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Emergence of the 4-3-3 system in modern football

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Football around the world has been evolving as it always has. Let us take a look into how the popular 4-2-3-1 system got caught out and the emergence of the 4-3-3 formation.

There are several positions on a football and one might easily get confused with different numbers thrown at them without respite. So to make things clear, no. 6 is the defensive midfield role which is also referred to as CDM or DM. No. 8 is the central midfield role otherwise referred to as CM. No. 10 is the attacking midfield role, also known as CAM or Central Attacking Midfielder.

The attacking and defensive flexibility offered by the 4-2-3-1 system was off the charts. Almost every player on the pitch would have dual roles to occupy given the scenario of the game. As its popularity grew, given the natural course of change, managers began plotting on how to break down this system.  A familiar formation began to make its way once more – the classic 4-3-3. Johan Cruyff notably used this formation in the 1990s with Ajax FC helping them secure European Glory.

The biggest threat from the 4-2-3-1 system was the freedom it allows for their no.10. It became redundant to play 4-3-2-1 against each other as their no.10s would be canceled out by the opposing no.6s. To tackle this, managers needed players who were technically gifted to further up the pitch. Having two midfielders up the pitch against the two holding midfielders allowed for one of the wingers to find space on either of the flanks. Finding the extra man in midfield became all the more crucial given how defensively rigid is the 4-2-3-1 system. This led to the resurgence of the modern-day no.8s and solitary no.6s.

The two no.8s were required to be essentially gifted on the ball but also defensively capable to a fair extent. The no.6 fell to a solitary player instead of a defensive partnership. The no. 6 is required to link the defense with the no.8s and also keep stringing passes together to keep the ball moving. In other words, they were required to be the Regista who kept the metronome ticking. To a fair extent, all three midfielders had to be all-round players when compared to the traditional 4-2-3-1. This became absolutely necessary to execute the 4-3-3 system.

The no.8 is expected to carry the ball forward, deep into the opposition half and link up with their full-backs or wingers in play. They are supposed to be known for their distribution across the pitch, passing range, vision, decent strength and fair dribblers. Liverpool’s Thiago and Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong are known to be one of the finest of their kind.

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The no.8 today has become a hybrid of the traditional 10s who have defensive duties as well. Players like Modric, Kovacic, Wijnaldum, Arthur, and Kevin De Bruyne are wonderful examples of no.8s. They could’ve traditionally been a part of the no.10 bubble but rather they have adapted to the advanced no.8 well. Mesut Ozil could never add the defensive side to his game, thus adding to one of the many reasons why he doesn’t play regularly anymore.

This system also adds to the defensive duties of a solitary no.6. They are supposed to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, great tacklers and fine readers of the game and also have considerable strength to shield and protect the ball after having won it. Some of the best teams in Europe have an adept no.6 amongst their ranks. Chelsea’s Ngolo Kante, Liverpool’s Fabinho, Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich, Manchester City’s Rodri, Arsenal’s Thomas Partey and Real Madrid’s Casemiro are just some of the most popular no.6s in the world today.

The no.6 and no.8s have become indispensable to numerous teams who seek to play fast, attractive football today and some of the biggest teams have been using it for a while now. It is important to take understand that the shift from a 4-2-3-1 system to a 4-3-3 system was not coincidental. It was a step that adhered to the rising demands of fans and players alike that they wished to play free-flowing “beautiful” football. Only time will tell whether the beauty of the game or results on the pitch would secure the long-term success of any football club.

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