This game promised to be an intriguing affair with plenty of quality on display and two evenly matched teams going head to head. This tactical analysis will aim to provide an insight into the tactics displayed in the 0-1 victory for Blackburn over Hull City, as a result of a Williams header in the 62nd minute.
Tuesday evening saw an intriguing encounter take place between Hull City and Blackburn Rovers at the KCOM stadium. With only two points and places separating the teams last season in the EFL Championship, both managers would have been aware that these types of fixtures are important if they wish to better last season’s performance and this article will strive to provide an analysis of the night’s action.
Hull City underwent a change in manager over the summer and replaced a battle-hardened Nigel Adkins with a 39-year-old less experienced but progressive manager in Grant McCann. Having started their season in mixed fashion with a win, a loss and a draw in their first three games, Hull entered the game trying to kickstart their Championship campaign under the new leadership regime. Furthermore, they were able to keep hold of key players such as Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen during the transfer window, despite reported Premier League interest in the latter. Having finished 13th last term they will be hoping to improve to at least a top-half finish this year.
Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers endured a fairly similar season in 2018/19 to that of their opponents, finishing comfortably in 15th. Tony Mowbray remains in charge of the Rovers who will be hoping to kick on this season as well and challenge for the top half of the table. Blackburn also began the season with mixed fortunes, losing their first two but managing to win the game previous to Tuesday’s. Blackburn lost the likes of Charlie Mulgrew during the transfer window but recruited veteran winger Stewart Downing to take over set-piece duties and they retained top scorer Bradley Dack who bagged 15 goals in the league from attacking midfield last season.
Hull City played their team in what is displayed as a 4-1-4-1 formation, though the wingers rarely tracked back so it resulted in being more similar to a 4-3-3. With new signing George Honeyman injured following their last game, Batty took his place in centre midfield. Furthermore, their regular right-back Eric Lichaj was also ruled out through injury and was replaced in the side by Robbie Mckenzie. Kevin Stewart played as a defensive midfielder in between the defence and midfield lines and acted as a pivot when in possession, with Tom Eaves playing as the lone striker.
Tony Mowbray made some interesting tactical changes to his Blackburn side, making the decision to drop match-winner Danny Graham from the side. Instead, he elected to play the pacy Adam Armstrong as the main striker with Sam Gallagher and Stewart Downing occupying the wide areas and Bradley Dack playing in between the lines and at times as a second striker in the 4-2-3-1- system.
Hull’s High Pressing
Grant McCann is clearly trying to implement a high pressing style of football in an effort for his team to win possession in more advanced areas of the pitch. This pressing was most evident in the first half of the game where Hull pushed high up the pitch and refused to allow Blackburn any time on the ball, especially when the Blackburn central midfielders received the ball as they were hassled and forced backwards or dispossessed.
As a result, Blackburn struggled to build-up play through midfield due to the lack of time and space in the middle third of the pitch. Evidence of this can be seen in the example below whereas the ball is headed into the Blackburn midfielder’s feet he is immediately pressed and tackled, this then led to a dangerous attack from winning the ball in a good area of the pitch.
Once they had won the ball, they were able to have numbers immediately forward, so they had options whenever they were on the ball. By crowding the midfield areas, they made it very difficult for Blackburn to progress the ball through the central areas and as a result, Hull either won possession or forced the long ball a lot of the time.
However, the issue with this style of football tactics is that it requires incredibly high fitness levels to be sustained throughout the entire game. As a result, in the second half, it was clear that Hull began to steadily drop backwards and once they had conceded they had little energy and impetus to launch a counter on the opposition, making it relatively easy for Blackburn to see out the game. As can be seen in the image below, in the 84th minute the Hull midfield has dropped significantly lower than in the first half meaning the Blackburn midfield had more time on the ball to pick a pass and retain possession.
Hull creating 1 v 1’s in wide areas
An important aspect of Hull City’s attack was their ability to maintain their width and as a result, create opportunities for their wingers to run at the opposition full-backs in 1 v 1 situations. Perhaps Hull’s most talented players can be found in their wide areas in Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki and they aimed to exploit the gaps in the Blackburn defence. In the example below, Hull had just won the ball in the opposition half and within two passes has spread the play to Grosicki in a 1 v 1 situation with the Blackburn full-back. Neither of the central defenders can cover for him as the other Hull forwards are immediately adopting attacking positions.
Once these 1 v 1 opportunities had been created, the Hull players made a conscious effort to get bodies into the penalty area in anticipation of the cross and also made sure they had midfield players around the edge of the box in order to win the second ball. A perfect example of this was when they won a penalty in the first half thanks to Irvine making it to the loose ball first.
