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World Cup: Tactical trends to watch out in Brazil



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With the World Cup set to kick off in no time, we take a look at the most probable tactical trends to watch out in Sambaland. Will this edition of the greatest show on Earth show us anything significant when it comes to exercising the best footballing brains? Will the commonplace theories stand tall or we might witness something new that throws the entire tournament wide open? Can someone do an Atletico, an attacking style of play even without the ball?

Tournament for deep plying registas: While the Barcelona inspired tiki-taka helped Vicente Des Bosque’s side to triumph in South Africa four years ago, Marcelo Lippi’s cautious countering and approach ensured the Azzurris would topple France in the final eight years ago in Berlin. Far from Brazil’s attacking football in France in 1998 centred around the trio of the Three R’s (Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo), this edition in Sambaland. The rise of the player who will hold fort in midfield playing from a deep role has taken a precedence now for over a decade (in club football) but it’s now in Brazil finally where we can finally expect these rare breed of players to instigate a nation’s success in the grandest of stages.


Steven Gerrard in his new quarter back role is expected to dictate the tempo of play for his country but the Three Lions skipper and his midfield co will find it immensely hard to dominate Italy’s immaculate midfield which boasts of the World’s best current playmaker Andrea Pirlo. Against Uruguay too, Gerrard might risk the wrath of being left ill exposed by Oscar Tabarez’s quick counter attacking side. While Pirlo will spraying passes with elegant nonchalance and effortless ease to his strikers and wingers, Xabi Alonso’s role for Spain looks somehow cliched. The former Liverpool midfielder will have to be content to witness Xavi and Iniesta running the show as Del Bosque preferably keeping faith on the tiki-taka philosophy.

Mesut Ozil’s presence in the number ten role makes Bastian Schweinstieger’s shift for the Die Mannschaft a lot more assured, relieving the Bayern man of his creative intellect. The curtain raiser between Brazil and Croatia will feature contrasting styles as the home side who lack a proper regista will rely on the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Oscar and Hulk to lead them to glory. The Croatians though have the carrier in Luka Modric, the 28 year old who will be pivotal to his country’s fortunes. Kevin Strootman’s absence will be a huge miss for Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch side, the new Manchester United manager who has made it no secret to sign the Roma man. Wesley Snjeider is expected to take up the mantle for the Oranje. Fernando Gago’s role too will be pivotal to Argentina’s fortunes with Javier Mascherano aiding and protecting him.

Read the tactical analysis and Argentina’s blueprint on how to conquer Brazil.

Variety of formations: The 4-2-3-1 setup is and will be the most dominant system given its tactical flexibility and its compactness off the ball. However, that doesn’t mean we will not witness innovative stuff from the 32 teams contesting for the grand prize to crowned kings of the World. Chile are set to be the most attacking side of the tournament with coach Jorge Sampaoli, a keen disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, always has a three man defense as he wants a spare man at the back. Sampaoli has asserted on how his team can change their shape unsymmetrical to disrupt the flow of the oppositions. Chile are extremely quick on the opposition, hardly giving them a moment to breathe while they press relentlessly.

Read Micheal Cox’s brilliant analysis on how Chile were one of the most tactically exciting side in the 2010 World Cup.

Mexico too, fall on the same lines having three centre backs in the defense line with Rafael Marquez acting as the sweeper. The Olympic Champions have a tricky group with no easy games at this level but coach Miguel Herrera has maintained that his side will make the quarter finals. Holland under new Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal might also line up in a 3-5-2 system but tactically the two sides to watch out would be Italy and the United States. While Cesar Prandelli is undecided on whether to play two strikers up front or stick with the customary 4-2-3-1. The Azzurris might spring in a surprise with the 4-3-2-1 (Christmas tree) formation while Jurgen Klinsmann has been preparing his boys in a Cruyff like midfield diamond.

Goals and the golden boot, but who cares: Attack wins matches but defense win Championships. So does winning the Golden Boot help your team’s chances of winning the World Cup? Thomas Muller won its last time in South Africa as the Germans finish third while his team mate Miroslav Klose won the ‘coveted’ prize in his home country in 2006. Neither of the times, the Germans came close to lift the Cup. Croatia’s Davor Suker was the surprise package in 1998 World Cup in which France claimed the crown in front of their vociferous home faithful. Talking of history In 1958, France’s Just Fontaine scored 13 goals to win the Golden Boot but his team mates returned empty handed. As defenses have grown tight over the past few years, to what extent do top goalscorers ensure a team’s World Cup victory? Just six of the Golden Boot winners won the World Cup in the same tournament. A fantastic analysis on the topic can be read here.

This also coupled with no specalist number nines on display makes it easier to claim: With the ill fated pull out of Colombia’s Radamel Falcao, sadly the tournament will not feature a pure number nine. Germany have the old guard of Miroslav Klose, who is two goals shy of emulating Luis Ronaldo as the leading World Cup scorer of all time. Joachim Loew’s side will invariably use Mario Gotze as a false nine, keeping faith on a possession based approach. Spain have Diego Costa in their squad but given the soon to be Chelsea striker’s fitness concerns, Cesc Fabregas might again have to draft in a number nine role. Teams like Brazil and Portugal will have selfless forwards in Postiga and Fred who will try to hold up the ball high up the pitch to make space for Ronaldo and Neymar respectively to cut inside from the left. Lionel Messi too will maneuver space for his team mates and drag defenders out of their positions as Gonzalo Higuain will chase balls on the right. Talking of England, there are doubts on Roy Hodgson’s tactics on whether he will sacrifice history for pragmatism.