Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Head Meet Wall - Part 3,172

I keep seeing it. Everywhere it seems. It has now replaced YOLO as the saying that makes me cringe. And for crying out loud, it doesn't have a single connection to Fake... erm, I mean Drake.

Yeah. This saying is worse than Drake. Let that sink in.

Formations don't matter.

Big. Fat. Hairy. Ugh.

There currently is a deluge of scribes at all publication levels writing long essays that are centered on this saying. Cripes, now even Klinsi and the players are saying it (though it's no wonder considering his sudden focus on the 4-4-2 diamond is drawing plenty of fire). And it is all driving me bananas, a food which you all know I hate to use in a negative context.

Rather than debate with salient points and piles of evidence, I will simply ask those who are saying this one direct question along with a layered follow-up: If formations don't matter, then why do they exist? Why does every coach use them and obsessively drill them with the squad and how do they then continually change the game and become forever famous for particular elements of play and inspire anti-formation wrinkles?

Don't worry. I won't be waiting around for any good answer. Some saying it are just sticking up for the coach and others just can't bear constructive criticism, with any such remarks immediately binned as so-called negativity. Because in our age, false positivity has become better than facing problems. Because that always works out so well.

Hell, for my honest critiques, I am even being told I hate Klinsmann and/or the US team. As if imperfect people and things you admire should be spared anything but the fluffiest skirt-fluffing.

Why do formations exist and thrive and change the game? Because they matter. A lot. Duh.

- Greg Seltzer


Zach said...

Aren't formations used to control/dictate player movement and positioning? Theoretically, if you had 11 Michael Bradley's, the formation wouldn't be as important because 11 Michael Bradley's would know where to be and when without being directed.

Greg Seltzer said...

Formations do many things, including those. And having 11 Michael Bradleys would also demonstrate why formations matter. Because if formations do not matter, then neither do positions. And no one would field 11 #8 aces as a team, no matter how good that #8 is, for obvious reasons.

Tony M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony M said...

Strange spell check errors - reposting:
Formations don't matter talk makes me want to smack someone with my copy of Inverting the Pyramid. People should read the chapters on the early game when there were no formations – just 10 guys in a massing scrum moving all over the field. Then the Scottish invented passing and everything changed…

Formations ask players to do certain task. A wide attacking player on the left is asked to do something very different in a 4-3-3 than he is in a 4-4-2. And he can be asked to do different things in a 4-4-2 where the attacking width is expected to come from the fullback.

So to go to Zachs observation, if you had 11 Michael Bradleys it would absolutely force certain formations because you wouldn't want Bradley tracking back and forth all day on the left wing. Nor would you expect him to come up and attack from the back. So you would probably opt for something like a 4-2-3-1 to maximize his positioning sense, his possession ability, and his ability to shoot from around the box. On the other hand, if you had 11 Landon Donovans, you’d probably do something like a 4-5-1 and swarm the midfield, or a 4-4-2 where the fullbacks attack and overlap. (The problem with that is Donovan’s a little guy. Having two of them at CB would be…unfortunate. So better to cover every inch of the midfield with swarming Donovans.)

Zach said...

Sorry, when I said 11 Bradley's, what I really meant was just 11 intelligent players who know how to play together (like Michael Bradley). Not 11 actual Michael Bradley's (or #8s), although that would probably be a pretty good team.

Yeah, you need forwards, defenders, and midfielders. So in that sense, you can always assign a formation to those players. But if they are intelligent enough to read the flow of the game, whether they are tasked to play a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 would be irrelevant.

Please don't smack me, Tony.

Tom said...

That would be AWESOME

Tom said...

What formation for each N^XI

Greg Seltzer said...

@ Zach:

As much as I love the guy, 11 Mikeys would not make a good team. You would own the center of the park defensively, but would get killed on the flanks and lack overall cutting edge in attack. And 11 guys who intelligently knew how to play together would do so because they trained in roles in a formation - not just because they're super clever.

Oh... and a 4-2-3-1 is almost the same exact thing as a 4-3-3, just a little more conservative.

Tony M said...

Zach, I in no way want you to think I had a violent thought toward you. It was a general comment!

It's funny, one of the way I evaluate players at youth club level is that I play a little game with myself and ask, "What if I had 11 so and sos?" The excercise really makes you think about the players ability, attitude, etc. It's an interesting excercise - which is probably why I gave such a long response. I think in these terms all the time.

Tony M said...

