4-4-2 and no surprises from Switzerland
This is the fourth consecutive major international tournament the Swiss have been at, and yet they still seem something of an unknown quantity. Now managed by double Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld, they won their qualification group and appear to have a talented, settled team.
They find themselves in a qualifying group containing Spain, Chile and Honduras, seeming almost out-of-place both in terms of language, as the only non-Spanish speakers (which is ironic considering Spanish is the one major Western European language the Swiss don’t speak) and in terms of style. Their group opponents all play relatively free-flowing, positive football, whereas the Swiss play a slightly more organised, disciplined game.
They are expected to start with a fairly standard 4-4-2 – which, what with the current European obsession with 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and the apparent South American trend of three-man defences, seems like a bit of a novelty.
In truth, there is relatively little to say about the system. Hitzfeld is considered something of a master tactician, but if he is to impress this summer in that respect, it will be because of specific instructions before individual games, rather than a grand plan which automatically outfoxes opponents.
The back four is what we have come to expect from four-man defences in modern football – the centre-backs stay rigidly in position, the full-backs attack. The right-back, Stephan Lichsteiner, is good on the ball and has bags of energy (he plays as a right-wing back in a 3-5-2 for Lazio), whilst the left-back Ludovic Magnin is generally more defensive, although Reto Ziegler got a run out in a recent friendly – he would offer more of an attacking threat from left-back.
In the midfield, Switzerland play with two relatively deep central midfielders, and leave the attacking to the wingers. In the centre will be two of Benjamin Huggel, Goklan Inler and Gelson Fernandes, with Fernandes favourite for a place on the bench. Huggel is a tall, strong, reliable central midfielder whilst Inler is slightly more all-action, but in general these two will knock passes out to the two wide players.
They are the left-footed Tranquilo Barnetta, and the right-footed Marco Padalino. They will probably start from their ‘correct’ sides and look to get crosses into the box for the strikers, but Barnetta has become accustomed to playing from the right-hand side for Bayer Leverkusen this season and a mid-game switch of the two could be on the cards.
Upfront, Alexander Frei remains the golden boy (no wonder, with a record of 40 goals in 73 internationals) and will be partnered by Eredivisie winner Blaise Nkufo, who plays a valuable Heskey-style role upfront. His place may come under threat from Eren Derdiyok, an equally tall but more mobile 21-year-old, who has impressed in his first season for Leverkusen where he combined well with Barnetta.
Diagonal balls are from defenders to the wingers who push high up the pitch is a frequent method of attack, but this direct route is combined with an ability to keep possession in the centre of the pitch when ahead.
The second game against Chile (which will see a fascinating Hitzfeld v Bielsa contest) will probably decide how far Switzerland go, but if they progress, they will meet a team from Group G, the toughest in the competition. It’s hard to see them progressing past the second round, or making a significant impact upon the tournament, but their formation and style will provide interesting contests against their group rivals.4-4-2 and no surprises from Switzerland