How Bob Bradley Could Learn from Owen Coyle

Jan 11, 2010 - Bolton, United Kingdom - Bolton Wanderers new manager OWEN COYLE unveiled at the Reebok stadium.


Owen Coyle, a manager who has a knack for getting the most out of his players, is one of the English Premier League’s up-and-coming coaches. On Saturday, the Bolton Wanderers gaffer had another opportunity to prove his underdogs could hang with the big boys when his club took on London powerhouse Arsenal.

Coyle Reacts to Arsenal’s Shape

Coyle had his squad begin the match in their standard 4-4-2. However, they soon had difficulty preventing Arsenal from passing around their central midfield duo of Stuart Holden and Fabrice Muamba. As can be seen in the figure below, Arsenal were using a 4-2-3-1, though left winger Andrei Arshavin sometimes played higher than striker Chamakh (who was operating as a false-nine).

In the diagram, blue circles denote defenders, midfielders are in red, and strikers are yellow.

Arsenal's 4-2-3-1

After Arsenal’s first goal, Coyle, observing that his squad was being overrun, moved winger Chung-Yong Lee in front of Holden and Muamba. Additionally, he shifted striker Johan Elmander out to the flank, making their formation a 4-2-3-1. But in contrast to a traditional 4-2-3-1, Elmander would move alongside his fellow striker Kevin Davies when Bolton was in possession.

Bolton's 4-2-3-1

These adjustments – in conjunction with the inward runs of outside midfielder Martin Petrov – reduced Arsenal’s ability to saunter through Bolton’s midfield. The visitors even found an equalizer while using this formation. Regrettably, a harsh red card to center back Gary Cahill nixed Coyle’s plans and Bolton were hard-pressed to prevent more than the two goals Arsenal scored after the defender’s dismissal (Arsenal also notched a second before the red card, but it came off a corner kick).

Bolton’s Formation in Relation to the USMNT

Much like Owen Coyle, Bob Bradley’s formation of choice is the 4-4-2, a shape he’s used for the vast majority of his four year stint as USA’s manager. Unfortunately, Charlie Davies’ October 2009 car crash left Bradley without one of the cogs in his system, a striker who can contribute when pushed wide. Bradley has yet to find an adequate replacement.

USA using Bolton's formation

Since Bradley has shown that he’s reluctant to ever field less than two strikers, Coyle’s 4-2-3-1 presents a tantalizing alternative. As noted above, Johan Elmander (a striker) functioned as a midfielder when Bolton were defending, but when his teammates were in possession, he would move up top. Were Bradley ever to use this system, Clint Dempsey, given his facility at both striker and outside midfield, could easily step into Elmander’s spot. Of course, Dempsey and attacking midfielder Holden would need to be cognizant of their positioning at all times. If they drifted forward at the same time, left back Carlos Bocanegra would have to defend a lot of space by himself. Still, this version of a 4-2-3-1 – which has been used by Spain and, to a lesser extent, Brazil – should at least give Bradley food for thought.

Gringos, can you ever see Bradley employing this type of formation?

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    Ya know, I think Bob may eventually come around to using Dempsey as a full-time striker/midfielder. He does it a lot in second halves and, as you said, the problems with Davies’ replacements may finally force him to start Dempsey in that type of position.

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