Anatomy of a Goal: 4-2-4 Goodness Edition

It’s been a while, guys.  I apologize for my Thong Boy like work rate over the past few months. Anyways, the Deportivo La Coruna and Club World Cup games have been fascinating from a tactical perspective. Pep employed a few new wrinkles into our usual gameplans that deserved their own post so here it is. Let’s start out in Galicia at one of my favorite Spanish cities: A Coruña.

More after the jump…

Let’s use this brief youtube video for reference. Some of the usual diagrams are also included.

Pause at 1:18– This is when Pedro came in for Henry. Yeah, that’s a 4-2-4. Pep is awesome or nuts or both. Keep in mind that the game is still tied 1-1 and we are on the road. This is usually not considered the best time to introduce a new wrinkle to your tactics but there you go.  We have Pedro and Iniesta as true wingers, Ibra as a 9, Xavi and Busi as advanced double pivots, and Messi playing in the hole between the pivots and the front line as a supporting striker. Like so:


Have we seen this before? Back in the day of the Dutch coaches, we used a somewhat similar 3-3-1-3 inspired by Master of Terror van Gaal’s legendary 1995 Ajax squad that also showed up under Rijkaard. However, that formation was more of a 3-4-3 with a diamond midfield.


The three defenders were much less inclined to advance past the protection of the “bottom prong of the diamond” midfield protector. In other words, providing width was on the shoulders of the wingers who had less support than usual from overlapping fullbacks. Now, why is the general reaction to the phrase “4-2-4” usually something along the line of “that’s nuts!”?  Look at the above diagrams. The 3-4-3 provides much greater midfield solidity. The front and midfield lines are connected, there are passing triangles all over the place, and the defensive midfielder at the foot of the diamond is in good position to provide diagonal cover in the case of a counterattack. In other words, it is a much more cohesive and solid formation. On the other hand, the nature of the 4-2-4 implies that the supply line between the back line and the front line is paper thin: two midfielders. What good do all of those fancy forwards do for you if you can’t get them the ball? By playing a 4-2-4 you risk giving up control of the midfield and the effectiveness of your forwards is reduced if they cannot get supply. Not to mention that you are heavily exposed to counterattacks with nobody to provide diagonal cover for your centerbacks, especially if the fullbacks are upfield. Make no mistake, this is a big risk. Real Madrid tried it against us when Busi was sent off (Kaka, Higuain, Benzema, and Raul up front) and Pep responded by bringing in the Yaya and moving Messi back to midfield. The result was that they lost control of midfield to a team playing with a man less. Again, its a risk.

What we see here in the Pep Version is a variation of this which Pep tweaked to use width to better effect with the trade-off of added exposure to counterattacks.  The key is our fullbacks. The most common “park the bus” defense we see are two highly compacted and disciplined lines of defenders spread across goal. Sometimes its two lines of four whereas other times it is a backline of 5 and a line of four in front. Here’s a simplified example of a basic 8 man bus against our basic 4-3-3:

The more compact those two lines are, the harder the bus is to break. You will have a hard time getting behind such a defense so you try to get between it. Our goal is to open up spaces between the lines; both horizontally and vertically. To that effect we use three primary weapons:

1) Wingers and width. Why Pedro for Henry? Answer: for this type of tactic we need wingers who can de-stabilize through the wings. At that moment, a fresh spritely Pedro could do a better job of that than a tired 32 year old Henry. The two line parked bus has several weaknesses. One is that a concentrated attack through the wings would spread out the entire two lines by forcing defenders to shift towards the wings to cover the wingers and/or fullbacks. This opens up space horizontally through which midfielders can crash the box or throughballs can be filtered in. Also, one on ones can be had if you play your cards right and the key is having offensive players with the capacity to win those matchups on the wings.  This is a very simplified diagram of the general idea behind the concept of width on offense:

Alternatively, a defense could choose to stay compact and instead shift towards the point of attack thus leaving the other wing wide open if you can move the ball to the other side quickly enough  which can result in something like this. Either way, the defense gives something up when you attack through the wings.That is why width is so important on offense and Barca keeps pumping out guys like Pedro, Jeffren, Gai, and, eventually, Gerard Deulofeu from La Masia. It’s also why you will see Pep constantly motioning his hands outwards: “spread the damn field!”

