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Differentiating between Spanish, British, German, Italian and French football?

Differentiating between Spanish, British, German, Italian and French football?

When it comes to club football, most of the clubs from same country have different styles of play. You can never say that all the Spanish clubs are slow and of less physicality.
Is Real Madrid’s game play slow? Does Athletico Madrid have less physicality? No is the answer. But what you can do to understand the styles of play on a total sum up is to generalize them. When you talk about the clubs’ styles of play just think on what kind of impact does it make on the national team.Now coming to the question,


The birthplace of Catenaccio :

If you take a look on both the pictures and analyze, you would find a central defender behind the back 4. This player is called as “the libero” and now it as termed as “sweeper”.

Catenaccio (Italian pronunciation: [kateˈnattʃo]) or The Chain is a tactical system in football with a strong emphasis on defence. In Italian,catenaccio means “door-bolt”, which implies a highly organised and effective backline defence focused on nullifying opponents’ attacks and preventing goal-scoring opportunities.

The Catenaccio was influenced by the verrou (also “doorbolt/chain” in French) system invented by Austrian coach Karl Rappan.[1] As coach of Switzerland in the 1930s and 1940s, Rappan played a defensive sweeper called the verrouilleur, that was highly defensive and was positioned just ahead of the goalkeeper.[2] In the 1950s, Nereo Rocco‘s Padova pioneered the system in Italy where it would be used again by the Internazionale team of the early 1960s.[3][4]

Rappan’s verrou system, proposed in 1932, when he was coach of Servette, was implemented with four fixed defenders, playing a strict man-to-man marking system, plus a playmaker in the middle of the field who played the ball together with two midfield wings.

Rocco’s tactic, often referred to as the real Catenaccio, was shown first in 1947 with Triestina: the most common mode of operation was a 1–3–3–3 formation with a strictly defensive team approach. With catenaccio, Triestina finished the Serie A tournament in a surprising second place. Some variations include 1–4–4–1 and 1–4–3–2 formations.

The key innovation of Catenaccio was the introduction of the role of a libero (“free”) defender, also called “sweeper”, who was positioned behind a line of three defenders. The sweeper’s role was to recover loose balls, nullify the opponent’s striker and double-mark when necessary. Another important innovation was the counter-attack, mainly based on long passes from the defence.

Pure Catenaccio is no longer used in the modern football tactics. Two major characteristics of this style – the man-to-man marking and the libero (“free”) position – are no longer in use. Highly defensive structures with little attacking intent are often labelled as Catenaccio, but deviates from the original design of the system. Moreover, the sweeper or libero position has virtually disappeared from the modern game since the 1980s because teams favoured deploying the extra man in another area of the pitch.

Catenaccio is often thought to be commonplace in Italian football; but is now used infrequently by Italian Serie A teams, who instead prefer to apply balanced tactics and formations, mostly 4–3–3 or 3–5–2, The Italian national football team with manager Cesare Prandelli also used the 3-5-2 in their first clashes of UEFA Euro 2012 Group C(more)

6. British

​Players: Physical, Quick, Direct.

Style of Play: The no-nonsense style of British football is the oldest style of football known and it is still being applied in the Premier League. The attacks are set up quickly and with direct long balls over the defence, usually bypassing the midfielders entirely.

This fast paced style usually leads to 50/50 fights for the ball and also for many crosses to be sent in from all over the pitch.

5. Italian

​Players: Skillful, Crafty, Cautious.

Style of Play: The Italian style is very cautious with the amount of players that they like to commit forward in an attack. Players use skills and different tempos in an attack.

Forwards also tend to make diagonal, indirect runs which are difficult for defenders to anticipate and to keep in check.

Defenders like to slow down the tempo of a game and flood their side of the field with defenders to pressure and slow down opposition attacks.

4. South America

Players: Confident with the ball, Good dribblers, Innovative

Style of Play: The Latin game is very different to European styles of play. The players aren’t as tall or as strong as their European counter parts. Therefore the style of play is very unique.

It is a possession oriented method of playing and with free flowing passes. It has a very fast pace to the game with structure kept at a minimum. This leads to defensive weaknesses, prone to counter attacks.

3. Northern Europe

​Players: Aggressive, Fast, Organised

Style of Play: The game is played very directly with determined but anticipated attacks.

Defensively, a formation is always maintained. Players on the team have very specific jobs and don’t usually improvise.

These teams in attack usually keep possession or just try to overwhelm the opposition with numbers on the offence. Although this style is not very attractive to watch, it is still very effective.

2. Continental

Players: Good passers, Collectivists

Style of Play: Attacks are generated with creativity, but there is still composure and team communication. Players free roam through different positions to accommodate the style of football.​

Defensively, they put a lot of pressure on the attacking team to regain possession of the ball. This method of play originated from the Netherlands and it revolutionized the game of football.

Many teams went on to adopt this style of play and it became the Continental style.

1. Central American

Players: Crafty, Excessive Dribblers

Style of Play: The ball is moved around with short passes and a lot of dribbling. Players don’t usually make quick runs at the opposition.

The tempo and buildup are very slow, except for the rare long ball sent up to the forwards.​


In a nutshell and generalising a bit:

English Football: attacking in nature, box-to-box, loads of physical duals and very much based on high pace movement

German Football: focus on winning, very much stamina based, never give up mentality. Loads of physical duels, efficiency and team performance are key

Spanish Football: high pace,  technical game, focused on witting the opponent technically and tactically via strong individual performances.

Italian Football: all about not losing, very much team based, strong tactical focus, one leader who determines play. Space are kept tight with little to no room for the opponent.

French Football: probably the hardest one to define as it combines all the above styles except the English one. Ftench teams are technically and tactically disciplined and when needed ruthless. Very combative and physically demanding.

The top leagues do have different traits that differentiate them from each other. The English style would be a good benchmark for their consistency as they have been churning out good teams for the past few decades.


  • Most teams play the traditional 4-4-2 formation with a holding midfielder and 2 strikers.
  • This pushes the focal point into the midfield where these players can get the long balls in and take free kicks from considerable distances.
  • This helps in producing great midfielders such as Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Giggs, etc and also brings out some of the best clinical finishers in games like Rooney, Van Persie, Ronaldo, Torres, Drogba, etc.
  • English teams work best when their strikers are in their best form

Both teams playing in the Champions League finals with strong midfielders and strikers.


  • Spanish teams play a grounded game with rarely any room for a traditional striker. Highly susceptible to park the bus defending and counter attack.
  • The attacking midfielders play an important part along with the centre backs who have to contain fast counter attacks.
  • Passing plays an important role in their games with Barcelona employing the tiki taka and Real Madrid using a much faster version of the same.
  • Most of the game is played in the final third where the midfielders and forwards play a vital role and the forwards tend to be mostly South American.


  • The German teams are known for their total football and have some of the fastest players in the world.
  • They tend to rely heavily on their wingers or wing backs to do the running and involve the entire team in the play with their strikers and midfielders setting them up.
  • At any given time a player can be at any place on the field.
  • They play with efficient passing and can cross at will to score goals.


  • The Italian style of play draws its influence from the Catenaccio style of play.
  • The current teams are not so defensive but still play in a cautious manner and have an ability to surprise any team with their swift counter attacks.
  • Allows for the production of some of the best defenders and coaches of the modern game.
  • Also produces attacking midfielders who play a similar role as the English midfielders do.
  • Great tactical victories have been achieved using similar styles by Jose Mourinho and the Italian national team.

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