Kerala Blasters' manager Peter Taylor is the only one to employ the 3-5-2 system in the Indian Super League, and it is failing in the face of adversity. After the 3-2 loss to FC Pune City, his side sits at the very bottom of the table, with the team above them, NorthEast United, two points ahead with a match in hand.
This was not how it was supposed to be for last year's finalists, an achievement which highlights Taylor and his underachieving team's failures even more.
The three-man defence, with supporting wingbacks, a defensive midfielder, two playmakers and two strikers is a complex system which takes time to get adjusted to. When it works, it looks beautiful, transitioning from a 5-3-2 when you don't have the ball, into a 3-5-2 when you have it. Goals from midfield are a certainty. Supply to forwards isn't an issue as well. When it fails though, even a master tactician and one of the most celebrated coaches of this era, Louis van Gaal ditches it.
The current Manchester United boss simply didn't have the midfield and multi-functional wingers to play the system. Even Taylor, miles away in India, clearly does not. That he has stuck to his guns despite three losses in a row is commendable, but also a risk that hasn't reaped rewards.
Taylor has interestingly used it before, many many times. In his previous job at Gillingham United in the League One in England, he used it eight times. He won just six points from those games. Twice he used a 5-3-2 and he won just once.
He used it in his only game in charge of the England national team — a slightly different version of it, a 3-4-1-2, with Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Southgate as his three defenders and Nicky Butt protecting them. He played Ray Parlour on the right, David Beckham in the middle of the park and Gareth Barry on the left. They were up against Italy in a friendly, and lost.
Ironically, Italy had deployed a 3-5-2 as well, but they had Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paulo Maldini in defence. Unsurprisingly, Gennaro Gattuso was defensive midfielder. Those are the sort of players you need to understand this system. Over time, it can be done with his players. But in a short tournament like this, it's a bad idea.
Which is why he shifted back to a 4-4-2 in the second half, a move which added more bite to the way they played. Opposition coach David Platt said that his side controlled the match after the half-time whistle, but in effect, Pune were trying to slow things down as Kerala pushed: "End-to-end football is what looks good on television and to the neutral, but I wanted my team to control things and that's what coaches want to do," Platt said.
Moving to a 4-4-2 means Taylor had to put his best centre-back Sandesh Jhingan on the right. It's a waste. Also, what help is it putting five defenders on the team — two of them managing the wings as well as tracking back in a high-intensity sport, in a country where the conditions are not quite conducive for this practice?
There is nothing wrong with the three-man or the five-man formations. Managers world wide use it. The only issue is the over-reliance on wing-backs. And Rahul Bheke seems to be the only player on Kerala's roster who is good at defending, and an excellent crosser of the ball to boot.
Taylor should opt for a simpler approach, because he has a side that has midfielders, wingers and forwards who can control matches. It's possible that Victor Pulga's return to fitness will trigger the switch to a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1. The only win Kerala recorded in this edition of the ISL was against NorthEast United, when Taylor played CK Vineeth on the left, a roving winger who is used to that position.
Taylor himself admitted that the reason his side were losing was that they were giving away silly goals. With wing-backs deployed, a team will always leave pockets of spaces in the channels, and Platt exposed them: "We wanted to use Nicky Shorey and Pritam Kotal in the channels to expose a three-man defence," he said. Shorey ended the game with three assists.
Firstpost asked Taylor whether something radical was needed to change the results.
"We may do something radical, because we have given ourselves a mountain to climb and only a fantastic run of wins will help us. We've got three games at home now and will make the most of it," he said.
It's easy to sit and criticise a team which has lost so much in the last few weeks and the solution may not be as simple as a tweak in formation. But if Taylor has the guts to play a 3-5-2, he clearly has it in him to play a more straightforward 4-4-2.
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Updated Date: Oct 28, 2015 13:38:33 IST