Tactics report: The folly of Four Four Two

The crowd screamed out for 4-4-2. Brian Laws gave them 4-4-2. Then the crowd screamed out for 4-5-1. Daniel Bentley looks at where Burnley lost the game against Leeds United.

Two weeks ago at Derby we were unable to penetrate their ten men behind the ball for much of the game. Only after switching to 4-4-2 did we play with enough space to get the ball and our players into their final third.  Lucky Brian’s Plan B won again, affording him a stay of execution.

Looking at yesterday’s teamsheet I expected Laws to set us up with his Plan A 4-5-1 formation (Brian, don’t ever try and spin that as 4-3-3). But I was heartened a minute or so into the game when it was apparent Jay Rodriguez would be partnering Chris Iwelumo up front, with Wade Elliott in his natural wide-right position.

The opening exchanges of the game were wide open.  Burnley were afforded most of the possession but Leeds impressed on the counter with Max Gradel giving Tyrone Mears a real problem.

We could just have easily conceded two goals at half-time as scored them.  Jay Rodriguez’s was probably the only product of our system.  Sitting on the halfway line at a Leeds corner he latched onto a Clarke Carlisle clearance, out-muscled Alex Bruce to slot home past Kasper Schmeichel. Big Chris Iwelumo wouldn’t have made it out of the centre circle…

Leeds had to make changes at half time, but importantly so did we.  Anyone in the crowd could see that even at 2-0 we were under a lot of pressure from Leeds and we were not comfortably keeping the ball.

Grayson had found the chink in Burnley’s armour, Gradel had the better of Mears and Luciano Becchio was out-thinking and out-manoeuvring Clarke Carlisle.

We were being overrun in midfield and Chris Iwelumo was contributing nothing.  The brave move would be to adopt a 4-5-1 formation, not to defensively sit behind the ball, but to keep some possession.  We didn’t do this, we kept our 4-4-2 shape with Steven Thompson coming on for Iwelumo and Leeds continued to boss our midfield.

I said after Gradel scored Leeds’ first that they would go on to win.  Burnley have a nasty habit of grasping defeat from the hands of victory.  And they did, continually exploiting Mears and Carlisle and hitting us on the break.

Jack Cork – who had been impressive in the first half – started to tire and Dean Marney became ineffective.  The ball was being walked through our midfield.  The game was screaming for Graham Alexander to come on, add a bit of steel to our midfield and slow the game down.

Would Laws have been booed for taking Iwelumo off and bringing Alexander on? Probably yes.  But when a manager is too scared to make decisions for fear of the crowd’s reaction it’s a slippery slope.

There were individual performances that contributed to our downfall But Laws’ post-match comments put most of the blame on the players, which was very unfair. Burnley were outplayed by Leeds but more significantly, Laws was out-thought by Grayson.

Match preview: Burnley v Leeds United

In the 15th century the War of the Roses saw Lancashire and Yorkshire battling for the throne of England. This weekend, representing Yorkshire, Leeds take their seven-match unbeaten league record to Turf Moor. Continue reading “Match preview: Burnley v Leeds United”