In a soccer or football game, there are eleven players to a side. However if one reads any articles on the web or newspaper and hear or watch a review and match, there is always a formation mentioned for each match. What is a formation then, you may ask yourself?Basically it can be defined as a tactical system by which the team is organized and plays by for a match. Formation can be changed anytime during a match. Reasons for these changes could be due to injuries to players, tactical changes by the opposition, to protect a score or even to chase a game. Therefore it is not surprise to see several formative changes to it during the course of the match.
An important note in any formation, the only unchangeable aspect is the goalkeeper. Regardless of whatever formations obtained by a team, there must be a goalkeeper in the game. And he is the only legally allowed player in a match that can use his hands to collect, save or touch the ball in the six yards or penalty box. Hence he would be wearing gloves and a different color jersey from his team mates. This is another reason why all formations seen to be based on 10 outfield players since the goalkeeper is a compulsory player. Therefore formations can read 4-4-2, 5-4-1, 5-3-2 and 3-43 without mentioning the goalkeeper.
Since there are many formations, this article would focus on the current basis for formation for most teams which is a 4-4-2. In layman terms, it means that other than one goalkeeper, there are four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers. Here is a bit more complex as even in a 4-4-2, there can be attacking or defending methods or styles to it. To have a clearer picture, the 4-4-2 would have to be broken further.
In defense, there are usually four defenders which mean that there would be a left back (or left wing back / defender on the wing), two centre backs (central defenders) and a right back (or right wing back / defender on the right wing). In attack or possession of the ball usually or frequently, the left and right back would push up and join the attack while the two centre backs hang back to defend. While in a corner situation, the reverse happens, the two centre backs (chosen for their heights) would join in the opposition penalty box while the left and right back hang back in case of a counter attack.
In a defense situation, all four of them would form a line in front of the goalkeeper as the basis for the offside rule. Interestingly to note the depth of defensive line played would indicate how offensive the team would play; a higher line or closer to midfield can be often perceived as going into a more attacking mode. Secondly they would be defending the opposition players in the penalty box when there is an opposition corner.
Next up is to examine the midfield positions in a formation. It is quite similar to the defense where there are four midfielders as to four defenders in a 4-4-2. There are left midfield (or winger), two central midfielders (or defensive or attacking midfielder) and one right midfield (or winger). In a 4-4-2 system, the left and right wingers or midfield players would support the two strikers with crosses from their sides respectively. Frequently, they would also link up with the left back and right back to work the flank effectively. However, it must be stated not many wingers are famed for tracking back to defend. Hence there is a huge danger for allowing an opposition counter attack when possession is lost by the winger with the back in front of him.
As for the jobs of the central midfielders, one is usually employed as a holding or defensive midfielder in the modern game. His job is to protect the back four, break up the opposition attacks and win back the ball. In some sense, he is to be the enforcer or school yard bully. The other midfielder is usually employed in a more attacking sense to link up play between the defense, midfield and attack. The top midfielders in this aspect are sometimes known as playmakers since most of the attacks revolve around them. However they are not that easy to find in the top flights of soccer.
Finally the front line or usual goal poachers can be examined. There are many combinations for the strikers. Usually one frequent pairing is of a fast striker (small man) with a bulky striker (big man). The logic is that the bulky striker would head down, lay up the ball for his team mates or hold up the ball for his team mates to join him. As for the other striker, he would use his pace to get the lay up ball to break the opposition defensive line and find an opportunity to score. Some team may also employ four pacey strikers and wingers to break the opposition line by pace alone. One important thing to note here is that if the front two are of the same wave length, they would be extremely dangerous to the opposition. An example of a small-big approach is the pairing of Michael Owen and Emilie Heskey in the England games verses Israel and Russia recently.
Thus the above is simple explanation of a 4-4-2 formation and some of the roles of players in it.
A parting note is that there are a lot of variations for formations or system nowadays. But hopefully the above can assist the explanation of how a soccer / football formation or system is based or built up on.
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