Archives for posts with tag: 4-4-2

Transfer windows, I generally find, are pretty tiresome affairs. Their infuriating combination of semi-informed conjecture and outlandish rumour is enough to get under the skin of even the most placid of observers, a situation that isn’t helped by Sky Sports News cranking up the hype up to levels one might have associated with the Second Coming. There has, however, been one transfer in particular that has caught the eye this January, that being Ivan Rakitic’s move from Schalke 04 to Sevilla. Read the rest of this entry »

On the face of it the current Newcastle United squad are an assortment of rogues, misfits and rapscallions, a group of players that were brought together in adversity and charged with reviving the fortunes of one of English football’s fallen giants. Read the rest of this entry »

“Football is like an aeroplane. As velocities increase, so does air resistance, and so you need to make the head more streamlined.” – Viktor Maslov

Viktor Maslov’s is a name that has been somewhat lost amidst the sands of time, his influence often attributed to those who came after him and his significance diluted by the chronic myopia that seems to affect a disconcertingly large number of contemporary football historians. This amiable Russian, however, can legitimately lay claim to what is arguably the most influential legacy that any football coach has ever imparted through their body of work. Maslov was, as I will hopefully come to make clear, one of the true patriarchs of what we now recognise as the ‘modern game’.

Born in Moscow in 1910, Maslov was surrounded by the darkness of war and the electricity of revolutionary fervour during the early years of his life, eventually overcoming the societal maelstrom to embark on his footballing career with RDPK Moscow in 1930. A year later he joined one of the Russian capital’s newest clubs, Torpedo, and it was to be with the ZiL-owned team that Maslov made his name as a player, by all accounts an unspectacular but efficient midfield player with a good eye for a pass. Maslov stayed at Torpedo until 1942, captaining the side between 1936 and 1939, before eventually calling time on his playing career at the age of 32 in 1942.

Maslov wasted no time in fulfilling his desire to become a coach, taking over as Torpedo boss immediately after he finished playing and had four short spells in charge – periods which yielded one Soviet league title in 1960 – before eventually departing for Rostov-na-Donu in 1962. A single season in Rostov brought little and, tempted by the offer of the top job with Dynamo Kiev, Maslov left for Ukraine in 1964.

Before his time with Kiev, Maslov had been thought of as a reasonable if unspectacular coach who had achieved modest results with a strong Torpedo squad. During the six years he spent at Dynamo, however, his footballing philosophy and technical ability as a coach came to the fore as he forged ahead with the revolutionary implementation of many of the tactics which have come to be such a staple of modern football.

The early 1960s represented the peak in popularity of the 4-2-4 formation, Russian clubs having adopted the system in their droves following the USSR’s success with it at the inaugural European Championships in 1960. Maslov, however, had studied the Brazilian 4-2-4 at the 1958 World Cup and had recognised the importance of bringing one of the forwards back to create a three-man midfield when required.

The Russian took the idea one stage further, dropping both of his wingers back to create a midfield quartet and, by design, the 4-4-2 formation. Sir Alf Ramsey’s England of 1966 may often be credited as the pioneers of 4-4-2, but in reality Viktor Maslov had reached the same strategic conclusion several years earlier.

Using the 4-4-2 to devastating effect, Maslov’s Dynamo side dominated Soviet football during the late sixties as they stormed to the 1966, 67 and 68 Soviet titles as well as the 1966 Soviet Cup. Maslov, almost single-handedly, had shifted the balance of power in Soviet football from Moscow to Kiev, success almost literally following his physical passage across the vastness of the USSR.

Famed for the collective ethos encouraged by Maslov (Dynamo became known for their communal discussion of tactical ideas, both players and staff together), the Ukrainian team continued to generate advances in strategic thinking and are believed to be the first team to regularly implement zonal marking and pressing in their defensive play. Indeed, as Maslov once said, “Man-marking humiliates, insults and even morally oppresses the players who resort to it.” His philosophy was patently clear.

