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Basics of Formation and Tactics - A Q&A

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A few readers have indicated that they are interested in following Seattle Sounders FC but do not really understand the beauty of the beautiful game. They still think along the lines of a group of kids all chasing the ball in a large mass like insects.

Things like 4-4-2, or 4-4-1-1, or 2-3-3-2 don't make a lick of sense to the people for which this game is new.

Not knowing where to start I had asked a great writer at The Arsenal Column to do some basics. Except that he had similar issues.

But a recent column of his on the changing nature of the modern game makes this a bit easier. Fabio Capello recently stated in "the modern game, there is only 9-1" but this doesn't address the way things are.

Because we are in another transition for the game, back to the famous Total Football.

"Systems are dying. Like 4-5-1, what does it mean? It’s only for journalists or at the beginning of each half. When defending, great teams want many behind the ball. When attacking, players from all sides. We have to be compact, narrow to each other.

"Italy won the 2006 World Cup with nothing like the [defensive] Italy you usually think of. They finished the semi-final against Germany with Del Piero, Gilardino, Iaquinta and Totti — four strikers. And two full-backs bombing up. It’s about the movement of 10 players now."

For while England still tends to the 4 Defense - 4 Midfield - 2 Forwards, Italy with a 5-3-2, Spain a 4-3-3 and Latin America tends to 3-5-2 this are only shorthands, and not at all sound in their descriptions. I would prefer that we understand that every player has either a primary role on offense, or on defense and that they represent different layers of each.

So I will tend to describe a formation in four layers. Defense, Attacking Defense, Ball Control Offense, Offense.
That furthest backline would be traditional marking backs, centerbacks and even sweepers. In attacking defense you would see a Central Defensive Midfielders, WingBacks and even Upbacks (centerbacks that come up on offense regularly). In the ball control layer I would mention the Central Attacking Midfielders (DeRosario) the pivot types who manage the game from the middle and forward, but who track back in many defensive situations, the Wingers who attack from the sides either through aerial deliveries or with the ball at feet. Lastly I would list the nearly pure offense, the Target Forwards who either post up like a basketball player deep in the box, as well as the Strikers who run at the defense and break them down. That's just my philosophy.

Formations are basic ways to describe the style of play, as well as to create a level of comfort for the players and to control their fitness as any one can get tired. But those roles are just guidelines, and any good coach worth their contract will want a player who sees space on the attack to take it, would want a player to find the angle for the short pass, or deliver the long bomb to attack deep into the the opposing third and of course strike on goal if they have the shot.

It would certainly be an ideal club in fitness and ability to be so flexible to have a 9-1 as described by The Brain

Modern football sees clubs looking to deny opponents any space. It is about controlling space and reducing space for opponents when attacking and defending. By playing a 9-1 where the whole team has the responsibility to attack and defend, Capello believes it is not about the individual’s effectiveness rather the effectiveness of the individuals within the system. If the players adapt it means they have created a system of flexibility and fluidity which becomes less predictable for opponents and therefore harder to disrupt. Not many teams can do it but when they do, it can be destructive.

It would also be difficult to implement at any level outside of the top clubs in the UEFA Champions League.

Like the NBA or NHL soccer/football is quite simply a game of finding space and angles to attack, and on defense using guile, strength or speed to shut the space and angles down and create the turnovers that give your own club possession.

So that's where I am with the basics, I think. And from here I think I need to be open for questions, because to quote Donald Rumsfeld I have entered the arena of "unknown knowns."