Brighton came into this game in a bad run of form, having picked up just 5 points from the last 15 available. Their last Premier League win came against Arsenal in early December, and they were hovering just three places and two points above the drop zone. They were in desperate need of a win to push them further away from relegation.
Bournemouth also came into this game on an abysmal run of their own. They had only won two of their last ten league games and were also two points above the relegation zone. Eddie Howe was in desperate need of a result to stem the bad run and push his team closer to safety.
This tactical analysis will examine the tactics of Graham Potter and Eddie Howe, and show why Brighton was successful in the game.
Brighton lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk as the centre-back pairing. Yves Bissouma and Davy Pröpper played as the midfield double pivot behind Aaron Mooy. Leandro Trossard and Alireza Jahanbakhsh played on the wings and top scorer Neil Maupay led the line as the sole centre-forward. They made seven changes from their last league outing in an attempt to keep legs fresh in the hectic winter period.
Bournemouth opted to line up in a 4-4-2 with Harry Wilson and Junior Stanislas, who hadn’t played in the league since April, as the wide midfielders. Dan Gosling and Phillip Billing were the central midfield pairing, and Joshua King and Dominic Solanke, who is yet to score for Bournemouth, played up front. Bournemouth had made five changes to the team that lost to Burnley, presumably also to keep the freshness in the team during a hectic winter schedule.
Defensive setups of both teams
In the first part of this analysis, we examine the defensive setups of both teams. Brighton played a 4-2-3-1 when out of possession. The duo of Bissouma and Pröpper would sit in front of the back four to provide protection and defensive stability which in turn allowed Brighton’s more attacking players to look forward and try to hurt Bournemouth. The Brighton backline rarely moved beyond the halfway line and this, as well as the two defensive-minded midfielders, meant that they were rarely caught out on the break. The quartet of Maupay, Mooy, Jahanbakhsh, and Trossard would be responsible for attacking moves and if they broke down, there would always be a solid base to prevent fast-breaks.
In the image above, we can see Brighton’s back four and the two central midfielders meant to protect them. This setup ensures solidity at the back and it makes Brighton difficult to play through or catch on the counter. This is why a total of 28 of Bournemouth’s attacks came from wide areas, compared to just eight attacks from the middle of the pitch.
Bournemouth played in a 4-4-2, with two clearly defined banks of four intended to make them difficult to play through. When out of possession, the defensive and midfield lines sit close to each other, and one of the strikers drops deep to provide an out-ball and to relieve pressure on their defence.
In this picture, we can clearly see the midfield and defensive lines forming a mid-block, with Solanke dropping deep to receive the ball and carry it up the pitch. The closeness of the lines suggests that Eddie Howe wanted to deny Brighton any space in front of their box to play in.
This would however not be the case as when attacking, Bournemouth’s fullbacks would push very high, and the wide midfielders would not drop in to fill the space left by the fullbacks. If the ball was then turned over, Bournemouth would be exposed on the break. This was the case for Brighton’s first goal, where Jack Stacey was caught out deep in the opposition half. Maupay and Jahanbakhsh were then able to occupy the space and link-up to very good effect.
Here we can see the areas of the Bournemouth defence that have been left exposed because of the forward runs of their fullbacks. In this particular instance, Maupay, Jahanbakhsh, and Mooy can occupy unattended areas on the left side of Bournemouth’s defence. This lack of cover for the centre-backs allows Maupay in this instance to push Steve Cook into his box, creating space for Jahanbakhsh to shoot at goal.
Bournemouth, despite the scoreline, did give an admirable account of themselves in the first half. While Brighton started the game well and got an early goal, Bournemouth battled to stay in the game and create chances. Bournemouth’s xG score in the first half was 0.48, more than Brighton’s xG score of 0.35. These stats show that in the first half at least, Bournemouth had the better chances. According to Wyscout, Bournemouth had 0.54 attacks per minute, the same number as Brighton had in the first half.
However, in the second half, Bournemouth lacked any quality in front of goal. They had an xG of 0.29 in the second half. This indicates that chances became few and far between for Bournemouth. Brighton, on the other hand, had a second-half xG of 0.58. Their increased dominance of the game was reflected in the chances they were able to create after the break.
As the chart above shows, Bournemouth’s chance creation plateaued shortly before half-time and would not improve until very late in the game. Brighton seemed to get better as the game went on. Brighton had 0.48 attacks per minute in the second half, which was much more than the 0.23 that Bournemouth managed in the second half.
Bournemouth’s 4-4-2 operated as a mid-block with the midfield and defensive lines acting as shields. The intent of these shields was to protect the space in front of Bournemouth’s box from being directly attacked by Brighton.
The image above shows the block in its optimal shape. In this frame, the midfield and defence are very close and this prevents any meaningful play from developing in that space. With this, Brighton would have been forced to use the wings to attempt to bypass the block.
This wasn’t the case as 20 of Brighton’s attacks came from the middle of the park. These attacks had a total xG of 0.50, indicating that the middle route was their most effective route to goal.
The reason for this apparent ease of access would lie in the block itself. The space between the midfield line and defensive line for Bournemouth grew bigger as the game continued. This allowed Brighton’s players, especially Mooy and Jahanbakhsh, to receive the ball between the lines with little to no pressure on them.
In the image above, we can see Bissouma driving into Bournemouth territory with no pressure on him. This is because the midfield line has wandered too far away from the defence. There is now a sizeable area of the pitch that Brighton can exploit. The Bournemouth defence has no protection and players like Mooy can cause chaos in such positions.
Eddie Howe and Bournemouth’s reputation for being open was their downfall in this game. It was too easy for Brighton to keep finding space between Bournemouth’s lines and they completely merited the two-goal win. Aaron Mooy, in particular, was very exciting to watch and Graham Potter will hope that this can be the start of a run. Eddie Howe, however, has a big job on his hands to improve the fortunes of his Cherries.
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