|Posted by Bergen Blade on August 15, 2016 at 5:45 AM|
By all accounts, Chris Wilder's preferred formation at Northampton was 4-2-3-1. After joining the Blades he stated that he had a preferred system, although he didn't actually say which one. But he did reveal he would be signing players to fit the system, not vice versa. After the Blades seemed to play most pre season games with a 4-2-3-1 system most Blades assumed that would be Wilder's preference.
In the final pre season game vs Derby we lined up like this:
On paper, and to some extent in the pre season matches, it looked exciting. The three players behind Sharp had been roaming, swapping positions and playing fast, exciting football and all looked like goal threats. A wingless formation, the width was supposed to come from the full backs, which Wilder suggested would be the best in the division. Fleck was the new playmaker, backed up by the work rate of Basham. In Adkins' teams only the two strikers looked like goal threats, but in the above team goals looked like they could come from all over. Done, McNulty, Duffy, Sharp, Adams, Calvert-Lewin, Scougall all looked able to get goals, and further signings were expected to improve us even more.
But then we signed Leon Clarke. After originally looking for a target man type striker as a plan B, a cheap (?) squad player likely to be used from the bench, Wilder suddenly found himself having signed one of the top scorers from last season. With Billy Sharp (21 goals last season) and Clarke (18 ) it became too tempting not to use them both. Clarke gave the team some added height and strength, which the above team admittedly lacked.
But so far it hasn't worked. At Bolton I think Wilder still would call his formation 4-2-3-1, with Clarke in a bit withdrawn role behind Sharp. But with Clarke included it becomes natural, or tempting, to make use of his target man qualities. Goal kicks and free kicks from our half were aimed at him, as was the odd long ball. For throw ins he came to flick it on. For crosses he had to be in the box. His role became very similar to that of an orthodox target man and vs Rochdale our formation looked very much like a narrow 4-4-2.
I was concerned of how this would tweak player roles. There was little of the clever link up play that had been seen by the likes of McNulty and Scougall in pre season. Vs Derby McNulty also worked hard defensively, helping out the often outnumbered Fleck and Basham centrally, but also tracking back to cover for Done and Duffy on occasions.
With Clarke and Sharp now playing effectively up front together, Done and Duffy have been forced to drop deeper and work harder defensively. This has reduced their attacking impact. Duffy hasn't had enough skilful teammates to interplay with and when Done has got into the box he hasn't been able to get on the end of things.
With two experienced *star* strikers up front I think it has become too tempting for the other players to look for them too early, too often. Vs Rochdale this saw us play a lot of long balls, rather than trying to build penetrative attacks with the pace and movement that Wilder's teams are known for. It became too predictable and easy for Rochdale's defence to deal with.
The opposition teams deserve some credit for stopping us. Bolton, Crewe and Rochdale have all lined up with 4-5-1 formations and tried to prevent us getting space to play in and run into. We have generally started well, pressing high up the pitch, but after 20-25 minutes the opposition have started to get into the game more. Do we tire? Is the style too physically demanding? Or do we struggle to counteract their counteraction, i.e stuff like this:
Both Bolton and Rochdale seemed to win a lot of throw ins down our left after hitting long balls up to this area. Even though they didn't always win the header, they were able to put us under so much pressure for the second ball that our players often just cleared it out for a throw in. The likes of Done and Fleck aren't the biggest and struggled with the bouncing balls in this area of the pitch. Bolton and Rochdale were able to stop our momentum, slow the game down and give their defence a break. Simple tactics, but effective.
These long balls also made it more difficult for us to press high the way we want to. When we tried, the opposition would often just play it backwards, until another long punt upfield came and this became the pattern of the game. No matter how much Done tried, and ran, he rarely got close enough, followed by having to get to get back to defend again. Frustrating!
Our answer to this was to go longer ourselves, especially vs Rochdale, and so the game became very scrappy. The team isn't quite equipped to play this way and it's not Wilder's style. We don't look happy defending deep. We'd need more solid wide men and more pace up front for a 4-4-2 to work, but maybe it will be easier to return to the formation and set up we practiced in the summer.
Some things for Wilder to consider