Settled Midfield Reaps Benefits

At the start of this season we signed a glut of midfielders. Considering we were already quite blessed in this position it seemed a strange one. Already in possession of Majewski, McGugan, Moussi, Greening, Reid and Cohen in the midfield we added Gillett, Coppinger, Lansbury, Guedioura, and since the summer McLaughlin.

Lansbury has been able to settle in team under Davies

It led some wags to choose a XI of just midfielders. But what it also led to was a lot of chopping and changing, some of it enforced, some of it for the sake of it to use them all. This led to a very unbalanced side and players badly out of form. Guedioura looked a shell of the player he was last year, Lansbury never settled, McGugan and Majewski seemed peripheral and unneeded.

Fast forward to now and a lots changed there. Instead of the tinkering, there is consistency, and as a result the team is winning.

We started the season with an element of consistency. The same midfield 4 was frequently used right up till we lost a couple against Leeds and some lot called Derby. We went with Gillett, Guedioura, McGugan and Reid. This consistency as I say was partially enforced, Lansbury and Cohen both injured at this stage. The last game of this run of the midfield saw Guedioura get sent off against Palace and so the chopping and changing began, and the form faltered.

If you look from the end of November up to and including the Watford game, a run which many wanted SoD to be sacked during, the form was inconsistent, with horrible defeats, but also quite good results it would look now (0-0 at Brighton doesn’t look bad) Gillett started in that run, but didn’t finish, Moussi taking over, Guedioura and Cohen were used in a majority of games but would be dropped (and sometimes bought on at half time) and Lansbury and McGugan switched in and out the team. Coppinger played a couple of times. In fact the prevalence of early substitutions does smack a little of a manager trying to tinker to get things right, and although now we look fondly back at O’Driscoll period on charge, there were glaring inconsistencies. I for one think we would have got it right, but it was a case of trying to juggle too many balls.

Radi blossoming in new role

The problem is there no –one gets a consistent run of form and it told. When McLeish came in he had a midfield which was largely out of form, he didn’t know his best side, and besides, a midfield is superfluous in a McLeish team as the ball gets humped over them (I again implore you to seek out Aliaksander Hleb’s quotes on this from his spell at Birmingham)

So how was it Billy was instantly able to galvanise this midfield into one that is a constant, in form, and above all free scoring. Well he seemed to decide on a different set of personnel and although in the familiar 1-3 layout, with one deep the other attacking, gave a certain artistic license to Majewski, who revels in such a role. Lansbury gets to be the box to box midfielder, and Guedioura gets treated more a quarter back to control the play. Gillett played this role before but with the quarter back element. Instead of long balls forward, he was more like a rugby scrum half, getting the ball and passing sideways. Guedioura's range of passing far outstrips Gillett’s, and though both don’t shirk the physical side of the game, Guedi is bigger and stronger, and can shrug off challenges.

We have also now settled on a formation. O’Driscoll by and large used the 4-1-3-2 at home but was prone to adjusting to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which didn’t work. Indeed when we altered to this against Wolves for a while we struggled to control the game. The sole forward with less support struggles to maintain possession. Additionally, having the 2 men sitting deeper means we don’t attack in the same force. I am also acutely aware I supported this formation saying many modern teams play it. They do, but that’s in the Premier League.

Whether it was a case of SoD trying to keep people fresh, and that he did have knocks to contend with we will never properly know. But we were doing better before he kept trying to adjust the midfield, and the formation. Billy has faithfully stuck to his 4-1-3-2 and it’s paying dividends. He hasn’t tried to evolve the game to involve more width; he sees what we have and is making the best of it. Players like greening and Moussi are kept involved, but are not integral. The only usual change is to see McGugan come into the fray for whoever looks like they need removing. And he is a great foil to be able to bring on.

I guess the challenge becomes when a result or two goes against us, and maybe then chopping and changing might be seen. When you’re in a great run you don’t makes too many changes, except in our case when the strikers just aren’t firing. I keep seeing people suggest involving more width, or that we should change the structure, but why the hell do anything when the team doesn’t changing? People seem to want to tinker for the sake of it, and what we illustrated above shows that doesn’t work. I think as said before that too many people play Football Manager and think because what happens in a fictional cyber world will play out exactly in reality. It doesn’t work like that.

It’d be interesting to see what happens if Guedioura got injured, would Davies favour this system with either Moussi or Gillett, would he reshuffle to a 4-4-2, a flatter formation with Reid wide or Lansbury on the right? All conjecture. Why change what’s working unless we have to? Consistency. It is the watchword of the day for me, and it shows how obviously it is needed.

Guedi the new DM