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Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Benito Mussolini has returned to the Italian throne, declaring the 4-1-2-1-2 as the official formation of the corporate state on the football pitch! Any alterations, variations, or opposition of any kind will be eliminated!

Okay, not really, but seriously Serie A—What’s up with the 4-1-2-1-2? Apparently, these days, the latest trend in “the boot” is the 4-1-2-1-2, and the Italians have beat this set-up to a pulp.

Such a formation is difficult to maneuver, as it requires precise execution from all parties involved. Crucial to its success is relentless activity coming forward from the outside backs, and thus structure in the defensive midfield to make up for its susceptibility to counterattacks with width. Also, given that the formation is designed for squads with a surplus of central midfielders, it is important to resist clogging the middle of the field.

The issue is that the requirements of the 4-1-2-1-2 are much more complicated and interdependent in comparison with some of football’s simpler formations. Consequently, its overuse in Serie A has resulted in inconsistency for those who employ its services, occasionally ineffective attacking schemes, and even horribly boring play.

Take, for instance, Inter Milan, 4-1-2-1-2 regulars. Coach Jose Mourinho loves the 4-3-3, but at Inter, he does not have the width to build such a design. Instead, the reigning Italian champs are abundant with central midfielders and have two attack-minded backs.

On paper, this is perfect for the 4-1-2-1-2. However, with an all-too compact midfield, the Nerazzurri rarely escape the middle of the pitch. Their player most apt at providing offensive width, Wesley Sneijder, is positioned at the tip of the diamond, as he is keen on finally attacking from the center midfield after playing on the flanks during his tenure in Madrid. Thus, Inter Milan are left ineffectively trying to force their play down the middle of the pitch, as was no more evident than in their 2-1 struggle over Cagliari on Sunday.

Then, you have AC Milan, who might as well have signed a contract with the 4-1-2-1-2. Despite starting a 37-year old left back (you know, the guy that’s supposed to get forward a lot) this past weekend, the Rosseneri remain intent on sticking with their trademark formation. And how does Milan look? Terrible—so terrible in fact that they probably deserve more than a paragraph of abuse.

Juventus, however, is a rare exception from this theme of structural failure in Italy. Unlike many of their competitors, the Zebras are able to employ the 4-1-2-1-2 and stretch the field. Thanks primarily to Fabio Grosso and Camoranesi, Juventus are able to widen their attack from the defense and midfield, respectively, and open up their formation to a bit of creativity.

As demonstrated by Juve, the 4-1-2-1-2 recipe can certainly work, but only with all the necessary ingredients. And even with a shortage of resources, teams like Bologna, Siena, Chievo, and Palermo persist to employ their country’s national football formation.

So why is Serie A so keen on the 4-1-2-1-2? It might have something to do with the style of Italian football and the make-up of today’s typical Italian footballer.

Italian football, in terms of both the national squad and the country’s professional league competition, is famous for its technical play. Unlike, say, the English Premier League, which stresses speed and quick attack, Serie A endorses structured, precise football.

Thus, Serie A is naturally inclined to develop a more technically-sound player. Technical skill makes for a strong player in the middle of the field; the best players technically often play the center midfield (versus those who excel athletically, players prone to wider positions). As a result, Italian football is home to a surplus of center midfielders, not coincidentally the first disposition in 4-1-2-1-2 employment.

The analogy makes sense, but all in all, is too simple to be accurate. It’s not like the Serie A winger is an extinct player; come on now.

So Italy, what's the deal? Your top-flight has no width and a lack of creativity. The issue is clear and the solution is not difficult. What's up Serie A?

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