Some thoughts on wing play and crossing the ball

Today, when I should be thinking about the USMNT clash with Poland this afternoon, I am instead thinking about a Canadian and an Englishmen: Pauls, Stalteri and Konchesky.

While I haven’t read much out there that backs this up, my predominant impression of the Newcastle – Fulham game last Saturday was of Fulham’s attack having two outlets.

1) Shots from outside the box by Jimmy Bullard

2) Crosses from the wing by Messrs. S and K.

The teams dependence upon these two outlets would seem to have their root in a tactical system put in place by Roy Hodgson.

That Simon Davies, a right footer, has been played consistently on the left side of Fulham’s midfield, where he is forced to cut inside to get the ball on his strong foot, and that Leon Andreason, whose defense, workrate and athleticism are commendable, but whose crossing is not, has been played on the right side are decisions made by Hodgson in support of this tactical system that have been criticized extensively in the past week.

A typical Fulham possession might go as follows.

Keller dumps the ball off short to one of his defenders, usually Stalteri or Konchesky. At this point the team is in it’s basic 4-4-2.

Murphy drops back to pick up the ball. Depending on the defensive pressure, he either drops it back to the defense, work it sideways to either Davies or Andreason, or up to Bullard. Using short passes and crisp triangles, the team works the ball up the flanks to a central attacking position. At this point we see usually Jimmy Bullard on the ball, maybe five to ten yards outside the box. At this point the formation is a, well, 2-1-3-2-2.

——–20——14——–

–25——————26—

4———–21(o)———17

———–27————-

—–18———-32——

Obviously the spacing is a little off but you get the idea. I call it “the Shovel.” McBride and Johnson up top within the area. Davies and Andreason a couple of steps deeper, maybe just outside the corners of the area. Bullard central with the ball, with Konchesky and Stalteri having come way up, although one of them might be playing a little bit deeper, closer to Murphy’s line. Murphy supporting Bullard, and Hangeland and Hughes chilling deep.

At this point, the team takes one of the two options outlined near the top of this post. Either Bullard shoots it (and Newcastle’s keeper collects it without too much fuss.) or we go to option B, which is where things get interesting.

(Still with me?)

We pick a side. Let’s say right. So Bullard passes either to Andreason or to McBride/Johnson.

If he passes to Andreason, things look like so.

——20—–14——–

–25—————(o)26—

—————21———17

—-4————27———

———18—————32

Konchesky drops back a little bit to provide weak side cover, the right side striker will come up a little bit to show for the ball, Andreason has moved in a step to receive the pass, and Stalteri is coming up on the flank ready to overlap.

Now, traditionally, Andreason would make for the byline to try to cross the ball. But in our system, Andreason is either going to cut inside, and then play Stalteri through for the cross, or dump the ball down to Johnson or McBride who will then complete the triangle to Stalteri for the cross. If it’s Johnson, everyone calls him a coward and says he’s not good enough at this level and is a waste of space/human life, if it’s McBride, we praise his field awareness: either way the result is the same. A fullback, in the corner with the ball ready to cross.

But the real question is why? Why rely on our overlapping fullbacks to provide width? Why not play Davies on the right and Dempsey on the left, drop Murphy and throw Andreason in the center? Why not cross the ball with 0ur wingers like good old-fashioned Englishmen? Why insist on slowing the game down?

Well I dunno. But let’s look at what happens inside the box using both techniques.

If Andreason makes it to the goaline what happens?

The strikers will theoretically attack the ball, one of them coming in for the near post, one ghosting in at the far post, with Simon Davies coming into the area from the opposite wing and maybe Bullard or Murphy making a late clean up run into the top of the area.

If Stalteri makes it to the goaline, the same thing happens, except Andreason can also enter into the box. Maybe attacking that near post, maybe cutting across McBride’s run to the near post and popping up into the center. Maybe he sits in that dangerous area at the corner of a theoretical 12 yard box, where Stalteri can cut the ball back to him, and he can lay it off for a Bullard pile driver, shoot low for the near corner, or float the ball to the back post.

Using fullbacks to supply crosses allows the team to get that extra wide midfielder into the box. It’s a numbers game.

The problem, of course, as we saw against Newcastle is that the extra time it takes to work the ball to a fullback in a crossing position gives the defense time to solidify in the box. Add that to bad crossing from the fullbacks and forwards completely swallowed up by Newcastle’s center backs, and the tactical game plan failed. That much is clear.

But is the game plan wrong to begin with?

I don’t know.

What’s clear is that Hodgson has come up with an attacking plan to deal with the team’s many faults, and this is it. Has it worked? Not against Newcastle. Would a traditional, faster, game plan leaving the defense to the defenders and the crossing to the wingers have worked any better. Maybe, maybe not.

But we can see what Hodgson sees:

1) Lack of team speed. Speed kills, and Fulham are continually on the wrong end of that equation. With Bouazza having dropped off the face of the earth and Dio Kamara not being very good, we don’t have any good, speedy, wing options. Simon Davies is very quick and can beat a man with his first touch, but isn’t necessarily fast.

2) Lack of good forwards. Our forwards all have positives, but they also all have negatives. Look at it this way. Among our five or six or seven forwards, are there any who could play for another Premier League team this year?

Hodgson thinks a slow team with weak forwards has to rely on organization, discipline and team shape to score it’s goals. For Hodgson that means using fullbacks for width to get an extra man into the box. It didn’t work on Saturday. It happens.

But if supporters think that a different game plan or different manager is going to cause our non-existent Christiano Ronaldo to blaze past his man and whip in a cross to our non-existent Ruud Van Nistlerooy, they’ve got to look at the facts.

They blame Hodgson for not being attacking enough, but his tactics were extremely attacking. He played the fullbacks way up the pitch, and it cost us on defense. But because he is attacking in a slightly more obscure way, that fact gets lost in the shuffle.

One last thought on a post which has clearly gone on way too long, and probably contains more red herrings than a, than a, than a dutch herring buss:

I don’t know if Roy Hodgson is making the right moves or not. But I think he is firmly grounded in reality. He is making his decisions based on the evidence in front of him. Before he came, Fulham were on cloudcuckooland, to use the delightful phrase, with Lawrie Sanchez merrily pounding square pegs into round holes. Not anymore. Maybe we’ll stay up, probably we won’t. But I for one won’t be blaming Roy if we don’t.

P.S. There was something else I wanted to say but I forgot until now, and now can’t find a place to gracefully sneak it in, so here goes. Hypothesis: Hodgson used Andreason on the right flank not so much as an antidote to a specific opposition player, but more as an antidote to his system’s weakness against the counterattack with the fullbacks pushing so far up. Stalteri isn’t the fastest, so Andreason goes on the right to provide cover.

P.P.S. But I think he should be in the center.

P.P.P.S. Evidence! So I’m not completely crazy. But anyone else with more tactical experience than me, please weigh in in the comments.

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One Response to “Some thoughts on wing play and crossing the ball”

  1. Colin Says:

    Good analysis, and I agree with what you’re saying. I haven’t seen enough of Hodgson’s previous sides to know if the attacking wingback is something he’s always favored or if he’s simply using what little he has to work with, though judging by the players we were linked with in January (lots of winger/fullback hybrid-types – Mendy, Réveillère, N’Zogbia, as well as Stalteri and Kallio), my guess would be the former.

    Hmm…I read a few days ago that John Arne Riise might be looking for a move this summer. If we stay up, he seems like the perfect Hodgson player (and he’s Scandanavian to boot!).

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