Tag Archives: Tactics

Huddersfield Town 2012-13: The Story So Far and What It Means for the Rest of the Season

After 11 years away from English football’s second tier, Huddersfield’s first month back in the Championship was always going to be interesting. Despite an underwhelming pre-season and the eventual sale of star striker Jordan Rhodes, Town have enjoyed an encouraging and entertaining start to life in the Championship. Here we attempt to outline some of our thoughts on Town’s fledgling season so far and what it means for the rest of the 2012/13 season.

Tactics, Systems and Flexibility 

Too often in recent years Town have been stuck in a rigid one-dimensional system with no ‘Plan B’. In the past if things weren’t going Town’s way, the team would often be sucked into knocking aimless long balls up field towards the strikers. Simon Grayson, however, has shown a refreshing flexibility in his tactics and a willingness to change games when things aren’t going Town’s way. So far this season Grayson has already used three different formations to good effect. Away from home Grayson has adopted a 4-5-1, which has allowed for fluent, counter-attacking football, as shown so impressively at Cardiff, and is a far cry from the 4-5-1 implemented by his predecessor. At Cardiff a central midfield three of Keith Southern, Adam Clayton and Oliver Norwood were able to effectively stifle Cardiff’s midfield but at the same time provide the forwards with service.

4-5-1 may well be the formation Town set up with on a regular basis away from home, however, in home games it seems that Grayson prefers a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation. How Grayson will fit Adam Hammill, Sean Scannel, James Vaughan and potentially another striker into the team remains to be seen, but it should lead to entertaining football at the John Smith’s Stadium this season. What is more, the signings Grayson has made give him real options off the bench to change, not just the personnel, but also the formation and style of play. For instance when Town have struggled, such as against Forest at home, Grayson didn’t just make like for like changes but instead switched to a style of play which brought Town back into the game. Bringing on an extra centre back gave Jack Hunt extra license to attack down the right hand side and this was the primary reason that Town were eventually able to earn an unlikely point.

Life After Jordan Rhodes 

After a protracted transfer saga Jordan Rhodes finally departed for Blackburn at the end of August in a deal worth at least £8 million to Town. As far as the transfer itself went, Dean Hoyle and Town would have been foolish to reject such a large fee for a player who was relatively unproven at any level above League One and – crucially – wanted to leave. Though James Vaughan has shown signs of real quality since arriving on loan from Norwich and should only get better as he gets more game time, question marks over his long-term fitness and the fact that Lee Novak and Jimmy Spencer are unknown entities at this level, mean that Town will probably require another striker in the loan window if they are to really push on this season.

It remains to be seen if a loan deal for Jermaine Beckford, or indeed any other striker, can be done. Despite his Leeds connections and the fact his career has somewhat stagnated in the last couple of seasons, Beckford would be a quality addition offering pace, strength and most importantly goals. Significantly, in Simon Grayson, Town have a manager who has previously got the best out of Beckford. Town currently have a squad with enough quality to keep its head above water this season, but bringing in a proven goalscorer at this level could make the difference between a top half finish and a finish in the bottom 8.

Stepping Up

Before the season started questions were asked as to whether any of last season’s squad would be able to make the step up to the Championship.

Despite being something of a Huddersfield Town legend and excellent for much of his Town career, there were doubts as to whether Peter Clarke would be able to perform in the Championship. Though Clarke is not the quickest or most comfortable on the ball he has started the season in good form and his partnership with Joel Lynch looks promising. Clarke’s form has undoubtedly been helped by the fact he has a settled and capable midfield in front of him, which will leave both Clarke and the entire defence less exposed. Furthermore, as his partnership with Sean Morrison last season proved, Clarke raises his game when playing with another quality centre-back alongside him, and, in Joel Lynch, Clarke has a partner who has shown real class and ability since arriving from Nottingham Forest.

