reverted to a traditional back four but the opposition teams were always guessing which strategy they will be up against in the next match.

 Three Lions deploy two banks of four

Roy Hodgson, the newly appointed England coach admitted before the tournament started that they do not quite belong to the group of big boys at this moment. Also, he made no secret of the fact that England lack a midfield maestro who can influence the game like an Andres Iniesta or Andrea Pirlo.  So he thought, “If I cannot play a free flowing attacking game, let me stop the opponent from doing so.” In came the (in)famous Chelsea model – implement two rows of four men to counter the attacking threat of the opponent. To start with, it was a 4-4-1-1 but the midfielders dropped back without fail when England lost possession. The graphic blow was a regular occurrence for the Three Lions when the midfielders provided an extra shield to their defenders. The front men also tucked in as Hodgson was keen to keep the shape. No English player was caught offside in the group stages – a statistic which shows their lack of desire and ambition. This is a model which is used for smaller teams playing against more accomplished opponents, but they invariably get broken down due to superior skill of the stronger team or as the fatigue creeps in due to humongous work rate during the closing stages of the match. Once in a while, this defensive strategy might just work, but do not expect this system to appeal much to the football lovers.

German counter punch to the flavour of the season

With the beginning of this century, holding midfielders have grown in importance in world football. With the commencement of this decade, teams have started using two of them to counter attack threat of opposition and thus 4-2-3-1 seems to be a favoured option for most of the teams. Having two men anchoring the midfield in the form of destroyers frees up the full-backs to venture forward. It also allows the coaches having to find only one decent striker in the starting line-up as they have been an endangered species of late. Some teams look to play a midfield diamond but very rarely have we seen any team starting without a defensive midfielder. Joachim Löw figured out if he starts with two proper box-to-box midfielders, then it will be very difficult for the opponent to mark them. Thus if Samir Khedira lunges forward to join the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez, Lucas Podolski et al, Bastian Schweinsteiger will stay back. If the opportunity comes, he can join the attack and Khedira will automatically drift back. This kind of strategy works brilliantly as the midfielders will have a roaming role and neither of them is being restricted to merely hold the fort.

Khedira with Schweinsteiger

I’ll have them all – La Espanyol style

Spain is undoubtedly the team of this generation, if not the greatest national team ever to have embraced the game. So powerful is their current squad that Vicente Del Bosque can easily field two teams against each other and it will be very difficult to say which team will emerge victorious. Well, Spain did use their squad depth to some extent when they had as many as six midfielders in their starting line-up. Playing Cesc Fabregas in a ‘false nine’ role was a decision tempted by the injury of David Villa, indifferent form of Fernando Torres and inexperience at the highest stage for others around. This was the toast of the season with all the teams baffled by this striker-less formation. It will be interesting to see if teams worldwide can reproduce this system – having a strong team where each player can play different roles will be a must – but Spain did come up with a master class as they went on to lift another major trophy with some ease.

Spanish Armada in Euro 2012

Passing Thought

Teams have become more fluid now. Micro Tactics, as they call it, defines the minutes of movements of a player during the course of any particular match. This may sound like making the game more mechanical which prevents the creative players from showcasing a moment of magic. Of course not! Top class players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will roam around the pitch to influence the game as much as possible. But it will then be the responsibility of others around to fill in different roles to augment their main playmaker’s movement. This allows coaches to change shape during a match without bringing in any substitute. Sometimes this can be done to create an impact in the match – as Real Madrid tinkers around from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 – or to exploit any susceptible weakness of the opposition – as Joachim Löw assesses the match to shift from one formation to another. This is exactly how a football manager game is played – players will have a starting position but their role will keep on changing continuously.

Debojyoti Chakraborty

About Debojyoti Chakraborty

Debojyoti Chakraborty is a follower of English Premier League and European football. You can reach him at debojyoti.chakraborty@gmail.com