4-2-3-1

by Alex Massie | July 9, 2010

As Jonathan Wilson points out, this has been the 4-2-3-1 World Cup. Both finalists have played this super-flexible system, even if Spain have only come to it latterly. 4-2-3-1 is a system that allows sides to pick their way of playing: it can be a counter-attacking formation (Germany) or one that permits the attacking side to dictate the tempo of the play.

And of course it allows for sudden shifts in formation: 4-2-3-1 can become 4-2-4 in the blink of an eye or, defensively, 4-5-1 or even 4-4-2. It's a system for multi-taskers.

Crucially, I think, it can be a means of using attack as a means of defence. One of the features of this tournament has been the absence, by and large, of attacking full-backs. Maicon, Sergio Ramos (who provides much of Spain's width) and, occasionally, Lahm have been rare exceptions to this general trend.

Pressing forward in a 4-2-3-1 (or 4-2-4) necessarily pins the opposition full-backs deep inside their own territory. Equally, the flexibility afforded by 4-2-3-1 on the counter-attack makes it risky for opposition full-backs to venture forward for fear of being stranded upfield as soon as the ball is lost.

Formations aren't everything of course, but the decline of full-back or wing-back play has been a feature of this tournament - one in which both Spain and Holland have adopted what might be considered a "lock-picking" approach to going forward: patient and running through a series of combinations until the solution is found.

That makes for pretty and cerebral football and this too, I hazard, has been one of the features of the tournament.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/world-cup/76161/4-2-3-1