Are Formations Relevant?

Like any great philosopher, Tim Sherwood’s thoughts are enduringly relevant. His recent departure from the league has had us looking back at his oeuvre.


Tim, deep in thought

One quote, made during his stint at Tottenham, stood out in particular:

“We just had 11 numbers on the field and tried to rotate and fill up every area of the field. I don’t what you are saying about 4-4-2.”

“Football is not won or lost on a TV screen or a board – it is about getting on the grass and showing them what you actually mean.”

While Tim offers an interesting take on the ontology of football, what stands out most are his views on tactics. He seems to be suggesting formations are going the way of great philosophers: into the history books.

Is this the case? Are formations still relevant?

We posed the question to two of our writers. As usual, we are maintaining our student angle, so we’ll be considering the problem at the grassroots level.


Do formations help score more goals and win games?

First up, and backing Sherwood, is Jamie Hamill:

At our level, when tiredness kicks in (which lets be honest, depending on the night before, is usually after the first 30 minutes), formations go out of the window.

Players drift around, they swap positions, and finding space becomes more important than sticking in place.

Even before then, how many teams have you played in which experimented with formations and truly noticed a benefit?


Can too much information hinder a team?

At our level, more often then not, games are decided by individual mistakes.

How many times have you seen a player slip, miss-control a ball or score a shocking own goal?

Formations are a factor in determining the outcome of a match. They are not, however, the only factor. Formations don’t win matches, footballers do.

Where are my match winners?

Not convinced? Here’s our new writer, Oli Robins, on why he disagrees with Sherwood:

I have a lot of respect for Tim Sherwood, but if his tactical advice had solid backing wouldn’t he still have a job?

At the Sunday League/Grassroots level formations enable each player to understand what their job is and to know their role within the team.

How many times has a mate of a mate filled in at left-back at late notice?

Even with no relationship with the rest of the team he knows that in a 4-4-2 he will have two centre halves inside him and (hopefully) a wide midfielder and one of the forwards running the line.


Know your role

The way you set yourselves up, be it in a 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1, allows you manage the game in a way playing in ‘the space’ doesn’t. Simply put, playing 3 in the middle against a traditional 4-4-2 gives you a man advantage in the most important part of the pitch.

Furthermore, at this level is our football IQ even high enough to understand where the space is or will be?

Formations are simple, we’ve grown up with them and any fan in any stand in the country should be able to explain the difference between all the formations listed above.

Formations enable not just the individual but the team as a whole to know their role and understand how to set up.

As Jamie pointed out above, often games are decided by individual magic or calamity, but at the end of the day isn’t football a team sport? Formations provide the backbone and structure that enable teams to win football matches.

Footballers don’t win matches, teams do.

What’s your opinion? Let us know in the comments section. 


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