Tactical previews of all teams in the Premier League 2019/20 – part 4
This is the last of a four-part preview on what to look at teams in the remaining fixtures from a tactical perspective. The Premier League has returned on 17 June! We have missed English football for quite a while since the COVID-19, most teams would have a full squad because of this long break.
This tactical analysis is mainly giving a brief analysis of the team style of plays. By looking at their strengths and weaknesses, we provide you with some hints on what to focus on in the remaining fixtures.
Expected points: 55.4 – (3rd)
Points: 48 – (4th)
Chelsea might be one of the most underrated teams in the Premier League this season, probably no one would expect Frank Lampard’s adaptability to injuries and changing some of his tactics in different contexts. Although the Blues still mainly playing as a 4-3-3, sometimes they played in a back three (e.g. 3-4-2-1) to improve the solidity at the backline.
The expected points and reality have a 7.4 points margin, thus, a part of it was due to their defensive issues – conceded 39 goals, 10.5 more than they should have. Chelsea stood third in average ball possession – 59.2% was behind City and Liverpool. They were also the third in several passing metrics such as passes to the final third, deep completions and progressive passes.
In the first phase of an attack, Chelsea backline spread wide to circulate the ball, with the full-backs providing the width. Also, allowing Jorginho dropping between at the defence if needed.
However, playing out from the back was not the strongest tool for Chelsea. Given only Jorginho playing as the pivot, he could be man-marked and mostly the full-backs were the route to escape. We have their average positions and passing map here, Chelsea centre-backs were having strong linkages with the full-backs and the pivot, but not the advanced midfielders.
Chelsea have a pair of full-backs with an offensive mindset. Reece James, who became a regular starter in the new calendar year was an expert in crossing. The crosses he whipped were quick and with spin, difficult for the defenders to anticipate. James attempted 5.03 crosses per 90 minutes – fifth in the league, completed 29.23%, which was close to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 29.44%.
If Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi were playing as the right-winger, they could rotate the positions with James constantly, looking for free spaces. In addition, James was also good at crossing deep, so deploying him at the half-spaces was also very fine.
On the left flank, Marcos Alonso was strong at finishing. The former Real Madrid man provided four goals and three assists in just 858 minutes, out from 1.92 xG. He is an excellent choice to fit at the left wing-back if Lampard played his team in a 3-4-2-1.
Their abilities were huge assets to the team, plus, a tall striker like Tammy Abraham always fought for the cross (191cm). Chelsea could develop strong attacks at flanks.
A strong tool of Chelsea was their set-pieces plays. They scored eight already this season. So far, they have tried different setups according to the defence of the opponents. We picked the most interesting and typical one as an example to illustrate the general rules.
Apart from City, Chelsea also played a lot of short corners. Here, Willian and a teammate were overloading Theo Walcott (#11). Therefore, either one could be the free player to cross. Remember a crazy case in the Tottenham game, Willian could even utilize this 2 v 1 to cut inside and scored from a short corner.
Meanwhile, note Antonio Rüdiger’s position. He tended to stay at the far post recently, and the German centre-back was extremely strong to create spaces for himself. Intriguingly, the method was not curved runs, instead, using his body strengths to bump the marker away a bit. Also, he was good at jumping, using Rüdiger to attack a zonal defensive system was a huge advantage.
In this case, though Rüdiger was not the target, a secret weapon – Olivier Giroud touched Willian’s cross and scored.
But, the defensive corners were also an issue. Lampard’s men already conceded nine in when defending a set-piece, only Norwich and Villa in the relegation zone performed worse. So, what was the issue? We believe it could be a structural issue when setting the defence.
In general, Chelsea placed four players in the six-yard box, one (Willian here) near the half-spaces. You could find these below – a zonal system in this part. Another part was a man-marking approach, targeting players around the penalty spot. For example, Fikayo Tomori was man-marking Callum Chambers here.
Every zonal system has a weak area, we believe the compactness of the Chelsea defence was not enough at the front post. Huge spaces appeared in the gaps of four players. It was okay as Chelsea overloaded this area, but a prerequisite was to block the runners – it was a weak spot of Chelsea individuals.
In this example, Chambers (#21) was attacking that area, and, Fikayo Tomori did not have to force an aerial duel. Instead, blocking the Chambers would allow the zonal defender clearing the delivery. Of course, we chose this case because Tomori failed his duty. It was conceivable that a sprinting player, attacking the ball always had an advantage comparing to jumping without running. Chambers won this ball.
And, here comes the second issue. The Blues were often slow to react for the second balls in the penalty box. As a result, some goals they conceded were the results of unable to win the dropping balls. Here, Emerson was marking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the far post, but the Gabonese international came first to tap it in.
