I have a question about tactics. I’ll try to keep it simple and stupid.
Football analysis has become more and more tactical. Not just here, in the „Rasenfunk“, but everywhere we can read and hear about the „4-2-3-1s“, the „false Nines", the “holding centre-halfs” and so on.
To me, the by far most important aspect in almost every analysis seems to be the basic formation of a team: 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 4-2-2-2 – you name it. In analysing the game, formation is used for everything. Teams don’t just start in a certain formation, but when a shift in momentum occurs between the two teams in a match, analysts often attribute this to one coach reacting by, say, changing from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 (or what have you) to break the opponent’s dominance. It is often seen as the mark of a good coach that his teams can play several formations proficiently, and interchange fluently between them (e.g. Guardiola, Nagelsmann, Tuchel). Analysts like to refer to formations even to explain subtle changes in a player’s actions during a match. If, for instance, one of a team’s two holding midfielders suddenly starts making deeper runs into the opposition’s half of the pitch more frequently, analysts say that “the coach has changed from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-4-1”.
So whether it’s about the basic set-up of a team, the explanation of shifts in a game, the assessment of a coach’s quality, or even the movements of individual players – nowadays, formation seems to be the key to everything that goes on in a game.
This is all well and good, and I have a great deal of fun listening to it and reading about it (for example here, in the Rasenfunk ), but isn’t this, strictly speaking, a misapplication of the concept of formation? To me at least, a team’s formation is just a statement about its basic setup describing how the players are positioned with respect to each other when, for example, you have to paint them onto a drawing board. Hence, a formation is a statement about the static positioning of a team, not its dynamic behaviour. To me, the formation alone (and how it shifts) doesn’t seem enough to really cover all the tactical aspects of a game down to individual players’ patterns of movement.
In my view, to really allow a comprehensive tactical analysis, information about the players’ supposed movements and how they are expected to behave in which situations of a game has to be considered, too. For example, if we lose the ball high up the pitch, what do we do in defensive transition? Do we “gegenpress" immediately? And with how many players? Is somebody supposed to occupy the opposition’s passing lines? Or do we fall back as a team and try to get back into shape? Or, when we start our build-up play, do our offensive wingers stay wide to stretch the opposition’s defense or do they cut in quickly to create an overload in midfield? Not any of this information is included in something like a “4-3-3". Instead, it appears to me that by adding more and more layers of differentiation to include dynamic aspects as well, this static, numerical system is overburdened and overstretched. Does it really make sense to say that a coach changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 to express that he now wants one of his two holding midfielders to make deeper runs?
If I were to analyse a game (but I’m a layman!) I would draw on the concept of formation much more sparingly. I would use it to highlight, for example, whether a team has two or three centre backs, whether there are one or two holding midfielders, or whether there are one or two strikers. And instead of referring to formation to try to explain the more dynamic aspects of a game, I would say how the players move and behave offensively, defensively, and in transition during different phases of a game (as far as I’d be able to tell). I believe that switching between more and more complex subdivisions of basic formations to explain shifts in momentum during a game isn’t really the best approach to a meaningful and satisfying analysis.
Yet, as I have said, I’m just a layman with stupid ideas. So there is every opportunity that I am totally wrong. Please tell me: do you see my point? Where am I wrong? What am I ignoring? Where would you agree with me?