Dom Roman – @DomRoman
Strange year this. We’re 5 weeks from the start of the 2020-21 season, and Torquay United’s squad is pretty much settled…oh and it’s September! I spent some of my August bank holiday weekend wishing I was at a Gulls game, by now we’ve usually played around 7 or 8 fixtures and the season is in full swing. My patience is reaching breaking point. This week I’m focusing on tactics and how Gary Johnson might set out his team in the coming months (and who will fulfil the positions from the squad). You’ll notice Liam Davis is involved in every formation, so I’m going full strength – get well soon Liam. Let’s get on with it shall we, chalkboard at the ready…
No formation speaks ‘British Football’ and indeed ‘Torquay United’ like 4-4-2. In the modern era it’s dominated all others at Plainmoor, with a varying degrees of success. Used wisely with the right players and you have the cohesion and class of Leroy Rosenior 2003-04, but fielded rigidly without enough quality and you have the predictability of Chris Hargreaves 2004-05. It’s a fine line people.
- WIDTH – The 4-4-2 formation encourages width, as the full backs (in a perfect world) are pushed to overlap the wingers. The Davis/Andrews and Wynter/Whitfield combos are potentially good ones – though with Liam Davis out of action, the overlap may not be quite so forthcoming from Moxey.
- FOUR AT THE BACK – Defenders at our level are so much more used to a flat back 4, the positions they need to take up and the straight line of 4 is easier to digest – and even at the highest echelons of the game it’s still the preferred option.
- TWO UPFRONT – Could Andrew Nelson and Danny Wright be a dynamic duo to push us up the table? Possibly. 4-4-2 allows this partnership a chance to shine and crosses to attack, if the formation’s width is used to full effect.
- OUTNUMBERED – No not the Beeb sitcom about unruly children, it’s the task facing our midfield two. Whether this is Hall and Little, or another blend, other teams could man up in the engine room and exploit space, forcing a striker to come back and help.
- WINGERS – We’re not blessed with many wingers at the club. Jake Andrews would prefer to play inside, Ben Whitfield will do the job but may be best positioned closer to the strikers. Our most natural in that position is Aaron Nemane, a player who most people would expect to be a sub.
Just the mention of a 3-5-2 makes me a little anxious! The formation has rarely been used with great effect at Plainmoor (Kevin Hodges 1997-98 being the main triumph) and there was some mixed results last season as GJ juggled his injury hit squad round to arrest our decline. The whispers are that 3-5-2 may come back for 2020-21 though, so we shall see.
- SWEEPER – The 3-5-2 formation would allow our new summer signing Gary Warren to play at the rear of the defensive three. No offence to ‘Dawlish’ but at the age of 36, playing in a four may well see him struggle against pacey forwards, so this formation could be just the ticket for the ex-Grecians man.
- MIDFIELD 3 – After paying a fee for Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, it seems likely that he will feature heavily in the starting line-up (fitness permitting). With the skipper taking up his usual defensive role, and Armani Little nailed on to take the other place (fitness permitting), the midfield could be a nice mixture of tenacity, quality on the ball and running off it.
- LACK OF WIDTH – One of the main reasons why 3-5-2 remains a minority formation amongst the bigger hits is the lack of width. With only one player on each side, wing play relies on the wing backs ability to get up and down the flank – or the midfielders and strikers moving out wide and finding space.
- 5 DEFENDERS – If you’re fielding three centre backs, plus Davis/Moxey and Wynter then you have five defenders in the team and presumably a reduced attacking threat. Of course choosing Andrews and Whitfield as wing backs would change all this…but suddenly weaken us considerably in defence. The formation also encourages one centre back to step up into midfield, it’s debatable whether we have someone comfortable enough to do that.
- WING BACKS? – Out of the current squad, the only natural looking wing back is Liam Davis. Unfortunately it looks like the brilliant defender won’t be available for a little while, and his direct replacement Dean Moxey is more likely to play centre back in the formation than wing back.
The flexibility of playing these formations has made them fairly popular up and down the land, and you can see why. The 4-5-1 gives you a sound defensive base, which can then spring into a more attacking 4-4-1-1. Martin Ling’s 2011-12 team made this work to perfection and took us to the cusp of promotion. The deciding factor can often be the productivity of the man who’ll knit together midfield and attack, see below.
- IN THE HOLE – Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Armani Little and Jake Andrews all have one thing in common, they could all play behind the strikers. CLE showed that last August, whilst Armani was excellent at home to Harrogate and Jake Andrews often pops up near the strikers whether he’s stationed there or not. Defenders do not like players who can pop up between the lines and take them away from their comfortable back-line.
- WIDTH – In a similar way to 4-4-2, United can stretch the pitch more in this formation and get up the wings to cause the opposition trouble. In Danny Wright we have someone who can attack crosses and score headers, a rare proposition in recent years – it would be a shame to waste it.
- FLEXIBILITY – A 4-4-1-1 can turn into a 4-5-1 fairly quickly and vice versa, as midfielders slot into attacking or defensive positions.
- ISOLATION – The Plainmoor faithful have rarely enjoyed seeing a striker upfront on his own, the reason being the lack of bodies to create problems for the opposition defence. By playing 4-4-1 or 4-5-1, the team has to try and keep the ball on the deck and not hoof aimless balls to an outnumbered striker.
- GOALS – Jamie Reid’s departure means we’re short of 25+ goals, and the general accepted wisdom is that Nelson and Wright could replace Reidy between them – scoring 10-15 each. Football is rarely ever that straightforward, but the pressure would certainly be on the likes of Whitfield and Little to chip in regularly and turn draws into wins.
The 4-3-3 formation is something that 2019-20 Premier League champions Liverpool have mastered in recent years; with three rampaging forwards, three industrious midfielders and two high calibre attacking full backs giving them a winning balance. It would be an adventurous approach from GJ, but we’ve seen before in the last two years that he loves his team to attack.
- ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK – How do we make up for Jamie Reid’s departure? We could go for the jugular and play a three man attack, featuring Andrews and Whitfield buzzing around Danny Wright. Whits and Jake both enjoying pushing up in support, getting in the box and having a shot, so could thrive in this formation..
- FLEXIBILITY – In Little/Andrews/CLE/Whitfield we have four players who are clever and mobile. Giving them room to move and interchange would be an exciting proposition – and make up for only have one striker on the pitch.
- DEFENSIVE GAPS – With a team set to attack, the opposition could soak up pressure and then find gaps to exploit. With Andrews and Whitfield both pushed forward, the full backs will need the midfield to work overtime to curtail dangerous attacks. With only one natural defensive player (Asa Hall) in our engine room, this could spell trouble.
- NO STRIKE DUO – With four playmakers in the team, the onus is very much on the team to keep the ball on the deck and use their talents to play around or through the opposition. In an ideal world that is achievable, but do Torquay United have the confidence and ability in the winter months to do this, or will a more direct approach be required?
It’ll be fascinating to see how Gary Johnson decides to set the team up come October, and I’m sure the friendlies will give clues to what his Plan A & B’s will entail. Whatever formation is in place, the players must be committed to each game and ready for the fight this season – otherwise no tactics will cut mustard and we’ll be languishing in mid-table again. With the addition of the likes of Moxey, Wright, Warren and Kerr, the squad has started to take a more experienced and hardened shape about it. Evolving the mentality and becoming tougher to play against would give us a chance this season. I can’t wait.