4-2-1-3, 4-3-3 or Something Else?

Last season the 4-3-3 formation employed by Ian Holloway was a revelation. Most teams faced in the Championship lined up in the traditional, if rapidly unfashionable, 4-4-2. While it took some time to get used to, once the players were familiar with the system most opponents struggled to cope with the way in which ‘Pool attacked and the end of season form helped propel the Seasiders into the Premier League.
Despite the success under this system, Holloway opted to tweak the formation and instead play a 4-2-1-3 for the opening game at Wigan, sticking with this formation for every game aside from the failed experiment at Chelsea. This was perhaps forced due to Keith Southern’s injury ruling him out of the first four weeks of the season – it’s hard to imagine that Southern would have been dropped for Elliot Grandin if he had been fit.
Grandin has since dropped out of the side periodically however, with Southern yet to start in the Premier League. With the former Marseille player benched, it has been down to Gary Taylor-Fletcher to occupy the role behind the front three on two occasions, with little success – both games ended in defeat, to Blackburn and Birmingham respectively. Taylor-Fletcher has handled the step up to the top flight very well in my opinion, but has been noticeably less effective when playing in the more withdrawn role.
Below you can see how ‘Pool lined up against Birmingham on Saturday.

 
As I wrote on Sunday, Marlon Harewood struggled out on the right, with the side often being overrun when defending. Following two disappointing results, it appears likely that Holloway may now choose to change not only personnel, but the system too. Ian Holloway has come out and said that different players may be given a chance, mentioning Southern and Ludovic Sylvestre among others. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a place in the starting XI for Southern or Sylvestre would mean a different formation, as neither David Vaughan nor Charlie Adam are likely to be dropped.
See the below diagram for how I expect Holloway to set out his side against West Brom.
It seems inevitable that Keith Southern will now get his first Premier League start and I can see him being reunited with his midfield partners from last season, Vaughan and Adam. The extra bite that Southern offers may be what the Seasiders require to be more combative on their own pitch. Elsewhere, following impressive cameos from the subs’ bench, Matt Phillips could well earn his first start. Phillips’ defensive awareness might not be the best just yet, but with Southern tucked in midfield giving the ‘Pool backline more protection, it will give Phillips more licence to do what he does best…attack. With a wealth of attacking options at his disposal, Harewood may have to settle for a place on the bench after his disappointing display at St. Andrews, while Luke Varney’s strong run in the side may come to an end. DJ Campbell is hard to drop, despite his mini goal drought, and Taylor-Fletcher would be the sole aerial outlet in the above scenario.
Then again, Holloway could throw us all a complete curveball. The manager has done it before, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past him again. Sylvestre, Chris Basham and David Carney have all been unlucky not to make an impact since their arrival, and with the promise of changes from Holloway, it may be their chance to shine. Similarly, Dekel Keinan was probably unlucky to be dropped after his performance at Anfield. So many options…who’d be a manager?
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