Blackburn host Wigan in the final EFL fixture before Christmas with both teams eager to improve their league standings. Blackburn have their sights on promotion whilst Wigan are aiming to avoid relegation despite being at the foot of the table. The tactics for both sides were similar and this tactical analysis will deconstruct how both teams aimed to break the deadlock.

Blackburn have won five of the last six league matches and are the form side in the league. Wigan, on the other hand, are yet to register a win away from home and haven’t kept a clean sheet in the last 32 league matches when playing away. Paul Cook’s tactics will be focused on shutting Blackburn out in order to boost their survival prospects this season.

Lineups

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tacticsMowbray maintains his 4-2-3-1 formation but has made seven changes to the squad that beat Bristol Rovers in the last fixture. Notably, Graham is preferred to Gallagher to lead the forward line whilst Dack is welcomed back following his recent suspension.

Cook names the same starting eleven that drew with Huddersfield in the last league outing. Despite other defensive options now being available, Naismith’s stand-in performances have earned him another start at centre-back.

Wigan play a high defensive line

Wigan’s high defensive line allows them to quickly transition from defence to attack. Although inconsistent in their implementation, the movement of Lowe and Windass was most impressive when they were able to use their pace to close the ball down quickly and force the turnover.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis tactics
Wigan’s forward line press high to regain possession.

As shown above, the Wigan forward line close the ball down quickly using numbers to force the error. The result is an opportunity for Wigan to disrupt opposition play and create a chance for themselves. With five players blocking passing channels, Blackburn are forced into using a long ball which is regained by Wigan. Once the ball has been won back, the box can be crowded to maximise the chance of scoring. This happened numerous times in the first half despite not controlling the possession.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tactics
Blackburn opt not to press as high which limits their ability to turn over possession

Blackburn had less success in the first twenty minutes because they didn’t press as high. As you can see, their deeper forward line drops off and isn’t supporting a high press. This allows them the opportunity to hold the defensive line deeper which combats the long ball over the top. Lowe and Windass were Wigan’s most potent attacking threats due to their pace and Mowbray has deliberately dropped the line to limit this offensive tactic.

Wigan’s high press has caused the high defensive line in an effort to provide compactness. This proved highly effective with Graham only having 11 touches in the first half, the lowest tally of any player on the pitch. By denying space to play the ball, Blackburn were denied possession in the final third of the pitch. Wigan’s tactics proved more successful in the first half by creating better chances in more dangerous areas.

Blackburn press higher

In response to Wigan’s positive performance in the early stages of the game, Blackburn committed their forward line to press Wigan’s defence and give them less time on the ball. Cook had set Wigan up to play out from the back to create space in the final third for his runners. In response, Blackburn began to harass the Wigan defence to limit meaningful possession.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tactics
Blackburn press higher in the latter stages of the second half.

From the goal kick, Armstrong, Dack, Rothwell and Graham all press higher forcing Wigan’s defence into a long ball which is turned over. This was an example of possession turning over quickly before the ball has been able to transition into the midfield. Wigan were taking risks at the back in order to get the ball into the midfield to launch a counter-attack. Although successful on a number of occasions, without the quality of more established sides, this system will always be a balance of risk and reward.

Despite success on this occasion, the risk to Blackburn was in the defensive third as the defensive line has also had to shift higher up the field. This has closed passing channels into the midfield but also created space for Windass to exploit behind. Wigan also have to drop deeper which limits their ability to press and win back possession. It was this tactical adjustment that tilted the possession statistic in Blackburn’s favour at 53%.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tactics
Windass stretches the defence and exploits the space behind Blackburn’s defence.

In the example above, Windass is on the defensive line awaiting the long ball over the top. The high line creates an opportunity for the long ball which is delivered by Robinson over the top. The linesman incorrectly declared the run offside but shows how this system can be beaten with a quality pass and pace behind the defence.

Wigan committing wing-backs to the attack

As the game transitions into the final third, both teams are playing for the win and are making attacking substitutions to each bring another forward into the attack. Wigan’s tactics have changed from a counter-attacking side into a more balanced offence with supporting runs from the two wingbacks. Byrne made a number of good runs forward in support of the attackers.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tactics
An overlapping run by Byrne stretches the play and provides another attacking threat for Wigan.

Byrne was the standout performer in the Wigan side making superb offensive runs in the closing stages of the game. From the position shown above, he beat two defenders and delivered a dangerous ball into the box. His run was made possible by Lowe who is running as an option opening up space. The work rate of the midfield to get into the box meant that every ball in from this area was dangerous.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tactics
Jamal Lowe is allowed time to shoot thanks to a good overlapping run by Byrne.

A similar situation has been created with a good run by Lowe on the right flank. Byrne’s supporting run on this occasion opens up space for Lowe to shoot. The resulting shot was wild but proved how dangerous the right flank was for Wigan and the good linkage play between Lowe and Byrne. Since his arrival at Wigan in August, Lowe has failed to find his prolific scoring record and hasn’t supported the attack as much as he would have wanted to. His performance in this fixture has shown that he adjusting to the rigours of EFL Championship football and is now a dangerous option in the Wigan attack.

The dominance of Blackburn in the final 15 minutes of the game show why they are higher up the table than Wigan. Their tempo increased and the movement of the ball was quick. Wigan’s tactics changed slightly during this period where they elected to play more defensively. The result was that Windass was more isolated and unable to pose a threat on his own.

EFL Championship: Blackburn Rovers Vs Wigan Athletic – tactical analysis – tactics
Windass becomes isolated in the latter stages of the match limiting Wigan’s ability to push on for the winner.

As the graphic shows, Windass picks up the long ball in his own half but hasn’t got the support of midfield. His turn outside is read by the fullback who is playing close enough to the centre half to intervene and make the tackle. Blackburn nullified the Wigan threat in the closing stages of the game. Despite a couple of superb efforts, Blackburn weren’t able to break the deadlock.

Conclusion

This tactical analysis concludes that the high press was the most potent tactic employed in this fixture. At times, Wigan had the better of the tactical decision making and were able to outmanoeuvre Blackburn by strategizing better. They made it difficult for the opposition to bring the forward line into play resulting in fewer overall chances for Blackburn.

Both goalkeepers performed well with four saves each. In a lively contest with two teams each fighting for league position, a 0-0 final score was an unlikely outcome. It looks like Wigan have turned a corner in their season and proved that they are able to battle against established sides in this division.

Cook will be the more pleased of the two managers with a clean sheet away from home. Defensively, they have struggled this season but this should boost their confidence as they go up against Derby on Boxing Day. Blackburn must now focus on finding a suitable replacement for Dack who was stretchered off in the second half following what looked like a painful knee injury.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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