Billy Hawkins dissects Watford’s exemplary home win against Bolton at the weekend, praising Sannino’s tactics
Well, that was rather successful.
Two wins in two games is nothing to scoff at, even if the opposition is of lower quality than you would expect to see for the rest of the season. For all intents and purposes, the 3-0 victory over Bolton could be seen as no more than a continuation of both clubs pre-seasons. Although, there is no doubt that the freshness displayed by the Hornets was something apparently lacking for the duration of pre-season.
And, despite all the technical and tactical changes seen throughout the summer, how many people would have presumed a move away from the 3-5-2 would happen on the opening day.
With the pressure taken off the home team early in the game – courtesy of Troy Deeney continuing his hot run of form – the 3-5-2 came to resemble more of a 3-4-3 by the close of play. The wing-backs – with Juan Carlos Paredes excelling on his debut – were sat neatly on the halfway line, whilst Daniel Tozser controlled the play from deep, and Almen Abdi flitted around the centre circle – breaking forward at every opportunity.
It is the positioning of Lewis McGugan that raises the most questions. In a rudimentary 3-5-2, McGugan would act as the number 10, sitting behind the strikers to link up the play between in the attacking phase. However, the 25-year old acted as a third forward, playing to the left of Deeney and Matej Vydra. Whilst it is well known that Deeney is willing to drop deep to collect the ball, and that Vydra is reportedly learning to do the same, the space they inhabit creates one large midfield unit – rather than separate midfield-attack units.
Whilst strikerless formations have been used sporadically in recent years, with former Udinese coach Luciano Spalletti employing a 4-6-0 at Roma, and Pep Guardiola using Cesc Fabregas as a false nine at Barcelona, both were done with a midfielder filling the role of ‘striker’ – if that is what it can be called in a strikerless formation.
It is no secret that Beppe Sannino is a keen admirer of Arrigo Sacchi’s famed 4-4-2, whereby his AC Milan team – commonly regarded as one of the greatest club sides ever – were required to complete every job on the field, rather than limiting one player to one specific role – the exception being Marco van Basten, who was too good a goalscorer to focus upon defending.
Thus, Sannino has gone one step further than Sacchi, and has his two out-and-out strikers – Ruud Guillit was the second striker for Milan, and, despite his impressive goals-to-game ratio, he was used as a midfield destroyer rather than a goalscorer – acting for the good of the team.
So, whilst the set-up is a strikerless formation, there are two strikers on the pitch. The midfield is overloaded with bodies, but when the play breaks into the attacking phase the two strikers and McGugan are free to charge forward with pace to win the ball.
This deep-lying play creates a problem for the opposition defenders, who are loath to leave the marking to the midfield, whilst being afraid to step up and out of position in case a long ball passes over their heads into the ‘red zone’.
Bolton’s defenders fell into this trap.
Is it any surprise that all three goals were scored with long-range passes being met by the strikers running from deep.
I have to say, well done Mr Sannino.