Clough’s Wingless Wonders?

I’ve been pondering more on the topic that prompted me to write my last tactics article, after reading Steve Nicholson’s season wrap-up piece, in which Nigel Clough talked about the “dilemma” of trying to fit the three central midfielders Bryson, Hendrick and Hughes into the same side: –

“It was a dilemma and still is.  They are three of our best players and we want them in the team.  So it is about getting a system to accommodate them.  

“We ended up with Craig on the left at times but not really on the left.  He always played on the left of a midfield three at Kilmarnock.  

“As long as he is not out on the touchline, he can do a job in that position.”

In another interview with Nicholson, Clough mentioned that Paul Coutts, who has mostly played on the right, “wants to play more centrally as well.”

That got me thinking about the formation Sir Alf Ramsey used in the 1966 World Cup: –

With the four midfielders currently at our disposal, a version of this formation could work, on paper at least.  It would not be exactly the same in execution, but it would provide a way of fitting in all of Clough’s favoured midfielders, while still leaving room for two forwards.

People tend to think that a sitting midfielder has to be a hardman, an ‘experienced older head’, or a combination of both – a Nobby Stiles, or Seth Johnson, to give a Derby-related example.  Will Hughes couldn’t be any more different from Stiles or Seth in playing style and plays the holding role in an an almost literal sense – holding possession, prompting and probing, making himself constantly available.  Conducting proceedings from deep, he doesn’t provide much of a shield for the back four, but does allow us to keep possession.

Playing without conventional wingers would allow Hendrick and Bryson (if he stays) to stay more central, to do most of the ball-winning spadework.  Where we would miss out would be in genuine width – unless of course, the full backs are young, fit and mobile enough to raid forward consistently.  We know John Brayford can do that job – as, unfortunately, do one or two other clubs – and clearly, it’s part of the reason why ‘Micky’ Forsyth is so high on the wanted list.  He has shown he can support the attacks and put in a decent cross from the left.

If we do lose Brayford, whoever replaces him will have the task of being as much like him as possible.  It could well be Kieron Freeman, an ambitious young player in whom Clough clearly believes.

Another form of width would be provided by the front two.  Ward is given license to roam and is as likely to pop up on the wing as in the six-yard box.  Sammon has a useful habit of barging his way down the sides of the penalty areas and can provide crosses in that way.

On the downside, opponents playing with attacking widemen could cause problems against this formation and there would be a clear onus on our midfielders to help their full backs.  But Clough has always prized versatility and flexibility as assets and his players can generally be trusted to put their shift in.

In certain situations and against certain opponents, a 4-1-3-2 shape could come in handy and clearly, it could be shuffled around mid-game if required.  Ward could ‘hang left’, with Coutts going wide right and Sammon leading the line in a 4-3-3, for example.

There would also be options on the bench, in the shape of Chris Martin, Ben Davies and Michael Jacobs, or even the emerging Mason Bennett.  And who knows, we might see one or two more new faces to bolster things before the end of the transfer window as well.

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