By Jimmy Shan
I am amazed by the amount of times I hear people talk about the 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3 as if they are different formations, they are the same! Deployed differently depending upon PLAYERS (quality, strengths, and weakness) and COACHING beliefs!
Teach the 4-4-2 and you will teach a central striker to drop in (4-4-1-1, 4-3-3), teach a 4-3-3 and you will teach a midfielder to break beyond (4- 4-2) and your midfielders to play on different lines (4-4-1-1) teach a 4-4-1-1 and you’ll teach your striker in the hole to stretch first (4-4-2). At any given moment depending on your strategies / beliefs you will enter a mix of all formations.
Roy Hodgson has recently raised lots of debate over the use of the 4-4-2 system in the National side, the recent performance v Belgium had Graham Taylor saying this “England’s rigid 4-4-2 formation concerns me. We need to have more flexibility. We didn’t see the wide men come in, they stayed there. Against the very, very good national sides we would definitely be in trouble playing this way”
I totally agree with Graham Taylor and I read the script after the opening two minutes as to how the England team would play with all 11 players sat in their own half, opting to defend deep and attack through possible counters. However if you observed WBA under Hodgson playing this system it was very different. The wide players would come in off the line, full backs provided width while front players would come short into pockets to receive, the ‘front’ 4 would often rotate thus confirming my opening statement.
It is apparent Roy Hodgson is gearing towards playing a shape and game style to deny and not to discover, maintaining a solid base and an approach that seems to err on the side of caution. Yes Roy’s shape appears to be a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 however you will see his defending / out of possession philosophy and strategy as opposed to his favourite shape. WBA played 4-3-3 on numerous occasions last season, however the roles and responsibilities without the ball were no different to how England are playing now. Of course game plans and opposition will dictate how much ball possession you have, when, where, why and how you engage the press etc.
Observe a Roy Hodgson coaching session he will get his wide players to stretch, a front man spinning another front man in the ‘hole’, take an aerial photo of this and players would be arranged in a 4-3-3 formation.
I am a believer in playing the game with attacking and creative finesse based upon possession dominance, all 11 players should be OUTSTANDING ball managers and have an ability to manage the ball in and under any circumstance against strong resistance. Alongside this (quote Brendan Rodgers) players / team should always play with tactical discipline, and have a clear identifiable defending strategy.
There is no doubt the offensive side of the game is based on CREATIVITY, the defensive side of the game more SCIENTIFIC.
I have recently been asked what formation I plan to play next season to which I replied no set formation. I don’t want to get bogged down with a specific formation, yes certain players may be given set roles and responsibilities, in particular set roles and responsibilities when offering security behind the ball when we are attacking. My teaching will be based around attacking / defending strategies and philosophies, players will be encouraged to make independent decisions and play / position themselves in areas related to our philosophy thus enabling an array of formations and ultimate flexibility.
Of course my team will take up a 4-3-3 shape, 4-4-2 shape, 4-4-1-1, 3-3-4 shape I just intend this to happen a thousand times per game, dictated by PLAYERS making effective DECISIONS!