For too long, Motherwell have been long ball merchants, with a hit it high and hope style of play being largely ineffective throughout the course of this season.
The Steelmen’s tactics before the winter break were quite simple. It was back to front in a matter of seconds, via a long ball from defence to Curtis Main.
This worked last season for Motherwell. They had a good physical squad, but the loss of key players to that system like Cedric Kipre, Louis Moult and Ryan Bowman in the past year have hindered this style of play.
Dubbed ‘hammer throwers’ at any opportunity, Motherwell’s 3-5-2 caused real problems for opponents last season, but it needed to change.
It may have taken until January, but Motherwell’s switch from three at the back to a 4-4-2 of sorts has seen Motherwell leave the relegation scrap and enter the hunt for a top six finish.
Small change, big difference
The formation change Stephen Robinson has implemented is working wonders. Whilst it’s a revamped 4-4-2 on paper, it takes the form of a 4-3-3 going forward.
It has given the widemen more room to breathe, whilst allowing Robinson to keep three midfielders in the centre of the park.
Jake Hastie and Gboly Ariyibi are key to this working. Their pace and creativity means full-backs have to get closer to their man, opening up spaces in behind defensive back-lines.
Motherwell still go long, but instead of hitting Main in the middle, they hit the flanks. The Well’s third goal against Livingston was a great example of this.
Mark Gillespie collected the ball in his box, channelled his inner Tom Brady, and threw it 60 yards in the direction of Hastie. He sent two Livingston defenders tumbling and chipped the ball over Liam Kelly in the Livi net.
Beforehand this would have went to Main, who had limited options in the old 3-5-2, due to the defensive responsibilities of the widemen in this formation. Now it’s the wingers that are the focus point of attacks, which seems to work better. Whilst it’s still long ball, it’s long with a purpose.
Having a flat back four means Hastie and Ariyibi have few defensive responsibilities. This was not the case with 3-5-2, where Motherwell’s wingers had to put in a shift to get back and defend. They now sit higher up the park, meaning Motherwell are now an effective counter-attacking unit.
Robinson hasn’t changed the way Motherwell play too much. Instead he has focused on how to get something that works for everyone. His new formation allows him to keep playing similarly to what Motherwell have done before, but it now gets the best out of players, and it’s better for fans to watch. For that, Robinson deserves credit.