The decline of 3-5-2 in modern football

Carlos Bilardo

Although at the Stretty Rant we concentrate on issues involving United – we do like to engage in debates over other aspects of the beautiful game. I got a royal ROASTING in the ‘Ferguson criticism blog‘ the other week. Some justified, some total bullshit – but it got people talking about the tactics Ferguson adopted against Fulham. I for one would never promote a three man defense – although I do adhere to a 4-3-3 shifting to a 3-4-3 if you have the players when attacking. So what do you make of the decline of the 3-5-2? Or is the 3-5-2 alive and kicking as it was back in 1986 when Carlos Bilardo (pictured above) shocked the footballing world with the removal of two wingers?

Brian Clough was one of the best managers this country had ever seen. He once stated the following:

“Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes”

Now, he said this seven years after he retired from the game having watched his Nottingham Forest side fall from grace. Had Clough’s attitude been a little different towards tactical innovations and formations he may have evolved with the footballing world as Sir Alex Ferguson did. I’m sure I’ll get some stick for that considering everyone thinks I run the Fergie fan club – but I think it is ludicrous to assume a modern day manager can be successful through sheer man management skills and shrewd transfer market choices. We all want to see matches where a game is decided by a moment of brilliance from a player rather a tactical shift which nullifies the opposing team’s attacking threat. But we can’t ignore the importance of having a manager with tactical nous that combines man management and transfer market awareness.

So do you agree with Clough’s assessment? The talk of Sacchi’s pressing game or the ‘Makelele’ position – is it all nonsense? Is it the fact that Milan had a superb all round team that was funded by Berlusconi’s millions that gave them that success of the late 80s and early 90s? Or that Makelele’s superb reading of the game and distribution highlighted the space on the field that he was occupying? For me it is a combination of tactical innovation and footballing philosophy in how the manager wishes to set up his side. It takes huge practice and determination in order to achieve the heights that these tactical pioneers reached. Jimmy Hogan, Hugo Meisl, Herbert Chapman, Stan Cullis and Arrigo Sacchi are just a few of these managers/coaches.

So back to the decline of 3-5-2, here is my comment from the Ferguson criticism blog:

Team 1 are Playing a 3-5-2 against Team 2’s 4-4-3/4-5-1. Team 1 must commit their wing backs to deal with Team 2’s wingers – which means that Team 1 are using five defenders to deal with Team 2’s three attackers. Moving a bit further forward in the 3-5-2, the midfield loses its usual unique point – by having three midfielders up against three midfielders. Moving to the frontline, we now have two forwards against two defenders and the two spare defenders are the left and right back. This means that one of those defenders can push on into midfield (to occupy the space left by wing back who is now picking up the winger) – which leaves Team 2 with a three vs. two at the back – covered! So in essence Team 2 can keep the ball better and has greater width. So as you can see, i’ve thought about it quite a bit and I am most definitely not an advocate of the formation. The popularity of the formation was inspired by Carlos Bilardo – who trialed the formation just before the 1986 World Cup – which everyone thought was a mistake on the team sheet! Bilardo’s thinking was that if teams are playing a 4-2-2-2 (think Brazil 1982 with Zico and Socrates) then why play with wingers at all!? Both Argentina and West Germany adopted a form of 3-5-2 in the final (if anyone saw my comment in the Wolfburg report to the 1986 World Cup – thats what I meant!)

Below is a mocked up diagram of the main issue with the formation – the wingbacks have to pay attention to the wingers, meaning there is a 5 vs. 3 situation at the back, which consequently means there are drawbacks elsewhere on the pitch. Do you agree with this explanation? Or do you think that 3-5-2 has a place in modern day football?

If you are interested in the evolution of football tactics and study of foreign methods throughout the past 150 years Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid is a must read for any football fan.

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