Tactics Talk: Are we seeing a return to 4-4-2?

Particularly in England, children and amateur footballers have generally been brought up on the 4-4-2 system. However, at the more elite levels of the game, in recent years, critics have deemed it too rigid for the modern game. With more emphasis on defensive organisation, many times have ditched a two-pronged attack in favour of a holding midfielder in a compact midfield to dominate possession and stifle opposition offence.

While Chelsea, under Jose Mourinho, were among the first in England to pioneer the 4-3-3 system, they have also flirted with the modern interpretation of the 4-4-2. Both Mourinho and current Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti have used a diamond system, combining a compact midfield with a partnership in attack, with the addition of a playmaker between the two. This was particularly favoured by Mourinho in 2006, as Chelsea attempted to retain the title they had won a year earlier. As Chelsea’s form dipped, their early-season form had acted as a parachute as they fended off the late charge of Manchester United. In an attempt to see out the final games, Mourinho opted for experience, with Eidur Gudjohnsen playing in midfield, alongside the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele. Mourinho also sought to ease the reassure on his lone striker, by pairing Hernan Crespo with Didier Drogba, as Chelsea sealed the title with a final-game victory over Manchester United.

In recent weeks, the 4-4-2 has returned to the Premier League in its more traditional form, as Manchester United have used the system, often to accommodate Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov or Javier Hernandez. Chelsea have also used the formation as Ancelotti attempts to choose his best pairing out of Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and January signing Fernando Torres, in a method which has seen Chelsea climb back up the table after a mid-season slump. The most recent switch to this system came on Sunday, as Manchester City were victorious against Sunderland at Eastlands.

City manager Roberto Mancini ditched his much-criticised system of two holding midfielders, with a further three midfielders supporting lone striker and top scorer, Carlos Tevez. The Italian tactician opted for De Jong playing higher up alongside Yaya Toure, as City’s four-man midfield provided an intense attacking threat, as City ran out 5-0 winners, with the goals coming from five different scorers, from a City side which has seen Tevez has provide over a third of their league goals this season. Both wingers, Adam Johnson and David Silva chipped in with goals, as did midfielders Toure and Patrick Vieira, the veteran Frenchman on as a second-half substitute.

As City changed their system to return to third place, they became the latest side to return to a more classic system. At a time in the season where tired legs and poor form can cost teams dearly, Mancini is not the first manager to go back to the systems his more experienced players would have grown up on, and with City’s last performance, it could well become a more regular feature of Mancini’s City side.

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