For Torres, it was his 12th goal of the season. For the Rojiblancos, this victory means they extended to four games their unbeaten streak. For coach Wilmer Cabrera, this win is another high point since he opted to come back to a 4-4-2 formation.
In light of alternative formations on display in the current World Cup, it cannot be forgotten that, just some seasons ago, the 4-4-2 system was declared dead. It was exactly the 2010 World Cup that seemed to seal its fate. For sides looking to disrupt the orthodox 4-4-2, inserting a third central midfielder was the key.
Jose Mourinho once highlighted it:
Look, if I have a triangle in midfield - Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front - I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That's because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team's wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things.
That said, the obsession for a ball controlling game and the trend to pack the midfield with so many good feet as possible helped to switch from two-forward formations to lone-forward systems. Playing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 made teams able to create triangles all over the pitch, giving the ball carrier more passing lines. Operating with one forward was seen as the way to take control of the midfield without giving up the offensive flair.
But in recent years (months, even) have seen a natural evolution from this kind of tactical thought. That happened with the rise of forward-less formation. The ‘false nine' quickly became a feature for teams looking to control the game and to move away the center-backs, creating space that can be exploited by other players coming from behind. Lionel Messi and Cesc Fábregas were no longer second forwards or midfielders but became "dropping" center forwards.
But as often happens, for every revolution there is a counter-revolution, pairing two strikers up front was no more a tactical crime. The return of a forward pair, out from 3-5-2 or from the old-fashioned 4-4-2, still makes sense. Playing with two central midfielders, two flankers, and two forwards are coming back in vogue on some teams, once again.
Initially, there was a defensive thought behind this idea. In fact, playing 4-4-2 in a reactive pose was effective, as it is often hard to break an opposition featuring two banks of four. And having a striking partner up front can help the once-lone forward. Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool or Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez at Juventus have proved how the forward partnership is working well. Part of the reason relies on the fact that defenses have to control one more man. That's particularly true for a flat four backline where it means to have a two vs. two, that is to have centerbacks suited for 1 vs 1 situations, as they have no covering help by the other central defender.
That said, the popularity of two forward systems have gained popularity because having two strikers up front gives you more combination opportunities compared to play with just one forward. Add to it the fact that 4-4-2 is a simple formation to teach and you can easily find why its comeback is unsurprising.
In the case of Chivas USA, perhaps Cabrera should have thought that earlier in the season. After flirting with 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations, the Colombian head coach appears to have reversed his mind. While playing a single central forward has produced mixed results, Cabrera has found a stretch of good results after moving to a two forwards system. For many teams, it means to take care of Torres and his forward partner. Leandro Barrera showed against Montreal that he can handle this job as Torres' sidekick. Although this pattern can leave Chivas USA short in middle of the field, Cabrera can minimize this issue by forming a defensive oriented partnership in the centre of the midfield, as he did against Montreal pairing Marco Delgado alongside Agustin Pelletieri. The whole team appeared to be balanced both in possession and when out of possession. So, the final sentence, for CUSA at least, is overturned: the 4-4-2 can still work.
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