Dick Advocaat is utilising a system which has made two surprising figures key players.
The Dutch veteran said: “It’s very important that the full-backs get forward because of the freedom it gives the wingers. They are not regular wingers. If they come inside, then someone else has to go wide, and not a midfielder, a full-back.”
Advocaat has used something of a 4-3-3 since his arrival, with Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham supporting the centralised Steven Fletcher. They are wingers by name only, as their main job is to drop a bit deeper and provide link up play, as well as act as a goal threat.
However, this change has meant there is no natural width in the side, and it is the job of the full-backs to act as attacking outlets on the wings.
This has increased the importance of Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones, who has recently regained his first-team place since Advocaat’s appointment. They are not just there to defend, but to run the flanks for the entire game, and whilst this creates a certain weakness in the back-line if the players are not fit enough to last an entire game, the positives are starting to show.
It was van Aanholt who provided the assist for Connor Wickham’s consolation strike in the 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace last weekend, before the Dutchman also hit the bar in stoppage time.
He may also have been part of a defence who conceded four goals, but Advocaat’s system will take time to work, and the coach will be hoping van Aanholt and Jones fulfil their importance as key figures in his tactical system.