I'm not going to talk at length about how we can accommodate our players in a certain formation. That kind of talk gets very uninteresting, very quickly, because fashioning a tactical plan involves more than just throwing around notations like 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-3-2. Defining positions without defining what role a player is to perform in those positions gives us little to no insight into a team's tactics. Take as an example the difference between Guardiola's 4-3-3 at Barcelona and Mourinho's 4-3-3 at Chelsea. Both were roughly similar shapes but did they resemble each other in their style of play?
That being said, a formation does provide some framework with which tactics can be analyzed. So as a start, here is the basic shape for my tactic:
This can, more or less, be categorized as 4-2-3-1. It is, however, an asymmetric one. This is what is going on in the figure above:
- The MC and DM form a passer-holder combination in the double pivot. The holding players rarely venture forward so as to maintain enough cover for the attacking midfield to work its magic. Frank distributes from deep midfield to the third band, and generally has the responsibility of recycling possession and dictating the tempo - so does Mikel, but to a lesser extent. Frank can be free to operate higher up the pitch depending on how much counter-attacking threat the opposition poses. Mikel is responsible to pick up the opposition's central attacking midfielder(s)/supporting striker and any false winger who cuts inside, essentially acting as a screen in front of defense. We could also work a holder-ball-winner combo in Mikel and Meireles against opposition which pose more of a threat down the centre, for example Manchester City.
- Ashley Cole operates as an attacking fullback. The left attacking midfielder is a 'false winger' or an 'inverted winger' who cuts inside and forces the defense to deal with him. Cole bombs down the flank into the zone left clear by Hazard's movement. (I may have positioned Ashley a bit too high up the pitch in the diagram)
- Juan Mata is being employed in the hole, though one of him or Hazard has to occasionally come a bit deeper from the 3rd band to receive the ball. Hazard and Mata swap often so it doesn't become easy for the opposition's holding player(s) to mark the central attacking midfield zone. Mata is supposed to combine with Hazard, Ramires and Torres, playing one-two's etc.
- Because the three upfront, namely Torres, Mata and Hazard, are very intelligent players, they swap often to confuse defenses. As an example, Torres drop deeps taking a CB with him, and Hazard/Mata make runs into the open space.
- Ramires is being deployed a bit deeper than a usual right winger in order for him to have more space to run into and also so he can be a passing option near to Lampard. He rarely narrows the shape because he doesn't cut inside, rather he provides genuine width on the right like Ashley Cole does on the left. It should be noted that the RB, Ivanovic, doesn't have the license to go forward like Cole does.
The arrows show the possible movements of the players. The DM fills in for the DC (David Luiz), to cover for the latter's forays into midfield.
I'm not sure what the purpose of this diagram is. But the triangles seem fancy, right? I think these are the possible passes available to each player within this shape, provided that the team maintains the shape well. Of course, these options become limited when an opponent is defending against you.
I mentioned above how important Lampard's role is for distribution to the third-band, both in build-up play and on the counter when the ball is won within our own half. The diagram illustrates this. Mikel's passing ability and composure on the ball are also very crucial for this four-band formation to work. Another way to get the ball forward is via Cole down the left wing. Sadly, we no longer have the option to knock it long to Drogba to provide relief to the midfield. Another thing worth noting is the long, flank-switching pass from Lampard to Hazard. This can be very effective when Lampard drifts rightwards and the game leans to the right.
One glaring weakness in the plan is that the left-flank is incredibly exposed due to Cole going forward and Hazard drifting inside. Leaving all that space empty can devastate us if the other team counters aggressively. I have a basic plan that attempts to tackle this problem.
Here is a hypothetical scenario: Cole and Hazard are high up the pitch and they lose the ball. The other teams winger runs down our left flank with the ball. What do we do now? Let me present to you another lovely diagram.
So what is happening here? Terry has been dragged out of position to the left. Mikel is blocking anything down the centre. Luiz has moved in to cover for Terry. He is marking the near post. Ivanovic moves from RB to CB to mark the far post. We are fundamentally operating a three-man defense. Ramires and Lampard have to work in tandem to track any runs down the right because a quick change of flanks can really hurt us here. Overall, I think we have got it covered unless the other team counter-attacks with 4 or 5 players as opposed to the normal 3.
What makes a team attack-minded or defense-minded is the numbers it utilizes in both phases of play. How many do we defend with? How many do we attack with? Di Matteo has shown he likes to defend with 8 behind the ball while Villas-Boas defended with 6 and encouraged pressing high up the pitch.
This is how I would prefer the team to defend against normal opponents. The diagram shows the opposing team building an attack from our left flank. We are essentially defending with a bank of 3 in front of our back-four. Eden Hazard, at least in theory, should be tracking back when the opposition is having a spell of possession. Since it's very unlikely that he will do so, or he will be ineffective in doing so, I haven't shown him in the diagram. Also not in the diagram: Torres presses the CB's and Mata should at least limit one holding midfielder.
So how many do I attack with?
The attack basically consists of 5 players. The diagram shows 6 but Lampard rarely goes into the final third and instead sits deep most of the time just behind the attack. Ramires and Cole provide the width. Mata and Hazard provide the creativity. Torres makes the runs in behind defense. If nothing is on in the attack, the pass back to Lampard should be the escape route.
That is build-up play. How do we counter when we've won the ball in our own halves?
MR is Hazard; DR is Ramires; DC is Lampard; MC is Mata; FC is Torres. As soon as the ball is won within our own half, I expect the ball to played to Lampard. Lampard launches the counter by playing long passes. We have two extremely quick players on both flanks in Ramires and Hazard, both of whom will be making lung-bursting runs. If no long pass is on, Mata should be in proximity to Lampard for the short-pass. Fernando Torres will aim to drift wide to stretch the CB's so that Hazard or Ramires can move into the penalty are, or Torres will make a run and will have to be played in by a through ball.
That concludes this. Frankly, most of this could be flawed or too simplistic. I know as much about tactics as Harry Redknapp does. But I tried. I'd appreciate it if you add to the discussion in the comments section.