2) Movement by Strikers to Separate the Lines. Another weakness of a parked bus is that by nature it makes it easy for attackers to stay onside (because defenders are parked so deep into the box). However, the flip side to that is that it is extremely hard to get throughballs into a striker. If the first line does not intercept the balls then the second one probably will. Thus, our striker should focus on two things: receiving aerial or hard crosses from the wings and drawing defenders out of position by moving the lines to open up spaces for either other players crashing the box or medium range shots at goal. This is where Zlatan comes in handy: as a legitimately scary aerial threat, he can move the opposing back line in such a scenario better than most strikers. In this formation, we want to attack through the wings and have one of the strikers time his run in conjunction with the wing attacker who has the ball (so as to stay onside) to move the opposing back line towards goal and separate them from the second line thus creating a hole that the other striker or a crashing midfielder can exploit. To hold the second line at bay, the pivots must stay nearby and provide the threat of shooting from a cutback pass that the second line must respect.

3) The Fullbacks Provide the Extra Man. This is where Pep got a little nuts. When you have a 4-2-4, conventional thinking provides that the wingers will provide the width while the fullbacks are needed to beef up midfield or provide diagonal cover for the exposed back line. Pep said: “screw it, that’s a 2 on 1 opportunity if they advance”. He instead alternately advanced both fullbacks depending on which side the point of attack was coming from.  Why? As one of the opposing (defending) fullbacks, the natural instinct and traditional tactic is to mark the attacking winger because the CB’s will be occupied with the striker.  You are supposed to count on the second defensive line to pick up advancing fullbacks. However, by attacking through the flank and moving one of the two pivots into the same sector, the second line defender can be neutralized by the pivot’s presence (as you will soon see) thus creating 2 on 1 opportunities. The drawback to this is that with the two pivots already advanced, we become highly vulnerable to counterattacks.

Now, let’s break down the video and see how this all comes together:

Pause at 1:24. Depor is defending in two compact lines of four. We are using the 4-2-4 with Messi as the supporting striker currently standing close to the two pivots and Alves already advanced. Notice how Xavi and Busi (the pivots) have shifted slightly to the right therefore indicating where the point of attack will be. Also note how alone Iniesta is on the left wing, they are not even marking him. Remember the two choices the defense has when the field is spread by wingers (mentioned in point #1 above)? Instead of spreading out, they have decided to stay compact and slightly shift towards the point of attack. If we would have been able to move the ball quickly enough to the other side then Iniesta would have had a good run into the box. Instead, we decide to spread the two defensive lines vertically.

Look at Messi . By him staying back with Busi, Xavi, and Alves, we outnumber the leftmost (from the defense’s perspective) three defenders on the second defensive line 4 to 3 thus forcing indecision (point #3 above). What about the fourth defender on the second line? He is held back by Iniesta’s presence on the other wing. With the two defending center midfielders occupied by Messi and Busi, the leftmost second line defender is caught in an island against Xavi and Alves. Since the defense chose to shift instead of spreading out, Alves has plenty of space to run through closer to the wing.

Pause at 1:26. Xavi now passes the ball to Alves in space. Since the second line defender was held back by Xavi’s presence, Alves has plenty of space to receive and pick off a pass. Notice what Zlatan did. He just switched to the right CB’s left side. By doing this he puts himself in a favorable position to receive an Alves cross and takes that CB temporarily out from the play. Thus, this forces the other (left) CB to hesitate. Should he cover Zlatan lest he be wide open to receive a cross or go out to cover Pedro? A subtle move but vital for this goal.  Also, watch Messi. He is already beginning his move into the space between the lines. He takes out the rightmost defender on the second line by, similarly to Zlatan, running in front of him so as to be facing in the direction of the Alves attack. Also, he confuses the other second line defender by sneakily running behind him while he stares in Alves’ direction. When that defender notices Messi, he is already past him.

