The 2-7-2 Formation: Why It Isn't As Crazy As You Think

A 2-7-2 formation in soccer sounds absolutely insane. In reality, there's a good reason why Thiago Motta supports it.

When looking at some of the world’s best teams, football’s future looks very bright. Manchester City for example is a testament to modern progressive football: back-to-front play in quick succession and starting attacks from the goalkeeper. Many European sides have adopted the tactic, as it encourages more open play.

It begs the question: Where is football heading in the next decade?

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In late November of last year, a comment made by former PSG player and current U-19 manager Thiago Motta sent the internet into frenzy about this very same question.

He wants future teams to play in a 2-7-2 formation.

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“The future lies with a 2-7-2," Motta said. "I count seven in the middle of the field. For me, the attacker is the first defender and the goalkeeper the first striker. The goalkeeper starts the game with his feet, and from the wings, the offensive pressing to recover the ball takes place."

Naturally, the reactions to this quote were mostly outrage and disbelief: two defenders? A goalkeeper in the middle of the park? The internet was skeptical of Motta’s approach and even called into question his role as PSG’s U-19 manager. It seems crazy to put a goalkeeper in the middle of the park with the help of only two defenders. What if the opponent takes a shot from half field? How can a midfield seven play on the field without getting to clustered? 

It turns out, the translation of Motta’s comment from the media to the public was completely wrong. Instead of reading the formation vertically, he was reading the formation horizontally. 

2-7-2

Screenshot: Tifo Football | YouTube

Two players in the wide spaces on the left — two. One forward, three midfielders, two defenders and a goalkeeper in the middle portion — seven. Two players in the wide spaces on the right — two. 

So really, the goalkeeper isn’t playing alongside a midfield triangle, rather he sits just behind the back four to push them up the pitch, much like Andre Ter Stegen or Manuel Neuer. The formation itself really looks like a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3. It’s a fluid formation with defensive midfielders dropping back to collect the ball and the outside backs pushing high up the field with the midfield three to dominate the center of the park. 

This formation really isn’t anything new. Pep Guardiola has done this with Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Really, it’s a modern adaptation of Johan Cruyff’s total football formation used at Ajax and Barcelona. 

So Thiago Motta was actually talking about a fluid, possession-based 4-3-3 formation rather than an outlandish vertical 2-7-2. Manchester City currently exhibits a formation very close to what Motta is describing.

Maybe Thiago Motta really does know what he’s talking about. 

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