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The end of 4-5-1

By Fran Mitchell :  20/10/2009 :  Comments (20) :
4-5-1, whether you love it or hate it, has been the dominating formation for the last 6-7 years.

-Porto Champions League Winners
-Chelsea 2 times league winners
-Greece European Championship Winners
-Man U 3 times league winners
-Everton Finsihing 4th, 6th, 5th, 5th out of 5 season.

There is no doubt it has been an effective if not atractive style of football (apart from Utd's version, but that had Ronaldo AND Rooney in it.)

The principle of this formation relies on what has become known as the Makalele position, a goalscoring midfielder and a striker who can hold up up the ball. For Everton, this has been basically a reliance on Cahill and Carsley/Neville and one of Yakubu/Bent/Fellaini/Saha. And our league finishes have proved the doubters wrong each time.

Yes, it has been boring, and it lacks the punch to challenge the top 4, but it is good enough to beat everyone else and football is a results business. Spurs for many years have arguably had a better squad than both Everton and Aston Villa, but Everton and Villa have had the better system and have finished 4th and 6th respectivley for two consecutive seasons.

But now is the time to change. 4-5-1 for many reasons will not suffice.

1. Our defence is weaker; in the past, nicking one goal would have given us a victory, now it may only be enough for a draw, we need a more attacking system.

2. We lack a Makelele. Carsely is gone, Neville is injured. Rodwell is not that style of player, neither is Cahill or Fellaini. We have techinically gifted central midfielders, so we must play a system to suit. Currently we have a gifted Rodwell playing average in the Makelele position.

3.Fellaini is not Cahill, Arteta or Carsley. The position Fellaini is being asked to play is currently wrong. I believe this is due to faith in the system, and fitting players accordingly. But Fellaini is not a Cahill style attacking midfielder, nor is he a Arteta-style playmaker or a Carsley-style ball winner. He is a powerful, dominating box-to-box midfielder, who is designed to play in a two-man midfield.

4. Saha and Jo are not lone strikers. And while Yakubu has the ability to play that role, he is much more effective when next to another.

Also, the Premier League is now much stronger, with much more variation, and playing that one Makelele player is becoming a thing of the past. Teams have learned to deal with it and 4-4-2 (in all it variations) is taking majority control. Only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Arsenal, with their wealth of speed and attacking flair can continue, and they play something closer to a 4-3-3 than a 4-5-1.

The two clubs who are sticking by 4-5-1 so far this season are sitting 8th and 11th in the league respectively, Last season they finished 2nd and 5th.

This season must be a building block. Use it as a transitional season, change our style of play and get it perfected. Get the likes of Fellaini and Rodwell into their best positions. See if Jo has a future as a stiker in a two-man attack. With the return of Arteta, Yakubu and Jags, the gelling of Heitinga and Bily, we could create a very good team, playing a 4-4-2 formation, which with 1-2 additons in the 2010-11 season could have a serious challenge for the top-4.

Reader Comments

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Steve Pugh
1   Posted 21/10/2009 at 07:51:13

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Good article Fran, makes sense.

Are we going to take bets on how many people use it as an article to slate DM and say he will never change and that he is the worse tactician ever etc. etc.
Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
2   Posted 21/10/2009 at 08:11:45

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I thought this was one of the more intelligent, original, and certainly more perceptive posts I’ve seen out the current somewhat repetitive ones. Sadly, they are mostly nail on head. As Shaun Sparke says on the other thread, the natives are getting restless. The quickest and easiest solution is for Moyes to have some sort of epiphany, and start doing some of the basic things a little differently. A lot of sensible stuff has been said in terms of valid critique. Call it slating if you want but an awful lot of people can see things that are wrong. How’s about Moyes trying to fix a few?
Matthew Tait
3   Posted 21/10/2009 at 09:20:25

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When I saw this headline I expected yet another rant about Moyes’ hoofball football and ’negative’, ’defensive’ 4-5-1 formations. Happily not. Very good article Fran, I agree with every word.

