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The_Dark_Knight

Formations and a much needed reality check

Formation  

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  1. 1. Should Steve Clarke change Scotland's standard system of four at the back?

    • No. 17 years isn't enough. We need to give the players longer to adjust to playing four at the back...
      6
    • Yes.
      2

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  • Poll closed on 10/09/2019 at 11:55 AM

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(Warning: I'm going to talk tactics. In this thread I WILL mention "3/5 at the back" several times, so if you have a problem with that, stop reading now instead of complaining about it later on. Thank you.)

(If anyone does feel the need to bitch about my so-called repetition or be sarcastic about this or that, save it. I'd get used to it if I were you, because I'm only going to stop beating this particular drum if we completely abandon four at the back and do something different.)

Prelude: People see me as 'Mr 3 at the back". That I think it's a wonderful system and that it'll fix all our ailments. I don't and it won't. Contrary to popular belief I'm NOT a fan of 3/5 at the back. If we had even one top central defender I'd advocate playing with a back four. Given a choice I'd play with a four. But we don't have a choice. 

I'm not going to mention Sheffield United doing the best out of the three promoted sides in the EPL this season. I'm not going to mention Liverpool needing a goalkeeping mistake to beat them last week. I'm not even going to mention Wolves beating Manchester City away 0-2 on Sunday or Newcastle beating Manchester United 1-0.

People here think you can only play three central defenders if you have top quality center backs. Do Sheffield United, Wolves and Newcastle have great central defenders: Basham, Egan, O'Connell, Saiss, Coady, Boly, Schar, Lascalles, Clark. Are any of those nine what you'd call "top defenders"? Those nine have a combined price tag of 75.2m. That might be enough to buy 3/4 of Virgil Van Dijk.

It's about time we took our heads of the clouds and showed some humility. Who are we to expect that we can compete at international level with two center backs? With a 4-2-3-1, no less. People here are so unbelievably arrogant that they believe that Scotland can compete at international level with a four at the back, no central midfield, two wingers, a second striker and a lone striker. Just forget the fact that we haven’t got one good central defender, zero good anchorman and no strikers who play at the top level (now that McBurnie is out).

No matter which center backs we pick they're going to be English Championship/SPL standard. We haven't been equipped to play with two center backs since the 80s. We are one level above Faroe Islands and San Marino. 

We are in the situation were we have to congest the central defence and midfield and defend for our lives. Come to terms with it.

Odds are we'll play two of Gallacher, Mulgrew and Findley. What's their combined worth? 2m-3m if anyone genuinely thinks that if we play either of those players at international level, in a back four, and we won't be sliced open time after time, then I cast serious doubt into the football knowledge in this place.

Steve Clarke's remit was to make us hard to beat. That's impossible with our current defenders playing in our current system. No manager could do it.

In his recent Scotland press conference Steve Clarke was asked if he would consider a change in formation. Clarke didn't shrug it off as such, he said that he'll keep an open mind. He even mentioned 3 at the back and 5 at the back. Hopefully that means he'll rip up the dreadful 4-2-3-1 and try a 3/5 system.

I did some research on the formation stats for the previous round of European matches (Europa league and European Cup) it involved 180 teams:

40 teams out of 180 played with a variant of 3/5 at the back. That's 22.22%. That would suggest that 22.22% of club and international managers are cool with playing with 3/5 at the back. And no, it's not just the teams who have world-class centre-backs that use it, it's a mix.

22.22% isn't a bad percentage for a system that's not even given a second, third or twentieth thought by people in this place.

Here are the questions that I've answered literally dozens of times (and people wonder why I'm repetitive. To quote Eminen "People keep askin' me the same fuckin' questions"):

Q. Why are you asking our players to play in a 3/5 when they don't play that system for their club?

A. The most recent international round 17% of teams played with a back 3/5. I'm sure the majority of those players in that 17% don't play with a back 3/5 at club level.

