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Clarke, Flitcroft... Freedman?! The 8 best tacticians in the Football League

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5. David Flitcroft (Bury)

Much has been made of Bury’s budget and their plush facilities at Manchester City’s old training complex, but Flitcroft is ensuring those luxuries don’t go to waste. From a strength and conditioning perspective, the Shakers are probably the most formidable team in League One, something that enables them to infiltrate some of the division’s toughest venues and, quite literally, go the extra mile. Well-tailored and varied game plans have been executed to maximum effect at Wigan, Walsall, Sheffield United and Peterborough; sometimes Bury strike early, sometimes they strike late – either way, they invariably play to their strengths against a given opposition as a result of meticulous preparation. For a newly promoted team, seven straight wins from the start of September was a phenomenal achievement.

Flitcroft has established himself as one of the most astute tacticians outside the top flight

6. Chris Hughton (Brighton)

The club’s traditional 4-3-3 has been ditched in favour of a more pragmatic 4-4-2, itself a compromise on the more defensive 4-4-1-1 for which Hughton was previously renowned

Still unbeaten after 15 matches, Hughton has quickly recaptured – and exceeded – previous standards set by Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia, allowing the Seagulls to confine last season’s alarming freefall under Sami Hyypia to Room 101. The club’s traditional 4-3-3 has been ditched in favour of a more pragmatic 4-4-2, itself a compromise on the more defensive 4-4-1-1 for which Hughton was previously renowned. The key difference for Albion is the newfound emphasis on scoring first: last season, Brighton conceded the opening goal in 22 of their 46 matches and salvaged only seven points after falling behind. With a third of the current campaign behind them, the south coast club have gone behind only twice.

Chris Hughton, Dean Smith

Hughton and Walsall's Dean Smith share their secrets (OK maybe not - but read on...)

7. Dean Smith (Walsall)

The project has been five years in the making but a sudden switch to 3-5-2 in late July transformed Walsall from play-off hopefuls to genuine title contenders. The Saddlers have used other formations –  mostly when deprived of either of their marauding wing-backs, Rico Henry and Jason Demetriou – but nothing comes close to the level of control they exert when those two are doubling up on workload down the flanks, enabling Smith to field three central midfielders. Coventry, Burton and Gillingham have all arrived at the Bescot as league leaders only to be sent away with their tails between their legs. Now Walsall sit top of the pile themselves, with a 62% shot ratio suggesting they can stay there.

Smith couldn't quite get the better of Jose Mourinho when Chelsea came to town in September

8. Dougie Freedman (Nottingham Forest)

Forest have dominated the shot count in ten of their 15 matches, an impressive statistic when you take their transfer embargo into account

Perhaps something of a controversial choice considering Freedman is reportedly close to the axe with Forest languishing 18th in the Championship, but it should be acknowledged that performances have been far better than results. Forest have dominated the shot count in 10 of their 15 matches, an impressive statistic when you take their transfer embargo into account. Such restrictions mean Forest have been forced to shop for quantity rather than quality, although one suspects Freedman has relished the opportunity to indulge himself in a horses-for-courses approach, using 28 different players in six different formations. If the league table was decided on an average shot conversion rate, Forest would currently be seventh. Who knows how different things might be if either Britt Assombalonga or Matty Fryatt were fit?

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