During his time at Celtic, O'Neill was a keen proponent of the 3-5-2 formation. Partly I imagine because it was in fashion around the time, but nevertheless was very successful. Not too many teams have the balls to do it nowadays in the age of 4-6-0's used occasionally by Spain and Barcelona, and 3-4-3's used by the likes of Napoli and to a lesser extent Wigan Athletic in their dramatic late-season turn around.
Is it possible we could adopt a similar system? In all likelihood it's not even remotely close to happening, but it's worth pondering to see if we could use it even as a plan B if not a plan A, so let's have a look...
Going back to the 3-5-2 though, O'Neill was an expert at it, so much so that upon taking over the side, Neil Lennon attempted to continue it before eventually putting hos own stamp on things.
However, could it be time for a 3-5-2 comeback, some teams have brought it back in recent months. Juventus during their unbeaten Serie A season, and Italy against Spain in Euro 2012.
Part two of that question is do we have the personnel for it? I happen to think that we do actually, and could further enhance that with any future signings this summer.
At the Hoops, O'Neill reached the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, and used his 3-5-2 in a battling 3-2 extra time defeat in Seville to Portuguese side, Porto;
Joos Valgaeren - Bobo Balde - Johan Mjallby
Dider Agathe --------------------------------------------- Alan Thomson
Paul Lambert - Neil Lennon
Henrik Larsson - Chris Sutton
In this system, the defence held firm, protected by Paul Lambert with Neil Lennon providing the out-ball. Petrov able to make things happen behind a roaming and Larsson and target-man Chris Sutton. The wing-backs are quite interesting. Neither Thomson nor Agathe were traditional fullbacks, certainly more midfielders who didn't mind doing the donkey-work in getting back to help out. High-motor players, with Thomson the more advanced usually.
Now, to apply this to the players currently a the disposal of O'Neill at the Stadium Of Light;
Now this team isn't without it's flaws, and there's certainly room for improvement in a couple of areas, but let's just go through it.
Obviously a keeper is a keeper, with Mignolet taking the starting role between the sticks. The defence boasts arguable our best defenders. Wes Brown take a role on the right of the trio having had experience at right-back, even though he's not actually going to be attacking particularly here. Michael Turner slots into the middle in the Bobo Balde "lanky lump" in the middle, and John O'Shea despite limited experience on the left of defence, slots in there.
The wing-back positions are certainly interesting, and draw pretty close comparisons to the one's used by O'Neill at Celtic. Agathe, while more energetic than Larsson, was clearly the more defensive of the two as is Larsson in this instance, and both were expert crossers of a ball.
On the left, Thomson and McClean are more used to being midfielders but both have a great work ethic, and both are dangerous going forward. Briefly against West Brom away, O'Neill tried McClean at left-back. It was highly unsuccessful and abandoned after about twenty minutes, but it's something that's been tried at least. Here, McClean still has the freedom to bomb forward, and doesn't have to do much more work than he already was defensively.
Lee Cattermole can sit and protect the defence as he already does, with Jack Colback being the one to link the ball from defence to attack, what with being one of the more useful passers in the team. In front of the pair in this instance is Craig Gardner. In an ideal world, we'd probably look elsewhere and fill in with a new signing who offers some more creativity and vision, but this is the best we have. An alternative within the squad would be Kieran Richardson, but preferably elsewhere.
Stephane Sessegnon given the Henrik Larsson role in attack, allowed to roam behind the main striker, as well as get forward. We're still slightly unsure of Sessegnon's best role, but we know it's attacking, so let him do what he wants. Connor Wickham here plays the part of Chris Sutton, setting up knockdowns for Sessegnon, Gardner and whoever else joins in the attack, but preferably this would be a new signing too. Steven Fletcher would be absolutely ideal in this role.
In my minds eye, we definitely have the the option to do this, it's just a matter of whether or not we have the gumption to actually do so. It seems possible we could adopt it though as a plan b, but it would be highly interesting to see us take a radical turn and bring back the 3-5-2 formation.