On matchday five of the 2020 League of Ireland Premier Division, the north Dublin derby took place with Bohemians facing the newly promoted 2019 First Division Champions Shelbourne. This is the first time for the two teams to meet in the league since 2013. Bohemians came into the game on six points with two wins and two losses. Shelbourne came into the game on the same points with two wins and one loss with a game in hand. In front of a sold-out crowd, it was a physical high tempo game with only a few extended passages of play. The transitions were key in the game and on this day Bohemians came out on top scoring two goals in 10 minutes to win the game 2-0.
In this tactical analysis, I will provide a tactical overview of each team with regards to their style of play in the game (Defending, Attacking, Transition to Defend and Transition to Attack). After reviewing the overall tactical approaches, I will then highlight four topics of interest from this game which are Bohemians defensive shape, Shelbourne in possession, Bohemians attacking in wide areas and Karl Sheppard attacking movements.
Bohemians head coach Keith Long made a few changes to the starting 11 giving Daniel Grant his first start of the 2020 season. Right-back Andrew Lyons returned to the starting lineup after his suspension had been served. Patrick Kirk rotated in for Anthony Breslin at left-back. Shelbourne’s head coach Ian Morris sent out a familiar side to previous games. Aaron Dobbs and Ciaran Kilduff were the favoured partnership by the manager to start up top. In the 67 minute Shelbourne switched to a 4-2-3-1 swapping Dobbs out and bringing on Shane Farrell to play as the centre attacking midfielder.
Bohemians played with a 4-2-3-1. Defensively they pressed high from the front with Andre Wright leading the press. Grant and Kris Twardek pressed the full-backs with angled runs forcing them to play back-passes to the centre backs. Daniel Mandroiu would cut off passing angles, pressing a deep midfielder or a centre back when required. Conor Levingston and Keith Buckley covered the central midfield space and screened the backline. In the transition to attack Bohemians used two options, a fast counter utilising the pace of Mandroiu, Grant and Twardek or a direct ball to Wright for link-up play. From an attacking perspective, 29 out of the 33 passes distributed from Bohemian goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness were played long. We can see in the image below the setup of Bohemians from a long goal kick. Bohemians had three players against the Shelbourne defensive line that we’re looking for a through ball to create a 1v1 opportunity in the final third towards goal.
Bohemians did look to build up possession but struggled due to the pressing from Shelbourne’s front two. When in possession Bohemians looked to attack the wide areas as we will discuss in more detail later in the analysis. In the transition to defend Bohemians implemented a defensive high press immediately with the nearest man pressing the opposition player on the ball. They recovered possession 32 times in the opponents half.
Shelbourne played a 4-4-2 for the first 67 minutes of the game at which point they switched formation to a 4-2-3-1. Defensively they pressed high from the front with Kilduff and Dobbs pressing Dan Casey and Robert Cornwall to stop any simple short passes from the goalkeeper. Shelbourne in defence looked to compact space and force the play to one side not allowing Bohemians to switch the play out to the opposite side. In the below image we can see the direction of the Shelbourne players runs forcing the play into the wide-area and cutting off any passing angles to switch the play.
In the transition to attack Shelbourne played direct to the front two players and looked to link up. Several times Karl Sheppard found dangerous pockets of space during the transition, we will analyse this in more detail later. From the attacking perspective, the distribution from goalkeeper Jack Brady was in a similar style to Bohemians with 25 out of the 30 passes played long. During the build-up in the first half, Shelbourne did have some success in breaking the lines although this was largely in part to open spaces in the tactical shape of Bohemians. In the second half, Shelbourne found it difficult to play forward as Bohemians compacted these spaces. In the transition to defend Shelbourne would press from high to recover possession in the final third however they would look to delay and recover from the middle third to the defensive third.
Bohemians defensive shape
In the first half, it was clear to see a separation in the Bohemians 4-2-3-1. The front four players were allowed to attack freely when in possession with a significant gap seen between the 4-2 & the 3-1. This freedom would have the consequence that when Shelbourne recovered possession the distances and balance of shape were difficult to recover in the transition to defend. The image below showcases the freedom allowed to the Bohemians players with Wright on the left-wing and Mandroiu in a centre forward position. In the image below Shelbourne recover possession, the freedom in attacking positions can make Bohemians vulnerable to a counter-attack as they struggle to transition to defend quickly enough.
The attacking separation can be forgiven when a team has two screening defensive midfielders. A problem in the first half for Bohemians was the position of Grant & Twardek in the high press. The two players would press high up and out wide on the Shelbourne full back’s early. This would allow the Shelbourne wingers to drop into gaps in central areas to receive passes. In turn, this would force Bohemians full-back to step out leaving room for Shelbourne strikers or full backs to target this vacated space. In the image below Shelbourne’s Dayle Rooney does exactly this movement leaving space for Ryan Brennan to play a forward pass into Aaron Dobbs.
In the second half Bohemians were more compact centrally when pressing, minimising space for Shelbourne to play forward. In the image below we can see the position in the press of Grant and Twardek is now more balanced covering central space and the opposition players.
The front four now closed spaces between the units if their line had been broken by quickly pressing Shelbourne players into the Bohemians defensive units. This became a significant strength for Bohemians as the pace of Twardek, Mandroiu and Grant was now a defensive asset. In the image below Grant and Twardek quickly apply pressure after their line has been broken by sprinting back to press the opposition.
