As 2015 nears its end, we have picked the top 50 players of 2015 – with our selection based on the players’ performances during the year, not their individual skills. Out of these 50 players, we have created four different teams, each of which you will be able to read about during the month of December. This first team is captained by Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 4-3-3 formation is set up for a possession-based style of play. As you can see, every player is immensely gifted technically, as this is a prerequisite for possession-style play. The thought behind the selection was the level of their passing ability and their workrate. Although Ronaldo is not the first player that comes to mind when one thinks of teamwork, his position as a center forward and his individual talent means that his forward-going contribution is more than enough.
Boateng and Godin provide the team with height and strong aerial presence, and any ball whipped into the box will have the two of them and Courtois, standing at 1.99m, to go past. Additionally, the two have Vidal in front of them who is not afraid to tackle. The defence further consists of Lahm and Alba, who are among the best fullbacks in the world given that they are as exceptional defensively as they are going forward.
Further up the pitch, Iniesta and Modric will make sure the attack stays organized and at any given point it will be able to provide the front three with passes so that they can do what they do best – score goals, and lots of them.
When it comes to defending, the whole team is focused on regaining possession. The first line of defense is the three forwards. They start pressing the back line so that they don’t have too much time and space to build up their attack. The players in all three lines of formation (defense, midfield and attack), stay compact and don’t allow large, empty spaces to be created. For instance, if Neymar rushes out to the opponent’s right-back, Ronaldo and Sanchez take on the centerbacks, so that the right-back’s only realistic option is to switch sides or pass it back to the goalkeeper, and you never want your fullback to make many of those passes.
However, while the pressing in this formation is high, it’s not too high – the players don’t go after the ball relentlessly as they would in a pressing-based style of play. The forwards would allow the opposition defenders to move forward a bit, but that’s where their freedom stops. Since you don’t press far up on the pitch, the space between lines is not big enough for pockets to appear. The opposition is forced to go wide and poke around for gaps, which makes it very difficult for the team to be broken down.
Once you regain possession, you can organize a quick counter-attack. Although counter-attacks are not a priority, the players won’t deny themselves a quick goal. However, counter-attacking is not forced, so if there is not a clear-cut chance for it, the players will build their way up the pitch.
On the other hand, there are two possible drawbacks to defending with this formation. First of all, you cannot seriously expect of Cristiano Ronaldo (and, to a lesser extent, Neymar) to always track back and stay in line. This may result in opposition defenders having more space than you would like, but they still have three midfielders and four defenders to go through who are willing to do the defensive job properly. Add Sanchez to that, who is tireless and has an outstanding workrate, and you should be fine.
Secondly, a 4-3-3 with compact lines offers space out wide for the opposition to exploit, especially with fullbacks who participate in attack. However, both Alba and Lahm are hard-working and always willing to track back and fill in the gaps, so when the opposing team goes out wide with two players (a winger and a fullback), you have them covered with Lahm/Alba and a centreback, since your whole backline moves to that side and Vidal drops in to fill the gap in defense. In this situation, the opposition resorts to crosses and blocked shots, which are difficult to convert to clear-cut chances, especially with the trio of Godin, Boateng and Courtois.
Once the ball is yours, most opponents will sit back and let you have the ball while making it difficult for you to reach the goal. This, at times, may make you go for crossing, which is not a great idea given that Ronaldo is the only aerial threat up front. However, the idea behind possession-based style of play is to always keep your players on the move, so that the player with the ball at their feet always has the options of who to pass it to. With quick and accurate passes, the ball never stays put and the opposition has a difficult time predicting where the ball will go next.
The quick movement of the ball from player to player and the team being constantly on the move will keep opponents on edge, where eventually someone will make a wrong move, either by marking the wrong player, or staying in line when they should have gone after the ball, and an opportunity to reach the goal will open up. In order for the passing to be successful, the two key players are Modric and Iniesta, as the majority of attacks will go through them. Throughout 2015 (and before), both have shown that they are up to the task.
Similar to when defending, the team stays compact in attack and, for example, when Sanchez takes the ball wide, Neymar slots in centrally and Lahm goes up the pitch so that Alexis has two players to find in the box (Ronaldo and Neymar) and Lahm to pass back to.
Even if the opposition is ready for this and is intent on preventing gaps frpm appearing, the amount of concentration needed to make that happen will eventually wear the team down. As soon as concentration falters and fatigue creeps in, the team’s defensive organization will weaken and goalscoring opportunities will arise.
Furthermore, even if you think you have overdone it with passing and are struggling to find gaps, you always have the likes of Ronaldo and Vidal on your side, who are not afraid to take a long shot.
As we have mentioned earlier, for possession play to be successful, all of your players need to be technically sound. You should be able to start your attack from the back with your centrebacks confident on the ball. This means that even when the opposition opts for pressing, you can be safe in the knowledge that nobody will lose the ball easily and you will reach their box in a few quick, accurate passes.
How would you set the team up with these players? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.