Platoon: or the DuffDaviesdilemma

The 1958 Cleveland Indians baseball team used two players at First Base. Mickey Vernon, a good left-hander who was adept at getting on base, and Vic Power, a right handed hitter and flashy defensive player who once, having been informed that the restaurant he was in did not serve coloured people, replied: “That’s OK, I don’t eat coloured people. I just want rice and beans.”

The trick here is that in baseball it’s really, really hard for a left handed hitter to hit the ball thrown by a left handed pitcher, and it’s really, really hard for a right handed hitter to hit the ball from a right handed pitcher.  This is almost universal: almost everyone is much worse against a ‘same-side’ pitcher.

There are more right handed pitchers than left handed pitchers, so left handed hitters tend to have an advantage.  Teams know this, though, so stock up on left handed pitchers to counter opponents’ left handed hitters.  Over a season you see quite a mixture.  Over a game these days, too.

Which is why the Vernon-Power platoon was so good.  Most of the time, against righties, Vernon would start.  He was a better hitter than Power so this made sense.  Power was a better defender so made an ideal defensive substitute.  When the opposition started a lefty the Indians started Power, a lesser hitter than Vernon but a better hitter against left handers.

By creating this sort of job-share the Indians got the best out of their resources, masking the weaknesses of their hitters and winning more games as a result.

I only mention this because Fulham currently have a problem.  You have to play Damien Duff when he’s fit. You have to play Simon Davies when he’s fit.  You have to play Clint Dempsey.  You have to play Moussa Dembele. You have to play Bobby Zamora. You haven’t got enough places in the team to play them all….

The most obvious thing to me is to platoon, to use your players when the opposition or situation suits them best.  But how would this work in football?  Are there certain types of opponents against whom you’d back Duff?  Maybe this would be teams that have a left-back who’s not good at covering his inside and a centre-back who’s not good at covering the left-back.  Maybe Duff’s the default selection.  Davies?  Maybe when possession’s important, when you think big away swinging crosses will work well.

Possible combinations:

Baird/Davies (Davies when you don’t expect much threat down the right flank)
Salcido/Duff (as above, allows you to play Davies on the right)
Davies/Duff (some circumstance that I can’t really think of)
Zamora/Johnson (it could be that against certain opponents you might feel that Johnson’s zip will better work the opponents’ centre-backs)
Murphy/Etuhu (anyone keeping track (as Fulham should be) may have noticed that against certain opponents our skipper can be nullified. In these games you may be better off with a Sidwell/Etuhu combo)

I don’t know.  Football doesn’t lend itself to absolutes like baseball, but there must be something to cling onto, something that says “play player X here because.” Maybe football teams should be a bit bolder on this kind of thing (United seem to be very strong at this, and while of course it’s easier with a big and talented squad, we’re still working from the same premise: having more good players than you can play at once).

5 thoughts on “Platoon: or the DuffDaviesdilemma

  1. I guess it all depends on your take on the reactive vs proactive argument. It is great tweaking your team when playing different opponents but it is also important to have your own identity as a team. The ideal would probably be smack bang in the middle.

    For me Duff/Davies have different effects on the team now that Davies has been restored to the right. When Duff plays, he cuts inside and this can lead to overcrowding in the middle, particularly when Zamora plays over a ‘false 9’ like Gudjohnsen who leaves space for others to play in. Davies on the other hand is almost more flexible in that he offers width and distribution which allows the other midfielders more room to maneovre – Dempsey and Dembele seemed to have more space last night. Davies allowed for real width without over-reliance on the full backs and we probably played our most open football for the last 3 years. I really liked the ‘lop-sided’ nature of the line-up in that respect.

    Where does this fit in to tweaking for different teams? I would potentially go Duff for tighter games and Davies when we are happy to have a real ‘go’ at the opponents, but equally you could use both within the same game to change the pattern of play. I think the width of Davies really took some pressure off of Murphy, who had more time and space.

    Interesting to think about though.

  2. All the big teams do this nowadays don’t they? The way Ferguson has used Park, Nani and Valencia particularly jumps out. But it is by no means the only instance of this occurring. The modern game is a squad game, and that’s not just about resting players, but also playing to an opponents’ weaknesses.

    With Davies and Duff, the way to go could be, if we think a team’s weak in the air at the back, play Davies to use his right foot swinging in crosses. If we think the team is solid at the back, hangs back, and we might need someone to cut inside and shoot, play Duff.

    Upfront, I reckon we always need a Zamora or Gudjohnsen type to act as a fulcrum with physical presence plus high-level ball control and creativity. But in some games we will need a harrying box player, like Johnson (or in my opinion Dempsey), in others we need the added creativity of Dembele, still in others we need the pace of Johnson.

    In the middle, while Murphy is a fixture, Etuhu and Sidwell can be swapped depending on the opponent (physique, skill level, pace etc.).

    The backline should remain solid, because generally you want to keep the unit together. But I can see an argument for playing a quick fullback against a quick winger, or playing a particularly offensive player at fullback to counter a weakness of the opposing team.

    All of these options appear available thanks to the excellent squad that has been assembled. And Hughes appears to be quite adept at using it.

  3. The way he’s going the same may be said for Gudjohnsen, his first touch is fantastic, he was involved in our most exciting pieces of play against Bolton, and was really unlucky not to score – he’s just had 2 great games, I think Hughes sees him as part of the team for next season

  4. All good comments I think. The biggest thing IMO is getting the players mindset that we act as a squad and not just the 11 players that start a particular match. I’m thinking mainly Duff, Davies, Gudjohnson, Johnson, Sidwell & Etuhu. Murphy, Dembele & currently Dempsey are probably the fist names to appear (at the moment) on the team sheet based on form. I’d add Zamora to that but perhaps Hughes doesn’t want to risk him in a full game and give him the summer to really repair himself. Especialy if we have a game in Lativia, Ukraine of Greece in July at the start of a (fingers crossed) Europa League campaign. Hopefully Greening, Kelly, Pantsil, Sendoras & Stockdale are happy to stay around in a bigger team picture. So what positions do people think we need to buy players for? If it’s one position for me its still a solid left back. I wonder if Salcido would be better as a winger?

    1. I no longer think we *need* to buy anyone and just hope we bring in young prospects who can progress into the first team and gradually replace the older players.

      Mind you if we could integrate a Sturridge or Hernandes quality striker into this attacking formation we’d be deadly.

      Ultimately I’ll be satisfied if we can keep what we’ve got.

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