In the last of our three takeaways from the Scottish football weekend, Craig Fowler admires Aberdeen’s ability to shape-shift their way out of a poor performance
Aberdeen’s ability to alter their line-up into almost any formation is quite impressive, though not all that surprising.
Graeme Shinnie excels at both left-back and left-midfield. Jonny Hayes can play on either wing, centre midfield or left-back. Niall McGinn can star up front and on the wings. Kenny McLean functions anywhere in midfield. And, at the back, every one of Andrew Considine, Mark Reynolds and Paul Quinn are comfortable playing at centre and full-back.
However, Saturday’s first-half against Ross County would seem to indicate that they struggle with the most traditional of formations - the 4-4-2.
For the first 45 minutes, Aberdeen by their own high standards were pretty poor. Not only were they toothless in attack, with their only two chances in the period coming from set-pieces, they looked leaky at the back once again.
It seemed every member of the defensive unit wasn’t sure whether to step up into the space in front of them, which was more expansive without the two sitting midfielders in the 4-2-3-1, or to back off. It led to the defensive line becoming a thin, dotty line with great big holes in it.
Ross County exploited this for the opening goal, and if you wanted to be critical of the away side during the first period, where they were the better team, you could accuse them of not exploiting their hosts enough. On many occasion a defender would step out to contest a high ball or close down a player in possession and leave a huge gap in the space they’d just vacated. Lining up in a 4-4-2 of their own, County had the tools to rip through the home defence further, but they never truly cottoned onto Aberdeen’s exposed weakness.
Derek McInnes altered his formation towards the end of the first-half, going to a 4-2-3-1, and they took to the second period with renewed gusto.
Jonny Hayes was stationed on the right, but the winger was given license to attack through the centre when Aberdeen moved down the opposite flank. His dart into the centre of the box in an attempt to get on the end of Niall McGinn’s 55th minute cross caused enough of a diversion to allow Adam Rooney to send the ball into the roof of the net at the back post. Then, attacking the box on the left-hand side, Hayes was rewarded for his endeavour with a bit of luck as his cross floated over the goalkeeper and crossed the line via the back post.
He wasn’t the only player to impose himself on proceedings after the switch in formation. McGinn went from an anonymous half alongside Rooney to being at the heart of everything good the Dons did after the break, and he finished off the scoring by bursting into the centre from the left and firing into the bottom corner.
By that point, however, Aberdeen had already altered their tactics a further three times. They went to a 5-4-1/3-4-3 (when in possession/when defending), back to a 4-2-3-1 for a few minutes and then onto the 5-4-1/3-4-3 once more. No wonder County had trouble keeping up.