With an increasing emphasis on total organisation in all areas of the field, the hallmark of Maslov’s Dynamo became the team’s ability to over-man across the pitch, negating opposition movement with the brilliance of their positioning and the aggressiveness of their pressing. As Jonathan Wilson writes, “Their (Dynamo’s) midfield was hunting in packs, closing down opponents and seizing the initiative in previously unexpected areas of the pitch.”

Romantics may blame Maslov for bringing about the end of the era of true attacking flair by abolishing the traditional winger and dramatically decreasing the amount of space available to opposition forwards, but the developments the Russian brought about worked brilliantly for Dynamo and have emphatically stood the test of time.

Yet Maslov’s innovations were not limited simply to on-field strategy, the masterful coach was also a pioneer in the field of sports nutrition and conditioning. Dynamo were noted for their superior levels of fitness under his management and, obsessive about even the smallest of details, Maslov introduced strict dietary plans to maximise the physical potential of his squad. His methods may have been rigorous and at times strenuous for the players, but they were undoubtedly effective and paved the way for both modern tactical thinking and the detailed sports science that we see today.

Having enjoyed a golden six years in Kiev, Maslov returned to Moscow in 1973 for one last spell with Torpedo. Going back with a reputation far more glittering than that with which he had left, great things were expected of Maslov back in his home town but he failed to turn Torpedo into a team capable of challenging for the title. Like so many other great managers before and since, it seemed like Maslov’s creative energies had been sapped after leaving Kiev, the revered coach unable to rouse himself to enter wholeheartedly into a new project. His next job, with FC Ararat Yerevan in what is modern-day Armenia, was to be his last, the great man retiring in 1975.

Maslov died just two years after his retirement in 1977 at the age of 67, leaving behind one of football’s most significant legacies. He may not be as well known as he ought to be outside of Eastern Europe, but the man known simply as ‘Grandpa’ by many of his players shaped the direction of modern football in a most distinct and decisive way. Viktor Maslov was not only a great manager, but the founding father of modern tactical thinking.

“A jockey doesn’t have to have been born a horse.” (Arrigo Sacchi)

His time coaching at the very highest level may have been, in comparison with a number of the other managers in this series, relatively short, but Arrigo Sacchi’s impact on the modern European game was absolutely phenomenal.

A man with virtually no formal experience as a player, Sacchi broke down barriers of snobbery and crashed through countless glass ceilings in the late eighties and early nineties to become arguably the most influential coach of his generation.

Never a professional footballer, Sacchi famously held a job as a shoe salesman before embarking on his managerial career. Frustrated at his inability with the ball at his feet, Sacchi became fixated with the notion of becoming a coach and, in 1972, took charge of Baracco Luco, his local club, at the age of just twenty-six.

Despite encountering initial problems of acceptance amongst players that were both older and far more skilled than himself, Sacchi eventually won his charges over and, even at that formative stage, was clear about the attractive, attacking passing game he wished to impress on his team.

Like the great Ukrainian coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Sacchi viewed the game as a dynamic system rather than a collection of individuals, seeing every member of the team unit – whether with or without the ball – as equally significant at any given moment.

After leaving his home town club, Sacchi spent some time as a youth coach at Serie B outfit Cesena before taking on his first professional job as a first team manager at Serie C1′s Rimini in 1982.

After guiding his new club to a respectable fourth-place finish in his first season in charge, Sacchi attracted to attentions of top-flight Fiorentina who offered him a role as the head of their academy. This was to prove an invaluable springboard on his journey to the very top of the European game.

His exemplary work at the Florentine Primavera between 1983 and 1985 led to the former shoe salesman being offered his second job as a head coach, this time at Parma, which, at that time, was languishing in Serie C1.

Sacchi’s first major managerial triumph came during the 1985/86 season, his first at Il Tardini, when he inspired i Ducali to the third tier title, pipping Modena to top spot on goal difference and gaining promotion to the dizzying heights of Serie B.

