The Anatomy of England: Graham Taylor’s 5-3-2

Another tactic based on losing a match? Check. Another formation that a manager used for the first time to try and fix a problem with the squad? Check. Another direct attacking tactic? Check. This campaign’s tactic shares some very similar traits with the Steve McClaren 4-3-3, but it has two main areas where it differs. McClaren’s England was overpopulated with attacking players, his 4-3-3 was an attempt to fit his key attacking midfielders into his side, Graham Taylor’s problem was different, he only had one decent attacking midfielder and this tactic was designed as a framework to allow him to perform to his best. It was also designed to combat a specific opposition strength, but that backfired spectacularly. 

Line-upThe other difference? I’ll get to that in a minute, first I want to talk about a man called Charles Reep. Charles Reep was a match analyst and a massive advocate for direct football, the kind you rarely see today. He believed that teams had the best chance of scoring from moves that consisted of three passes or fewer, he had other views but this is the very core of his ideas. As well as being briefly mentioned in the book this series is based on, he also takes up a chapter of his own in ‘Inverting the Pyramid’, a book I loved and would highly recommend for any football fan interested in the tactical side of the game. 

Between Reep, Charles Hughes (the FA Technical director who believed in passing moves of five or less) and Taylor’s own history of managing teams playing direct, aggressive pressing football, there was only one way this England side were going to play. And that is the second difference, McClaren’s England didn’t like to press, Taylor’s did. This wasn’t pressing as we know it, I doubt that anyone in the squad would have ever heard of a pressing trap or had ever thought about when to trigger a press. It was far more, your classic English aggressive in your face football, every man pressing for himself. Pep would have gone spare. 

Team InstructionsAs we’re talking team instructions let’s have a look at those first. ‘Much More Direct Passing’ is a given, remember 1-3/1-5 passes per move, with ‘Play For Set Pieces’ active as well, Taylor and Reep both held set pieces in high regard. I’m looking to ‘Counter-Press’ as well as ‘Counter’, counter-press aids our pressing game with Taylor rating balls won back in the final third as highly as balls played into the final third, a belief that allegedly led to the breakdown of their working relationship, while counter encourages quick direct transitions when opposition attacks break down. 

I’m also asking my goalkeeper to ‘Take Long Kicks’. I could have chosen ‘Distribute to Target Man’, especially as both Sheringham and Ferdinand were accomplished at hold up play, however, I don’t want us to be too one dimensional and just lump balls up to them. With ‘Takes Long Kicks’ I’m allowing my keeper to make a better decision on the ball and while he plays most balls to the strikers, he also hits the wide men and my Gascoigne based player as well.

Finally, we have my out of possession instructions, ‘Higher Defensive Line’ and ‘Higher Line of Engagement’ both make sense to help our press, as does a ‘More Urgent’ press, obviously. Finally, to recreate that aggressive English football spirit I’ve added ‘Get Stuck In’ because England. 

This is all played on my favorite mentality ‘Control’, this means we’ll take more risks with the ball but not too crazy. I want to see riskier balls but I don’t want to see my centre-backs trying to dribble down the pitch, mentality affects both of these. This will be my first port of call when looking to change in a match, ether ramping it up when we’re struggling to create chances or dropping it down if we’re giving too much away. 

RolesNow it’s time to get into the meat and bones of the tactic, how have I recreated everyone’s roles. Woods becomes a regular goalkeeper, I’ve said this before, this will probably be the norm going forward. Pallister, Adams, and Walker were your classic English Centre-Back and No-Nonsense Centre-Back is the perfect choice to copy them. This, combined with my Centre-Backs being pretty good on the ball, has had the unintended consequence of giving us a real secret weapon with early and decent balls from the back surprising opposition defences. 

Moving forward I would normally play a playmaker in the holding role in this formation, ala Henderson as a Deep Lying Playmaker on support for my Southgate re-creation but Palmer was no playmaker. He was a classic Taylor midfielder, hard-working and aggressive so I’ve opted for a Defensive Midfielder on support to recreate that and give us an out ball in the same way Henderson did. I could have opted for a Ball Winning Midfielder on support but I don’t want him chasing the ball halfway up the pitch, leaving us without cover. In front of him, my Platt role is a Mezzala on support, I originally had him as a Box to Box Midfielder, however, I wanted someone who would attack the box and get into the half-spaces a bit more. If I’m being honest a Box To Box Midfielder is probably the truer representation for Platt but my plan here is to modernize this style and get it to work, a Mezzala gives us a little bit of unpredictability in attack and I like that. This time I’ve gone for an Advanced Playmaker on attack for Gascoigne, I’ve allowed him to roam to re-create the freedom he was given and I will look into lowering his pressing. While that would be more authentic, it could upset the balance of the team, just like it did in real life. 

Wide I have Dixon replicated with a Wing Back on attack, he will be given the freedom to bomb up the wing knowing he has a decent midfield to cover if need be, opposite him I have Sharpe replicated by a Defensive Winger on Support, Sharpe was a natural winger but allowing him to play as such would leave us open on the side with our only midfielder on attack, playing as a defensive winger will see him utilise his natural winger talents but with a bit more defensive responsibility. 

And we end on my striker pair, Sheringham was easy, he was probably the first English Deep Lying Forward, I’m playing him on support as he dropped deeper than Ferdinand, talking of Ferdinand, this is the role I struggled with the most, Both men held up the ball so it had to be a role that ether had that instruction or could have it added, he also popped up wide quite often looking for space, while Sheringham tended to stay central, so the roles need to be able to replicate that. It has to be an attack duty, he was the more aggressive of England’s two strikers. That left a Deep Lying Forward, a Target Man or a Complete Forward, I tried a Target Man but we just ended up hitting aimless balls towards him so I opted for a Deep Lying Forward, however, recently I’ve been wondering if we’re lacking penetration with him dropping deeper, so moving towards the World Cup, I don’t think it’s a massive spoiler to say that as of writing this we’ve qualified for the World Cup, I’m going to play around with using a Complete Forward. 

So there you have it, my modernised take on Graham Taylor’s 3-5-2. I mentioned about changing the mentality depending on how the games going, another thing I do is up the defensive line and pressing when we’re struggling against teams. This is a classic England football fan thing, who hasn’t seen a ‘Yer Da’ type shouting that ‘x’ team just need to fight for it a bit more and show ‘a bit more heart’. “Get fucking stuck in mate!!” So in a classic English style, we’ll just show a bit more heart when struggling and press more. Let’s hope it works or Brazier 2 will be on The Sun’s back pages again and we’ll see the return of ‘The Twat with a Hat’

Thanks to Keysi for hosting me, you can find the rest of my England series here. You can find me in FM Slack which you can join here, my channel is #braziers-england. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram. I also have my own blog where I talk about random rubbish with its own TwitterFacebookInstagram, and fledgling YouTube.

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