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The Return of The School of Science

By Alan Kirwin :  11/08/2010 :  Comments (58) :
Here's a really interesting article about how Germany beat England. Aside from the embarassing clarity of just how easy England are to suss out, the postscript about the success of teams playing fluid 4-2-3-1 is enlightening; and relevant:
England's World Cup humiliation laid bare by German PhD students ? in The Telegraph.
To those of us who understand their football a little (and here on TW, I think that's most of us), these findings will be no surprise. England are one of the most predictable, bloated and immobile teams on the international stage. It's tragic and surely it's avoidable.

And so too the 2010-11 Premier League...

There are many who have posted on TW how ridiculous it is that Everton have played 4-5-1 at home to teams like Wolves, Stoke, Hull. And that, presumably, we should be playing 4-4-2. Well, it's not quite as easy as that anymore.

There are others who more firmly subscribe to the 4-5-1 model, and therein have a more specific notion of a player's position (eg, wide right, left, whatever). It has been the mainstay of David Moyes's stewardship, and perhaps still has an occasional place, but I think its relevance is also on the wane in much the same way as England's stupid 4-4-2.

4-2-3-1, in it's more fluid manifestations, ie, when its exponents easily move left and right in a compact way, or when the full backs emerge to add width and invention that is difficult for opponents to plan for, has emerged as the smart formation of choice for the better teams.

The emphasis is on keeping the ball or winning it back quickly when you lose it. It doesn't remove the option of long balls, indeed it can make their use even more incisive, but it gives the teams that use it properly a look of strength and control that other options do not.

The relevance of 4-2-3-1 heightens in the big games. It is in those games where retention of the ball, control of the space, regaining possession, having the element of surprise in your width (rather than the more predictable 4-5-1) can give teams the advantage.

So to me it seems to boil down to one thing: Will it be the games against the other top 7 teams, or the games against the mid/lower clubs that determine our season? I suggest the former, not least because they are all intrinsically 6-pointers. Last season showed that we have the beating of all those teams. This season, it is reasonable to suggest that we could go further.

And I feel that our squad contains the perfect players to make the use of 4-2-3-1 the obvious route to our success. In Fellaini and Heitinga (and Neville) our DM/spoiler/attack-launcher roles are as good as anyone's. In Arteta, Pienaar, Bily, Rodwell, Osman, Gueye and Anichebe we have players with skill and vision to keep and pass the ball and to threaten and score. Up front, 4-2-3-1 needs a mobile attacker who can make as well as score. I'd prefer David Villa... but Saha, Beckford & Silva will do for now.

It wasn't just me who observed the marked transformation in Everton's play from last Christmas onwards. It has become progressively more fluid, more sophisticated, more retentive, less wasteful and more successful. It is both effective and easier on the eye. I sense, and I certainly hope, that David Moyes doesn't just want to get us to the mountain top, but to get there the right way and to be admired for how we play as well as our results.

With this squad, I see no reason why we can't just go for it from Day One. I would never denigrate the squads of our opponents; I err on the side of a nervous wreck every game we play. But the more I look at this squad, and this manager, and this season, the more excited I get. Just wining the league isn't enough, I want to make Barcelona look like Crystal Palace (which of course they do).

The School of Science is back.

Reader Comments

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Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
1   Posted 11/08/2010 at 16:09:44

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Superb article, Alan. I really hope you're right!
Kevin Hudson
2   Posted 11/08/2010 at 16:29:23

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I was particularly impressed with Brazil's use of this formation during the World Cup. I've also heard Moyes talk about the demise of 4-4-2,and reckon he's ahead of the curve on this one.

Good stuff Alan. Not even your resident stalker could find fault with this!
David Thomas
3   Posted 11/08/2010 at 16:56:31

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Fingers crossed you're right Alan. I'm really optimistic about this season as well.
Stephen Kenny
4   Posted 11/08/2010 at 17:10:35

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I think we have got the right player's to play a number of different formations effectively. I think what will define our season tactically is how well DM uses these while the game is being played.

Time and again I see a small tactical change transform a game, especially at the top level of football. Inter Milan being the master's of this last season.

Hopefully DM will be proactive in his thinking and the player's will have a sense of belief which until last season we lacked badly.

Personally I'd like to see us go 4-3-3 away from home next season with our three most powerful strikers all playing as out and out forwards.

Stephen Kenny
5   Posted 11/08/2010 at 17:18:53

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Or even COYB!!
Ciarán McGlone
6   Posted 11/08/2010 at 17:31:26

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We played with two defensive midfielders last season at times - with Heitinga and Neville - and it didn't work... The tendency was to play very deep and it stifled the attacking football.

If you want more fluidity then perhaps it's probably best to limit the defined defensive midfielders to one - or even should be something you can get away with with 5 players in the middle.

We can have a system with a fluid central 3...and with two coming in from the right and left - and the wingbacks overlapping..

