Positional play can, paradoxically, be positionless. Positional play or Juego de posicion is a style of play, best epitomised by Pep Guardiola at present, that is very broad in its forms. It is a brand of football that emphasises on the manipulation of the opponents through the players’ positioning, on having a balanced occupation of all zones and width of the pitch to attract and drag rivals and generate many passing lanes.
The progression into the final third must be organised and go step-by-step, hardly ever skipping a line, as the objective is to travel as a block with many men around the ball. This offers extra protection in defence too, allowing more efficiency to counter-press. Then, in attack, the goal is to reach decisive areas where someone is left in a 1v1 or numerical superiorities are achieved.
That said, positional play does not demand a specific formation. Choosing a 4-3-3 or diamond 3-4-3 is a consequence of the desire to have triangles and a rational distribution of spaces. Juanma Lillo said: “ball to position, not position to ball”. This means that the tactics must offer the structure so that the footballers don’t have to drop too deep to get the ball, but can rely on their teammates to get the ball to them.
Yet it is quite irrelevant who fills each spot. You would have a hard time guessing at Man City who the false 9 is, the right midfielder…The players can rotate to cause confusion in the defences, but at the same time, it is crucial that every spot is filled in by a City man. Positional play requires discipline and intelligence, but not rigidity.