Q. 3/5 at the back is outdated and no one plays it. Why should we?

A. 22.22% of teams in the last rounds of European club football and European Qualifiers played with a variant of 3/5 at the back, so it's absolutely not an obsolete system.

Q. Israel tore us to shreds 2-1 when we played with a three.

A. That isn't a question. 

I could mention dozens of embarrassing results over the past 17 years, so don't give me one instance. It's not a quick fix. It's not a magic wand. We've played with four at the back for seventeen years. Enough's enough. We should give a system of 3/5 at the back at least four years before we make judgements. 

Q. Central midfield is our strongest position.

A. That isn't a question, either.

Our current formation doesn't accommodate central midfielders. The 4-2-3-1 system has two anchormen and zero central midfielders. The 3 aren't midfield, they are two wingers and one second striker. Because we have no midfield, the turnover of the ball happens frequently, so we're spending so much time defending that our 3 attacking players are being dragged back and we're usually playing with a 4-5-1, with two anchormen, leaving the sole striker detached from his team-mates. This puts added pressure on our central defence. Which means it's only a matter of time till we concede.

Q. We don't have enough good central defenders to play with a 3.

A. Do you know what a question is?

I've probably heard this commend a hundred times. It makes me question the people who say it.

It's not even a footballing thing. It's physics. Five is harder to break down than four.

Q. If we play with a 3/5 do you think we'll beat Russia? No. We'll get beat by at least 5 goals, whichever system we play. I'm thinking of the big picture. Give 3/5 at the back several years, if we still look hopeless, then you can give me pelters.

Whilst I'm at it, I was universally mocked for my suggestion of moving Robertson inwards and playing him as an anchorman. In the past few days there have been suggestions of McTominay playing as a central defender, Tierney playing as a central defender, Tierney playing as a left-winger, Jack at right back and even Christie as a striker. It would appear that people think these four players are more versatile than our current European Cup champion.

For the record, like Robertson, Tierney could play in any outfield position. McTominay looks ill-at-ease as an anchorman, he definitely isn't equipped to play as a central defender. He's a box-to-box midfielder. This is McTominay's first season as a first team regular, give the lad a break. Jack played at right-back a few times for Aberdeen. I wish we had a good right back, but I'm sure Jack would do a job.

Regardless, its ultimately up it's the manager to fix the defence. Hopefully Steve Clarke has the fortitude to move to a 3/5 and stick with it for the duration of his Scotland contract. 

Hopefully it begins this week. However, if we go into the next two matches with the same old system, Clarke should go.

(Anyone got any questions? I've probably answered it/them above. Anyone got any sarcasm? All that means is that you skipped to the bottom of the page and you're suffering from semi-illiteracy, probably in silence. Do I expect many constructive comments? You never know.)

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A great post TDK, thanks for taking the time with it, hopefully we can actually discuss tactics and formation - something I admit I don't know much about.  Let me ask the group something that I don't know, where did the 4-3-2-1 come from, meaning why is it so fashionable now?  I think we are at a stage where we need to focus on our weaknesses - and that is defense and we need to prioritize it. In 6 games we have let in 13 goals.  We clearly need to do something different, Clarke is not getting steady group of players each game and I doubt ever will. 

I think a 3-5-2 is worth a try, as I also think a 5-4-1 is or a 4-5-1 is, we cannot do a McLeish and expect well when it matters we will turn up, we need to make changes, we need to experiment and I also believe we need a  period where you draw the line, analyze the experimentation and deploy for the play offs what you have learned - we have 4 games, we need to use them effectively. A game is 90 minutes long, we can make changes to shape a few times.

Thursday for me the objective is be difficult to beat, congesting yourself in the middle of the park how I would do that and crowd out their tall attackers, and Burke with his pace can be out out ball - go run self down, we will sub him after 60 or so minutes, just be a thorn in their side.

