In this tactical analysis, we look at the EFL Championship game between Millwall against Stoke City. The tactics employed by both sides made for an interesting game with new Millwall manager, Gary Rowett coming up against Nathan Jones from Stoke City. Millwall drew last time out with Cardiff City 2-2 with caretaker manage Adam Barrett in charge and Rowett only having a day and a half to work with his players on the training ground. Jones, took over Rowett at Stoke early in 2019 and visited London having picked up six valuable points in their last three games. The visitors have had an incredibly slow start however back to back wins against Swansea City and Fulham have eased the pressure on Jones. Unfortunately, they were unable to obtain a hat-trick of wins as they lost against Sheffield Wednesday in their previous encounter and the game against Millwall shows that there is a great deal of work to still do.
Rowett made one change from the team that faced Cardiff with midfielder Jayson Molumby coming in for the more attacking-minded Matt Smith and pushing Ben Thompson into a more advanced position behind leading scorer, Tom Bradshaw. Bartosz Bialkowski continued in goal with Mahlon Romeo at right back. Shaun Hutchinson and Jake Cooper partnered at centre half with Murray Wallace at left-back. Across the midfield four, Jed Wallace provided pace on the right with Molumby and Shaun Williams in the central roles. Shane Ferguson in the left-wing position. Thompson floated in behind Bradshaw to make up the Millwall line-up.
Stoke favoured a 4-3-1-2 shape with Australian custodian Adam Federici preferred to Jack Butland, Cameron Carter-Vickers at right-back with Danny Batth and Liam Lindsay central. Bruno Martins Inds replaced Stephen Ward at left-back. In the midfield, Jones used Sam Clucas, Badou Ndiaye and playmaker Joe Allen with Tom Ince replacing Peter Etebo. Ince slotted in behind Stoke’s attacking pair, Scott Hogan and Lee Gregory.
Millwall start on the front foot
Rowett used the limited time he had available to him to work on how to overcome Stoke’s preferred ‘diamond’ shape. The home side, whilst not dictating possession (Millwall 40%– Stoke 60%), gained a better territorial advantage in the opening stages of the game. Encouraged by the space in front of them to attack, Millwall’s full-backs, Romeo and Wallace, were able to get on the ball high up the pitch and Stoke were fortunate that Federici was sharp to block a Romeo cross and that Wallace shot wide after dribbling inside a large gap left by Stoke’s defensive and midfield.
The Stoke midfield three found the movement of Millwall’s advanced players difficult to compete with and the distances between players was too great to have any form of pressure on either the ball carrier or the player providing an option off the ball.
The home side was often able to start their first phase of attack by utilizing the wide areas with Romeo and Wallace linking well with their wide partners and Millwall opened the scoring with a well-worked move in the right-wing channel. Stoke’s lack of intensity and desire to close their opponents down meant that Millwall was able to pick from the options available without any pressure.
Stoke become disjointed and outnumbered in a dangerous area of the pitch. In the picture below, Hutchinson can roll the ball into Romeo under no pressure. Jed Wallace was able to find space to drill a low cross for Ben Thompson to finish well from 12 yards.
Stoke attacking worries
The away side was easy on the eye in possession however they lacked the desire to press the home side quickly when possession was squandered. Equally, they failed to put their opponents on the back foot by being passive in possession. There were times that a forward pass was available and a good opportunity to link and combine in the final third. Here we see Stoke forwards Gregory and Hogan running into space to receive. However, there seemed to be reservations from the away side to turn their opponents to face their own goal.
The home side sat in deep when the visitors had possession and Stoke were hindered by limited options off the ball. The distances between the players were too big. Below, Ince picks the ball high up the pitch but the tight compact midfield line makes it difficult for him to see Gregory showing for feet and Hogan making a run from out-to-in behind the Millwall defence.
Millwall’s hard work pays off
Jones was critical of his team after the defeat. He felt that his side did not have the desire to outwork their opponents. Under former manager Neil Harris, Millwall were very well organized and hard-working. In Rowett, they have a manager who will continue to encourage his players to carry on Harris’s philosophy. The home side scored their goals at key times in the game which gave them control over the tempo of the game.
Stoke did improve in the second half and appeared to be instructed by Jones’ to press higher and more aggressively. Rowett was happy for the visitors to have good possession but his players worked hard to plugged gaps. Millwall made it difficult for Stoke to pass through them. Jones will be disappointed that Jed Wallace was able to take the ball from inside his half, avoid four challenges and eventually earn his team a penalty. His team threw men forward looking to get back into the game however were undone with 20 minutes to go. Possession was turned over with Wallace gaining possession in his half. He ran powerfully into the Stoke penalty box where he was fouled. The winger picked himself up and slotted past Federici from 12 yards to put his side 2-0 up.
Rowett will be encouraged by his team display and he has a group of hard-working and disciplined players. He has a team that will improve and continue to pick up good points. For Stoke manager Jones, he will need to pick his players up quickly as this analysis showed. He will look to remain positive although he has been very critical in interviews with the media following the game. If his team can mirror Millwall’s desire, effort and work ethic, he has the players to win more games. The Championship demands hard work and Jones will continue to need to drive this message home to his players.
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