Bohemians attacking in wide areas
One of the stand out aspects of Bohemians play is their strength to attack in wide areas. Five out of the six goals Bohemians have scored in the 2020 season have come from crosses. In analysing this type of attack we see a number of key aspects that make it effective. Firstly the positioning and movement of Mandroiu dependent on the phase of the game. When comfortably in possession Mandroiu will play centrally dropping into space between the lines to receive the ball and pass to the wingers. In the transition to attack, on the ball side as the winger drops in to receive the ball Mandroiu will take his space in the wide area. This allows Mandroiu to attack the vacated space if the opposition full-back follows the winger. In the image below Grant drops in to receive the ball during the transition to attack and Mandroiu takes his position in the wide-area on the ball side.
Another aspect that is crucial to Bohemians success in wide areas is the pace of the attacking players. Grant, Mandriou and Twardek make excellent movements however it is the quickness in the counter-attacks that give them opportunities to quickly create overloads. Below is a quick transition to attack with Twardek using his pace to attack quickly. McAuley is played through one on one with Brady by a superb pass from Twardek but McAuley misses and hits the side netting.
In the way Shelbourne attempted to compact space defensively by overloading one side of the pitch with Sheppard and Dayle Rooney pushing in centrally, played into one of the Bohemians attacking strengths. Grant and Twardek would stay wide looking for the play to be switched to them at which point they would be in a direct 1v1 with the full-back. Twardek has excellent dribbling skills along with his strength allowing him to beat Lorcan Fitzgerald a number of times in this situation. In the image below we can see Grant receiving the ball in this type of position. In this instance, Aidan Friel attempts to delay Grant while awaiting defensive cover however this gave Grant an opportunity to step inside and play an early cross leading to Bohemians first goal.
Shelbourne in possession
In analysing Shelbourne in possession, specifically, when they have regained possession, we can see their first instinct is to play direct. Reviewing Bohemians tactics of 4-2-3-1 against Shelbourne’s 4-4-2 this did give Shelbourne opportunities to have an overload when playing out. At times we can see that Wright is in a 3v1 situation with Shelbourne’s Brady, Oscar Brennan and Daniel O’Reilly. In the below image possession is recovered and passed back to Brady. Instead of kicking long, this is an opportunity for Brennan and O’Reilly to drop to receive the ball as space is available.
If Shelbourne played out or took positions to play out from the goalkeeper distribution more often this would have given Bohemians decisions to make in the press and stretched the three units. In the image below we can see one example of when Brennan and O’Reilly did take positions to create the three v one against Wright.
In analysing the long ball distribution from Shelbourne what can be seen is the positioning of Gary Deegan and Ryan Brennan is to win second balls. Their initial focus is not on receiving the ball but winning the second ball in a defensive situation or support the link up with the front two. Deegan takes up a central position from Shelbourne goal kicks in front of his back four. This position is focused on winning the second ball and screening the defence but not focusing on contesting the first ball. We can see in the image below that due to his positioning Deegan reads the play quickly prior to the Bohemians header and moves into space where the ball may land. He then recovers possession of the ball ahead of Mandroiu and initiates the attack.
Karl Sheppard attacking movement’s
After five seasons at Cork City Karl Sheppard moved to Shelbourne for the 2020 season. So far he has proven to be a key player in Ian Morris’ side playing every minute of the four games played. From the attacking statistics, he is leading the way in the squad. Sheppard is proving that he can deliver over the first four games leading the squad in total statistics for crossing (11), dribbles (19), key passes (10) and through passes (six). In the game against Bohemians Sheppard had a 79% pass accuracy ratio with 29 successful passes in total. With direct passing to the front two a focus of Shelbourne’s attack he shows to be key again providing an 83% long pass accuracy ratio with five successful long passes during the game.
One of the key attributes for Sheppard is his movement and positioning to receive the ball. In the transition to attack he has an excellent ability to find and attack space in front of the full-back. In the image below Shelbourne are in transition to attack. Sheppard keeps a distance between himself and the defender. This creates a decision for the defender which is to step out but leave space in behind or to stay in line with defence and allow Sheppard to receive the ball.
Shelbourne’s front two players occupied the Bohemian centre backs and with Bohemians front four pressing high this allowed Sheppard to drop into the space between the lines. This movement provided success as when Kirk stepped in to mark him he vacated space in the final third and it allowed Shelbourne to attack this space. In the image below we see Sheppard has completed the movement bringing Kirk with him and Friel has made an underlapping run into space. Note the Bohemians centre backs are two v two against Shelbourne’s strikers making it very difficult to cover the space left by Kirk.
Outside of his movement, another asset of Sheppard is his skill to play an accurate pass into the box. In the Bohemians game, he played two key passes into Dobbs for opportunities that should have been scored. In the image below Sheppard performs a quick double movement to find space in front of Kirk to receive the ball. He then plays a finesse pass between Dan Casey and Kirk to put Dobbs through on goal.
It was a hectic north Dublin derby with positives from each side early in the season along with some definite opportunities to improve on. Bohemians attacking will give them much optimism but their defensive side of the game needs improvement to compete for a European spot. Shelbourne will be disappointed with the defensive mistakes for the two goals that could have been avoided. There have been good signs from Shelbourne in their opening games to suggest they can be successful in staying in the premier division. With Shelbourne’s two goals from four games, both scored from set-pieces, to improve they need to find a balance to their play to allow them to create more attacking opportunities suited to the skillsets of their strikers. Bohemians head coach Keith Long will take the three points along with the bragging rights for the fans while Shelbourne head coach Ian Morris will look to bounce back quickly when football returns.