Breaking Baggies

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In the reverse meeting at the Hawthorns earlier on this season we struggled badly to break our hosts down with West Brom putting in a superb defensive shift to shut down our left side in particular. On average Baines/Pienaar create 6 chances per game, however in this fixtures the duo could only muster one chance each from open play. This week’s preview will specifically look at the Baggies defensive unit and how we can break them down….

Deconstructing the Data….

Away from home the Baggies have lost more than half their fixtures and have  conceded a fair few also. Overall, they have made the sixth fewest errors and the seventh most errors which have led to goal with Mc Auley (2) making the most mistakes. Our visitor’s have conceded the seventh most chances and the 12th most ‘big chances’ i.e one on ones. In terms of defending the ball into their box, they have conceded the 3rd most chances from set plays and have conceded the second most crosses in the league from their left flank.

Top flight defensive data 2012/13…..

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Clarke’s Winning Formula

International man of misery Steve Clarke has been schooled by some rather crafty cats in the management business. During his time at Chelsea  working for Jose Mourinho, Clarke clearly absorbed a few tricks whilst also heading lessons learnt during the  masterclass in how not to manage from  the mumbling, bin-bag wearing,  conspiracy theorist Kenneth Dalglish. 

Clarke was the first boss – and one of only a select few this season – who have identified the formula for getting a result against  the toffees…..which is basically;

(Control the space down the left   subtract  Fellaini impact via bullying  +  Exploit Set Piece Defensive deficiencies)  = Minimum 1 point.

How WBA snuffed us out….

It’s a tiresome cliché but wba’s setup was ‘two banks of four’ with the defence particularly narrow and in close proximity with very few gaps ‘between the lines’ as shown below

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The key defensive operation was Reid/Dorrans down the right with McAuley inside and Yacob just in front of him. Their control of the space on this side of the pitch is shown below by the average position of the foursome

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Defending in numbers and cutting off angles was their principal objective. Below, Baines has two men on his case…

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With Baines marked by Reid below, Dorrans’ (circled) principal target is blocking off the combination ball to Pienaar and you can make out his eyes are fixed on the South African  to ensure the short ball isn’t on…

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With moves down this flank breaking down, Gibson (circled) is visibly encouraging team mates to spread the play either to him or to the right flank…

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In short, the best way for us to exploit this kind of operation is quick shifts of play from left to right – potentially to Mirallas – although its unlikely the Belgian will be fit after his latest injury.

Fellaini ended up back in midfield last time after losing his cool and his personal battles across the pitch. Fellaini is at his best when there is a weak opposition defender who he can bully, usually a physically limited specimen deployed in the full back zones. With Reid likely to be out, the only personell change to the defensive unit from last time will be the inclusion of Billy Jones at tight back, who appears weak in the air judging by the below detail…something Fellaini could exploit.

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That day WBA had Reid and Ridgewell in the full back zones, both stand 6ft tall and with Fellaini’s  aerial threat neutralised, he struggled to impact the game. One of Moyes few options is to drop him back into midfield like against Bolton and maybe have Osman floating which would give us better coverage between the lines and precipitate a more fluid passing game and not the aerial battle that McAuley and Olsson will relish.

This will be a really tough fixture against a well drilled outfit, but if we can unlock their rigid shape I’m hopeful we can bag a much needed three points.


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