Slaven Bilić’s West Bromwich Albion were looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the 2019/20 EFL Championship when they came up against Huddersfield Town, who had recently appointed Danny Cowley as manager. The Baggies have made an impressive start to this season, picking up 13 points in the first seven games and scoring 15 goals. There are hopes of promotion from the Hawthornes and the promising start is further evidence of this. Huddersfield, on the other hand, found themselves in deep trouble before the match, only picking up one point after seven games played. The appointment of Cowley, however, has gave the club a lift and renewed optimism that a successful season can still be achieved.
West Brom came out 4-2 winners in a thrilling game which saw them overcome a 1-2 deficit. The game was end to end, with excellent attacking play on both teams which made it such an open match and a great advert for the EFL Championship. This tactical analysis will attempt to highlight the tactics used by both teams and look at ways in which both teams attempted to win the match.
In terms of the lineups, West Brom operated in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Sam Johnstone started between the sticks, with Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi as the two starting centre-backs. Darnell Furlong and Nathan Ferguson were the two full-backs with full emphasis to get forward, and in many cases play as wingers to allow the attacking players to roam inside. Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers were the two defensive midfielders for the Baggies and they had a huge role to play in terms of being the focal point of keeping possession and winning the ball back with the press. Matt Phillips and Matheus Pereira were the two wide players but they played with attacking freedom which saw them come inside and take up central positions. Filip Krovinović was the central attacking midfielder, who was looking to feed Charlie Austin who started as the lone striker.
As for Huddersfield, they lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Kamil Grabara started in goal, with Tommy Elphick and Christopher Schindler as the two centre-backs. Their roles would simply be to stop the impressive attacking talent that West Brom had on offer. Terence Kongolo and Florent Hadergjonaj were the two full-backs. Their role was not to get up the pitch as much as usual in order to, once again, prevent West Brom playing through them. Johnathan Hogg was the defensive midfielder on the day, looking to provide defensive support for the back four. Trevoh Chalobah and Lewis O’Brien were operated as the two central midfielders with the role of keeping their shape and getting forward whenever they could. Elias Kachunga and Karlan Grant were the two wider players, who had the role of fulfilling their defensive duties to perfection. Fraizer Campbell was the lone striker on the day.
West Brom’s Defensive Midfielders
A main aspect of West Brom’s game plan with and without the ball was the role of their two defensive midfielders, and in this game, it was carried out by Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers. When in possession of the ball, the two of them would drop deep in front of the centre-backs in order to almost create a box. This was for them to dictate the tempo of the game from deeper positions. In the modern game, there will often be one defensive midfielder dropping between the centre-backs to create a back three, however, West Brom instead used both defensive midfielders in order to keep the ball and create attacks. In the game vs Huddersfield, West Brom had 65% of possession and this can be attributed to both Livermore’s and Sawyer’s ability to keep the ball and move it in quick transitions.
Furthermore, by having two defensive midfielders playing deep it meant that Huddersfield were not able to press as effectively. There were many situations where Fraizer Campbell would be isolated between the centre-backs and defensive midfielders, as seen below. Moreover, if any of the midfielders attempted to join him in pressing, Livermore and Sawyers with their excellent technical ability would be able to find the attacking players in dangerous areas of the pitch.
The role of the two defensive midfielders for the Baggies was also vital in the defensive aspect of the game. When in defensive transitions, having Livermore and Sawyers meant that they could press higher up the pitch and therefore win the ball back. This is something that Slavan Bilić has installed into this West Brom team: the ability and desire to win the ball back quickly. Linking back to the defensive midfielders by having them installing a hard press in the middle of the pitch ultimately unsettles the opposition in the most vital area.
Another important aspect of having these two defensive midfielders is that a high line can be operated. When attempting to press effectively, a high line needs to be there to deny space in between the lines which is exactly what having two defensive midfielders in this system attempted to achieve. As we can see below, West Brom’s defensive line is by the halfway line, with the two defensive midfielders engaged in winning the ball back to recycle possession of the ball. This was common throughout the game, and it allowed West Brom to deploy the high press.
One area where Huddersfield were excellent in this match was keeping their defensive shape and structural organisation. This was vital to stop West Brom playing their normal possession-based football. By keeping this shape in the midfield, it caused the opposition to go long in the second half. This is something they have not done much of this season, which shows what a good defensive structure they had in place. As mentioned in the line-ups, Huddersfield lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and this was because they had a defensive midfielder in Johnathan Hogg, who would sit just in front of the back four and two central midfielders in Trevoh Chalobah and Lewis O’Brien who could get forward and press when they didn’t have possession.
The role of the wide players was important as well, as keeping in shape relied on them to focus heavily on their defensive duties. This also was a low block, which allowed them to be able to press the ball when West Brom were in their half. Overall, they kept in this shape very well, which profoundly denied West Brom any space to play in. Below we can see a clear example of this, where all the Huddersfield midfielders are rigid in their defensive shape and are not allowing any space for West Brom to play into centrally.
Another example can be seen of this in the picture below. After going 1-0 down in the game, keeping this structure was even more important. Another aspect of this image in comparison to the one above is the role of the striker, Fraizer Campbell. We can see him involved in the pressing of the ball whilst his midfielders were in shape preventing spaces. West Brom are a team based on possession, therefore, pressing as a lone striker was no easy task. However, this was the case throughout and despite the result not going their way in the end, the benefits of using this horizontal low block should be taken and used going forward.
Further evidence of this is highlighted below. An interesting aspect of this defensive shape was how the West Brom attacking midfielders were always closely marked by one of the Huddersfield central midfielders. This was once again used in order to prevent them from having their usual influence on the game.
