Flexibility

by   |   20/01/2017  5 Comments  [Jump to last]

I just wanted to post a few words about our shape and system in recent weeks. Given so much has been said about the performances of some individuals, I think it’s worth mentioning how the players are asked to play as this has probably been just as significant a factor in recent performances and potentially in how we will get on in the coming weeks and months.

The most significant factor to me seems to be flexibility. Whereas his predecessor had us playing in one shape and one style come what may, Koeman has been at the other end of the spectrum – adapting his system almost week in week out to meet the needs of the game.

I think there’s something to be said for not always playing to the opposition but instead imposing your own way of playing onto an opponent (and at times I’ve been critical of how easily we’ve resorted to hoofed balls up to Lukaku this season, instead preferring where we’re the more capable side to outplay and outmanoeuvre sides), but there’s definitely a need for players to be able to adapt to a game as it plays out and this is where I think the Koeman philosophy is superior to that of Martinez.

In particular, when we play the system that we did against Manchester City, the players seem to be facilitated by the shape to be able to adapt depending on whether they’re on the front or back foot. I’ve seen it referred to as a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3 but these are quite simplistic terms for what is essentially an ever changing shape. There were times in the first half against City when we were penned in and Coleman and Baines were acting as more or less out and out defenders, giving us a 5 at the back.

In front of the 5 were Barry and Davies, aided by Barkley and Mirallas dropping in as required making the shape almost a 5-4-1. However, it quickly changed as we become more expansive, particularly on the counter attack, with the wing backs pushing on as midfielders and Mirallas essentially operating as a second striker, verging towards a 3-5-2 or even 3-4-3 at times when Barkley pushed on. It also looked as though later in the game that Schneiderlin was operating at the base of a diamond, with Davies and McCarthy either side and Barkley at the tip, giving the shape a look of 3-6-1 (the six being the four mentioned plus the wing backs).

Now these are all just numbers but what it points to is an adaptability that just didn’t look like we had under the previous incumbent. The 5-4-1 shape comes through as you’re looking to defend deep and narrow and withstand pressure, the 3-6-1 floods the midfield as you’re looking to close the game out and not offer the opposition chances.

The question mark that seems to hang over this side is how it copes against sides that will sit in and defend, looking to expose us on the counter attack. But the flexibility shown against City was certainly a positive and in my view stands us in good stead as the side will need to play in different ways against different types of opposition over the course of a season.

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Reader Comments (5)

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Danny Broderick
1 Posted 20/01/2017 at 20:27:46
We have players that only suit certain formations. For instance, Williams looks better with 3 centre backs than 2. Maybe that is true of Funes Mori too. In midfield, Barkley and Barry play better in a central midfield 3 than a 2. Lukaku plays better with a partner than up front in his own.

Combine all this with our inconsistent wingers, it's no surprise that we have done better with 3-5-2. I've never been a fan of this system – maybe it's because, back in the day, centre halves were not the most mobile, so there was no way 3 of them were mobile enough to defend across the whole pitch, particularly if tricky wingers were running at them with pace.

However, looking at Holgate's performance on Sunday, maybe modern defenders can handle it a bit better. He certainly coped with Sterling. If 3 men can do the job of 4 men in defence, and you get an extra man in midfield, then maybe it can work. I'm still not 100% convinced though.

Dave Ganley
2 Posted 21/01/2017 at 21:28:21
I have to admit, with the players we have at our disposal 3 5 2 seems to work very well. Barkley seems much more comfortable and is impressing me recently, as does young Davies Holgate, Funes Mori and both Baines and Coleman. Those two seem to be getting back to their best having that little bit more cover allowing them to go forward without fretting whether they will be left exposed.

We are not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination but we are starting to look like a team and all seem to be playing for each other, something we haven't seen for quite some considerable time. The system is working for us at the moment and was disappointed we didn't play with it in the Leicester cup game.

The line-up suggested as much but Coleman seemed to play as a right midfielder and we reverted to a flat back 4 after the break. Maybe Koeman learned something after that game? In any event, the system seems to work and we look comfortable with it.

Charlie Lloyd
3 Posted 22/01/2017 at 17:15:24
I agree that 3-5-2 seems to suit us better. Now stronger at the back, we have a number of options for the midfield berths and Lukaku seems better for having a partner plus Mirallas is more suited inside.

My only concern in this is the wing back positions. I'm happy at present with Coleman and Baines but there is little back up for that position. Lennon, McCarthy and Oviedo come to mind. As we see not that great backup. Hopefully the wing backs will stay fit and in form.

David Ellis
4 Posted 23/01/2017 at 11:44:32
I have come round to the 3-5-2 formation...its clearly working for us and it good to have a persistent plan A so that everyone gets familiar with the system. However I have two persistent concerns

1. Having 3 CBs may leave us with too many players that cannot pass the ball well - allowing us to be easily closed down and forced into hoofing it long. The answer is to have CBs that can pass. Holgate seems up to this - an interesting player because he fits the back 3 role perfectly but I am not sure he would prosper either as an out and out right back or Centre Back in a flat back four. Funes Mori can distribute well at time - but sometimes gets it horribly wrong. Williams and Jags are poor at this. I think as long as we have 2 of the 3 that can pass well then it will work.

2. Wing backs are often asked to do the job of a winger - and they don't have the skill. This is true even of the excellent Baines and Coleman. There were a number of times when Coleman and Holgate were trying to work together an overlap to get a cross in against Palace and they didn't have the guile to do it. Coleman gets away with it generally because of his pace, fitness and determination. Baines is a more skillful player, but seems to have lost a bit of pace and I don't recall much of a threat from the left hand side. Whereas when we had Baines and Pienaar in a 4-5-1 formation we were able to work the overlap very well.

So for this to work longer term we need a replacement for Baines (fantastic though he has been) and if we get a new centre back they do need to be able to pick a pass. Hopefully some of the technically gifted kids and take up these roles longer term - Callum Connolly is a left winger/left back who would be a perfect Baines replacement if he can make the step up

John G Davies
5 Posted 23/01/2017 at 12:27:25
Flexibility is needed in any systems

After all it is only a difference of 10-15 yards between any system you name .One wide player moves 10 yards forward and a 4-4-2 becomes a 4-3-3.

Just put the players on the pitch with a starting formation and trust them to adapt.

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