 

 

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1 hour ago, romanticscot said:

A great post TDK, thanks for taking the time with it, hopefully we can actually discuss tactics and formation - something I admit I don't know much about.  Let me ask the group something that I don't know, where did the 4-3-2-1 come from, meaning why is it so fashionable now?  I think we are at a stage where we need to focus on our weaknesses - and that is defense and we need to prioritize it. In 6 games we have let in 13 goals.  We clearly need to do something different, Clarke is not getting steady group of players each game and I doubt ever will. 

I think a 3-5-2 is worth a try, as I also think a 5-4-1 is or a 4-5-1 is, we cannot do a McLeish and expect well when it matters we will turn up, we need to make changes, we need to experiment and I also believe we need a  period where you draw the line, analyze the experimentation and deploy for the play offs what you have learned - we have 4 games, we need to use them effectively. A game is 90 minutes long, we can make changes to shape a few times.

Thursday for me the objective is be difficult to beat, congesting yourself in the middle of the park how I would do that and crowd out their tall attackers, and Burke with his pace can be out ball - go run self down, we will sub him after 60 or so minutes, just be a thorn in their side.

 

 

Thank you - much appreciated.

Good question. Formations and systems come and go in waves. I think the 4-2-3-1 really found popularity during the 2014 World Cup when Germany won playing it. I think after Germany did so well with it other nations and lots of clubs adopted it as a standard system. I'm not saying you need to be Germany to be able to pull it off, but it helps. It also helps if you have the players to pull it off.

Couldn't agree more. We've played with a four at the back for seventeen years now and it's obviously not working. Even with a organizer like Steve Clarke we're just too easy to play against. To be honest I'm flabbergasted that I'm the only one who is calling for a change in the system. 

Definitely. People are saying that it's not the time to experiment, but if not now, when? The qualification campaign is over, so as you said, we have plenty of time to implement and experimental.

Clarke should sit down and be open minded enough to change the system. Even with players like Souttar and McKenna fit, we're never going to compete with a half-decent team playing a back four.

Look at Wolves and especially Sheffield United, they're punching above their weight and they're bridging the gap by using a back three. Just last weekend Wolves and Newcastle played that system (Newcastle played 5-4-1) and they beat both Manchester teams. I hope Steve Clarke noticed this and implement it asap.

Will it get us instant results? Definitely not. But it's about the big picture. As much as people don't want to admit it, we're a minnow and we're a team that others celebrate being drawn against, like they do with San Marino and the Faroe Islands. It's about time we accepted it and began defending in pure numbers.

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7 hours ago, The_Dark_Knight said:

Look at Wolves and especially Sheffield United, they're punching above their weight and they're bridging the gap by using a back three. Just last weekend Wolves and Newcastle played that system (Newcastle played 5-4-1) and they beat both Manchester teams. I hope Steve Clarke noticed this and implement it ASAP. 

...and Brighton demolished Tottenham with a back four, and Livingston beat Celtic for the first time with a back four, and Leicester held the best team in Europe for over 90 minutes in their home ground with a back four... 

I'm not saying you're wrong or I'm right, we've had this discussion endlessly and there's no right answer. You may well be right that it would make us harder to beat, I just don't think it would and here's the main points that I think support that argument:

1) Formation change is not a panacea. There is a lot more to consider. 

2) I worry that CB is our weakest position. To you this means we should bolster it by adding more bodies, but to me that solution means putting weaker players on the pitch and inviting more pressure on them by removing a better player from the midfield. 

3) Most of our players do not play this formation week-in-week-out, and we'd be playing a lot more people out of position. 

4) Steve Clarke clearly favours 4 at the back and has shown that he can make a poor team very hard to beat with that formation. 

So yet again, my question would be "Why should we put more low quality players on the pitch, and make our team and manager play a formation they are not comfortable with?"

You'll say "We've been playing 4 at the back for 17 years and it clearly isn't working!" 

I'll say "Correlation does not imply causation, and formation change is not a panacea!"

The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before. 

Welcome back. 

