Having been promoted back to the EFL Championship for the 2019/20 campaign, Charlton Athletic have had a solid start to the season, with six wins and four draws from their opening 14 fixtures. Preston North End have gone one better, with some people expecting to see them sitting in the automatic promotion places with over a quarter of the season gone. It was the away side who came away with the points here, with the game ending Charlton 0-1 Preston.
Alex Neil’s side encountered a stubborn Charlton side who were hard to break down. In the end, it was the Preston substitute Paul Gallagher who scored a penalty in the 58th minute, condemning Lee Bowyer’s side to a defeat in front of their own fans.
This tactical analysis will look to provide an in-depth analysis into each side’s tactics, to see how Preston managed to maintain their strong start to this EFL Championship season.
The Home side lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the full-backs Ben Purrington and Chris Solly tasked with getting forward often to aid Connor Gallagher and Macauley Bonne in the attack. Preston began with a defensive 4-3-3, with Ben Pearson sitting in front of the defence and Jayden Stockley lead the line. However, this shifted to a 4-2-3-1 after Daniel Johnson was forced off through injury after only 31 minutes.
Preston’s variety of attacking methods.
Preston boss Neil had been quoted as saying he doesn’t have a certain philosophy for his sides, and instead he adapts their style of play depending on their opposition. In this game against Charlton, it was clear that they had multiple options to try and create chances. Having a strong physical presence like Stockley up front meant that the defenders/midfielders would hit long balls towards him, in the hope he’d either bring it down or flick it on to runners off him.
With the game only 12 seconds in, the Preston centre-back Ben Davies hit a long up-field pass towards Stockley. Both Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen made runs to the right, looking for the knockdown. The ball is cleared without a chance being created, but it showed early on that Preston weren’t afraid to go long up to their big physical centre forward.
It wasn’t purely route-one football that Preston were looking to play. They also looked to play into the channels, where their wide players could run into space.
Charlton had pushed up towards the halfway line but lost possession. The ball was then worked out to Darnell Fisher, the Preston right-back. Seeing the space in the right channel, Fisher sent a high looping ball into the space, with Barkhuizen quickly darting towards it. At the same time, Browne made a run through the centre, anticipating the pass back across goal. On this occasion, Barkhuizen attempted to cut on to his left foot and shoot but lost the ball. But it was another well-worked opportunity for Neil’s side.
In the lead-up to the penalty, Preston had played a number of short passes between the centre and the right-hand side, before the play was eventually switched out to the left.
The left-back Joe Rafferty had moved well up the pitch, and as he went to cross, there were four white shirts to aim for. Rafferty could have aimed for the near post, the centre of the goal, or the far post and he would’ve found a team-mate in a great position. Stockley was impeded and Charlton conceded a penalty, but it was likely that they would’ve struggled to cope with the cross even without having to foul the Preston striker.
Charlton progress down the left-hand side
Lee Bowyer has often changed his lineup and tactics in the early part of the season, in an attempt to find his best team. This means certain players have had to be versatile and play in a number of positions. In the last three games, Purrington has played left-back (in the 2:1 defeat against Swansea), left wing-back (in the 2:2 draw with West Brom), and left midfield in this game.
With the Preston back four playing very narrowly, it meant Purrington had space ahead of him on the left flank to move into, without his run being tracked. Following a blocked shot from Charlton midfielder Gallagher, the ball rebounded to Purrington who had time and space to take a shot.
It took a good save from goalkeeper Declan Rudd to deny the left-back, but it was a warning to the away side that Charlton posed a threat down that side.
Bowyer changed his tactics at half-time, switching to a 4-4-2 diamond formation which saw Darren Pratley slot into the left-midfield role, with Purrington reprising his left-back duties.
Chasing the equaliser late on in the game saw Charlton again try to play down the left-hand side. While there were multiple players in the penalty area, Pratley and substitute Jonathan Leko were still offering short passing options to Purrington in an attempt to get in behind the Preston right-back as they had managed in the first half. This illustrates how they weren’t panicking and were still sticking to the instructions to move the ball down that side.
While in this game it didn’t lead to any goals, emphasising their attacks down one channel is likely to bring goals against weaker opposition.
Preston finishing the game strongly
Having gone ahead through Gallagher’s penalty (with a very unique technique of facing away from goal, walking to the edge of the area before turning to shoot) it was likely that Preston would come under pressure from the home side, looking to turn the game around in front of their own fans.
You can see here eight of Preston’s players are back defending, meaning that Leko couldn’t easily pick out a team-mate in the middle. He then attempted to dribble past Rafferty and cut it back across the box, but the shot was blocked and lead to a corner.
With Charlton pushing more and more players forward looking for a chance to score, it led to gaps opening up and opportunities for Preston to counter-attack.
Having won the ball back in the centre of the pitch, the away side quickly worked it forward to create this opportunity. However, despite only having three defenders covering back, Preston weren’t overcommitting players in these counter-attacks. Instead, it was a much more considered approach, limiting the number going forward in case of a quick turnover in possession.
With seven minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game, Charlton were seeing more of the ball but were still unable to create any clear cut chances. It was Preston who had the best chance of added time, with another quick counter-attack.
Having skipped over a challenge to leave him with just the keeper to beat, Barkhuizen had an easy pass across the face of the goal to the onrushing Pearson, which would’ve secured the three points and calmed the nerves. Instead, he went for goal, with the keeper making a good save. Thankfully it didn’t come back to haunt them as the home side were unable to trouble Preston’s solid defence before the final whistle.
This win saw Preston North End go to the top of the EFL Championship table. Neil’s side were the better of the two teams, defending well after going ahead but still creating the better chances as we saw in this analysis. While beaten, Charlton can still be happy with their start to the season and Bowyer’s side will look to bounce back in their next fixture against Milwall.
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