The rise of Salford City has been immense. In 2014, Salford were taken over by former Manchester United legends Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Gary Neville who all own 10% of the club, with Peter Lim owning the remainder. David Beckham also got involved in January 2019 when he bought 10% shares off Lim. In the 2014/15 season, the Ammies were crowned the Northern Premier League Division One North champions, before winning the Premier Division play-offs in 2016. They went on to win the National League North title in the 2017/18 season which secured a place in the English Football League after winning the 2019 National League play-off final under manager Graham Alexander, by beating Fylde 3-0 in the final.
They have been steady in the league this season as they currently sit in tenth place with 50 points in their first 37 games and they are only eight points off a playoff spot. Salford have showcased an attractive system which can play out from the back. However, they can resort to a direct approach as they are averaging 67.73 long balls per game, with a 49.8% success rate.
This tactical analysis in the form of a scout report will provide an analysis of Salford’s style of play in their first season in the English Football League. It will use footage and statistics as we look at the noticeable tactical points and individuals in their tactics.
Salford manager Alexander has employed a solid 4-4-2 formation which has been his go-to system for the majority of the season as he has played it 23 times this season. However, he has altered it to a 3-1-4-2 six times this season and he has implemented a 4-3-3 four times. He also likes to keep his squad fresh as 21 players have made over ten appearances for the club this season. In the photo below, we can see their go-to formation this season with the most capped players in the starting XI, against current table toppers, Crewe Alexandra.
Salford are a well-balanced team; defensively they keep their 4-4-2 shape which allows them to cover wide and in central areas of the pitch. The defensive and midfield four squeeze together to keep minimal space in between the lines for the opposition, they operate together in a well-organised manner when the opposition are moving the ball side to side, trying to disrupt the shape. In this system, it is key that the wingers come back to defend whenever the opponents have the ball, so it doesn’t let them create any overloads on the wings. In the picture below there is a limited amount of space left by the Salford players, this makes it extremely hard for Plymouth to create any clear chances.
With their compactness when defending there is no surprise that Salford have a high number of interceptions (48.16). This also comes down to them being more aggressive when recovering possession. Dependant on the scenario, when defending the players often dive into tackles trying to win it back as soon as possible for their side. They average 4.51 sliding tackles per game and foul 12.16 per game which are fairly high, plus they are receiving 1.73 yellow cards per game. This statically shows their quick intent to win the ball back.
Higher up the pitch, Salford only press with their front two men if the opposition have a heavy touch or it is in an area where they can overload. Otherwise, they will allow the opposition centre backs to receive the ball and they will close off the passing lanes into the deep-lying midfielders, this forces the ball either wide or long. If it goes wide the midfield shuffles across as a compact unit. However, when the opposition go long Salford easily pick up the second ball and regain possession.
Statistically though they have been fortunate as their expected goals against is 55 which is the third-worst in the league but they’ve only conceded 46 goals which is surprisingly only the 13th worst.
Once they regain the ball this is when they look to break out when the opponents are disjointed at the back. They are currently taking 2.54 shots per game from counterattacks. In the photo above against Walsall, they outnumber them in a quick counterattack after regaining possession.
By keeping their shape and waiting to explode it helps reserve their energy to break quickly at teams in better situations when they can be a threat. Plus, they are still compact throughout the pitch if they lose possession as they fill back in quickly which makes it frustrating for the opponents to play against.
Between both of Salford’s centre-backs, the roles differ between the two. One will act as a destroyer and the other will play a more passive role, a bit like a sweeper. The destroyer’s role is to press up high and intervene when the midfielder is out of position. In the picture below, Liam Hogan acts as the destroyer as he leaves the vacated space behind him to tackle the Crewe player. This prevents the opponent from having space and time in a dangerous area.
However, this time Hogan misjudges his tackle and it sets off a Crewe attack. They exploit the vacated space from his high press and create a big chance from this possession.
Salford’s attacking style
When Salford attack they use a very high attacking line. Both of the full-backs press up high up the pitch which makes the opposition spread out and leaves gaps to exploit. Salford’s left-back, Ibou Touray is influential in their attacking build-up as he has been involved in nine goals this season and he is averaging a massive five crosses per game.
Further upfield, both of Salford’s strikers, Adam Rooney and Brandon Thomas-Asante play on the shoulder of the defenders, they rarely come deep to pick up the ball as they are always a direct option to play it into. In the picture below, Thomas-Asante gets played through on goal against Crewe by his great positioning on the last man and he puts it past the onrushing goalkeeper.
Furthermore, by having their front two so high it allows space for their midfielders to utilise. It makes the opposition drop back and forces them to play a low block, this allows Salford to dominate in the middle of the pitch with easy options through the middle to unmarked players. In the picture below, Rooney and Thomas-Asante once again play on the verge of offside, this pushes the defence back and allows Bruno Andrade to drive into the space and have a free shot at goal. Rooney and Thomas-Asante have been the focal point for Salford’s goals this season as they are on 14 goals combined.
Salford don’t limit themselves to one type of approach. They can be very direct as they are averaging 67.73 long passes this season with a success rate of 49.8%. Every so often a direct ball is floated over the top for the attacking players to chase down. This gives a higher chance of losing possession but it creates unpredictability on what they are going to do.
In the picture above, the player in possession has two easy short passes in front of him to retain the ball, yet, he decides to float the ball over the top of a high pressed Cambridge United defence. This possession of play resulted in a goal which started from his long ball which tested the opponents, it shows the unpredictability by Salford as they can create an opportunity from nothing. Even if there are better options around, by removing the predictability it makes Salford harder to determine their next move.
Attack from the back
Salford also have the confidence to play out from the back. This season they’re averaging 80.22 progressive passes per game. They are able to attack through the thirds due to their defensive low block. In the photo below, Jake Jervis picks up the ball from the defensive third due to him dropping back when defending. He plays it into Thomas-Asante inside the middle third, then it is played into the final third to Rooney, who clips a ball back post to Jervis who started the move from his own half.
With their first season in the English Football League, Salford have made a statement that they intend to keep on ascending up the divisions. They are still in with a chance of getting a playoff spot, however, with the loss of their top goalscorer Rooney (8). Salford cannot let this affect them and keep pushing through till the end of the season if it still goes ahead.