Six games into the season and it’s fair to say Blues haven’t found their identity yet. Like a student mulling over their upcoming gap year, Blues are yet to ‘find themselves’ under the new regime implemented by CEO Dong and Pep Clotet – flip-flopping between one system and another on the fly during matches.
Be it 3-5-2, 5-3-2, 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 the boys haven’t found a style or game plan that’s consistently worked as of yet. When one formation seems to be our best, we head into another game using the same – only to be treated like a training simulation by the likes of Swansea.
With a plethora of players at his disposable, there is no possible argument that Pep hasn’t got the ‘right kinds of tools’ for the job; it just seems he’s trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
One area of the pitch that seems to undergo constant shifting and reshifting is the wide parts of it.
Going into the summer, it was understood that Blues would be utilising wing-backs more than traditional wingers for this season. With the likes of Colin, Pedersen, Keita, Harding and the rising profile of Steve Seddon there was no real reason why this couldn’t be a viable option for Pep and his team.
However, 6 games into the season and it looks as if we still haven’t decided whether we want our wide areas populated with these names or if we want to rely on the small selection of ‘proper’ wingers we have on offer.
On top of that, with Jeff Montero having been stretchered off and being out for God-knows-how-long, picking from that small list of wingers becomes even more of a risk when you consider how frequently a player in that position gets injured (see Maghoma, Mrabti and Keita for the past month).
Despite the offerings he has, Pep still needs to make a long-term decision on whether he’s going to put his faith with his wingbacks or admit the reliability of the width system we had going last season.
Looking at the performances where we have adopted this 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation, it’s clear that we’re simply not utilising these areas enough when attacking – though when we do, it’s effective.
In both Barnsley at home and Swansea away Wes Harding and Steve Seddon started as the wingbacks on either side of a three-man-strong defensive line. In the first half of both games, they both looked scared to get forward and offer another route for the players that were packed into the middle of the pitch. Only against Barnsley did we see a second-half push from these wide men, allowing the space afforded in these areas to be used and allowing that packed out the middle area to push up as a unit and flood the box.
Harding has 1 assist this season while Seddon has 2, all 3 of these passes coming from their wings respectively. Although our efforts on goal have come few and far between, it’s clear that almost all of the ones we have scored have been thanks to our wingbacks running the lines and not just sitting back as another bastion in defence.
On the other hand, the 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 formations that we’ve seen at times has also worked. Allowing a whole defensive unit to move as one and offering overlaps to the likes of Villalba, Crowley and even Gary Gardner has shown us some of the best football we’ve played in the measly showing of possession we’ve had this season, offering us glimpses of the messianic ‘Dong ball’ we’ve all been hyping up.
In my opinion, we are at our most effective and tough to break down when playing with a 3/5-man backline and having these wingbacks operate the wide areas. I say this knowing that we’ve actually seen little in terms of consistent, free-flowing football both home and away so far this season – so I think it should be at the top of Pep’s international break to-do list to galvanise those players he wants to use in these roles to actually operate as wingbacks and not just glorified, wider fullbacks.
Keeping in mind that it’s easier to adapt traditional wingers to free-roam, attacking midfield positions, I think we could benefit from using our talented pool of right-backs and left-backs to great effect.
Whether it’s Harding, Colin, Seddon, Keita or even Pedersen, I believe our best chance of actually getting a hold of games is getting these players to challenge the wide areas and make them theirs – rather than cowering and hanging back while the rest of the team takes a beating.
Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC