Football Formations: Part 2 – ‘The 4-3-3 formation – Imminent or Flashy?’

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Football Formations: Part 2 – ‘The 4-3-3 formation – Imminent or Flashy?’
Another model for this formation could be the one employed by Barcelona. For simplicity, the start of the 2009 season’s formation is under review.
Barca featured three front men in the form of Thierry Henry on the left, a left sided midfielder or a wide striker, it was hard to say. Zlatan Ibrahimovic posed as the focal point of the attack, replacing Cameroon international Samuel Eto’o who went to Inter
Milan. Lionel Messi featured on the right. Quite like Henry, it wasn’t labeled whether he played as a winger or a free role striker. Iniesta and Xavi along with Yaya Toure made up the midfield. The back four welcomed a new member in the form of Daniel Alves
as the right back after a move from Sevilla. Pique and Puyol were rock solid at the heart of the defense while French international Eric Abidal was a regular participant at left back. Spain’s third choice, Victor Valdez featured in goal. Here’s a picture:
         --Henry--                 --Messi--
         Abidal – Puyol – Pique – Daniel Alves
Staying true to the essence of the 4-3-3, it’s fair to suggest that the functionality of the Barcelona and Arsenal formations is somewhat similar. There are however, a few differences that are worth mentioning.
For starters, Barcelona features a left footer on the right of the front three and a right footer on the left, unlike Arsenal that operate with a wide player on the right in the form of right footed Theo Walcott. This means that the Catalan front line is
relatively narrow as both wide forwards look to often cut in to their favored foot and shoot on goal. The situation demands even more hard work from Abidal and Daniel Alves to bomb on the flanks and cross in some aerial balls for the front men to attack. The
resultant is similar. Yaya Toure usually tucks in to ensure ample cushion in the case of a counter attack.
Another striking difference is the positioning of the two central midfielders. While Arsenal prefer their playmaker Cesc Fabregas to be in advancing positions, Barca keep their playmaker deep in starting. Obviously, it doesn’t mean Xavi is bound to orchestrate
from the half line, the Spaniard does go forward when the opportunity presents itself. As Arsenal use their other central midfielder, Diaby or Denilson, to offer some steel to the midfield and stay deeper than Cesc, Barcelona utilize the dribbling abilities
of Andres Iniesta in a more advance position. The reason the system works for the Spanish champions is due to the amount of versatility offered upfront. Iniesta and Xavi both interchange with respect to what the other is onto.
Secondly, their telepathic understanding is unlike any other, often playing 1-2’s to keep the ball rolling and penetrate the ranks of any defense – Iniesta was deemed, ‘The best in the world’ by England striker Wayne Rooney which gives some measure of the
midfield quality of Barcelona. Finally, while Xavi stays deep to solidify midfield and play the odd long pass, the quality of the front three is enough to give any defense a run for its money. Henry and Messi can both be creative when the situation demands
while Ibrahimovic has enough class to hold the ball up field despite being outnumbered two to one at times.
There is also a slight difference at the back. Pique is a tall defender and thus extremely efficient in the air. His central defense partner Puyol, despite the shorter stature is very quick at reading the game. Recognizing each other’s strong points, one
often sees Puyol challenging for the ball, sort of a ball winner, while Pique either mops up behind or takes the initiative when faced with a threatening aerial ball. Just like midfield, both players are versatile enough and interchange roles as need be.
All in all, a well oiled machine!
Coming up… The debate over the 4-3-3 formation’s application – Is it an instrument to showboat or a requirement of the modern game?
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