Bristol City went to Hillsborough looking for victory as they battle for the last championship playoff spot. With just three games of the season to go, victory in their final three games would guarantee a playoff place. Sheffield Wednesday came into the game with an outside chance of making the play offs, needing the team above them to continue dropping points which they have all been doing.
In this tactical analysis we examine how Sheffield Wednesday exploited the weaknesses in Bristol City’s starting shape before the visitors adapted their formation to counter the threats Sheffield Wednesday were posing.
Poor midfield structure
Bristol City lacked a presence in higher central areas during the first half as a result of their formation and the individual tendencies of Marlon Pack and Josh Brownhill. Playing with three central defenders against the front two of Sheffield Wednesday, gave them numerical superiority in the initial build up phase. Both Brownhill and Pack came deep to receive the ball in turn creating a 5v2 or 5v3 overload in deep areas.
Due to the excess numbers in deep areas, this left Bristol City without a central Presence between the midfield which was deep and the front three of Niclas Eliasson, Andreas Weimann and Famara Diedhiou. This resulted in a number of longer flat passes into the front three, which they struggled to maintain possession of due to the lack of positional structure higher up the pitch.
The freedom of Hillsborough
Due to the aforementioned poor midfield structure of Bristol City, Barry Bannan was afforded plenty of time and space in possession. During the transition phase, Sheffield Wednesday would look to find Bannan, who with his ability to hit long-range passes was able to dictate play. This often took the form of longer switches of play from one side of the pitch to the other.
Bristol City finally paid for the space they offered Bannan as he started and finished the move which led to the first goal of the game. Dropping deeper towards the central defenders, he received the ball before playing it wide to Dominic Iorfa, who sprinted forwards and played a ball into Gary Hooper, who returned it to Bannan, again in space to fire into the top corner from 30 yards.
Bristol City’s pressing plan
Out of possession, Bristol City adopted a narrow deep shape with both Weimann and Eliasson dropping to create a 5-4-1. The plan being to win the ball from Sheffield Wednesday in central areas and attack with speed at the defence. This plan, however, failed to work as Sheffield Wednesday were able to maintain possession of the ball in central areas before switching out of pressure to a free player. The ball-playing ability of Michael Hector, in particular, was a key component of this as he was able to step into midfield before finding a teammate behind the Bristol City lines.
City adapt midfield positioning
Around the twenty minute mark of the game, Bristol City adapted the roles of their midfielders in order to enable them to be closer to Bannan. Brownhill became more advanced than Pack who sat deeper which allowed them better access to press Bannan.
This enabled Bristol City to sustain their attacks as they had better support to prevent Sheffield Wednesday from regaining possession easily and starting their own attacks. With Brownhill playing closer to the front three he had better access to the second ball.
Bristol City were now operating out of a 4-2-2-2 formation, focusing on winning the ball in higher central areas. Alongside the advanced positioning of Brownhill, Lee Johnson moved Adam Webster from his centre back role into a holding midfielder, a tactic used to devastating effect in the first half against West Brom. With the change in formation it enabled them to apply better pressure on the ball and therefore limited the control that Sheffield Wednesday and Bannan, in particular, had in the game.
Unlike the West Brom game, however, it did not prove to be as effective against Sheffield Wednesday as often the final pass in transition was intercepted by the defence. The eagerness in which the midfielders looked to penetrate the defence was detrimental to the quality of the pass. With a little more control when the time arose, such as when Sheffield Wednesday had sufficient defensive cover would have provided more opportunities to create better chances.
The second Wednesday goal came courtesy of a rushed forward pass that was intercepted by the impressive Hector. He stepped forwards attracting more City players to move towards the ball before playing a long pass out of pressure into Lucas João. A lay off pass into George Boyd, who had moved forward to support the pass, was then played into Bannan. He played a long ball over the Bristol City defence for João to run onto a loft over the onrushing Max O’Leary.
Sheffield Wednesday took control of the game in the first fifteen minutes of the game, exploiting the weaknesses in Bristol City’s defence before Lee Johnson changed shape to counter the problems they exposed. With two goals in the first half, Sheffield Wednesday were comfortable in the match with Bristol City struggling to maintain attacks and a lack of quality with the final pass.