Why can't we play four at the back?

So I was thinking about this on Sunday. I've seen a lot of comments which seem to make sense as to why a back four won't work.

Some include:

We needed a specialist defensive midfielder!
We need a quicker, more dynamic midfield two!
We need a faster right full-back!
We need two better central defenders!
We need to play three at the back!
We need to drop Anderson!
We need to drop Noble!
We need to drop Zabaleta!
We need to drop Ogbonna!

So what are everybody's thoughts? This is a thread specifically on the formation of the side & whether four at the back can work, how can it or will it never work with the current squad, or is it 'outdated' (which is how one report described our formation on Saturday).

As a comparison, Bournemouth also lined up with two strikers & four in midfield, four in defence. They played two central midfielders in Surman (aged 32) & Gosling (aged 28), compared to our midfield two of Noble (31) & Wilshere (26). How were they able to do it successfully, & have done for a while now?

17 of the current 20 Premier League sides operate with a back four. Wolves, Man City, Southampton are the only sides who have used a back 3/5 so far this season.

Can anybody solve this case?


  • How good were Bournemouth when they first introduced it, how long did it take them to be performing to their best in it, and does it always work for them?

    Genuine questions, if we are comparing us in that formation.
  • MrsG - yeah they are questions that would need to be known, but I was using them as more of a comparison to dispel some of the statements I've read. For example, Bournemouth don't have young, dynamic CM's, nor do they have a specialist DM. Their defence is not quick & they are playing with two natural strikers. If they can do it, no matter how long it took, without the ingredients we seem to 'lack', then surely we can too?
  • edited August 2018
    Burnley & Watford, another two sides, both lined up 4-4-2 (or variations of). Watford more a 4-2-2-2 with Gray & Deeney up top & Burnley more a 4-4-1-1. So two other sides we'd hope to compete with playing a flat back four & two players up the pitch.

    I just fail to see how we can't master playing a back four, even with our midfield options. Sanchez & Obiang, even Noble & Wilshere, are experienced enough to play a disciplined midfield role. We have two very fast full-backs, who should be capable of marking any winger & then it comes down to whoever is playing in those attacking positions (the wingers & forwards) doing their defensive duty for the side. So Anderson & Antonio/Snodgrass/Yarmolenko getting back to cover the full-back, as well as Arnie & Hernandez/Perez etc putting pressure on high up the pitch so sides can't just pick passes at ease. I mean all that any player with a brain would no to do without instruction from the coaching staff but Pelle needs to get the side doing it.

    Pelle said he wanted an attacking, pressing game but, & I know it takes time, there has been no evidence of us pressing & closing down the opposition so far, just sitting back & defending.
  • We gave away two soft goals.
    Our defence were dozy. They need to concentrate for full game.
    Imo it's leadership on the pitch we are lacking, we need players who are not afraid to tell our players. Whether it's praise them or to to blast them.
    We as a team are too quite on the pitch.
    It's early days yet. I'm hoping it will get better.
  • Lack of instensity all over the pitch. Moyes almost drilled it out of us, looks like Pellegrini doesn’t do instensity, so back to square one.
  • I think we are too nice on the pitch we are not doing the hard work and sometimes the darker side of the game . Bournemouth sat back, pressed us and forced us into turning over possession then countered . They were also not adverse to time wasting , fake injuries and slowing the game down much like Burnley did last year to make the game stop start and to quieten the crowd. I would like to see us abit more aggressive in pressing and if need be a bit more savvy, a quick foul on the halfway line would of stopped the first goal and resulted in a yellow card and we could of have regrouped. I am not saying I want us to turn into Stoke but a bit more street wise maybe we are too much of a soft touch at the moment.
  • I can't help but wonder if we would be better if Rice dropped back into a central defensive three.

    We bought two defenders yet I do think we moved the best defender we have into midfeild.

