Whatever Happened to 4-4-2 ?

Tradition, formulaic, boring, out of date? Tactics and team formations have changed so much over the years. What works best in today’s ...

Tradition, formulaic, boring, out of date? Tactics and team formations have changed so much over the years. What works best in today’s game? Is today’s game that different than it was when Bobby Moore and Ron Harris patrolled the back lines of the old first division? Did Marcel Desailly and Franck Leboeuf with a smattering of Ruud Gullit, change the way Chelsea played forever. 

I can blame Glenn Hoddle for many things, while coach of England, but while at the Chels, he brought in flair, flash and style with Gullit. He transformed Dennis Wise from being a winger to a central force in midfield. He brought in steel and grit in the form of Mark Hughes, and throw in a little bit of John Spencer and Mark Stein and you have the initial formula for success. 

However, the formations of these teams began to change. The holding players started to arrive; be it Makalele or Diarra, be it Matic, Ramires or Mikel. However, the impact of this positional change in midfield changed something even greater; the one man target up front. The defensive Midfielder changed the system to create a diamond and allow for the advent of the ‘number 10 ‘ role. With that became the one man up front. This is a system that I have struggled to accept or indeed enjoy. 

My love for all things Blue really started to flourish when Kerry Dixon was paired with the diminutive David Speedie, flanked by ‘Wee’ Pat Nevin and Kevin McAllister, and the goals did flow. The big man, little man partnership was all the rage. It may not have been pretty, but it was pretty effective. When David Webb’s ill-fated brief sojourn at the helm saw him partner Tony Cascarino and Mick Harford, we went for the big man, big man, partnership and it was downhill from there. I always loved the flick on that Gordon Durie took to a new level after Speedie left. The free running strikers, who were looking to get behind the defence leaving the beloved one –on one with the keeper. What was there not to like? 

Today too many times Torres (the single greatest disappointment to me in a Blue shirt) or Costa would become isolated, picking the ball up too deep and having nowhere to go except forage ahead leading to lost possession, or back, dropping the ball to the supporting midfield, while giving the opposition ample time to get back behind the ball and snuff out any potential danger. 

When animals go hunting in the woods, they do so with numbers; they hunt in packs. Why should attackers on the football field not be the same? I like to force the defence to think, to have multiple targets to cover. If they are watching Costa and Falcao (not that he is Costa’s ideal partner), would their attention be distracted enough to allow Oscar, Fabregas or Hazard that little extra space to do something more with the ball?

A flat four in midfield is enough? Do we try and get our round pegs to fit into square holes? Look at Mikel, more of an attacking midfielder for Nigeria; successful, almost dominant? Where do we play him? Look at his Chelsea career in comparison to what he has done on the International stage. What you need is a team functioning to its best, with every players playing in a natural position. Defenders defend, midfielders control and create and strikers cause havoc upfront and score goals. Seems like a simple formula, but so many teams have changed to the one man upfront. It looks like times have changed, but I for one, miss Dixon and Speedie and the twin strikers…don’t you?

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