One of the early kick-offs on Saturday saw Derby County play host to West Brom in the EFL Championship in a game that promised to be an enticing tactical affair that would provide many avenues open to further analysis. The two clubs involved will be looking to challenge at the top of the table this season following promising league finishes last season of fourth and sixth respectively, however, both have undergone upheavals over the summer with new managers being appointed at the clubs. This tactical analysis of the match that finished 1-1 will attempt to provide an insight into some of the tactics used by both managers.
For Derby County, it was a difficult summer losing manager Frank Lampard to Chelsea and along with him key midfield player Mason Mount. However, they have been able to bounce back and bring in an intriguing appointment in former PSV and Fenerbahçe manager Philip Cocu. They were also fairly active in the transfer window, bringing in central defender Krystian Bielik from Arsenal as well as bringing in the likes of Kieran Dowell and Jamie Paterson on loan. Following a win on the opening day of the season, Derby’s proceeded to somewhat stumble out of the blocks and came into the game having drawn twice and then lost their previous game. Consequently, they would have been looking to kickstart their season against good opposition.
With regards to West Brom, having controversially parted ways with Darren Moore during last season despite sitting in fourth position, they have brought in Slaven Bilić at the helm following the failure to progress through the playoffs. During the summer transfer market, they were unable to keep top scorers Dwight Gayle (following his loan move from Newcastle) and Jay Rodriguez who was sold to Burnley. However, they have also been able to bring in some talented players in Kenneth Zohore, Charlie Austin and Romaine Sawyers on permanent deals and the likes of Grady Diangana, Matheus Pereira and Filip Krovinović on loan deals. West Brom travelled to Pride Park undefeated in the league with two wins and two draws to their name, and Bilić would have been keen to maintain his side’s decent form thus far.
Derby lined up in a very fluid 4-3-3 formation that saw two 18-year-olds make their full league debuts for the club with Philip Cocu keen to promote youth development in his side. Both Jason Knight (CM) and Lee Buchanan (LB) had featured in their Carabao Cup win at Scunthorpe and impressed enough to earn a start, with Buchanan having scored the winner in mid-week. Meanwhile, Jack Marriott was introduced into the starting 11 as the main striker having scored in their league defeat last weekend. These changes saw Matthew Clarke, Mason Bennett and Scott Malone drop to the bench having started the game against Bristol City.
West Bromwich Albion set up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Slaven Bilić also keen to give youth a chance as 18-year-old Nathan Ferguson replaced Darrell Furlong at right-back. West Brom made two other changes to the side that drew with Reading last weekend, as Charlie Austin was replaced up front by Kenneth Zohore and Kyle Edwards took the place of Grady Diangana on the wing. Notably summer signings Krovinović, Sawyers and Ajayi were all also given the nod from the start.
The movement of Derby’s front three
Derby’s most impressive tactic was the movement and fluidity of their front three which at times caused real problems for the West Brom defence. With Marriott starting they lacked a real focal point for the midfielders and wingers to feed off, however, due to the way in which they play with constant movement at pace it made it very difficult for the opposition defence to deal with as Waghorn, Marriott and Lawrence often swapped positions in order to find space. They also regularly strived to make diagonal runs in behind and across opposition defenders making it difficult for the defenders to play them offside and track their runs.
In the example above the three Derby front men are highlighted with Lawrence (yellow) receiving the ball on the left-wing, whilst Marriot (blue) and Waghorn (red) are preparing to make crossing diagonal runs in order to find space behind the defence. This constant movement made it difficult for the West Brom defenders to track their men.
Furthermore, they were able to dictate the width of the game by often either hugging the touchline to stretch the defence or by coming narrow to crowd the penalty area and central third to cause confusion. This also created space down the flanks for the full-backs to exploit though they could have taken this opportunity more often as the full-backs appeared tentative to move forward on occasion, especially as the game wore on and they were trying to protect their lead.
