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Alan Cawley Blog: Conservative formations hurting Irish game

Updated: Monday, 29 Jul 2013 18:06 | Comments

St Patrick's Athletic in action earlier this eyar
St Patrick's Athletic in action earlier this eyar

By Alan Cawley

One thing that's very noticeable about attending Airtricity League matches these days is the amount of clubs that are playing 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formations.

Basically the whole of the Premier Division is playing this way. I'm all for footballing beliefs and philosophies on the game but I do wonder are these the reasons as to why so many are adopting the said formation?

Something inside me tells me it's not.

I feel it could be more to do with the fact that we live in an age when football management has become so results-orientated that managers will play whatever way they feel will get them a result and which will best preserve their position as the decision-maker in the dugout.

Now, don't get me wrong, there is a percentage who are doing it for the right reasons but there are a few who are so conservative with the approach that it's having a detrimental effect on their overall goal.

In my opinion, personnel dictates how a team should set up. If you have technically-gifted midfielders and fast and clever wingers to play a 4-3-3 formation by all means play it, but if you don't then try something else.

"There are a few who are so conservative with the approach that it's having a detrimental effect on their overall goal"

Far too many managers and clubs nowadays are playing this way just to be fashionable and blend in. I couldn't think of a worse way to try and make yourself stand out.

I first came across this formation when Jose Mourinho introduced it at Chelsea during his first spell in charge.

Everyone in this country and Britain had been raised on the 4-4-2 formation, but this was something new and different, everyone loved it.

What made it so successful for Chelsea at the time was that they had the personnel to make it work, in particular, the likes of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff. Following the success of Barcelona and the Spanish national team an obvious trend was emerging.

What Chelsea achieved was good, but what Barcelona got from it was monumental.

It may have changed the face of football forever. They have taken the term 'total football' to a whole different stratosphere and again they had the right players to make it work.

Pep Guardiola's Barca are the greatest team I have ever seen and probably will ever see, but the style of play and formation is all relative to teams and clubs all around Europe including our league - it's just different levels.

The most impressive team that we have seen all season has been St Patrick’s Athletic, who as we know play the formation and execute it for the right reasons because their manager has a belief in an attractive style and has the players on the park to make it happen.

The midfield trio of Greg Bolger, Killian Brennan and John Russell are technically gifted and they possess two fast and clever wingers in Chris Forrester and Conan Byrne.

Pat's also have two excellent full backs in this system - Ger O’Brien and Ian Bermingham. Both are very comfortable on the ball and offer so much offensively.

Derry City work off a similar template and have the right people in the important positions to make it work.

Other converts include title contenders Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers.

Both clubs are having indifferent seasons and yet they are probably two of the teams who are trying to be fashionable with the approach.

In the case of the Hoops, I believe Trevor Croly has a belief and a philosophy for the game to be played in the right manner but a strange decision for me on Saturday night was leaving out James Chambers.

Chambers is your quarterback in this system, a key cog in the wheel. He is the one who starts your attacks, dictates the play. Leaving him out sent a mixed message.

Another area where Shamrock Rovers have been struggling is obviously goalscoring, having netted just 27, the same amount as Bray Wanderers and less than UCD.

With the quality of forwards amongst that squad that's not good enough.

Eamon Zayed was brought in to solve the problem but Croly chose not to start him, again a strange one for me. At this moment in time, is the system having a detrimental effect on the overall goal?

You would have to say it is and I just wonder with the forward options he has, is it worth switching to two up front? I believe it is. It may not be the right decision but it could prove to be the right one.

As for Sligo Rovers, I believe the manager is stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of style and formation.

He really favours the 4-3-3 but does he have the squad this season to play it? They certainly did last season with the technically gifted Mark Quigley linking everything together. Joseph N'do played in a more advanced role also last term and had a good relationship with the Dubliner.

As Joseph is nearing the end of his career, he is playing in a much deeper role and I believe Sligo really miss his creative touch further up the field and around the edge of the box just to carve holes and open doors.

Ian Barraclough also signed Antony Elding this season, the total opposite to Mark Quigley. That signing didn't indicate to me that he's firm believer in total football as Elding is a big robust target man.

If that's the case, I have no problem with that as there is more than one way to set up a team or win a match, but this is where I have the issue.

If you start Elding, then you must play to his strengths. I don't think Sligo do, leaving him isolated up front on his own. The best game he had was in Dalymount against Bohemians where he led the line with Cretaro. Both of them were outstanding.

The options that are available to him in the forward areas tells me he has to go with a 4-4-2 and play with two out-and-out wingers. This will benefit both front players and also the team.

They are now six points behind in the title race so they must go and make things happen now rather than be conservative and hope things happen.

Just like his counterpart Croly, it might not be the fashionable thing to do but it may prove to be the difference in having an okay season or a successful one. 

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