Turkey 0-3 Croatia: Bilic shows how to play a 4-4-2 against a 4-3-3

November 12, 2011

The starting line-ups

A superb display from Croatia put them in a commanding position going into Tuesday’s second leg.

Guus Hiddink played a 4-3-3 system, with Giray Kacar brought in at the back. Kazim Kazim was injured, so Burak Yilmaz continued upfront, with support from Arda Turan and Hamit Altintop.

Slaven Bilic used 4-4-2, with Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic upfront. Luka Modric was in the middle with Ivan Rakitic tucked in on the left, whilst Vedran Corluka was on the left and Domagoj Vida right.

Croatia raced into a second minute lead and always looked in control, wrapping up the game (and probably the tie) with the third goal through Corluka on 50 minutes.

Formations match-up

This was a contrast of systems, a classic battle between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. Whilst formation doesn’t completely dictate the style of football being played, it’s clear that different formations are more suited to different approaches (or vice-versa). The difference between a 4-4-2 and a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 is summed up nicely by Sir Alex Ferguson.

“The idea behind the 4-5-1 is that you can control the midfield and keep possession of the ball – that’s always your aim when you use that formation,” he says. “I believe the team that has possession of the ball has more opportunities to win the match. As for the 4-4-2, there is more emphasis in that formation placed on playing the ball forward and usually you use the two traditional wingers.”

This game was the perfect case study – the 4-3-3 dominated possession (70% compared to 30%) but the 4-4-2 was more direct and created more goalscoring chances (13 shots, 9 on target, 3 goals compared to 2, 0, 0) according to UEFA.

Croatia tactics

So, how did Croatia do it? For the first five minutes, they pressed heavily at the top of the pitch, with both Olic and Mandzukic working tirelessly to close down the centre-backs and the deepest Turkey midfielder, Selcuk Inan. Mandzukic would often drop deep onto Inan to prevent him getting the ball, and then when Croatia won the ball, he’d sprint forward to join Olic whilst Inan would be attracted to the ball.

The early goal was crucial, because it meant Turkey had to attack and leave spaces at the back for Croatia breaks. Those attacks from the away side were very quick, generally coming down the flanks – Croatia would leave one player in front of the defence, usually Tomislav Dujmovic, but the rest would break forward immediately. Rakitic and Darijo Srna were the key players, able to pick up the ball in space and run at the Turkey full-backs – both of whom had very poor games.

Two banks of four

Croatia were on top for the first ten minutes, but then Turkey started to make the most of their numerical advantage in the middle, and the passing from the away side was poor. Olic and Mandzukic stopped pressing and instead dropped alongside Inan, making it difficult for Turkey to play out from the back to Inan, and equally difficult for Inan to play the ball forward when he did get possession.

Defensively, Croatia did nothing special, defending deep with two banks of four. Turkey had the right idea with the ball, being patient and logical with their passing – trying to drag the Croatian wide midfielders inside to deal with the 3 v 2, then getting their full-backs forward on the overlap.

Turkey lacked penetration, though, with a midfield offering little creativity. Croatia often looked slightly open in that they left a lot of space between the defence and midfield – but this was partly as a result of Turkey having no-one coming into that zone. Altintop, perhaps, could have drifted inside to try and open things up, but more often than not it was Yilmaz dropping deep to offer a threat in that area, which just contributed to Turkey playing infront of Croatia, rather than going through them.

Srna attacks

Srna started the game very poorly, but went onto become a key player down the right,. He was the best Croatian player at turning defence into attack quickly with direct running, and was also very clever at winning free-kicks, which he delivered with great accuracy himself. He provided the cross for Mandzukic’s second before half-time, then won and took the free-kick for Corluka’s header at the start second half.

Bilic deserves great credit for playing Srna there and having faith in the inexperienced Vida behind him – another manager may have dropped Srna to his favoured position of right-back, but then he wouldn’t have been such a force going forward.


The game changed little as the game went on. Hiddink brought on winger Gokhan Tore to play on the right for the second half, managing to get rid of the terrible Gokhan Gonul, whose poor defending against Corluka for the first goal was arguably the key incident of the game. Altintop dropped to a right-sided central midfield position, with Sabri Sarioglu going back to right back.

Later, he brought on Mehmet Topal for Inan to try to circulate the ball quicker from midfield, and Umut Bulut for Yilmaz for a more direct option upfront, but Turkey barely created a chance.

Bilic introduced Danijel Pranjic for Rakitic to help shield the defence, then replaced the two strikers when they tired – but all substitutions came after 80 minutes – he wanted to change as little as possible.


Bilic knew how well his tactics had worked. “We deserved to win by even more goals,” he said. “It was fantastic. I want to congratulate all my players – they played the whole match without making any mistakes. It was really amazing.” “Turkey did not create a single chance, which is quite remarkable since they had the home advantage,” added Olic.

Hiddink took the blame for the defeat. “I am responsible for the results. The players have to execute things properly, but I take full responsibility…if you come out in the first minute, badly-organised and outplayed very easily, then it’s already a difficult game. We gave them the favour of two counter attacks, which was the killer.”

Bilic showed how to play away from home with a 4-4-2 – he ordered his players to sit deep, then break quickly down the flanks through the wide players, and also paid attention to Turkey’s spare midfielder, Inan, and dropped one or both strikers close to him. The work rate of the front two, the directness of Srna and the discipline of Dujmovic were also vital.

Turkey were dreadful, though – so much possession and hardly a sniff of a chance. The lack of creativity and thrust from the centre of midfield was amazing, and Tuesday’s return game will surely be Hiddink’s last as a manager.

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