Why Chris Cadden comeback might spark a return to 3-5-2 for Hibs
When Chris Cadden was named in the Hibs starting line-up to face Hearts in last weekend’s Edinburgh derby, it was perhaps surprising that the energetic wing-back was plunged straight back into action after two long-term injuries.
The 24-year-old hadn’t even made the matchday squad in previous weeks but had trained well in the days leading up to the match, according to head coach Jack Ross.
Cadden’s inclusion was perhaps more a necessity as the Hibs boss tries to navigate his way through the fixture list without the likes of Christian Doidge, Melker Hallberg, and Jamie Murphy. The enforced absence of Jake Doyle-Hayes, Daniel Mackay, and Lewis Stevenson also presented Ross with some selection dilemmas ahead of Sunday’s stalemate.
But does the head coach now have a selection Rubik’s cube to solve with more players available?
How to fit Boyle and Cadden into the same team
At first glance it might seem difficult working out how to fit both Martin Boyle and Cadden into the same team. Both are predominantly right-sided wide players but at least one of them is going to be out of position in the 4-2-3-1 that Ross favoured until the derby.
One solution would be to deploy Boyle on the left of the attacking midfield trio and Cadden on the right but the latter looks far more comfortable in a more balanced wing-back role than as an out-and-out winger. His energy is a big plus while his defensive nous is invaluable. It’s unlikely that Ross would want to take that side of his game away completely.
Hibs shifted to a fluid 3-4-3 at Tynecastle with Cadden as right wing-back and Boyle as a outside-right attacker but this formation also has its pitfalls…
How to fit Boyle and Cadden into the same team without shackling Magennis
Ross changed things at half-time during the derby, bringing on Alex Gogic for James Scott and pushing Kyle Magennis further forward. ‘Ginto’ has impressed in a more advanced ten role this season and Hibs were notably more of a threat in the final third with the former St Mirren man supporting the attack.
By the end of the game the Easter Road side had switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Magennis supporting Kevin Nisbet in attack, Boyle on the right of midfield and Cadden – later Drey Wright – on the left.
When Gogic is on the park he naturally plays quite deep but against teams who are more likely to sit in against Hibs, the best central midfield pairing would appear to be Doyle-Hayes and Joe Newell. The duo’s energy is perfectly suited to supporting the defence and getting the ball forward to the final third.
With Magennis sitting ahead of them in a 3-5-2, the Hibs central midfield looks balanced. Add Cadden on the right and Josh Doig on the left and that’s a strong-looking five-man midfield.
So where does Boyle play?
In a 3-5-2 with Cadden operating as a wing-back, it makes sense for Boyle to partner Nisbet in attack. The 28-year-old posted his best stats in a Hibs shirt last season playing both as a centre-forward and a winger and while he has operated as a wing-back in the past, Cadden’s return to fitness means there is a far better option for that position.
Plus, Boyle’s prowess in front of goal so far this season – four goals in five league matches – makes him a much better option up top in the continuing absence of Doidge.
Nisbet appears to perform better with a striker alongside him so playing Boyle as a centre-forward would seem to make sense on more than one count.
What about Scott?
Even though there was better news about Doidge’s injury yesterday, in that he could return in November rather than early next year, Hibs are still light up front. While both Boyle and Scott are versatile enough to fulfil more than one attacking role, when the two of them play as well as Nisbet, there isn’t a great deal on the bench.
A 3-5-2 with Boyle and Nisbet in attack would see Scott start on the bench and give Ross an option in the second half either to change personnel or formation and tactics.
During his limited gametime so far in green and white, Scott has looked most threatening in a central role such as when he deputised for Nisbet in the 2-2 draw at Dundee.
It could be that the loanee is far more effective as a 70th-minute replacement for Nisbet in a centre-forward role than he is playing 65 minutes on the wing or as a ten.
Added to that, if Murphy also comes back from his injury sooner than expected, Ross will once again have more options on the left flank and can deviate from the almost-necessary 3-5-2.
A 3-5-2 wouldn't just solve problems in midfield and attack, it could also benefit the defence. Paul McGinn is a solid option at right-back or as a right-sided centre-back but he looked more comfortable in a back three last season and with Cadden as wing-back there is plenty of cover on the right side.
A back three would also allow Josh Doig to focus on attacking and not worry about defending in matches where Hibs are facing teams more prone to sitting deep.
On top of that, both reserve centre-backs in Darren McGregor and Nathan Wood are comfortable playing in three-man and four-man defences so even in the event of injury, the formation would not require drastic changes.
Organising the team in a 3-5-2 with a starting XI of Matt Macey; McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon; Cadden, Doyle-Hayes, Newell, Doig; Magennis; Boyle, and Nisbet means a stronger bench. With just seven seats and one reserved for back-up ‘keeper Kevin Dabrowski, as things stand Ross has to choose six from McGregor, Wood, Scott, Stevenson, Mackay, Gogic, Wright, Jamie Gullan, Josh Campbell, and Scott Allan.
Increased competition for places, more options off the bench, a strong overall squad – and no need to shoehorn players into unfamiliar positions.
The next few games for Hibs could be very interesting indeed.