Millwall currently lies 8th in the Championship table and are just 2 points off a play-off position. It’s a position that many die-hard fans at The Den would have taken at the start of the season. The inconsistency of all teams outside the top 2, coupled with the unpredictable nature of the Championship means Millwall as a result have a chance of sneaking into the play-offs. The basis for this been built on the defensive improvement bought by manager Gary Rowett. His arrival on October 21st saw legend Neil Harris leave. Since then, Millwall has been on a steady incline up the table and will be eager for the league season to resume to learn their fate.
This tactical analysis scout report will look at the improvement Rowett has made. It will use analysis to identify tactics, especially in defence. The tactical analysis scout report will also highlight how Millwall play in the transition when they get their tactics right and how devastating that can be. Finally, the tactical analysis scout report will consider any weaknesses to Millwall under Rowett and how they can improve.
Millwall has lined up in a variety of formations and tactics under both their managers this season. However, their most-used formation and players are seen in the image below.
Jed Wallace on the right-wing is their star player. He provides width and has the ability to make something out of nothing. Therefore, a lot of their attacking play goes through him. The tactical analysis scout report will now use analysis to highlight the tactics deployed by Millwall.
As the tactical analysis scout report previously stated, a lot of Millwall’s success has been built on being defensively solid under Rowett. They have managed to keep four clean sheets in their last five games and boast the best defensive record outside the top six. It’s their ability to defend which sees them in the position they are in. They are one of the lowest scorers in the league, which this tactical analysis will look at in detail later. A big reason for their defensive success is the tactics of using a narrow midfield out of possession.
The 4-4-1-1 formation predominately used by Millwall has been key to their defensive success. It allows them to defend in two banks of four. The midfield four stay relatively narrow and compact. This makes it difficult for the opposition to play penetrative passes between the lines. As a result, the opposition can not get into space in behind the midfield where they can be effective. The wingers Wallace and Connor Mahoney are able to block passing lanes into the half-space (the channel between centre-back and full-back). As a consequence, opposing players wingers are forced to stay out wide rather than get involved in play due to lack of space, and the midfield is able to shuffle across to close down. Alternatively, the full-backs who stay wider out of possession are able to close the opposing winger.
As the image above shows, Millwall’s midfield play quite narrow and tight. The game against Nottingham Forest was the perfect example of their tactics working. They were able to effectively nullify Forest, who found it nearly impossible to break through their midfield and conceded very few chances in the game.
Defensive overloads out wide
A potential weakness of a narrow midfield is that one would think it affords space out wide. Wingers being tucked-in could potentially allow for opposition full-backs to bomb forward and overload in those areas. However, Millwall very rarely allows this to happen and they often find themselves with the extra man. The tactics used to achieve this will be considered along with analysis.
When play is switched out wide, the midfield will shuffle across in unison to go and close down space. The tactical analysis scout report highlighted that the midfield is often narrow out of possession, so communication is vital. Any breakdown in communication can create space centrally. As the image below shows, Millwall is able to create a situation where they are 3v2 in the wide-area in their favour. One of the central midfielders will push out wide to support, and the player in the 10 role will drop deeper to maintain solidity in that area. As a result, Millwall is able to ensure they have a numerical advantage in wide areas.
The purpose of this is to maximise their chances of winning the ball back and playing on the counter. They look to force the opposition into wide areas and then quickly smother them, using the touchline as another defender. The overload means they have a spare man making it harder to play through, and any hesitation from the opposition is quickly seized on.
The tactical analysis has shown Millwall’s defensive work but equally impressive is the transitions going forward. When they get it right, they are able to counter to devastating effect. The directness of wingers Wallace and Mahoney are a nightmare for opposing defenders in transitions, and Wallace, in particular, is often able to deliver a final ball.
The tactics that allow for the counters to be so effective come from their defensive shape. As the tactical analysis scout report has previously shown, Millwall actively looks to force the play into wide. This encourages opposition full-backs to push forward which results in space left behind. Millwall are able to crowd these areas and win the ball back effectively. Once they have done so, they waste no time breaking into the vacated space.
As the images above show, Millwall have forced play out wide and are in control of the situation. Once they have won the ball, they immediately look to attack the full-back area. Essentially, whilst Millwall deploys their defensive tactics for defensive solidity, they also do it as a trap. They look to lure the opposition forward, but only into areas where they maintain control, and then expose the space left behind.
Lack of goals
A potential area of concern for Millwall, and perhaps why they are not further up the league is their lack of goals. They have only managed 44 goals, a total that would look more in place in the bottom six rather than the top six. They average 3.8 shots on target per 90, not too dissimilar to the teams around them. Their top scorer Matt Smith also has 11 goals from 16 starts, with a conversion rate of around 38%. Whilst it is evident that Smith is an effective striker, he isn’t the one best suited for Rowett’s overall style of play, hence the lack of starts.
Tom Bradshaw has started 23 games this season as opposed to Smith’s 16 and is a player more suited Rowett’s tactics. He is quicker which helps them on the break and is better on the ball, which assists in their build-up play when in possession. Rowett likes to play a possession-based style of play, with a forward who assists in the build-up. This isn’t Smiths strength, who is more of a target man, given his size and frame. He is a good option of the bench should they be chasing a game, but if Millwall wishes to challenge and score more goals, they need a striker who fits into the manager’s philosophy and is also a prolific goal scorer.
The conundrum for Rowett this season is he does he play upfront. Smith is a better finisher and brings goals to a side deprived of them. Bradshaw, however, improves their overall play, and maybe gets the best out of other players around him, like Wallace and Mahoney. The logical solution for Rowett would be to invest in a striker who can do both parts in the summer.
The tactical analysis scout report has shown that the tactics used by Millwall in defence have given them a chance of reaching the play-offs. They have become an extremely difficult side to play through, and their defensive shape is often a trap to win the ball and hit on the counter.
The analysis has however shown that there are areas for improvement. This Millwall side does not score enough goals and manager Gary Rowett needs to find the forward that would be the missing link in the team. Whilst they are not too far from the playoffs this season, promotion seems like more of a dream rather than a reality. However, there is a strong base to build off for next season. The purchase of the elusive forward could them push for automatic promotion to the Premier League next season.