Friday, February 23, 2007


The 4-3-3: Some Thoughts, Part 1

Watching Barcelona as they struggled against a compact, doggedly organised Liverpool side in the Champions' League on Thursday morning, I was forcibly reminded of the World Club Championship final last December.

In that match, of course, Barcelona failed to penetrate the well-organised defence of Internacional of Brazil, and succumbed to a late goal on the break.

The similarity between the two matches consisted of Frank Rijkaard's persistence with his favoured 4-3-3 system...even when it wasn't likely to work.

Barcelona's success over the last few years has owed much to the brilliance of Ronaldinho, the subtlety of Deco, and, just as importantly, the powerful displays of Samuel Eto'o up front.

In both the games I referred to above, Eto'o was absent. Yet Rijkaard chose to replace the Cameroon striker, on both occasions, with players who are far from suited to the pivotal (in all senses of the word) frontman role.

Eto'o is a striker with few peers in world football. Strong, fast, good in the air, and a superb finisher, he is pretty close to the complete package. He is, in other words, capable of operating alone up front, with support coming chiefly from the wide areas.

Eidur Gudjohnsen, who played the lone ranger role against Internacional, is a fine player. But he is a supporting striker; it is where he was most effective at Bolton and Chelsea, and where he would surely be best deployed at Barca.

Similarly, Javier Saviola, who led the line against Liverpool on Thursday, works best behind a genuine front-liner (as he did against Australia in the 2005 Confederations Cup, when Luciano Figueroa played off the last defender). He faltered alone up front against Liverpool, not least when he finally carved himself a palpable chance late in the game.

And then, another game comes to mind. That's right, Australia's recent friendly against Denmark, when Graham Arnold's stubborn insistence on using a nominal 4-3-3 system meant that Brett Holman was forced out to the left, where he doesn't belong. Surprise surprise, the Danes were able to cut Australia to pieces down the right, with Holman (and Josip Skoko) absent in the middle.

For some reason, Arnold seems to have become slavishly addicted to the plan, which, in so many ways, just does not suit Australia's current playing roster.

More anon.

Why do you insist on writing things within days of me thinking them? Was just thinking the same as I replicated the Mighty Reds' win over Barca on my XBox (albeit the 4-1 scoreline was far better for me)...

The 4-3-3 in terms of Australia is interesting, in that it is wrong on so many levels. I've often (and will continue) to advocate 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 shape for the Aussies and even that aside I would rate something like a 4-4-2 as better. The 4-3-3 is a big black mark on Arnold's management - it worked with a fit Harry and co but that aside... Eep.

In terms of Barca, it works a treat with Eto'o, but not with the others - you hit it on the nose. But what else could they do? I can see no better alternative, and therein lies the key weakness in their squad aside from the lack of another quality fullback - only one man in the entire squad can lead the line.

I do hope we finish the job, so much.
aargh! i tried to comment, but something happened : (

ok short version. 'systems' have to suit the talent you have available. can't push square pegs into round holes etc etc.

my hope for oz and the a-league is for smart coaches and players who are able to change systems mid-game to suit the circumstances.
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