Zonal Marking’s 20 teams of the decade – in full

March 28, 2010

After twenty trips down memory lane, this series has finally come to an end. Below are the twenty sides chosen, in descending order, to represent the 2000s in tactical terms.

Choosing the sides was a difficult task. The intention was not to choose the twenty ‘best’ sides, but to choose twenty sides who were somehow interesting tactically, or those who made a significant impact upon the game.

The France side of Euro 2004, the Australia side of World Cup 2006 or the Bologna side of 2001/02 will hardly go down as great sides, but were fascinating to study from a tactical point of view. The order is subjective and not based upon any strict criteria, but hopefully the detail about each individual side will cause more interest than the order itself.

A few interesting things come out of it – how few three-man defences there are, how few 4-4-2s there are, how three of the top five sides occasionally played strikerless shapes, that Cafu, Gilberto, Thierry Henry, Lucio and Daniel Alves all feature in three sides on the list.

There are other successful sides not on the list – Italy’s World Cup-winning side, Inter’s successful side of the second half of the decade, and a couple of Bayern Munich sides. The list could also rightfully be seen as focusing too narrowly on Western Europe and international tournaments, as fans of the Boca Juniors side of 2003/04, or the recent Shakhtar Donetsk side would point out.

But hopefully this has been an interesting feature – attention now turns to the great sides of the 2010s…

Sevilla, 2005-07: For winning the UEFA Cup twice in succession, showing that a traditional 4-4-2 can still work at the highest level when adapted to suit the players at hand.

France, Euro 2004: For trying an innovative shape, but ultimately demonstrating that football isn’t about trying to cram your best players into the same team.

Australia, World Cup 2006: For outlining the value of packing the midfield by playing a 3-6-1 shape, and dominating possession against better sides.

Bologna, 2001/02: For showing how successful a ‘big man holding the ball up’ can be, and for varying their formation but keeping the same tactics.

Senegal, World Cup 2002: For shocking the world with their victory over France, and for playing physical but technically excellent counter-attacking football.

Brazil, 2007-09: For playing a fascinating 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 diamond / 4-2-2-2 shape, and providing one of the most interesting tactical debates of modern times.

Milan, 2002-07: For their two Champions League victories, and for playing up to four talented playmakers in the same midfield by reintroducing the deep-lying playmaker.

Chelsea, 2004-06: For taking the Premiership by storm and showing how successful the 4-3-3 shape can be by occupying opposition full-backs.

Brazil World Cup 2002: For winning the World Cup by playing adventurous football despite fielding seven relatively defensive players in an unusual 3-4-3 shape.

Valencia, 2001-04: For winning La Liga twice and the UEFA Cup, and establishing the 4-2-3-1 as a creditable formation.

Roma, 2000/01: For demonstrating how successful a three-man defence can be, and for providing a great debate between two players upfront.

Arsenal, 2001-04: For two incredible title victories by playing wonderful football in a loose 4-4-2 that became a 4-2-3-1.

Czech Republic, Euro 2004: For having more attacking options within the first XI than any other side in the decade.

Spain, Euro 2008: For playing their way to success through tiki-taka.

Bayer Leverkusen, 2001/02: For coming so close to three trophies and setting the agenda for how European football tactics would evolve throughout the decade.

Roma, 2005-07: For hinting at the future of football – strikerless formations.

Porto, 2002-04: For achieving the most remarkable club feat of the decade – coming from nowhere to win the Champions League.

Manchester United, 2006-09: For an astonishing run of trophies, and for playing different systems and utilising their players so well.

Barcelona, 2008/09: For winning every tournament they entered, for playing incredible football, and for being flexible at both ends of the pitch.

Greece, Euro 2004: For the biggest shock in the history of football.