Pause at 1:28. Alves’s run has paid off. Filipe Luis (their left Fullback) panics and leaves Pedro to mark Alves (there’s the payoff from the 2 vs 1 situation with the fullbacks) since the second line defender is too far back to prevent a cross. Instead of crossing it, Alves will calmly pass to the now wide open Pedro who is not molested by the nearest centerback because that defender is too preoccupied with the impending cross to Zlatan he thinks is coming. Meanwhile, Messi has burned two second line defenders and is now in between the lines. One of the defenders is behind him and already knocked out from the play while the other is caught flat footed due to Messi ghosting in behind him.

Pause at 1:32. Pedro easily receives the ball and turns around to pass while continuing forward to keep Ibra onsides. Zlatan splits the two defensive lines vertically by continuing his run towards goal. His presence alone has prevented the CB’s from noticing the midget ghosting in behind them and they run with Zlatan to prevent the cross that is surely going to go to him. Messi has changed the names of the two second line defenders he left behind into Burnt and Toast and is in the hole between the two lines. As Zlatan crashes towards goal, the gap between defensive lines widens and there is only space and a pale Argentine midget in the middle.

Pause at 1:33. Pedro wisely sees Messi’s run and lays out a beautiful cross/pass that is a free header which Messi turns into a goal. Look at everybody’s positioning. Ibra separated the two defensive lines by moving their backline towards goal thus allowing Messi to ghost into the gap between the lines and Pedro read the move perfectly. Beautiful.

Why did I write about this goal? Sure, it was beautiful and Pep putting out a 4-2-4 was brilliant/crazy. However, it came back to mind when watching the Club World Cup. In the second half against Atalante, after Iniesta got injured, Pep put in Bojan so we ended up with Bojan, Pedro, Messi, Ibra, Xavi, and Busi. Count’em up: four forwards and two midfielders. Does that sound familiar? It seems like something we may see more of in the future. We won’t see it to start games but we will see it occasionally depending on the situation. It’s yet another interesting trick to add to our bag.

How about the second half against Estudiantes when we improved dramatically and were inches away from scoring several goals? At the half, Keita was subbed for Pedro (again, a midfielder for a forward). However, that was not a 4-2-4: it was the Ajax 3-3-1-3 I drew out above (hey, I did it for a reason 😉 ). It had mixed results in my opinion. We got plenty of chances and Ibra and Henry seemed to love it with the former presumably already used to it with him being ex-Ajax and all. However, Alves did not seem comfortable in his more withdrawn role (notice how he was pumping in his crosses from much further back than usual) and Messi never got comfortable with constantly changing positions with Xavi and playing so far away from goal. It is, however, something we may see more of, especially with our depleted depth in midfield for January. The possibility nobody has considered is that Pep may just move Alves to play as a midfielder in the 3-3-1-3 and play with just two true midfielders at the same time. Keep an eye on that development as well.

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A diehard culé since the Rivaldo/Figo Judas days, I am also a rabid Argentina and Boca Juniors fan despite definitely not being Argentine. Read more articles by me by clicking on the name-link.


  1. Kxevin
    December 31, 2009

    Damn RIGHT it’s a 4-2-4. Baby Kxevin had been calling for that formation for eons. Rijkaard tried it a few times, but every time he did, somebody got red carded, usually Milito.

    And everyone, yes, it’s true….The Knowledge is in the house. 😀

  2. y2k156
    December 31, 2009

    Excellent article. It does make sense to see how we are playing. Also sometimes i think we also change into 4-1-4-1. Seems Ibra gives us plan B, plan C and so on…:)

  3. Greyhead
    December 31, 2009

    Outstanding stuff. Hector – you do us cules a disservice by not dispensing such stuff more often. And I’m not counting trawling the messages to see your post-match comments (which are awesome though). What made this goal so sweet for me was the off-the-ball movement. Ibra’s was so good right through the move. He certainly shifts a defence with him

  4. Greyhead
    December 31, 2009

    And what about the Pedro! assist. He hardly has time to look up, but he picks out Messi magnificently.

