I recently came across an article by Jonathan Wilson, which spoke about the key weakness of the 4-2-3-1 – wingers can find an awful lot of space if they drift away from their full back. In fact, that space between full back and winger is probably the only real space that the 4-2-3-1 offers to its opponents; it may well be out wide and away from the goal but there is still an opportunity to really hurt teams by using a winger that drops deep and uses the space gained to run at his opposite man and inside.
In fact, I’ve been employing deep wingers quite often for a while now, especially when playing with Manchester United, as it allows fast, strong wingers like Antonio Valencia to attack the left-back. He has far more room to gather pace and when your winger is at top speed, it can be difficult for any player to stop them without committing a foul or being pushed over. On the other side, it allows Nani more space to dribble the ball inside and opens up the space between midfield and defence that he can use to shoot or setup his teammate.
I suppose the important point here is how (and whether at all) it translates into FM, otherwise I’m just parroting Wilson. I’m using Holland; a country known for its consistently intelligent players and some great wingers over the years – Overmars, Keizer, Rep, Rensenbrink. Nowadays it’s Robben, as mentioned in Wilson’s article, Narsingh and Emanuelson, players of differing styles and ages but all with the class to play off their opponent and play this ‘deep winger’ role.
The Winger-Support role in MR/ML is a solid fit because it means that my wingers will play a bit deeper (because they’re at M rather than AM and because RFD is sometimes rather than often). Roaming is important, as it will encourage them to roam to wherever the space is, probably deep and just inside of them.
The rest of the team is set up in a simple 4-4-2 formation, so the wingers are what the team is built around – there’ll be no-one in AMC taking their space, and the two MCs and two STs will stretch the space in between them so the wingers can take advantage. Enough talking, let’s see how this plays out.
Early signs are good, as Afellay finds an awful lot of space on the right. We don’t have the ball here but we have a great chance to counter if we manage to get it back – Turkey’s left back is just far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to do anything if Afellay picks it up. One through ball later and we’d be celebrating a goal. This is a problem with the fluid three in the 4-2-3-1, and a problem that Chelsea found earlier in the season. The ‘classic’ inside forward in a 4-2-3-1 can put his team under an awful lot of pressure like Wilson suggested: a deep winger can ‘prosper against a 4-2-3-1, especially if the opposing winger neglects his defensive work’. That’s exactly what Sanli has done in search of space, and it’s a good sign for our ability to counter down the wings.
Full back doesn’t engage
In both marking systems, zonal and man, there is a certain distance that a player must be within in order for your player to ‘engage’ him. By dropping off, the deep winger disengages the full back and can find himself completely free – after all, the opposing winger is pushed up so he can watch your full back.
Again Afellay is free but he’s even further away from the full back this time, who has been passed my striker by his centre back. My striker does the exact job that I wanted, of engaging both the centre back and full back, pushing them back to create space for my winger, who now gains about 35 yards ahead of him. It’s a shame Robben isn’t fit for this game, otherwise he’d be having a ball here; Afellay isn’t quite quick enough to make the most of the space he’s gaining, but he is gaining an awful lot of it very regularly. Emanuelson on the other side is doing a decent job with the ball.
This run went from 30 yards in his own half and to the byline and the length of his run meant that he drew in three players – he passed Sahin, #6, Gonul, #2, and then Korkmaz, #5 – and this helps create a lot of space for van Persie in the middle. A faster player like Robben might have cut inside and ran at the middle of the defence but fortunately, Emanuelson is left footed and a little more traditional which creates a different opportunity.
The 4-2-3-1 is built on wide players being skilful and quick and therefore being very adept at coming in off the wing and running at the defence, but often these players are lazy and prefer to stay high than come deep. This can limit their ability to cut inside, as their opposing man will stick to them tightly and their defence will be set up very solidly.
By being deep, they have 50 yards, say, to run at, rather than 10. I always used to make the mistake of forcing my wide players to stick high up the pitch so all my midfielders had to do was just thread the ball through and it’d be an easy finish. I say ‘all’ and ‘just’ but that’s not so easy, and it puts a restriction on, often, the best players in the team. Ronaldo, Nani, Robben, Ribery and Villa have all made their name from cutting in off the wing, and it’s no coincidence that these players are among the best in the world at their peak. If their Run From Deep is lower, this means they are more involved in the game and can really influence it.
Emanuelson is not quite to that level but he’s still a great little player. This dribble marks his first proper effort at coming inside.
Call it the idiocy of the right back or the genius of Emanuelson, but it’s interesting that he can wipe out his marker so easily. The entire of the Turkey right side has been wiped out – Tore is too lazy to track Emanuelson and Gonul leaves a huge gap behind him by approaching. This is exactly the in-between zone that Wilson referred to, and it is where real damage can be done.
How does this help me?
I always make a point of mentioning that no instruction is superior to another and there is not just one way of getting the best out of a player or role. Studying this in depth was really interesting though and it goes some way to show the importance of depth and the Run From Deep instruction in involving a player in the game. I really recommend using a similar role with the likes of Valencia and Robben, and more generally, players who have more to offer than just a finishing touch or cross. Sitting deep can do wonders for space, chances, and influence; that might just be enough to beat the 4-2-3-1.
Last updated on May 21, 2013