Can't wait to see it in action..
James Flynn
7   Posted 11/08/2010 at 18:00:59

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As long as Moyes is adapting his tactics based on the ability of his players, I don't care if he plays a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1. We have the talent. DM himself assembled it. He must have something in mind.

72 hours to go.

James Flynn
8   Posted 11/08/2010 at 18:18:07

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Oh and Alan, very good article.
Alan Kirwin
9   Posted 11/08/2010 at 18:16:30

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The main reasons behind 4-2-3-1, if executed properly by coach players, are:

1. It avoids defending to deep by protecting the space between the halfway line and the penalty area

2. It makes life more difficult for the better teams, almost all of whom employ player(s) in the famous "hole". Lining up 4-5-1 is no use in such situations. There was an astute commentary when England played Germany in this WC "...England set up in 3 lines and Germany playing between the lines...".

3. It fulfills a basic pre-requisite of the "new football" which is to retain possession or win it back quickly when you lose it. 4-2-3-1 is designed to ensure the ball can be kept moving as easy as possible and over as short distances as possible. Again, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 will make any team vulnerable to the way Arsenal, Chelsea & others play.

Sure, there are times when, against so called lesser or less sophisticated teams, we won't need 2 DM's. Personally in such situations I'd like to see us go 4-3-3 and play the whole game in our opponents half.

I have no doubt that this will all vary over the season. And Stephen K hit one nail on the head when he highights the importance of intra-game tactical fluidity. Mourinho is a genius in the art, Moyes has yet to truly demonstrate he gets it. That is certainly a test still to be passed.

But, and for truly the first time in probably 25 years, I find myself facing this season a little inspired by the ambitions of our manager and the potential of our squad. In the unlikely event that lady luck should shine on us with injuries & suspensions, I have not entirely erased the possibility of turning my £100 into £25,000 next May when we win the league.

In the last few days both SAF and Arsene Wenger have mentioned Everton in despatches about challenging for the title. Now, for a team that just finished 8th and barely spent a bean, that notion should resonate with fans, players and management.

24 years of hurt might be over :)
Alan Kirwin
10   Posted 11/08/2010 at 18:34:57

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James, your formation might lack width... :)
David Price
11   Posted 11/08/2010 at 18:27:37

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Cracking analysis, I've no doubt we have the ability to play that passing game and to have the players with the brains to apply the system. Tactically we've watched Moyes get better each year as he has slowly brought in players to improve the side.

Arteta's job is to provide quick ball to the last third, Fellaini after this season will be subject to £30m bids, this lad will be the best midfielder in the league. In Beckford, I reckon Moyes has got another Cahill. So, with no major injuries at the start for a change, let's give it a right go.

Ant Ellis
12   Posted 11/08/2010 at 18:43:11

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Alan, I couldn't agree more with you that this is the formation that will take football forward; however, I feel that we as a club are lacking in certain departments to make this work for us.

I believe this system works with attacking full backs, one of which we don't have (I'll love them till the day I die... but step forward Messers Hibbert and Neville; I know people will bring Coleman's name into the frame but he has still a lot to to learn at Prem level... anyway, I digress).

The three national teams mentioned (Spain, Holland, Germany) all had strikers playing in wide positions: Villa, Kuyt (I hate the prick as well but he is seen as a forward), and Muller. I wonder wether we have the players to play this formation?

I would be more than happy to see us continue to play one or two up front (Cahill's a second striker... who are we kidding??!!) and progress as we have under the Moyesiah. Not one other team in the Prem boasts the exiting emergence of talent we have (Arsenal have been saying it for the last 5 years!!).

Stick with 4-4-1-1 and I'm confident things will happen!!! "You're in my heart, you're in my soul!" ? EFC 85

Gerry Western
13   Posted 11/08/2010 at 19:13:03

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An interesting piece well worth discussion. I've posted twice recently advocating the deployment of Hetinga in a defensive midfield role which I view similar to that performed by Carsley as opposed to playing in a central defensive partnership and have been derided for doing so.

In my most recent post I questioned if it might be possible to accommodate Fellaini alongside him as I think we really would have a powerful midfield, throw Arteta into the mix and you've got a dream combination. However, I'm less enthusiastic about Neville I'd play him at right back if need be. Fellaini, if he returns to full fitness could well be a huge influence for us this term and Johnny could be just as important in breaking down any threats posed by the opposition.
Matthew Lovekin
14   Posted 11/08/2010 at 19:18:48

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Alan, you beat me to writing a similar article. The World Cup was poor as a spectacle but interesting from a tactical (anorak!) point of view.

Moyes was ahead of the game when he started playing 4-5-1. The only other manager to start playing that formation at the same time was Mourinho. Unfortunately, Chelsea had better players than Kilbane & Bent, but we still managed to finish fourth.

I think the 4-2-3-1 is the way forward but with the three attacking midfielders interchangable. I think Moyes could play this system this season but with more forwards (Anichebe, Gueye, etc) other than wide midfielders (Osman).

