The Premier League’s claim on being the most entertaining league in Europe has taken a boost this season with a glut of goals. There will always be debate regarding the superiority of either the Premier League or La Liga, and with Barca and Real at the height of their powers it’s been hard to build a case for the Prem. Now with the emergence of Man City, a record goals tally, new attacking formations and a plethora of tricky forwards the English league speaks a compelling narrative.
The Premier League’s top sides seem to have adopted what could best be described as the 4-2-3-1 formation. It emulates the continental Barca style, based around a possession game and most importantly, building slowly from the back. The English interpretation has brought goals galore amongst the top teams; possibly due to the unique way we seem play it with a high defensive line. Man United 8 Arsenal 2; Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5; Man United 1 Man City 6.
We now have a multitude of attacking players in our game, who play in the position we used to call ‘the hole.’ The worlds leading scorers are all of the Rooney, Messi and Ronaldo ilk; who are neither forwards nor midfielders. Our teams duly set out with three or four free roaming ‘number 10’s’ who are hard for opposing defences to track.
Played effectively it’s difficult not to see the 4-2-3-1 formation prevailing with the right personnel. If the opposition defence drops off they leave the front four with space to express themselves; if the defence push up towards the half way line they invite the through ball. It’s a no win situation and perhaps the best way to counter it is to match it. Man City have somewhat perfected it by installing Barry and Toure behind the midfield as defensive lynchpins, whilst the front four work hard to “swarm” the opposition in order to regain possession.
Some Premier League teams may find it hard to adapt, as ‘possession at all costs’ and patient build up is not an English characteristic. Our game is in transition. In English stadiums sideways and backwards passes are greeted with roars of disapproval, defenders take no chances and aim for row Z, and keepers still have a tendency to kick the ball long. Fabio Capello recently reprimanded England’s defenders for wasting throw-ins in their own half by aimlessly hurling the ball down the line looking for a header – a nonsensical waste of possession to a continental manager but perfect sense to an English player.
The result being, dazzlingly open encounters between the top sides, and pundits making the case for a more resolute defence. Man United have already reverted back and forth to formations that err on the side of caution, with Rooney dropping back into midfield: The Man City rout may have exposed United’s lack of personnel for the 4-2-3-1.
Man City are England’s current top side and therefore will be given the imperative to dictate the way our game is played as other teams attempt to match their success. Chelsea have already outlined a new type of technical strategy and others will surely follow.