Though Jordan Rhodes was unquestionably Town’s stand out performer last season, the hugely exciting Jack Hunt was in many people’s eyes the second best player in the squad. Lightning quick, skilful and a player who creates chances for team mates with his runs from deep; Hunt has the potential to become a top quality full-back. Though he is not yet the finished article, Hunt has made an encouraging start to life in the Championship. Hunt’s ability going forward has never been in question and due to his attacking prowess there was even talk of converting Hunt into an out and out winger, however, this would limit  his effectiveness as he is at his best running at defenders with pace from deep. If Hunt’s attacking play was not in question, the same could not be said about the defensive side of his game. Admittedly Hunt can still, at times, be somewhat naïve and occasionally caught out of position, but it is easy to forget just how far Hunt has come in the last two seasons. His performance against Craig Bellamy, one of the very best players in the league, in the opening game of the season proved that Hunt’s defending is good enough for the Championship and the more he plays at this level, the more he will continue to learn and grow as a footballer. Though some of the current squad will find the Championship a step too far, it is good to see some of the players, who excelled in League One, take their chance at a higher level.


In recent seasons Town’s midfield has been, at times, virtually non-existent. Despite a huge influx of central midfielders every year since 2008 – from Jim Goodwin to Tommy Miller – only Damien Johnson really came close to good enough. This summer, however, Grayson has brought in Adam Clayton, Oliver Norwood and Keith Southern and so far its all looked extremely promising.

There must be a greater emphasis on goals from midfield this season and Town simply cannot rely on a striker scoring so many goals this time around – Jordan Rhodes scored almost half of all Town’s league goals last season. Fortunately in Oliver Norwood and Adam Clayton, Town seemingly have players who will contribute goals from midfield. Norwood has been one of Town’s stand out players in the first few games of the season and though it is still early days, Norwood looks every inch a player who was brought up by Manchester United. Comfortable on the ball and a great passer, Norwood is one of the most technically gifted players Town have had in a long time. His ability to switch play and the protection he should get from the hard-working Keith Southern means that Norwood will almost certainly be one of Town’s most influential players this time around.

Though the season is still young, Town’s midfield already looks much better than it has at any point in recent years. Despite this, it is worth pointing out that Norwood and Clayton are both still young players and relatively inexperienced at this level. Though they undoubtedly have the potential to be great players, it would not be surprising if they struggle at times this season as it is incredibly hard for any player to maintain form for a full season let alone young players in the early stages of their career. Additionally, both Clayton and Southern are prone to picking up bookings and it should not be a shock if they are suspended for a number of games this season. Nevertheless, this season’s midfield is a source of great optimism and, given time, could be one of the most successful in recent history.


Though Town eventually won promotion last season, the football was often incredibly dour as Town inevitably scraped to victory or contrived to draw games they really should have won. If the first few games of the season are anything to go by then Town fans will be getting much better value for money this time around. Somewhat perversely, going to games may be more enjoyable this year even though Town will probably lose more games than last season. This was evident in the game against Nottingham Forest. Town were outclassed for much of the game but the quality of football on display meant that it was at least an entertaining game to watch. Players of international calibre and Premier League experience will regularly be on show at the newly named John Smiths Stadium and this can only be a good thing. What is more, Simon Grayson will invariably send his teams out to win games, which should see Town fans going home satisfied with the entertainment on display if not the overall result.


The monumental pressure that has been on Town for at least the last two seasons has been lifted and that should be evident in the performances this season. The players should be able to play with a freedom and without a fear of losing. In Simon Grayson, Town have a manager who sends his teams out to try and win football matches and his calm demeanour at the start of this season has won over many of the doubters. Though, realistically, Town probably cannot achieve a place in the top six, a talented, young squad and a calm and composed manager means that if Town continue how they have started this season, then they should be able to achieve a comfortable mid-table finish, which, in all honesty, should be deemed a successful season.

Tactics: Leeds United 2012/2013 Season Preview

To look at Neil Warnock and his teams, only one phrase comes to mind. ‘Long ball’. The hoof. The end of last season put into perspective the quality of football we had enjoyed at times under Grayson. The unbeaten streak during our first season in the Championship was, at times, excellent to watch, and Warnock’s supposed tactical beliefs made me incredibly concerned for the future.

However, from what I saw last week against Shrewsbury, Warnock seems to have, through imprinting his own ideas on the transfer market, made it possible to play a direct game that might actually be entertaining.

Tactics Board

Take his selections on the wings. Varney and Green both seem incredibly unlikely to beat, or even attempt to beat their full-back during a game. Warnock seems interested in bringing in a right sided player, but I’d be tempted to argue that Green will still start, given that he’s a Warnock signing and fits a role that I will describe below. The dynamic player might just fill the role Diouf currently seems to be intended for – an off-the-bench impact player who does not, and should not start off the match.

