League One Play-Off Final 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

EFL League One Play-Off Final 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton vs Sunderland

Charlton Athletic overcame Sunderland 2-1 in the League One Play-Off Final at Wembley thanks to a 94th-minute winner from central defender Patrick Bauer.

Our tactical analysis will look at how the Addicks came to such a victory, and ultimately secured their spot in the Championship for next season.


League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

As can be seen above, Charlton started in a 3-5-2 formation with their opponents in a 4-2-3-1. However, both outfits were fluid in their positioning and would variate depending on the situation: Charlton to a 5-3-2 and Sunderland to a 4-4-1-1 when respectively defending, before reverting back to their outlined system when in possession.

Charlton Athletic

Wing-backs key

As briefly mentioned, the wing-backs of Charlton were crucial in their interchanging of formations depending on whether they were in or out of possession.

When defending, Ben Purrington and Anfernee Dijksteel would drop back into orthodox full-back positions and thus allow the three central defenders to revert narrower and defend the penalty area.

Furthermore, the presence of Purrington and Dijksteel in their defensive third allowed Charlton to produce an overload and thereby keep the ball easier than if they had been advanced. This numerical superiority meant that Charlton could move the ball quickly and begin to construct attacks on the floor from their own defence, as is illustrated below with a 7v4 overload.

League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

However, as the ball was progressed up the pitch then the aforementioned duo were crucial in stretching the pitch and providing genuine width for their side, giving them greater options in attack also.

As they were the only players in their eleven situated out wide then they had to ensure they had the energy to constantly get up and down the pitch to provide such options – and it is a role that they flourished in.

Their advancement, in turn, meant that the wide attackers of Sunderland had to retreat deeper in order to track them back, meaning that should the Black Cats regain the ball then they would have fewer options higher up the pitch.

Charlton’s first goal came from Purrington getting in around the back to turn home a Lyle Taylor cross (below) and is a perfect example of Charlton’s will for their wing-backs to be offensively minded.League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

Defensive variation

The presence of Krystian Bielik in their side gives Charlton a number of options as to the minutiae of how they line up, owing to the Pole’s versatility. He initially operated on the right side of the central defensive trio, as can be seen in the following graphic.

League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

In this position he was in direct competition with Chris Maguire, who was on the left of the three Sunderland attacking midfielders. Maguire likes to drop deep and inside to find the ball as opposed to staying wide and beating his man on the outside, and these movements then facilitate the opening of space for left-back Bryan Oviedo to bomb on into.

Yet Bielik was tasked with tracking Maguire all the way, not passing him onto a midfielder but pressing him no matter how far he retreated. In combination with Dijksteel’s pressing of Oviedo, this prevented Sunderland’s left-hand side from dominating offensively, and an example is presented in the following graphic.

League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

Williams links attack

Attacking midfielder Jonny Williams was introduced for Darren Pratley in the 71st minute, and his introduction made Charlton into a more fluid attacking unit due to his prevalence for lining up between the midfield and defence as opposed to the more naturally conservative Pratley.

Upon Williams’ introduction, the Addicks became more of a 4-2-2-2, with the Welshman and Joe Aribo playing off Taylor and Josh Parker up front, with Bielik and Josh Cullen offering defensive protection (yet another example of Bielik’s flexibility, this time operating as a genuine central midfielder).

League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

With the two attackers linking up between the lines, it gave more options for Charlton to play through centrally and feed their front line. However, due to fewer amounts of defensive cover, it slightly inhibited Purrington and Dijksteel from advancing as frequently as they had done, meaning that Lee Bowyer’s men looked to now create more centrally as opposed to out wide.


Unable to hit Wyke

A large part of Sunderland’s attacking armoury is the aerial capabilities of Charlie Wyke, looking for knock-downs off the head of the striker in order to provide for their deeper attacking midfielders to run onto and play off.

Yet with the initial three central defenders for Charlton, they swamped the powerful forward in order to prevent not just his ability, but Sunderland’s ability to run onto Wyke’s contribution also. The Charlton midfield would retreat to surround Wyke, getting in close proximity in order to increase their chances of getting straight onto the second balls.

Sunderland were unable to provide adequate support for the 26-year old, and their inability to fully maximise his attributes stifled much of their attacking play.

League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

Full-backs advanced

As with Charlton – and also so many modern-day teams – Sunderland’s full-backs play a huge part in their attacking setup.

Here, Jack Ross’ outfit would look to use their full-backs in order to provide support and assistance out wide in attack.

Sunderland would often look to bring one of their wide midfielders or full-backs inside whilst pushing the other outside to give balance in a variety of passing lines, as can be seen in the following examples.

When the full-back would be positioned on the touchline the midfielder would move inside and vice versa, always ensuring that there was an option out wide in order to stretch the Charlton defence.

The below images indicate firstly O’Nien offering width with Morgan inside, before Oviedo coming inside when supported by width from Honeyman.

League One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs SunderlandLeague One Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland

Pressing in midfield

Furthermore, Sunderland also looked to harass the Charlton midfield when in possession in order to win back the ball and be ruthless in transition.

Whenever an Addicks midfielder received the ball in-or-around the halfway line the Black Cats would relentlessly hound the recipient in order to maximise their chances of winning the ball back, as can be seen below.

Sunderland utilised such a tactic in order to fully capitalise on their men in advance of the ball upon turnover, with the wide attacking midfielders always ready to react to produce a swift counter attack when winning the ball back.


Charlton gained promotion through taking advantage of key moments in a tight contest. Neither side truly dominated the other, however ultimately the Addicks’ ability to carve out two genuine chances were the difference between going up and staying down.

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