Tony Cottee: Formation is not the problem at West Ham

Gianfranco Zola should stick to his guns and keep faith in his preferred 4-3-3 formation, according to Tony Cottee


There have been a lot of complaints about West Ham's formation this season and I heard renewed calls for Gianfranco Zola to abandon the current set-up after our lacklustre 2-2 draw with Fulham.

I was at Upton Park on Sunday for another desperately disappointing performance and I can understand the fans' frustrations.

There were times in the second half when we looked like we were never going to score - we hardly created any chances and there didn't seem to be much urgency from the players against a Fulham side reduced to 10 men.

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But the hardest thing for them to fathom was why we spent so much of that second half with just one player up front as the manager kept faith with his favoured 4-3-3 formation.

There were times when Carlton Cole was winning headers, but there was no one within 30 yards of him to get on the ball and crosses were directed into a penalty area crammed with six or seven Fulham players and just one claret and blue shirt.

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I've always been a fan of playing two forwards because it gives you so many more options as an attacking side and it's such a hard slog for a striker asked to play up front on his own.

But I can't criticise the manager for sticking to his preferred system.

Obviously there are times when you have to adapt your formation if it's not working or there's a chance to exploit a weakness in the opposition - and there's an argument that we should've gone to two up front as soon as Fulham had a player sent off.

But it's all well and good saying 'why don't they go 4-4-2?' - the real question is whether we have the right personnel to play that system?

For instance, do we have an out-and-out striker to play alongside Cole?

From what I've seen so far, Luis Jimenez likes to play deep and doesn't look like a striker, and Alessandro Diamanti seems to be a free spirit who roams across the front line, so he's not going to give you a consistent presence up top either.

That leaves you with Zavon Hines, whose three first-team starts have all come in a wide role, or Guillermo Franco - who has never made a Premier League start in his life.

The manager can only make changes that are right for the team and only Zola knows whether he's got the players to operate a 4-4-2 system.

Last season we had a difficult period early on with Cole playing as a lone striker, so people assume the problem is the system and argue that things only turned around 12 months ago because we began playing David Di Michele up front with him.

Fans looking at the current first-team squad can point to more attacking options than at any time last year,

so they're left wondering why we haven't made the same change this season?

But it's not always as easy as saying 4-4-2 will solve all our problems. You can only play the system if you've got the right personnel, and Zola obviously thinks the current squad is suited to this formation.

That might change when Valon Behrami and Jack Collison get back to full fitness, but as a manager you can't just shoehorn players into a system unless they feel comfortable.

It's all very well saying they're professional footballers and should be happy to play wherever they're asked, but I know from experience that it's not that easy.

As a player, there are two aspects to consider - your individual performance and your performance related to the team - and you need to feel confident in your role if you're going to fulfil those two roles.

When I was playing in my preferred position as part of a two-man strike partnership, everything was fine, but when I was asked to play as a lone striker, it affected my mindset and I wasn't nearly as effective.

I knew that my individual performance would suffer because the manager wasn't playing to my strengths, and that hurt my overall contribution to the team.

Players need to feel confident that they're playing in a system that highlights their strengths and helps them make the maximum contribution to the team.

I'm sure the coaching staff will be at the training ground this week looking at the DVD of Sunday's game and kicking around ideas about how to improve the current formation.

But if they decide that the present system is the best fit for the players, they'd be better served sticking to it and ignoring calls for a radical change.

Tony Cottee was talking to Jonathan Clegg

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