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8 hours ago, The_Dark_Knight said:

Thank you - much appreciated.

Good question. Formations and systems come and go in waves. I think the 4-2-3-1 really found popularity during the 2014 World Cup when Germany won playing it. I think after Germany did so well with it other nations and lots of clubs adopted it as a standard system. I'm not saying you need to be Germany to be able to pull it off, but it helps. It also helps if you have the players to pull it off.

Couldn't agree more. We've played with a four at the back for seventeen years now and it's obviously not working. Even with a organizer like Steve Clarke we're just too easy to play against. To be honest I'm flabbergasted that I'm the only one who is calling for a change in the system. 

Definitely. People are saying that it's not the time to experiment, but if not now, when? The qualification campaign is over, so as you said, we have plenty of time to implement and experimental.

Clarke should sit down and be open minded enough to change the system. Even with players like Souttar and McKenna fit, we're never going to compete with a half-decent team playing a back four.

Look at Wolves and especially Sheffield United, they're punching above their weight and they're bridging the gap by using a back three. Just last weekend Wolves and Newcastle played that system (Newcastle played 5-4-1) and they beat both Manchester teams. I hope Steve Clarke noticed this and implement it asap.

Will it get us instant results? Definitely not. But it's about the big picture. As much as people don't want to admit it, we're a minnow and we're a team that others celebrate being drawn against, like they do with San Marino and the Faroe Islands. It's about time we accepted it and began defending in pure numbers.

I might be wrong but did it not all start with Pep n Barca with Messi as a false number 9 and the midfield supporting attack? Around the same time the Spanish national team not deploying something similar under Bosque? Since then most teams adapted to suit themselves.

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45 minutes ago, mrniaboc said:

...and Brighton demolished Tottenham with a back four, and Livingston beat Celtic for the first time with a back four, and Leicester held the best team in Europe for over 90 minutes in their home ground with a back four... 

I'm not saying you're wrong or I'm right, we've had this discussion endlessly and there's no right answer. You may well be right that it would make us harder to beat, I just don't think it would and here's the main points that I think support that argument:

1) Formation change is not a panacea. There is a lot more to consider. 

2) I worry that CB is our weakest position. To you this means we should bolster it by adding more bodies, but to me that solution means putting weaker players on the pitch and inviting more pressure on them by removing a better player from the midfield. 

3) Most of our players do not play this formation week-in-week-out, and we'd be playing a lot more people out of position. 

4) Steve Clarke clearly favours 4 at the back and has shown that he can make a poor team very hard to beat with that formation. 

So yet again, my question would be "Why should we put more low quality players on the pitch, and make our team and manager play a formation they are not comfortable with?"

You'll say "We've been playing 4 at the back for 17 years and it clearly isn't working!" 

I'll say "Correlation does not imply causation, and formation change is not a panacea!"

The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before. 

Welcome back. 

There's underlying issues beneath those results: Spurs are going through a torrid time of late, so I'd say that we're fair-game for just about anyone in the EPL. Livingston beating Celtic was a fluke. The total market worth of that Celtic first XI was worth more than twenty-one times their Livingston counterparts. So yes, totally fluke, and as I said in the opening post, Livingston will probably have to wait twenty or so years for another win over Celtic.

I get what you're saying, obviously, but I'm giving instances that three-at-the-back is still being used. You should've seen the responses when I first mentioned changing systems, it was like I was suggesting that Trump should get the American Presidency or Boris Johnson is up to the task of being PM... when it seemed imaginable.

No. I'm definitely right on this one. Why do you think I'm following it with such vigour? Let's get it clear, though, In no way am I saying that three-at-the-back is a better system than a four. I'm not. Nor am I saying that if we change systems then the results will instantly come. I'm not. What I'm right about is that it's time to give other systems a try. Not to experiment, for an extended period of time, is just unimaginative and lazy. In any line of work, if something isn't right you change it. If you're a writer and you're an outliner, but it's not working out, then try discovery writing. If you're a Chef and your Curry base is bland, you add more/different ingredients.

