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5 football teams who struck gold with unique formations

Pep Guardiola's Barcelona revolutionised modern football with their 4-2-4 approach.
Pep Guardiola's Barcelona revolutionised modern football with their 4-2-4 approach.

Football is, among many things, a game of tactics. Formations are inherent to that tactical side of things in the game.

It is true that football isn't foosball (the board game), and players do not stay stuck to the same position throughout the game. But the way they shape up in their initial positions and the areas they cover have a huge bearing on their team's attacking and defensive plans in a game.

Standard football formations such as 4-4-2, 3-5-2 and 4-4-1-1 have become staple tactical nuggets that any fan or follower of the game knows about. However, sometimes in the history of the game, visionary coaches change things up in a revolutionary manner and achieve great success as a result.

We take a look at some of these great formational innovations that will live on in the annals of the game forever.

5 football teams who struck gold with unique formations

#5 Arsenal 1920s-30s (WM formation, 3-2-2-3)

Arsenal with legendary manager Herbert Chapman (sitting, extreme right)
Arsenal with legendary manager Herbert Chapman (sitting, extreme right)

We get on a time machine, go back to the heady 1920s and meet the Arsenal team managed by Herbert Chapman that revolutionised the game and their fortunes by tweaking their formation following a change to the offside rule at the time.

Chapman introduced three full-backs who stuck close to the keeper and were shielded by two half-backs in front. The two men in front of the centre-backs were typical box-to-box midfielders (known as inside forwards then), followed by three in front.

Employing this formation, Chapman took Arsenal from 20th to second in the First Division.

Despite the change being perceived to be defensive by many football experts of the time, it was actually quite a pragmatic one and reaped dividends. Chapman finally won the league a few seasons later in 1930-31 and followed it up with another triumph the season after as his systemic change stood vindicated.


#4 Ajax 1994-95 (3-3-1-3)

Louis Van Gaal
Louis Van Gaal

Not for nothing is Louis Van Gaal acclaimed as one of the best managers to have ever graced the game. The Ajax team that won the 1995 Champions League was noted for backing home-grown talent as well as for their tactical nous.

The quirky formation used by Van Gaal was a 3-3-1-3. Three defenders were guarded by the astute defensive midfielder Frank Rijkaard with two more midfielders a bit more advanced while Jari Litmanen had a more free-flowing advanced role behind the forwards. Finidi George, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert struck up a great partnership up front.

Ajax also won three consecutive Eredivisie titles apart from that Champions League triumph and a whole host of other trophies under Van Gaal as the Dutchman was hailed as someone who changed football for the better.

Van Gaal's system
Van Gaal's system

#3 Spain 2012 (4-6-0)

Vicente Del Bosque
Vicente Del Bosque

While Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup with one striker up front backed by a host of talented midfielders, they took it a notch higher in innovativeness by switching from a 4-5-1 to a 4-6-0 with no recognised striker up front.

This was the national team's own iteration of the tiki-taka style with great short-passing and ball-keeping prowess shown by the golden generation.

With a false 9 in Cesc Fabregas providing the most advanced attacking threat, Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva provided the creativity while Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets sat back.

Spain went on to win their second straight European Championship under Vicente Del Bosque two years after their maiden World Cup triumph.

Spain in Euro 2012
Spain in Euro 2012

#2 France 1984 (4-2-2-2)

Michel Platini of France
Michel Platini of France

France, under Michel Hidalgo, put their midfield might to great use in the 1984 Euros in a box formation that is often referred to as a magic box.

Michel Platini was at his best during the tournament and was ably supported by the likes of Jean Tigana who had a freer role but also helped out the back-four. France became deserving winners of the European Championship as Platini netted five goals.

France with the magic box in midfield
France with the magic box in midfield

#1 Barcelona 2009-10 (4-2-4)

Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola's ascent to the top began as a manager at Barcelona where his tactical astuteness and ability to get the best out of his players forged a champion Barcelona side that swept away everyone and became the best team in the world.

Guardiola had talents like Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry at his disposal, but he used them in a no-holds-barred attacking style that led them to winning four trophies in the 2009-10 season.

The quick switches from 4-2-2 to 4-2-4 was an ingenious but risky move that could have potentially left the centre of the park disbalanced. However, the fluid switches that the Iniestas made and the way Yaya Toure and Busquets held their own in the deep meant that the attackers managed to create an all-consuming overload up front.

Barcelona 4-2-4 formation under Pep Guardiola
Barcelona 4-2-4 formation under Pep Guardiola

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Edited by Bhargav
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