Stuart Pearce claims he is undecided on tactics and systems, but in the recent past he has been a steadfast advocate of the 4-2-3-1 formation. Influenced by Fabio Capello and Rafa Benitez, Pearce used this modern system with both the Under-21’s and Olympic team.
this summer tend to suggest they want to use this formation. The
three defenders purchased have one common feature: their ability to
use the ball. The 4-2-3-1 is not geared towards direct play; it
requires that the defenders pass the ball out patiently, often to a
deep lying play-maker masquerading as a defensive midfielder.
The new strikers are
also well suited to playing this system. We’ve all seen Billy
Davies’ version of the 4-2-3-1, with the forward drifting deep or
wide effectively acting as a support player – Pearce has used a
more aggressive variant of this system and likes the front man to be
a striker, not a forward. Matty Fryatt and Lars Veldwijk are well
suited to this role.
Recent tactical changes
the youth teams implemented towards the end of last season would seem
to be another clue that Pearce wants Forest to play this way – soon
after Pearce's confirmation as manager they reportedly began using
this system more often.
As a defender, the 4-2-3-1 might appeal to Pearce because, although not absolutely defensive, it provides flexibility and stability in that respect. Various video-clips are available of Pearce enthusing on it’s virtues in providing defensive cover through having two holding midfielders, and the opportunity to transition easily into a 4-5-1, but it can also become a 4-3-3, so has an attacking edge too (see, right. All diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked).
Forest fans will be
encouraged when looking at how Pearce’s Under-21’s tried to
attack. As hinted above, the striker was in the team to score goals
rather than create, something Trickies have been crying out
perceived lack of width may also disappear. Pearce’s teams –
especially during the last Under-21 campaign – were at their most
rampant when attacking from wide positions – 44.2% of England
Under-21’s goals involved crosses.
We saw last season how
well David Vaughan, Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury could play in a
4-2-3-1 – all capable of the fluid interchanging and intelligent
thought needed for this formation, Pearce may well capitalise on
I predict a glut of
goals for a certain Forest player this season. Lars Veldwijk is will
have opposition defences worried during corners and free-kicks, but
after observation I can’t recall him being particularly deadly in
the air. With defenders distracted by Mount Veldwijk, I can
see Jamaal Lascelles scoring a lot of goals from set-plays (assuming he is still a Forest player of course).
I’ve talked a lot
about Forest going forward, but it’s the defensive nature of
Pearce’s tactics that have drawn the most attention during his
career so far – how will our new manager balance the two phases of
Pearce has been
criticised for being too cautious; this has been an
over-simplification, especially for the period in charge of the
Under-21s, where his teams scored an average of 1.84 goals per game.
The amount scored does not necessarily indicate adventurousness, but
it is fair to say that, especially during qualification periods, they
were not playing to defend.
The problems came
against teams, for example, like Italy, where the opposition’s
superior technical ability allowed them to use the ball more
effectively. This forced England to employ a more cautious,
conditional pressing game, and retreat the wingers back into
midfield. Using this formation, it's (in my opinion) the style of pressing that goes a long way to determining how attacking/defensive a team will be.
were on the back foot, and struggled to come forward as the
striker became isolated, and once struggling and becoming desperate,
Pearce resorted to playing direct at times, leading to him being
labelled as unimaginative, old fashioned and tactically naïve (that
old chestnut! Sigh!).
Jonjo Shelvey blamed
Pearce for not allowing the team to press more aggressively, but the Italians would have tore England apart if
they went chasing the ball, and it must be remembered it took a set
piece to beat England 1-0.
In The Championship
Forest will not come up against such technical superiority, I
therefore cannot envisage Pearce employing such a deep lying
conditional pressing game very often.
In fact, the modern
4-2-3-1 is all about winning the ball as high up the pitch as
possible (this was it’s initial function when pioneered by Juanma
Lillo in the early 90’s) something Pearce prefers his teams to do,
restricting his opponent’s options deep in their half of the pitch.
We have seen first hand
how effective this system can be last season at Forest – the QPR
match at home is a good example of a team pressing selectively but
effectively using the 4-2-3-1. This is exactly what Pearce will try
to achieve, rather than having his players stand off as they did
against Italy in Israel 2013.
Despite some claims,
Pearce favours a modern approach to tactics with fluid positional
play – both in and out of possession – rather than the
old-fashioned, rigid tactics he has been accused of using.
This is all very well
when you have the players to do it, but when injuries bite it will be
left to Forest’s second string to step in and fill the void. A
possible pitfall of employing a fluid system, as Billy Davies found
last season, is that it is too complicated for some players,
especially when forced to play out of position.
Listening to Pearce
give tactical talks, his knowledge is unquestionable, but he expects
the players to be able to take in detailed instructions, and expects
clockwork transitions – especially when defending; is there a
possibility some of the (vastly inferior when compared to himself) Forest players might not be capable of carrying out his
directions when the going gets tough? This was the impression I got
at times when watching the Under-21s at Israel. They struggled
executing his tactics when under pressure.
Of course, this is
mostly (educated) guesswork – made even more precarious by Pearce’s
claim that he is yet to decide on a system, and the fact he has used
a 4-4-2 in pre-season so far – but to summarise, I expect Forest to end up
using a possession-based, often attractive 4-2-3-1.
I expect the
midfielders to provide more cover for the defence than we saw at
times last season. We may see some relaxed, conditional pressing,
where Forest hold a disciplined shape rather than chasing the ball,
but on the whole The Reds will aim to gain possession in the
Coming forward we’ll
see fewer long, aimless balls from the back; the likes of
Reid and Vaughan will want to dictate play from the centre, feeding
the ball out wide. We will also see the forward take up much more
central positions, playing off defenders’ shoulders and making more
runs in-between the centre-backs.
I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading and
look out for Psycho: part 3; the players.
Further viewing - Pearce seems to do a lot of conferences and talks discussing tactics, which are often recorded. They are quite interesting in that they show how passionate he is about defending, give inside information on the more technical aspects of what he expects, and do suggest what kind of tactics he likes to use. Here is an interesting selection:
How to defend from the front: http://performance.fourfourtwo.com/tactics/stuart-pearce-how-to-defend-from-the-front
Pearce on Full-backs: http://www.uefa.com/trainingground/coaches/video/videoid=941251.html?autoplay=true
Pearce on the 3-5-2: http://www.uefa.com/trainingground/coaches/video/videoid=1605297.html
How to defend against a 4-3-3: http://performance.fourfourtwo.com/tactics/full-backs-how-to-defend-against-a-4-3-3
How to nullify the full-back: http://performance.fourfourtwo.com/tactics/nullify-the-threat-of-an-attacking-full-back
Motivating players: http://performance.fourfourtwo.com/health/psychology/the-psycho-team-talk