How did Bristol City take all three points at Blackburn?

Artwork by @chapulana.

The Championship provided us with a very interesting match between Blackburn Rovers and Bristol City. Blackburn Rovers wanted to get in the right shape and maybe set up a good position to keep challenging for the play-off places, while Bristol City wanted to remain in those play-off places. It would become a rather interesting standoff with the visitors being victorious in the end.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at a tactical trend during this Championship game. We will have a look at how both teams set up offensively in their formations how Bristol City won the game and continued their winning streak.



Both Tony Mowbray as Lee Johnson opted for the same formation. They both fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation with a low defensive block. Blackburn lost to Brentford the previous matchday and was looking for redemption with this formation. Bristol were not in the same position as their opponents, as they were looking to utilise their good form which saw them beat Swansea City last week.

Blackburn Rovers’ 4-3-2-1 with upcoming full-backs

Blackburn Rovers were desperate for a good result at Ewood Park and their 4-2-3-1 formation should be the key to that. The home team wanted to get a positive result and had the intention to play attacking football.

Blackburn’s 4-2-3-1

The hosts played a rather conservative-looking 4-2-3-1 formation with a low defensive block consisting of Smallwood and Travis. But when the Rovers were in attack, their formation changed. The full-backs Williams and Bennet made runs down the line and supported the attacking players.

Full-back Williams offering support to the attack

As you can see above, Williams goes forward and has quite some space to do that. This is not only because the room he’s offered by Bristol City, but also because the midfielders go into the middle of the pitch. Armstong, Dack and Reed all lean more to the middle and right.

Blackburn’s attackers leaning to the right

In the image above you can see how the attacking players lean to the right side of the pitch. In doing so, they’re creating space on the left side for the upcoming full-back to make his run down the line or give an early cross to the players in the box. 50% of the Blackburn attacks were created on the left flank.

In attack Graham, Armstrong, Dack and Reed were all involved, supported by full-backs Williams and Bennet. The rest-defence was orchestrated by centre-backs Mulgrew and Rodwell, as well as the low defensive block consisting of Smallwood and Travis.

Bristol City’s less risky 4-2-3-1

Bristol opted for the same formation as their opponents, only they wanted to take less of a risk than Blackburn. They knew Blackburn would come at them and Bristol wanted to have a solid defensive base.

Bristol City 4-2-3-1

The way Bristol City were playing in this match doesn’t vary too much from their opponents. There is, however, one significant difference. Bristol only let one, the left full-back, make runs into the opponent’s half. That was Dasilva, right full-back Wright stayed on the right side, which always left the visitors with three defenders.

Right full-back stays in own half
Dasilva makes a run down the line

In the case of Dasilva, he supported the attacking players, but not in the same way the full-backs of the opponents did that. Most of the attacks of Bristol City took place on the left side of the pitch, with Paterson, O’Dowda and Diedhiou all moving towards the left.

Bristol City attacking players leaning to the left

City’s strong second half 

The first half was all about the dominance of Blackburn Rovers. They had possession of the ball and regained possession quite easily and quickly, once Bristol had the ball. The second half was the opposite of that. Now it was Bristol that were dominating the play and finally showed that in the 80th minute when Pisano scored after a decent corner from O’Dowda.

Both teams had a very strong half, giving them both a lot of chances. Blackburn Rovers had 11 shots during this game and Bristol City had 13 shots in total. They seemed to have an equal amount of chances, but in the end, it was a set-piece that gave Bristol the advantage over Blackburn Rovers.

Bristol City scoring for 0-1

O’Dowda took the corner from the right and swung it in. Pisano made use of poor defending in the box by Blackburn Rovers and put the visitors ahead, 0-1. This would also be the score at the end of the game.

Final thoughts

It was always going to be a close game between two teams with equal formations. The 4-2-3-1 gave both teams the opportunity to attack with their full-backs down the line. The difference was made by the decision to put both full-backs forward or just one. Bristol City came back stronger in the second half, but it was a set-piece in the 80th minute that made the difference and made the Bristol City fans very happy.

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