If it ain’t 4-4-2, we’re not playing it.
Formations have come a long way since the humble days of 4-4-2 or, if you were feeling a bit adventurous, 4-4-1-1.
Looking at where goals now come from it’s clear that formations are as fluid as the Cryptocurrency markets pre-crash.
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Let’s start with the highest assist provider in Europe’s top five leagues- Kevin De Bruyne.
De Bruyne plays under Pep Guardiola, who’s got a mercurial ability to make Sky’s pre-match lineups look like a complete guess.
He likes his full-backs to play as central midfielders, asks his wingers to hug the touchline yet always attack the posts and requires centre-backs to be false 5s.
In short, he’s a tactical maverick who can’t be confined to one formation.
Look at KDB’s hat-trick of assists against Leicester.
The Belgian was nominally playing in centre-mid, according to WhoScored.
But a look at his heat map shows that he did his best work out wide. All three assists came from wide positions.
So to call him a centre-mid would see you torn apart by the faux-tactical geniuses on Twitter.
You’ve been warned.
Next up in Europe’s top providers is Neymar*. *please resist the urge to talk about Ligue 1 being full of farmers
Neymar has registered a surprisingly generous 12 assists in 19 league games from PSG’s left flank. But he’s very much free to go where he pleases.
The same can be said of Lionel Messi, who’s third in the list with 11 league assists.
Messi has mastered the art of the through ball inside either full-back but he plays closer to goal than every these days so that method of destruction isn’t as common.
Probably more so than any player in Europe he wanders the pitch, looking slightly lost and disinterested, before sparking into action.
To tie him down to a position would be difficult though, as both Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho are finding out.
Barcelona’s latest arrivals have found themselves having to adapt to the tactical nous required when playing with Messi.
Rounding off Europe’s top five providers are Marseille’s Florian Thauvin and Man City’s Leroy Sane.
Thauvin is a perfect example of how tactical freedom allow players to flourish.
At Newcastle he was asked to play as an out-and-out winger, whereas at Marseille he’s given creative license, resulting in 15 league goals and 10 assists already this season.
Take a look at his standout performance against Metz at the beginning of the month, where he scored a hat-trick and provided an assist.
He had touches all over the pitch, shot from close to goal on six occasions and only provided two crosses. Hardly textbook numbers for a winger.
Sane is a similarly free spirit.
WhoScored has him down as playing four different positions already this season, but he probably varies more than that in a single 90 minute game.
He’s got the pace of a winger, technique of a no.10 and the thirst for goals of a striker.
If you asked him to stay out wide and put crosses into the box all game you’d be reducing him to 40% of the player he actually is.
So, if the men who provide the goals are anything to go by, the days of professional footballers at the highest level having rigid tactics they’re forced to stick to are over.
It means fewer Mesut Ozils but more hybrid monsters who are comfortable anywhere they find themselves on the pitch.
We haven’t even touched upon the world of goalscoring, in which wingers are the new no.9s and traditional target men have to be false 10s.
Long live the free creators.
READ MORE FROM THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL:
- Here’s how Neymar’s first season at Real Madrid will go
- Mousa Dembele might well be the most unique footballer ever
- We tried to re-design the England football kit