It seems to me that no matter who comes in as manager they're obligated to play with two center backs. Someone once said that doing something over and over again is the definition of insanity... I'm not saying that the system is at the heart of all our ills and ailments, as outlines in my "Sack the SFA" post, but stick to the same old system is crazy.

1. An ocean begins with one drop.

2. People keep saying that central midfield is our strongest position, but we don't actually play with a central midfield. We play with a double-pivot (anchormen-men), two wingers and a second striker. So no, if we switch to a 3-5-2 then if anything it'll make us more compact and stronger.

3. I covered this above. In the most recent round of international qualifiers 17% of international teams in Europe played with a variant of a 3. I'm better a small percentage of those players play in a 3/5 week-in and week-out. 

That argument is lazy. In the 90s when we qualified for 96 and 98 using an almost dedicated 3-5-2, how many of those players did so at club level? One. Matt Elliot, and he wasn't exactly the key to our "success". Did you watch the Sheffield United vs Liverpool match? Klopp was so infuriated with the way that things were going Liverpool came out at half time with a three-at-the back to combat Sheffield United. I bet Andy Robertson didn't bitch about it to Klopp to the way he did about playing as a wing-back for Scotland.

4. A manager works with what he has. If he's so stubborn that he's going to persist with a four-at-the-back, even though all signs clearly agree with me, then he should be sacked. 

If anything, if we played with a 3-5-2 we would actually be playing our central midfielders (who are apparently the better players in the team) in central midfield *GASP!!* Which alleged "good" player would we be leaving out? We would be playing more players in the middle of defence, middle of midfield and in attack. We aren't good enough to play with two central defenders and expect to beat anyone half-decent, the same way that we can't play with a lone-striker.

What you're suggesting is pretty much what England done with Gerrard and Lampard. "Who cares about systems, get those two In the team!"

Nice to be back.

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23 minutes ago, shaggycoo said:

I might be wrong but did it not all start with Pep n Barca with Messi as a false number 9 and the midfield supporting attack? Around the same time the Spanish national team not deploying something similar under Bosque? Since then most teams adapted to suit themselves.

I'd say you're definitely in the ball-park. 

I had a brief read up on it last night and it would appear that Mario Zagalo pioneered the system with Brazil back in the 70s.

With all systems, it can be effective (every system can be effective), but you need the players.

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31 minutes ago, The_Dark_Knight said:

There's underlying issues beneath those results: Spurs are going through a torrid time of late, so I'd say that we're fair-game for just about anyone in the EPL. Livingston beating Celtic was a fluke. The total market worth of that Celtic first XI was worth more than twenty-one times their Livingston counterparts. So yes, totally fluke, and as I said in the opening post, Livingston will probably have to wait twenty or so years for another win over Celtic.

I get what you're saying, obviously, but I'm giving instances that three-at-the-back is still being used. You should've seen the responses when I first mentioned changing systems, it was like I was suggesting that Trump should get the American Presidency or Boris Johnson is up to the task of being PM... when it seemed imaginable.

No. I'm definitely right on this one. Why do you think I'm following it with such vigour? Let's get it clear, though, In no way am I saying that three-at-the-back is a better system than a four. I'm not. Nor am I saying that if we change systems then the results will instantly come. I'm not. What I'm right about is that it's time to give other systems a try. Not to experiment, for an extended period of time, is just unimaginative and lazy. In any line of work, if something isn't right you change it. If you're a writer and you're an outliner, but it's not working out, then try discovery writing. If you're a Chef and your Curry base is bland, you add more/different ingredients.

It seems to me that no matter who comes in as manager they're obligated to play with two center backs. Someone once said that doing something over and over again is the definition of insanity... I'm not saying that the system is at the heart of all our ills and ailments, as outlines in my "Sack the SFA" post, but stick to the same old system is crazy.