This season I'd do for:

Coleman Jagielka Heitinga Baines
Fellaini Rodwell
Arteta Cahill Pienaar

I think Johnny's best position is centre-back and would prefer he play there. Neville could come in as a defensive midfielder with Rodwell taking over from Cahill. Beckford is more mobile than Saha or Yakubu and knows where the goal is. That team looks unbeatable!!!
Andy Crooks
15   Posted 11/08/2010 at 19:47:10

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Good analysis Alan. However, unless Beckford comes good we need another striker.
Alan Kirwin
16   Posted 11/08/2010 at 19:55:37

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Agreed Andy. Although on his day Saha is acceptable. I sense that, if Yak does join West Ham, more chance of Moyes trying to get Loic Remy than Donovan. Just a hunch and, much as I'd like Donovan back here, I think a strong, skilled & mobile attacker is more important to us right now.

Also, one of the reasons I want Pienaar to stay is that, when we're on the offensive, and with this formation, Pienaar is more than capable of being the guy in the hole.

Sam Hoare
17   Posted 11/08/2010 at 19:50:59

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Good article. Agree wholeheartedly.

Worth pointing out that the 2 deeper lying midfielders don't have to be 'defensive midfielder' in the traditional 'enforcer' sense.

Spain, for example, played Busquets and Alonso in these roles. Not exactly hard men but players capable of reading the game, putting in a tackle if necessary but most importantly playing a pass and starting off moves.

For me these two players are arguably the most important in the team. As they both protect the back 4 but also initiate and often maintain attacks.

Happily i believe we might just have one of the best 'deep 2' pairing in the premiership in Arteta and Fellaini. These two are intelligent enough to read the game and have the ability to distribute the ball to deadly effect. I hope we will see them play together and dominate a fair few midfields.

And thats not to mention Rodwell and Heitinga, who are both also capable of playing this role to a very high standard

For me at Blackburn (if fit):


Neville Jagielka Heitnga Baines
Fellaini Arteta
Rodwell Osman Pienaar

Brendan O'Doherty
18   Posted 11/08/2010 at 20:10:10

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Interesting analysis Alan, which I agree with, although I agree with Sam's point above, that Arteta might be one of the deeper lying midfielders. This was the way we were set up in the 2nd half against Everton CD. And as you mentioned he could, Pienaar played in the central role of the attacking 3.

I am convinced that DM is going to use this as as our basic template this season. He has played 2 'defensive' midfielders for periods in previous seasons, notably Carsley and Neville together. But the plan then just seemed to be to get it out wide for someone like Bent or Johnson to chase. This 4-2-3-1 gives him a lot more options. I also noticed in the Everton CD game that when Coleman was bombing forward, Hibbert was coming across to cover for him. It wouldn't surprise me if DM uses Hibbert as central defensive cover this season, after his exploits in the Europa League last season. This would allow Coleman to maybe get a few more games under his belt.

The big mystery is the 1 up front. Like you, I am getting suspicious that IF DM can get good money for the Yak, he's thinking of bringing in another striker. But who? Possibly Remy.
Des Farren
19   Posted 11/08/2010 at 20:12:55

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A good read ,as are most of your posts Alan.
If I were to nitpick I would argue that we don't have the fullbacks/wingers to play this system.

"We have the beating of all these teams." Do we? Did we?

I hate being negative towards such an uplifting article but, having lived through the "School of Science" era, I am not prepared, as yet, to dive into an ever-increasing pool of optimism on the basis of 6 months' results from last season, however much I want to.

Alan Kirwin
20   Posted 11/08/2010 at 21:26:15

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Des, we did indeed have the beating of all those teams. OK, we can nit pick in that we drew at the Emirates instead of winning 3-1, we didn't beat Lpool (but could & should have) and didn't beat Spurs, but could easily have done that at WHL. But yes, we do have the beating of them.

As for not having the FB's to provide width, sorry, you seem to be forgetting Coleman & Baines. But Neville and even TH can do a job in that regard.

Interesting point from Sam about Arteta filling a deeper role, as Alonso does. I have no doubt he could, but Arteta is my Xavi. He's the pianist. With such feet & vision I prefer him in their half, not ours. I have Heitinga and Fellaini as our deeper guys. And as you say Sam, they are not defensive midfielders in the conventional sense, merely disruptive to the opposition but with the vision & skill to launch rapid counter attacks.

And yes Brendan, my suspicion is that Moyes is set on something new and big here and it needs a strong, skilful, mobile striker to complete the jigsaw Whilst Beckford has a role to play for us, as does Saha, Loic Remy would seem to fit the £10m shopping list more than Landon Donovan. My guess is we'll try get Donovan on loan again.
Tony I'Anson
21   Posted 11/08/2010 at 22:05:33

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Alan interesting point about your bet. If another 1000 fans did this and we all had £25k each next summer would that be a nice pot of cash to do something with for everton? Or would we get the plans drawn up for the extension on the house?
Frank Nolan
22   Posted 11/08/2010 at 21:56:33

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Alan @20

Great thread and I so agree with you about Heitinga and Fellaini being the 2 ahead of the back 4.

