Burnley boss Sean Dyche’s admiration for fellow 4-4-2 disciple Carlo Ancelotti ahead of trip to Everton
Sean Dyche came in for criticism for rarely deviating from his preferred 4-4-2 formation as Burnley were relegated in 2015.
And he again had to field questions on the suitability of the system recently after the 4-0 defeat at Spurs.
It has been labelled “old-fashioned”, despite it creeping back into use, with Leicester City winning the title with a variation of 4-4-2 in 2016, while Atletico Madrid have enjoyed great success at home and abroad in a similar style.
Saturday evening sees Dyche come up against an elite coach in Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti who has built much of his success over a 26-year career in management on the traditional formation.
Ancelotti has spoken about his belief in the system at length: “When I was starting out, I was wedded to 4-4-2. I have now learned to be more flexible although I still believe that 4-4-2 is the outstanding defensive system.
“You have the best coverage of the pitch, it is simpler to press forward and press high, with coverage behind the pressing players.
“You can bring in the wide players to bolster the midfield so that your central players are not overwhelmed.
“When I hear other coaches saying that their team was outnumbered in midfield, I say, ‘Look, we’ve got to stop thinking like this because we’ve got 11 players on the field and they’ve got 11 – if we’re outnumbered somewhere, they must be outnumbered somewhere else on the field. Let’s concentrate on playing in these areas.’”
It is a formation in which he played under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello with Milan, winning successive European Cups in 1990, and as a coach, he is a three-time Champions League winner with Milan, where he won it twice, and Real Madrid.
It goes to show 4-4-2 is not as outdated as many would have you believe, and Dyche smiled: "Roughly speaking, broadly speaking, he's used a version of 4-4-2 down his career, if you look back, I think he's played it a lot.
"Varying clubs, varying winning sides and varying achievements.
"It's easy to throw it around, and I have no problem with that, but it is a version of 4-4-2.
“We get called simple, and stuff like that, and I'm not remotely saying that, not suggesting he is simple in his format, I just think he's not afraid to play simple and put a simple format out.
"Of course, there is still flexibility within that, you've still got players coming off the lines, coming off their shape, which we try and do as well.
"Sometimes it is displayed differently here, but I've got no problem with that.”
Dyche prefers to utilise two strikers where possible, and Ancelotti is similar - to the extent where he turned down the chance to sign Roberto Baggio at Parma, and also allowed Gianfranco Zola to leave for Chelsea, because he felt they didn’t fit the system.
The one time he did change was at Juventus, moving to 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Zinedine Zidane, and he currently has Everton sixth in the Premier League, four points from a Champions League berth, with two forwards in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, who have 30 goals between them in all competitions.
Dyche added: "If you look down the varying sides he's had, on and off, he has often gone to a version of 4-4-2 with two strikers, and how that operates.
"I can only imagine, when you get to his level of the market, I don't think you get too worried about what people think of the shape you play, tactics - he certainly doesn't need to brand himself up, neither do any of those very successful managers.
"His record speaks for itself. I've always spoken very clearly about Jose Mourinho, whatever people's opinion of him, his record speaks for itself, you only have to look at his trophy cabinet to see he knows what he's doing.
"He will format the team as he wishes. As these guys get more rounded, I don't think Carlo would be too worried if you said it was a 4-4-2 or not.
”Fair play to the strikers. They've taken it up. Maybe there's a different feel about things.
”Carlo has played a lot with two strikers, or a variant at a lot of his clubs. Let's put it this way. It's very helpful if you've got players up front who are scoring goals.
”That's something I definitely know about football. It's helpful.”