premier-league-2019-20-wolves-vs-burnley-tactical-analysis-tactics
Artwork by @chapluana

Wolves snatched the point from the hands of Burnley on Sunday’s Premier League tie thanks to a penalty in the 97th minute. The visitors will feel incredibly disappointed by how this match ended, given their excellent performance throughout. This tactical analysis will examine the performance of both sides in Sunday’s fixture at Molineux.

Lineups 

The home side lined-up in a 3-5-2 formation, with Jonny and Doherty returning to the wing-back positions following their rest in mid-week. Meanwhile, Ruben Neves returned to the starting eleven, while Saiss was replaced by Morgan Gibbs-White. In contrast to the Wolves set-up in mid-week, Espirito Santo opted for a number 10 to support the strikers rather than a number four to screen the back three. Jimenez and Jota inevitably kept their places in the starting team, both having scored against Torino during the week.

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Wolves lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, while Burnley countered in a 4-4-2 shape

Sean Dyche’s Burnley came out in a solid 4-4-2 shape, with the captain, Ben Mee and James Tarkowski partnering in central defence. Ahead of them in the midfield was Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood, while Chris Wood partnered Ashley Barnes up front.

Burnley’s central block

Throughout the match, it was evident from the start of how crucial Burnley’s holding midfielders would be to protecting their goal. Cork and Westwood sat in-line with their centre-halves for much of the game, creating a four-on-three battle should Jiminez and Jota attack the middle. This forced both of Wolves’ strikers wide, isolating Morgan Gibbs-White between the lines. We can see this by the lack of involvement that Gibbs-White had in this match, statistical analysis shows that Gibbs-White had just one successful dribble, below his average of 3.7 per match.

Furthermore, the youngster’s duel numbers were cut in half from 22 to just 10. Burnley used this caging tactic several times to trap the Wolves attackers, with three blue jerseys surrounding the ball, cutting-off any passing options. Burnley would hunt in packs from back to front, with Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes tasked with slowing the Wolves build-up from the source. This high pressure from the front forced Wolves’ wing-backs deep to support the pressurised centre-backs.

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Caged Wolves: Burnley’s shape off the ball caged the ball from the home side’s main outlets throughout the match.
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As the ball is moved out to Boly, Burnley’s winger pushes toward the ball while the two strikers cover the next centre-half and deep midfielder.

Following the opening goal, Burnley would switch between their initial 4-4-2 formation and a 5-3-2 shape. The personnel of the third centre-back varied for Burnley, with either one of the holding midfielders dropping in, with the wingers coming into the middle. Alternatively, one of the full-backs would drop inside with one of the wingers covering. The central three created a screen ahead of the back five while providing pressure on the ball alongside the two strikers, who would also drop-off on occasion.

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The Wolves strikers are trapped with the Burnley centre-halves, as the cage prevents them from dropping deep to receive the ball. The midfield man-marks while the strikers can pressure the back three.
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Burnley drop into a 5-3-2, with one striker pressurising to make it a 5-4-1. Makeshift full-backs follow the Wolves wing-backs. Burnley hold a high line while covering any possibility for a long ball with the midfield press.

Diamonds are forever

Wolves looked to play through this deep-lying midfield block with a forward-thinking midfield, packed with attacking prowess. Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho acted as number eights to link the back three/five with the Wolves front three. However, we can see below that the two were unsuccessful in breaking down this Burnley block, with the away side’s rigid shape and pressure on the back three resulting in long, hopeful balls toward the strikers. Statistics show that Neves was forced into making almost double the long balls than his average game (eight per match), attempting 14 long balls from deep positions like these:

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Ruben Neves is unable to link the defence with his midfield, with Burnley’s front four and two holding midfielders separating the two areas of the Wolves team. This forces the long ball from Neves, which Burnley have more bodies to successfully contest for the ball.

