West Bromwich Albion were looking to maintain their excellent start to the 2019/20 EFL Championship season when they came up against Sheffield Wednesday. The baggies had been In great form after two back to back away wins against Stoke and Hull. They sat top of the league and were looking to maintain this position in order to gain promotion. Wednesday, on the other hand, had been going through a mixed bag of form after draws to both Leeds and Swansea and a very disappointing away loss at Blackburn Rovers. The clash between the two sides therefore presented an interesting prospect.
Charlie Austin bagged an 88th-minute penalty to secure West Brom a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. It was an interesting clash between the two sides and presented a contrast in styles of play between both managers. West Brom will use this victory as clear motivation moving forward in their push for promotion. Wednesday, on the other hand, will be disappointed with the recent form on display and manager Garry Monk will need to motivate the players in order for them to reach a successful season. This tactical analysis will highlight the tactics used by both sides and look at how both teams attempted to win the game. This analysis will also look at ways in which both teams can look to improve moving forward.
West Brom lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Sam Johnstone started between the sticks, with Kyle Bartley and Ahmed Hegazy as the two starting centre-backs. Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend 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. Semi Ajayi and Filip Krovinovic 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, Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana were the three attacking midfielders. Robson-Kanu led the line for the baggies.
As for Wednesday, they lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with a strong midfield 3 of Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan, and Kieran Lee. This midfield set up had an excellent balance of defensive stability, and some excellent technical ability which has been on show throughout the first few fixtures. Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy were on the flanks for the owls, their pace and mobility was something that Wednesday would attempt to use to try to break down the solid wall of Preston defenders. The prolific Steven Fletcher was playing as a solo striker, something which he hasn’t done a lot of recently. The back four was made of Morgan Fox, Julian Borner, Tom Lees, and Moses Odubajo, with the reliable Kieran Westwood in goal.
West Brom’s build-up play
An interesting development during the game was the way in which West Brom attempted to play out from the back. As has been seen throughout the season, West Brom are a team that play a possession-based game when trying to play through an opposition. What usually occurs is that a box involving the two centre-halves and the two centre backs form near the centre of the pitch. This not only allows them to beat the press of the opposition and use their technical quality in deeper positions of the pitch in order to bring the ball forward. Having the two defensive midfielders in deeper positions also meant that they could dictate the game and have an influence in attacking areas. West Brom had 55% possession during the game which can be heavily attributed to the role of the two defensive midfielders dropping deeper in order to create this box and allow the attacking players to take further positions in higher areas of the pitch. Below is an excellent example of this and highlights the way in which this tactical usage operated.
Furthermore, having this situation whereby the two defensive midfielders were sat right in front of the two centre backs when West Brom had possession of the ball meant that Wednesday couldn’t press the way in which they wanted to. Steven Fletcher would often find himself pressing in the middle of this box which made it even harder for Wednesday to win the ball back. Krovinović and Ajayi would maintain the ball throughout the match in these areas which made it impossible for Wednesday to press as normal. Below is a great example of this and highlights why Albion had so much joy with building out from the back.
Sheffield Wednesday’s shape:
An area in which Wednesday operated excellently was through their defensive structure and organisations. This was important for them in order to stop West Brom operating with their normal possession-based football. Maintaining this shape within midfield was vital, as it was the main way in which they attempted to stop them. It forced them to play wide at times and in some cases it meant that they were unable to harm Wednesday in key areas. The 4-1-4-1 formation meant that they had a defensive midfielder in Sam Hutchinson who was able to break up the play and maintain the excellent defensive structure they had in place. Below is an excellent example of the shape they were able to maintain throughout the match. There is very little space for West Brom to play into which frustrated them as they could not play their usual game in certain phases of the game.
Another example can be seen below. Wednesday maintained their shape fantastically throughout the match which is a testament to the way Garry Monk set up his team in order to prevent West Brom having space. The midfield three of Hutchinson, Bannan and Lee were vital in this aspect as the central area of the pitch was vital in West Brom’s attacking play. As will be discussed later, West Brom’s attacking midfielders were extremely narrow which meant that operating the low block to stop them receiving the ball was the most important aspect of their defensive game.
West Brom’s attacking midfielders:
As mentioned, a way in which West Brom attempted to bring out the best of their attacking players was by bringing them into more narrow positions. The main reasoning for this was to cause problems for the Wednesday backline and cause confusion when defending. A further reason for this occurring was to get in behind the low block defensive line that Wednesday operated in. Diangana, Pereira and Phillips were extremely close together during attacking play which allowed for quicker and more incisive transitions of attacking play in the final third. Robson- Kanu also majorly benefited from the attacking midfielders operating in this way. The link-up play between the four players was exceptional at times and allowed Albion to create a number of chances. Below is an excellent example of this. We can see that the three attacking midfielders are taking up narrow positions which meant that Robson-Kanu was not isolated. This was a clear attempt to get over the low block that Wednesday attempted to operate with.
Below is another excellent example of this. The three attacking midfielders are extremely narrow in order to create chances. The full-backs also have an opportunity to get forward. This is not to say they do so all the time, however, the opportunity for this avenue of this play is available due to the way the attacking midfielders operate. Transitions were also much more likely due to the narrow nature of the attacking midfielders. Due to the defensive midfielders operating as they did it meant that the attacking midfielders were able to attack with much more freedom.
Sheffield Wednesday’s Front Three:
Wednesday’s front three was the final development of play which will be analysed when discussing this match. Fletcher, Murphy and Harris operated excellently well as a front three in the sense of causing problems for West Brom on the counter-attack. When Wednesday got the ball In the final third they would maintain excellent positions in attacking areas of the pitch to run in behind the West Brom defensive line. Having the two wingers with pace and in attacking areas of the pitch meant that the defensive line could be starched at a much more regular rate. Fletcher was also integral in this. Below is an example highlighting his role. He would often drop into the false nine position in order to create space for the other wingers to come more narrow. This is similar to the work Roberto Firmino does to allow Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah to come in more narrow for Liverpool.
Despite them often using their front three in a narrow manner, there were often times whereby they would push the wingers wider. This was another way of stretching the back four of West Brom to create attacking opportunities between the lines. Below is an excellent example of this. The front three are perfectly set up to counter-attack if the right service is provided. This not only highlights the intention to counter-attack but also highlights the excellent way in which the front three were positioned.
West Brom overall deserved to edge out in this narrow affair between the two sides. They were able to break down Wednesday even when they tried their best to prevent the space in between the lines. Moving forward, this victory will give West Brom a huge amount of confidence as they maintained at the top of the league. Proving they can edge out against these types of teams will give them great confidence going forward. As for Wednesday, another disappointing result adds pressure onto Monk after a run of no wins. Furthermore, both teams had good spells in the game and going forward they will take these stronger points and attempt to use them to improve their game.
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