With Parma playing a stylish brand of football to finish seventh in their first season back in the second tier, Sacchi had built himself a growing reputation as one of the most talented young coaches in Italy.

His meteoric rise was confirmed in the 1986/87 Coppa Italia as Parma overcame the mighty AC Milan in the group phase of the competition, winning 1-0 at San Siro before knocking the Rossoneri out in the Second Round with a goal from Mario Bortolazzi.

Parma’s achievements were enough to attract interest from Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan President, who, seeing his club gradually slide into decline, offered Sacchi the San Siro hot-seat after Fabio Capello had stepped aside in a desperate attempt to revive his club’s fading fortunes. Sacchi accepted, and it was in Milan that he would make his name as one of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen.


“Great clubs have had one thing in common throughout history, regardless of era or tactics. They owned the pitch and they owned the ball. That means when you have the ball, you dictate play and when you are defending, you control the space.” (Arrigo Sacchi)

After facing a barrage of media criticism regarding his lack of pedigree upon his arrival at Milan, Sacchi let his coaching do the talking and quickly constructed one of the best club sides to have ever graced Italian football, his personal pursuit of perfection driving his team on to exceptional levels of performance.

Sacchi’s Milan were built around the trio of Dutch players – Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard – that he brought in between the summer of 1987 and the conclusion of the 87/88 campaign.

That season had seen the San Siro outfit march to their first Scudetto since 1979, beating Diego Maradona’s Napoli to the title by three points and deploying a 4-4-2 system which combined pace and dynamism with a rare grace and intelligence.

According to Sacchi himself, the key to Milan’s success was the abandonment of man-marking and its replacement with a focus on pressing and a refined system of zonal marking. In the manager’s own words, “My zone was different. Marking was passed from player to player as the attacking player moved through different zones”. Both defensive and attacking movement of the precision Milan achieved under Sacchi had never been seen before – that generation of Rossoneri were tactical revolutionaries.

As Jonathan Wilson has pointed out, despite many of the innovations that Sacchi’s team have come to be associated with being of a defensive nature (staunch pressing and an aggressive offside trap to name just two), the team itself were far from being negative. “I always demanded, when we had possession, five ahead of the ball and that there would always be a man wide right and wide left”, Sacchi has said about his methods.

Everything Milan did was as a unit, movement was a collective exercise. On the training ground Sacchi was famed for putting the players into position without the ball and drilling them endlessly in the science of exactly where they should be on the field in any given situation. The team moved as one, and they did it better than everybody else.

Milan's 4-4-2 in their 1989 semi-final against Real Madrid

Despite not winning the title again during his time at San Siro, Sacchi enjoyed his greatest successes in Europe. Milan brushed aside all who stood in their way during their march to the 1989 European Cup, Real Madrid being annihilated 6-1 on aggregate in the last four before Steaua Bucharest were demolished 4-0 in the Final with a brace each from van Basten and Gullit.

According to Sacchi, it was the closest he ever got to perfection and, along with Barcelona’s triumph in 2008/09, Sacchi’s Milan stand as one of the most inexorable continental forces there have ever been.

The following season, 1989/90, saw Milan retain their title in impressive fashion; Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Benfica being overcome on the way to a second domination of Europe. It was to be Sacchi’s last title with Milan, the man from Fusignano leaving the club in 1991 to take charge of the Italian national side.


Sacchi never quite attained the heights he had with Milan again in his career, but his time with Italy was fruitful enough. Failure to qualify for Euro 1992 was, seeing as he came in half-way through the campaign, not entirely Sacchi’s fault, and the way in which he resurrected the country’s fortunes was spectacular.

Two years later, having qualified for the tournament with relative ease, the Azzurri reached the 1994 World Cup Final having kicked into gear in the quarter-finals after a sluggish start to the competition. Indeed, had it not been for some erratic penalty taking against Brazil in the Pasadena Rose Bowl, Sacchi could have added the greatest title of them all to his collection but, as it was, Italy were consigned to a painful defeat at the hands of Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side.

