Tottenham's fortunes have certainly changed since the appointment of Tim Sherwood. The re-introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor alongside Roberto Soldado has give an urgency to their attack that was visibly lacking under AVB.
This is exemplified by the fact that Spurs have scored in all five of their Premier League games under Sherwood as opposed to being shutout six times under Villas Boas.
The trade-off in employing two front men is that the midfield will certainly suffer, as was evident in the North London Derby defeat to Arsenal.
The Gunners' five midfielders overran Spurs that day and starved the frontmen of possession resulting in a lacklustre performance and an early FA Cup exit. This led many to question the 4-4-2 formation over the 4-5-1 popularised by the ultra successful Barcelona team of the mid to late 2000's. Is the benefit of having increased firepower off-set by the lack of gusto in the centre of the park?
The obvious choice for a team who is struggling to score goals is to play a second striker. This will present a dual focal point for your attack.
Last season, Bayern Munich gave Barcelona a footballing lesson over two legs. Barça's key man, Lionel Messi was strangled out of the game in the first leg. Although questions were raised over the fitness of Messi, Bayern showed us all how to counteract the lone striker.
The goal of the single forward is to hold the ball up and bring the midfielders into the game. If Messi or Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Didier Drogba are crowded out, the one dimensional attack will fail to fire.
Astute tacticians such as Jupp Heynckes and Otto Rehhagel (who masterminded Greece's sensational Euro 2004 win) have time and time again set up their teams to nullify the threat posed by the single striker. If teams can render the attack of the 4-5-1 obsolete, why do many of the worlds top clubs still persist with this formation?
When two teams line up against each sporting the two contrasting formations, there is one certainty: the team with the extra midfielders will dominate in the middle of the park. With three central midfielders, a team can pick players with different styles of play.
Arsenal have been immensely successful this year due to an impressively dominant midfield. By playing three central players, Matthieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta can afford to sit back and allow a combination of Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere or Mesut Özil to drive forward and support Giroud as the lone striker.
The importance of a holding midfielder in a five man attack is paramount as it allows for further support to given to over crowded frontman. It also provides further cover for the back four. At times this season, we have seen a combination of five Arsenal players bombarding the goal of their opponents. The threat of the counter is not substantial as there will be up to five players sitting back in expectation. The degree of versatility provided by this formation is it's main attraction.
The stress placed on two central midfielders are immense in these circumstances. Both players need to multi-talented in both attack and defense. When a team lines out with four midfielders versus five of their opponents, they run the risk of being consistently overpowered by the extra man. Consider when a team goes down to ten men, they are instantly put at disadvantage. T
he same may effect may be evident when an extra midfielder is employed by your opponents. To operate effectively as a four man midfield, box-to-box style players, with great chemistry and superb work-rates are needed.
Paul Scholes and Roy Keane marshaled the United four man midfield admirably for years in this manner. Both players possessed an eye for goal and displayed aggression in defense (maybe too much so, as Alf Inge Haaland will no doubt testify!).
The understanding that Keane and Scholes had of each others game was one of the major factors in one of the most successful teams ever created. A combination of box-to-box midfielders who can perform to a high level as a duo would be a rare occurrence in todays game.
That being said, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho possess the basic traits to make this formation work and maybe City should experiment with it, as Negredo and Aguero could form the most deadly strike partnership in Europe.
With the right combinations of players and tactical genius of a manager, the 4-4-2 can still work. However, a team must commit to playing a single formation. Players should be purchased and developed to play in the style warranted by the formation.
Michael Porter is a corporate strategy expert. He states that a company has a choice to either be efficient in one area or inefficient in two. The same can be applied to the choice of a formation.
If a team feels they can play both formations, they are not maximising their potential in either. Sherwood was bold in his mid-season change. However as Arsenal proved, his squad is not adequate as of yet to perform at the highest level in a 4-4-2 style. Envisaged is a very, very busy January for Spurs
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