League leaders too strong in spite of improved tactics

Arup 3 PFFC 0

Ally, 4 March 2012

Tactics and their implementation have never been a skill of mine. I have always been embarrassingly bemused when I hear journalists, players and managers use expressions like 'the hole' and a 'Christmas Tree' or 'diamond' formation. I have mainly played in teams that have adopted a typically British 4-4-2 formation but even then, I couldn't tell you if this was better or worse than a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2. Every so often however, I see the light. I remember a match about four years ago for which the Gaffer, in one of his genius moments of clarity and inspiration declared we would be adopting a 3-5-2 with the two wide players in midfield running up and down the pitch, at once attacking and supporting the surge up front then coming back and helping out the defence when needed. This, I thought, meant that as long as the two wide players were fit enough, it would be as if we were always playing with two extra players. It worked brilliantly that match but I remember being puzzled that, when we tried the formation out again, it didn't work; something was missing. This season, Andrea has brought a keen footballing vision to the club, and a managerial nous not seen since the Gaffer was in charge. Our initial experiments with a 4-2-3-1 brought great results and built a momentum not achieved for many seasons. It has been a great formula – or, in Andrea's words, a 'module' – so let's stick with that, I thought. I thought wrongly.

Against Arup, the league leaders, something more was needed. Arup had won nine games out of nine, destroying most teams with their passing and attacking play. Andrea declared that we would be playing in a 3-4-2-1 formation. I immediately thought that three at the back would be dangerous and not defensive enough. Then I reconsidered when I realised that previously, against Quinine, we were overrun in midfield and that if we could close down more in the midfield, we wouldn't need more than three defenders because the pressure would all be taken in the middle third of the pitch. We were actually six in midfield and two of those players could easily track back without losing much in the middle of the park. The more I thought about it the more it made sense - I understood it!

We started the match with Kadeem in goal, Damian as the central defensive sweeper with Michele and myself playing as markers to allow Damian to remain free and orchestrate the game in our half. Simon and Leandro were the two holding midfielders with Will and Rob outside them, offering chances to move the ball away from the middle of the park and away from the most pressurised area. In front of Leandro and Simon were Angel and Henry, who could drop back and pick up the ball from the defence or, during an attack, receive from the midfield. Matt was playing in his normal role as the lone striker. With this formation, we had more and better options to pass the ball to each other than in any other match this season because there were players no more than ten yards away, making passing relatively easy as long as we got the ball under control, looked up and could pick out a pass. We did this very well in the first half: I myself always had Damian, Leandro, Simon, Will and Angel as options to pass to and, because of our tightly packed midfield, most other players had similar options. We were recycling the ball almost as well as in those halcyon days when the Thinkers' defence featured Damian, Steffen, Vipul and Filippo. Damian's training sessions during this season, which have concentrated on keeping possession, really made a difference in this match: as a team, we seemed to want to keep the ball for as long as possible before moving it to the final third to create chances.

Unfortunately the creating of chances was where we fell short and, although we played pretty well going forward, we weren't able to provide our attacking players with the sort of chances which could have resulted in Arup being two or three down at half time. In the second half, James came on for Angel and Owen came on for Rob, and Arup began to pressure us more frequently. We held them off for about fifteen minutes but then conceded a couple of corner kicks, and we were 1-0 down. Their second goal came quickly from another set-piece, a particular weak point of which we have never been able to rid ourselves. We fought on but at this point the rain was driving hard against our bodies and the pitch was beginning to get very heavy - running became a struggle and cramp (Henry) and injury (Damian) started to weaken the team. Arup scored a third before full time, but when the final whistle sounded, we could take pride in the way we managed to adapt our formation and style of play in such a way that frustrated the strongest team in the league and forced them to regroup at half-time and to focus more than they were used to. Thank you Andrea for allowing me to see the strategical light for 90 minutes. I'll let you know if this was a one-off or if you've made a permanent impression on my tactical brain.

PFFC (3-4-2-1): Kadeem; Michele, Damian (c), Ally; Will, Simon, Leandro, Rob (Owen 55); Angel (James 45), Henry; Matt