One difficultly for Moyes though will be selecting his teams if we did move to 4-4-2. When at full fitness we have at least 6 players who prefer to play in centre midfield, more if you include Pienaar and Bily who may well both be best in that position in an ideal world. Obviously a fit Arteta would take up one spot, presumably Fellaini the other? Which means there is no role in the team for Cahill or Rodwell or Osman or Neville except on a sub/rotation basis (Neville might make the team as first choice right back but there is a lot of competition there).

I’m not sure I can see Moyes taking that sort of decision, too many of those players are considered key team members. Cahill is our ’talisman’, Neville is the captain, Rodwell the rising star - yet quite likely none would make the first choice team in a 4-4-2. If for no other reason, I can see us sticking with 4-5-1 for quite a while yet.
Ciarán McGlone
4   Posted 21/10/2009 at 09:31:43

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Who do you leave out?

I disagree that we need to change from a 451...

What we need is a change is the personnel we employ in such a formation...In a fully fit fit squad we have enough creative midfielders to play a 433 whenever we are in the offensive position...and switch to a 451 when on the defence...

Therefore Saha or who the chosen striker is..will not actually be playing as a lone striker..he will be part of a 433 or a 424 depending upon the flexibility of the midfield...the key is passing the ball through midfield and finding positions for this passing game...this is being fragmented at the minute because some of the midfield personnel are not capable of playing a passing game and this effects those ’quicker thinking’ players who are on a different wavelength..

A 5 man midfield of :

Arteta Rodwell
Pienaar Fellaini Billy

WIll be more than capable of playing this passing game and supporting Saha..and would be a devastating attacking my opinion of course...
Phil Paulson
5   Posted 21/10/2009 at 09:44:12

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Reasonable, except for the Fellaini description.

"But Fellaini is not a Cahill style attacking midfielder, nor is he a Arteta-style playmaker or a Carsley-style ball winner. He is a powerful, dominating box-to-box midfielder, who is designed to play in a two-man midfield".

So, he isn’t much of a goalscorer, can’t see or play much of a pass, and nor can he make a tackle. So, he runs up and down the pitch doing nothing in particular.

Powerful is one of the last adjectives I’d use of him.

He is clearly a misfit - God alone knows where he’ll end up playing. I just hope he doesn’t turn out to have been a complete waste of money.
Tony Williams
6   Posted 21/10/2009 at 10:31:42

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I am fully behind Ciaran on this one, we have the players, when fit, to have a very effective 4-5-1 formation, with it moving to a 4-4-2 or an impressive 4-3-3 given the need.

Pienaar and Bily on the wings, swapping over the way Arteta used to with Ossie/Pienaar and Rodwell in the middle with Arteta and Felliani/Cahill. Looks good to me with King Louis up front getting support from Fellaini/Cahill and Arteta
Fran Mitchell
7   Posted 21/10/2009 at 12:08:26

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Cheers for the good feedback.

One thing thas been brought up is

"who do you leave out?"

We dont leave out anyone, actually. If, and I hope we do, win the Europa League then thats and extra 19 games. We also have FA and League Cup that the club will be planning to take seriously. All in all we could easily end up playing 60+ games this season.

We are also in a World Cup year, so for a good number of our players that will play on the mind. IF they are being asked to play 60+ before a world cup it could effect morale, form and attitude on the pitch.

Thus a 4-4-2 at home could consist of Fellaini and Arteta (when fit), Or in trickier games we could play Neville instead of Fellaini. We could rest Arteta for the most important games to as we have Rodwell and Ossie in back-up. We could rest Pienaar and Play Arteta wide, or Osman. And the same with Bily.

Also you have 2 excellant strikers. One thing about our strikers however, is they need games.

Yakubu is not a striker who can start one, rest one and start one without form being affected. Same with Saha, and if was to ever get in the first team Jo.

As for adapting to a Man U last season, Arsenal this season 4-3-3, as attractive and appealing it is weare not good enough. Thus the 4-3-3 begins to look like a 4-5-1 very easily.

For that system to work you need 2 world class players to gel it together.

Barca have Messi, Iniesta and Xavi (plus numerous others) that make up so much ground, have world class techique.

Madrid tried and failed last season, van der Vaart, Sneider, Diarra. They are very goodplayers, but Madrid realised they needed more. Ronaldo and Kaka were designed for that formation.

