First of all, a general warning must be given. The following formations are nothing more than a general guide to how your team should play, and are not commandments to be followed strictly. When a team follows the formation to strictly, that team becomes rigid, and can fail as badly as a team without any formation. These formations should be altered to fit your team, and not vice versa. A little advice is included at the end of each formation to help your decision.
This formation, also known as the Pyramid, or the classic formation, as it was used for 50 years after its invention, has only two defenders. Three midfielders and five forwards should be sufficient evidence to show that this is an attack-oriented formation. Attacking plays generally began from the center-half, who had usually two options: to pass to one of the five forwards or to dribble forward himself. The defence is manned solely by the defenders (naturally) and thewing-halves, the two outside midfielders, helped out by marking the opposing wingers.
The Danubian style, based loosely on the 2-3-5 and used successfully by the Austrian, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian national teams in the 1930s, was only different in one aspect. The passes used by the players were strictly kept on the ground, and no aerial passes were used.
Advice on the 2-3-5: This formation requires defenders that have good stamina, good sense of positioning, and good tackling skills, as they have to do the defending of the goal alone. The wing-halves should be able to run fast and pass well, and possess some amount of trickery, for they will have to outwit the opposition wingers.The centre-half should have a great control of the ball, superb sense of positioning and good passing. Wingers have to be creative, have a decent aptitude in dribbling down the flanks, and be able to beat defenders with ease, for they are the suppliers of the goals, and must beat the opposing wing-halves to do so. Great passing is another important asset for the winger, as he has to find the centre-forward in good positions to enable him to score. The centre-forward must be one man who is able to get the goals; people who can put the ball over the bar from two metres out need not apply. The centre-forward must also have a strong shot and good passing, so that in case he gets into trouble, he can pass it out to the wingers to try again.
Another modification to the 2-3-5, implemented by Vittorio Pozzo, 1934 coach to the Italian World Cup team. It was meant to be the Danubian style, with which the Austrian team were destroying all opposition, but he had no playmaker -- his centre-half was more of a defensive type -- and thus no source of attacks. This problem he solved by pulling the two inside-forwards back into midfield to start off the attacks and to act as playmaker. His centre-half then took on a more defensive role. This meant that his attack looked somewhat like the M of the W-M formation we will see later.
Advice on the metodo: The centre-half has to be alert, as he is now a part-time "fullback" instead of a playmaker. He still helps out in attack, but just not as often. The two inside-forwards need to have the same qualities the 2-3-5 centre-half had, as they are now the offensive playmakers. The centre-forward has to be more skilful as he is the only one with the responsibility of scoring goals.
The 1925 amendment of the offside rule meant that an attacking player need only keep 2 opponents in front of him and not 3 as stated before. This made the offside trap a much more challenging proposition. If one defender made a mistake, then the goalkeeper would be left on his own to defend the goal... Unsurprisingly, the number of goals scored in the English First Division rose by 43%, from 1,192 to 1,703.
The perceptive Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, along with his captain Charlie Buchan, devised a system to stop this problem after a 7-0 drubbing by Newcastle. They noticed that it was the centre-forward doing most of the goalscoring. Thus, the centre-half was pulled back to become the stopper, or the centre-back. To fill up the gap created in midfield, the two inside-forwards were pulled back to create a four-man midfield which the Italians called the magic square. The team thus had the general shape of a W of defensive players and an M of attack-minded players, giving rise to the name W-M. The typical W-M centre-forward was brawny and could score well.
Arsenal's W-M was very successful because of a few special touches that Chapman put in: Firstly, his defensive W was a lopsided one. This meant that when an attack began on the opposition's left flank, Arsenal's rightback would come in for the challenge, while Arsenal's defensive right midfielder, stopper, defensive left midfielder and leftback moved to respectively deeper positions as shown in the diagram to your right. Secondly, the Arsenal wingers could also cut in to score goals. Thirdly, one of the inside-forwards was used as a playmaker, to fill up the gap from the loss of the centre-half.
Brazil's version of the W-M in 1950 was the diagonal system, with only 2 fullbacks, covering the centre and right part of the defensive third of the field, the left flank being the job of a withdrawn left midfielder who was expected to help out in attack. This led to some defensive vulnerability, but lots of attacking firepower. Its vulnerabilities were only exposed once, by the Swiss, which held the Brazilian team to a 2-2 draw with their bolt system. This was enough, and the Brazilians switched to an orthodox version of the W-M, which proved very successful, taking them to the Final where they lost to a highly adapted Uruguayan team using a sort of metodo which was really more like a 4-3-3.
Advice on the W-M: To use the orthodox W-M successfully, the defense has to be alert, and passing within the team must be good. In other words, as with all other formations, teamwork has to be strong so that communication is done efficiently. Scoring must not be a difficulty to the forwards as there are now less forwards up front, and where attacking play is concerned, the midfield has to help out as well as the movements upfront have to start with the midfield.
