The debate between whether Leeds United’s default 4-5-1 formation, or the flatter 4-4-2 Simon Grayson has reverted to in our last two games is the better option is approaching ‘Mike Bassett – England Manager’ territory, so before it gets too out of hand we thought we’d take a look at the evidence supporting both options and let you make up your own mind.

The obvious place to start is with how many points each formation produces on average.

Statistically speaking…

G Av. GS Av. GC Av. PPG
4 – 5 – 1 22 2 1.45 1.72
4 – 4 – 2 8 1.357 1.875 1.357

A clear win here for the 4-5-1 formation. However, things aren’t all that black and white as Leeds United have switched to 4-4-2 in losing positions several times this season to go on and earn points from a game.

Starting out with 4-5-1, we’ve switched to 4-4-2 when behind against Portsmouth (A), Burnley (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Millwall (H). In all four of these games we were behind when the switch took place and between the four games we went on to turn it around and secure a total of 10 additional points.

If we were to argue that without the change in formation the games would have ended as they were, the average amount of points Leeds would have secured using 4-5-1 drops to 1.27 – less than the average points won starting with the 4-4-2 formation.

A little more subjective…

The debate here switches to the different points of views the fans have expressed. The general consensus seems to favour a 4-5-1 formation because of the holding midfield role that helps out our leaky defence.

However, Saturday’s 1-0 win over Coventry City was only the second time this season we’ve won 1-0 at home (the other being v Sheffield United) and on both occasions we played 4-4-2 with Becchio and Somma partnered up front.

Coincidence? Maybe so, but on Saturday’s evidence alone I would have to point out that the defence looked a lot more organised than we see most weeks and seemed to get the support they need from midfield. There are notable contrasting results however, such as the 4-6 embarrassment v Preston, but the 4-5-1 also suffered a 5-2 defeat against Barnsley so it may be fair to chalk these up to the unpredictability of football in general.

The problem, as I see it, with 4-5-1 is that the full-backs seem to think their default position is in the oppositions half whilst the holding role in midfield has yet to be affectively used. I’ve joked several times this season that Leeds’ formation is closer to a 2-0-9 than it is a 4-5-1 and whilst it was said a little tongue-in-cheek, there was some reasoning behind this remark.

The benefit of 4-5-1 is that Jonny Howson can play a supporting role to Becchio upfront which is a position he’s absolutely thrived in. With no shortage of service from Killa, Johnson, the two wingers and the two full-backs, the goals have been flowing at an inordinate rate.

However, with so many attack-minded players on the pitch, where does that leave our defence? On the evidence of how many goals we’ve conceded so far, I think it’s fair to say that the consequences of committing so many players forward has been a comical defensive line-up that every team will expect to score by.

So is 4-4-2 a more balanced alternative to 4-5-1? Does it favour the defence with Howson and Johnson playing more orthodox midfield roles that give the centre-backs the cover they’ve so desperately required? It’s a formation that seemed to serve us well last season when we finished with the best defensive record in the league, so what exactly changed this time around? Vote for your preferred formation and add your thoughts below.

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22 Responses

  1. MinustheRobin

    Good on you for putting it to the vote mate.

    Don’t think the debate will ever end though!

    Interesting to see grayson at the cardiff game today.

  2. Jack Rutter

    Think both formations will play their part between now and the end of the season. With the arrival of a new Batttyesk midfielder imminent (Southern or Stewart) I have felt more comfortable with us playing 4-4-2.

    A new arrival in midfield is very important though, without new additions we should stick to 4-5-1.

    If we assume that a box to box midifelder does sign then having the flexibility to switch formations is a good thing and can only add strength to our promotion push.

  3. Matt Stephenson

    Given our midfield talent, I’d say 4-5-1. In my opinion you get the best out if Howson, Johnson, and Kilkenny in this formation. Gradel and Snoddy would do just as well in a 4-4-2 though.

    When we play 4-4-2 I feel our midfield is a bit too lightweight in comparison.

    That said I don’t think we defend well with either formation, but we seem to score more in 4-5-1.

  4. Yorkiebar

    We have what few other teams have two wide players who can make defenders c@$p themselves. How about 2-3-5 or is it a bit to new fangled?

  5. Dje

    4-4-2 at home against mid to lower league sides, and 4-5-1 away and at home to better teams (especially if they have speedy wide players).

  6. Andy Flynn

    It’s good that we can have this debate, but it really isn’t black and white and probably not the right debate (no offense TSS)

    4-5-1 helped us out after we shipped goals against Barnsley, Preston and Cardiff.

    I also think it gives our wide players more license to roam and the fullbacks chance to support the attack, which is why I don’t think it’s a rigid 4-5-1. It’s not like we are packing out the centre of midfield and deploying defensively minded players (as shown in the goals against column).

    To my reckoning we have played 4-3-3 / 4-4-1-1 / 4-3-2-1 formations at times this season and have a positive approach to the game – we’ll score more goals than you!

    Also, I think you’ll find we have finished a number of games 4-2-4.

    I like the fact we have the depth in the squad to do that and the entertainment value is great, but I did enjoy winning 1-0 yesterday for a change. Coventry were poor mind!

    The debate is actually whether we should start with 1 or 2 out and out strikers. For me, I do prefer it when we set up with 1 because it does allow us to get about teams and dominate the midfield and gives the team a good base and introduce another striker later.

    It’s great that we can switch to 4-4-2 or start 4-4-2 if the manager feels it will defeat the opposition. I’m just glad we have a plan b, c and d, which we haven’t been able to say for a long time.

