Jonathan Wilson’s excellent article talks about the intricate system of midfielders that the Brazilians have recently used with their 4-2-3-1 formation. The Brazilians call it a diamond with Gilberto at the base, Ramires to the right, Melo to the left and Kaka as the play maker at the apex. With this inner core, we add a Robinho to the diamond as a second striker jutting to the left. It introduces a great deal of fluidity and overlap.
On the right we have Ramires cutting infield and overlapping with Maicon, the right back with his great attacking instincts running out wide. On the left, we have Robinho who accomplishes both functions, a striker with a wing back like quality. In doing so he seems to have resurrected the role of Gianni Rivera, Milan’s 1970s playmaker. Melo holds the left flank as one of the two holding midfielders while Gilberto occupies a more central space.
Soccer with this system is viewed as a set of spatial relationships rather than a more formulaic use of players to complete a deterministic formation which is more of a European legacy. Wilson does mention his surprise that Dunga who has come for some heat in the past for eschewing creativity is using this system. But Dunga with his defensive mindset, might have recognized it as a more attacking version of catenaccio called il giocco all’Italiana which the Italians used in the 1970s.
The quandary facing Bob Bradley is how much should he invest in stopping Robinho. Ricardo Clark, the only US player with any holding capabilities does duty tracking Kaka, which leaves Robinho unfettered.
Or does Bradley try what Liverpool did two years ago in the 2007 CL final, shutting down Kaka effectively by committee rather than assign him a player which would mean Donovan and Dempsey track back and help Clark, Bocanegra and Onyewu to shut down central space which Kaka operates from. That would leave Spector man to man with Robinho who likes to cut in from wide left. The disadvantage is that Andre Santos could run into the space vacated by Spector and leave the wings exposed for a set piece.
The other option is to keep Robinho preoccupied with defensive duties. Spector can push hard up field and overlap with Dempsey, dragging Robinho deeper to help Santos. The danger is obviously counterattacks which proved costly to the Italians.