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On the third day of World Cup, South Africa gave to me: 4-2-3-1 prevails

June 14, 2010

So, the referees got that bored that they felt sending three people in all three games was the way to get our hearts-racing. In fact, OptaJoe stated that yesterday was a World Cup first for red cards in each game on one day. However, that was not the only thing that got my heart racing.

Yesterday’s results came down the success of a 4-2-3-1 against a 4-4-2, which I have spoken about here in this post. I don’t mind ending up with egg on my face after predicting Serbia to great things when a 4-2-3-1 trounces a 4-4-2.

Serbia’s superb rendition of Sam Allardyce leaves them bereft of ideas

Serbia were overran by Ghana’s five-man midfield and the immobile pairing of Stanković and Milijaš struggled to get a grip of the game whilst Krasić, the player whose Serbia success depends on, was disappointing. With the threat of Krasić being negated by Ghana, Serbia’s defence then decided to read from the Sam Allardyce School of Football’s ‘best-bits’ and started lumping it up to the forwards for them to chase. Their long-balls were ill-thought and not measured and was easy for Ghana to defend against.

Ghana’s midfield advantage

What emerged from this game was the success of a five-man midfield against Serbia’s unconventional 4-4-2. Jovanović was positioned high up the pitch and didn’t make up numbers in midfield, leaving three in midfield, as Krasić, as predicted here, often cut inside to help with defending. Nevertheless, Ghana with their five man midfield were easily capable of cutting out passes and close down the slow Milijaš and Stanković. As well as this, Ghana’s passing was incisive and a good mix between the short-passing in triangles to by-pass the two Serbian defensive midfielders, as well as direct passing for Gyan to chase and exploit the lack of pace shown time and time again by Vidić was successful.

Here is the basic shape of the two corresponding midfields. It was easy for the Ghanain midfield to dominate in these areas as Jovanović (brown) was reluctant to get back and close down the ball-carrier. Krasić closed down well but in the end, it was pointless as Ghana could move the ball around with ease, especially when Gyan (red) dropped deep and neither Vidić or Luković were interested in following his run, giving another option for Ghana’s midfield.

Ghana's flexible midfield

Ghana’s system was a lot more flexible than Serbia’s which helped adapt the team to midfield battles. For example, as shown above, Gyan (red) could drop deeper, Asamoah (cyan middle left) move forward and Boateng drop deeper. With Serbia however, they were very rigid in their system, they looked to stick to their direct game for pretty much the whole match until Lazovic came on for Žigić, where they were able to keep possession better as the midfield was more equal with numbers.

Australia: slow, sluggish and out-done by a superb rendition of the ‘doble pivot’.

Germany against Australia provided viewers with the most entertaining match of the tournament so far with Germany coming out deserved 4-0 winners. Strangely but not surprising, Podolski and Klose, players who only scored five goals between them in the Bundesliga this season played superbly with both getting a goal. Zonal Marking provided a fantastic report on why Australia failed and he was completely correct in his conclusions.

What I want to state however is that Germany’s interpretation of the ‘doble pivot’ system was outstanding. Khedira and Schweinsteiger were particularly adept at understanding their position and role on the pitch. When one of the players move forward with the play, there was no time in the match that the other did not drop back. They are both technically sound and have a great composure on the ball and allow Germany to keep passing the ball short and sharply. As shown in this article here, the 4-2-3-1 system is beneficial for teams who look to dominate possession and look for short, sharp passing.

By out-numbering Australia in midfield, Germany were able play short passes to the spare midfielder. If Klose came short, the lumbering Craig Moore or Lucas Neill followed him. This created acres of space behind that for any of the young German team to run into.

Here, both Özil and Klose come deep and get followed by an Australian central midfielder and Craig Moore. Khedira is now the spare man and aims for the huge space left by Craig Moore. The left-back (off-screen) notices Khedira running into the space and goes and covers (1.) but this leaves Müller free to run into space left by the fleeing left-back (2).

It was this intelligent movement and willingness to get forward by Khedira and Schweinsteiger that led to there being opportunities for Podolski and Müller to run from outside inwards and exploit the full-backs constantly trying to tuck-in to pick up the extra man.

For Müller’s and Germany’s third goal, throughout the whole game, Australia’s two centre-backs were reluctant to come out of position and close down the player in the hole (for his goal, this is Müller) because of their high-line and lack of pace to recover if a ball is made through the defence. They are looking for the central midfield to drop back and restrict the space available. However, with them looking to restrict the space in midfield, they often came out of their position and left space behind them. It’s clever movement by Schweinsteiger who runs taking a central midfielder with him to create space for Podolski to run into. Klose aims to run left, creating space for Müller and Podolski to run into, creating a three on two situation.


Admittedly, this is not a clear chance for Germany as the midfield and full-backs are all chasing back and it’s only through a nice touch by Müller that creates a goal-scoring opportunity as the left full-back falls, reminiscent of a wedding day dance blooper of the drunk best-man running onto a slippy dance floor and falling with a thud. However, it’s the small movement from Schweinsteiger that really creates the goal-scoring opportunity, which indicates the great understanding the two central midfielders have of the system Germany operates.

So, on Day 3, there were no huge surprises given the tactical systems showcased in these two matches. What it does show is that the 4-2-3-1 system has a significant advantage over a 4-4-2, a trend that will surely be evident throughout the World Cup.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. sandy permalink
    June 14, 2010 11:41 pm

    You weren’t the only one who had predicted big things for Serbia! The likes of Jonathan Wilson also anticipated a deep run in the tournament for them. Ghana looked strong especially in that second half but I still wonder where there goals will come from. Asamoah Gyan is anything but prolific which a shame given how talented their playmaker Kwado Asamoah is.

    • June 15, 2010 12:44 pm

      Yeah, I saw that J. Wilson predicted big things for them. From all the matches I’ve seen, they rely so heavily on Krasic to create something that they’re completely useless when he was played out of the game.

      Ghana were impressive in midfield but I agree about Gyan up-front, and I couldn’t see Tagoe scoring, he was very ungainly with the ball which was entertaining.

      I thought Annan was pretty impressive, he wasn’t strong or anything but he distributed the ball very well I thought.

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