    Then again Dave Allen must know what he is doing and changing an ethos of a club takes time. We may need to get worse before we get better.
  • We can do worse ok, it's the doing well I'm looking forward to.
  • I know it is early days, with new players and a new manager but the way
    we are performing at the moment is about as good as an average
    Championship side. If we havn't sorted this debacle out within the next couple
    of games, I can see us once again being in a relegation dog fight once again.
  • I feel we needed another season or two with a manager like Moyes. After that foundation is built we could go 4. I really hope Pellegrini proves me wrong.
  • Moyes for me had good organized defense, that allowed us to attack very well. Brought the best out of Lanzini and Arnie.
  • Moyes played a back five & five midfielders ahead of them & sat back, yet we still had a terrible defensive record.

    Pellegrini has got his work cut out if he wants to play 4-4-2 & go for games.
  • He has his work cut out with another loss. Teams are going to smell the blood and up their game against us.
  • The stats are quite stark when it comes to 3 at the back vs 4 at the back (although there are other factors to consider). The formation data comes from transfermarkt.

    Over the last 2 seasons, we’ve conceded 2.24 goals playing 4 at the back vs 1.43 playing 3 at the back (although 1.43 still isn’t that good!).

    Taking out the top 6, we’ve conceded 2.09 goals playing 4 at the back vs 0.9 goals playing 3 at the back.

    That being said, I don’t see why we can’t play 4 at the back. It will just take time to get used to the formation.
  • I don’t think we can play with four at the back with Noble and Wiltshire in centre mid.
  • I agree Suz, but I also don’t think we can play 4 at the back with Arnautovic and Hernandez in centre mid. Not one of those four players are actually defensive midfielders.

    It was just a poor tactical decision from Pelle, which he hopefully won’t do again.
  • In my opinion:

    If we play 4 at the back and we have 1 true defensive midfielder, then we need to play a midfield three (i.e. 4-3-3 with Noble and Wilshere slightly ahead).

    If we play 4 at the back and we have 2 true defensive midfielders, then we can have everyone else attacking (i.e. 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2).
  • I really do think that with our current squad a back three is a no brainer. We need points (a point!) from somewhere and that means stop conceding goals. We also have some excellent attacking options if we played three at CB. Quick wingbacks with Masuaku and Fredericks, creative midfield players such as Anderson and Wilshere and Arnautovic who did so well last season playing in this formation.

    We have better players than last season and Pelle needs to get the most out of them.

    For me

    3 x CB (Rice, Ogbonna +1)
    2 x WB (Masuaku and Fredericks)
    2 x CM (Wilshere and Obiang or Noble)
    3 x Up top (Anderson, Arnautovic +1)

    This set up is similar to Bilic and Moyes, but with 3 - 5 better players (on paper at least)

  • Exeter - Noble is injured
  • So

    3 x CB (Rice, Ogbonna +1)
    2 x WB (Masuaku and Fredericks)
    2 x CM (Wilshere and Obiang)
    3 x Up top (Anderson, Arnautovic +1
  • Question..... why can’t we play 4 at the back?

    Answer......we can. We can play any formation the manager chooses. However, it might not be right for that game. Or it might be.
    Still, you never know. I’ve lost track since football became a science and not a sport.
  • Doesn’t matter if you play 4 or 5 at the back if you don’t do the basics ie talk tackle and mark your man you will concede goals and if you keep possession the opposition can’t score simples, you can spend double we have but if the defending is like a pub team we will struggle and if teams I’d run before defended like we did in particular against Bournemouth I’d have been ranting and raving believe me
  • The only Premier League team not playing with four at the back is Wolves (Newcastle went with three at the back against Chelsea but had played four at the back in the other two games).
  • Newcastle went with three nine at the back against Chelsea
    Fixed it! ;wink
  • Looks like we can
  • edited September 2018
    Rice is integral to making the back four work. Not only is he very good as a DM which affords them plenty of protection, but he can comfortably drop in between the CBs and make it five when we're under the cosh.

    Key player for us now, IMO.
  • Also must be said Pellegrini has persisted with Diop and Balbuena who looked very uncomfortable but now look to have a very good partnership

    Think both of then have been massive I these last 2 wins

    Also massive respect for zab who has shown his class the last few games

    Anothwe shoutout to Obiang who has risen to the occasion and givesthe midfield real energy and athleticism. He closes down the opposition as good as anyone in our team which means they have less time to pick their passes

    We are gonna have games where we struggle but Pellegrini has managed to find a balance
  • #theengineerknowsbest
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