The way to think of Green is not as a winger. Green is very much a third central midfielder who operates wide. His duty is that of a central midfielder, to break up play, to create new movements on the shift of possession. He will likely float around the same starting lines on the pitch as Norris, with Austin sitting deeper, but rather than operating through the middle, he is to sit out wide. This provides a solidity that Warnock will crave – it basically provides the benefit of a central midfield three without taking away the natural wide play of a midfield four.

On the other hand, Varney, whilst still constrained by a lack of interest in beating his full back, will fulfill a completely different duty. Firstly, he seems naturally inclined to cut inside and float around the final section of the pitch. In fact, the only cross I can remember of his against Shrewsbury, which confused the defence and allowed Becchio a relatively free header he probably should have scored, came from the right wing. Varney also was the target for balls from the back, given his height and aerial prowess. This allows a shift in the direct ball should a large center back have the better of Becchio. Given the relative weakness of most full backs in the air, this will also probably cause a manager to move a central defender to mark Varney in the event of these failures. Were we playing a flat system with a single striker, this would have little benefit.

However, McCormack, operating in the position he always should have been, essentially free to choose between midfield and attack as he desires, will then become a greater threat. The missing center back means McCormack will not be muscled off the ball – he can run at the defence and cause havoc, taking long shots which he has a proven aptitude for. With the stretched back four, McCormack’s excellent positioning and ability when running the line of a defence will also come to the fore. People have questioned where the creative force will come from next year, and whilst I would enjoy the signing of someone with the express duty of providing this, McCormack can fulfill that role.

There was an oft repeated move in the last game where McCormack would gather the ball, run at a defence that was dealing with the threat of Varney from the left, knowing it is necessary to cover this. However, rather than going down this route, Paul Green would run from the right midfield position, moving inside like an attacking central midfielder, and dash past the defensive line as McCormack played the ball over the top. It occurred two or three times and lead to the penalty. It is obviously a set move that is a work in progress, but if they crack it, it could become incredibly dangerous.

Before I cover even further why this isn’t possible to defend against easily, there are two final pieces to the attacking puzzle. David Norris is the most obvious one. Genuinely considered by some to be the midfielder with the best timing of runs in the Football League, Norris proved his ability to arrive at the correct moment with Varney’s knockdown that led to the third goal. In fact, this was the second time he pulled the run off perfectly, and he probably should have done better with his first opportunity.

Secondly, the full backs are of note. Both Peltier and White have the potential to be crossing threats in the final third, especially with Green and Varney both naturally drifting inside. Pearce and Lees, with Austin sat in front of them, are likely a solid enough back three to deal with counter attacks and breaks, especially with White’s rapid pace allowing him to get back and cover if necessary. This allows them to push up when attacking, overlapping the ostensible actual wide players. I am a huge fan of this – with both pushing down the wings, it becomes difficult for a defence to maintain shape and requires the involvement of their midfield to cover for the additional players. Many times, teams are not disciplined enough to ensure this occurs. This means crosses from the left and right can be aimed for Becchio, who is a great one-touch converter of the ball when on form, and with Warnock drilling the skills into him, he should have a good season in front of goal.

Going back to the movement therefore, with McCormack dropping deep, he has a wealth of options ahead of him. Green can run inside, and the defence cannot cover for it – a center back will be occupied by Becchio, full backs need to cover for Varney and the right back respectively, one center back will probably deal with McCormack or offer additional cover for Varney, Norris needs to be controlled by the central midfield pair, given his runs, or he will pounce on any knockdowns. Our full backs will provide the width for crosses, whilst Varney will also attempt to get on to these and help out Becchio. Without sacrificing solidity, Leeds will genuinely have around seven attackers in an attacking phase of play, with the additional ability to counteract counter attacks. In defensive movements, our additional ‘central midfielder’ will stop the years of being overrun in the center of the park.

I hope this is all understandable, but watching Leeds last week gave me hope. Whilst we seemed neutered in attack last season, there is likely enough in the way of movement to allow us to create goals. Warnock has, with his ability to maneuver in the market, probably created a team with the right amount of attack and defence. This bodes well.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to read other pieces analysing tactics in a team without tactics.

