By Dave Marshal
Back in 1998 when Manchester United played out a 3-3 draw against Barcelona at The Camp Nou in the groupstages of the 1998/99 Champions League campaign, the football world was intrigued at the seamless chemistry between Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. The two front men combined beautifully as a series of one-twos and dummies ensured that Cole slotted in a goal that is still being acclaimed as one of the greatest of the competition ever. After the game, Alex Ferguson (he had not been knighted then) had this to say, “There is nothing as sweet as a good old 4-4-2”. The formation had been the in-thing in English football at the time, but the presence of Arsene Wenger changed all that. He used a 4-2-3-1 that utilized an exceptional finisher, and more bodies in the midfield to exhibit his fabled passing philosophy. This system yielded 3 league titles and 4 FA Cup titles in seven years.
A new sheriff came into town in 2004. Jose Mourinho came to England and announced himself as the Special One, bringing into town the 4-3-3 formation. With a destroyer in Makelele, and two drifting central midfielders like Thiago/Essien and Lampard and two flying wingers in Duff and Robben and a center forward in Gudjohnsen/Drogba, they swept everyone aside and sauntered to the league title with a record 95 points. Leicester re-introduced the 4-4-2 as they won the league surprisingly under Ranieri last season. The pace of Jamie Vardy coupled with the power and grit of Okazaki meant there was a variance in their forward play, which meant they could always hurt teams with different methods.
Tactical evolution means that managers must keep adapting to new trends in football, which Jose Mourinho has simply failed to do. He has stuck to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, which at the moment isn’t reaping dividends. Pep Gauardiola and Antonio Conte are the disciples of tactical variance, constantly changing shape to accommodate the whims of their opponents. Zlatan and Rooney should be played up front in a 4-4-2. Much has been said about the Englishman’s decline, but playing alongside the Swede upfront means he has able support and can start getting the goals that made him England’s record goal scorer.
Conte says that the players you have should determine the style and formation you play. Since switching to a 3-4-3, Chelsea have won seven straight games and are top of the league.
Jose could take a cue from his succesor at Stamford Bridge.