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“4-2-3-1, 3-4-5-1 … That’s a phone number,” Menotti said in an interview with ‘El País’ when asked about formations on a pitch. What does it matter if the important thing is how you move and what you propose when you have the ball. For the Argentine, the tactical provisions only serve in front of a paper, simple numbers that have little or nothing to do with what happens on the green.
But whether Menotti likes it or not, this European Championship has served to put some numbers in order and confirm an upward trend in European football in recent years: the defense of three (or five, call it what you want) has come to stay. Neat exit of the ball, well structured back after loss, crowded center of the field and depth of the wings are some of the factors that have so seduced some teams such as Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium in this Euro.
Despite whoever it weighs and receives the criticism it receives. As it has been. In the ‘Mannschaft’ Löw was attacked and in what way for using one of the best pivots of the moment like Kimmich as a right-hander and, in the ‘Oranje’, De Boer also had to deal with authoritative voices such as the Van Basten myth for using a system ‘away’ from the Cruyffista style book.
In the end, and for the moment, there is no one who moves that system because the results and the sensations are coming. Other ‘smaller’ teams such as Switzerland, Wales or Austria also enter this group, which will be in the eighth. Even the surprising and attractive Italy have also turned to the three in the back during some stretches of their matches.
The lanes, fashionable
If anyone has been favored by this trend towards the formation of three centrals, it has been the lanes, figures who after years of ostracism have regained, if possible, more prominence than in the past. More concerned with attacking than defending in the most powerful teams, players like Thorgan Hazard, Dumfries or Gosens are being some of the proper names of what we have in the European Championship.
The Dutchman has been a dagger on the Netherlands’ right flank and has drawn the attention of the biggest teams for his back and forth and his good skills with the ball at his feet. Two goals in three games for a winger is also a good cover letter.
It has surprised, although perhaps not as much as the case of Gosens. The track has been followed more this season with Atalanta in the Champions League, but the level shown in Germany at 26 years old has been tremendous. To frame, the game he played against Portugal, with assistance and goal included, has remained. That, perhaps, was the laners’ game by definition. Kimmich and Gosens embroidered it. The lanes have gained prominence as long as the three-back scheme has also done so. More field to travel, but greater offensive contribution and less concern to recover.
A question also of clubs
It is no coincidence that now many teams have decided to bet on training with long lanes. Something similar has also happened in the clubs, with all the nuances of the world according to the style book of each coach.
Tuchel’s Chelsea has been Champions of the Champions this year with that arrangement, Inter de Conte has regained the throne of Italy after more than a decade of ‘bianconera’ tyranny, Koeman’s Barça has evolved towards that approach … Zidane, in his last games on the white bench, has played with a three-back line. The 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, whether they are just numbers or not, like Menotti or not, are here to stay.