Man U this season are playing 4-4-2. This is one reason Giggs has been playing so well, he is back in the tradition left wing position that he excells. But without Ronaldo, as good a Valencia is he isnt good enough to play in that formaion as effectively.

Arsenal have van Persie, Fabregas and Arshanvin, 3 world class players.

We have lots of very good players, but no1 of world class ability.
Ciarán McGlone
8   Posted 21/10/2009 at 12:38:01

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Surely you need better midfielders to play in a 4 man midfield than in a 5 man midfield...

Your logic doesn’t seem to stack up on this one...You’re suggesting we have the players to play a 4 man midfield but not the players for a 5 man midfield...I would’ve thought that having an extra body in midfield meant that you could get away with less quality in there...therefore reversing your logic.
Michael Byrne
9   Posted 21/10/2009 at 12:32:26

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I don’t believe that the problem is our formation per se, but more the style of football that we sometimes play within that formation. In my opinion for a 4-5-1 to work successfully, we need to get the ball to the feet of the loan striker so that he can lay it off and then turn, rather than just lump it up towards the general area of his head.

Personally, I ’d like us to play 4-5-1 as follows, assuming everyone is fit and on form ( a big ask I know!):
Jagielka Distin Baines
Arteta (Holding, to make use of his passing ability)
Pienar Fellaini Billy
Cahill (advanced to support striker)

I do agree with you that we will need a good squad with all of the games involved so there would be plenty of opportunites for Rodwell, Osman, Hibbert, Saha, etc to get game time.
Fran Mitchell
10   Posted 21/10/2009 at 12:44:29

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Is not the quality of the midfielders, its the attacking players that are important. Ronaldo beafitted more in that position than anyone. You need players who when they have the ball they automatically become attackers.

Pienaar, Arteta and Bily are all good. But if they recieve the ball on the half way line on a counter from the oppositions corner they will not automatically turn that into a attacking position. Ronaldo, Kaka, Arshavin, van Persie, Messi, Iniesta will. If we are in tha posiition I would rather have 2 strikers on.

How many clubs, apart Madrid, Barca, Arsenal and Man U (last season) have sucessfully lpayed this formation.

Villa did it quite successfully, that was reliant on Young in full-flow, we dont have that style player either.

All i’m saying is that if we play 4-3-3 like those teams, it will be more of the same 4-5-1 that we see now because we do not dominate games and hold 65% of posession like the above do (With Villa they held less posession but counter attacked very quickly due to Youngs pace).

I believe Bily will be more effective in a Flat midfield 4, and I think it would bring the best out of Fellaini and Arteta when he returns.

Also, both Saha and Yak are 20 goal strikers, so I rather have both than just 1 playing.
Fran Mitchell
11   Posted 21/10/2009 at 13:01:16

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Also, people are suggesting 4-3-3 on the basis that ’we have everyone fit’. When have we ever had everyone fit? What happens the sysytem is people are not fit?

This is were I see the problem with 4-3-3, if you lose a couple of important players (like we are now without PIenaar) the system becomes a dud.

4-4-2 is moe solid, and even if a couple of players are injured it can accomodate that. While if you lose a couple of players in a 4-3-3 it soon becomes 4-5-1 and hoofball. I believe we need to play a solid system for the whole season to develop consistancy and in my opinion that should be 4-4-2.
Matthew Tait
12   Posted 21/10/2009 at 13:00:50

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As I said earlier I do agree with you Fran, but one or two things -

I think you may be overlooking Cahill. He is the one player above all that doesn’t fit into a standard 4-4-2 very well at all. In fact if we played 4-4-2 Cahill would likely be more use as a striker than centre-mid. Yet Cahill has generally thrived in our 4-5-1, because it makes the most of his talents. I think Moyes is going to take a lot of persuading to drop Cahill, but he is very difficult to fit regularly into a 4-4-2.

Similar problem with Neville - personally I wouldn’t be that comfortable with a pairing of just Neville and Arteta in a 4-4-2, I just don’t know if Neville’s good enough as an all-round midfielder to play that role. Again, Moyes is going to be reluctant to drop him, but we have a huge amount of competition at right back.

