Having gained promotion in the previous campaign, Tranmere Rovers have enjoyed a solid if unremarkable season so far, recording four wins, four draws and eight losses. Their opponents Wycombe Wanderers have had a much brighter start, with only one defeat in their opening 16 games. The away side continued their good form in this EFL League One fixture, securing a 2-0 victory.
Two goals just before half time secured the win for Gareth Ainsworth’s side, the first a header from Adebayo Akinfenwa, the second a penalty from left-back Joe Jacobson. Tranmere manager Micky Mellon was left frustrated as his side conceded yet again from a set-piece.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics that each side employed in this EFL League One fixture, and will serve as analysis to examine how Wycombe were able to secure the victory against Tranmere.
Tranmere started the game in a 3-4-1-2 formation. Manny Monthé was at the heart of the defence, with Sid Nelson and Liam Ridehalgh either side of him. The wing-backs were Jake Caprice on the right and Kane Wilson on the left. Kieron Morris played in the number ten role, just behind the two strikers, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Connor Jennings. Wycombe also set up with two strikers, with Scott Kashket partnering Akinfenwa upfront. Jack Grimmer and Jacobson were the two full-backs, with Anthony Stewart and Darius Charles the two central defenders in their 4-4-2 formation.
Wycombe’s dynamic duo upfront
From very early on in this EFL League One game, it was clear that Wycombe’s tactics would be to play long balls up to the physical presence of Akinfenwa. At 16 stone, his strength has caused defences problems for a number of years. But it was noticeable in this game how well he combined with his fellow striker Kashket.
Following a goal kick, the former Wimbledon striker was closely marked by Monthé, so made no attempt to bring the ball down under control. Instead, anticipating the run by his strike partner, he deftly headed it towards goal. Kashket is able to run in behind, only just being beaten to it by the on-rushing goalkeeper.
A few minutes later a similar situation arose. A long ball from the left-back found Akinfenwa near the penalty spot, being closely marked by Ridehalgh. A quick touch to get it under control, and again he looked to lay it off to Kashket, who this time had delayed his run from a deeper position. Unmarked, he would have had a great opportunity, but the right midfielder David Wheeler took on the chance instead, which resulted only in a tame effort.
In this example, Akinfenwa had dropped deeper, and been able to bring the ball down under control. Again, knowing his fellow striker would make a run in behind him, he played a short pass into midfield, with Wheeler then playing it into the right-hand channel for Kashket to run onto. This combination play made the away side so effective, especially in the first half, with the two strikers playing different but equally important roles. It also meant that when under pressure the Wycombe defenders could knock it long, safe in the knowledge it was likely that Akinfenwa could hold it up and play in his team-mate.
Tranmere’s combination play down the right-hand side.
Playing a 3-4-1-2 certainly has its benefits, as it allows the front two strikers to focus solely on going forward, freeing them of any defensive responsibilities. It also allowed Tranmere to field Morris as a number ten, operating just behind the two forwards. The plan seemed to get the ball to him early, as by operating between the midfield and defensive lines, he’d be harder to pick up and would have more time on the ball.
Here Morris picked the ball up in the midfield area and looked to play it out to Caprice. As Wycombe were playing a narrow back four, it meant the wing-back frequently had space to run into. At the same time, both Morris and Hepburn-Murphy made runs forward, giving Caprice multiple passing options.
Choosing to play into the channel to Hepburn-Murphy meant that the Wycombe midfielder Curtis Thompson made a covering run towards the corner, to close down the Tranmere striker. With the centre-back Charles also retreating, it meant Morris was able to run into the edge of the area unchecked to receive the ball in space.
Believing he had more time on the ball, the attacking midfielder chose to take a touch before shooting. This then enabled another Wycombe midfielder, Dominic Gape, the opportunity to sneak in and steal the ball away. But this demonstrates what Preston were trying to do in the first half, operating down the right-hand side with Morris linking the play and looking for space.
Being two goals down at half time meant the home side made several substitutions that lead to a change in formation, back to a more traditional 4-4-2. This shift saw Morris move out to right-midfield, so he was still able to link up with Caprice.
As in the first half, Wycombe’s back four was playing narrowly, so the home side looked to work the ball into the gap on the right-hand side. So even after a shift in formation, Mellon’s side still looked to create attacking opportunities down this flank. While it didn’t lead to any goals, it still was a positive for Tranmere to take from this EFL League One match.
Wycombe’s success and Tranmere’s failings at set-pieces
Coming into the game, Ainsworth’s side had scored the most goals (9) in the league from set-pieces. Funnily enough, the side with the most goals conceded from set-pieces was Tranmere, with 10 goals let in from dead-ball situations. This trend would continue for both sides in this game.
Having won a free-kick just inside the opponent’s half, Jacobsen launched a ball into the area, with the obvious target being Akinfenwa. This image, taken just before the kick, shows that Monthé was marking the centre-forward, with the midfielder Darren Potter marking Wheeler. So far so good, but as the kick was taken Monthé stepped to his right, forgetting about his man in an attempt to take charge and win the ball himself.
The Tranmere defender completely misread the flight of the ball and was then stuck marking no-one. Potter was concentrating on stopping the ball coming to Wheeler, so was also unable to cover Akinfenwa. The big target man had a free header, which he guided into the bottom left corner past the helpless keeper.
The second goal also originated from a set-piece only two minutes later.
Wheeler started at the edge of the area, but then made a run towards the near post. Potter was not alert enough to the run, and unable to keep up with the Wycombe midfielder, pulled him back to stop him reaching the ball, resulting in a penalty. Both of these examples demonstrate how Tranmere were not concentrating at set-pieces and were suitably punished both times.
During the second period, there was a slight improvement in the home side’s defending dead ball situations.
Identifying that the Wycombe striker was the danger man and that Jacobsen’s accurate deliveries would more often than not pick him out, Tranmere had two men mark him for this free-kick, to give him a much harder time in winning the ball. With the away side two goals up they weren’t committing as many men forward, so Mellon’s men had a spare man, and used him effectively to help nullify Akinfenwa’s presence at set-pieces.
The tactics employed by Wycombe Wanderers in this EFL League One game were very effective. They utilised the dual-threat of their strikers to great effect, and their practice on the training ground has clearly paid off, with both goals coming from dead-ball situations. They deservedly went to the top of the table, with a home game against Doncaster next up. For the home side the analysis shows that while they had some success making chances down the right-hand side, they were undone yet again with a lack of concentration at set-pieces. Their next game is a tricky tie against Fleetwood Town.
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