A tactical shake-up could see Bristol City return to form

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Manager Lee Johnson’s trusted 4-2-3-1 formation worked wonders for Bristol City at the start of the season, so much so that The Robins found themselves in the play-offs for much of the early campaign. Yet, since the turn of October, City have won only two of eight league games, arguably due to oppositions familiarising themselves with Johnson’s preferred approach. With the six games in December all being against winnable sides, it is imperative that Johnson adapts his existing system to give the team the best chance of climbing back into the play-off spots.

It has become increasingly clear that in recent weeks City’s chances on goal have been more limited. Tammy Abraham has only scored two of his twelve goals in the last ten matches – albeit through no fault of his own. A born poacher, breaks for Abraham have been limited due to a lack of service from wide-men, who often seem too apprehensive to attack. In the 4-2-3-1 formation a winger’s role involves numerous offensive duties. Unfortunately it seems more and more apparent that such required traits are not the forte of Callum O’Dowda, Luke Freeman or Jamie Paterson. Paterson, along with a tendency to drift inside far too frequently, has been anonymous in our last five games following on from a positive start to life in BS3.

Subsequently, a transition to a basic 4-4-2 could be the key for a return to form. A more balanced role would certainly suit O’Dowda and Freeman, as well as giving Joe Bryan a chance to play further forward if Johnson opts to recall Scott Golbourne to left back. Tammy Abraham would also have further support up front, whether that be in the form of Aaron Wilbraham, Lee Tomlin or Swede Gustav Engvall. However, it is obvious that Tomlin’s best position is a “free” number 10 role just behind the striker, and thus playing him up front alongside Abraham may not get the best out of him. Due to the flat nature of the 4-4-2, using Tomlin in his favoured Francisco Totti-esque trequartista role would not prove a viable option.

A potential 4-3-1-2 lineup for Bristol City

So this raises the question of 4-3-1-2. Fundamentally, this formation suits Tomlin, our best player on his day, because of the licence it brings to use a number 10. Similarly to the 4-4-2, Abraham would once again have greater support in a strike partner, and with City’s strength in the central midfielder position, boasting the likes of Bobby Reid, Gary O’Neil, and Korey Smith, we could afford to exert such players to the best of their abilities in a three-man partnership. Many would argue that the problem with this formation is width. However, agile central players such as Reid and Smith show that this shouldn’t prove anywhere near as much of a problem as some seem to think. I believe that the biggest advantage of using the 4-3-1-2 formation would be that our full backs will be more likelyto produce early crosses into the likes of Abraham, Wilbraham and Engvall. Particularly in the case of Joe Bryan, who has the capability to deliver an excellent ball, this should culminate in more much-needed goals for Bristol City.

I’m very interested to see what changes Lee Johnson may make ahead of the clash with Ipswich. I can’t help but feel that if the manager is overly-stubborn then we may have a repeat of last season under Steve Cotterill, and consequently City may continue to fall down the league. If Johnson does find a successful new system, a play-off position will certainly not come out of the blue.