Teams to rely on tried and tested methods

Mario Goetze is expected to play as a false No.9 for Germany-AP

The World Cup in Brazil — although major tournaments seem to produce surprises invariably — is hardly expected to cause a significant rupture in the evolution of tactics. But, arguably, there’s greater room for a team to spring a tactical surprise in a marquee competition, writes Priyansh.

During a lecture in Belgrade in 2007, Roberto Mancini announced — with much confidence — that future advancements in football will be witnessed in the physical preparation of players and not in tactics. In times of lesser secrecy about the way teams approach matches, thanks to technology, there was certainly some merit to his argument. Moreover, this awareness has ensured that no major tactical revolution is set to occur anytime soon.

The World Cup in Brazil — although major tournaments seem to produce surprises invariably — is hardly expected to cause a significant rupture in the evolution of tactics. But, arguably, there’s greater room for a team to spring a tactical surprise in a marquee competition.

Remember Greece at the 2004 EURO? Otto Rehhagel’s side was the only team to not employ a zonal-marking four-man defence. Indeed, Greece’s use of three man-markers and a libero at the back asked questions that hadn’t been encountered by opposing teams in recent times. As former Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh noted, “Rehhagel won because he posed a problem people had forgotten how to solve. Greece controlled matches without having control of the ball. Otto’s view was: ‘why should he try a watered-down version of somebody else’s system?’”

Indeed, many sides will face a similar dilemma in Brazil. And it’s not just the teams perceived to be weak. A tough group and lack of defensive quality has forced Louis van Gaal to switch to a 3-5-2 system for the Netherlands. The additional centre-back would provide greater security against dynamic oppositions like Spain and Chile.

But, like many have argued before, a three-man central defence can be rendered redundant by sides that field a single striker. Unless one of the three defenders can step forward to become an auxiliary midfielder when the side is in possession, the manager may end up wasting one of his players.

This could prove to be a problem for the Dutch against Spain, if the latter once again fields Cesc Fabregas as its lone striker. Diego Costa’s inclusion will provide a different threat, but it still remains to be seen how van Gaal will ensure all three defenders remain relevant. In the past, Costa’s influence has been negated by sides that sit deep and plug the channels.

In fact, the Dutch could find themselves under greater scrutiny when they face Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile. The Argentine’s 3-4-1-2 system is the closest to Marcelo Bielsa’s conception of football, a high-pressing style, which was much appreciated during the previous World Cup. Indeed, Sampaoli is a self-professed disciple of Bielsa and encourages his back three to press as forward as possible.

The front three of Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Jorge Valdivia often indulges in fluid interchanging of positions, a nightmare for any opposition manager.

Mexico will also employ the same system as the Dutch, but the presence of Rafael Marquez should mean that the formation may vary from 3-3-2-2 to 4-2-2-2. But of course, the system most likely to be on view in Brazil will be the 4-2-3-1 or a minor variation of the formation. Brazil, Spain and Germany will start most games with this setup, but their understanding of the system differs considerably.

While Spain is yet to reveal who’ll lead its attack, Germany is almost certain to play Mario Gotze as its number nine. As Gotze will not function as a pure striker, the presence of Thomas Muller on the flank should aid the goal push. In addition to worries of not playing a specialist striker, Germany is yet to convince many that this awe-inspiring offence can keep the side defensively stable.

In fact, among all the European nations that topped their qualifying groups, Joachim Loew’s side conceded the most goals. Hence, it remains to be seen to what extent will Muller and Marco Reus protect the full-backs.

Brazil, contrastingly, will play a specialist striker in Fred, albeit he is not known to score many goals. In fact, the Fluminense forward is expected to play the role of a defensive striker, who can bring the wide players Neymar and Hulk into play.

Teams like France and Argentina had also played the 4-2-3-1 formation extensively in the past but have shifted to a 4-3-3 now. The latter’s interpretation of the system is interesting as the shuttling winger Angel Di Maria is employed in central midfield. When in possession, the Real Madrid player will aid the offense by running in the wide areas.

Argentina will derive crucial potency from Di Maria’s ability, considering it already boasts a three-man attack of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain. But the side’s defence is a major worry, thanks to the use of centre-back Marcos Rojo on the left and the presence of Federico Fernandez in the centre.