Saturday, 30 May 2015

Do Formations Matter?

The headline sounds like a stupid question - of course they do! Before you accuse me of clickbait, read on...

I read an excellent article recently by @tompayneftbl on Twitter talking about Bournemouth, their style of play, how they press (find the article here if interested, it's an in depth read but worth it) and all the time I was reading his work I was thinking "this is all great, but Bournemouth don't play a 4-2-3-1 - they play a 4-4-2"

At first I thought I was unnecessarily nit picking a fine piece of work, but from an analysts point of view it raises some good questions.

The key player in this argument was Kermorgant. In my opinion he plays as a striker and drops to receive the ball and link the play. This allows Wilson to run in behind, with his movement causing problems.

Does this make him a 'number 10'? I don't think it does. In essence he plays a similar role to the traditional target man striker such as Heskey, Andy Carroll even Peter Crouch. He will come into the gap between midfield and the forwards to win flick ons, hold the ball up and then look to lay off to the midfield or wingers and get in the box. Kermorgant is very successful at this (his aerial ability in attacking crosses is one of the best in the Championship) but this role is not a 'number 10'

The central player of the 3 in a 4-2-3-1 would generally be an attacking midfielder, looking to get on the ball in advanced midfield positions and play the ball in behind the back line to the advanced wingers or striker making runs behind the line. Think Kevin de Bruyne, Hazard when not playing wide, Ross Barkley or Cristian Eriksen.

Ultimately does it matter? The player knows what role he is doing, if he doesn't do what the manager tells him he'll be subbed. It doesn't matter what formation you put out as long as the players do what they need to, hence the creation of the 'false 9' role.

Well for the analysts it does matter. With the increasing number of Technical Analyst roles being created, especially in the Premier League, it's important that when assess a player you are comparing like for like.

We all know how football positions are abbreviated, RB = Right Back, CM = Central midfielder etc and generally when a line up is given it can include these positions. For the Technical Analysts it will be useful to put each player into the role he played.

However, if you were Chelsea, looking for a replacement to play behind the striker and Kermorgant had the best stats (OK - huge leap of faith but this is just an example!) could you see him fitting into the Chelsea team in the same way Hazard does? He clearly doesn't and plays a completely different role.

Another example would be at Norwich with Nathan Redmond and Bradley Johnson. Both play on opposite flanks so Redmond would be an RM while Johnson an LM. However, Redmond is a traditional winger, capable of beating his man, while Johnson comes inside to play a central role and allow the full back to overlap.

Nathan Redmond's stats radial as produced by Statsbomb

That is why all stats have to be put into context. A striker may only play backwards passes, does that mean he's not creative? What if he's holding the ball in the box and laying it back? If a winger has few take ons is he not doing his job? I don't suppose Beckham did many, but he was capable of putting the ball into the box with great accuracy without beating a man.

The increasing popularity of statistics in football is excellent in my opinion but they must be put into context and there is currently a huge gap between what is popular and what is understood by the mainstream public. Most work on this is done behind the scenes so what I've written above is likely common knowledge. Either way, Yann Kermorgant is a striker :-)

1 comment:

  1. A formation for me is in essence how a team is organised defensively. Today's game is so fluid offensively and teams press with a higher intensity and less rigidity that there isn't an obvious formation in sight. That said even defensive organisation is up for debate because what we see as being a 4-3-3 will often become a 4-1-4-1 shape when defending. I think formations are a foundation for a team to work from but where the individual and interdependent characteristics of the team determine how that formation is played.