Summer Reading

You’re sat on the toilet, clutching a bottle of hair conditioner. You’ve read all of these instructions before, you know exactly how long it should be applied to your hair for. But you need to read it again. You’ve finished all of Harry Potter. You’re now a Hairy Pooper. You need something to read, but no one has bought anything for you for a while. So you turn back to the conditioner bottle. But then again, you’ve heard about something that exists somewhere in the world. Book shops. Someone opens the door and shouts at you, “Book shops don’t exist anymore! Go on Amazon you daft bastard!”. Seeing as you have little concern for the plight of the bookseller, you decide to follow the command. You need something to read, after all. But there’s lots of books on there. If you’re not careful, you may end up buying mummy porn.

So you’re on this blog aren’t you? That means you probably like football. Barring a few exceptions, we’ve tended to avoid other sports like the plague, not that there is anything wrong with them. We’re genuinely not suggesting Tennis will give you Buboes. None of us have the requisite medical training to say that. Although, we also don’t have the requisite medical training to say it won’t give you bubonic plague. Maybe don’t risk it.

Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, football. And reading. Any Reading fans that have accidentally stumbled onto this page expecting to hear about Brian McDermott, look away now. There’s too many yokes to be had about his eggsellently shaped head. But onto the topic at hand, reading. Over the last year, I’ve read several excellent books about football and feel they need to be recommended. I clearly think my opinion is worth sharing, even if it might not be. You’ve chosen to read this though. Sucks to be you.

The books! Yes! I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic by…Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Lagercrantz is, not only, the most entertaining football related read I’ve had, but arguably one of the most unintentionally hilarious books I’ve ever had the luck of laying my eyes on. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, clearly heavily quoted word for word by the likely ghostwriter, manages to paint the life of a modern football with great success. He unravels the reality behind his movements in the transfer market, the importance of signing-on clauses and the general nature of ‘player power’ in today’s market. The segment on his signing for and departure from Barcelona is incredible. If you are interested in the contrasting management styles of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, this book is also right up your alley.

Aside from that, you get to look inside the brain of a man who is, undoubtedly, a genius at the game. Ibra, as he is called around the world, has never really received the respect he deserves for his immense ability. When reading the book, those of us who genuinely don’t have the ability to even conceive of the thought process behind those spectacular strikes are allowed a glimpse at the manner in which the synapses fire. You can finally pretend you understand what it feels like to score a wondertonk before running off and screaming your own name.

Not only this, but I Am Zlatan covers the actual nature of his upbringing, and reveals much about him as a person. It turns out, in the words of Alan Partridge, that Zlatan has spent much of his life being a “mentalist”. His childhood is punctuated by poverty and a kleptomania that is almost impressive. His proclivity towards violence is at times, stunning, and his beliefs regarding head-butting people need to read to be believed. Reading between the lines, one can paint a picture of a man who would be avoided like the plague were he not a footballer. If you want a snappy read that is incredibly entertaining, this is certainly worth picking up.

Also of note is Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, a history of tactics that is very interesting. Interesting is the word to describe it. This is not to say that it is not worth reading, but do not expect the sheer EPW (entertainment per word) rate of Zlatan. I particularly found the explanation of squad numbers in various nations interesting, but that’s probably because I’m quite weird. Discussions about the myriad evolutions of tactics across the world, and the manner in which English football has managed to fall behind are great, and have managed to inspire a dislike of Graham Taylor in me that belies my age and football watching experience. Wilson’s exploration of Eastern European football is also incredibly fascinating, as a segment of football that is rarely covered in the western world. If you view yourself as a mini-Guardiola or, more accurately, Bielsa, this is also certainly worth a purchase and read. You’ll be able to bore your friends for hours with the difference between an English and European number 6.

Finally, as an aside, The Blizzard, also edited by Jonathan Wilson, is probably the premiere football magazine on the market at this point. Available both in hardcopy and as a digital download, The Blizzard features writers being allowed to explore any aspect of football that they choose. This frees them and leads to exceptional pieces of writing, such as comparisons between Don Revie and Richard Nixon, and a personal favourite, The Ballad of Bobby Manager from Iain Macintosh. Available on a pay what you like basis from the Blizzard website, go buy it now.

Purchase the above books on Amazon.co.uk or other websites:

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to hear about other books he reads and less boring things.