    And on Ibra – I doubt I’ve seen a better 6ft 5 in athlete in how he uses space, the kinaesthetics of it. People have been calling him the revelation of the season, but I’ve seen him do similar stuff season after season. The diagonal runs seem the only thing he has trouble with form time to time. Breaking the off-side trap, as he had to do with Inter, with his back to the goal sometimes wasnt the best preparation. But the signs are good – he’s just beginning to get the runs, and while he may never have Etoo’s ability at diagonal cuts let alone Romario’s, if he gets that part of his game and his heading finetuned, he’d be scarier than he already is.

    • Fred
      December 31, 2009

      When people talk of chemistry between Messi and Ibra they almost always refer to the interplay, in how they pass etc. But here they complement each other’s movement so well – things like this are rarely noticed. Hector, hat tip sir, this was just a supreme piece on analysis. You might want to ditch Thong Boy’s workrate and emulate Dani boy’s.

    • Hector
      December 31, 2009

      Thanks guys!

      New Year’s resolution: I’ll do a better job of keeping up with the blog and dealing with real life 😀 .

      Great points both. Spot on. Ibra’s main point of improvement going forward should be his diagonal runs and keeping onsides. He has never been an exceptional header considering his size but its not so much his heading ability as the threat of his heading ability that we can use. Great points both! Its also a matter of his teammates getting to know HIm better.

      • Greyhead
        December 31, 2009

        If tha resolution isn’t broken Hector I’ll be one damn happy cule. Btw Isaiah, Kxevin, and Ramzi too – thanks so much guys for such quality content. It just add so many layers to the enjoyment of the beautiful game.

        Hector – on the heading bit. It always puzzled me why he wasnt better. He has some excellent goals in this regard particularly on for Inter in the Champions League where he sort of imparts sidespin and underspin on the ball lobbing and curling it to the far post from an acute angle. But the meat-and-potatoes headers he seems not to time as well. Tends to get fancy but I’m sure that’s too simplistic an assessment. He himself said he was working on it here, so hope it gets better.

        He’s way more comfortable with his feet no doubt. He’s very South American like that, very touchy-feely. They have a word for it in Spanish. Mine’s not good at all – I’ve only heard it said from some of my friends when they talk of blokes who play real good with technique – like making love to the ball. Sensibilaad or sommat like that.

        • Greyhead
          December 31, 2009

          and yes, the perception of threat is everything eh? much like Ibra shifts defences. Then being a Gangsta it come naturally to him?

          Can’t get over the P! assist as well the more I watch it. When the boys are playing really well, it’s all so intuitive, it’s so beyond what we can conceive. Just awesome. Thanks Barca.

  5. Cesc Blanc
    December 31, 2009

    great post as usual. I would dub the system rather 4-2-1-3 because Messi is, as you say, clearly between the lines and not really a forward and he plays a bit deeper but I guess that’s just matter of taste. I would also point out that Rijkaard/Ten Caate came up with similar game plans when they needed a goal(prime example games against Chelsea and Arsenal. Against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, he brought in Larsson for Motta and then we had Edmilson-Deco and Messi, Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Larsson in attack and against Arsenal, we went for Deco-Iniesta and Giuly, Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Larsson in attack).

    • December 31, 2009

      I was thinking the same thing about the 4-2-1-3, but because Messi is so interchangeable it’s basically a 4-?-?-? which is what I think it’s designed to be so that no one knows what’s coming.

      I think that Rijkaard lost a lot when Henk ten Cate left, much as Pep would lose a lot if Tito Vilanova left. Not that I blame ten Cate nor would I blame Vilanova for leaving because I want nothing but success for them and them getting top gigs is not a negative to me.

      It’s like Kansas basketball, however. Bill Self is obviously an awesome coach, but without his positional coaches (specifically Danny Manning) would he have the players capable of playing at the high level he demands?

