Motta’s 2-7-2: How does that work?

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“The striker is the first defender and the keeper is the first one to attack”

Thiago Motta on his 2-7-2 formation

Let’s be real, we all thought Motta came up with a highly attacking line-up with 7 midfielders.

Wrong.

In reality, Thiago Motta did not invent a new line-up, nor does his tactics include 7 midfielders. His tactics, as opposed to what people may think, is read horizontally and not vertically.

Meaning; instead of representing Defense-Midfield-Attack, his tactics can either be read Left-Center-Right or Right-Center-Left.

In other words, if we were to read it vertically, his formation would be a 4-3-3.

If you didn’t notice yet, 2+7+2 amounts to 11. Which means that the goalkeeper is actually counted as he represents the key piece of Motta’s tactics.

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The Sweeper Keeper role

The Keeper in Motta’s tactics gets involved in the build-up and even advances outside his zone to land between both defenders. By doing so, the keeper allows the holding midfielder and the fullbacks to play higher, even when the opposition is pressing high.

The fact that the keeper comes between defenders gives them the opportunity to drop wider and attract the opposition’s pressing higher up the pitch; leaving space behind them for the midfielders and fullbacks to exploit. As we can see in the following video.

On the other hand, in a standard 4-3-3, it would be up to the holding midfielder to drop back. As a result, he would leave his spot and create space for the opposing defense to push higher and also force the defense to play hazardous long balls or dangerous short passes in the defense.

This disturbs the balance of the team and leaves far too much space for the opposition. While when the keeper steps up, no one is behind him to exploit the space he leaves.

See for yourself.

The Striker

At the other end of the pitch, Motta expects his striker to put high pressure and force the opposition to drop back for the team to exploit space. If they fail to react, Motta expects his striker to get the ball back higher up the pitch and create danger on their own or relying on one of the 4 supporting players (both CAMs and Wingers).

The setting of the midfield, suffocates the opposing defense and covers a lot of space. If applied correcty, pressure will often result in situation where the opposition loses the ball in dangerous areas.

The following picture shows how Motta expects his front players to press and force the defense to drop back and search for long balls towards midfield.

What does it need to work

First and foremost, Motta’s tactics need a more than just competent keeper with the ball at his feet. A part from that, the keeper has to have great vision and perfect decision making.

This formation is built around the principle of building from the back. It focuses on keeping the ball and moving it around in defense to attract the opposition and hit them when they least expect it.

Another must have for this to work is definitely the high level of athleticism and calm. The tactics require a lot of movement and space hunting, thus high levels of stamina and physicality.

Last but not least, a competent striker when it comes to tackling and pressing. He has to be quick and needs to harass opposing defenders, a tireless player who will make the most of the smallest opportunities.

PS: Against a team that sits back, Motta’s team would most likely face problems creating space. Not pressing high forces Motta to push higher, and consequently failing to create those spaces his team needs to operate.