Has Paul Lambert found the tactical solution for his struggling Ipswich side?


Source: Ipswich Town Football Club via Facebook.

Paul Lambert faced a multitude of problems upon arrival at Ipswich Town. His predecessor Paul Hurst had invested heavily in lower-league players untested at Championship level; he’d overseen the departure of Ipswich’s outstanding performers from the previous season and promptly guided the Tractor Boys to the foot of the table.

Throw in Lambert’s disappointing recent managerial record and his long-term allegiance to bitter rivals Norwich City, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Lambert’s arrival was doomed to fail. That may well prove to be the case to an extent, with Ipswich still marooned in bottom place. Yet Lambert has fostered a feeling of unity, earning a great deal of goodwill from Ipswich fans who value his appreciation for the club’s history and the need for passion in a relegation fight.

Lambert’s early defeats were written off as a manager needing time to impose his ethos on a ramshackle squad but, after three months at Portman Road, that excuse no longer stands up as convincingly. What makes this season all the more torrid for Town fans is the success of Norwich City, with the Canaries on course to finish as champions. This made the recent East Anglian derby crucial for both ends of the table. Ipswich were hoping for an unlikely win to give their relegation fight a shot in the arm, while it was a must-win for Norwich to fend off the promotion surge of Sheffield United.

The Blades have been propelled up the table by the form of Billy Sharp; the prolific forward currently cannot be contained, with the astute 5/1 first goalscorer tip from betconnect’s blog eventually bagging a hat-trick in the recent 3-3 thriller against Aston Villa. Yet Norwich have their own striking powerhouse in Teemu Pukki, ably supported by a mix of youngsters and canny recruits from Germany. It would not be a surprise if punters selected Norwich as the best football bet of the day for the remaining matchdays, with Daniel Farke’s side now appearing capable of blowing away all other sides in the division.

Backing Norwich to triumph in the derby would not have been a bold tip, with the 3-0 win an inevitable continuation of Ipswich’s horrible form both in general and in derby matches. Pukki helped himself to two goals, but Ipswich did manage to look more lively than usual in the attacking department. Lambert made a tactical switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2-diamond, giving Alan Judge the freedom to roam behind the strike duo of Freddie Sears and Will Keane. This tactical shift allowed Judge and Sears to operate in their preferred position rather than shunted into wide roles.

Source: Ipswich Town Football Club via Facebook.

With the diamond, the role of the full-backs becomes even more crucial in providing width. Jonas Knudsen was recalled from the cold to operate at left-back with James Bree on the right, but neither full-back is renowned for their swashbuckling energy. Lambert appears reluctant to trust younger full-backs Myles Kenlock and Josh Emmanuel, with the academy graduates blessed with great engines but lacking in experience.

Lambert has stressed the need for experience in a relegation battle, as well as reiterating his long-term commitment to youth, but his reticence in selecting Teddy Bishop and Andre Dozzell in central midfield roles has been puzzling from a tactical perspective. Given Ipswich’s dire predicament at the bottom of the table, the need for wins would surely be aided by the inclusion of ball-carrying midfielders who can spot passes in the final third.

This season has been something of a free hit for Lambert, with most Ipswich fans now anticipating a more positive season in League One with the experienced man at the helm. Yet there was a hope that Lambert would introduce more tactical cohesion than Hurst, something that has only materialised sporadically. The switch to a 4-4-2-diamond could bear more fruit in the remaining matches.