Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Any value in formations?

Slaven Bilic, Croatia national team manager (and former Premier League player) last week said that he believes formations to be dead, ‘with successful teams essentially being about squeezing space and attacking in numbers’.


I’ve wondered about this myself. If you have a team with players of the quality of say Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney etc. at Manchester United it’s a fair question to ask how important formations are in that scenario. Throughout the English Premier League season just finished United’s tactic seemed to be Attack! Attack! Attack! It’s thrilling to watch, even for a Liverpool supporter.


However, Rio Ferdinand in a recent interview confirmed that there is indeed a bit more to it than that., describing ‘formations as important to us’. I had always assumed that United started 4-4-2 and just let their flair forwards roam pretty much where they wanted, but Ferdinand reveals a more thoughtful approach.


Without going in to too much detail, Ferdinand describes a mobile 4-2-4 formation depending on whether or not they are in possession. However, he also reveals a 4-5-1 formation in some of the tougher away games last season – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. There’s also a different approach again in European competition which is closer to Chelsea’s favoured 4-3-3, with one up front and two wide men.


For me, ultimately it’s about the players. If you don’t have the players who can adapt you end up playing with one formation regardless of the team you’re playing against. That’s the difficulty faced by many of the second tier Premier League sides. The players may have the same skill and fitness levels but they don’t necessarily have the same ability to understand the game in real time and adapt their role and formation according to the coach’s instructions. I really think that that is what Sir Alex is looking for in his players as much as anything else – a good soccer brain and the ability to follow orders.


As far as United are concerned I’m a little disappointed with this information. I had hoped to be able to dismiss Sir Alex’s contribution as buying up all the top talents in world football and sending them out on the pitch with as flea in their ear. And there are many who believe that the real tactical nous in the United set up comes from assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.


But that would be churlish. Ferdinand, and others before him, reveal Ferguson to be a master tactician. Personally, I remember the master stroke he pulled in the 1999 Champions League Final in which he played Ryan Giggs and David Beckham out of position until the last 10 minutes, then switched them around and scored two goals to steal the victory from Bayern Munich.


It will be interesting to watch the impact of formations and tactics in Euro 2008. There is a huge amount of talent on display and some of the finest players and coaches in the world are pitted against each other.


Please feel free to post any tactical observations on this site as the tournament progresses.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching




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