      • Hector
        December 31, 2009

        Like Jonathan Wilson says, formations are so dynamic nowadays that they are a reference but by no means dogma. They shift in phases: from defense to transition to offense. That’s exactly why I brought up the old 3-3-1-3. That’s the Dutch school that Rijkaard and Ten Cate used (as well as the Master of Terror) now and then. The difference is that pep exploited the fullbacks and has no real holding midfielders holding the fort. In my view, a 4-2-1-3 is one of our standard formations when Xavi plays in front of Yaya and Busi/Keita. In this case we had not holding midifielder in front of the CB’s to provide lateral cover, they were totally exposed. This speaks of Guardiola’s daring and aggressiveness.

        Of course, if we had given up a counter attack goal it would have spoken of his naiveness and foolhardiness. The bravery to take that risk is admirable but we should keep in mind that the tradeoff is just as great, As almost always, risk is proportional with reward.

  6. Miguel
    December 31, 2009

    ha! i watched this game last night. oh i love my dvr. thanks time warner!

    you’re a surgeon bro. lovely, lovely goal. ibra brings so much to this team. i said a while ago that it wasn’t ibra’s ability to score headers but the perception that he was a huge aerial threat that would do the most damage against defenses. i likened it to the way pique drew out defenders and allowed puyol to score on that beautiful cross from xavi in last year’s second el clasico.

    i noticed ibra playing the iniesta role to great effect in the second half of the estudiantes final too. he & messi’s ability to drop back & iink up w/the midfield players is unreal.

    your example of the goal vs. bayern munich is why i think we need someone who’s a great crosser on the left hand side so as to shift the attack to a wide open attacker on the opposite wing. henry is an amazing player but the sun’s setting on him and crosses never really were one of his strengths. david silva would be great there but hopefully gai or deulofeu (* can grow into that role.

    keep teaching.

    • Miguel
      December 31, 2009

      here’s that puyol goal

  7. Patrick
    December 31, 2009

    Here? *pokes*


    Here? *pokes*


    What about here? *pokes*


    Yep. We got Hectored pretty bad. Amazing breakdown. I need some aspirin.

    • December 31, 2009

      Btw, anyone here in the Boston area? Finally have a good weekend to wake up and crash a Barca game at a bar and I want to sing, dammit.

  8. December 31, 2009

    Great analysis. For those who like this sort of stuff, I highly recommend Jonathon Wilson’s book “Inverting the Pyramid”. He’s the Guardian’s tactics guy, and his book is amazing — a history of the game told through tactical wrinkles over the years. I finished it last week and really enjoyed it.

    Also, loved the Burned and Toast line.

    • Patrick
      December 31, 2009

      Gonna have to second this. Inverting the Pyramid was a Christmas gift to myself, and while it never went as mind blowingly in depth as Hector’s analyses (that one of the more messed up plural forms of a word… had to look it up), it was a fantastic read and helps you understand how football tactics progressed to where they are now. I think being English shaded his analysis a bit, but amazingly objective overall. Reads like a history more than an shared insight or editorial.

  9. Spencer
    December 31, 2009

    At 2:21, Pep looks like an evil, diabolical genius doing that hand thing.

    “Excellent…. everything is going as planned.”

    Pretty much, he’s Mr Burns.

  10. OhYes
    December 31, 2009

    “Pep may just move Alves to play as a midfielder”

    Damn that would be so pimp.

    Great analysis Hector. These are some of my favorite posts.

  11. December 31, 2009

    Dammit, I accidentally signed up for “notify me when new comments are added.” D’oh!

    Happy New Year to you too, Jim! How is the future?

  12. Jim
    December 31, 2009

    I think you signed me up for them too – I just received one for the first time 🙂

    Anyway, the future’s here, it’s white and about 8 inches deep outside my front door.

    • Hector
      December 31, 2009

      Damnit! Me too!

      Stupid blog! Oh well, we’ll deal with it tomorrow.

      Happy New Year in the future, Jim!

  13. majatt
    December 31, 2009

    mind….blown…I hath been hectored.

  14. Helge
    December 31, 2009

    Wow ! That’s awesome news, Hector! I’ve just come back from a sylvester party, a Happy New Year to all of you! 🙂

    I can’t wait to read your analysis, but I’m to drunk right now. I’ll be very pleased to read it tomorrow. You rock, Hector, and to all the barcelonablog-crew, keep it up!

