3-5-2 vs. 4-4-2

Published: 18/11/2022

Pompey progressed to the third round of the FA Cup with a 3-2 win at home to Milton Keynes on Saturday. A victory that saw the Blues change from their favoured 4-4-2 formation, into a 3-5-2. 

The switch was, according to manager Danny Cowley, one that needed to be made based on the players available for this fixture: 

“For us today we wanted to look at a different system. We didn’t have Owen (Dale) or Dane (Scarlett) today, probably two of our most aggressive pressers against a possession based team!


“We didn’t quite like the partnerships in the 4-4-2 so it made sense for us to look at a different system. 


“We’ve been working towards trying to have a different option to this group. We like the 4-4-2, but for us the numbers don’t scare us and we don’t mind changing the shape. What never changes is the principles, today I thought first half there awas a lot to like. After the third call we just came off it physically and made the game more difficult than it had to be.” 

So what exactly did that formation change look like? 

The absence of Dale in particular meant that the Blues abandoned wingers and went for a 3-5-2 formation, with Hackett playing a little further forward. It was Hume, Swanson and Mingi, however, that this change really suited. 

Let’s start with the wing backs. Swanson and Hume have had mixed starts to their Pompey careers, with Cowley favouring Ogilvie and Rafferty up until now. In a 4-4-2, both youngsters don’t get as much of an opportunity to get forward, as there is a concern about defensive cover. With the 3-5-2, however, both men were covered by the CB behind them as well as a central midfielder dropping in meaning both were free to roam forward with Pompey on the ball. This allowed us to see the very best of both, as they each whipped in dangerous crosses for fun in the first half. 

Not only did it suit them on the ball, but off it too. That extra security of an additional CB meant that neither were isolated or targeted by a winger, as there was almost always cover. 

The switch in system also had a positive impact on Jay Mingi’s game. A MOTM performance from the midfielder, an additional body meant that he was free to move forward and cause problems in the box, highlighted by the fact he won the first penalty having raced forward. 

Mingi’s ability to turn quickly, and transition the ball from defence to attack, is his strongest asset and an additional body in the middle allows him to do this further up the pitch. He’s not limited to trying this deep, and was able to impact the final third far more. 

Naturally, the formation switch wasn’t perfect. Both Hume and Swanson (groin) were substituted in the second half and it came at a time were Pompey dropped off and looked a little lost. This wasn’t helped by the personnel available, as Hackett ended up filling in at RWB with Koroma up top alongside an exhausted Bishop. The first MK goal also exposed a lack of familiarity with the system, as the ball was played between Morrison and Raggett on the counter, but those are mistakes that will be edged out in time. 

That said, is the Portsmouth squad more suited to this formation? Arguably we have one of the best central midfields in the division with the likes of Pack, Mingi and Lowery , and CB is solid enough with Robertson, Morrison, Raggett and even Ogilvie. Bishop & Pigott would feed off crosses like the ones put in he box by Swanson and Hume, and Rafferty has played this formation with Preston historically and excelled. Personally, I think our squad fits 3-5-2 far better. 

It’s certainly given our manager food for thought, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Blues line up on Sunday at Wycombe once Scarlett and Dale are back available. Will we go back to the trusted 4-4-2, or continue with the 3-5-2 experiment?