To use the Arsenal version, your wingers should have about the same skills as a 2-3-5 centre-forward, for scoring goals is another of the new responsibilities of the wingers. You can use all four midfielders as a bridge between the defense and offense, as the role of playmaker will be taken up by one of the inside forwards. For the Brazilian version, strong defenders with lots of stamina are the thing to have because if the withdrawn left midfielder gets caught out, then the two backs will have to cover the entire defensive third of the pitch.
Also known as the Swiss bolt formation, the verrou is a system of play that requires disciplined and highly-fit players who can afford to run hard and long throughout the entire game and can act in both offensive and defensive roles. Generally played with 3 defenders, 3 midfielders and 4 forwards, the entire team advanced on attack. Even the defence was shifted up to the centre of the field, in the neutral third of the pitch. But the special feature of the verrou was the defence.
On loss of the ball, all ten outfield players retreated, and their functions were as follows: the four forwards would harass the opposing attackers, slowing the attack down and giving time for the rest of the team to move back into place. The midfield "line" shifted further back, allowing the centre-half to take the position of the centre-back. The defense retreated to just outside the penalty area, and the former centre-back now became the deep centre-back, the player behind all the rest save the goalkeeper. This feature of the verrou, the deep centre-back, will be seen later on in another system.
Advice on the verrou:Highly fit, disciplined players are required, as stated above, along with good teamwork and good sense of positioning. This is not a very easy formation to use, because of the fitness and discipline required.
In 1947, Nereo Rocco became the new coach of Triestina, a small club in Italy's Serie A. Triestina was then only barely surviving in the league. Rocco's catenaccio system saw Triestina shooting up to second in the league later that season.
Catenaccio at its most attacking is played with a 1-3-3-3 formation. The most important part of the catenaccio was the focus on defence. Though not as outright defensive as the verrou, this defensive alignment was also important -- it led to football's darkest era (in Italy, anyway) when sterile, goalless matches were produced.
Three of the fullbacks had man-to-man marking duties, and the deep centre-back, the solitary "1" behind the defence, would be the libero, the free man. This libero would have no marking duties, and would patrol the backline to cover up in case a fullback made a mistake. Almost all of the game was spent with long balls probing the defence, or sending only the forward line to attack, so that there would be enough players left to defend if a counterattack from the opposition developed. At its most defensive, a catenaccio team can even play with a 1-4-3-2 or 1-4-4-1 formation.
Advice on the catenaccio: Catenaccio was a very wary, cautious form of play and is not recommended except when you are David against Goliath... but then again, if you already have your own rather successful style, stick to it.
Hungary's problem in the 1950s was the centre-forward. Along with the W-M came the brawny centre-forward, which is what the Hungarian team did not have in 1953. Gustav Sebes, the 1953 coach of the Hungarian national team, changed the W-M to a W-W in the following manner:
He pulled the centre-forward back to play as a playmaker, taking over the role of the two inside-forwards. They were instead pushed up to give Hungary a two-pronged strikeforce. The wingers were pulled back to give a 5-man midfield.
Hungary's national team also attacked as a unit, with the backline moving into the opposing half. This adventurous play was open to counterattacks, via a long ball over the desperately out-of-place defence and speedy forwards. But the likelihood of this was lessened by the even more adventurous play of goalkeeper Gyula Grosics, who often came out of the 18-yard box to clear loose balls.
Advice on the W-W: If the W-W is to be used successfully, you need two centre-forwards, one playmaker, and two very good runners who can play up and down the wing. This is for the forward line. For the defensive W you need to have five alert players who can run well, have plenty of stamina and pass well.
The 4-2-4 is played as you see in the diagram on your left. 4 defenders, 2 midfielders, and 4 attackers. When on the defensive, this formation is sadly underpopulated in midfield, and so can be caught by the opposition attacking en masse.
We call it the Brazilian 4-2-4 because it was brought to a satisfying maturity in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden by the Brazilians. Brazil showed the world that despite the four fullbacks used, the 4-2-4 need not be a defensive formation relying only on counterattacks. In fact, one of the more exciting parts of the Brazilian 4-2-4 game was the attacking outside fullbacks, which lent the midfield some support on attack. It sometimes became a 2-4-4, and at its best, was a 2-2-6 with even the fullbacks joining in the attack. This added excitement to many of the Brazilian games in the World Cup and was also the main reason why they won every game (of course, including the Final) to clinch their first World Cup.
Advice on the Brazilian 4-2-4: If the Brazilian style of the 4-2-4 is to be played successfully, two of the fullbacks in your starting lineup have to have good ball control, speed, good shooting and passing, and some amount of creativity, for sometimes they will have to function as wingers. Speed is one of the more important as the fullbacks will have to move back when a counterattack develops, or when they have made a mistake. The fullbacks should NOT move back the moment they have passed the ball away. When they have lost the ball, they should try to get the ball back, to proceed with the attack, rather than to mindlessly clear it upfield.
