I would like to talk about a tactical formation with the following characteristics:
- Prioritises possession to control the game
- Pass and move style including lots of movement off the ball
- Played without an attacker constantly remaining in depth
- Requires versatile players who are comfortable in all parts of the pitch
- Suited to intelligent players who can read the game and have exceptional passing abilities
- Is often associated with high pressing to regain possession
- Used by the Spanish national team to win a major championship
If you guessed the formation is the striker-less 4-6-0 this site is named after, I’m afraid your assumption would be incorrect. In fact, you wouldn’t even have the correct sport. These are the characteristics of the 4-0 formation used in futsal, the indoor 5-a-side game created in South America. Both systems are, however, based on the same principles and I aim to explain how they work.
In the 1980s a Brazilian known as Zego was coaching a middling team in the Spanish futsal league. He knew that to increase his chances of winning against the stronger teams his team had to dominate possession.
He decided to adapt the most popular attacking system of 3-1 which included a pivot (striker in football) to 4-0. By abandoning the use of a pivot, his team would gain a numerical advantage in deeper areas, which would allow him to achieve his objective.
In 4-0 the players are positioned in a line across the field in an arch formation with the wingers slightly higher than the two central players.
In football’s 4-6-0, you can draw parallel with Barcelona when Messi drops into the midfield, where Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, and Gerard Pique have already helped to create a substantial numerical mismatch for the opposing side.
Crucial to this setup are rotation of positions and rapid circulation of the ball with short passes. Players without the ball have the almost constant aim of opening a passing line for the player in possession, making sure he doesn’t only have one option.
These two systems have the following advantages:
- They will create space either behind the defence or between the lines. By overloading the middle of the pitch the opposition are left with a decision. Do the defenders playing against no attackers move forward to help their outnumbered midfield? This will leave less cover and create space in behind the defence that can be taken advantage of with through balls met by deep penetrating runs by quick players. In football Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Messi provide these passes for Pedro, Alexis, Villa and… Messi! Alternatively, the last line of defence can remain deeper but this allows space in between the lines behind the midfield for players to receive and turn.
- Secondly, the continuous movement of ball and players complicates the task of defending. The defence is forced to constantly shift and track the attackers’ movements, whether physically or visually. This makes it difficult to assign marking responsibilities, position themselves to provide cover or create defensive two-against-ones as well as requiring a huge physical effort.
As with any system it has its weaknesses.
With all the players in a narrow band there is no defensive cover which means if the ball is lost they are vulnerable to a quick transition. This is why these systems are often associated with pressing. To prevent the counter attack, it is important that the nearest player to the ball presses immediately to stop the opponent getting their head up to assess vulnerable areas.
In futsal this type of system is not used against defences that defend zonally near the goal. Barca and Spain have been criticised for not having a ‘Plan B’ against these types of compact ‘park the bus’ defences. Without the spaces to exploit, the system can be monotonous as there is possession without penetration.
These systems will not work with any random group of players. Their attributes must include the ability to think quickly, be comfortable in tight spaces and have precise passing to retain possession and play through balls. It requires quick players who can make deep penetrating runs behind the defence to meet these passes. It needs complete players as they can find themselves in any position.
Finally it needs harmony and co-ordination between the players. Other teams have found it difficult to imitate Barcelona and Spain as they have a wealth of these intelligent technical players, many of whom grew up together using a similar style of play in La Masia.
I would like to finish this post by recommending you watch the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup which starts on November 1st (Matches shown on Eurosport in UK). You will see that many aspects of futsal are becoming increasingly popular with modern football.
These include; possession football, playing between the lines, rotations of positions, high pressing, similar techniques with the ball (sole of the foot control, toe punt shots, scoops when in on goal) and using the goalkeeper as a sweeper in attack and defence. Not surprisingly many of the world’s best players grew up playing futsal.