On the seventh day of World Cup, South Africa gave to me: Maradona’s subtle change to a Diamond 4-4-2.
In Argentina’s opening game, they opted for a 4-3-3 / 4-2-4 in their absorbing one-nil win over Nigeria. They had a striking midfield consisting of Juan Sebastián Verón and Javier Mascherano, who managed to control possession and control the match. Against South Korea however Verón had a calf injury and instead of replacing the tempo setting Verón with another central midfielder like Javier Pastore or Mario Bolatti but replaced with Liverpool winger Maxi Rodríguez.
These changes produced a change of shape, Maradona opted for a diamond 4-4-2. It was not a narrow diamond which was used sometimes by Mourinho at Chelsea, but a wide diamond with Maxi Rodríguez on the right.
This was demonstrated after looking at their average positions, it is clear to see the diamond consisting of Mascherano sitting deep, Di Maria wide on the left, Rodriguez on the right and Lionel Messi behind the two strikers.
This was an interesting development as one would expect Argentina to struggle to keep possession with only Mascherano battling in the midfield, but he did a wonderful job at laying off the ball wide quickly and keeping possession.
It was all worthy of note that Mascherano also attempted to win the ball high-up on the pitch and also supported attacks by sitting back and spreading the ball wide if an area of the pitch was covered by South Korea.
Javier Mascherano effectively controlled the midfield on his own and had a underrated performance, but it was the most important position on the pitch given Maradona’s system. His defensive responsibilities required him to be mobile enough to cover for players who were out of position (usually Jonás Gutiérrez) whilst being available to move to the left flank to cover for the forward pushing Angel Di Maria.
The problem that Mascherano sometimes found himself with is when Korea had the ball in the centre and in Argentina’s half. With Messi playing all over the pitch, he was sometimes out of position and was not able to close down and rush the Korean players.
This left Mascherano a predicament, he could either sit in-front of the back four and anchor the midfield or he could close the Korean player with the ball. He often opted for the latter which created problems for the Argentinean defence.
By being the only central midfielder, by coming out and closing down he leaves a huge space between himself and the defence, allowing forwards or midfielders to move into that space. Time and time again, this space is very dangerous to allow players time on the ball and creates space behind the defence.
Korea had positions like this many times in the match and were not able to exploit the space left by Mascherno’s closing down. With two central midfielders, a team are able to close down the person with the ball and the space left by the player closing down, making it hard to build moves in the centre of the pitch. With just Mascherano holding the central midfield area, better teams than Korea will be able to play to Argentina’s weakness and really benefit from the deficiencies in the diamond 4-4-2 system, which is why I expect Argentina to move back to the 4-3-3 system displayed in their first game of the World Cup.