• Reasons to be Cheerful, 3-4-3

    So, the preseason friendlies are done and it’s time for the real work to start. In less than a week the transfer window will slam shut and we’ll be getting on with the business of trying to get three valuable points at Watford. Last season we started very poorly there, although we picked up to have a first half a season that left us dreaming of Thursday nights in Albania. In the end it was a good job we did, because we all know what followed.

    Without wanting to rake over old ground, Hughton was sacked to the surprise of some and delight of others and in came Graham Potter. It will be a very different Brighton that take on Watford this time and away tickets sold out within a couple of days, suggesting optimism in the new regime (or a desire for gallows humour). For four of his four and a half years Chris was our best manager in history and he got us to where we are today. But the team was losing its way. If the pre-season friendlies are anything to go by, we’ve found it again.

    So, it’s time to stick my head over the parapet. These are exactly the sorts of articles or threads that get brutally bounced if found to be wrong but that’s no reason not to have an opinion. If it had been a negative one then I wouldn’t care because, ultimately, I’d rather the team did well than I was right. But I’m putting myself in double jeopardy here because I really quite like the look of Potterball. No after timing. I’m cautiously optimistic.

    Why? Let’s take transfer business aside for one minute (we’ll return to it though). There’s a feeling it’s been an underwhelming window among some Brighton fans. Trossard has come in, Adam Webster has come in and Matt Clarke has come in and out again. However, with the window still wide open and plenty of rumours circling we may not be done yet. But pre-season has largely been conducted with last season’s players so why the optimism?

    Firstly the formation. Against Birmingham and Valencia we have deployed a 3-4-3 with wingbacks, though I did end up describing it to a mate, whilst watching the Birmingham game on Seagulls Player as “a sort of -5-2-2-1”. Solly March has been redeployed as a left wingback and looks as comfortable there as I’ve seen him while the aforementioned Trossard has played along with Locadia in what I tend to think of as “the hole”, though with two of them is that really holes?

    Anyhow, the formation allows a number of things that are very different to last season. Our football will attempt to be more possession based and more direct (not necessarily long ball as this is often the opposite of possession football, but not ruling a long ball out when pressed). We have also seen goals from set pieces. Ultimately 3-4-3 should support both of those aims. In defence it means teams like Liverpool who operate with three genuine attackers can have each of them picked up with the wingbacks dealing with the tricky fullbacks. Should we need to go back to Ryan he should have three short options rather than two. In transition we should be able to use the channels, whereas last season we were drawn out wide too often. And for set pieces it allows the option of bringing up three big lads from the back for the opposition to deal with. Valencia struggled with this on Friday night and it ultimately led to our winner.

    Though Valencia was obviously a bigger test the advantages of the system were more clearly indicated at Birmingham, where we scored two “pretty” goals and two “ugly” ones. Scoring from set pieces is not something to be ashamed of. Bitter Scotsman Graeme Souness may have inferred that England’s success at the World Cup somehow didn’t count because the goals came from set pieces but he was tragically wrong. A goal from a corner counts exactly the same as a goal from a twenty pass move finished off with a volley in to the top corner. We’re not all Brazil 1982. In fact, none of us are.

    Possession football, positive intent and quick transition builds pressure on an opponents though and this can lead to free kicks and corners. It’s important to be able to convert these. With Trossard, Gross and March all capable with a dead ball, throwing up three big lads from the back and two attackers give a good chance of converting.
    The formation isn’t the only reason for optimism though. Back to transfers. The Matt Clarke saga may have puzzled some but we’ve quickly realised he’s one for the future who needs game time. Some are signalling that the signing of Webster means Dunk is on his way out. I can’t see it myself however, or we’d have hung on to Clarke. In a three man defence you need five in the squad and he’d have quickly got game time if Dunk was off. Centre Back might not be the traditional position for ACLs or hamstring pulls but there are plenty of impact injuries and yellow cards to take in to account.

    Trossard, meanwhile, looks the real deal. He seems TINY but he uses his stature to generate skill, pace and guile. With a lovely touch, a decent dead ball and the ability to run the channels he’s a mini-Hazard in the making.
    Meanwhile, there are rumours of bids for two forwards. At least one is needed. The players look like they are enjoying themselves. Plenty have noticed this. None more than Locadia who seems to have been reborn. Murray, too, looks like he’s enjoyed pre season. Neither can be relied on to lead the line all season however. Locadia suits the wide attacker role better while Murray looked knackered in the last quarter of last season and will, again, be broken by February if he has to play the central striking role all season. Yes, there is Andone (who looked lively coming on against Valencia) but the indications are this is how we’ll set up with Andone coming on as an impact sub to stretch tired opponents.

    There is a need to temper all this optimism of course. It’s not quite as straight forward as simply going out and being suddenly superb and attacking in the Premier league. Jahanbakhsh has featured for thirteen minutes of the last two friendlies, and all the issues around pace and strength were still evident. We may have stuck four past Birmingham but they hit the bar twice. With Montoya loving to range forward and Locadia reluctant to track back the right side of defence looks weaker than the left and Valencia took full advantage down that flank to score their goal. We will concede more and it is therefore vital that we score more.

    Will we? For me we will. Hopefully the days of seeing ten players pinned back in to the final twenty five yards with less than thirty percent possession are gone for good. Of course, if we score fewer goals than last season but get more points then it will still be a success. More goals but significantly fewer points and relegation would not be good. But, if forced to stake actual money on it, I’d be putting it on staying up. With two survivals just about dragged out it’s time to take it to the next level.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Dick Knights Mumm's Avatar
      Dick Knights Mumm -
      Cheers. My optimism usually lasts till about 3:15pm on the opening Saturday. I'm hoping this week sees striking options arrive and we can make Glenn last the season. In Potter we trust.
    1. Stumpy Tim's Avatar
      Stumpy Tim -
      On Locadia not tracking back, this is definitely a tactical thing. I was sat a few rows from the front of WSL against Valencia, and Potter was telling him to stay up & not track back.
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