I’m not exactly a Pleat/Cox/Jack like brain when it comes to basic football tactics and formations, but this Tweet has been stuck in my craw since I read this morning. In a good way. As in, I agree with it.

Yesterday, I posted a video in which David Pleat explained 4-2-3-1. Beyond the mechanics of the formation itself, Pleat mentioned a Jonathan Wilson truism: that the best tactics fit the team, not the other way around. To paraphrase THE BIBLE, “Formations were made for teams, not teams for formations.”

There has been a lot of speculation over Roberto Mancini’s tactical choices following Manchester City’s ignoble 3-1 defeat away to Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League. That speculation has been ramped up in the wake of Micah Richards’ post-game remarks, in which he said of the switch to 3-5-2, ‘It is something that we have not worked on very much and it is the second time we have conceded after going to a back three.”

The purpose from what I gather of a 3-5-2 is to add more positive attacking width. The ostensible reason Mancini made the change was to have Kolarov advance as a wing-back and add some more pressure against Ajax’s back four in attempt to equalize after conceding a soft goal from a corner.

But, as with all formations, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. While most are focusing on whether it “suits the players’ ability,” there is an added element here of, “does it work based on the shape of the opposition.”

Ajax were in a nominal 4-1-4-1, although, this being Ajax, things were pretty fluid. Christian Eriksen played as a withdrawn striker, and it often changed into a classic 4-3-3, with both Sana and Shoene interchanging on the right hand side in attack.

Now, I was as miffed as anyone with the sight of Gael Clichy acting like a whiny baby when asked to take over as left-back when Kolarov came on for Joleon Lescott. But I’m not certain this all comes down to a matter of the players preferring a flat back four (although they probably do).

For one, as Rocco mentioned in his tweet up there, three at the back tends to be far more effective against the 4-3-1-2 midfield diamond. Why? It’s not rocket science. The diamond formation eschews the wide players in attack, so if you use a 3-5-2 against it, you can exploit the space in the flanks.

But against a 4-3-3? Particularly one with a midfield as expansive out wide and decent in possession as Ajax’s? Which was definitely evident after an hour of play? What am I missing? Does Mancini know something that I don’t?