The only problem is a weakness in the centre of our defence with Distin and Yobo just not up to it meaning that Heitinga would have to partner Jags at the back. In which case, Captain Phil could do a decent job in the 2, allowing Fellaini to get forward.
Eugene Ruane
23   Posted 11/08/2010 at 22:46:48

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Agree completely.

We have as much to lose or gain by going at teams as we do by playing the safer game.

From what I can see, the 'safe' game means we sometimes win 1-0...or draw 0-0...or lose 1-0.

If our luck's in, we win a few on the bounce 1-0.

(see any good run for the past 5 years).

If our luck's out (injuries, suspensions etc) we lose a few on the bounce 1-0

(see any bad run for the last five years).

I doubt the statistics exist, but I'd love to know what our success rate is playing more 'football' compared to games when we don't.

Incidentally, for anyone who (like me) was fascinated by the article on the German students, the book "Why England Lose: And other curious phenomena explained" is well the price is.
Andy Crooks
24   Posted 11/08/2010 at 23:17:02

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I'd love to have seen Andy Johnston playing in front of our current midfield, What a difference it might have made had he not have been chasing hoofball.
Dennis Stevens
25   Posted 11/08/2010 at 22:59:17

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In recent seasons, when in the groove, our midfielders have shown the ability to rapidly interchange & cause all sorts of problems fo the opposition as a result - it was particularly enthralling to see such performances during that striker-less period when we played 4:6:0 & the opposition defence had no idea how to mark, whether to switch to zonal defence & mark space, or even how far up the pitch to hold the line. Let's hope the 24 year rule is upheld once more & that we can then hang onto our players for the subsequent CL campaign.
Afzan Yusuf
26   Posted 12/08/2010 at 00:51:34

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Agreed with Alan, we need a quick and deadly striker more than LD. I'm afraid comes January or February Yak and Saha will have their usual shortcomings and the last thing I want to see again is Cahill playing the solo role up there even though he did well last time.

Beckford is unknown quantity yet so we need this Loic Remy to compete for places if there is any truth on this rumours.
Ciarán McGlone
27   Posted 12/08/2010 at 08:13:49

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Out of interest, what do you think of the following midfield in a 4-2-3-1:


I think that midfield would have trouble... Perhaps 4-2-3-1 is not the silver bullet you think it is... The reason why teams like Spain and Brazil were successful with it is because they have quality players in each position of that formation.

I like the idea... but I don't think it's quite as straighforward as you suggest.
Alan Kirwin
28   Posted 12/08/2010 at 08:38:16

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Ciaran, given your overriding view of Cahill's footballing ability as expressed on here in last year or two, why on earth would you suggest him in the the centre of a midfield 3? Hmm. Rather strange to pick a combination specifically because it would struggle.

I have 4 or 5 other more suitable combinations in my thoughts. Rather than suggest one that might not work, here's one that I think would:

Fellaini - Heitinga
Arteta - Rodwell - Pienaar

And yes, the quality & intelligence of the players is of course key to any formation. I think if Moyes commits to this approach then we can go far.
David Ellis
29   Posted 12/08/2010 at 09:41:42

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Excellent post Alan and a more fertile discussion than "Bily is he a winger or right sided midfielder" discussion on a similar topic exaclty a year ago! The World Cup has had an effect on people's views on formations for sure.

I think one of the keys to the 4-2-3-1 system is the ability of the centre backs to distribute the ball. If Everton were to play with a centre back pairing of say Jagielka and Yobo/Distin then we can easily be dispossessed by the defending side pressing forward and pressing all our players apart from the two CBs and the RB.

This will leave the centre backs and the right back with time on the ball but no short passes available. This then leads to the mindless punts upfield by Jagilka, Yobo or Distin or Hibbert or Neville.

Accordingly it is essential that Heitinga play as a centre back. He has excellent distribution. He can act as an extra move initiator (like Rio Ferdinand for England and any of the Brazillian or Spanish centre backs). His presence makes it much harder for the defending team to force Everton to launch into the long ball game. It gives them one extra player to press in possession. I have not seen Coleman play but if he can also pass the ball his presence at right back would also improve things - creating antoher player who had to be closed down.

This was also clearly true of England without Ferindinand. All the attacks have to start through Barry because the England CBs cannot distribute the ball well enough (and the other midfielders were glory seekers too far forward). Choke off Barry and England constantly forced to give the ball away (although as it happened Barry also kept giving the ball away!).

I have no problem with Heitinga playing as a central midfield player - he can do an excellent job there. But he is irreplaceable as a cente back that can distribute the ball well.

Neville should not appear in central midfield again - his distribution is not good enough and this would compound the problem referred to above. Just one less player that needs to be pressed in possession because he lacks the ability to use the ball properly - so the opposition just need to cut off his short pass options and give him all the time he needs to hoof it to the opposition.