    Greetings from a snowy Bielefeld, Germany.

  15. January 1, 2010

    one of the best post’s i’ve seen so far..
    btw, if we play against a weak opposition,
    i’d prefer we play 3-4-3..

  16. January 1, 2010

    Happy new year!

    Good stuff Hector. Though it was actually a 4-2-1-3. It gives a hint about Messi position few years from now when he lose some pace. The 4-2-4 is not a football thing anymore(even the 3-3-4 is a more realistic structure), unless if you want to play Sold in the last minute of a knock out game. That was not the case here, and will not be something we will witness too often.

  17. fcbfan
    January 1, 2010

    happy new year!

    another excellent post Hector!

  18. Jim
    January 1, 2010

    Thx Hector. Btw, the future’s not all its cracked up to be. It’s been years now since anybody else has won a trophy and its getting dull 🙂

  19. Jim
    January 1, 2010

    Just noticed. Each time I come here I deselect the notify box and each time i return it is selected again as if its now on by default. Someone might want to take a look at that if it’s happening for everyone.

    • Kxevin
      January 1, 2010

      I noticed that as well, Jim. We’ll be fixing on that. Stay tuned.

  20. January 1, 2010

    Hmm… this should be a good one 😀 . I am always a little averse to get TOO deep into the X-X-X vs X-X-Y-X debates nowadays because of how much formations shift and how different phases of the game (offense, defense, transition)dictate different formations. Its more of a reference than straight up fact. As somebody who also follows American football I can see how us Americans have a harder time getting a grasp of that. The part that intrigued me about this particular look is that that we really had not cover for our centerbacks. They were back all alone against two Depor strikers. The two pivots were right near the box. There was no diagonal cover. If you look at the video you can see Abidal in Iniesta’s vicinity. It did look like a “sell out” play in that sense which is why I tried to emphasize how damn risky it was. If there is any comfort, I saw it shift to more a 4-2-3-1 when in defensive and transition phase. I would damn well hope we don’t use it that often.

    To me, a 4-2-1-3 is closer to our standard formation with two of Keita/Yaya/Busi and Xavi in midfield. If there is any formation I would compare this too, it seemed like an extremely offensive version of a flat 4-4-2 with the old school wingers in midfields except that the pivots are right by the edge of the box while both fullbacks are advanced.

    Either way, like I previously said, we gotta be careful with throwing around all the “formations” (says the guy who just did, right? 😀 ).

    What I really hope you guys take away from this one are why the concept of width in offensive football is so important, why off the ball movement is important, and how two defensive lines can also be separated vertically with the right coordination.

  21. Jim
    January 1, 2010

    At the risk of sounding old school I think the point you make about our CBs being left without cover has happened quite a bit this year. It used to be solved (in my day !) by the two full backs being told not to attack at the same time. There is no need for both to press forward at the same time as, say Alves bombs up the right wing, their defence usually shuffles over towards him anyway leaving whoever is our farthest left player unmarked. It shouldn’t need to be our LB who does that.
    Of course, one of the issues is that they both keep such width on the pitch anyway they aren’t much use for quick cover.

    • January 1, 2010

      I think the new trick (not really new though) Is using the Holding Midfielder (Yaya/Busquets) as a third CB when both fullbacks move forward. Especialy when we have Keita in the midfield as well.

      • January 2, 2010

        i noticed that too..
        especially when yaya plays..
        he always acts as a cb

  22. January 1, 2010

    True that, Hector. I wouldn’t even mention it if: 1) it wasn’t you –a footballer who is fond of tactical science. :D, and 2) It wasn’t in the title (The 4-2-4). 3) It wasnt a point “Tactical confusion and 4-2-4” that lot of the guys raised since a while.

