Monday Moan: AVB too clever to use 4-4-2
Mark Holmes explains why Tottenham are not using 4-4-2, why Newcastle are struggling with it, and why Manchester City are using zonal marking.
Last week I criticised Brendan Rodgers for his rather blinkered view of Liverpool's performances, and today I look at the use (or rather lack of it) of 4-4-2 in the Premier League, as well as criticism of zonal marking and criticism of James McClean. Villas-Boas no Mike Bassett I'm currently at war with hundreds of Stoke fans on Twitter and various forums who believe our goalscoring problems would be instantly solved by a switch to 4-4-2, with Peter Crouch given a proper strike partner.
I have seen Sunderland fans calling for Martin O'Neill to make the same change as they continue to struggle, and Andre Villas-Boas is once again coming in for criticism from fans after Tottenham were beaten at Manchester City on Sunday with only one striker in the starting line-up. The Spurs Your Say page is full of calls for Villas-Boas to play Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor together, but football is not as simple as these people would like to think. Newcastle are the only team in the Premier League to play with two strikers in a 4-4-2 system, and it speaks volumes that Alan Pardew has been unable to get Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse firing at the same time.
The reason being that only one of them is playing as an out-and-out striker. Newcastle may have two centre forwards on the team sheet, but they are most definitely not playing with two up front. Because every other team is now playing with three central midfielders, the Magpies cannot afford to have both of their strikers constantly occupying the defenders - one of them is required to drop deep to even up the numbers in the centre of the park. The problem is that nether Ba nor Cisse are suited to the role. Both are traditional number nines, who want to play off the shoulder of the defender, but Cisse is receiving the ball with his back to goal a long way out.
It's a role no genuine striker wants to play, and it is hardly surprising the goals have not flowed for Cisse from that position. Conversely, Newcastle's opponents on Sunday, West Ham, play with a 4-4-1-1, but their man linking midfield and attack is not a striker but an advanced central midfielder in Kevin Nolan. Unlike Cisse, his natural instinct is to be behind the ball rather than ahead of it, meaning he is running on to it rather than holding it up as Cisse is being asked to to. He now has five Premier League goals to Cisse's one.
What many Tottenham fans seem to have forgotten is that Harry Redknapp rarely played with Defoe and Adebayor together either. He played with Rafael van der Vaart behind Adebayor in the role that Nolan is playing so well for West Ham but Cisse is struggling in for Newcastle. As out-and-out strikers, I doubt either Defoe or Adebayor would prove a great success in the role for Spurs. Against weaker teams which Spurs will dominate Villas-Boas could possibly afford to partner his two strikers, but Manchester City certainly do not fall into that category. I'd love to hear these critics of Villas-Boas explain how Sandro and Tom Huddlestone could have coped with Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, all of whom spent plenty of time in the middle, if they did not have Clint Dempsey dropping off to help them out. Dempsey is taking the brunt of the criticism from Spurs fans and it is not completely unjustified as, while he is working hard for the team, he has not shown too much in the way of quality going forward.
The differences between Redknapp's 4-4-1-1 and Villas-Boas' 4-2-3-1 are minimal. There are still two central midfield players, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are still playing wide, and there is still only one out-and-out striker in the team. The only real difference is that Dempsey has struggled to fill the boots of Rafael van der Vaart as the man linking midfield and attack. Unfortunately for Villas-Boas, so has Gylfi Sigurdsson in his appearances. Throw in the injury to Mousa Dembele - Tom Huddlestone was very poor against City - and also the absences of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Scott Parker, and you may begin to realise that Spurs' problem is not necessarily a tactical one.
They lost a number of big players over the summer, and not all of their replacements have hit the ground running. One that did, Dembele, is one of a number of injuries they have had to deal with - and all this while the team tries to get used to a slightly different way of playing under a new manager. Villas-Boas is not a 4-4-2 advocate, and that's because he's an extremely good manager who has suffered some bad luck and needs time to get things right at White Hart Lane. Zonal marking can work On the subject of Mike Bassett-like tactics, it seems there are few football fans who understand the benefits of zonal marking. 'He's not marking anyone; what a load of rubbish,' etc etc. Roberto Mancini is attracting criticism for sticking with the system despite a number of goals conceded from set pieces this season, and no doubt old-school pundits will continue to bemoan it after every goal from a corner City concede. But what these people fail to point out is that most teams in the Premier League use zonal marking at least partially.
For Liverpool's equaliser against Chelsea on Sunday, the hosts had Oscar and Fernando Torres marking no-one. Instead they were marshalling the near-post area, charged with attacking the ball and heading it to safety. However, neither reacted quickly enough to the corner coming in and Jamie Carragher made a good run to flick on the ball from a near-post position. It was a poor goal for Chelsea to concede but, because the Blues otherwise went man to man, nothing was said about it. Earlier in the same game Chelsea had gone ahead when Daniel Agger completely lost John Terry. He was criticised, but did anyone say it was an example of why man-to-man marking doesn't work? Of course not. The truth is that a mixture of the two systems is used by pretty much every team in the world.
Almost always, a mistake is made which allows the opposition to score. But are more mistakes made by players marking a zone rather than a man? Absolutely not, and it's time this silly, stuck in the mud criticism of zonal marking stopped. McClean free to make his own choice Sunderland winger James McClean has attracted a lot of criticism for not wearing a shirt with a poppy on it in Saturday's game at Everton. I can't say I have a problem with that. He has his reasons for not wanting to wear a poppy - he was brought up close to the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre, if you didn't know - and it shouldn't be made into a big issue.
The fact that it has been made into such an issue explains why FIFA did not allow England's players to wear poppies on their shirts last year. They do not believe football players should be making political statements, and that is exactly what McClean has done by not wearing one. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say politics and religion have no place in football. I just want to talk about the goals and gaffes, and it's a shame that parts of the football media are so determined to get us talking about anything but. You can follow me on Twitter @Homzy
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