Redknapp's defensive 4-1-4-1 denies space in seams, frustrates City

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QPR put in a disciplined performance to secure a valuable point in a 0-0 draw with Manchester City at Loftus Road. The defending champions saw plenty of the ball, finishing the game with 69% of the possession, yet were frustrated by a compact Rangers defense in the final third.

With Matija Nastasic and Vincent Kompany both unavailable with injuries and Kolo Toure away at the African Nations Cup, Joleon Lescott was City's only available center back. Roberto Mancini therefore had the option of playing Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta either side of Lescott in a back three or dropping Javi Garcia to center back. Manchester City haven't looked particularly comfortable when they've used a back three this season so Mancini opted for the latter. James Milner dropped alongside Gareth Barry in the middle of midfield and Samir Nasri played on the right.

Harry Redknapp played a 4-5-1. Stephane M'Bia, Shaun Derry and Esteban Granero played in midfield with Granero the most advanced of the three. Adel Taarabt was responsible for tracking Zabaleta down the left flank when City were in possession but broke centrally just in behind Loic Remy when QPR were on the ball. Jamie Mackie wasn't even on the bench amid rumors he'll be headed to Stoke so Fabio da Silva played on the right side of midfield.

Redknapp has a reputation for not being terribly concerned with tactics but QPR's approach this evening illustrated he's more an able tactician than he lets on. He was understandably concerned with the ability of Aguero, Dzeko, Tevez and Nasri to find pockets of space in between the seams of defenses and therefore set out to mitigate space between the lines with a compact defensive shape. QPR would then look to break quickly on the counter. Sitting deep and countering is a strategy plenty of teams have attempted to use against Manchester City, however the positioning Redknapp had his players take was slightly different than most.

Most teams looking to defend deep and then play on the counter will drop the wide midfielders alongside two holding midfielders defensively to form a bank of four. An attacking center midfielder and the striker will then play higher up the pitch tracking either the opposition holding midfielders or center backs. The defensive shape then is effectively a 4-4-1-1. The problem here is that defending in two flat banks of four creates, a defensive one and a midfield one, creates space between the lines for opposition playmakers to drift into and collect the ball.

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Rather than having Derry and M'Bia play side by side defensively and leaving Granero higher up the pitch, Redknapp had Granero drop alongside M'bia to form a midfield bank of four. Derry then dropped off and sat just in front of his two center backs, checking any run a City player tried to make between the seams. Rather than 4-4-1-1, QPR's defensive shape was 4-1-4-1. The strategy worked well defensively. QPR allowed Barry and Milner to drop in behind the midfield four to collect the ball. Neither of the City holding midfielders are particularly creative passers and both played mostly horizontal balls in this area. Higher up the pitch, City's four attacking players struggled to find space and were closed down quickly when they got on the ball.

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Another key factor to QPR's defensive performance was the work Taarabt and Fabio did tracking City's outside backs when they looked to make forward runs down the flanks. Nasri and particularly David Silva like to play narrow from their wide starting positions, forcing the opposition outside backs in field and leaving space down the flanks for Zabaleta and Clichy to overlap into. Taarabt and Fabio both put in disciplined shifts, rarely losing track of City's fullbacks when they broke forward.

The obvious problem with defending in the 4-1-4-1 formation, as opposed to 4-4-1-1, is that when possession is won back you don't have a central attacking midfielder drifting into space behind the opposition holding midfielders to spring counter attacks. As a result the loan striker can become isolated and is forced to hold the ball up long enough for his midfielders to break forward. This was at times the case for QPR today- Remy was frequently left to chase balls knocked in the corners for him. However, Redknapp did set up a fairly effective strategy for counterattacking. When QPR won the ball back, Taarabt would look to quickly break in field from the left behind Barry and Milner. When he got possession in these areas Remy would sit on the shoulder of Garcia or Lescott and look to use his pace to get in behind. Much has been said about Taarabt's attitude and work rate but he worked tirelessly today combining his well known skill with endless running. He nearly created a goal in the first half with a ball to Remy in behind Garcia and nearly scored himself after a brilliant individual run but was denied by an impressive Joe Hart save.