    In fact, recognizing tactical formations is one of the most confusing topics especially that it’s a collective output of versatile combination containing Basic roles, and conditional supplementary roles implemented by the players in a specific game.
    For instance, when we use Yaya-Xavi-Iniesta-Henry-Ibra-Messi with Alves offense contribution, are we playing a 4-3-3 (Messi-Ibra,Henry upfront)? But as we all know Alves works on that right flank more than Messi who cuts inside more often. I used to say I prefer in such selections that Iniesta open to the left and Henry cuts inside, yet if that makes it (Iniesta-Henry-Ibra-Messi/alves) doesn’t that contradict with what I mentioned above that 4-2-4 is not a valid option anymore? Not really.

    The best way to get the tactical structure right is to observe the players distribution with respect to the ball during build up stage. In that matter we will have players who are behind the ball, players involved in the buildup operation moving within the operation area, and players positioning themselves in front of the ball either in a static or dynamic manner to create spaces and offense outlets for the team to move forward. The tactical structure decides who will be where and when the moment the team switches between different phases (Defense, Build up, Offense, Transition-that’s a stage I add even though it’s not officially a part of the football stages).
    Going back to the example I mentioned above, Assuming that we are defending in our third, and we just won the ball, If the initial tactical structure is 4-3-3, then the moment we win the ball back Messi and Henry open at the flanks moving toward the opponent half in front of the ball and the buildup operation area to the edge of the final third or at least to the edge of the offside trap (That’s what makes Messi –tactically- our right wing even though he later on cuts inside when we approach the opponent third) Alves moves with the ball and he does not skip the buildup third to the offense third as long as the ball didn’t move out of the defense third to the middle third permanently while the opponent reposition in a defense status while we set up offense . Iniesta also stays in the operation area with Xavi and Yaya to “drive” the ball/team forward keeping the ball company while it moves from defense third to middle third. From there on, the offense set up dictates creating spaces and switching positions, besides injecting a higher doze of players distributed in the opponent defense third as the game demands, and that’s when we see things like Messi cutting inside, alves activating the right flank, Iniesta moving to the left Etc…
    If the structure applied is 4-2-4, then the moment we win the ball in our own defense third, Iniesta has to move with Henry, Ibra, and Messi forward leaving the ball with only Xavi and Yaya (supported with Alves) who will have to slide the ball through out defense third across the middle third toward the offense area. This is a mission impossible (With three midfielders we already have troubles sometimes to build up offense when Xavi is marked or off, imagine how will it be with two midfielders). In fact Barcelona is the last team that can apply a 4-2-4 as we don’t play a direct style where you can use a long ball from defense to offense skipping the build up phase. Using a 4-2-4 means that we will lose this way our strongest point: Dominating possession.

    Tactical structure is sometimes more difficult to guess (by observers) than to be implemented by players, but to give an idea of how hard/vital it is, I had to invest 50% of each and every training session I made with my new team ( 10 so far during Offseason in Sweden) just to plant this idea in the players’ minds. Usually it’s more tempting for the players (specially the offense) to stay in the buildup area when the team win possession as this is where they suffer less marking and feel they contribute more. But in fact it makes the offense build up too slow to surprise, and makes the entire opponent defense act as covers to midfield rather than as markers and that makes offense threat drop to the least. Till they started to Feel it working better, it wasn’t easy to convince them to change. So you can imagine the tactical discipline level of players like those at Barcelona whom beside the Basic roles (mentioned above) they also have numerous number of conditional roles that they do only when needed and then bounce back to basics. That’s where the youth academies turn this to be more as “operating by instinct” rather than carrying an instructions notebook to the field, they just customize and upgrade the football instincts A.K.A Talent.

    • January 1, 2010

      I can see it’s not exactly an easy English text to read (it was better to split it on points), but you can add some points and comas that may help.

  23. Helge
    January 1, 2010

    I love the diagrams, Hector.

    Reading your posts is almost like being involved in a tactical speech from Pep (or any other brilliant coach). That was a nice New Year’s read.

  24. k.j.
    January 2, 2010

    a gr8 read….
    the goal n the moves well biopsied!!!!!
    but video seems to be in spanish…..
    could something be done abt it

    • Bebop
      February 17, 2010

      maybe it’s best if you ask the mods (Kxevin and Isaiah) through the latest post. this is an old post.

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