Chelsea will have to work very hard to secure the UEFA Champions League position for next season. A few teams were chasing behind, but we believe Lampard and his team should deal with most of the opponents remaining.
Remaining opponents: Aston Villa (A), Manchester City (H), West Ham (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sheffield United (A), Norwich (H), Liverpool (A), Wolves (H)
What to watch: set-pieces performance, can Tomori further improve, potential variations in the build-up
Expected points: 38.6 – (10th)
Points: 39 – (10th)
Burnley were having another stable season and very likely to stay in the Premier League next season. They were a very traditional English team – playing with a 4-4-2 in 87.5% of their game time, deploying two strong target men as the strikers.
Their 286.84 passes and 40.2% possession per game were second-lowest in the league, which was also a proof that they were playing directly, avoiding the unnecessary circulation of the ball. Intriguingly, Sean Dyche’s team were also poor in several metrics per 90 minutes: dribbles (19th), touches in penalty area (19th), progressive passes (19th), deep completions (19th), defensive duels (18th), offensive duels (20th).
An outstanding metric of Burnley was their aerial duels – they had 46.39 per game and this was more than any other team in the league. Obviously, battles in the air was a key component in Burnley’s game. Dyche’s men had the highest average passing lengths of the league (22.01m), and played 14.35 crosses per game (quite good when considering their chances to attack).
Playing with two strikers, we could always expect to see the below scenario – both Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez occupying spaces between the defenders and look for a cross. No matter where the crossing positions were, it seemed the two target men were always ready to attack the ball.
The impact of this approach is further boosted when the crosser pulled the full-back to the wide areas, liked Ben Chilwell went to approach Dwight McNeil here. Consequently, the Wood and Rodriguez ran between the gaps of the remaining three defenders, which made the defenders confused on who to mark. Of course, this resulted in a goal from Wood.
Since possessing many players with physical superiority, set-pieces are always a threat. Burnley have scored eight goals after a set-piece this season, over the average of 6.5. We are introducing a common pattern of Burnley’s corners that has been using in the new calendar year.
The objective was to attack the far post area, how? We should note that usually Ben Mee was tasked to make the deep runs, as he was quick and good to escape from a marker. In addition, he was clever to use his movements to disguise the marker and sprint to his blindside within seconds. These qualities have made Mee a good option to fill this role.
A player, sometimes Wood and sometimes Rodriguez was tasked to stay around the keeper. It was hoped that the keeper was distracted, and this player could run to any area of the six-yard box to look for the delivery.
We also highlighted Wood, who was between them. The New Zealand striker is 191cm tall, plus, he has the physical strengths that made him as another target of the set-pieces. He must be in the six-yard box and far post as he was never afraid of any direct contact. This was an example of utilizing his aerial dominance, the delivery came to the far side and Wood just put the ball into the back of the net.
When defending, do not think Burnley would set a deep block and wait for the opponents to come. On the contrary, they pressed very high and used the approach even against some strong opponents such as Manchester United and Arsenal. Their 10.73 average PPDA is around the mean of the league, and 45.46 interceptions per 90 ranked sixth.
Burnley could commit the entire midfield and the forwards in the press, which means at most six players pressing in the opposition third. In most cases, they at least had numerical equality, and this was often converted to superiority as the strikers were clever to make the curve runs. These curved runs shut one player when they were pressing the others, hence, 6 v 6 is an advantage for Burnley.
A tight man-marking approach was adopted, as they did this to Arsenal here. The press was very intense and hardly could the build-up teams to take their time and find the free players. Therefore, though Arsenal had a 7 v 6 situation here, it was nullified as Rodriguez was pressing the keeper while covering David Luiz.
This forced a long ball and it was a situation that Dyche was happy to see, his centre-backs were very strong in the air and they won most duels in the air. James Tarkowski’s 71.01% success rate in aerial duels was the fifth of the league.
If finding the weakness of Burnley, we would say it was the defensive transitions. So far, they have conceded 10 counter-attacks, more than any other teams in the league. Partly of this was because of the sloppy mistakes that led to possession turn over at the midfield, hardly could the defence retain the compactness.
There were only two Burnley midfielders on most occasions, it was difficult to only rely on their coverage. Some cases were the midfielders were not quick enough to regain the ball, hence, leaving the centre of the pitch or spaces behind them opened. The opponents were exploiting these areas.
The below image is an example. Ashley Westwood and Jack Cork were moving to the wide areas, but failed to regain possession or cut the passing lane in this 3 v 2 numerical superiority. When the in-ball was played to the centre, you could see how the Aston Villa players were passing easily as too many spaces were available. This has resulted in a conceded goal.
