The Trequartista Is Dead, Long Live the Trequartista

In La Reppublica, Fabrizio Bocca has written interestingly about the new (or rather re-invented) tactical system that is in fashion in serie A today. I'd been mulling over the rare occurrence of Juventus--machinery of all machineries--using a trequartista to the same extent as they are this season, and now Bocca's text will do fine as a starting point for the discussion.

Writes Bocca, "(a)t times football is indeed a festival of absurdity. There are ways and behaviors that players, coaches and directors follow as if they were a flock of sheep: this is how it's done, and that's that. Now it seems that the only real way for a big team to play is with the 4-3-1-2". He continues, "As chance would have it - or maybe it's not chance at all, that's the entire point - Inter, Juventus and Milan, that is to say the big three of the league, all play with the same formation. And in serie A the clubs that play that way are as many as 7 or 8. The trequartista - whether it's Ronaldinho in Milan or Diego in Juve - becomes the distinctive mark. The key man on whom the team's attacking productivity depends".

This is rare when playing Juventus. Even when they had Zidane, they never depended to him to such an extent that marking him out of a game made Juve impotent. Now, they run that risk. Now, they live by Diego and will die by Diego.

First off, I want to say that I am fully aware Diego is a great player. He awed me in Germany, and nothing suggests he's not good enough to be a key man for a league contender in Italy as well. When he's in form, Juve will be lethal, as he's always a scoring threat, or added to his capacity to assist the attackers.

That said, he's only a man. Totti, as we are well aware, is not and is in fact superhuman, but even he was stoppable back when he was the entire team offensively. Pre-Spalletti, there was an annoying and frustrating trend that Totti could be shut down particularly in derby games by having players like Giannichedda shadow him and follow him into the bathroom. If they could do that to Totti, it sure can be done to Diego. It would require DDR upping his game considerably (Pizarro's not going to do much to stop him, is he?), and there are question marks pertaining to him shutting down Diego, whom you cannot leave alone for too long, and at the same time keeping the much less offensively capable but never the less sturdy Juventus midfield in check to give Pizarro some time on the ball. Ironically, my proposal would be for Brighi to start as well, in, well...a 4-3-1-2. Cut scene to Bocca shaking his head. Ahead of tomorrow, an ode to DDR and Brighi in form of Ligabue:

Bocca again: "Inter has even searched high and low in European football to find the right player to put in that formation, in that '1' to arrange things behind the two attackers. The one everyone calls the trequartista. Sneijder - hardly Maradona - has become the keystone of a group trying to win lo scudetto and Champions League: without him the mega expensive mechanism shuts down". This echoes some of my own scepticism about Sneijder's playmaking abilities. He's sure to give Inter a more fluid midfield game than Muntari and friends are capable of, but I don't see him as the vital trequartista who's altruistic or inventive enough to play the role convincingly.
Which is something Bocca has something to say about, too: "Once we were accustomed to seeing Baggio or Zola, Totti or Del Piero, Rivera or Mazzola, but the 'trequartista' of today is not as free to do that which his inspiration tells him: rather he's a soldier, even him, rigorously respectful of the tactic. ... Paradoxically if Mourinho, Leonardo or Ferrara ... had a Bruno Conti or a Franco Causio miraculously fall into their hands, a wing with blazing dribbling skills, they might go into crisis because they wouldn't know what to do: they wouldn't be expected within the system".

The dearth of talent compared to years past is of course correct of Bocca to note, but more interestingly I find the last sentence: that today's coaches are too locked in one way of thinking to invent convincing or effective Plan Bs. It is perhaps too soon to pass judgement on Leonardo's and Ferrara's respective ability to be inventive, but we find strong indications that Plan B doesn't exist when we look at the way the squads have been built. All of the big 3 have stockpiled central midfielders, and I count three wing players good enough to start in serie A in all three teams combined.