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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