Those who have read the first two blogs on the Samp save will know that I’m forcing myself to use a 3 centre back formation rather than revert to the same old, same old.
Those who follow me on twitter will know that I’ve really struggled to get it to work how I want – particularly defensively. So much so that I’m very close to abandoning the experiment and reverting to my tried and trusted, boring old back four.
Not yet, though. This post will by the start of my attempts to work out the issues and find a system that at least pretends to have some form of defensive competence.
This is my current base-case line-up. 3 centre backs with the libero pushing into defensive mid when we have the ball and the wingbacks bombing on to provide the width. I have certain concerns with the offensive side of the tactic but, given the clustershambles of our defence and my general preference for starting from the back, we’ll be looking at the defending first.
In our first season, using numerous variants of 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 systems, we conceded a not-terrible 1.18 goals per game in the league. So far this term, that’s gone up to 1.75. A major problem.
So the first thing I did was check the tactical analysis for any stats that showed an obvious problem area. It wasn’t hard to spot the issue.
So I looked back through our games so far this season, watching each of the goals that we’d conceded and focusing on those goals which came from through balls. Two examples stood out.
This goal from Palermo neatly encapsulates what I believe the issue is. If we look at play when Embalo receives the ball on the right, he’s going to drive infield along the pink line shown. Any of the three Sampdoria defenders / midfielders shown can close him down. But none of them do.
Instead, the defence drops off and Jankto, our MLC, isn’t able to get back early enough to put on any pressure. With no pressure on the ball, Embalo is able to play the through ball much easier for the central striker, making the run between two of our centre backs.
This goal we conceded against Atalanta has the same root cause. We’ve given the ball away on the halfway line and Ilicic collects to run at the defence. Again we have three potential options for closing down the runner, particularly if our right centre back comes across to cover.
Instead, the defence drop off and allow Ilicic to run 25 yards before our libero finally decides to step out and close down. With the right centre back not covering properly, this allows Ilicic to play the simple through ball for the goal.
Ordinarily, I would consider a defensive line dropping off when there is no pressure on the passer to be doing the right thing. Indeed, it’s something that I aim to encourage by reducing the closing down of my central defenders. But perhaps that is me being stuck in a 4-at-the-back mindset. In both of the goals shown, we have enough numbers in defence to allow at least one centre back to aggressively close down.
For the Palermo goal, I’d have liked our leftback at the very least, if not our left centre back too, to step up and meet the run knowing that our libero is covering behind and marking the striker. For the Atalanta goal, our left centre back should step up and the right one come across to support the libero.
Dropping off as we are is simply allowing the oppositon to move into the dangerous space in front of the defence under absolutely no pressure and pick a pass for runners from deep. We need to engage those runners early and, if nothing else, make that through ball much more difficult.
My defensive line and line of engagement are both already set to ‘higher’ so I’ll start by reverting to default closing down settings for the wide centre backs and consider a change to a stopper duty should that still prove inefficient.
An alternative may be to put at least one player into the DM line but I’m hesitant to do anything which would discourage the libero from stepping out when we have the ball. Going with two segundo volantes (segundos volante?) might be an option but constantly pulling people deeper and deeper does not sit well with me, particularly when I’m relatively happy with the midfield from an offensive point of view.
Highlighting a couple of points of note – the wingbacks are stretching the play well and in good position to run onto a pass out wide; the libero has pushed up perfectly into midfield whilst the two wide centre backs are not playing so wide as to leave an enormous gap through the middle; whilst our poacher is playing on the last line of defence looking for the through ball and our wide midfielders are getting forward to support the attack.
There are just a couple of problems I have offensively now. The first is what I want to do with the second striker. Quagliarella is first choice for that role and provides a valuable leadership role to add to his undoubted quality. But he has decided to retire at the end of the season and I feel that I may get more from dropping the role to either a trequartista or shadow striker from AM. A lot of the time, particularly on counters, we don’t do enough to threaten the opposition in the pocket in front of their defence and dropping a player in here makes sense. This would, however, have a knock-on impact on the central MC, currently used as an advanced playmaker, as I wouldn’t want two players – particularly creative ones looking for space – to be crowding the same area. One for an experiment, I think.
The second issue is that Santi Mina, our £2m signing in the summer, scored 7 goals in the first 7 games and then tore his hamstring. His replacements have had nowhere near the same impact, leaving us very short of goals. Depending on how badly his injury affects him going forward, we may be in need of an urgent replacement.
But that’s for another time. For now, I need to sort out that defence. And fast. Hopefully the next update will have happier defensive news and we can move onto the fun stuff at the other end of the pitch.