The last few games Leeds United have performed really poorly. They have been out battled and this has lead to calls all over social media for not only changes to the line-up, but changes to the system. In this article I will look at our options in terms of systems and see which changes, if any, I would be making.
The Current System (4-2-3-1)
We have been operating with a 4-2-3-1 system, this has lead to us losing the midfield battle. However, if we were to stick with this system I think almost every fan of Leeds agrees that, if fit, Ronaldo Vieira needs to come back in to the midfield. If Vieira comes back in I think it will allow Eunan O’Kane to spend more time slightly further up the pitch which will allow him to use his passing range in more effective areas of the pitch.
This system depends heavily on the 3 players off the striker being able to get heavily involved. In our last game against Reading this did not happen, Lasogga was totally isolated and he does not have the energy to play that role without support. With our next game being away from home I would start with Dallas and Alioski on the wings as they get through a bit more work physically than Roofe and Hernandez.
System Rating - 7/10
The Options (4-4-2)
One way to prevent the isolation of the front man would be to switch to a simple, no-frills 4-4-2 system.
A lot of teams in this league use 3 in the middle of midfield and this formation could struggle against that. The 2 central midfielders have to get through an awful lot of work to combat the lack of numbers and that is why I don’t see us using this formation. In practice, especially away from home, this formation probably ends up having Roofe drop off the front into a “number 10” position. It also robs us of our most creative forces as no position in this formation really suits either Saiz, or Hernandez.
Nothing wrong with a 4-4-2 in general, but I really don’t think it would suit our current squad.
System Rating - 4/10
The Options (4-4-2 Diamond)
Not seen at Leeds since Massimo Cellino was, allegedly, forcing Leeds’ managers to play one, a diamond can be very useful as there are players whose roles help both the strikers, and the defenders.
This system allows a genuine “number 10” like Saiz a couple of options to hit with his creativity, while the holding midfielder can drop in to help the defence. This holding player is vital as with no wide players in midfield the width has to come from the full-backs. For this reason I have picked Stuart Dallas at left-back, but if he has been good in training I would look at putting Cameron Borthwick-Jackson in on that side.
As with the 4-4-2 above it should prevent the striker getting too isolated and if we are under a lot of pressure, longer passes from back-to-front are more useful as Lasogga would have players to knock the ball down to/flick the ball on to.
I think this would be better than a flat 4-4-2, but I don’t think it would be an improvement on our current set-up.
System Rating - 5/10
The Options (5-2-2-1, basically try to rip off Conte at Chelsea)
This would require a lot of work in training, but 3 central defenders and attacking wing-backs is ‘in vogue’ for a reason. It works. This season, I genuinely think we have a squad that could cope in this formation. The 3 centre-halves in this line-up are all good at this level, plus the options of Shaughnessy and Ayling in there to cover injuries/suspensions. Ayling is great going forward so would make a very good wing-back, and so too could Dallas. Lest we forget, Alioski has played a lot of his career as a full-back so with his work rate he would also be an option instead of Dallas.
This formation has the same issue of potentially getting outnumbered in midfield, but with the extra bodies behind them it is less of an issue than in other formations. This also has the benefit of not only getting both Saiz and Hernandez in the side, but giving them the freedom to roam around the pitch, taking up space and making themselves difficult to defend against.
The formation also allows Thomas Christiansen to keep his playing from the back philosophy as we will usually have a spare man to find with a pass in that area.
Obviously, we aren’t going to immediately play like Chelsea if we attempt this switch, as good as Saiz and Hernandez are they are not Eden Hazard. The Saiz/Hernandez roles are roles that Roofe/Cibicki can play in if they get tired/injured/suspended and with Phillips and Klich we have 2 for every position in this formation.
If the players could take to it in training I would be seriously tempted to try this formation.
System Rating - 8/10
The Options (5-2-1-2)
This formation has many similarities to the one above so I won’t say much about it. Basically, almost the same but an extra body up front to make Lasogga’s shift a but easier. Particularly effective if playing another team with 3 centre-halves as they have 2 players to track instead of 1 main striker. Lose a bit of creativity and there is no room for Hernandez. With this one I would try Alioski as a wing-back and have them push up more and let O’Kane and Vieira sit a bit deeper as opposed to just Vieira sitting in the formation above.
System Rating - 7/10
The Options (4-5-1 / 4-3-3 depending on your outlook on life)
I have said it before, as have most people. If you are going to be under pressure in a game, drop the “number 10” into midfield to solidify it a little bit. This system is very similar to the one we employ at the moment. It’s strength comes in wide positions where you can double up on opposition full-backs with 2 genuine wide players on each side as there is a deeper midfielder to cover if a full-back gets caught up the field.
The formation can become a bit negative if the wide players end up having to drop in and that is why I have picked Hernandez as a CM (something I don’t like doing) to try and get some more creativity in there. If we were away at a really strong team I would drop Hernandez, put Phillips in there, and focus on breaking down their attacks and looking to counter with the pace of Alioski and the guile of Saiz.
I don’t think this formation is any better than the one we use now, but for certain games it would be better as it would stop leaving our players in a 2-on-3 battle in central midfield which we have been losing a lot lately.
System Rating - 7/10
There are many other options but these are the main ones. Personally, I don’t expect TC to change much for the Bristol City match but I would switch to three centre-halves with wing-backs and play the 5-2-2-1 shown above. The players in the side may change but I truly think we need a rethink of the system as in the current one it is too easy to nullify us.