It’s the million-dollar question and the one that most football fans think they have the answer for. Pundits say that we have one of, if not the best squad in the league which I would tend to agree with.
Admittedly, it is a little lopsided in places and not without its weaknesses but since I claimed the other day that Parker should go because he isn’t getting the best out of the quality available to him, I think it’s only fair that I suggest what I think could be the solution. Otherwise, I’m just moaning for the sake of moaning and ideally, I’d rather not be that supporter.
Hopefully, there’s method in the madness!
I don’t see the benefit of the possession-based system Parker is using. I read yesterday on twitter that Fulham have had the most possession in the Championship this season, but it’s not how much of the ball you have, it’s what you do with it! Against Brentford, we had the slight edge on possession stats with 52.5%, yet the Bees had double the amount of shots. Something is fundamentally wrong with those numbers and we’ve seen it in most games this season, we keep the ball for the sake of it, with a very slow tempo and not enough penetrating of the opposition. The common pass cycle of Mawson to Ream, to Mawson, to Rodak, to Ream and so on occurs because of the lack of movement in advanced areas leaving the defence with nowhere to play the ball out to and no reason for the opposition to lose shape by being pulled out of position. Therefore, it becomes far too pedestrian and predictable.
I feel that the majority of the squad would suit an aggressive, more direct approach mixing it up between an element of continuing to play out from the back but in a more direct, purposeful manner. We should equally be flexible enough to mix it up and go more direct into the channels where the pace of Kamara can get the opposition running towards their own goal, stretching the lines between their defence and midfield.
Trying to copy the mould of Jokanović is counterproductive because this is a different squad. We won’t find a trio as perfectly balanced and complimentary of each other as TC, StefJo and Kmac were, we don’t have the blistering speed from Fredericks, nor the goals Sessegnon provided to ease the burden on Mitrović. It’s time to move on as lightning rarely strikes twice.
As you can see in the image, I’ve chosen a back 3 of Odoi, Ream and Hector. My reasons for this are fairly simple… pace! In an ideal world, neither Odoi or Ream would be in my starting eleven but it’s a case of beggars can’t be choosers. Alfie Mawson has to go, he’s too slow on the ball, he’s too slow without the ball, he’s poor in the air and he’s weak in the tackle. Under Slav, a lot of the defensive mishaps were covered up by the lightning pace of Fredericks on the right. You might remember numerous occasions where he ended up as the last man round on the cover to put in last-ditch clearances when teams got in behind us. We are all aware that our defenders aren’t perfect, so speed is one of the best ways to compensate for that issue. Hector & Odoi are the only defenders in our squad with a bit of pace so as soon as Hector becomes available in 3 games time, he’s straight in the team.
Naturally, I think ones initial thoughts would be to put Ream on the left of a back 3 but that’s a bad move. The sides of a back 3 are inverted fullbacks and need to be quick, which is not an attribute Ream possesses. However, despite having a reasonably poor season so far, our American dream does at least have his up points too. He’s the best centre half on the ball and the person we rely on to start most of our attacks. At present, if Ream loses the ball, there’s nobody behind him on the cover as a last line of defence which is why we get caught out so high up the pitch so often. Ream and Mawson don’t have the pace to recover and we’ve seen on several occasions already that for a team who tries to ‘dominate’ possession, Rodak is faced with an awful lot of one on ones and shots on our goal. The current partnership is simply just too slow. By having Odoi and Hector either side of Ream, Tim would play the Kevin McDonald role bringing the ball out of defence without the risk of his lack of pace being exposed. This would also suit Kmac himself who said on his recent appearance for the clubs new Monday fix show that he’d be open to playing at centre back, with the role I’m proposing being a better alternative for Kev than as a centre back in a back 4.