The focus in the 1962 World Cup in Chile was shifted to defensive tactics, and the Brazilian team mirrored this trend. Aimoré Moreira, the Brazilian coach, shifted Mario Zagalo back into midfield. In 1958, he was a winger who occasionally dropped back to help out in defensive duties in midfield. By 1962 he was shifted to midfield, thus becoming a left midfielder who sometimes helped out with attacking moves on the left wing.
Played with 4 fullbacks, 3 midfielders, and 3 attackers including a winger, the 4-3-3 is both a defensive formation and an attacking formation. The Argentinian flavour of 4-3-3, played in the 1978 World Cup, was highly attack-oriented. Four fullbacks with zonal marking was the standard then in Argentine club sides. However, so many players tended to move forward that the formation ended up looking like a 2-3-5 at times. The modified 3-man forward line consisted of 2 wingers (said to have been extinct when England won World Cup '66 without wingers) and a centre-forward. Osvaldo Ardiles and Mario Kempes were "midfielders" on paper, but were really "inside-forwards", attacking from time to time.
Advice on the 4-3-3:To play the Brazilian flavour well, the same things as the 4-2-4 are needed: overlapping fullbacks. For the Argentinian flavour, all you really need are attacking players. Quite a few of them. They must also have above average ball control, and good sense of positioning as always.
This is a tamer formation than the 4-2-4, because there are less forwards used here. The forward line has been cut down to 2 forwards, and thus no real wingers were used. Of course, play still extended out to the wings, but this was only around the midfield area. This shortening of the paragraphs reflects the amount of tactical innovations in the time period: this was one of the last new tactics to come about. We are, by 1966, watching the fountain of tactics dry up.
England's midfield was interesting as it used Nobby Stiles as a sweeper in front of the defensive line. Stiles's hard and effective tackling meant that the defenders could concentrate on their man-marking duties. England's other special touch was that the strikers' off-the-ball running would draw the opposing defenders away and thus create space which the midfielders, Charlton and Ball, could put to good use.
In the 1982 World Cup, France and Brazil had their own versions of the 4-4-2... France used a sweeper while Brazil used zonal marking and overlapping fullbacks. However, due to the lax refereeing, and their finishing problems up front, these two teams were knocked out by the end of the first round.
Advice on the 4-4-2: To use this formation well, no wingers are needed. The forwards used must be of high standard, as they are the ones shouldering the full responsibility of getting the goals. Off-the-ball running, or decoying, is a good practice. This allows for more chances as it will pull defenders away from the line of action, giving the ball-player a clear path to goal. Faking passes might go well with this.
Pioneered (in the World Cup, at any rate) by the Dutch and the Germans in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, the team plays as one giant unit. There are no fixed roles in a team (except the goalkeeper of course.) When a fullback has the ball and thinks he can start an attack, he can move up on his own, and any player, even a forward, can help out by moving back to fill up the gap in defense. In other words, the team is not divided into defenders, midfielders and forwards; anyone can do anything (intelligently, of course) he wishes to.
However, as total football is nothing but 10 skilful players having fun, the Dutch team lost its light springy image in 1978 without Johan Cruyff, star of the 1974 Dutch World Cup team, who announced he would not play in that World Cup. Franz Beckenbauer played in the libero position for Germany, and often moved up to join in the attacks, thus bewildering the opposition fullbacks who already had their own man-marking assignments. The German flavour was also diluted when Franz Beckenbauer followed Cruyff and "retired" for the '78 World Cup.
Advice on using total football: This style of play is not really a formation. Rather, the advantages of using this against an opponent is that the opposition will spend their time trying to figure out what tactics your team is using while your team can take advantage of the confusion and (hopefully) score! This should only be used, however, if the communication and rapport between the players is very good, and that most players have above average ball skills. Otherwise passes might go off target, possession might be lost, and big gaps might be created that the opposition can use to devastating effect. In other words, this is an all-or-nothing formation... either it works well, or it backfires badly. Not much of an in-between.
As far as new tactical developments were concerned, by 1982, the coaches and players seem to have run out of inspiration... The FIFA technical study group, composed of coaches who would analyse the play after each World Cup, reported, in 1982, 1986 and 1990 that "nothing startlingly new was produced".
The systems of play we reviewed above are just general guides to how your team should play. Tactics should always be adopted to the qualities of the team that uses it. However, this is sadly not the case. Most of the time, a team rigidly adheres to a tactic, and as a result, when a slight variation is introduced into their opponents' play, the team crumbles, making a dismal comedy of itself.
Attitude should dominate the selection of a particular tactic. For example, if you try to follow the Brazilian 4-4-2 with overlapping fullbacks and all, but your team does not have good overlapping fullbacks, the strategy will fall flat on its face.. so will your team. Of course, if the formation your team plays with is well-suited to your team, then your team should play better than before.