Following the impressive performances – most notably the 5-1 victory over the defending champions Spain – of Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side in the World Cup, a new formation seems to be in vogue…the 3-5-2. In reality, many sides have utilized a back four in the last decade with Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile, Roberto Martinez’s Everton and Wigan, Walter Mazzarri’s Inter, Edy Reja’s Lazio, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Genoa, Roberto Donadoni’s Livorno, Antonio Conte’s Juventus and Steve Bruce’s Hull City all coming into mind.
Many teams in Serie A have been actually making use of similar formations in the past couple of years especially since many teams nowadays are playing with just one lone striker. However, it usually takes a famous and eagerly-followed spectacle such as a World Cup or Champions’ League that helps put the limelight on certain tactical innovations.
Below are four tactical innovations that I have chosen that have helped give a different dimension to how soccer tactics and formations are to be viewed. As will be seen, most innovations seem to sprout from the Italian Serie A. Obviously, there are many more tactical revolutions, such as the Dutch total football of the 1970s, that will not be mentioned.
1. Herrera’s Catenacccio
Italy, and specifically Inter Milan, are “notorious” for having introduced the ‘Catenaccio‘ (literal translation is ‘door-bolt’) into soccer. This defensive system was actually first used by the Austrian coach Karl Rappan in the 1930s but it was Helenio Herrera’s Inter that made it famous due to their impressive results. Rappan’s original plan was to have a “sweeper” playing behind a back three whose role was to sweep away any attacks that get past the three ahead of him. This was revolutionary since Rappan was coaching in an era where most teams lined up with four or five players in attack. Having four players to defend was hardly the norm!
While coaching the side that has become immortalised as “Grande Inter” in the 1960s, Herrera used a defensive 5-3-2 formation with a sweeper playing behind a back four rather than a back three. However, the wingbacks, one of whom was the legend Giacinto Facchetti, were given more of a role in attack, especially in counter-attacks.
The role of the sweeper sweeping attacks that have penetrated the defensive line is now more or less obsolete. However, Herrera’s catenaccio gave rise to innovative concepts that are still very much in use in modern soccer. Counter-attacking strategies used so often nowadays by coaches such as Jose Mourinho have their roots in this system. So too does the role of the modern full back that is so vital in both defence and in attack to provide width, especially during counter attacks.