    I’ll sit on the fence and won’t vote. Haha

  7. Tim Campbell

    The 4-5-1 approach definitely works if a side is blessed with speedy wingers and someone who is skillful and can play behind the frontman, with 2 other midfielders who can win ball and are good in the tackle. As we have ‘most’ of what I describe above this best suits what we have. The unfortuneate side to this formation is there are a few really good strikers who are missing out on a lot of games. How patient they can remain is anyones guess

  8. Rob

    I vote for 4-5-1 b/c I want to see Kilkenny & Howson both starting. However, even though every other Leeds fan has decided it is a non-starter, i would like us to work in training on Somma as the lone striker, and play him rather than Luciano Doncchio.

  9. Terry

    When we were playing 4-5-1 earlier a lot round us on the Kop were playing holy hell, saying it was OK away but too defensive at home when we should be playing 4-4-2 and going for it. Yesterday they were going apeshit, saying why had Grayson changed it, we’d done so well with 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 just didn’t work because Kilkenny couldn’t get a game and Howson didn’t have the freedom he got with 4-5-1 etc. etc.
    Who’d be a manager!
    I’m firmly in the sitting on the fence position here because I can see both sides of the argument. I do think its time to give Becchio a rest though and try either Somma on his own (not sure if he can hack that though) or Painter (on his own or with Somma in a 4-5-2) or even Somma with the guy we got from Cardiff whose name has gone completely out of my head. God, the drawbacks of age!!!. They were fantastic together at Doncaste in a game we would have won comfortably if Somma hadn’t temporarily lost his goal-scoring touch.

  10. Colin

    I think we discovered a successful 4-5-1 by accident. I think the first handful of games were experimental – scored lots, conceded lots, won some, drew some, lost some. And then SG discovered something:
    – Becchio was a good enough striker for the Championship
    – Johnson could play defensively
    – Howson is better when playing attacking mid
    – the defence needed rebuilding

    4-5-1 works if we have a midfielder pushing up behind the front man (Howson, Watt etc.). But you can strongly argue that we can’t play 4-5-1 and be confident in our midfield, in which case 4-4-2 comes into play.

    The challenge is Somma, started 10, come on as sub 7 times and scored 10 goals. You really have to find a place for him on the team, and that gives you 4-4-2.

    Personally, I’m more concerned with squad depth – if Howson or Johnson get injured then we don’t have any quality cover. Likewise the defence, and I could see suspensions hitting us as well.

  11. Tim Campbell

    Looks like a midfielder coming in is on the cards. How Nick Montgomery must wish he had signed with us at the start of the year – Caulker from spurs wud have been perfect centre half on loan

  12. Andy Flynn

    Tim – agree Montgomery would have been a great signing for us and him, but I reckon Sheff U are paying more than we would offer.

    I was really hoping the rumours about Pratley were true as well, but not surprised that Swansea kept him – much like we have done with Johnson.

    Not sure about Stewart – I’ll give him a fair crack if he signs, but don’t know enough about him.

  13. steve underwood

    This will make me unpopular but here goes,can we please stop this hate filled rants against ken bates,when we were on the brink i did not see a long line of people wanting to put money in,it wasent bates who put us 100 mill in the red,it wasent bates who sold er and ta then leased it back at the rent we are paying now,yes he has made mistakes but look at the club now well run chance to go back into the prem he seems to back grayson,lets for once get behind the team,manager,chaiman,tea lady,to put leeds back where they belong

    • Tim Campbell

      For all his rants and faults I wud tend to agree with you steve on the lifeline Bates and co threw our club. I don’t know the full details but at the time when things looked bleakest I don’t recall seeing many other credible offers on the table for our club. One thing we can be proud of is that our club is financially stable, especially considering the present financial climate.

  14. Max.

    Not sure if this is in your stats, but in those games where we start with 4-5-1 we have often ended up with 4-4-2, and in several cases not got anywhere till we switched.

    Also right now if we start with 4-5-1 and one of Johnson/Howson/Kilkenny gets injured/taken off, it’s not possible to continue without playing someone out of position.

  15. Valio

    I think the problem is not sistem 4-5-1 or 4-4-2.The problem comes from the fact that Leeds can not play with the most modern weapons artificial offside.Maybe 20-25 obtained by goals that have not been able to regroup in artificial offside.

  16. Irving08

    As one of the guiltiestof the aspirant Mike Bassetts, I support the vote, though I actually voted for the formation I have been arguing against (4-4-2). Oh well, I do have a soft spot for the underdogs, which when you think of it, sort of fits us (anyway it did in the mid 1950s when I started watching us play). In those days, of course, we didn’t we need a formation, we had KIng John !

  17. Smudger

    i voted a 4-4-2 formation as i don’t see how we can not play somma in the form he is in, and as for dropping becchio he is our most dependable striker. he might not get all the goals but he is an outlet for everyone else. i remember a few games last season were grayson changed from a 4-4-2 to a sort of 3-5-2 as we were getting over run in the middle. and also we played a sort of lop sided 442 with snodders acting as the only winger / free role player.

    i wouldn’t mind seeing a 3-1-3-1-2

    that way with 3 cb’s we wouldn’t be court short when on attack and still have the benefits of fitting in our attacking players. cant see larry taking this option but hey thort id throw it out there

    Bromby O’Brien Bruce
    Stewart?? or Johnson untill emergancy loans
    Gradel Killkenny Snodgrass
    Becchio Somma

  18. louis finn

    So is Stewart the defensive midfielder that plonks the last piece in the jigsaw? I hope so. Love the 3-1-3-1-2 formation Smudger!!


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