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The History of the beautiful game - tactics - classic formations

By Updated on Dec 06, 2007   6312 views   0 comments
Classic formations

[edit] 2-3-5 (The Pyramid)
The Pyramid Formation
The Pyramid Formation

In 1884, Preston North End (England) introduced what would become the first long-term successful formation — the 2-3-5; this was originally known as the Pyramid with the numerical formation being referenced retrospectively. By the 1890s it was the standard formation in Britain and had spread all over the world. With some variations it was used by most top level teams up to the 1940s.

For the first time a balance between attacking and defending was reached. When defending, the two defenders (fullbacks) would watch out for the opponent's insides (the second and fourth players in the attacking line); while the midfielders (halfbacks) would watch for the other three forwards.

The center halfback had a key role in both helping to organize the team's attack and marking the opponent's center forward, supposedly one of their most dangerous players.

It was this formation which gave rise to the convention of shirt numbers which is still used today[citation needed] but can appear confused when applied to the classic 4-4-2 line up, i.e.:

* 01 – Goalkeeper
* 02 – Right back
* 03 – Left back
* 04 – Center back
* 05 – Center back
* 06 – Defensive midfielder
* 07 – Right winger
* 08 – Center midfield
* 09 – Center Forward
* 10 – Offensive midfielder (the "Number 10" play maker)
* 11 – Left winger

The WM

The WM system was created in the mid-1920s by Herbert Chapman of Arsenal to counter a change in the offside law in 1925. The change had reduced the number of opposition players that attackers needed between themselves and the goal-line from three to two. This led to the introduction of a centre-back to stop the opposing centre-forward, and tried to balance defensive and offensive playing. The formation became so successful that by the late-1930s most English clubs had adopted the WM. Retrospectively the WM has either been described as a 3-2-5 or as a 3-4-3.

WM Formation
WM Formation

The WW

The WW was a development of the WM created by the Hungarian coach Márton Bukovi who turned the 3-2-5 WM "upside down" [2]. The lack of an effective centre-forward in his team necessitated moving this player back to midfield to create a playmaker, with a midfielder instructed to focus on defence. This created a 3-5-2 (also described as a 3-3-4), and was described by some as an early version of the 4-2-4. This formation was successfully used by fellow countryman Gusztáv Sebes in the Hungarian national team of the early 1950s.

The 4-2-4 Formation
The 4-2-4 Formation

The 4-2-4 formation attempts to combine a strong attack with a strong defense, and was conceived as a reaction to WM's stiffness. It could also be considered a further development of the WW. The 4-2-4 was the first formation to be described using numbers.

While the initial developments leading to the 4-2-4 were devised by Márton Bukovi, the credit for creating the 4-2-4 lies with two different people: Flávio Costa, the Brazilian national coach in the early 1950s, as well as another Hungarian Béla Guttman. These tactics seemed to be developed independently, with the Brazilians discussing these ideas while the Hungarians seemed to be putting them into motion [3] [2] [4]. However the fully developed 4-2-4 was only 'perfected' in Brazil in the late 1950s.

Costa published his ideas, the "diagonal system", in the Brazilian newspaper O Cruzeiro, using schematics as the ones used here and, for the first time ever, the formation description by numbers as used in this article [3]. The "diagonal system" was another precursor of the 4-2-4 and was created to spur improvisation in players.

Guttman himself moved to Brazil later in the 1950s to help develop these tactical ideas using the experience of Hungarian coaches.

The 4-2-4 formation made use of the increasing players skills and fitness, aiming to effectively use 6 defenders and 6 forwards, with the midfielders performing both tasks. The 4th defender increased the number of defensive players but mostly allowed them to be closer together, thus enabling effective cooperation among them, the point being that a stronger defense would allow an even stronger attack.

The relatively empty midfield relied on defenders that should now be able not only to steal the ball, but also hold it, pass it or even run with it and start an attack. So this formation required that all players, including defenders, are somehow skillful and with initiative, making it a perfect fit for the Brazilian player's mind. The 4-2-4 needed a high level of tactical awareness as having only 2 midfielders could lead to defensive problems. The system was also fluid enough to allow the formation to change throughout play.

4-2-4 was first used with success at club level in Brazil by Palmeiras and Santos, and was used by Brazil in their wins at 1958 World Cup and 1970 World Cup, both featuring Pelé, and Zagallo who played in the first and coached the second. The formation was quickly adopted throughout the world after the Brazilian success.


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