The formation came together by circumstance in my Hibernian save (A Stronger Scotland), as is often the case with the design of my tactics. When it came to putting together my initial formations at the start of the save I went through my usual ritual – dragging my best players in to their most natural positions on the tactics board and seeing how it all took shape. I’m not a fan of putting square pegs in round holes, I much prefer players in their natural positions and roles and I prefer to sign players who fit the system over the big name player. I had few options in terms of wingers and what felt like too many talented playmakers to accommodate.
At first glance we look very light in defence and a little heavy in midfield and attack, but the beauty of this formation is its fluidity, players are regularly on the move, sometimes advancing, sometimes dropping back to fill in the gaps. When defending, the back two are protected by the DM, whose sole job is to sit in the hole between defence and midfield. The defence is also reinforced by the wing backs, who drop back to create a back four. Because of the DM’s disciplined positioning, if one (or both) of the wing backs fail to retreat in to their defensive shape fast enough there’s still a back three or four of defensive players to protect the goal.
When in possession of the ball and developing our attacking play the wing backs push up to join the midfield, providing overlapping support, numbers, and subsequently passing options for our deep lying midfielder duo.
Aside from our center backs the only players who ‘sit’ are the two central midfielders and the deeper defensive midfielder. Our dual playmaker partnership have an attacking 3 ahead of them, so they can be content with sitting deep, playing the ball around the pitch, finding the spaces and orchestrating our attacking moves. The defensive responsibilities fall to the DM who sits just behind them, so they can concentrate entirely on their passing game, rotating the ball, developing goal scoring opportunities and looking for overlapping runners and through-balls. Ahead of them, the advanced and more attacking playmaker can provide the same service in the final third, but with more attacking intent and more opportunity to get amongst the goals.
The attack takes shape with a very mobile front three, one out-and-out striker who spearheads the attack (Jason Cummings), with the second striker (usually a false nine, sometimes a defensive forward or traquartista) and an advanced playmaker dropping in to the pockets in front of the opposition defence, switching places in what effectively works like a partnership of interchanging number tens. This setup allows us to pull defenders out of position whilst maintaining a focal point through the main striker.
In most cases it’s a straight swap when we get the occasional niggle or suspension, but since the wing back role is such a specialised position we have fewer backup options. This is where the fluidity of the formation offers up a solution, I can cover a wing back without playing someone out of position (a right back as a wing back for example). All it requires is a slight adjustment to the formation. The wing back is replaced by a winger who takes up a natural position on the left flank and the DM shifts slightly over to that side to provide defensive cover. It’s so simple and works a treat, but clearly we can only cover one wing back this way.
I tend to go with a generally balanced set of instructions and adjust things depending on the opposition, but with so much prevalent movement brought on by the fluidity of this tactic there are a couple of instructions I can utilise. By using wing backs and deep lying playmakers the ‘look for overlap’ instruction is an ideal option, as is a high tempo, which also suits the pace of our attacking players. Our strikers are on the short side so low crosses are preferred. The team shape is flexible, naturally.
This tactic helped guide my Hibernian side to the Scottish Championship title in our first season, and has worked pretty well for us in the Scottish Premiership so far as well.