I've often been an advocate for Neil Lennon to experiment with his formations, it's exciting and refreshing to have a manager who doesn't remain stubbornly committed to a single system and is open to change and flexibility.
I still have faith, that with the correct players, the 3-5-2 formation could work and I also believe the diamond formation ins't too bad either. However, when Bolton Wanderers face Nottingham Forest later on today, I want to see the Whites revert back and line-up in the simple 4-2-3-1 formation, and I'll tell you why.
The formation has a lot of benefits compared to the diamond that Lennon has been using for the most part this season, the biggest of which being that it's the formation in which Bolton have played their best football under Lennon. Perhaps the pinnacle of Lennon's reign thus far is the 3-1 demolition of League One's Wigan Athletic, in which we looked not only dangerous, dynamic and creative, but also very solid and in control.
The 4-2-3-1 offers our side balance in all areas of the pitch which no other formation has managed to do as of yet, it provides not only cover and strength defensively, but numbers in attack.
Here's how I propose we line up later today:
Firstly, with actual wingers playing out wide we might actually get some actual width in the team. It amazes me that since we're playing with such an obvious target man in Gary Madine, we haven't yet looked to use the wings to get crosses into him more often. Yes, it could have something to do with only having one fit winger up until this point, but now we've signed Wellington Silva and Tom Walker is back from injury I'd really like to see us play with some natural width.
Fullbacks Dean Moxey and Lawrie Wilson have done an admirable job in trying to provide width by tirelessly running the flanks, but they are only fullbacks and attacking isn't exactly their strong suit. It also leave us massively exposed in the wide areas, making us liable to be caught out on the counter.
Another benefit of playing actual wingers is that said fullbacks will now have more protection. In the diamond, the players positioned on the flanks often got sucked inside as the game grew ever narrower, leaving lots of space to be exploited out wide. MK Dons took perfect advantage of this with their winner last Tuesday.
The second big change in the 4-2-3-1 from the diamond is that a second striker is sacrificed for a second centre midfielder instead. Now, are there any objections to Liam Feeney being the 'striker' sacrificed? I thought not. In fact, it's not as if the loss of a second striker will be felt that much anyway, as Feeney has been pretty anonymous up there so far.
With a two-man midfield screen in front of the defence it just makes us that bit more solid, it doesn't leave the person at the base of the diamond scrambling whenever the opposition gets the ball. Mark Davies would be my guaranteed starter here, at least until Darren Pratley returns from injury. I've been thinking a lot about where Davies' best position on the pitch may be, and I'm coming to think that it may be playing deep in midfield in a *sorry* double pivot.
This way he can collect the ball from deep whilst already being there, instead of having to come back in search of it, and then he can take it forward like we all know he can. This way we have a good forward passer of the ball from deep who can feed the likes of Clough and the wide-men with intelligent passing. It keeps us on the ball for loner, and gives us more option with bringing the ball forward rather than just hitting long balls into the general direction of Madine.
Jay Spearing or Josh Vela would be the other man in the midfield, that's just depending on the situation. Do we need a more experienced head, a player who will doggedly man mark someone all game and will win back the ball? Spearing. Is it a fixture against a 'lesser side', do we need more energy and another good passer of the ball? Vela.
The main benefit, at least in my eyes, of having a two man central midfield is that it completely frees Zach Clough of any defensive responsibilities and allows him to concentrate solely on winning us football matches.
Playing at the tip of the diamond, I've noticed that Clough has so far this season been tasked with closing down central midfielders and pressing from high up the pitch, where as Feeney and Madine largely did nothing when we were off the ball.
Why would we put these constraints on our best player? It's pointless, especially when he's too weak for it. I say give him a solid midfield behind him so he doesn't need to worry about the defensive side and then set him free. Let him get around Madine to win those flick ons, let him get on the ball and weave his magic. Let him be the player we know he is.
So yeah, that's why I would play 4-2-3-1 later on today and for the immediate future.
What do you think?