When Roy Hodgson played his successful diamond formation in the 2-0 win over Switzerland, with Fabian Delph debuting brilliantly in the left sided midfield role, he pointed the way forward tactically not just for England, but it seems for the majority of top flight teams in the Premier League.
Italy have played this system at national level since they installed Andrea Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker, with Claudio Marchiso and Daniele De Rossi as the midfield shuttle runners at the wide points of the diamond. England tried Jack Wilshere in the Pirlo role with support on the right and left from Delph and Jordan Henderson, and Raheem Sterling operated at the tip of the diamond, as he sometimes does for Liverpool.
The argument over who should fill these positions for England will rage on (some feel Tom Huddlestone would be the most natural player in the deeper role as he plays at the base of a three-man midfield for Hull City every weekend) but consensus on this becoming the default formation seems to be unanimous. At club level the popularity of the diamond is rising; Brendan Rodgers pioneered it last season at Liverpool and the advantages of the system seems to have caught on with his fellow managers. For Rodgers, it allowed him to field two strikers up front, with Suarez and Sturridge forming an almost title winning combination. The pair showed intelligent movement, often drifting into wide positions to give space for Sterling to attack through the centre.
A couple of seasons back, tactical experts were declaring the the two-man strike partnership dead, with 4-2-3-1 & 4-5-1’s dominating the scene and the so called ‘false 9’s’ such as Lionel Messi who dropped deep from a lone centre-forward position to allow space for the wide players to move into more central scoring areas.
Now, we have Manchester United’s new exciting double-act of Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao occupying the centre forward spots, with Wayne Rooney sitting deeper at the tip of the diamond. The formation seemed to play to United’s strength’s very effectively for the first hour of the game against Leicester City, as Falcao found space out on the left to cross beatifully for his partner Van Persie to finish, and the left hand side of the diamond, Di Maria, linked up cleverly with Rooney to make it 2-0 with a coolly improvised scoop into the top right hand corner of the goal.
Leicester, and Boss Nigel Pearson’s lack of fear in matching United in tactical shape and attacking intent, gave us a fantastically entertaining spectacle at the King Power Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Pearson bravely swapped his usual 4-4-2, with Riyad Mahrez and Jeffrey Schlupp as the wingers, and instead opted for his own midfield diamond with the highly experienced Esteban Cambiasso at the base, Dean Hammond on the left side and Daniel Drinkwater on the right, as The Foxes shadowed United’s superstars, virtually playing a very refreshing looking man to man marking strategy which put pressure on The Red Devils all over the pitch.
The centre forward David Nugent was at the tip of the diamond (which meant there were six strikers on the pitch at the beginning of play), and he and his fellow attackers, Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy were constantly pressurising United’s defenders whenever they received possession, but more importantly they were pulling wide and exploiting the space behind United’s left and right full backs.
The openness of this encounter was due to Leicester’s willingness to take risks in all area’s of the pitch, something which can’t be separated from their renowned ability to come back from losing positions. This historic 5-3 victory will be remembered for a long time in the East Midlands, but it will also be noted in Manchester for being the first time in 853 Premier League matches that United have given up a two goal lead, and then gone on to lose the game. A sobering thought for Lois Van Gaal and the Old Trafford faithful. It’s all very well implementing the attack-minded diamond shape, but if you don’t spend any of your £150m transfer budget on World-Class defenders, then it’s going to be significantly more difficult to outscore the opposition.