Millwall is a club I know and love. Almost every year, my first save is with them as I look to mix it with the big boys. Being in the Championship certainly makes things easier, however a lack of budget still makes it a challenging save.
Knowing the team in real life, I wanted to have a go at creating a tactic which suited the club and its ethos – fast paced wing play with two strikers and some industrious midfielders. In other words, a good old-fashioned 4-4-2. Attempting to take inspiration from Sir Alex Ferguson more so than Neil Harris, I wanted a team to maximise the height of the defence, and pose a threat higher up the pitch.
My decision was also influenced by the squad. With plenty of sizeable defenders, three big strikers and only a handful of central midfielders, a squad capable of producing a patient, possession-based tiki-taka game would take years to craft. Whereas my wing play could be implemented from Day 1.
Starting off at the back, we have a goalkeeper. There’s no need for a sweeper keeper as I’m not going to be pushing my centre backs forward – they’re not built for that. Solidity was going to be my ally.
The back four contained a centre back, a ball playing defender, because someone still has to move the ball out of the defence, both set to defend, and two full backs on support. We have wingers to get forward, we don’t want to overload the wings and leave ourselves vulnerable.
I considered trying to play inverted wingers to cut in and attack the goal, but with both wingers’ stronger feet better suited to crossing, I left the to roam the flanks. Situated in between them, we need players who will prevent any counter attacks and can break up play. A ball winning midfielder and a deep lying playmaker paired up nicely, with one of them set to support and the other defensively. This varied depending on who was playing each role.
During pre-season I had experimented with an advanced playmaker, but it left my defence vulnerable too often, and the roaming playmaker is not disciplined enough to drop back when required. Besides, most of what I needed these two to do was kick the opposition then ship the ball out wide.
Finally, the strike force. Having Matt Smith made my decision incredibly easy. Little and large. With Smith playing in the Target Man role, winning headers and flicking the ball on, my other striker could get in behind and pounce on any chances.
When in possession, I set the team up to play down both wings, play the ball out of defence, and pass into space. To make the most of my target man, I instructed the team to hit early crosses, but the most important tactic I had was to play for set pieces. We had height up front and in defence so when we sent all those people up, we were a terror from set pieces.
I set the team up to be more expressive, giving them more freedom going forward, and set an extremely high tempo to encourage a higher press. On the subject of pressing, I’m playing with a higher line of engagement, extremely urgent pressing to try to win the ball back for some quick counters, and tight marking.
In transition, I’ve gone for a counter-press after losing possession and countering after the ball has been won. Distributing to the full-backs and taking short kicks ensure constant movement on the ball, something I’m keen to encourage.
The results worked well, with promotion earned through the play-offs in my first season, having snuck into 6th place with a great run. The team bagged the most goals in the league, scoring 100 in 46 games, 15 more than second place Leeds and 16 more than champions Fulham. Defensively, the team finished in mid-table, but the goalscoring threat the team possessed resulted in a few potential defeats being turned into draws.
Matt Smith and Shane Ferguson were the big winners for this formation. Smith finished with 25 league goals, narrowly missing out on the golden boot, while Ferguson, on set piece duty, clocked up 13 assists from left back.
Give it a go yourself!