The Evolution of Football (2): Catenaccio

If you always keep a clean sheet, you never lose. The Ultra Defensive strategy, referred to nowadays as “Parking the Bus”, started with Austrian Coach Karl Rappan in 1932. How does the Catenaccio work and how did change Football?

The Catenaccio is based on keeping the most number of players at the back, therefore denying the opposition any space to work their attacking skills. Just like the holding midfielder is one of the most important positions in football today, the sweeper was the player who stood just behind the defensive line clearing any ball that got past the defense. German icon Franz Beckenbauer used to excel in that position and became one of the best defenders of all time.

The most common formation is a 5-3-2 or a 5-4-1 with a sweeper behind the line of 4 defenders and a midfield line that is mostly lined up in front of the defense. However, defensive lineups nowadays got rid of the sweeper to maintain the offside trap, so the formation changed to 3 central defenders with 2 wide full backs completing the 5 defenders.

How do you win if you’re always defending?

You’re not really always defending. Brilliant coaches adopted the Catenaccio with winning intentions. The key is to wait for the right moment when the other team thinks they are close enough to scoring to push more players forward, and then you counter attack. A quick play on the counter could be deadly if you’re organized; just like Chelsea do it or Mourinho’s Real Madrid used to.

Mourinho battled Guardiola with an ultra defensive lineup back in 2010 when Inter faced Barcelona and were expected to crash out of the Champions League Semi Finals. Surprisingly, Inter were extremely organized at the back and played perfect counter attacks to win 3-1 at home and lose 1-0 away with 10 players, with Samuel Eto’o playing as a left back after Motta was sent off. Since this match, a solution was found to Barcelona’s dominance and Guardiola was forced out of the battle by Mourinho two years later in Spain.

Di Matteo’s Chelsea did the same two years later to force Barcelona out and go on to win their first Champions League title in 2012 against Bayern. The perfect counter attack led to Torres’ second goal in the second leg of the Semi Final when Barca threw all their men forward.

5-4-1 with a Sweeper

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