As often discussed, the 4-4-2 is both a classic and still highly utilized formation in football, benefited by clear roles and a simple structure. However, it is also a setup that risks a fair deal of overexposure. The recent match between Napoli and Sampdoria evidences this balance to perfection.
For the first portion of the game, Sampdoria dominated possession and dictated tempo. With crisp forward-back-forward passing often culminating in dangerous crosses, the hosts looked the more likely side to score. Napoli, once having won the ball back in their defensive third, were principally limited to long passes to (or towards) their center forward, sent in with an obvious disclaimer that supporting attackers would be sparse and slow to catch up. Despite this, Victor Osimhen linked up well with Insigne and found the opener. But it was the tactical drift that occurred next which ushered in the ultimate, not-so-close-after all 4-0 score line.
As stated, for the first portion of the match, Napoli were starting their attack from deep within their own half and Sampdoria’s back line took up high positions to try and contain them. Napoli settled for hopeful long balls which most often resulted in a change in possession and yet another wave of Sampdoria attacking pressure. But as the half dragged on, Napoli gradually increased their possession in the middle third of the field. And by the half hour mark, Napoli’s 4-3-3 was finally able to assume its attacking shape; Sampdoria did not condense their 4-4-2 defensive shape well enough in response, catalyzing their collapse. As Napoli passed and moved, the space between Sampdoria lines grew, which we see quite clearly in the second goal: a simple pass from Napoli goalkeeper to a remarkably unmarked advanced midfielder cut between Sampdoria midfielders and defenders with ease and kicked off a brief but effective attacking sequence… 2-0. Napoli’s two other goals boasted similar properties, as the play between lines quickly became too much for Sampdoria to slow or close down.
Ultimately, this is the risk of a 4-4-2. The flat lines, though wonderfully spring-loaded in possession, can be broken and bypassed by composed, skillful opposition. Most sides employing a 4-4-2 compensate for this risk by condensing the space they must defend as significantly as possible, either setting up shop in their own defensive third (“parking the bus” so to speak) or opting for a high press (which may look a little like an “offside trap”). As seen in the quintessential case of Napoli vs Sampdoria, failure to do so can result in scoreboard catastrophe.
In this month’s edition…
-> RB Leipzig 6-0 Hertha Berlin – Tactical Analysis
-> How Ruben Dias Became City Captain
-> Why left-sidedness exists in football
-> All episodes of the Longball Preview Show
-> All episodes of Futbol Masterminds
-> Top 100 Footballers of September 2021
more quick takes with jeremy barnes
Although we all love the beautiful game, we may watch for different reasons. Some tune in as a family tradition. Others for personal or professional interest. And still others purely for the sake of entertainment. Here, today, I hope to add one more reason to your list if it’s there already: watch to learn. Specifically, to learn how a football club compiles individual contributions of skill, athleticism, intelligence, and desire, and stations those facets of the game for collective success. This is my working definition of football tactics inherent to formations.
The transfer window has closed and we’re left with a week of international football to wonder what money truly buys. So for kicks, let’s incorporate the new lads in alternative formations for the Premier League’s “Big Six” and see what cleverness or calamity results…
Tottenham Hotspur are a team in transition. And with all the surrounding newness, it’s easy to expect (or, in some cases, hope for) complete novelty, an immediate replacement of old, bad habits and tendencies with new, good ones. Unfortunately, this forecast is more fanciful than fair. Tottenham Hotspur are a team in transition. And with all the surrounding newness, it’s easy to expect (or, in some cases, hope for) complete novelty, an immediate replacement of old, bad habits and tendencies with new, good ones. Unfortunately, this forecast is more fanciful than fair. Squad rebuilds are a function of two factors working in dichotomy: time and money. The greater one becomes, the lesser the other can be. In this way, football clubs with immediate access to financial capital can regenerate a squad in short order. For everyone else, it takes time. But even as a slow reconstruction in progress, managers can face significant pressure in the form of tactics reimagined. Realistically, teaching and optimizing a new system of play takes additional time and risks subpar performance in the interim, while simple replication of previous methods will surely be seen as short-sighted redundancy. Into this predictable but unfortunate conundrum stepped Nuno Espirito Santo, a manager who recently traded Wolves’ black and yellow for Spurs’ white and blue.
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Since taking over from Gennarro Gattuso in May 2021, Luciano Spalletti has turned Napoli into one of Serie A’s most formidable units. While a fifth place finish in the 2020-21 season was a fine result for Gli Azzurri, it wasn’t what they had hoped for, nor what they could have achieved. In came Spalletti and POOF(!) the team are now on an unbeaten run at the start of the 2021-22 season, winning seven from seven. After Inter Milan broke Juventus’ long-standing record last season, the Napoli faithful will now be hoping Serie A might be theirs for the taking this year. Here is a tactical analysis of Luciano Spalletti’s new-look Napoli.
Much of the discussion surrounding Manchester United at the moment revolves around one central tenet – the fact that they still have Fred & McTominay playing in midfield – rather than superman and wonder woman. It is true that United strengthened in several areas that they did not necessarily need to over the course of a busy summer window. It is also true that they neglected to strengthen the widest, gaping whole in their entire team. But Fred & McTominay have become scapegoats for the fragility of a fairly flimsy team that almost certainly would be worse off without them.