Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Tactical Season So Far...

With roughly a quarter of the season now gone, it feels like an appropriate time to take stock of where exactly Wrexham stand, not least bearing in mind the fact that there was some pressure on Dean Saunders at the start of the campaign to get early results.

So far the season has split into three distinct periods. Saunders started the campaign playing the sort of 4-2-3-1 formation which is so popular at the top end of the game. However, he added his own particular twist by pushing the wide players as far up the pitch as he could get away with, turning it into essentially a 4-2-1-3.

It was made even more of an attacking approach by the fact that the man behind the front three was David Brown, who was clearly in the side for his creative capacities, not his tracking back.

Of course, Saunders’ motives for playing this way were clear. Last season we struggled to break teams down; this time he was determined we wouldn’t lack for attacking options.

The system worked well...on the first day. Defeats at Forest Green and Eastbourne sent Saunders back to the drawing board as the approach just seemed a little too progressive for away games.

His solution took us into the second tactical phase of the season. Saunders’ response to those reverses was to shore things up by putting Christian Smith into a defensive role in front of the back four, replacing the man behind the front three in a 4-1-2-3. It led to our most consistent form of the season so far, as the role of defensive midfielder suits Smith best. He can destroy with his size and strength, and his long passing allows him to launch counter attacks from deep.

However, there was still a problem. We never lost playing that way, but we drew too often, and the York game raised the question of whether it would allow you to get at the opposition in home matches.

Saunders abandoned the formation after half an hour and snatched a point, partially because he was extremely bold, snatching the initiative back not through adding bolstering the defence but by hurling on attacking substitutes to drive York back.

This led to his third, radical phase of the season. He switched back to 4-2-1-3 but with a twist. The wide roles would be filled by strikers while Jamie Tolley would be asked to shuttle between midfield and attack. It was a very progressive tactic, clearly aimed at turning draws into wins. However, the results it has yielded have been mixed; it has earned impressive home wins against weak opposition, but looked stretched in away games.

Addressing this, Saunders actually reverted to the "Christian Smith system" at Darlington, but with Chris Blackburn in the holding role. Whether he's better equipped than Smith to play that role's a moot point, but the fact remains that Wrexham haven't lost this season when they've started the game playing that method.

Perhaps we need to take the Christian Smith route on the road and the Jamie Tolley line at The Racecourse. Whatever Saunders decides, it’s fair to say we’re in a better state than we were last year – at least he’s now found a way of breaking sides down at home – but he must now find a way to consolidate our improvement.

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