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Brazilian Yin and Spanish Yang

06/10/10

Permalink 10:56:28 am, by amilnal
Categories: Sports, Commentary

Brazilian Yin and Spanish Yang

What can we expect in terms of tactics from this World Cup? In 2006 we saw a lot of 4-5-1's and 4-4-2's. How much scoring will we see? Will we see more defensive-counterattacking yin or more attack-mined yang? Let's take a look at tactics in regards to formations and style of play. Please keep in mind, these groupings are on my best guess what each manager will use. This is what we'll see.

We'll group formations into three categories: "More-Offensive", "More-Defensive", or "More-Balanced". "More-Offensive" formations include three 4-3-3's (including Portugal and both Greece and Denmark who are not exactly attack-minded), one 3-5-2 (Uruguay), and one 3-3-1-2 (Chile). These formations are termed "More-Offensive" because they allow more players to get forward. It doesn't look like many teams are taking chances with more offensive-minded formations. That's just five out of thirty-two.

"More-Defensive" formations include seven 4-2-3-1's (Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Holland), one 5-2-3 (New Zealand), and one 5-3-1-1 (North Korea). These formations are considered defensive in nature because six of the players are in more defensive-oriented roles. Some of these 4-2-3-1's may be more flexible 4-5-1's that allow quicker counterattacks. And, although 4-2-3-1 provides more cover with the option of two defensive/holding midfielders, Mexico, Holland, and Germany will probably have a more offensive-minded or at least balanced style of play. New Zealand and North Korea will play five at the back out of necessity. Nevertheless, nine out of the thirty-two formations expected to be used are "More-Defensive".

More than half the teams this time around will have what we'll call a "More-Balanced" formation. By this, meaning at least four at the back and where the two central midfielders provide a balance between creative play-making and defensive holding by either having two well-rounded midfielders or dividing-up the creative play-making and defensive holding duties. They include sixteen 4-4-2's (Algeria, Argentina, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, England, France, Honduras, South Korea, Nigeria, Paraguay, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, United States) and two 4-1-3-2's (Ghana & Spain). It makes sense to see a variety of styles of play being deployed by these teams given the flexibility in utilizing a 4-4-2.

What do we see in terms of style of play? We'll group styles of play into three broadly-based categories. Teams that want to initiate offensive either by possession or more attack-minded play we'll call "Offensive-Minded". Teams that like to sit back and absorb what a team throws at them and then hit on the counterattack via the spaced created we'll call "Defensive-Minded". Teams that do a variety of both we'll call "Balanced".

If we break things down this way, we see things similar to the formations, although they don't match-up exactly. We have eighteen "Balanced" styles of play (Algeria, Argentina, Cameroon, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, South Korea, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, United States, & Uruguay), eleven "Defensive-Minded" styles of play (Australia, Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Japan, North Korea, New Zealand, Paraguay, & Switzerland) and three "Offensive-Minded" styles of play (Chile, Mexico, & Spain). Again, we see lots of balance, some defensive-minded teams, and little offensive focus.

So what does all this mean in terms of scoring in the World Cup? Mourinho's Intermilan beat Barcelona 3-1 in their first leg of the Champions League Semi-final using a very defensive counterattacking style and a defensive 4-3-1-2 formation, so being more defensive and counterattack-focused may not necessarily mean less goals.

The majority of teams have balanced formations and styles of play. Like vs. like often means fewer points of weakness and fewer spaces to exploit on the field. So if we are judging by formations and styles of play alone we'll probably see a little less scoring than hoped for. But, that will be alright because a final of Brazil and Spain would create a lot of potential for scoring and drama between Brazil's defensive counterattacking yin and Spain's possession-based attacking yang.

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