A fox in the box and a toad in the hole

Interesting comments from Martin Jol regarding his use of Clint Dempsey (see Hammyend.com for more).

Essentially he’s saying that Dempsey is operating as more of a classic 10, now.

This is interesting. From our unusually lofted positions high in Johnny Haynes, Toby and I spent a bit of time on Saturday wondering where everyone was supposed to be playing. Defensively it was a very clearly a 4-1-4-1, with Murphy sitting deep and the four attacking midfielders ahead. 

How were these four playing, though?  Frei was on the left, almost exclusively cutting in, Ruiz on the right but drifting, but what were Dempsey and Dembele doing in between?  It did look a bit like an attacking diamond with Dempsey forward and Dembele deeper.  Dembele is such a good footballer that he was able to carry this off easily enough, but it is harder for him to turn on the jets from a deeper position because losing the ball further back is more dangerous.

Dempsey is, of course, in rare form, and was able to make those slippery runs he’s so good at to bag a couple of neat goals. Until recently you’d argue that he’s better attacking others’ approach play from the left, but his combination work with Ruiz and Dembele in our attacking moves is increasingly impressive, so perhaps the move inside is justified.

As noted, it was instructive that once Duff came on the team seemed much more cohesive.  It’s unfair on Frei to play the age card – old players have ineffective games, too – but equally there was a feeling that perhaps the opposition had his measure and that he’ll have to develop a bit more variety to be consistently threatening. 

However, nice to see that Jol has the flexibility to play such an attacking lineup, which meant that even when we weren’t playing all that well, we were able to circulate the ball for long stretches.  (This is something Jose Mourinho did a lot with Porto, take a rest by keeping the ball.  For a certain period his players would cease all attacking ideas and merely keep the ball, allowing them to take a breather while the opposition chased shadows for a while; our technically strong players are well able to play keep-ball).

The question now will be how the team lines up against stronger opposition.  If Jol can keep us tight at the back while fielding six attacking players (including Murphy, who can do everything), well who knows what’ll happen, but it certainly *sounds* interesting, doesn’t it?

9 thoughts on “A fox in the box and a toad in the hole

  1. Like you, the thing I like about the midfield is the Fluidity. As you say, we quite often start quite rigidly with Frei on the left, Ruiz on the right and Dempsey just ahead of Dembele in the middle. However, what I have noticed as the games go on (esp. into the second half) is the movement of the latter 3 (Frei sticks pretty wide all the time).

    While there was an argument for a 4-6-0 formation a few years back, where the 6 ‘attackers’ were pretty much interchangeable, I think this new 4-1-4-1 formation is very interesting. It must be difficult to defend against, looking at these player’s technical proficiency. And if they’re also willing to track-back, which has been another major improvement to Dembele’s game in particular, then i can see the system being a success.

    For me, Zamora stagnates the attacks though – by not looking to get in behind or run at the defence off the ball. He is very much a ‘back-to-goal’ striker, which in my opinion doesn’t fit with the system. We need someone who is looking to take defenders away, like Johnson but more imposing. This will give the Fluid 3/4 players in behind more room to play the exciting football they are starting to show they’re capable of.

    1. Agree with this. We need a ‘complete forward’ to finish off the team. Can you imagine where we would be with someone like Demba Ba in the team!

    2. I am not sure stagnates is the right word. A few weeks ago when Zamora was not motivated (or injured,) yes, but in the last couple of games, when he is running he has added another option – we can play a long ball and he does make a few runs. When fit and motivated he is almost the perfect person to have up front (without the ability to buy someone of Berbatov’s calibre).

      I also think Dempsey is technically looking much better. I think in the past he has not has the ball skills and has gotten around that by running hard, jumping at the right time and with determination. This year is the first time we are really seeing some ball skills with deft interplay with the others.

      Fulham are fun to watch at the moment! I just wish I was back in London sitting in the Hammy End stand, not getting up at 2am in the morning to watch some dodgey internet feed :-(

    1. More seriously: a 4-1-4-1 is slightly more attacking 4-2-3-1 variant, right? Take the central midfield triangle and turn it upside down. I like it – in theory I think it should allow us to have a bit more width.

      Equally, I rather like being able to have Dempsey and Dembele operating centrally – I think it suits them both better there.

  2. As an attacking unit these players are jelling nicely. Defensively, I’m not so sure. It’s easy to forget in the euphoria of our win over Arsenal that during the first half our back four looked horribly exposed at times, with acres of empty space in front of them.

    I don’t expect Dembele and Ruiz to play like Robbie Savage, but a bit of the defensive tenacity and organization which we were used to with the likes of Davies and Duff in the team wouldn’t go amiss.

    All in all the last few weeks has been very encouraging and we are starting to see the sort of form which I naively expected back in September.

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