All that said, I do think that Moyes needs to make some tough decisions pretty shortly as players come back towards fitness, and 4-4-2 may well be the way the team is going to progres.
Ciarán McGlone
13   Posted 21/10/2009 at 13:11:44

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I don’t agree Fran,

A 442 with Neville, Heitinga or Cahill in a central playmaker position..has been proven to be utterly toothless...In the scenario you suggest where players may be missing then I think certain players need extra help in the middle to make up for their lack of ability...

That is if we have to play them at all...
Fran Mitchell
14   Posted 21/10/2009 at 13:17:07

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In terms of Neville. He is a big question,but I feel if Arteta was fit then Neville would be solid as he could just give the ball to arteta who will be much more dangerous with 2 strikers in fromt of him. They proved a good partnership last season before Mikkys injury. Nev can also play at right-back, big competition from Neill, Hibbo and maybe even Coleman, but that is only a good thing.

Sort of in a Catch-22 situation with Neville. I want to discuss the BEST everton team, but that team must include Neville, but for the best team we need to lose Neville, but for the discussion I need to include him....luckily he’s injured

Cahill, I have mentioned this in previous posts, I beleive would be most useful as a sub. A see him more as a striker than a midfielder anyway.

Heitinga, well the Jury is still out, but I see him as the long-term Lescott Replacement, as I dont think he has what it takes for right-back, and he isnt a midfielder.
Rob Heib
15   Posted 21/10/2009 at 13:24:18

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Interesting article. Frankly, I suspect that whether it’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 or 4-4-2, neither system will work well until Pienaar and Arteta are both on the pitch (and Jags is back). Sometimes the most obvious problem (arguably our three best players being injured) is the real culprit.

Might be worth a try but one thing I think the article overlooks is the potential damage of changing a system. If you argue that 4-4-2 can drastically improve our play then that suggests this is not an easy thing to do. Changing the shape, mindset, philosophy and composition of a team is likely to have a learning curve — would everyone be okay with a true "transitional season" in which we might finish in the bottom half? This with no guarantee that next year the new system will reap any rewards (could turn out its worse).
Ciarán McGlone
16   Posted 21/10/2009 at 15:36:14

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In a 4-4-2 ...a central midfield player needs to be able to do more than ’just give the ball to Arteta’...

That’s why Neville should never play there again — we have better. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be the case, as Moyes has something against playing the best eleven in their most effective positions.
Robert Daniels
17   Posted 21/10/2009 at 15:43:54

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Spot on Ciaran,
A midfield of Arteta, Pienaar, Bily, Fellaini and Rodwell would be a match for anyone.
Jay Harris
18   Posted 21/10/2009 at 19:30:07

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A good post to start with Fran and some interesting follow ups.

I think one of the difficulties Moyes has is that we haven't got anyone with good all round ability let alone 3 or 4 of them.

So I agree with Ciaran that it has to be 4-5-1 occasionally reverting to 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.

For me Rodwell and Fellaini are the closest to good all rounders with plenty of stamina,good passing ability and link up play,constantly showing for the ball and an eye for goal.

With Bily and Pienaar on the flanks and Cahill or Osman as attacking support I think thats as balanced as we can get until Taters back.

I dont like Neville or Heitinga in MF as I feel they are 1 dimensional and very defensive.

I must also say I thought Anichebe did well on the flank before he got injured and if he fully recovers his form and fitness feel that he’s good backup for that position.

One other point is that when Jags is back I would consider playing 3 centre backs with Hibbo and Bainsey as wing backs against the lesser teams in fact I wished we’d played that way against Stoke and Wolves I don't think we’d have done any worse.
Derek Thomas
19   Posted 21/10/2009 at 21:41:01

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I’ve said it before DON’T GET FIXATED ON THE NUMBERS GAME. ( 451 or what ever )

At best the 451 tag is is an indication only of how you line up defensively.


We play a shite ultra defensive pinch one and keep it tight version.

All thats needed is for Moyes to let all these... ’ The best squad for 20yrs ’ players PLAY !
Dennis Stevens
20   Posted 21/10/2009 at 23:29:46

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Hear! Hear! Derek.

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