What formation will it be? Here's why Paul Hurst faces a conundrum when selecting a system that suits all
PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 June 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
New boss Paul Hurst says he'll put his own stamp on Ipswich Town's formations. STUART WATSON looks at the conundrums he faces when selecting a system to suit all.
New Ipswich Town manager Paul Hurst says he has some formations in mind for this coming season.
The Blues boss got onto the subject of systems when asked how much felt the Championship had changed as a division since he last experienced it, as a left-back for Rotherham between 2001 and 2005.
“I think it has changed,” he said. “In general I would go along in saying it should be improving with the amount of foreign players that we get and the money involved, but then sometimes I look at it and think ‘is it really better?’ I’m not sure.
“Look, I think football does evolve, but at the same time a lot of it doesn’t change. I’m not stood here trying to say we are going to reinvent the game – far from it. There’s a lot of basics in football that were probably around 50, 60, 70 years ago that will never, ever change.
“People might come up with different names for different ways of working. It makes me laugh when people talk about new formations. If someone can come up with a new formation that no-one has played before now then I will be amazed. Maybe it just hasn’t had the publicity it gets now.
“We’ll put our own stamp on thing regarding systems, but I’m not going to try and pull the wool over anyone’s eyes by saying it’s something that’s not been done before.”
Hurst utilised a variety of formations at former club Shrewsbury Town as they finished third in League One last season. He stressed the importance of having ‘flexible’ and ‘intelligent’ players who could adapt to different systems – often during games.
Primarily it was a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 – attacking midfielder Jon Nolan playing in behind physical front man Carton Morris with wingers Alex Rodman and Shaun Whalley providing support from the flanks.
He often switched to a more solid 4-1-4-1 set-up though, while there were occasions where he dabbled with wing-backs when injuries began to bite.
Former Blues boss Mick McCarthy may have been typecast as ‘a 4-4-2 man’ from earlier in his managerial career, but he used virtually every system going last season as the injury-hit Blues struggled for consistency.
Here are some of the systems Hurst, who has already admitted the squad he’s inherited is ‘imbalanced’, might consider this season:
4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3
This is very much still football’s in-vogue formation and Hurst clearly wants to play with high-positioned, direct, exciting wingers.
The big question here, is whether you get the best out of Joe Garner as a lone striker? He’s a pest, good in the air for his height, but you wouldn’t necessarily describe him as a target man.
And who would be best suited to the No.10 role? At Shrewsbury he had an attacking-midfielder there in Nolan rather than a deep-lying forward. With that in mind, could Hurst look to play technically-gifted midfield men like Teddy Bishop, Andre Dozzell or Tristan Nydam at the tip of a three?
The box-to-box energy of a Tom Adeyemi/Flynn Downes, or creative spark of Emyr Huws/Dozzell, could provide a nice balance alongside the more defensive-minded Cole Skuse at the base of the midfield. It might even be that Skuse isn’t a nailed on starter anymore.
A plethora of midfield options – if everyone is fit – means three in the middle, whether flat or staggered, looks likely.
So here’s the rub... Where does last season’s 16-goal top-scorer Martyn Waghorn – recently linked to Middlesbrough in his native north east – fit into the above equation?
Hurst, going further back in his career, has utilised 4-4-2. Maybe he’ll look at the strikers at his disposal and think a back-to-basics approach suits his personnel.
Garner and Waghorn as an old-fashioned strike partnership? They’ve not really had the opportunity to be a proper two during their time together at Rangers or Ipswich yet (last year Waghorn was either deeper or wider). Those two relentlessly pressing high would cause panic among opposition defences.
What about Garner and Freddie Sears? The best football of Garner’s career came at Preston when he had the pacey Jermaine Beckford up top alongside him running off the last shoulder. Sears could be well-suited to being that type of foil.
The problem with this system is that only two midfielders can play. Mind you, Huws and Bishop are still not training fully yet, while Dozzell and Adeyemi may have to be kept in cotton wool a little longer after lengthy lay-offs.
This would allow for three in the middle and two up top.
A back three is troublesome at the moment given that Luke Chambers is currently the club’s only senior centre-back, but there will be at least one more addition in this positions.
That system could be a good way to bed young Chelsea loanee Trevoh Chalobah, someone who is described as comfortable on the ball, into Championship football. And Hurst may yet see Jonas Knudsen and/or Jordan Spence as better suited to playing on the inside – Knudsen certainly looked good in that role when called upon last season.
Have Town got good enough wing-backs? It’s a challenging position. Knudsen got plenty of assists last season, while Spence does like to bomb on. There’s also an argument that youngsters such as Josh Emmanuel, Myles Kenlock and Barry Cotter would have more freedom to express themselves as wing-backs.