Tictacs!

This article was written by almajir and it appeared on his blog yesterday here. As usual we have full permission to republish it here.

As we enter the second half of the transfer window having failed to bring in any strikers, there is now a faction within the fans who believe that maybe bringing in a striker is a bad idea, as we only ever play one anyway. This has led to more calls for the manager’s head as 4-5-1 is seen as negative, and the lack of goals is what is killing us.

I don’t believe that is the case; in a previous blog I remarked how our sloppy defence is costing us more goals now so it’s not we’re scoring less than last season (we’re actually scoring more), we’re conceding way more. The debate still rages though, so I thought I’d try and do something different and put together some chalkboards to show what I think is wrong and what is right.

When people think of 4-5-1, they think of this:

Current 4-5-1

In this formation, one midfielder – normally Barry Ferguson – is tasked with sitting just in front of the back four, with two central midfielders in front of him (Gardner and Fahey) and then two wide midfielders pushed up the pitch (For example, Bentley and Beausejour). This puts emphasis on the full backs to get forwards, and Ferguson helps to cover the centre backs when the ball breaks against us. However, it leaves the centre forward very isolated in the middle unless the central or wide midfielders get into the box

However, we don’t normally play this formation when Aliaksandr Hleb is in the team; mainly as he is wasted out on the left. Then, it tends to become a bit lopsided, like thus:

4-5-1 with Hleb

As you can see, the formation is a bit lopsided to cover two things; a), to allow Hleb to play his more preferred central role, and b) to cover Murphy or Ridgewell at full back who aren’t as competent as Steven Carr (although Ridgewell is definitely getting there). Fahey is pushed into a left midfielder position to do this. This formation doesn’t have any balance though, and as such leads us to focussing attacks down the one side – which becomes easier to pick off. Also, it still leaves the front man isolated when we are attacking, so we’re caught out on both fronts.

Hleb is one of our best players in my opinion, and I really do believe he should be in the team. If we’re to play a formation with him in it, the only way I could see to do this is thus:

attacking 4-5-1

In this formation, instead of Barry Ferguson sitting in front of the back four, there are two central midfielders. They have to work as anchormen, to win the ball in midfield and to distribute it to the front four. The highlighted player is Hleb, in his favoured position of the “hole”. Two wide midfielders also compliment our attacking force, and as part of the tactical plan they would be instructed that when the ball comes into the box they must be there if they’re not the ones delivering it.

This formation puts a lot of work onto the fullbacks; they have a lot of ground to cover, as not only do they have to cover a lot of their flank, but they must also be disciplined enough to help out the centre backs should the midfield be taken out of the equation. This is a huge, huge ask, and one I’m not sure we could do with the players currently in place.

Thus is Eck’s problem in my eyes. If he is to continue playing 4-5-1 he has the choice of either playing Hleb, and hoping his fullbacks can be disciplined enough to do their job, and that the centre backs hold firm; or he has to drop Hleb and make sure that the central midfielders get box to box and that the wide midfielders support the middle one.

Almajir

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4 Comments on Tictacs!

  1. You’ve picked up on the weaknesses of the initial two variations of the 4-5-1 system very well indeed, however I feel you’ve over simplified the third variation and, as such, missed a vital negative point.

    Space.

    In the third variation, the theoretical space between the defence and midfield is a real gulf. It forces the midfield to drop back to receive the ball, otherwise we resort to lumping it forward (as we have done) with high balls.

    If the midfield drop back to defend, or collect the ball from deep, you transfer that space to between the central midfielders and the attacking three midfielders. They then need to drop back in order to either a) allow the overlap in the centre or b) collect the ball and link the midfield to the attack. In doing either of these you’re essentially left with the first variation of the 4-5-1. Or worse, the second, if players are starting to try and do both a and b.

    For me, the issue with recent performances has been one of both defensive instability and attacking impotence. Which is why a 4-4-2 or variant, or even another formation entirely, is surely the way forward, as we simply cannot use the 4-5-1 with the players we have. We’ve tried and it hasn’t worked for us, it’s now beginning to cost us.

    Spain used the 4-5-1 very well indeed but, alas, we are not Spain.

  2. I disagree.

    When we have the ball, the defence naturally pushes up. If we pass the ball out through the middle (and we do have the players capable of doing that) there is only a gap of 10 or so yards to the middle two.

    It’s all about movement – something I can’t show with a static picture. The middle two have to be mobile enough to move from the d of our box to the d of their box, realistically. The advanced three need to be able to get from midway in our half to their box as we advance.

    At times we’re too static, we’re too compact, and that’s what kills us. When a player gives the ball, he should look to move into space to receive it again. Instead of just running forwards and having to check when getting to the defensive line, the forwards should look at running along the defensive line and breaking as the ball comes forward – which is a difficult skill.

  3. Interesting article. I tend to agree that we do not have a ‘striker problem’ we have a ‘team problem’. In many ways it reminds me of the stage we got to under Brucie where we survived in the Prem through a very defensive style grinding out results with pure hard work and determination but then tried to push on and play football but started shipping goals at the back. This ‘experiment’ ended up in relegation. Feels like we are at a similar point now – swapping Larsson for Bentley is a classic example. No one can doubt that Bentley is a better footballer than Larsson but will he work as hard and provide as much defensive cover as Seb – probably not because that is the nature of the beast. You can see this with Blackpool and West Brom – teams that know how to win 3-2 rather than 1-0. The worst situation is to end up in ‘no man’s land’ where the players don’t know whether to ‘stick or twist’. What I am hoping is that the prize of a wembley final and the need to score two goals next weds night will push Eck into ‘twist’ mode where he has to go for it using the formation and players you are suggesting. In your formation I think it would favour Derbyshire being the front man because he is the better finisher. I could see Eck playing Bowyer on the left with Bentley on the right and then sit Ferguson and Gardner in the centre. Starting with Beausejour on the left is probably a bridge too far especially with Murphy at left back. Of course when McFadden returns he would naturally play the wide left role and we then have a v strong attacking unit on paper. On this thinking then would we be better getting in an experienced premiership left back signing or loan partcularly if we can’t land the striker that we want?

  4. Hi almajir

    Thanks for your well written and interesting analysis of the subtleties of the 4-5-1 formation. Tactics aside however, it’s your initial claim, that it is not the lack of goals that is killing us, that I disagree with.

    We may well have scored more than we had by this stage of last season (I’ll take your word for that) but I think that this comparison achieves nothing. Last season was a freak. It was a great achievement to go so many games unbeaten and the lads deserved great credit but it is a feat that is unlikely to be repeated in the near future. To have gone into this season expecting us to do the same (as it seems a large number of fans and possibly the management thought) was, quite frankly, naive.

    Last season we were among the lowest scorers and indeed we continue to be this time around. Last season would probably have ended in relegation had it not been for that miraculous run but goalscoring remains our most glaring inadequacy. Indeed it is has been for as long as I can remember, barring a couple of short periods (Dugarry and Forssell to be specific).

    In my view, the 4-5-1 formation is largely negative unless you have players of the quality of Chelsea or Spain in which case it takes on a much more dynamic aspect. I am not saying that McLeish is deliberating trying to be negative (though he may be) but I suspect that it is more probably a result of the cupboard labelled “strikers” remaining woefully bare.

    I have seen enough this season to be encouraged in the belief that we create enough chances and play decent enough football for a decent striker (or two) to take full advantage and bag the goals we need. However, I fear that this transfer window will see more departures than signings and I wouldn’t be surprised if we do not bring anyone else in, with the exception of another desperate acquisition as the window slams shut.

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