This forced a change in personnel, with Moutinho being replaced by Dendoncker in midfield. Wolves now had a recognised number four, creating a diamond between the back-three and the Belgian to link the defence and midfield. This helped Wolves bypass the press from the Burnley strikers and progress up the pitch far quicker, as shown by the Belgian’s progressive pass rate, which stood at 88% successful forward passes. Furthermore, Moutinho lost the ball three times in the Wolves half, while Dendoncker didn’t lose the ball in the Wolves half at all. The substitute would sit deeper while Neves would act as the midfield link, with better support from deep in Dendoncker.

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Wolves had far more success playing out following Dendoncker’s arrival. From the keeper’s distribution, Neves drops deep and Dendoncker screen the back three while supporting Neves in his progression up the pitch.

Overload vs Counter

Wolves and Burnley played contrasting styles, the home side played out from the back and looked to move Burnley’s block around from the wide areas. Meanwhile, the visitors looked to force their opponents into long balls, before bypassing the poorly linked midfield to stretch the back three. Burnley were far more successful here, as they took the lead from their solid defensive shape.

From this deep position, Burnley change into a 4-4-1-1 formation, this time it was Barnes dropping deep to receive the ball. Willy Boly followed Barnes who released the ball quickly, leaving Chris Wood between two centre-halves. McNeil flicked on the second ball for Barnes who had three defenders behind him. The Austrian was quick to pull the trigger, and his strike was inch-perfect to beat Rui Patricio between the sticks. The use of the false-nine tactic worked excellently to dominate a midfield that is arguably too forward-thinking to cover Burnley on the counter.

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Barnes drops into the midfield as Burnley counter, taking Boly with him. Barnes quickly releases and the long ball leaves Wood with a back two.
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Boly is caught behind Barnes who receives the flick-on by McNeil. Jonny is not able to take position quickly enough and Barnes has enough space to ash the ball into the bottom left corner.

Burnley were able to profit from long balls by moving and stretching the defence between the wingers and strikers. We can see this below, as Chris Wood latches onto Pope’s goal-kick, Gudmundsson moves Jonny inside while Wood drags Boly wide.

Meanwhile, Barnes moves inside from the left next to Bennett while Coady is caught between Gudmundsson and Barnes. The ball is fizzed in by Lowton and Barnes reacts quickest, the goalscorer should’ve capitalised, but he was unable to convert on this occasion.

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Wood takes Boly wide, while Jonny is forced to fill in at centre-back. This leaves Barnes with two markers and an abundance of space on the edge of the box.
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Barnes gets ahead of his marker while taking advantage of the next centre-half’s blind-spot, leading to a chance that should’ve killed the game.

Wolves looked to play in and around the gaps, which were excellently closed up by Burnley’s set-up. However, Wolves were able to escape the Burnley’s cages, creating space on the edge of the box using quick one-twos. Wolves also looked to take advantage of these four-man cages, playing in and out of these cages to take the attention away from third-man runs and onto the man in the cage.

On these occasions, it was star-striker Raul Jiminez who was able to take advantage of the space between the Burnley markers, but Wolves were unable to find the final ball in the moves that held great promise.

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Jiminez can hold up the ball inside the Burnley cage. He receives support from the midfield who can then exploit the space left in behind.

Conclusion

Wolves were saved from the spot in the end, as the home side struggled to breakdown Burnley’s deep lines. Burnley will be very disappointed to go home with a point, the Clarets dominated the game despite having the smaller share of possession. Wolves lacked real creativity in the final third and just couldn’t seem to work around the dense Burnley midfield.

Wolves’ change in set-up to counteract the deep midfield of the away side, by fielding a very forward-thinking midfield instead exposed a vulnerable back-three. Burnley’s organisation was brilliant throughout the ninety minutes, with an ‘all hands on deck’ set-up almost paying off, if it weren’t for a 97th-minute penalty ending up in the back of the net. Burnley will surely be disappointed by the point in the end, and Wolves will be thanking their lucky stars to steal the point at the death.


Artwork by @chapulana

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Ciaran O'Hare

Writer/Analyst at FBA
Leeds United and Falkirk fan, podcaster and radio producer. I love to dive deep into the art of football tactics and the sport's greatest stories.
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