TALKING TACTICS: Clarets should not play 4-4-2

Eddie Howe and his assistant Jason Tindall
Eddie Howe and his assistant Jason Tindall

AHEAD of the festive period, scout Phil Smith makes a tactical summary of the Clarets’ fortunes so far this season.

Part One

IT is with some irony that, in our last fixture before Christmas, the pantomime season got well and truly underway at the AMEX Stadium on Saturday.

The justified dismissals of Romain Vincelot and Ashley Barnes rendered the game a non-event in the main, and thus a tactical review seems somewhat unnecessary.

Three points in the bag are all that matter, regardless of the vociferous disapproval of referee Craig Pawson by Gus Poyet and the Brighton and Hove Albion faithful.

Football is a game of opinion.

In January, Carlo Ancelotti and Kenny Dalglish believed Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll were worth £50m. and £35m. respectively, while most of the country looked on in disbelief.

Closer to home, regular readers will note my dissatisfaction with playing 4-4-2, while Eddie Howe appears to prefer that tactic, particularly at Turf Moor.

Am I wrong? Is Eddie wrong? Was Ancelotti incorrect?

That is a matter of personal opinion and indeed judgement.

All readers will no doubt harbour a personal preference with regards to how best utilise our talented squad.

I will explore this issue over the festive period, and, starting today, I offer a brief four-part summary on the plausible formations available to our manager, as we look to aim for the play-offs in 2012.

First up, I look at the much-criticised 4-4-2.

A huge burden is currently placed upon our central midfield to not only bolster the defence, but supplement our offensive transition.

Looking at all the options available to the manager, I must once again reaffirm my belief we don’t hold one of the two required central combinations needed for 4-4-2 to be rendered effective.

These are a box-to-box midfielder coupled with a goal-scoring attacking midfielder, or a box-to box midfielder combined with a holding player.

Offensively, Keith Treacy, Ross Wallace and Junior Stanislas are used to stretch the opposition defence from touchline to touchline.

Kieran Trippier and Bn Mee are expected to overlap and deliver the ball into the danger zone.

As we saw with his goal on Saturday, Trippier has been one of our most dangerous offensive outlets to date.

However, with both Manchester City loanees pushing high up the field, the counter attack will continue to be a useful tactic for the opposition to adopt.

It must be said the importance of the two striker combination cannot be underestimated in a rigid 4-4-2.

We have seen the benefits of the Charlie Austin/Jay Rodriguez partnership already this season, and Howe would be forgiven for wanting to renew that at the earliest convenience.

However, Martin Paterson returned to the fold on Saturday and I would suggest pairing him alongside Rodriguez, to pose the opposition a true defensive dilemma.

If we use the defensive line as an example, we can ascertain the problems faced by any opposition when attempting to nullify the pair.

It has been a noticeable tactic of the opposition to defend high against Rodriguez, to restrict his space.

Meanwhile, considering the pace of Paterson, any opponent would undoubtedly prefer to utilise a deep line, in an attempt to restrict the space behind the defensive line.

With regards to our defensive unit, a flat back four can be dominated by an attacker such as Craig Mackail-Smith, who aims to make a diagonal run behind the defensive line.

This was apparent on Saturday, and few will disagree he could, and should, have earned his team an unfathomable share of the spoils.

When dealing with pace it would be reasonable to suggest that we deploy a central defender in a role akin to that of a sweeper, in order to aid defensive transition.

The sweeper would not have a responsibility to man mark, and thus a full back would need to stay back and support.

Whether that be Trippier or Mee depends on the focal point of the opposition attack.