1. An ocean begins with one drop.

2. People keep saying that central midfield is our strongest position, but we don't actually play with a central midfield. We play with a double-pivot (anchormen-men), two wingers and a second striker. So no, if we switch to a 3-5-2 then if anything it'll make us more compact and stronger.

3. I covered this above. In the most recent round of international qualifiers 17% of international teams in Europe played with a variant of a 3. I'm better a small percentage of those players play in a 3/5 week-in and week-out. 

That argument is lazy. In the 90s when we qualified for 96 and 98 using an almost dedicated 3-5-2, how many of those players did so at club level? One. Matt Elliot, and he wasn't exactly the key to our "success". Did you watch the Sheffield United vs Liverpool match? Klopp was so infuriated with the way that things were going Liverpool came out at half time with a three-at-the back to combat Sheffield United. I bet Andy Robertson didn't bitch about it to Klopp to the way he did about playing as a wing-back for Scotland.

4. A manager works with what he has. If he's so stubborn that he's going to persist with a four-at-the-back, even though all signs clearly agree with me, then he should be sacked. 

If anything, if we played with a 3-5-2 we would actually be playing our central midfielders (who are apparently the better players in the team) in central midfield *GASP!!* Which alleged "good" player would we be leaving out? We would be playing more players in the middle of defence, middle of midfield and in attack. We aren't good enough to play with two central defenders and expect to beat anyone half-decent, the same way that we can't play with a lone-striker.

What you're suggesting is pretty much what England done with Gerrard and Lampard. "Who cares about systems, get those two In the team!"

Nice to be back.

Our oceans were actually probably formed by large comet impacts delivering massive quantities of water from the outer Solar System in a relatively short period of time a few billion years ago. But that's besides the point... 

I agree that experimenting is good, but I disagree with the way you go about advocating for it. You are fixated on one parameter, and you are incapable of exploring the idea that you may not be right. This leads to a failed experiment every time. 

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46 minutes ago, The_Dark_Knight said:

There's underlying issues beneath those results: Spurs are going through a torrid time of late, so I'd say that we're fair-game for just about anyone in the EPL. Livingston beating Celtic was a fluke. The total market worth of that Celtic first XI was worth more than twenty-one times their Livingston counterparts. So yes, totally fluke, and as I said in the opening post, Livingston will probably have to wait twenty or so years for another win over Celtic. 

So, my examples have underlying nuances and/or are flukes, but your examples are purely down to the formation? 

Come on mate. Don't you see the issue with this? 

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6 minutes ago, mrniaboc said:

Our oceans were actually probably formed by large comet impacts delivering massive quantities of water from the outer Solar System in a relatively short period of time a few billion years ago. But that's besides the point... 

I agree that experimenting is good, but I disagree with the way you go about advocating for it. You are fixated on one parameter, and you are incapable of exploring the idea that you may not be right. This leads to a failed experiment every time. 

So, what you're saying is that we should play with a 3-5-2? Nice! :P

I'm not fixating on anything. If you've read my "Sack the SFA" post you'll know that there are a multitude of failings in the Scottish game, so much so that I'd end the SPL season now, declare Celtic the winner and spend the next few months coming up with a blueprint on how to make Scottish football great again... (That's what Trump would say if he were a football fan)

I'm "fixating" on the formation/system, as that's pretty much the only thing the manager can change.

Fine, I might be wrong, I might be right. I don't care if I'm wrong. It's the sheer resistance to even experiment and explore that's frustrating me.

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3 minutes ago, mrniaboc said:

So, my examples have underlying nuances and/or are flukes, but your examples are purely down to the formation? 

Come on mate. Don't you see the issue with this? 

I was giving examples of teams playing the system. When I first mentioned playing a 3 I was hit by a barrage of "No one plays with a three anymore", etc.

Yes, they do. The majority of teams in Serie A do.

The results that I listed were just coincidently on the weekend that I returned. ;)

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