The final point on our defence which seems to be the weak link in our squad at present is our aerial weakness. None of our defenders are great in the air but I think it’s worth noting that Odoi has a good leap on him. Joe Bryan has been ruled out as an option as the left-sided centre back as he would be very vulnerable to the long diagonal passes and crosses to the back post. Odoi gets the nod because whilst he has a calamitous mistake in his game, he’s also the only centre half who ticks every box for this system even if he’s simply average at everything.
It’s a right mess! No legs in the middle of the park has resulted in a lack of movement off the ball, a lack of pressing when out of possession and nobody getting up the pitch in order to give Mitro any support. We also have wide players who currently play very high which leaves a large void in the middle of the flanks in between the fullbacks and wingers. This is an area our midfielders are unable to come across to cover because they don’t have the engine in their legs to get do so, particularly Cairney, meaning that our full-backs who are very poor defensively anyway are always exposed and often beaten. So, by playing the back 3 it allows us to play Cairney without the risk of being overrun in wide areas alongside Harrison Reed who has the engine Johansen had two years ago and can act as a shield across the back 3.
I’ve opted for Joe Bryan on the left side of the midfield because you’d get the right balance out of him that way. It would utilise his ability to join the attack and whip in crosses from deep as a poor mans Steve Finnan but with the added protection of Odoi behind him, his weakness of being easily beaten defensively isn’t as damaging as it currently is. Odoi has the pace to get across even if all he does is put it out for a throw-in so that we can get back into shape, likewise with Hector on the right.
MITROVIĆ BEING ISOLATED
It’s criminal that we have the best player in the division and everyone but Parker seems to know it! Each week, he is manhandled and marked by two or three players because the said man handlers don’t have anyone else to occupy them. Regardless of how good Mitro is, it’s impossible to get the best out of him when he’s constantly surrounded with nobody within 15 yards to offer support. By having two players up front with the added pace and physical presence of Kamara, it would prevent opposition defences being able to focus all their attention on Mitro which means he will find more space and become more dominant.
Another point to bring up is that Mitro likes to drop a bit deeper to come looking for the pass into feet, this drags the centre backs out of position creating space in behind but at present, there’s never anybody making those forward runs to expose the space he creates. My thinking is that in certain phases of play Mitro will come short, Kamara will play on the shoulder and Bobby Reid will make a penetrating run, stretching the two marking centre backs into a tug of war, creating mass confusion, a loss of shape in the backline and plenty of options for Tom Cairney to find. Think of the through balls TC played for Fredericks when he made those surging runs, Imagine, Mitro offering himself Zamoraesque, laying it back to Cairney who feeds the runners.
By playing this system, we also have room for a luxury player to play a free role in between the strikers and midfielders. This has to be either Cairney or Bobby Reid but I’ve opted for Bobby in the hole simply because he has more speed and better movement. The fact that it’s a free role allows him to roam across the final third of the pitch becoming an extra option down the left and right when our wide players are in possession, creating two on one situations and compensating for the lack of overlapping we currently experience. He’ll also be able to make the transition from tucking in to make a midfield 3 out of possession to up alongside the strikers much quicker than Tom and his movement will make him harder to pick up. Tom’s role will slightly change in the team because I don’t think he has the legs to be a box to box player anymore. Reed & Reid will do his running for him allowing him to be the architect of this renaissance.
STICKING POINT: RIGHT MIDFIELD
It’s a matter of taking your pick for somebody to play on the right-hand side of midfield but I’m opting for Cavaleiro for a couple of reasons. I think he’s quicker than all the other options and he is capable of cutting inside, either switching with Bobby Reid on the attack or by unleashing a lethal shot as he proved against Charlton at the Cottage in October. He would have to put in a shift and be disciplined to keep the shape of the team but with Hector behind him and Harrison alongside him, there’s less demand on his capabilities defensively, he would just have to be disciplined for it to work and I think he has the right attitude to make that doable.
I’m sure there are holes to be picked in this formation but hopefully, someone out there can make sense of my thinking. Thanks for reading it and please let us know on social media what you would do with this squad if you were the manager.