Ciarán McGlone
30   Posted 12/08/2010 at 10:21:58

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Ciaran, given your overriding view of Cahill's footballing ability as expressed on here in last year or two, why on earth would you suggest him in the the centre of a midfield 3?

I'm suggesting him...I was simply asking your opinion of a highly possible (with a bit of bad luck) 4231...

Just curious.
Ciarán McGlone
31   Posted 12/08/2010 at 10:23:25

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By the way, my preferred 4-5-1 is the team I would pick all day long... and it's not far from the one you have above. But I still think we need width on the right for that system to be effective..

And I also think it could be a very poor set-up with the wrong personnel. Roll on saturday so we can see who Mr Moyes picks for our starting eleven. If he gets that right in the first game we could fly... If he gets that wrong and goes with the usual suspects we could stumble.
Alan Kirwin
32   Posted 12/08/2010 at 10:23:48

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Good post David & thought provoking. It is essential that the CB's fit into the model and are comfortable enough to use the ball intelligently, but not as essential as I think you suggest.

In my view the nature of 4-2-3-1 is that the 2 are more often than not the guys that win the ball back, simply because that is where the ball often is (certainly in the bigger games). Thus the passing ability of the CB's is not often the crucial factor.

Phil Neville is not Alonso or Busquets, but I still like the cut of his jib. He can most certainly play the disruptive DM role well. His distribution is not on par with Xavi or Iniesta, but it is much better than some credit him for. I would keep him in and around our club for as long as possible. But I think Mikel Arteta is the natural captain of Everton FC and PN's participation will decline to squad player starting this season.

Ciaran, horses for courses. If I'm being honest, not sure where & when I'd play TC right now. I can see him as part of a 4-3-3 when we feel we can go at teams, or impact player. He's a bit of a free spirit which has pluses & minuses. Still a fan though.
Andy Crooks
33   Posted 12/08/2010 at 10:49:20

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I like the Yak and feel he is a top class striker but don't believe he will fit the style referred to by Alan. Total football requires a mobile hard working front man. Saha can't do it for ninety minutes and the Yak can't do it for five minutes. I don't know yet about Beckford.
For me the ideal solution would be to sell the Yak and pay what is necessary for Kevin Doyle. He's quick, works hard and would thrive in a decent side. I'd have him ahead of Donovan but both would complete the jigsaw.
Steven Barton
34   Posted 12/08/2010 at 10:54:58

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I like the idea of 4-2-3-1, but for me Heitinga has to play CB with Jags. Not because he can't do a job as DM (because he showed last season that he can), but because the options of Yobo or Distin are ones that I would rather not consider, except for cover.

Neville I wouldn't play in CM, rather he would be cover for RB and LB as I think he has shown he can do a job in both those positions. My frustration when he plays RB is that he doesn't overlap often enough, even when its crying out for someone to make a run. That's why I believe you've got to give coleman a go. He will put the fear into any opposition. Of course if he does make a run, then the CB or DM can cover. As you can't be in two places at once.

I think Feli will be without doubt be one of the two DM (if we do play that system), as he will prove to be massive this season. To be honest, I think you could play Arteta or Rodwell along side him, both would be fantastic. If they do play this system I would expect some rotation between them all anyway.

At least this system would reduce our need for an out and out RM player that we have been crying out for, for so long and still are.

By the way, I expect Beckford to be massive for us this season in the role up front. Gutted I missed that shout at 250-1.
Alan Kirwin
35   Posted 12/08/2010 at 11:46:19

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Agree with much of what you say Andy. Think you're being a bit hard on Yakubu, I reckon he's had a shitty 12 - 18 mths and still not 100%. I also like Kevin Doyle and agree with his suitability, but I'd mark him behind Loic Remy from what I've seen & heard.

Can't recall who it was that posted about the success of our vaunted 4-6-0 last season, but there is real validity in the idea, or variants of it. The absence of any dedicated striker tends to confuse the hell out of defenders (as it did with 4-6-0). Mikel Arteta even went on record as saying he enjoyed it and thought it produced our best football since he joined (since surpassed).

The whole point of formations is to confuse the opposition and exploit their weaknesses without compromising your own set up. It started with the Hungarians and proceeded through the Dutch, Brazil and most recently to Barca and Spain.

On that basis, maybe 4-2-3-1 could/should be 4-3-3 as Barca do indeed play, and either have 3 attackers or 3 advanced midfielders depending on circumstances. In the end it comes down to the manager's philosophy, the suitability of the players and the opposition. But I'm all for change and innovation & like EFC to be leading rather than following.
Guy Rogers
36   Posted 12/08/2010 at 13:11:01

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Bily would suit this formation, he could play anywhere along the three and would no longer be out wide where his lack of pace will be exposed. Baines and Coleman to give width. He is an inside left/right for Ukraine/Russia and you just know he would get 8-10 goals a season....

