England evoke spirit of Cruyff against Germany

Written for BreatheSport, a brand who’s clientele includes the likes of Gary Lineker and Robbie Savage.

England evoke spirit of Cruyff against Germany

England were fearless against Germany. Two goals down, no one would be surprised if the fixture had fizzled out; yet, goals from Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and a 90th minute header from Eric Dier sealed an impressive comeback. Aside from this very obvious positive, there was also a very subtle positive: the employment of a formation inspired by one of the greatest footballers to have ever graced the pitch. Harry Kane’s goal, preceded by a majestic Cruyff turn wasn’t the only influence the Dutch genius would have.

The desperately sad news of Johan Cruyff’s passing sparked myriad tributes, as his significance and contribution to the beautiful game commands. Among the plethora of biographies, clips of his greatness and glowing articles, a video circulated the internet. This video, in Dutch, involves Cruyff explaining his interpretation on the ‘diamond formation’ where he explains the dynamics of the formation in which he played in.

For Cruyff, the diamond only works when the wide points support the full-backs, both going forward and in defensive duties. Without such a relationship between the full-backs an open area on the flanks emerges, presenting rich opportunity for opposition teams to exploit. In the video, Cruyff explains how the diamond is comprised of what we understand as a central-defensive midfielder, two central midfielders advanced to the left and the right, and a centre forward constituting the tip. What makes Cruyff’s diamond different, however, is the inclusion of two wide men who sit just in front of the central midfielders, and just behind the striker. In setting up like this, the wide men provided cover for the fullbacks and support the lone striker. For those who understand the language of numbers, the formation reads something like: 4-1-2-2-1.

For visual representation.

FORMATION 1

 

Whether England manager Roy Hodgson realised it or not, his team evoked the spirt of Cruyff and replicated this set-up against Germany on Saturday night. It allowed for pressing, not the wasteful and useless kind, but the kind the actually works. Repeatedly the pressure applied by England’s, effective, front three resulted in German defenders playing a wayward pass. Consequently, England were able to pick the ball up in dangerous positions and pose a threat. Alongside this, it allowed for greater fluidity through England’s attack, and for once, Hodgson’s side were exciting to watch.

Aided by Hodgson’s choice to start with pace, skill and flair, in the form of Ali, Lallana and Welbeck, England distanced themselves from a stereotype that has plagued English football since the game was adopted by the rest of the world; the Three Lions were not slow and tedious, but fluent and smooth in possession.

However, being a relatively new system, it left the defence vulnerable, with just one player protecting the back four. The fragility will be a cause for concern, and Dier will have to prove that he can do a job traditionally done by two players if he is to cement a place in England’s starting eleven.

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