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Spain: No strikers allowed

Football has always been a sport which prides itself on being innovative and a constant struggle to be the best. Like in business, football is about strategy, and in most cases, it is a race to the top.

The focal point of this change is often the change in formations which adapt as slowly as vast tectonic plates, before someone comes up with an earthquake in the footballing world; a system which all teams must copy…or fall behind.

If your brain worked like mine, you would call it plate tactonics.

Spain's giant leap forward

Over the last few weeks, Vicente Del Bosque and Spain may have just invented this latest scene of devastation and rapid change.

Throughout Euro 2012, they have persisted with the use of no recognised striker, playing what they call a 4-3-3 formation, but which is essentially a 4-6-0.

Interestingly, my beloved Scotland tried this tactic against the Czech Republic less than two years ago to widespread criticism.

As ever, Scotland were victims of being ahead of their time. Scotland, being the pinnacle of world football, had their idea stolen.

In Spain’s system, Cesc Fabregas, the playmaker from Barcelona, played as what is becoming football’s latest must-use phrase, the “false-nine”…sounds like a Ridley Scott film.

In the past, sea changes in the world of football tactics were met with some suspicion, but this latest innovation has led to higher raised eyebrows higher than a priest in Ibiza.

Of course, del Bosque and co claim that Fabregas (pictured) is a good enough striker, something the Barcelona man interestingly denies.

What this does to Fernando Torres’ brittle confidence remains to be seen, but the fact is that Spain, as they have continuously done for the last four years, have raised the bar once more.

With David Silva and Andres Iniesta alongside him, Spain have more than enough attacking threat to blow the doors of most defence, with the ammunition supplied by Xavi and Xabi Alonso.

A brief history of football tactics

If you think back eighty or so years ago, footballing tactics were very different.

Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal were about to dominate English football with a side which played considerably more strikers than Spain. They played five.

With a sort of 2-3-2-3 formation, Chapman’s side was revolutionary.

It forced a huge change in how English football was played and how world football teams played for the next twenty years.

Further innovations have taken place since then. Brazil’s 4-2-4 formation of the late 1950’s was actually once seen as conservative, while England’s 4-4-2 formation contributed to them winning the World Cup in 1966.

It seems that we English attribute any success to the 4-4-2 formation, as we still haven’t evolved 50 years later!

Next came the ‘Total Football’ policy of the Dutch, a system which isn’t too dissimilar to today’s Spain side.

In that Dutch side, anyone can play anywhere and, seeing Sergio Ramos surge upfield last night, Spain aren’t a million miles away from a return to Total Football…what a great name.

Italy’s ‘Catenaccio’ formation of the 1980’s is still slightly evident in the way Italy play their football, with a strong, centralised midfield and a devastating ability to hit teams on the counter attack.

Moving forward further, Chelsea’s diamond formation of the mid-2000’s under Jose Mourinho brought much success, until the 4-2-3-1 formation came into widespread use.

This formation made us of a “double-pivot” in midfield, while attacking midfielders had freedom to terrorise defences. However, just as the world was catching up with that, Spain have changed the rules again.

What does this mean for football? The end of six foot plus strikers? The end of the playground goal-hanger? Whatever it means, Spain’s great leap forward is clearly successful and worth copying…for now.

By Doug Elder - Follow me on Twitter @DouglasElder2

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