Think of the great strike partnerships of yesteryear and the mind conjures up images of Yorke and Cole, or Dalglish and Rush (or, Di Stefano and Puskas, if you're that old!) playing on the shoulder; one coming deep; one dummying the ball for the other; one-touch passes; runs in behind; and of course, goals.
Yorke and Cole is probably the most well-known and the most potent example, becoming one of the most feared partnerships in Europe. It featured one touch passes and assists that seemed impossible, being described as 'eerily telepathic'. With the footballing brain of the former, and the pace and crisp finishing of the latter, mixed with a unique personal friendship, it was devastating. Yorke and Cole scored 53 goals between them in their first season, with United only losing one of the 36 games in which they started together, and 46 goals the following season. It illustrates the potential of a two-man attack.
Rangers flirted with it - Miller and Boyd being the most recent successful example - but it never progressed further than the clichéd 'big-man, small-man' dynamic. The two-man strike partnership has faded in its use over the years since its heyday. It looked to be going the way of the sweeper, consigned to football history.
But there has been something of a resurgence of late in the strike partnership. Liverpool's Suarez and Sturridge (or SAS, as it was colloquially known) is probably the most potent strike partnership of recent years, almost propelling them to an unlikely title. Moreover, the plucky underdogs of Leicester and Watford have utilised the dynamic to great effect this season: Watford riding high in 7th, and Leicester incredibly sitting top over Christmas - a Christmas miracle if there ever was one!
At its most devastating the two-pronged attack incorporates fast, direct play, with forwards constantly playing on the shoulder of the defence and looking to run in-behind, rather than balls into feet with back to goal, which slows the play down. Leicester's Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki (or Leonardo Ulloa), with Riyad Mahrez on the wing, have scored 32 goals between them. The pace and wiry nature of their players give opposition defenders trouble for the full 90 minutes. To a lesser extent Watford's Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, scoring 18 goals between them, have also been superb with their dynamic inter-play creating plenty of chances and problems for opponents.
Both Leicester and Watford employ a basic 4-4-2, but the two systems utilise strike partnerships in different ways. Leicester employ the basic counter-attack, looking to launch long passes over the top for the runs of Vardy and Mahrez. Whereas Watford, although they can go long - Gomes (GK) to Deeney is the most common passing move - prefer a slower build-up, using the inter-play between Deeney and Ighalo (one coming deep when the other goes in-behind etc.) to create chances.
Rangers fans have been crying out for another striker. A lack of goals over the last few months has been a real bone of contention among the support. We could do a lot worse than follow the example of Leicester and Watford.
Leicester's example would be a little problematic to incorporate. They are inherently reactive, looking to sit deep and hit on the counter-attack. Of course, Rangers do not have that luxury: the onus is always on us to create chances. It is also a fairly 'flat' 4-4-2, which relies heavily on individual performances. Mahrez and Vardy have been outstanding, but without them, it is distinctly less impressive.
Rangers would need to use it pro-actively, but only top-class players could make it work. Atletico Madrid are the most recognisable team to employ a flat 4-4-2. It's successful because they have quality players to build upon the effective front-two. One man drops deep - Simeone likes to use a winger in behind, like Griezmann - while the other plays on the shoulder and looks to get in-behind. Again, not something Rangers can implement unless there is a serious injection of cash.
Watford's 4-4-2 and strike partnership is a little more realistic. It's essentially a 4-4-2, but it is quite flexible. They usually leave the two central midfielders deep, providing a solid foundation and defensive cover. Their Right-Midfielder plays inside like another central midfielder, making it a three-man midfield. Then their Left-Midfielder plays inside, almost at the tip of a diamond. The line is led by Deeney and Ighalo. It's flexible, turning from a 4-4-2 in defense, to a 4-3-3/4-3-1-2 in attack, changing as the need arises. The most important thing is Watford are proactive in possession. They can play on the counter-attack, but can build slowly from the back, looking for inter-play between the lines: a much more viable template for Rangers, building on what Warburton has us doing.
Of course, the system sacrifices width in the form of wingers, preferring wide men that drift inside. The width in this case would come from the full-backs, something that we have a lot of success with. Crucially, it utilises a two-man strike partnership. It's something that could potentially work within Warburton's philosophy.
Rangers' problems over the last few games have been a lack of goals, along with the constant defensive frailties. Fans have been crying out for another striker. The strike partnership looks to be back with a vengeance in the Premier League - something we could look to - but it needs to be utilised within an overall framework. The Leicester counter-attack would never work, because it is inherently reactive, something we can't rely on. A Watford approach looks a little more realistic, using a more proactive style. A midfield diamond would allow more numbers in central areas, hopefully providing a solid defensive base and allowing Wallace and Tavernier more freedom to get forward as the main width. More importantly, it would allow us to get more strikers on the pitch, and allow us to play with the resurgent strike partnership.
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