Saturday,April 1,2023

The Pyramid: From being an invincible system to the epiphany which led to the revolutionization of football formations.


The Pyramid Formation

Since the inception of Football in 3rd century China, there have been copious changes that have defined the game that is played today.

English football was responsible for bringing in the tactics in the game which were seen trivial before.

At the dusk of the 19th century, England and English teams found the way to play football in the 2-3-5 system (The Pyramid) and there was no two way about it.


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Popularized by Preston North-End, who worked the system with their short incisive passing. Unlike the traditional English 1-2-7, The Pyramid was not based on individual skill and it was the teamwork that made it work.

The 2 man defense was used to stop the wingers and the centre backs(the role that a deep lying midfielder plays in the modern game today) used to track the inside forwards.

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Preston won the first double of the English football, winning the English League and the FA Cup in ’89 playing ‘The Pyramid’. They were the first ‘Invincibles’ of the game, going undefeated throughout the season and this encouraged every other club in the country to follow suit.

The Matthews Final-


The 1953 FA Cup final between Stanley Matthews led Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers, which by common consent among the people who witnessed the game was one of the greatest games of footballing history. The game was watched by a record 12 Million at that time, which was a bigger audience than any other sporting event in the history before.

Stanley Matthews’ inspirational performance in the game earned him the match nicknamed after him as ‘Matthews Final’. Although the game is famous for the heroics of Stanley Matthews’, it was the hat-trick from Stan Mortensen that saw Blackpool win the game 4-3 from a 3-1 deficit.

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‘Matthews Final’ proved just how efficient ‘The Pyramid’ was, as you just had to win the ball in midfield and feed it to the winger who ran straight towards the tracking full-back and tried to beat him and feed the ball to the approaching centre forward in the box.

Match of the century-

The teams coming out, led by the two captains, Billy Wright of England, right, and Ferenc Puskas of Hungary.
The teams coming out, led by the two captains, Billy Wright of England, right, and Ferenc Puskas of Hungary.

6 months later the world was about to witness what is known as the ‘Match of the century’ between then no. 1 team and Olympic champions, Hungary and England, who had just lost one game on their home soil and felt they were technically and physically superior to anyone.

England faced humiliation with a 6-3 defeat to the ‘Magical Magyars’ and it was mostly down to the English team’s tactical naivety. The games also showed just how outworn the traditional 2-3-5 system was.

The 2-3-3-2 Formation of Gusztav Sebes

The Hungarian team, managed by Gusztav Sebes lined up in the 2-3-3-2 system with a very deep-lying central midfielder and a withdrawn central forward, almost close to a 4-2-4. Full-backs had an extra defensive presence and they operated wider than usual which nullified the English wingers.


In W-M formation the standard practice was to switch the play as supposedly left winger who had the ball, being closed down by the right full-back and the centre back marked the centre forward and the left full-back tucked in to cover, which provided the right winger with the space to run to when the ball was switched to him.

Ending the Dominance

What Hungary did was, they had a covering player just behind centre back, allowing the full-back to stay in position, denying the English wingers any space to run into.

Hidegkuti, who was playing as a central midfielder for Hungary was marked by Harry Johntson, which meant that Johntson was constantly drawn out of position and that left spaces in English midfield and Hungary exploited those spaces effectively.

England was also undone by shrewd play from Magical Magyers, who switched the places throughout the game and left England thinking who they should mark, which drew English players out of positions and Hungarian no. 10, the legendary Frank Puskas and no. 8 Koscis dismantle the English defense.

Sir Bobby Robson said of the game: “We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before. None of these players meant anything to us. We didn’t know about Puskás. All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned. They were coming to England, England had never been beaten at Wembley—this would be a 3–0, 4–0 maybe even 5–0 demolition of a small country who were just coming into European football. They called Puskás the ‘Galloping Major’ because he was in the army—how could this guy serving for the Hungarian army come to Wembley and rifle us to defeat? But the way they played, their technical brilliance and expertise—our WM formation was kyboshed in ninety minutes of football. The game had a profound effect, not just on myself but on all of us.”

This result shook the entire nation and the footballing world and how the game was seen tactically.

Also read: How a war in the Middle East changed English football


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