Greg, yes... to an extent. I think they responded differently to pressure. A 4-3-3 tends to become a 4-5-1 when pressed, which is why I don't like it much. I think a 4-3-3-1 keeps its shape a little better, because you tend to get a couple destory types more often in the "2". Some other small nuances are different, but yeah, it is a more conversavtive version.

Greg Seltzer said...

A 4231 and a 451 are typically one in the same.

Zach said...

I think we have a chance at winning the cup if we play a 4-3-3-1 ;)

Seriously, though. What would you think about a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2? Seems like we have the personnel for it. (too late now, I know, just curious as to your opinion)

Cam Brooks Beslar
Yedlin Jones Bradley Johnson
Altidore Dempsey

Unknown said...

We could always play a 9-1-0 like AZE did.

Unknown said...

For those who need a visual of what the mythical 9-0-1 looks like:

mark said...

The diamond put Jones and Bradley into two positions they aren't use to playing. Bradley is not a pure 10 and Jones id not a pure 6. It doesnt utilize the best out our players. Klinsmann other formation used the 4-2-3-1 gives us plenty of players in the midfield but we lack the attacking midfielders to utilize fully.
I still think the formation Bradley used the 4-4-2 "double 6" is the best option. Jones and Bradley playing as the CMs Dempsey and Bedoya/Zusi as the AMs Altidore and Johannsson up top.
Another AM like Donovan would be pretty useful

soccer boy said...

Bradley played an extra forwad at herenveen. They ran a 424. Attacking was his strong suit. He scored 16 goals. That spot not in the spot he played in 424 but he was still asked to attack. Not too much of a stretch.

Unknown said...

I think the U.S. formation hinges on two very related questions:

-Is Jermaine Jones one of the best 11 players?
-Do you want the best-11- players-on-the-field, shoehorn-the-formation-to-that approach?

My answers:

dikranovich said...

Jacob, We have learned some things recently. One, Greg admits that a 4-4-1-1 is close to a 4-2-3-1, which we now know is sort of the defensive version of the 4-3-3, pass the douchie on the left hand side.

How much of a stretch is it to go from a 4-4-2 diamond into a 4-5-1? What, Michael Bradley drops back, deuce drops back. I mean, am I right, or am I right, or am I right

dikranovich said...

Oh Gregor, coach klinsmann didn't say the formation doesn't matter, in the article you provided, that quote was assigned to DMB .

What he did say though, is that there is no such thing as a best system, and that it is about the team moving and playing together.

Unknown said...

@dikranovick "... a 4-2-3-1 is almost the same exact thing as a 4-3-3, just a little more conservative." -Greg

That's kinda of what you said he said, except that there's a '2' and a '3' where you imagined Greg writing a '4' and a '1.'

And just because the U.S. can play a 4-4-1-1 with the same personnel as a 4-2-3-1, doesn't mean it should. It sure as heck means the entire midfield structure is changed.

In fact, the Turkey game itself took on a completely different rhythm in the second half when Bradley sat a little deeper next to Beckerman, flattening out from a diamond to a 4-4-2. That's a much smaller change than the one you're suggesting and it quite clearly mattered. Klinsmann even said so in his presser.

Greg Seltzer said...

Considering this US team has quite the habit of turning a game when they make a second half shape change, I just find it funny that so many are so eager to insist formations do not matter. How many times in the last decade or so has a US coach talked post-game about problems arising in one set and then the subsequent changes that got them back in? Not to take away from their obvious fortitude, but this is pretty common.

Unknown said...


Pragmatic Idealist said...

The "formations don't matter" meme for me is really coach speak for "formations are a lot more complicated than the number system."

A 4231 can be similar to a 433 or a 442, depending on the roles given to players. Those roles are more shades of gray that black and white labels.

When you talk about the "diamond midfield" is Bradley playing high up or is he more tucked back? Is he the lone central mid venturing forward or the one who does it most?

In reality, each player is given a role and tactical assignment then comes together into a system of how they work together. At any given time a system can look like a 4231 or a 4132 or a 433 or a 4121 or a 442.

Its about the details and the nuance. So when I hear guy like Bradley (who is praised for his tactical acumen) say things like the formation doesn't matter- this is what I hear, "our system is a lot more complicated than you understand or than I can easily explain to you"

Unknown said...


442 Max Speed, Max inexperience, genius Jurgen formation. This would be my wish if all these players lived up to their max potential.

Greg Seltzer said...

You want Deuce having to stay wide and help Chandler in defense?

Are you sure?