5 ways Swindon need to improve their defence in a 352 formation
After defeats against Walsall and Oldham, Swindon manager Mark Cooper needs to tighten up his new defensive system. By Alex Cooke.
It was a simple, but brave, solution. Swindon were conceding too often and so manager Mark Cooper added an extra defender to the back four. However, the switch of systems to 352 from 433 seems to have created as many problems as it solved.
It had all started so brightly. Against Rotherham, the change to a back three was the foundation of a resolute, if fortunate, defensive performance fused with an incisive counter attack. Since then a weak Notts County side folded with little threat, but a very good Walsall team tore Town open.
Last Saturday, the match against Oldham was a less one-sided, however, Swindon again failed to create chances or control the game. So, how can Town tighten up this new defensive system, and their recent patchy results?
1. Close the lines
Since the change of formation, Town’s defence have become deeper. This might be to counter the lack of pace within the three, but it is opening up bigger and bigger gaps between the lines, giving the opposition more room to play in. The midfield are now further away from the defensive trio, both preventing Yasser Kasim and Massimo Luongo shielding them properly or passing easily between them.
Alex Pritchard has become the sole link man, isolated behind the front two, making it too easy for the opposition’s midfield to keep him quiet. He also drifts left wide too frequently.
2. Get the central defence, central
Since the adoption of the new formation, McEverley has been playing more as a left-back who stays in line with the centre-backs than a third central defender. This leaves Grant Hall, as the right-sided defender, with a disproportionate large expanse of the pitch to cover on that side. This invites smarter, quicker teams to run, or pass, into this space, just as Walsall did three or four times in the opening ten minutes.
This doesn’t mean that Darren Ward should be playing as a sweeper, requiring that he step forward, creating and passing out from the back. Instead, as Stuart Pearce explains in this video, the central position can be held by the least mobile defender. Instead, the central defence remains almost ‘flat’ dropping into a triangle only when the ball is central.
This lop-sided shape also distorts the position of those flanking the
defence; Nathan Byrne and Nathan Thompson. Byrne knows that he has McEverley covering behind him and so is free to push further up-field to engage the opposition winger, pushing him back. On the other side, it leaves Thompson with a real problem…
3. Support Nathan Thompson
Swindon’s right-back is a stalwart of the side, a rough, tough, energetic defender of some talent, but he is not the re-incarnation of Brazil’s Cafu. With the space behind him and no support in front, he has an almost impossible task. No longer does he have space to run into and a wide forward up ahead to link with, now he is given the ball when stationary as if he was a winger, and expected to take on his man.
Either the ball needs to be worked across from the left flank, with the opposition drawn, and Thompson released on the overlap, or Alex Pritchard needs to start working on the right flank as well as the left.
4 Start passing and moving again
As mentioned previously, 352 and 3412 do suffer from often being reactive formations, designed to stop the opposition playing rather than impose yourself on the opposition. Swindon seem to have taken that to heart by stopping the movement and passing which once allowed them to dominate.
It might be tiredness as Luongo suggested, but it isn’t helped as the formation has cut down the passing options. Not only has only player moved back from a wide position into a deep defensive one but with a defensive three not a spread two, one passing option has effectively gone. After all Ward’s position when the midfield has the ball is the same as than Wes Foderingham, just slightly further forward.
However, having two forwards does facilitates a more direct style of play as quicker passes can be hit behind the opposition’s line for the swift Nicky Ajose to run on to or held up by Nile Ranger.
5. Re-start the pressing game
At the start of the season one of the strongest elements of Town’s game was their ability to press and harass the opposition when they had the ball. Teams were stopped playing their own game as the wide forwards closed down the full-backs and Swindon’s full-backs stopped the wingers turning. Now, Town stand off and close individually. This does seem to be partly due to the formation as there is no way that the wing-backs can press, not without leaving even bigger gaps behind them.
What would you do to improve Town’s game? Keep the system or change the shape? Will Town get better with three at the back or is it time to revert to a back four?
Empty your synapses in the comment field below and we’ll be discussing this this week’s PODCAST which will be available to download on Sunday.