The GoatyGav Column

‘Identity’ seems to be the buzzword when describing the various Modi Operandi of Premier League sides this season. It’s important to point out that I don’t mean that in a negative way. I think it’s great that you can paraphrase the approach that managers set up for their players on match-days. After all – some coaches work tirelessly and endlessly on skills and drills sessions to mold their players to suit their overall systems. Generally the most successful teams all have players who ‘understand the system’ best and have a clear way of playing. Not always an easy task however. Formations, tactics and systems of play have become increasingly complex. My first real exposure to formations was on the Subbuteo pitch in the late ’70’s. After all – how should you set up your players on the green cloth? Nearly everyone I played, until I went to a Regional Tournament where the reigning English champion, Darryl Dunscombe, had his ten outfield players set up in a straight line on the edge of his defensive quart, used to go with either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. I wonder how the kids of today set up? In case you were wondering how Ron Greenwood would have done it here’s the evidence.

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I remember the oft used reason, for a certain methods being adopted by our recent managers, of ‘not having the players’ to play more adventurous football being debated upon across the West Ham family of websites and notice boards. The respective managers get their players in over 2-3 transfer windows, develop their ‘identity’ and are then replaced by another manager who has to start all over again. In Slaven’s case this was slightly less clear. In the end the amount of ‘direct’ football played was surprising. Personally I believe the injuries to players influenced Slaven’s ‘systems’, and it’s a contentious point that Slaven may have been left out in the cold on a couple of occasions when it came to recruitment, contributed to his inability to stamp his mark.

A very interesting article on SSN, recently, discussed the benefits of the use of drone cameras to help coaches and managers with positioning and shape. The detail that the coaching team, who were using the footage shot from the drone cam, gave a perfect angle to illustrate exactly how play was developing for all of the match situations during training sessions. These videos stimulated extremely valuable conversations between the coaches and players and some excellent learning was gained. I’m not a regular at the training ground but it wouldn’t surprise me to see us, and every other top tier club, adopt this method of reviewing training if we haven’t done so already. I’m sure that finding the ideal formation would be made a good deal easier should we do so. The following video outlines some of the benefits that, even, lower tier teams are gaining.

So what about the here and now? Presently It’s not so important to know how David Moyes wants to play rather that it’s how he’s able to play. With the current roster what’s really available? Three at the back seems to work better as there’s far less space to exploit in the channels, between the CBs and FBs, than when there are 4 at the back. It doesn’t seem that Zabba’s still able to ‘get up and down’ in a wing-back role. How to address that – especially with a back three? Lucas Neill’s legs had, supposedly, gone when he was with us but he was one of the best right backs we’ve had in the last couple of decades so does a 3-5-2 (or 3-5-1-1) work for more, to put it politely, experienced full backs? We certainly don’t have the players to go with a ‘front 4’ or ‘front 5’ in the same manner as some of the teams at the top. Chek & Pedro are not looking their best when played – let alone played together in holding roles. Nobes is playing some of the best football of his career, IMO, so should he be in every starting 11 despite the formation? With that in mind do we really want two holding midfielders in a starting line-up?

“Depends on who we’re playing,” I hear you say? Well yes, indeed it does, but a team will always have it’s preferred structure. Critics of Manchester United this season, many of who are of the Red Devil persuasion themselves, level the accusation that their manager is either playing negative football or doesn’t even have any discernible identity at all. It’s true that he does tend to adapt to the club his teams are playing, putting painstaking work in to his preparation, but one does wonder if he has an over-arching idea of his ideal first eleven with their positions and roles. He’s one of the best football managers on the planet, for my money, so I’d be amazed if he didn’t. Yes – he does tend to ‘spoil’ the opposition while putting the tactical onus on defence but there’s clearly a lot more to him than that.

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Putting players in ‘pigeon-holes’ has been one of the practices that is being consigned to the history books. You’re no longer simply a ‘winger’, ‘central midfielder’, ‘centre back’, ‘full back’ or ‘striker/forward’. There are so many different positions and different ways of playing those positions it’s getting to the stage, now, where simple descriptions just don’t cut it. Almost every player has their individual qualities and it’s no longer possible to ‘place’ many in a specific role. Players of note often have positions named after them ala Claude Makelele with ‘The Makelele role’ describing a holding midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks and plays a simple, but effective, pass. On the subject of winning posession it’s interesting that some coaches tactics focus closely on taking full advantage of transitions – Jurgen Klopp being the prime example of this ‘Identity’ that’s been introduced to the Premier League more recently.

There is so much more to discuss on this subject I feel that I’ve not done it justice but, this being one of the more technical aspect of the game, it’s certainly worth hearing your thoughts. I fully understand that players may come and/or go in the January window. It’s looking like Diafra may be on his way very shortly so it’s probably not worth looking at putting together your own ‘best formation’ including him. So Sakho apart how would you set up?

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

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