Western Sydney Wanderers have had an issue with getting results in recent weeks.
After picking up three wins from three, including a 1-0 win against Sydney FC in a top-of-the-table derby, they fell, not managing to win a game in November.
They struggled against Brisbane Roar at home, before losing three games in a row to Western United, Melbourne City and Newcastle Jets respectively.
Against the Jets, they created chances but struggled to make use of them. They had an astonishing amount of shots (22) but only managed four on target.
So how did Markus Babbel set up his side against Newcastle Jets?
On paper, he employed a conventional 4-2-3-1 formation. His front four included Nicolai Muller in the playmaker or attacking midfielder role, Mitch Duke on the left, Bruce Kamau on the right and Kwame Yeboah up front leading the line.
But as Nicolai Muller is more of a known winger, he wasn’t playing the traditional role of a playmaker.
He was trying to get the ball in attacking pockets of space and run at his marker. Instead of coming on the ball and looking to play a pass and/or turn, he looks to attack the space in between the fullback and the centre back. This allowed Mitch Duke to cut inside and receive the ball.
However, Mitch Duke is not the most creative player and is better at using his physical attributes such as his pace and strength, meaning that the role isn’t best suited for him.
Because of Nicolai Muller being told to get forward into that space in between the centre back and the fullback, it means that they play with very few players who get on the ball deep, so it is hard to play it out from the back and they are almost playing a 4-2-4 formation.
(Photo by Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images)
This formation could work and has certainly worked before, but the way Markus Babbel plays makes it so hard for the two central midfielders. The problem against the Newcastle Jets was that they tried to keep possession and play out from the back. One of the central midfielders often dropped into the defensive line to play the ball out, a strategy used by many coaches in the A-League.
However, by doing this, it meant that there was often only one person in the line of midfield. The Wanderers then consistently tried to play the ball out onto the wing, but Duke was too far up consistently and every time Kamau got the ball, two players automatically swarmed on him, meaning he had to play it back. This made it impossible to play it out from the back, and every time they did get it into the midfield line, they were swarmed and lost the ball.
But what’s an alternative formation and style of play that can allow Markus Babbel to play out from the back?
This may sound crazy, but my solution is a 4-2-3-1 with Alexander Meier in a playmaking role. But Meier wouldn’t be a normal playmaker, having spent most of his career as a striker.
He would try and receive the ball with his back to goal, the way he plays at striker, except just further down the pitch. He is lethal in the box, and you wouldn’t want to take his height away from crosses, so he would also be told to get into the box.
The way space will open up for him in the box is by having the striker consistently drifting wide to get the ball on the wing. This would drag one or two of the centre backs over, meaning that he would be tracked by a defensive midfielder or multiple.
By doing this, it creates three different ways they can open up the play and find a shot on target.
The first way is that with the extra numbers on, for example, the right wing, the striker would drift wide. That can allow for players to combine and get the ball through the fullback, meaning space can open up for either a shot or a cutback, as seen in the video below.
Another way is just getting the ball into the box, with the illusion of the striker getting wide while the ball is on the wing confusing the defence.
The final way is that the centre defensive midfielders will need to track Meier, which could open up space in the middle of the park around the D. Keanu Baccus has hit some screamers in his time in the A-League, and placing him around the D invites another option.
Markus Babbel has a very good team of players, but the system in which he is trying to play them doesn’t suit them, and the players don’t seem to enjoy it.
He needs to change the system, and this could be the way to go.