Is a formation change in order? We look at the argument for and against

Courtesy Graham Burrell

We’ve put the call out for questions to come in for the pod and, as I’m sat in Scunthorpe waiting for my MOT to be completed I thought I’d steal one of them for an article. I’d apologise to Ben, but I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about, given that he’s been AWOL for a week.

One question that came through was from Liam Forrester and I liked the subject enough to put out a quick article about it. He asked: “Due to our lack of pace at the back, injury to our best winger and lack of form, is now a good time to try a formation change? I know this is very FM, but 532 with Toff and Harry as wingbacks and another midfielder might work with the close play we seem to favour under MA.”

It’s a question I can see some validity in for sure. We’re creating chances, but not scoring. We’re controlling games, but not killing them off. We’ve lost key players and are suffering from a dip in confidence. All of these things are true, so why not try something different to shake it up.

My gut feeling is no if I’m honest. I think 4-2-3-1 is a flexible and easily adaptable formation. It can fluidly move to a 4-2-4, 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 depending on the players involved. It requires little to switch things in-game and can be defensive with two holding midfielders, or quickly change by pushing one further forward. Also, our squad might be unbalanced but it is set up to accommodate the current set up.

However, I thought to explore the other options was worth it. I see how 5-3-2, or 5-2-3 might work. It certainly served Keith Alexander well but might not be easily adaptable to our squad. For instance, we could go with Connolly, Bolger and Shackell at the back, Bozzy and Melbourne to drop in where needed or when fit, which seems logical. Yes, Harry Toffolo could play wing back, it might even suit him better, and I could see Aaron Lewis, Harry or Neal Eardley playing on the other side of that formation. I do have to question if Harry might be a bit too attacking to play wing back, but it’s not a reason to rule it out completely.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

My worry is going forward. Currently, we’re not scoring goals with four men essentially in attack; the two wide players, the ten and the nine. Tyler Walker has looked isolated and the players we hoped to see some end product from, Jack Payne, Jake Hesketh and Jorge Grant, have not yet chipped in with enough. That is the base problem for our side, not the defence. By adding an extra centre back into the equation we’re likely to be more defensive than we have been and that’s not where the issue is.

It could easily switch to a 3-5-2 formation but then are we going too attacking? It sounds silly, but would we be a flat two up top, Walker and Akinde, or go with something like Walker and Hesketh. We lack the players to be effective with two strikers because our only robust option is Big John, which means we’d retreat later in games. That’s all well and good if you have a lead to defend, but what if you’re still at 0-0 on 70 minutes? Especially at home where you’re expected to go and kill off games. Nobody wants to see another Shrewsbury game where we retreated further and further until the last knockings had ‘Shrewsbury win’ written all over them.

I would also argue that continuity is important at the moment. The players might not have truly settled in Michael’s approach, wingers tucking in and play a little bit more probing, but if suddenly they had to take on a whole new approach, something different from the last two or three years, how would they adapt? Would it be dangerous to change too much? There will be new faces coming in this winter, but having a structure and a method of playing remains very important to our continuity. I know results have not been good, but performance haven’t been all that bad at all – change might affect that adversely.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Whilst I can see the theory behind a formation change, I’m not sure it’s something likely to happen, or that should happen. I’ll get pelters for this, but that truth is we’re two or three touches away from being a midtable side. We’ve played well in more matches than we’ve played badly, we should have scored more goals than we have according to xG and if the key players had been more clinical at key times, we’d still be in the FA Cup as well. I appreciate we’re not, I get that entirely, but a successful manager once said football is all about processes and, if the processes are right, the rest will come.

Creating chances and missing them is better than not creating them at all. We’re tough to break down until the final thirty seconds or so of a game and in the main, we play decent football and can control the tempo. We’ve been tactically done by Steve Evans, we’ve been done by a referee against Bristol Rovers and we’ve been done fair and square by Oxford. Games at Portsmouth, Doncaster, Wimbledon and MK Dons should have gone our way and didn’t – the worry is present but even with our lowly position it’s not panic stations just yet.

I have belief that the current approach will work and I can’t see Michael changing it. He’s always been a ‘4-4-2’ man, or variants of 4-4-2 (4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 etc) and he had lots of success in that formation with Oxford. For that reason, I wouldn’t be thrilled with a change of formation right now. However, if we get to January and the rot is still firmly set in, perhaps then new faces could affect a change of set up.


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