Whenever I set up a system, my immediate focus is on the control of space. I begin with several systems of play but am aware of what the strength and weakness of each system are. With WBA I have been using basically two tactics the 442, and the 4132.
Once I know what shapes and roles I expect during a season, I look at where my weak links are going to be. Bravery isn’t a strong stat in the team, so I doubt the strikers will track back very much, furthermore, unlike Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon, my left back isn’t nearly as good in anticipating play as they are, which makes the left flank vulnerable.
In our friendly matches, my strikers haven’t; been converting cccs as well as other teams. One on one, i doubt Berahino and the rest of the strikers are going to score very many. And this tells me that I need quite a few players in the box, to pick up the loose ball. We are not going to score a lot of beautiful goals. We will also be depending a lot on set pieces.
To reiterate, goals are going to come if I can get more bodies in a box, and I will be depending on set pieces. We have 2 pacey strikers so going direct with risky passes will be an option from the fullbacks.
Setting up my defense is going to be a lot more challenging. My fullbacks are low on anticipation so setting up one flank with an attacking fullback is going to be a big risk. My central midfielders however are better at stopping attacks. We aren’t very good at passing, so we will be staying narrow, keeping passes short when the opposition is better and we want to hold possession, and going direct if we need a goal. That will mean several changes to PIs during a game.
So we set up my fullbacks with direct passing and take more risky passes, and use the pass into space TI. So if I want to launch counters, I will go counter, switch on these PIs. For most games I plan to start control and play short. Its a big risk and as I found out in quite a few games with WBA I had to change to counter, direct to come back from a goal against the better sides.
The match against Munchester City became a classic demonstration of creating bottle necks. They elected to play a 442, we started with a 442, but then when I realised how flaky my wings were, I switched to a 4132, locked down my flanks and went through the middle. We kept a narrow shape, funnelled their attacks down the flanks where we two manned their wingers and soundly beat them 2-0.
In our game against Spurs they began with a 4231, we conceded a goal from a set-piece, and whilst we managed to get into the box, we hardly proved a threat. Our goal was simply to keep them from scoring, something during the second half, I switch to a 4132 to counter the AMC and to funnel their attacks down the flanks where we had locked down fullbacks, It allowed us to keep them from building on the lead, we managed to equalise from a set piece.
When we want to set up bottlenecks we need to pay attention to what the other side are playing. Your system is only as good as the space it controls, and these kind of things need to happen during a game, or come with a lot of match preparation. You analyse the teams performance and look at what they do when they are a goal down.
In a league cup match we were up against a Leeds side that played a narrow diamond. For the first 30 minutes of the match we couldn’t get one shot on goal using our 4132. Both formations were playing narrow but they had the extra man playing as an AMC, first 30 minutes Leeds had 6 shots on goal we had none. We hardly threatened them. They had created a bottle neck for me that I was playing into.
Our heat map shows where we spent most of our time. We hardly threatened. I promptly went wide and started going down the flanks with a 442. By the time the game ended, we had won by two goals, and our heat map was drastically different after the change.
Using our asymmetric 442 narrowed the playable area they had, we compressed the field of play and took our game to the flanks, this stretched Leeds and by the time the game ended we had overturned a lacklustre start. Before the change they had 8 shots to our none, by the time the game was over we had 15 to their 12.
Our next game against Chelsea who playa 4231 in this game. I don’t have high hopes for this match, but I know that typically a 442 is a good system to play against a 4231. Here my goal is to lock out their two MCs, and funnel play down the flanks. Eden Hazard will see plenty of the ball, but its a lot safer than seeing the play go through the MCs.
The goal here is to make sure that while we keep our fullbacks on support, we want them to try and come through the middle, where we have players closing down their MC’s with our fullbacks instructed to make direct riskier passes, its our hope that we can get to the strikers via a quick counter. Ten minutes in our fullback finds Berahino with a deep through ball, only to see him fail to control the ball. And then Willian scores a fluke from the halfway line. 70 minutes later we are up 4-1, and I think that we have the match done and dusted.
With around 20 minutes to go, I don’t notice that Chelsea have changed formations, within 10 minutes they score 3 goals, the match is now 4-4. I look at Chelsea who are playing a 424, and I make the necessary changes. Fullbacks are told to stay back, the MCs are told to close down the opposite MCs and we lock down the flanks, and punch through the middle. With 5 minutes to go we score, West Brom win 5-4 at Stamford Bridge. We had scored 2 goals from set pieces and 2 from counter attacks, our last was a sweet passing move through the ball after their midfielders lost possession of the ball in their half.
Sometimes when you are up against a better team, no bottleneck can be created, purely because the opposite team is better than you. The best you can do is to funnel their play through what would be your best area to defend. For the first 80 minutes our strength was our midfield, and thats where we concentrated their play, breaking up their player and scoring off counters. When they changed their system I was too slow to react, by now, we had more people in the centre and didn’t have enough on the flanks, where Chelsea overloaded. By switching my system around slightly we were able to lock them out.
8 games played one draw in the league away to Spurs, the rest – glorious 3 points.