Love the idea of this new £10 mil stiker, based no doubt on selling the Yak... but is there any fact to this whatsoever? i think not!
Mark Smith
37   Posted 12/08/2010 at 13:45:39

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Why, when playing against a single striker, do we need a back 4? If Heitinga is playing at CB against a 2-man attack, surely against 1 man he can move forward into a 3-2-4-1 or 3-2-3-2 formation. Remember the excellent Ajax side who won the European Cup with 3 defenders (Frank De Boer, Bogarde and Reisinger).

This again shows the fluidity in our squad. Exciting times, we can really show Capello how football should be played. Return of the School of Science is right.

David Ellis
38   Posted 12/08/2010 at 14:27:47

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Steven Barton - absolutely agree - hope that Neville gets kicked upstairs. I like him but feel we have moved on. He's still an acceptable right back, but I am hoping for a more attacking player in that position - especially at Goodison when teams come and park the bus in front of goal.
Alan Kirwin - post 32.. Yes if the midfield two are the ones breaking up attacks then this lessens the impact of the centre backs' lack of passing ability. Especially if we have DMs who are comfortable on the ball i.e. any two from Arteta, Fellaini and Rodwell (or Heitinga - but I want him in defence). Not Neville. Osman does not seem as comfortable playing so deep which is a shame as he has the ability.

But my fear is against inferior teams at home games we will struggle to break them down. We are now such a respected top 8 team that opponents come to get a point at Goodison. They play long balls to try and knick a goal but other than that get players behind the ball and compress the midfield. Long ball clearances get picked up by our CBs who are the unable to use the ball intelligently and ping pong ensues. This levels the playing field - we end up playing like our inferior opponents. If the DMs win the ball in the tackle a lot of the time their only initial option is a short backwards pass to the CBs - and the cycle starts again.

Of course its not always like this - the game is more fluid, Pienaar and Baines come back looking. Distin sometimes charges up the pitch. Good off the ball movement by the DMs can create space for the short pass. And lets not forget that half of Everton's goals come from set pieces so build up in open play is less relevant than it should be (but I suspect that truly awful statistic is because of some of the failings I am menitoning).

But it really helps to have at least one CB who can hit a 40 yard grass cutter to Saha - and its very cool.
David Ellis
39   Posted 12/08/2010 at 14:42:39

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Mark Smith
I think you need a back four. The way I see it the "extra" back is needed to cover for the full backs ? at any given moment one of them is likely to have strayed forward in the formation we are discussing, trying to work an overlap. You need an extra CB to cover for the missing full back.

I did not watch the Ajax side you refer to. I do remember the 1990 World Cup where 3-5-2 was the most successful formation. England used it to great effect. But this involved having 3 centre backs and two wing backs, so it wasn't really a "3 at the back" formation. Our formation is more like 2 centre backs and two quasi wing backs.

However the point you make that one of the CBs often has no one to mark makes it important that he has skills on the ball, and is not just a stopper. Step forward Mr Heitinga.
Alan Clarke
40   Posted 12/08/2010 at 15:52:50

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A lot has to do with how teams set up against us though. Teams are coming to Goodison now willing to just park the bus and stay in their own half. I think our 4-5-1 strategy has always worked when we get in front early so the opposing team has to attack us. But it has been dour at times when teams have cancelled us out with their defensive tactics.

We saw last season and during pre-season that our team is now more than capable of dominating possession but do we have enough to break down sides who defend defend defend? I hope so but our side lacks the genuine pace of someone like Donovan who would is a different option to what we have.
Alan Kirwin
41   Posted 12/08/2010 at 17:04:25

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Becoming a thought provoking thread. Mark I had indeed forgotten about Ajax's unconventional set up. 3-2-3-2 sounds fascinating.

But those who urge caution also have a point. I do feel that most of these creative formstions are to make the difference in the big games, the tight games. It is true that, if a Stoke or Wolves or Hull come to Goodison and park the bus then 4-2-3-1 is almost irrelevant and we may as well play 3-2-5!
Nick Entwistle
42   Posted 12/08/2010 at 17:36:40

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I remember back in the mid 90s and the FA were suffering from major inferiority complex towards the bigger leagues and Juventus ruled with inovative inter play. And all the pundits were saying things like 'how come we can't play like this' blah blah blah. And its true, we didn't. Then all a sudden every team in the PL went wing back crazy and trying new formations moving away from the 442. Only a few seasons later, all of Europe's big teams went 442 again. So I don't buy that this is the be all and end all of formations.
Soon enough 4-2-3-1 will be sussed out and a new formation will take over, and you know what? It'll be 442.
Aiden Doyle
43   Posted 12/08/2010 at 19:07:14

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Well, you?re partly right Nick. There is no ?be all and end all? formation. Lining up in the right manner is an elaborate game of rock/scissors/paper - and every formation has it?s strengths and weaknesses.

You?re also partly wrong. Whatever formation eventually trumps the currently fashionable 4-2-3-1, it sure as hell won?t be 4-4-2. When properly played, the former gives the team playing it a spare man in the middle of park and, if that player is someone who can use the ball creatively, he?ll tear the team playing 4-4-2 apart.