Having quit his post after a disappointing group stage exit from Euro ’96, Sacchi returned to Milan for a single season in 1996/97 but, shorn of the majority of the players who he had worked with previously, was unable to recreate the success he had enjoyed during the late eighties.

Brief spells at Atletico Madrid and Parma followed, Los Colchoneros claiming the 1999 Copa del Rey under his stewardship, but, by the end of the century, Sacchi’s time in management had reached a natural conclusion.

The latter part of his career may have been marked by a failure to return to the near-impossibly high standards he had set for himself at San Siro, but Arrigo Sacchi will be remembered, quite rightly, as one of the finest tacticians of the age and the man who re-invented pressing and zonal marking for the modern game.

Villarreal may be a club beset by crippling financial troubles, but El Submarino Amarillo proved yesterday evening that they remain a competitive force on the field as they recorded a 4-0 win over Espanyol at El Madrigal.

One of La Liga’s most consistent over-achievers, Villarreal finished seventh last season having played their best football when using a 4-3-3 shape with Giuseppe Rossi, Nilmar and Joseba Llorente forming a potent attacking triumvirate.

However, with Llorente departing for Real Sociedad this summer, coach Juan Carlos Garrido was forced to re-think his team’s tactical approach and, on the evidence of yesterday’s performance, is approaching something resembling a balanced side.

Villarreal's 4-4-2

Having suffered an opening day defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad using a 4-2-3-1 shape, Garrido opted for a 4-4-2 against Espanyol as Nilmar was brought into the starting as a strike partner for Rossi – Cani being the player to miss out on selection.

Of the central midfield players Marcos Senna was predictably the deeper of the two, playing something approaching a holding role as Bruno adopted box-to-box duties.

Although Garrido’s team had a healthy balance about it, Villarreal started slowly and were fortunate not to concede early on as Pablo Osvaldo, Espanyol’s intelligent lone striker in their 4-2-3-1, tested Diego Lopez on several occasions. Once Nilmar had give the home side the lead against the run of play, however, Villarreal were able to assert themselves on the game and began to set its tempo.

As well as pressing from the front to good effect Garrido’s side played with an intense physicality one might not expect from what is a relatively small team, preventing Espanyol from establishing much in the way of a rhythm after taking the lead.

An injury to Osvaldo compounded the visitors’ problems and, by the time the mid-way break came around, looked thoroughly frustrated at the apparent futility of their efforts.

One of the key features behind the success of Villarreal’s play was the willingness of Rossi and Nilmar to peel out wide and link up with Santi Cazorla and Borja Valero on the flanks. This diversity of movement drew the Espanyol back four out of position and created space which was exploited to good effect , something which was particularly central to Rossi’s opening goal.

As soon as Villarreal had extended their lead through Valero, Espanyol were forced to throw more bodies forward in attack, an approach which saw their two defensive midfielders – Aldo Duscher and Javi Marquez – push higher up the field and leave acres of space between themselves and the defence.

As the game opened up the home side were able to finish the game as a contest with fifteen minutes still to play. Revelling in the space between Espanyol’s defence and midfield as well as getting in behind an increasingly offensive pair of fullbacks, substitutes Cani and Jefferson Montero combined excellently down the left side, eventually crossing for an unmarked Nilmar to tap home.

4-0 was not a wholly fair reflection on the level of Espanyol’s performance which, at times, was very impressive. However, the visitors allowed themselves to get frustrated by Villarreal’s physicality in defence while leaving space to be unlocked by El Submarino Amarillo‘s talented attacking unit.

The reputation of 4-4-2 may – justifiably in some cases – taken a battering of late, but Garrido last night showed how dynamic a system it can be with a few minor tweaks to a team’s game-plan.

Villarreal looked both compact and balanced yesterday and, with a potent blend of steel and skill, should be aiming for another European qualification this season.


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