In my humble opinion, footballing battles are won and lost in the midfield. The midfield is the beating heart, the living soul of any football team. It is the part of the team that dictates the play to the forwards in attack and shields the defense. It therefore makes sense to balance out your midfield as best you can. In an effort to bolster the midfield further, I have drawn inspiration from Louis van Gaal and his revival of the 3-5-2 formation. This is what I came up with.
The result of the planning was a new 3-5-2 formation where one of the defenders can be moved to the midfield so as to add more force, and hence the physical fighting ability, in the midfield.
What is it really, 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2? Formations are blurred at the best of times, but we can at least say there is a discernible back three and two wing-backs. The midfield can vary in terms of numbers and shape, whereas there are two advanced runners that will spearhead any and all attacking movements.
I have opted for the libero because he offers extra defensive security as with three defenders, a back line will have a spare man even against a 4-4-2, as well as allowing the team to form triangle-shapes when building up. When in possession, he will move further up the pitch, upto a point where he is in the same strata as the roaming playmaker. Observe.
When in possession, the libero often surges forward. In this case, we can see he has overtaken the roaming playmaker in the defensive midfield-strata, actively involving himself in the build-up phase of play. He will generally open up play with a pass down the flanks.
These strides forward are not without risk, incidentally. As you can see, the two central defenders maintain their wide positions, just as if the libero were still present, instead of maintaining a more narrow shape. A direct pass through the middle towards a fast forward could be disastrous.
The wing-backs will act primarly in offence in this formation, as they are really just deep-seated attackers. As modern football is seeing the increased importance of attacking values in left- and right-backs, who am I to ignore this trend. Having a three man defence effectively releases the wing-backs from most of their defensive duties, allowing them to maraud the touchline and contribute heavily to offensive duties. Just look at this match-clip.
Having a player constantly positioned in the wide area stretches the pitch to its limit, creating plenty of room for passing either in the middle or by a player in the middle towards the flanks. The premisse of stretching a defence is as easy as it is effective. By stretching the defensive line, by drawing defenders out wide, you are creating gaps between the lines, causing unrest and undermining the cohesion and organisation of the defenders.
The presence of the onrushing midfielder, Kanté, draws the wing-back away from his defensive line, forces the defender to maintain a more narrow position than he might like. The wing-back, Alex Silva, charges forward and is then released into the space behind the opposing defensive line. The defender went too narrow and ceded the flank, allowing Silva space to surge forward and punish them.
This horizontal stretching is a very common form. Traditional wingers, the speedy dribblers on the flank, used to stretch the defence like a rubber band, so natural poachers like Robbie Fowler could find space in the box to run into to receive the ball and do their thing. This formation aims to achieve similar goals by allowing the wing-backs to maraud down the wings.
The Central Winger adds another dimension to the mix, effectively trying to stretch the defence in a vertical way. The basic premisse of vertically stretching a defence is the same as the horizontal stretching approach. You try to create gaps between the lines, so runners can exploit this space. In this scenario however, we are not stretching the defensive line itsself, but the space between the defensive line and the goalkeeper.
In this situation, the Central Winger initially isn’t directly involved in the attack but as it progresses, you can sort of see what the Central Winger adds to the situation. Rinaldo, the Central Winger, starts in central midfield and as the ball is passed forward, he moves into a more advanced position, actually overtaking one of the Shadow Strikers in terms of positioning, at which point he is looking poised to make a late run into the box. As the pass arrives, Rinaldo is fortunate to score, but these kind of runs show the role the Central Winger is supposed to play. He is basically a withdrawn Shadow Striker, taking on opponents directly and creating havoc by playing in the space between defence and midfield and trying to find space behind the defence from a withdrawn position.
With all those moving players, you are going to need a player who provides the passes. In my regular formation, this was generally the Targetganche, who tried to launch his team-mates into space. In the current setup, the passes are coming from a much more deeper position. The roaming playmaker plays all over the place and acts as a catalyst during the attacking phases of play. Just look at his passing range.
There are short and simple passes and there are long-range, Gerrard-esque glory passes. They are played near the own penalty area and almost inside the opposing teams penalty area. He’s here, he’s there, he’s fucking everywhere. He is Pirlo on acid, he is the Roaming playmaker.
Which leads me to the actual business end of this blog-post, the download-link. There you go: