Diamonds aren’t forever

04 Jan 2015 08:18 pm, by YorkshireSquare

Whilst the position of head coach at Leeds United may have been ever changing this season there has been a consistency with the formation played on the field, the notorious diamond. The formation is in vogue with some of the top teams in Europe at the moment and it is clear that Cellino has a fondness of this system, so much so that he seems to insist his coaches use it and recruits players to play it. It is an unusual formation that most English teams won’t have played before, it has certain strengths if played correctly but clear weaknesses, as has been in evidence on the pitch this season.

The idea is to control the central area of the pitch, to flood the middle of the pitch with numbers and dominate the opposition. The flip side is that it gives you a distinct lack of width. There are of course a few ways round this. The most obvious is for the fullbacks to push on, become wing backs to an extent. We have seen a certain amount of success with this in terms of Warnock and Byram creating chances. Have a flutter on our next game with one of these UK bookies offering free bets. The second way is for your forwards to drift out to provide the width, with the man at the top of the diamond pushing forward. The other way is for the man at the top of the diamond, ‘the number 10’ to drift and provide width or for the outer players to push wide when possible.

The idea of dominating the middle ground is nice, it may work well in Europe but in the Championship with its blood and thunder, end to end style can it really work? If the opposition give you time in the middle of the pitch and sit off you then you have a chance to take control and dominate. I’d argue that Derby let us do that back in November, but Steve McClaren wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and most teams seem to have worked out how to counter the diamond formation.

The most obvious is to play with width. We look narrow on the pitch without natural wide men in midfield and if teams stretch us by playing the ball wide quickly we are caught out. The fullbacks find themselves outnumbered or during counter attacks where the full back has pushed on the central defenders are stretched and that isn’t exactly our strongest area anyway. If the opposition wide players mark our full backs out of the game it also reduces the options for pushing forward.

The other way is to simply match us up in terms of numbers in that central area. We have some gifted players in Cook, Mowatt and Adryan but along with Bianchi none of them are exactly David Batty. There are stronger, wilier players out there with lots of Championship football experience and they will outfight our promising but young and lightweight players.

It could be said that the diamond formation also neutralises our own positive attributes. The formation is supposed to dominate the centre ground but it also congests it. It makes it more difficult for our creative players to switch play. The midfield are on top of each other and there is a lack of space to move and pass. As we say earlier in the season, particularly when your full backs don’t get forward you may retain possession but you ultimately end up passing the ball around in your own half. It’s hard to play the ball forward because there is no width or space in the middle. Do we really get the best out of Cook, Mowatt and Adryan with this formation?

The formation also makes playing Billy Sharp practically pointless. He is a proven goal scorer at this level but as I’m sure he will admit himself he is not the most athletic of players. You get the best out of him when he plays centrally, and you play balls into the box, he will outfight defenders and get on the end of balls. He can’t however do that if he is forced to drift out to create the width. With the central two drifting wide it also relies upon the most forward man in the diamond to push into the box and score goals. Whilst it is clear Adryan has talent, is he the best finisher we have? His shot accuracy of 44% would suggest otherwise.

Against Sunderland Redfearn was let off the leash and we saw Leeds line up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, a resurgent Austin alongside Murphy in the holding midfield positions gave protection to the defence whilst a midfield three of Sloth, Adryan and Montenegro provided the creativity and width. We struggled first half but really came into the game second half and created a good few chances against a mid-table Premier League team.

Our lack of natural wide players may limit our options somewhat, a traditional 4-4-2 may be out of the question, but the 4-2-3-1 we started with and the 4-3-3 which we played latterly on Sunday look like more positive options than the diamond. With the perceived success of these systems against Sunderland perhaps diamonds are not forever? I’ll look forward now to seeing how we line-up against Bolton on Saturday.

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theleedsmango wrote on 05 Jan 2015 01:38 pm

Good article Shields!

Think the main two formations employed by the big teams in England are the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. I think we have players in Murphy, Austin, Cook, Bianchi to have the two holding midfielders in the 4-2-3-1. That allows the central defenders to cover the wing backs when they move forward. Considering we don't have wingers providing the cover out wide, this would help us defend wide attacks. The 3 attacking midfielders can be fairly free to move and I think Mowatt, Adryan, Doukara, Sloth, Cook, Dawson all fall into this remit. With one up front, Sharp and Antenucci offer slightly different options - Sharp for winning the ball and holding it up, Antenucci to run on to balls and break the offside trap.

The diamond is like a scary moment in a horror movie. If you rely on the same thing regularly throughout, then it's not going to work - the audience will be prepared for it and it loses the impact. It's far too easy to counteract on the football pitch. However, used sparingly and unpredictably, it could provide a welcome change of play in an otherwise tight game.

I am hopeful Cellino's eyes will have been open after yesterdays results and he'll think "yeah, maybe there is an issue with that formation in this league".

If not, I am slightly less hopeful that Redfearn is making these changes knowing Cellino is temporarily standing down and is aiming to prove the new tactics work before he returns!

Martyn wrote on 04 Jan 2015 09:45 pm

I hope we've seen the last of it, we don't have the players to make it work and it makes us just so vulnerable down the wings. The question remains though - why did we buy Sharp if we were committed to the diamond? We sold Smith, presumably because we wouldn't be using wingers to provide him with crosses, but on that basis buying Sharp makes no sense