Mick McCarthy is ready to mix-up Ipswich Town’s tactics if required
His man-management skills are often heralded by players and the media alike, but Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy proclaimed in an interview with this newspaper back in April that his tactical nous is overlooked.
Yes, he makes sure he recruits the right characters and gets the very best out of them by creating a two-way relationship of trust and respect.
But you don’t win two Championship titles, and reach the last 16 of a World Cup, by following fictional England boss Mike Bassett and sticking out a team in a 4-4-2 system and lumping it long week after week.
That is McCarthy’s formation of choice, and going direct is part of his approach, but watch the Blues and you will see that their shape often changes multiple times during games as the two managers engage in a chess-like battle. Town certainly have more pace and guile about them this season.
Already this season we have seen Freddie Sears and Brett Pitman switch from strikers to wingers, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been afforded the freedom to roam when appropriate.
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And with tomorrow’s opponents Preston deploying a wing-back system at present, there is a good chance that such flexibility will again be required.
“We went to Brentford and we handled their 4-3-3 with our 4-4-2 for most of the game,” said McCarthy, who currently has Cole Skuse and Jonathan Douglas as sitting midfielders with attack-minded wide men Maitland-Niles and Ryan Fraser on the right and left flanks respectively.
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“Sheffield Wednesday caused us more problems with 4-3-3 and I had to change my team to 4-3-3 for a while so we could stop them playing through us just before half-time. We reverted back to our 4-4-2 when it settled down and we ended up winning.
“We’ve got real flexibility and my players understand how to do it. Whatever system somebody is playing against us we can deal with. If we had to go 3-5-2 and match them up at the weekend that wouldn’t faze us at all.”
Preston were in poll position for automatic promotion from League One last season but just missed out on a top-two spot following a dramatic 1-0 defeat at Colchester on the final day – a result which saw the U’s once again stay up by the skin of their teeth.
Simon Grayson’s men then showed remarkable spirit to put that disappointment behind them, returning to the second tier following a four-year absence thanks to Jermaine Beckford inspired play-off victories over Chesterfield and Swindon.
So far this season they have drawn 0-0 at home against Middlesbrough, won 1-0 at MK Dons and drawn 0-0 at Rotherham in the league.
“They’ll certainly be looking beyond just survival,” said McCarthy. “They’ve not conceded a goal yet, they’re playing five at the back at times and are making it very hard for teams to break them down.
“That’s okay, but if you’re not getting wins you suddenly have to open up and do things different.
“They have defended very, very well so far, but my view on that is it’s got to crack at some stage. They’re not going to go a whole season without conceding are they? Why can’t that be Saturday? We’ve got some good forward players.”