How the 2014 World Cup has changed football

Argentina's Lionel Messi and teammates celebrate at the end of the World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and Belgium. Photo / AP
Argentina's Lionel Messi and teammates celebrate at the end of the World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and Belgium. Photo / AP

New formations, roaming goalkeepers and a Latin uprising - Brazil 2014 has seen a revolution, writes Jason Burt.

There is a new breed of coach

England, again, are behind the curve. And not just with the appointment of Roy Hodgson but with his predecessor Fabio Capello. The conservative approach has gone out of the window. Now coaches are bolder, often younger, and certainly more energised. It is no coincidence that England (Hodgson), Russia (Capello) and Spain (Vicente del Bosque) all bombed in Brazil.

The idea that being a national team coach is for a manager in the twilight of his career and one who is about man-management rather than working the players on the training ground is now redundant. It is not necessarily an age thing but it is about the mindset.

The myth that coaches do not have to enough time to work with the players on tactics has also been exposed by the likes of Chile's Jorge Sampaoli and Mexico's Miguel Herrera, USA's Jurgen Klinsmann and Germany's Joachim Low.

Still it is clear that Low has worked with the players, has developed tactical plans and goes at the job as if he were running a club. England, on the other hand, have Club England in name but not in approach.

Counter-attack rules

Possession-based tiki-taki is not dead just because Spain crashed out of the World Cup. Far from it. All that happened was a group of players lost their hunger and, crucially, their opponents worked out how to nullify them. There was no Plan B and when Spain tried it - playing more directly to Diego Costa - it was too late.

Counter-attacking has always been the most effective form of attempting to score a goal given that the opposition can be caught when they are trying to reorganise and regain their shape. But this World Cup has taken that to a new level partly because teams have been so aggressive in hunting down the opposition, closing them down quickly, cutting off space and often defending high up the pitch to condense play. It has not been a case of soaking up pressure and then trying to break, but when teams do counter they have done so at unprecedented speed and with power. One myth has been slain: teams do not need the bulk of possession to win.

Fifa's technical committee has already noted the "audacious" approach taken by some teams. Bold is best, as games such Germany v Ghana and USA v Belgium have shown.

Formations are flexible

Innovate or lose: that has been the tactical mantra of this World Cup. Again England lost out on this as they stuck with one approach - 4-2-3-1 - and remained rigid. It is even more galling given that they did not have the players for this approach. At the same time we have seen teams employing variations of 3-5-2 or 4-3-3, sometimes without a striker as Germany have done, or even, in the case of Chile, 3-4-3. Colombia have used 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1 and against Uruguay 4-2-2-2.

Encouragingly for Manchester United, Holland's Louis van Gaal has given a master class in being prepared to change things. Against Spain he interchanged his team from 3-5-2 to 5-3-2 and the Dutch beat the world champions 5-1. Against the dangerous Chileans he was more cautious with his five-man defence before some clever substitutions - bringing on Memphis Depay and Leroy Fer, who both have power and are more direct - reaped dividends against a tiring team. Both scored and Holland won 2-0.

The world is more equal

The days when every World Cup group would throw up at least one 'gimme' to one of the major nations appear to be over. Instead, that most tired of cliches - there are no easy games - appears to ring resoundingly true. Costa Rica have been outstanding, while Algeria finished ahead of Russia and took Germany into extra-time.

Australia finished bottom of their group but ran Chile and Holland close while Iran only lost to Argentina in injury time to a bit of Lionel Messi magic and Switzerland were only defeated in extra-time by the same man. There were very few poor teams and very few heavy beatings. Indeed, the biggest loss of all was suffered by the world champions Spain. Only Cameroon, South Korea and Honduras could really be described as poor, and even the minnows have given it a go.

Keepers are sweepers

Manuel Neuer gave a master class for Germany against Algeria in what is expected of the modern-day goalkeeper. German coach Low even called him his team's 'libero' and he is a very aggressive one: he boldly came off his line, rushing outside his area to make tackles and even a diving header to thwart the quicksilver Algerians, who were trying to expose Germany's high line. For Neuer it was not just about his defensive qualities but also his aggressive, quick distribution, a key attribute for a modern goalkeeper. The accuracy of his long kicking was extraordinary, as highlighted when he picked out Andre Schurrle, leaving him one-on-one with an Algerian defender with an early release of the ball. Neuer is not alone. France's Hugo Lloris is also bold, although he has actually been more disciplined during this World Cup.

The double pivot is dead

All four semi-finalists in 2010 - Spain, Germany, Holland and Uruguay - used what is termed as a double pivot in midfield. For the three European nations that meant a 4-2-3-1 formation while for Uruguay it was more 4-4-2 but without asking the two central midfield players to get forward, making it a 4-2-4 in attack.

Spain have used the 4-2-3-1 approach for a decade and now, just as it is going out of fashion because teams are realising the two in central midfield can get outnumbered by a trio who press them, England have adopted it. The notion of a lone striker with a line of three behind him is questionable. The 4-2-3-1 formation has been exposed unless it is fluid. Teams have experimented and caught out those who remain rigid especially if that double pivot, as so often is the case, includes older and slower players such as Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.

...and so is the traditional No 9

The irony in that in a World Cup noted for its attacking play - with good strikers such as Robin van Persie, Karim Benzema, Neymar and Messi - the classic centre-forward is no longer the main goal threat.

The No 9 is now not a greedy goal getter but a selfless, industrious workhorse who is expected to harry and harass the opposition to hold the ball up and create chances and open up space for his team-mates. Brazil's Fred has been much-maligned, and with justification, but his main task is not to score but to hold the ball up for Neymar. Similarly Gonzalo Higuain is expected to do the same for Argentina and for Messi.

Germany have abandoned the notion altogether, partly as Miroslav Klose is 36, and asked Thomas Muller to be the nearest player forward. Colombia have missed one of the few genuine, accomplished No9s left in world football through injury - Radamel Falcao - but the team have been more fluid and potent without him as James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado have come to the fore.

England must learn more Latin

There are already a significant number of Brazilian and Argentinian players in England but we can now expect Chileans, Colombians and Costa Ricans and even Ecuadoreans to add to that.

One trend discerned at the World Cup is the desire and positive aggression shown by the Latin America players. The fighting spirit of the Chile and Costa Rica players has been a highlight, along with the exuberance of Colombia and the wonderful Rodriguez. He is already in Europe, at Monaco, but others will follow.

It is not just about players. The trend also applies to managers, where Latin American football is becoming dominant. Manchester City have a Chilean manager in Manuel Pellegrini while Argentine Diego Simeone is in charge of Atletico Madrid, the team of last season.

Defences need to be rebuilt

While the attacking play has been brilliant; defending has been poor. Or rather it has been inhibited. There have been very few standout central defenders, partly because of the strict standard of refereeing, which has made players more cautious to make a challenge in the final third. Both Brazil and Germany have looked vulnerable despite having coveted defenders in Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Mats Hummels.

One aspect that has been highlighted is the struggle some centre-backs have had defending one-on-one. It is a lost art which is all the more dangerous given that full-backs are encouraged to push up. Some nations have reacted by playing three central defenders, while others have used a midfielder in the role. France's Raphael Varane has impressed, as did Uruguay's Jose Gimenez, Costa Rica's Giancarlo Gonzalez, but the better performers have often been older players such as Mexico's Rafael Marquez and Colombia's Mario Yepes.

- The Sunday Telegraph

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