The 2nd round of group games have been concluded now in the World Cup and the two games which I saw the most of this weekend featured two Italian managers, Capello and Lippi. Both of whom carry a great deal of experience on their shoulders and yet they both made a shocking tactical faux pas against their respective oppositions, while it was not the only reason that they failed to take the points it was certainly a major contributing factor.
Taking a look at England first, they took on an Algeria side noted for being one of the few sides at the World Cup who would be playing a 3-5-2 formation. England had prepared for this prospect, or so we thought, by playing a friendly against Egypt in March. On Friday night however, it appeared that Fabio Capello had been struck down by a severe bout of amnesia. The lessons that were learnt in the first half against Egypt were jettisoned by the England management and put out the side that had taken them through qualification, he had decided to play 2 out and out strikers in Heskey and Rooney against a 3 man defence.
Marcello Lippi also decided to start with a 4-4-2, he had announced this the day before his game against New Zealand. Lippi had some reason to pursue this route with the players ending the game very much on the front foot against Paraguay using this formation. They appeared to be a far more comfortable side but going into the game I felt that too much importance was being placed on individual battles being won, particularly in the midfield where the players would be matched man for man.
A problem of numbers
The problem with playing 2 out and out strikers against a 3 man defence is that the strikers are constantly out numbered. The defenders are able to man mark each striker while keeping a man free to sweep up and knock ons and second balls, if any of the strikers is able to lose their marker they would be faced with another defender to get past. A good explanation of 3 man defences can be found here at Zonal Marking. It is fine to play 2 strikers if they provide plenty of movement and are able to pull the defence out of shape by dropping deep and making runs into the channels.
England fans may be thinking that this was fine because Wayne Rooney has always been the type of striker who likes to drop deep and link up with the midfield but with the English midfield not wanting to play in this way Rooney was left short of options. England resorted to sending long passes up towards Heskey and trying to get Rooney and Gerrard to try and pick up any knock ons.
Italy’s two strikers were Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino, neither of which are noted for their link up play nor are they particularly good in the air which meant that any balls that were delivered to the 2 front men were swept up with ease by Ryan Nelsen who put in a man of the match performance. Italy have been stereotyped as the tacticians of the modern game, however on Sunday afternoon they were thoroughly out thought.
While it is important to try and play your players in the positions you think will suit them best, there has to be some consideration for the shape and style of play that the opposition will bring. The deployment of these formations smacks in some sense of pure arrogance from managers who should’ve had enough experience to think through this decision. Hopefully both sides can learn from this experience and take more care in preparing a side that will be able to maximise it’s strengths against other opposition.
I must point out that I realise there were many many other points that could be made about both games, I just found it very surprising that both managers had made this very basic mistake at the pinnacle of International football.