Note: I was literally about to send this post live when Monday’s bombshell dropped and it ended up being cast to the side while more pressing matters took over. I’m releasing it now should a certain midfielder arrive which would mean redoing all the graphics – no, I didn’t use Milner by the way and no, I don’t have any information about that certain midfielder either.
I’ve been developing some graphics in spare moments over the summer which you’ll probably see more of here from time to time and I thought I’d use them to throw a few team sheets together, just for fun, while we count down to the first game of the season. This is an extension of something I’ve done here before, I’m just putting faces to positions.
The players I’m using in these examples are just who I’d go with if asked to pick a side today. In a month or so, they’ll look different, I’m certain. It pained me to overlook Fabian Delph, but as he’s still out for some time and we still haven’t had the chance to see what he can really do, that’s what I had to do.
I’ve included this because, like it or not, we’re going to see it many times this season. 4-4-2 is dying, that’s clear, but it’s not dead. Yet.
There’s times when 2 strikers is entirely justified and MON will definitely employ this system, if only to keep his strikers happy in terms of playing time. I’ve used Ash at the secondary striker as that’s what we’ve seen most of during pre-season with Gabby struggling for fitness. If he plays a little deeper, you might call it a 4-4-1-1, but there’s little practical difference.
Using Ash as the auxiliary forward allows Marc Albrighton to play on the right, but he doesn’t bring the same options to swap wings with Downing as he’s very right footed.
This is the current vogue formation and my favourite. Not just because it’s what most other teams are playing, but because it suits our personnel, it’s effective and it lends itself to entertainment.
The key is the pair of holding players, often referred to as a “double pivot” or sometimes on the continent as a “double 6”. In this case, it’s Stan and Reo-Coker. NRC is more of the spoiler, the destroyer if you prefer, Stan’s better distribution makes him the more creative of the pair, but they work together in tandem, tied by an invisible bungee cord in front of the back four.
In this example it’s Ashley Young playing in front as the play maker, but that role could be reserved for one or two of the new comers we’re expecting before the month is out.
I’ve used Gabby up top, but Carew could work, and Albrighton and Downing on the wings, both expected to get in the box as an auxiliary striker when the attack breaks down the opposite side.
MON’s never really treated the full back positions with much of a sense of priority, so it’s curious to me that we’ve rarely seen a back three. It’s happened briefly on occasions when he’s thrown the dice to chase a game, but we’re not short of centre halves, so why not?
As James Collins is the most mobile, I’d use him as a sweeper. NRC and Petrov play the same double pivot role as in a 4-2-3-1, but they have to be a little more aware of the threat down the flanks where Downing and Albrighton will have plenty of running to do.
Ash and Gabby give the opposition defensive midfielder(s) & back line plenty of headaches, freeing Carew to take the centre backs to the cleaners. This is full on attacking football and I’d be thrilled to see us using it.
Defensive, counter attacking deviation of 3-4-3. Recall the full backs, but as wing backs charged with getting forward on the break, Ash and Downing then tucking into the middle to support the lone striker.
It plays to our defensive strengths, it unleashes one of our key weapons in attack; pace. I’d be looking to use this away against likes of Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Reo-Coker and Petrov will hang back at set piece to cover in place of full backs, the three centre halves getting in the box looking to get on the end of the deliveries. Hey, 1-0 from a corner or free kick at Old Trafford is three points. I’ll take it.
Not a massive fan of 3-5-2, it can be undone easily, but if you have to chase the game, it might be the only option.
At least in this example I was able to give Steve Sidwell something to do, acting as a attacking central midfielder supporting the front two strikers. You never know, every now and again he’ll get one on target from distance and if they’re on target, they’re generally unstoppable.
3-5-2 Variant (No Subs)
There are two advantages to playing Carlos Cuellar at right back rarely considered, neither have really materialised much yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fine options to have up our sleeves.
Firstly, we are able to send three players who are strong in the air into the box at set pieces. In fairness, this did happen fairly routinely last season when MON first started playing Cuellar, Collins and Dunne together, but it didn’t yield any goals. It’s still a good tool to have in the box.
The second option this presents is the ability to push Warnock up the left wing and then play a recognised three at the back when looking to chase something, but either unwilling or unable to make a substitution. Again, it’s just a nice option to have, but I don’t think we’ve really utilised it as yet.
Also referred to as a diamond, in this case it’s all about using our pace. Stan sits in front of the back four and uses his passing range to either link up with the central pair, or ping long ones for the front two, supported by Ashley Young, to chase. Not pretty maybe, but if you’re up against a strong, but immobile back line, you have to exploit their weakness to find the freak thorough. It’s it hit and chase, so be it.
This is narrow, it requires the full backs to get up and down the flanks throughout the game. Fitness and commitment is essential.
I skipped over the central pair, but here I’ve used Sidwell and Salifou. I’m not crazy. Salifou spots things others don’t, he has the subtle ability of being able to create a yard for himself with the drop of a shoulder and his passing is usually incisive, if not always successful. He’s always looking to move it forward, which I often to prefer to playing it overly safe the way Petrov does.
I’ve used Delfouneso and Gabby up front, supported by Ashley Young. If those three don’t scare slow defenses, no one will.
Finally, 4-5-1. It’s sometimes not pretty. It’s about numbers in the middle to win a battle. It’s about having width. It’s about getting down the bylines and crossing into the big man in the box.
It can adapt into a 4-3-3 in attack, but the wingers cutting in will be on their weaker foot when shooting for goal.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a 4-5-1, but it’s frequently no more sophisticated than a 4-4-2 with one less striker and one more midfielder. In this case, it’s just about the wingers getting to the byline to send crosses in, they’ll just have one less target to hit.
It seems so long ago now, but MON employed a 4-3-3 during the early part of his first season at Aston Villa. I’m not sure it suits us any more, but if we were missing the wingers for any reason, it might be worth a shot.
If we bring in a strong, creative central midfielder or two before the window shuts, this actually might look like a more tenable option. Right now, not so much, but the attacking intent it screams out means I’d always hope this can remain in our armory.
Just for fun, this is what I call my “Squad Palette”. I’ve laid out the players in roughly their best positions which illustrates our depth, or, depending on your perspective, lack thereof.
I wouldn’t advocate using all of these systems during a season, but the team should be comfortable in 3 or 4 and different opponents require different approaches. Injuries and suspensions, of course, will force the manager’s hand at times.