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What we talk about when we talk about formations

(Upper row L-R) Belgium's goalkeeper Th

(Upper row L-R) Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Belgium’s Toby Alderweireld, Belgium’s Nicolas Lombaerts, Belgium’s Marouane Fellaini, Belgium’s Axel Witsel, Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen, (Lower row L-R) Belgium’s Kevin Mirallas, Belgium’s Denis Odoi, Belgium’s Eden Hazard, Belgium’s Igor De Camargo and Belgium’s Dries Mertens pose for a team picture before the start of the friendly soccer game between Belgium’s national Red Devils and the Montenegro national team, on May 25, 2012, at the Koning Boudewijn Stadion - Stade Roi Baudouin, in Brussels. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / VIRGINIE LEFOUR ***Belgium Out*** (Photo credit should read VIRGINIE LEFOUR/AFP/GettyImages)

AFP/Getty Images

In a dramatically titled piece, “The Fraudulence of Formations,” the boys at The Wall Street Journal take on those silly strings of numbers.

Jumping in to the middle, we’ll pick it up with Juanma Lillo, the Spaniard created with developing the 4-2-3-1 that’s been so popular in the Euros.

“I would like to demystify this. The formation is only the first snapshot. After that, the players are always on the move because the ball is on the move, so the formation no longer exists. In any case, [a team’s] style of play is related to an idea, not to a geographic positioning on the pitch.”

He’s right. Pundits, fans, and anyone else with a passing interest in the sport spend far too much time talking about numbers and not enough time discussing how players reacted. The game is not won and lost in formations. They are a nice talking point, but only that.

The WSJ piece concludes with a nice note from a man who knows a little something about winning.

“In the end, [the formation] doesn’t matter,” said Italy midfielder Thiago Motta. “Even Spain play with two wide players up front but then they come inside to play as central midfielders. In the end, we all change.”

He would know. It wasn’t the formation that shocked Germany on Thursday afternoon. It was Mario Balotelli’s two goals, some solid defending (which, in fairness, was aided by formation but more a product of hustle and heart), and some uncharacteristic mistakes by Italy’s opponents. 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-whatever-whatever. In the end, what matters is the victory.

/rantover. Now please go read “Inverting the Pyramid.”