RYAN Lowe’s Bury side were coined the great entertainers of Sky Bet League Two last season, employing a uniquely attacking style rarely present in the lower leagues.
The Shakers scored nine more goals than any other side in their division, netting 82 times in their promotion campaign.
Lowe’s style of play earned praise from the sorts of managers he was inspired by, including Jurgen Klopp, who sat for a beer with the former Liverpool youth player after their sides met during pre-season a year ago. The Shakers’ innovative 3-1-4-2 formation has also caught the attention of Pep Guardiola, who hosted Argyle’s new manager at a training session, and Rafa Benitez.
He has caught the national media’s attention, too. Speaking in a press call ahead of Bury’s Checkatrade Trophy semi-final against Portsmouth, Lowe talked openly about his footballing philosophy.
“I’ve said a lot of times, ‘Why can’t Bury play like Liverpool or Manchester City?’ I think it’s the best way. You look at Barcelona, City, Liverpool: everything’s risky, isn’t it?”
Describing Lowe’s style as “gung-ho”, as it often seems to be in the media, may be doing the Pilgrims’ gaffer a little of a disservice. Last season’s promotion-winning approach was much more than simply thrusting long balls into the final third and taking risks up the pitch. Patterns of play had been meticulously crafted, and player movement, even when without the ball, was scripted to devastating effect.
Lowe’s preferred 3-1-4-2 formation is particularly fluid, and can take many different shapes when in full attacking flow. Generally, though, the young manager’s offensive play centres around two strikers. These strikers are crucially supported by two inside forwards, who swarm around the ball, looking to isolate defenders one-on-one, and both supply and receive the ball in dangerous areas.
By deploying inside forwards, rather than the more common usage of two outside forwards or wingers in the modern game’s popular 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation variants, Lowe’s attacking shape takes on another dimension. Two wing-backs are able to supplement the attack by providing a wider outlet for the inside forwards to feed. The result, when all players commit themselves forward, is half a dozen outfield players surging into the final-third.
What is perhaps more interesting, though, is that these players often remain upfield without possession, too. This is known in coaching circles as the ‘counter-press’, popularised by Klopp’s successful Borussia Dortmund side. The premise is simple in theory, but difficult to execute. Rather than retreat into defensive position once dispossessed, Lowe’s sides commit to overpowering their opposition while possession is still insecure, and players like the inside forwards and wing-backs are able to crowd around the ball – making it hard for opposition players to relieve pressure efficiently.
Of course, this is not a failsafe strategy, so Lowe’s sides often rely on the defensive capabilities of the three centre-backs and holding midfielder who must work tirelessly to guard against counter attacks. No tactic is infallible, but, as we saw last season, it worked consistently enough to see the Pilgrims’ new manager secure promotion from League Two.
No doubt, the Green Army would settle for the same again.