As you say, 4-4-2 is a formation who's time will probably come again, but I doubt that it?ll be anywhere near as soon as you think.
Andy Crooks
44   Posted 12/08/2010 at 20:05:50

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Aiden, with the right players 4-4-2 is the best formation and could succeed at Champions League level. Unfortunately English football is in a no mans land of the old British game and the aspiration to be Barcelona. I think if Tony Pulis has the balls (I'd hate DM to try it) he has the players at Stoke to make a huge impact with 4-4-2. When it fails, however, it does look appalling.
Mark Smith
45   Posted 12/08/2010 at 20:09:09

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Whatever numerical formation we have, our main asset, and a joy to watch, is our fluidity ? we can't play 'total football' with a Neville or Hibbert, however much I admire them both. Our style involves a midfield where one player moves out of position, and someone else covers them, unlike the rigidity of England at the World Cup. It is a system that only works as long as the team is more important than the individual, which is why it couldn't work for the present England ? too may egos. It is partly due to Moyes's policy of buying players who can play in more than one position.

Back on the 3-man defence, though... even against Spain in the World Cup final, how many times did we see Johnny or Mathijsen with nothing to do, yet the midfield lacked penetration because it was loaded defensively. We know that many teams now come to Goodison looking at damage limitation (sounds better than park the bus), in which case, losing a central defender, with Jags playing deeper, and adding Johnny or Jack to midfield, who can drop back if the opposition add a forward when we take the lead, seems a viable option... although I accept not the only one.

I feel that we are one of the best teams to watch in the league (I still like the movement of Arsenal on form), and expect us this season to show the rest how much fun football can be.

Guy Hastings
46   Posted 12/08/2010 at 20:58:16

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If we're really going back to the School of Science then 2-3-5 it is.
Aiden Doyle
47   Posted 12/08/2010 at 21:11:09

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Can?t agree with that for two reasons Andy:

Firstly, I don?t believe that any formation can be described as the ?best? and, more importantly, 4-2-3-1 was specifically designed to destroy 4-4-2 ~ a job which it does brilliantly.

You can?t ask for a better example than this summer?s England vs Germany match.

The two German centre backs (Friedrich & Mertesacker) picked up England?s two strikers (Rooney & Defoe). Their fullbacks (Lahm & Boateng) contained England?s wide midfielders (Gerrard & Milner). The two defensive midfielders (Schweinsteiger & Khedira) cancelled out the English central midfield (Lampard and Barry). Their striker (Klose) kept our centre backs (Upson & Terry) busy, whilst two of their three attacking midfielders (usually Muller & Podolski) pinned back the England?s fullbacks (Cole & Johnson). That left one attacking midfielder ~ typically Ozil ~ free to cause havoc in midfield.

It wouldn?t matter which 10 outfield players you selected, the 4-2-3-1 line-up has the upper hand in this situation, doubly so if the creative midfielders are able to really exploit the opposition?s weaknesses.
Matthew Lovekin
48   Posted 12/08/2010 at 21:25:33

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Guy (46) not such a bad idea!!!


Alan Kirwin
49   Posted 12/08/2010 at 21:55:47

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Andy C (44) - "with the right players 4-4-2 is the best formation and could succeed at Champions League level."

Explain why no successful team uses it then. Does nobody have the right players? Where are they?
Alan Kirwin
50   Posted 12/08/2010 at 21:59:20

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Guy (and Matthew) - think you'll find it all started out as 3-2-5 not 2-3-5. Then Hungary went & pissed all over our fireworks (13 times in 2 games) by being the first to "play in between the lines". Having a number of beautiful world class players like Puskas, Bocsis and Hidekguti helped a bit.

On a different note, just got me wondering how many of our players (given their humble origins & fees compared to their counterparts at Citeh, Chelsea etc) would be almost guaranteed a game at the "big 3" and Citeh. I would suggest that Jagielka, Arteta, Pienaar, Rodwell & Fellaini probably would.

So this season I will not be surprised to see more than one Evertonian in the team of the season.
Chris Wilson
51   Posted 13/08/2010 at 03:59:38

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I only got to watch the second half of the Wolfsburg match and it reminded me of how important pace is on the flanks. My fear with this 4-2-3-1 formation is that we will not get ball upfield quick enough. Wolfsburg were able to maintain an organization that was difficult for us to break down; they had too many people for us to cut through the midfield and we were too slow to go around them on the flank.

One of the benefits of Donovan when he was here was that he became an outlet for us to get the ball out of our defensive third quickly and put immediate pressure on the opponent. Without that option we became more methodical and easier to defend.

I agree with Ciarán, we need speed on the flanks ? it's the one of two missing links that will make us very dangerous (the other being a consistent goalscorer).

David Ellis
52   Posted 13/08/2010 at 04:28:47

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Alan Kirwin
You are both right and wrong in post 50.

