An old fashioned system, some would say, but the simplicity of 4-4-2 has served Fulham well over the years, particularly under Roy Hodgson, as we added a Europa League run to a Great Escape in his tenure. Largely using the two banks of four, which provided defensive stability, aided by exceptionally setting up his team, Roy managed to find a cute balance between defence and attack – which admittedly would frequent towards the defensive side of the game.
Roy had two wide players (Duff, Davies or Dempsey) who would happily track back and help their full back – arguably making John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky look like better full backs then they were. What Fulham did excellently back then was to have a point of reference in attack with Bobby Zamora, where Andy Johnson would then attack the behind of the opposition defence, leaving your opponents with a dilemma to press Zamora and risk leaving Andy Johnson with space behind you; or drop to prevent AJ with space, but giving Zamora the space to do whatever he wanted, pop it back into the midfield, play out wide or have a shot from distance.
With Bryan Ruiz’s future in the balance, as well as Chris David and Thomas Eisfeld being nowhere near the plans of Kit Symons, as well as the return of Alex Kacaniklic and rumours with regards to moves for Bournemouth’s right winger Matt Ritchie and Ricardo Vaz Te who can play on either flank; a switch towards Symons’ favoured 442/4411 at youth level looks likely, aided by the ability for Kit to make this team his own rather than working with the dribbles left by Felix Magath’s metaphorical teabag.
Onto some possible issues with the system, when one of the two strikers drops – as normal, creating a 4411, the distance between the striker and his two will be further apart, and a longer ball into the now lone striker could (and usually will) leave him vulnerable. However, if you are skilful enough to use the middle, like Pirlo, Gattuso and Totti – now three – and you can play your way into the final third of the pitch, you’ll likely use one of your two wide men, but by the time they are in a position to place in a cross, there’s just the one striker in the box, and possibly your second one running in from deep. To increase your chances of scoring from crosses, you should really have 3-5 players in the box; something Sam Allardyce’s sides have always been excellent at was commitment of players in the box. Aided by long-term players Kevin Nolan being adept at picking up knockdowns via crosses from the likes of Kevin Davies and Andy Carroll when they’re not busy nodding them in by themselves.
The four-four-two, a formation that provides a partnership of twos, balance between defence and attack, and looking elsewhere, the once written off system has a place in modern day football, as the shape has been tweaked for much success by Manchester City and Atletico Madrid. Manchester City have used the same shape, but with wide-inside playmakers, David Silva and Samir Nasri integral facets of the way they play, as they consistently dominate games with excellent possession play. Atletico on the other hand, have their wide players take up the spaces in between the two strikers and the central midfielders, almost “half spaces.” A strong pressure game usually rewards the Spaniards, as opponents can’t keep up with the energy, or movement that they’re front four provides. The beauty of Atletico’s squad is that it allows them to attack in different ways for different games, two exceptional talents in Koke and Arda Turan allow them to use them in inside roles like Manchester City, or as wider components of their offense.
Now, what would this change mean for our group of players? It’ll be interesting to see. We’ll likely see Alex Kacaniklic as our first choice left sided midfielder, with George Williams challenging him, that’s probably sorted. As for the right side, Patrick Roberts is arguably too young to be starting games consistently, and unless Adil Chihi escapes the Felix Magath’s secret cabinet, we have no actual wingers for that side; we do however, have makeshift options in Ryan Tunnicliffe and Lasse Vigen Christensen being capable deputies on that side, however, likely to have the tendency to tuck in and revert into a “wide central midfielder.” That’s where the signings come in; and particularly interesting when we look at possibly signing Matt Ritchie who has 4 assists and 5 goals in his last 7 matches. Our main starting central midfielder is Scott Parker until the season end at least, and the other options are the aforementioned Lasse Vigen Christensen and Ryan Tunnicliffe, alongside Seko Fofana (whose loan is coming to an end) and Emerson Hyndman.
I would relish seeing the return of a system that has served Fulham well in the past years, and inspecting how Kit assembles a new system, and in the long term, squad in his image. Interest in encouraging and positive players is promising for our club in the long run, as Kit Symons and Mike Rigg work in conjunction to provide us with the best quality players. Symons would clearly like to make this football club his own, and I don’t think we can judge him until he does. A change of shape, and the addition of a quality player or two could be very positive move in the time-line for Fulham FC.