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.


Tactical Deconstruction: How WBA played Everton at their own game

West Brom Shape

In a spectacularly frustrating afternoon at the Hawthorns, West Brom did to us what we usually do to other sides. In short, they defended very narrow, had great strength through the middle and were happy for us to attack down the flanks. Their key strength lies in their defensive shape – a tactic bestowed to them by former boss Roy Hodgson – and this ability to get lots of men behind the ball was evident with 2 banks of 4 in close proximity as shown below…..

WBA’s new signing Yacob’s capabilities were highlighted in the preview and he was at the centre of West Brom’s solidity, making the most tackles (5) with his positioning on the right side of the centre midfield helping out Reid /Doranns to shut down our left side. Although Baines was still our most productive player going forward his and Pienaar’s usually huge impact was diluted significantly.

West Brom were happy to drop deep and  for us to have the ball which we did with more touches, passes and dominance of the ball in the final third (64% v 36%) enabling us  more chances (11 v 9) but  few of these were clear cut with Foster called into just one save.

At 0-0 Moyes gambled to win the game by bringing on Kevin Mirallas for the jaded Steven Naismith with the Belgian playing through the middle with Osman coming onto the right and Fellaini deeper. With more men committed further forward WBA were given more space  to manoeuvre the ball into our half with just 4 touches required to go from their 18 yard line to the opening goal, which was well worked and finished off by Long.

Fellaini woes

WBA’s centre back’s strength in the air was mentioned in Friday’s preview and sadly we went more direct as the game went on, but with Fellaini now back in midfield this was really playing into West Brom’s hands as their centre backs were happy to repel the aerial ball.

The Belgian had an afternoon to forget at both ends of the pitch; his composure deserted him when put through on goal following great work down the right flank by Mirallas. Then with the game at 0-1 he criminally switched off to allow his marker McAuley a free run at goal from a whipped corner. With Odemwingie standing on Howard’s toes, the centre back was able to rise un-opposed and put West Brom in an unassailable position. Game over.

In fairness to the Belgian the service up to him was dire for the most part; balls to his chest are fine but when they are pitched into his face sides can simply stand off him and hoover up the second balls as West Brom did.

Final word

This was a bad day at the office for the Blues and a deserved victory for a WBA side who were always going to be a tough nut to crack. The nagging doubt persists that we will struggle to break sides down who have rigid shape. Man Utd and Villa both came at us which suited us, but WBA were happy to retreat and wait for us to make the first move. Moyes approach was the same as it was here last year i.e keep it tight for 60mins then turn up the heat and go to win it. Whilst he was bold and went for the win in doing so he compromised  our own defensive shape which cost us a point.


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