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|This is the reason we can't score goals|
at 11:42 11 Apr 2021
I'm going to attempt a Jonathan Wilson-style explanation of our current inability to even manage shots on target.
It seems like it hinges on our new 3-5-2 formation – a switch I am in favour of, but perhaps we need to manage our expectations a bit.
I'm no Lambert apologist, but if he was able to get anything out of this squad it was goals from midfield. Our strikers are shocking, so it's basically the only option to score. In a 4-2-3-1, you're well set up for goals from midfield. The centreforward occupies the two centrebacks creating space for the number 10 to run into. That's how Bishop scored his goals when playing as the 10 – running onto the ball. You also have two wide midfielders with licence to stay forward as there is a fullback behind them. That's how Edwards scored his goals. Remember when those two were our top scorers? Now, if we had a better number 10 and better wingers, those goals might not have dried up.
In a 3-5-2 you have two wingbacks, three centrebacks and two midfield pivots. That's seven players who will have little contribution in the box – you're relying on three players to be your most offensive. That's a big switch in style. The teams that have made 3-5-2 work best are teams like Wolves and Sheffield United. In Wolves's case they have phenomenal forward players. In SUFC's case they don't, so their example might be better to follow for us. SUFC's use of their centrebacks and wingbacks as offensive options is well documented. They don't have particularly mobile defenders – and their wingbacks are proper defenders, no out-of-position wingers. What they do is build up possession around the edges of the box and use their defenders to pull balls back to midfield – basically bypassing their forwards who are just their to hold the ball up and create space.
Are Edwards and Ward our best wingback options for this style of play? Clearly no. I might get crucified for this, but I would argue someone like Chambers would work better there. Mobility is not an issue, and if there's one thing (and there might only be one thing) that he can do it is arrive late at the back post.
The other thing this formation does is get three centremids close together – rather than in a 4-2-3-1 where the 10 often drifts up to become a centreforward. I would argue this is a really good move if we play Dozzell, Downes and Bishop together. Our squad is rubbish and I am looking forward to the exodus, but those three are our better players. Dozzell on his day is one of the best in the league (before you object, remember that he was pivotal to beating Hull and made their midfield look average). Dozzell's decline in form is absolutely one reason the whole team suffers. I think it's a bit much to expect him to pull up this rabble all on his own. So, playing 3-5-2 makes a lot of sense if we can get the most out of those three. They are possession footballers and good dribblers. This will be a good move for them.
The other thing we lack to make this system work is good centreforwards. Do we have someone who can occupy and hassle defenders like McBurnie? Maybe Norwood? Do we have someone who can hold up the ball and link play like McGoldrick? No. Do we have a poacher like Sharp? Definitely not. If we want to stand a chance of getting this system to work we have to look at that. Perhaps, that is why Cook played Dobra and Drinan. To see if Drinan could be a McBurnie and Dobs a McGoldrick. I admire that Cook is at least taking a look at those options.
Which brings me on to expectations. Cook might want to play this system next year and is getting a good look at what his options are. That means the formation switch was basically him giving up on this season. The timing of the takeover might have actually come at a bad time for him – just as he's conceded that promotion is not an option this year. Perhaps he's now nervous that the new owners want to see more from him this year. If would be one explanation for his "surprised" comments and his no-shows in press conferences.
Trying out this formation might also explain why he sees positives in dull 0-0s. What we know about SUFC's style of play is that they do not create many chances, but the chances they make are good quality. That wasn't the case for us yesterday (the only chance of quality was Dob's miss). But keeping it tight at the back is a good place to start if you want to put together a run of 1-0s like SUFC did. Perhaps, if this is the style we need to get used to, we need to be okay with 2-3 shots on target a game and 1-0 results. It might be a boring scoreline, but at least SUFC's football is (was) good to watch.
The downsides to looking for positives here are 1) SUFC's style of play requires dominating possession (as they did in the Champ and last season). We are not doing this at the moment and that is a concern. 2) If we are committing to this style change we really need Cook to come out and be clear. Avoiding the media adds to the confusion – he just needs to be open with the fans so that we can get used to these attritional results and buy into the bigger picture.
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