When I say “increasingly popular”, I mean within the English Premier League as many overseas teams have utilised this formation for quite some time now. Since it’s inception some time around the 1980s, there has been some debate on whether this is what could be described as an ‘attacking’ formation, or merely a variation on the 4-5-1 system, making it more flexible in attack by allowing three of the central five to move forward to support an old fashioned ‘number nine’ type figure who can both hold the ball and shoot.
Anyway, in Newcastle United’s case on Friday evening, this line up involved the use of Leon Best upfront, supported by Hatem Ben Arfa in a kind of midfield playmaker / second striker type role. On either side of Ben Arfa were Haris Vuckic on the left with Joey Barton in his right sided role from last season. Playing the more defensive role further back in midfield there was Alan Smith and Danny Guthrie, with (L to R) Shane Ferguson, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson and Danny Simpson making up the usual back four (see picture). Admittedly, the personnel were much changed later on as is usually the case in such friendly games, but the principle remained much the same throughout most of the game. In an interesting side point though, much vaunted new signing, Yohan Cabaye was later used in the more defensive midfield two after poor Danny Guthrie had to come off with an ankle knock sustained after only eleven minutes of the game.
As most of you will know, the game was a modest 2-0 victory against decidedly lacklustre opposition for a Premiership side, with the goals coming from Joey Barton and Sammy Ameobi. You may also know that the events of the game were largely overshadowed by the “If Ameobi scores, we’re on the pitch” style antics too, though as far as the game itself went, this formation seemed to be the most interesting development to me personally.
When the game was over, manager, Alan Pardew assessed it thusly on the club’s official website:
“It’s early days but we had a lot more control tonight, as you would expect against lower league opposition.
“We were excellent for long periods of the game. Certainly at the start we passed the ball, moved the ball and controlled the game.
“We did it with a purpose – I thought Hatem (Ben Arfa) was excellent, especially the workrate he put in and his performance. That bodes well, but four or five of our players are right up to speed already as you could see.
“We caused them a lot of problems and could have had a bigger scoreline. All the youngsters who came on towards the end carried that on, so it was a good night on the football pitch.”
So I will conclude by asking the question, is this a taste of things to come for the coming season from Pardew or just a one off experiment. We have already heard Pardew expressing a wish to utilise Ben Arfa in a second striker role rather than on the wing when he said:
“Next season? He will play a central role in our attacking line. I want to use him as a playmaker, a number 10, just behind one forward.
So perhaps this is more than a mere one-off experiment. Do you think so? And if so, will it be a good thing for the side?