In the example above, it is clear how many numbers Hull commit to the attack, it is important to note the positions that the midfielders take up on the edge of the box ready to collect any loose or second balls. In this case, the loose ball worked its way out to Irvine (the Hull player next to the referee) who was then fouled and a penalty was awarded. This is how effectively committing numbers to attacks can cause problems for opposition sides. This was a big part of Grant McCann’s tactics on Tuesday.
With the inclusion of Adam Armstrong by Tony Mowbray, Blackburn were set up to counter-attack Hull and exploit the space in behind due to Hull’s high line. Blackburn frequently hit long balls to try and find their front 4 in space in behind the defence. Downing, Dack, Gallagher and Armstrong all looked to make runs in behind. In the example below, you can see that Hull have pressed high, meanwhile, Gallagher and Armstrong are looking to run in behind when the central defender collects the ball. Incidentally, in this image, you can also see Dack (circled) finding space between the Hull midfield and defensive lines.
Another way in which Blackburn aimed to counteract Hull’s high press was the usage of Sam Gallagher as a type of wide target man. He could be seen frequently pulling wide onto the full-back and being targeted with aerial balls where his job was to win knockdowns to Dack and Armstrong. Blackburn exploited this effectively, often beating the Hull press by finding accurate long balls. As Hull tired, Mowbray’s men effectively used switches of play to find space and retain possession.
Gallagher also often made delayed runs into towards the back post to get on the end of crosses and had a couple of decent opportunities. Below is evidence of one of those opportunities as he peeled off at the back post so he could dominate the full-back in the air and it makes it very difficult for the central defender to know where his man is. In this case, Gallagher had a free header at the back post that he tried to head back across goal when in actual fact he probably could have scored had he directed his header on target.
Bradley Dack plays a key role in this Blackburn side. Often making runs beyond the striker and getting himself into dangerous areas. However, he is most effective in the half-spaces between the opposition midfield and defence where he can take the ball on the turn and assess his options before finding a pass. Hull tried to combat this with Stewart being the defensive midfielder, however, due to the press that Hull were trying to implement, gaps often appeared for Dack to find himself in.
In the above example, it shows Dack running at the Hull defence, the yellow arrows show the options he had available to him. As shown by the dashed red arrow, he decided to carry the ball before teeing up the on running Stewart Downing who hit the post. This is key to the way in which Blackburn play and can cause real problems for opponents with the pace and final ball that some of their players possess.
Blackburn made the most of their set-piece situations, with the only goal of the game coming from a header from a free-kick situation. With the addition of Stewart Downing to the squad, Rovers have a player with a wealth of experience in delivering set-pieces, who is able to consistently deliver crosses into dangerous areas that cause problems for opponents.
In this game, Blackburn looked to overload the back post in order to win the header and this caused many problems for the Hull defence. Blackburn also committed huge numbers to set pieces throughout the game, regularly having 8 men in the box (as seen in the image below) in addition to the one taking the free-kick. This meant that any delivery into a good area caused serious problems for Hull.
Furthermore, if we use the goal as an example, Adam Armstrong’s job was to pin the goalkeeper and prevent him from coming for the ball and this worked effectively though it is quite controversial as Armstrong’s obstruction could have easily been given as a foul on another day. Below is an image of the set-piece from which Blackburn scored, Armstrong is just out of view with the number 8 next to him but as the ball comes in, he prevents the keeper from coming to deal with the cross that is put into a dangerous area. What is impressive is the bravery of Blackburn to commit numbers to the set-piece and not being too wary of a counter-attack.
Overall, it was an entertaining game to watch from a neutral perspective and it was also an intriguing tactical affair. In the first half, Hull’s pressing caused real problems for Blackburn who frequently tried to play out from the back and lost the ball in dangerous areas, Stewart was particularly impressive in breaking up the play.
Furthermore, Hull did well to create 1 v 1 situations in wide areas and commit numbers to the attack, especially during the first half. However, Blackburn were able to match Hull during the first half by having many out balls either through Dack in the middle, Armstrong over the top or to Gallagher and Downing out wide.
In the second half, as Hull tired it allowed Blackburn to dominate proceedings somewhat and once they went ahead they rarely looked like conceding.
In summary, it was a very even game that could have easily gone either way given the opportunities that both sides had, in the end, it was down to Blackburn’s versatility of having pace, height and technical ability in their team that allowed them to nick all three points, whilst Hull will be disappointed not to have come away from the game with anything to show for it following a positive first half.
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