Huddersfield on the break
Another aspect of the Huddersfield strategy was to play on the counter-attack. This tactic was deployed since Huddersfield’s attacking players and overall defensive structure are suited to do so. As mentioned earlier, the visitors were able to keep a solid defensive shape throughout most of the game. This therefore meant that when they won back the ball high up the pitch, the likes of Kachunga, Grant, O’Brien and Campbell could get in behind the high line that West Brom had in operation. Counter attacking was important for Huddersfield also, because West Brom dominated the ball throughout the match.
Furthermore, the likes of Hogg in the centre of midfield are very good at breaking up the play and moving the ball forward in quick counter-attacking transitions. This can once again be seen as the main reason as to why they deployed this tactic in this particular match. Both goals Huddersfield scored were the consequences of counter-attacking football. As we can see below, this image is the build up to the first goal Huddersfield scored. The ball comes into Fraizer Campbell who holds it up excellently and drags some players around him while Lewis O’Brien is able to make an excellent run and put Huddersfield one up. This example was one of many throughout the game, which was a clear tactical usage.
Below is the build up for the second goal Huddersfield scored to make it 1-2 where Karlan Grant made an excellent run in behind the West Brom backline to score. This goal was once again due to a counter-attacking transition which saw quick build up through the centre. This shows that using a counter-attacking based system was effective for Huddersfield, and had they attempted to use it more in the second half, they could have scored more. Going forward, with the pace they possess in their ranks Daniel Cowley will be looking to use this type of attack more regularly.
West Brom going direct
West Brom went behind 1-2 during the game and a way in which they aimed to change this was by going more direct. The main way that they did this was by using crosses to try to gain a more physical advantage. Furthermore, using crosses would pin back the rigid Huddersfield structure and give the Baggies opportunities to win aerial duels and get on second balls. The likes of Austin benefited from this as they were playing to their strengths. Huddersfield have conceded 12 goals from open play this season, and 17 altogether, therefore a clear weakness they have is defending. This is something that West Brom attempted to exploit mainly in the second half by bombarding the box with players and putting in venomous crosses.
In the first half, they tried to play their normal game with possession being the main catalyst. This clearly played into Huddersfield’s hands as they could counter-attack with ease. The second half was more different and this process of going long was much more effective. Huddersfield did not deal with this at all in the second half and as a result, West Brom found a way back into the game. As we can see in the image below, there are five West Brom players in the box awaiting a cross which would cause problems for the Huddersfield backline.
Below is another example of West Brom using crosses to try and get attacking joy. In this specific image, it comes from the left side with the same purpose. Again, there are vast numbers of West Brom players in the box waiting to score. The goal to make it 2-2 by Darnell Furlong came from a cross into the box, further highlighting the effectiveness of this tactic. Despite Slaven Bilić not liking to use this tactic due to his love for a possession-based system, it clearly had an effect in this match.
West Brom’s Strikers
West Brom managed to score four goals in Sunday’s game, which would usually have at least one scored by a striker. However, this was not the case and the goals came from midfielders and defenders. This would at face value make people assume that the likes of Charlie Austin had a poor game, but this is far from the truth. Charlie Austin was perhaps the most influential player on the pitch in the role he was doing. Austin would often drop deep to pick up the ball and influence the game. By having another option, it allowed different avenues of attacking play. As we can see below Austin is operating near the halfway line to link the play with the West Brom central midfielders. This allows movement in forward areas and drags opposition out of position so others can move into these areas. By Austin dropping deep it allowed these movements to happen.
Another aspect of Austin’s game that was significant to West Brom’s victory was his hold-up play. For the first goal scored by Matt Phillips, as we can see below, Austin is able to hold-up the ball and drag two Huddersfield defenders towards him which allows Phillips the space to have a clean strike on goal. This hold-up play allowed more attacking players to get into the game which is vital for the way West Brom usually play. Overall, this highlights the significant contribution Austin made to the game in terms of bringing other players into the game.
Charlie Austin quite rightly got the plaudits for the role he played by doing this sort of hold-up play and dropping deep. However, when he was replaced by Kenneth Zahore, he in turn played just as impressively. The aspect of Zahore’s game which was so beneficial to West Brom was his ability to make sure the centre-backs were always occupied with his presence. By being physical and in the faces of the Huddersfield centre-halves, it allowed other players to make runs into the box without being marked. This is essentially a similar role that Austin played in the first half. The image below shows the build-up for the third goal scored by Matt Phillips. We can clearly see Zahore engaged with Tommy Elphick which prevents him from being able to block the shot from Phillips. This clearly identifies the effectiveness of Zahore in the back end of the game.
Furthermore, we can once again see below Zahore holding up the ball in the box, allowing a run to be made into the box. This again highlights how effective this play was when Zahore or Austin were in possession of the ball. Strikers in the modern game struggle when their back is towards play, however, Zahore thrives on this sort of challenge and can provide his team with the ability of space to run into.
To conclude, this was a thrilling encounter that brought lots of attacking flair and excitement. West Brom will be hoping to build on this impressive comeback, but they will be concerned at how easy they were opened up by Huddersfield. They will also not be pleased with the constant manner in which they go behind. Despite these concerns, the firepower they possess makes them likely contenders for promotion either automatically or through the play-offs. As for Huddersfield, despite another disappointing result, there are signs that Daniel Cowley is starting to get a system in place. They’re defensive structure and clinical counter-attacking nature will give Terriers fans optimism. If they continue to play in this manner, they should be able to recover and have a positive season. This analysis has hopefully given an insight as to how both teams tried to win the match, with particular emphasis on the attacking talent on show.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the August issue for just ₤4.99 here
- Rodri 2019/20 – scout report - May 8, 2020
- Manchester United 2019/20: A year of Ole Gunnar Solskjær – scout report - April 8, 2020
- Wolves 2019/20: The counter-attacking experts – scout report - April 1, 2020