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What we talk about when we talk about formations

Jun 28, 2012, 5:15 PM EDT

(Upper row L-R) Belgium's goalkeeper Th AP

In a dramatically titled piece, “The Fraudulence of Formations,” the boys at The Wall Street Journal take on those silly strings of numbers.

Jumping in to the middle, we’ll pick it up with Juanma Lillo, the Spaniard created with developing the 4-2-3-1 that’s been so popular in the Euros.

“I would like to demystify this. The formation is only the first snapshot. After that, the players are always on the move because the ball is on the move, so the formation no longer exists. In any case, [a team's] style of play is related to an idea, not to a geographic positioning on the pitch.”

He’s right. Pundits, fans, and anyone else with a passing interest in the sport spend far too much time talking about numbers and not enough time discussing how players reacted. The game is not won and lost in formations. They are a nice talking point, but only that.

The WSJ piece concludes with a nice note from a man who knows a little something about winning.

“In the end, [the formation] doesn’t matter,” said Italy midfielder Thiago Motta. “Even Spain play with two wide players up front but then they come inside to play as central midfielders. In the end, we all change.”

He would know. It wasn’t the formation that shocked Germany on Thursday afternoon. It was Mario Balotelli’s two goals, some solid defending (which, in fairness, was aided by formation but more a product of hustle and heart), and some uncharacteristic mistakes by Italy’s opponents. 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-whatever-whatever. In the end, what matters is the victory.

/rantover. Now please go read “Inverting the Pyramid.”