This post was written prior to kick-off vs Stoke, at several thousand feet in the air…Having spent much of last week proving that we are not, in fact, much of a Cup team, we now return to the bread and butter of making a mess of league games. As ever, it’s a game we ought to win on paper, against a team in a similar league position, and in a situation whereby a win would practically push us up into the top half of the table. The pessimism I’ve been carefully nurturing all season is threatening to hijack yet another pre-match post, so I’ll abandon a prediction, and instead mull over the ongoing formation conundrum. At the risk of sounding like Carol Vorderman (or the blonde lass who’s replaced her): 4-5-1 or 4-4-2?
Seasoned all-action-no-plotters will know I regularly attend protest marches around Westminster waving a placard that says “4-4-2 – it gives us more up-front, dagnabbit”. It’s by no means a rock-solid argument, but I consider that we’re marginally more potent – or at least less toothless – in attack when we’re fielding two strikers. Cast your minds back to the laboured 1-0 win vs Blackbrun. Lennon robbed their left-back, and started whizzing forward on the counter-attack. Looking up he already had two strikers supporting him (Bent and Pav that day, I think) – as a result the Blackburn defence was a little stretched, and we scored. Compare with the night of a thousand 4-5-1’s, when we’ve managed to swing in a cross, or more typically punted a hopeful long-ball from deep, to see our lone striker jump with two (or more) defenders and possession conceded. Even when counter-attacking we find the oppo defenders outnumbering our attackers when it’s 4-5-1.
4-5-1 definitely works when wide midfielders become auxiliary strikers in a 4-3-3, a la Little Miss Ronaldo at Man Utd, but ours rarely tend to get that far forward or that central. 4-5-1 does tend to give Modric a bit of licence to get forward and cause mischief in dangerous areas, freeing him from defensive duties, but he’s hardly a second striker either.
I suspect 4-5-1 would work a lot better given more capable personnel in the central midfield positions, but between them Hudd, Zokora and Jenas do not seem capable of bossing a scrappy game. Against particularly generous opponents, such as Dinamo Zagreb, they’ll look like Brazil 1970, but when pitted against the might of Burnley it seemed we could have had all 11 in central midfield and we’d still have spent the evening chasing shadows. In a Premiership dog-fight, when up against relegation scrappers, increasing the numbers in midfeild seems to make little difference – we tend not to receive the time and space to play as against Zagreb.
While the early Redknapp days of 4-5-1 brought some good results, several of these were rather fortunate to say the least (last-minute goals vs l’Arse and Liverpool, benefiting from sending-off vs Man City). Admittedly our central midfield hardly bosses games when we play 4-4-2 either, but at least then we’ve got a bit more bite in attack.
I repeat – my arguments are hardly rock-solid, and while I go on my pro-4-4-2 protest marches I’m often heckled by students of the School of 4-5-1, many of whom make very valid points. There is no right or wrong answer to this, and if the personnel were good enough I suspect the formation would not matter too much. Perhaps the soluton is about £14 million of Honduran – a midfielder who can allegedly pass and tackle. Until then, fingers crossed for an improved performance against Stoke tonight.