Originally (i.e. circa 1890 onwards) it was 2-3-5. You can tell this from the shirt numbers. The full backs are 2 and 3. The "centre half" is 5. That's why you get commentators calling a central defender as an old fashioned centre half.

However you are correct that by the time Hungary came along in the 1950's playing between the lines the English were no longer using 2-3-5. It had been replaced by the W-M formation used by Arsenal since the 1930s (so called because the points at the end of the letters shows the position of the players on the pitch). This was a 3-2-5 formation (or more accurately 3-2-2-3)

Trust Arsenal (pre-Wenger) to revolutionaise the game by introducing an extra defender! The Hungarians worked out how to counter the W-M and knocked 13 past England in two matches. The English had a few months between the two maulings, and still did not bother to counter the Hungarians' new formation. The W-M persisted in England for years afterwards.
Sound familiar?Try blaming foreigners in the Premier League for that one in 1953!

There's a book called Inverting the Pyramid for anoraks who want to follow the history of football tactics.
Graham Holliday
53   Posted 13/08/2010 at 13:03:52

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David Ellis is right (and the book he mentions is the best book I've ever read about football).

The terms 'FULL-back' and 'centre-HALF' refer to how far back the player was in the pitch. It was only once the centre-half (as in, the central of the 3 half-backs) dropped back to become a defender and the full-backs then moved slightly wider that the positions began to become what they are known as today.
Steve Ferns
54   Posted 13/08/2010 at 14:00:16

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4-2-3-1 is definitely a formation for the future and the best archetype of it was the fat waiter. His failings I believe stem from the inability to really get wide men to make it work.

What you need is a very mobile destroyer to cover lots of ground and break up attacks, Mascherano being possibly the best in the world at this. Then you need an Alonso type who plays along side him and play-makes from deep. Then you need a Steven Gerrard type to play off the front man in a funnel type role demanding the ball and looking to play the wingers or the forward through. This player is the most important in the whole side. Then you need a hard working forward able to play as a big target man whilst combining with speed and guile at the same time to get on the end of through passes. The wingers need to be out and out wingers and the type who can get wide and put in accurate crosses (there will be few in the box) or cut inside and take on shots or look to play the striker in. They must also look to get in the box and get on the end of crosses from the other wing.

Do we have these type of players?

For Mascherano ? I think not... but perhaps Neville or Heitinga can do a job there for now.

For Alonso ? we certinaly have two very capable of playing this role. Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini. Note, this player does little defending despite his deep position.

For Steven Gerrard ? we have Tim Cahill. He's nothing like Gerrard, and whilst the player in this role is meant to be a magnet to attract the ball and look to make things happen. I love Cahill to bits, but he?s not good enough to do this. He?s more a player to get on the end of things.

Wingers ? Pienaar could do a job, but we need someone more of an out-and-out winger. It?s too much of an advanced role for Osman, Bily or Arteta and requires more pace than they have got. Gueye might be able to do this role and time will tell. Donavon certainly looked to have all the aspects. Maybe Anichebe would also be suited as the best players in this role are strikers-cum-widemen. Yakubu has a natural tendancy to drag wide left and maybe he?d do a job there.

Striker ? Saha is perfect for this role and Beckford looks to have the ability so far. Vaughan is another who has all the talent but I doubt we?ll ever see even 25% of what the lad could be capable of due to his many injuries and problems. Yakubu would not offer a persistent threat in such an isolated role and an advanced playmaker would struggle to combine with him as Yakubu often doesn?t know himself what he?s going to do next.

I think we could make 4-2-3-1 work. In fact I think we?ve played it ourselves most of the time last season. Each time was when Arteta was deep in central midfield and alongside Neville. Also Fellaini played the Alonso type role on many occasions with a more defensive type midfielder alongside him.

For me there was a marked change last season in formation to the year before when firstly Fellaini was dropped deeper and then when he got injured and Arteta returned he also played that role. Neither was playing as a defensive minded midfielder and both had the support of such a player.

I feel we need another pacy winger to really make this formation work. Perhaps if we signed Ben Arfa from Marseille and played him on the left (or Pienaar) and Gueye on the right.

Steve Ferns
55   Posted 13/08/2010 at 14:42:15

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I forgot to add that I think Rodwell should be given the chance in the attacking playmaker role.
Steve Ferns
56   Posted 13/08/2010 at 14:42:15

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I forgot to add that I think Rodwell should be given the chance in the attacking playmaker role.
Andy Crooks
57   Posted 13/08/2010 at 18:21:03

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Does no one else see Jack Rodwell as the best centre-half captain that Everton have ever had?
Matthew Lovekin
58   Posted 14/08/2010 at 13:17:58

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How about Arteta in the attacking central midfield role. The traditional number 10. Revitalised in the World Cup by Sneijder, Ozil, etc. A playmaker that can score as well (compared to an Alonso, Carrick type of playmaker).

---Donovan (!)---Arteta--------Pienaar

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