Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
Could it be that the great tactical philosopher Marilyn Monroe had Wrexham’s 2015-16 season in mind when she declared “a passing approach can be quite continental, but diamonds are a fan’s best friend?”
Certainly Gary Mills’ switch to a midfield diamond has rejuvenated our season, but has meant we’ve had to adapt to a very different style of play
All tactics have benefits and disadvantages and Mills has made some interesting trade-offs in adopting this new approach.
The main drawback to the system is a lack of width. The full backs are where you expect to get width from in this set-up, and Sean Newton clearly enjoys that part of his game with his love of playing in straight lines, driving forwards and delivering into the box.
On the other flank Mark Carrington is not so comfortable with that role, understandably as he’s a converted midfielder who doesn’t look to accelerate past his man. He’s been excellent defensively since Mills finally decided to see what he could do in the back four, but to replicate Newton’s attacking thrust on the right he’d probably want to deploy Javan Vidal.
Balancing our lack of width is the congestion we cause in central areas when we lose the ball. It’s no coincidence that we haven’t conceded since switching to a diamond because our narrow midfield clogs up the middle of the pitch making it very difficult to pass through us.
Conceding the flanks and allowing the opposition to create overloads and get crosses in is a risk we’re willing to take as the likes of Manny Smith, Blaine Hudson and Jamal Fyfield are happy to head the ball away all day. Hudson’s excellent form may well be attributable to this as he gets to focus on what he’s best at: defending his area.
Making the pitch narrow has reduced the action at both ends. There have been 15 goals in our last 8 games, but there were 29 in the 9 before that.
The most radical changes we’ve had to get used to are the directness of our style and the resulting loss of control in midfield. You’d have to go back to at least the 1980s to find a Wrexham side as direct as this one, and it does take a little getting used to. We’re willing to concede possession to maximise the number of times we can get Kayden Jackson running in behind opposing defences. It’s very similar to Leicester’s approach this season. They have the third lowest possession percentage and lowest pass completion rate in the Premier League – indeed it’s the third lowest in the big five European leagues – but their priority is to get the ball into areas where Jamie Vardy can do damage.
This makes watching Wrexham feel different. We can’t judge performances on whether we’re on top of the game, but purely on whether we’re effective in creating and denying chances. It feels uncomfortable to not control the ball, but you can’t play on the break if you dominate possession. We’re having to get used to a new style of play, but if it gets us promoted that’s fine by us!