Below, the three Derby forwards are once more highlighted where they have all come very narrow in order to offer an option for the man on the ball. You can also see Marriott making another diagonal run in behind. In this particular scenario, a clever piece of interplay almost led to Tom Lawrence running through on goal, this shows the confusion that crowding the central third of the pitch can cause. Meanwhile, highlighted down the wing there is a lot of space for an overlapping full-back to make a run and stretch the defence, but as mentioned earlier, Derby’s tactics did not seem to concentrate on exploiting wide areas using their full-backs.
Krovinović causing problems
A key player for West Brom on Saturday was Krovinović who joined the Baggies on loan from Benfica this summer. He occupied the ‘number 10’ role in the match and looked to be the playmaker in Bilić’s side by either dropping deep to collect the ball and find passes or by taking the ball on the turn between the Derby midfield and defence and trying to slip the ball to a teammate or shoot. Krovinović was able to grow into the game and find space as Derby often seemed more concerned with preventing Sawyers from dictating the play and so gaps often developed in front of the Derby defence.
Below is a clear example of Krovinović finding space in between the lines with the defenders undecided on whether to close him down or leave him for the midfield to cover. Krovinović regularly attempted to find space on the edge of the box and he had a couple of notable opportunities which he perhaps should have capitalised upon.
The impact of Diangana and Pereira
At half time Bilić made the decision to replace Kyle Edwards with West Ham loanee Grady Diangana on the left-wing, and then with 20 minutes left of the match, he also brought on Sporting CP loanee Matheus Pereira in place of Matt Philips on the right. Both players had significant impacts on the game in different ways. Diangana did well to pin back the Derby right back and brought a directness with the ball at his feet and pace that West Brom had lacked in the first half. He drove at the opposition defence and created some good opportunities and helped to stretch the game for West Brom. He was able to be much more involved in the game than Edwards had been and as a result caused real problems for Lowe in the Derby defence at times.
In the following image, Diangana can be seen running at the defence having already turned the full-back and gotten away from him. This pace and directness was missing too often for West Brom during the first half. He dribbles straight towards the central defender forcing him into a decision of whether to commit to the tackle or back off and this made him difficult for the Derby defence to deal with. On this occasion the defender timed his tackle well, but Diangana did have other options that he could have taken. Coincidentally, highlighted in red is Krovinović once again ghosting between the midfield and defence.
As for Pereira, he brought an extra creative dynamic to the West Brom attack. He was able to collect the ball and run at the defence and won a controversial penalty to level the game as a result of this but he was also comfortable collecting the ball from deeper positions and cutting in to try and find a pass into the other forwards, this meant that in the final twenty minutes West Brom had the directness of Diangana, the movement of Krovinović, the creativity of Pereira and the strength of Zohore.
In this example, Pereira has collected the ball on the turn in the inside forward position. He also caused problems with his directness and key passes. When he turns he has three options open to him in Zohore, Krovinović and Diangana on the left-wing, he proceeded to drive at the defence before working the ball out to Diangana who put a dangerous cross into the area. This pace, directness, and creativity had a huge impact on West Brom’s improved second-half performance and it penned Derby back into their own half for long spells in the second period.
In summary, it was an intriguing game between two fairly well-matched sides that employed similar tactics in certain aspects of the game. In a game where three penalties were given, two in highly controversial circumstances, it is surprising that the result was not more high scoring with both teams creating some good chances from open play.
In Derby’s case, their biggest threat came from the movement and interplay of their forward line as that is how they won one of their penalties and created numerous other opportunities throughout the game. Waghorn was the standout player from the frontline meanwhile 18-year-old Knight was tasked with man-marking Romaine Sawyers for large periods of the game and impressed in his central midfield role.
With regards to West Brom, it was somewhat a game of two halves as the introduction of Diangana and Pereira greatly improved their attacking output. Meanwhile, Krovinović often looked threatening from attacking midfield. The loss of Kieran Gibbs in the 20th minute through injury greatly affected their width at times due to the overlapping attacking quality and delivery that he has been known to offer.
Overall, in what was a battle primarily fought in midfield a draw seems to be a fair result with Derby arguably having the best of the first half whilst West Brom had the better of the second period as Derby sat back to try and defend their lead.
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