Burnley are another team that need not worry about relegation. They were quite safe already, just a few more points would guarantee their Premier League seat in the next campaign.
Remaining opponents: Manchester City (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sheffield United (H), West Ham (A), Liverpool (A), Wolves (H), Norwich (A), Brighton (H)
What to watch: set-pieces tactics, McNeil, could Rodriguez continue his form
Expected points: 37.7 – (11th)
Points: 29 – (15th)
Although staying in the Premier League without huge troubles last season, Chris Hughton was not staying as they welcomed Graham Potter, who had a very good spell at Swansea in the 2018/19. Potter is obsessed with playing out from the back, and this is the element he has been trying to instil to his players. However, they are a bit closer to the relegation zone than they would like to be, though the expected stats were not bad at all.
Potter has tried several formations this season, using a 4-4-2 in 25.2% of the games. Also, trying a 4-2-3-1, a 3-4-2-1, and a 3-4-3. However, none of these changes of the formations solved the main issue of the team – positionings on the field.
Strong positional play teams should have requirements on player distances even when attacking, as, they also need to prepare the reaction (or even anticipation) once possession turnsover. However, Brighton’s structure in different phases was loose, which was the biggest problem hindering their performance.
Below are the average positions and passing links map of Brighton in this campaign. You could see the build-up players (keeper, back four, pivots) were strong to find each other. However, the front players (wingers, strikers) were not connected or found by the central midfielders. It seems only developing plays through flanks was the method to progress.
When speaking of Aaron Mooy, we might think he was an attacking midfielder. Yes, by positioning, but the Australian international was not appearing at the centre. The connections of the midfield three (in a 4-2-3-1) is very weak.
Below is the heat map of Mooy this season. He was not operating centrally or in zone 14. Instead, he tended to show up on the left flank, combining with the left-back or making the supporting runs.
Therefore, a weird situation as follows would common. Here, we drew the lines to show the positionings and distances of the midfielders, Mooy went wide to reach numerical equality.
The positionings of the pivots were conservative often, seldom would they support plays. The linkage of the midfield three was weak, they were not connected and impossible to find each other. In the defensive transition, it was a very risky approach as the opponent only need to bypass two players to reach the defence.
As we have drawn, six Wolves players were occupying the central zone, while there were no Brighton players trying to exploit those areas. As a result, they were trying to progress around the block instead of breaking into it. It was fine if they had good strategies to progress at flanks, but they haven’t got one. This was suboptimal as the ball was often trapped wide. These incomplete structures were usually the culprits of Brighton’s inefficacy.
This also adversely affected the defence. Since Brighton players were far away from each other when attacking, it required more time to reduce the distance when defending. Also, the defenders were not strong in 1 v 1 and anticipating when being isolated, hence, they conceded quite a number of goals when being outnumbered.
Below is an example, Villa easily bypassed the Brighton midfielders and directly facing the defenders. The body orientations of the defenders were suboptimal, as none of them was preparing to change the directions in an instant. Villa exploited gaps between defenders by two runners between three Brighton players.
Another issue showing here is the intensity when challenging. Brighton lacked a counter-pressing scheme and intense challenges on the ball. You could see the nearest player to the ball was uninterested in challenging him, thus, the Villa player could exercise his pass as he wished.
Brighton’s situation is the less pessimistic, having a two-point margin with three teams behind. However, they still had to work hard to gain points and survive. Currently, there are some loopholes in the system and Potter had to deal with it. Of course, the top priority is always to win the important matches, which they should really make their quality count.
Remaining opponents: Arsenal (H), Leicester (A), Manchester United (H), Norwich (A), Liverpool (H), Manchester City (H), Southampton (A), Newcastle United (H), Burnley (A)
What to watch: could they improve the positional plays, would Potter change his tactics a bit to survive in the relegation battle first
Expected points: 31.9 – (15th)
Points: 39 – (11th)
Crystal Palace had a pretty good season, as they outperformed from their 31.9 xPt and currently gained 39 points, were not involving in the relegation battle. Roy Hodgson’s team played in a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 formations on most occasions.
Palace were very unimpressive in the offensive stats, with the second-fewest shots per game: 8.58. Also, second-fewest passes to the final third per 90, third-fewest progressive passes per 90, fourth-lowest through passes, 19th in terms of crosses, 15th in touches in penalty area.
On the contrary, there were two notable metrics under Hodgson: dribbles per 90 and offensive duels per 90, they ranked 6th and the first in the league. These were the hints that have shown Palace were relying on the individuals and playing directly to attack.
Therefore, the team had 73 offensive duels per 90, as the physical quality of Christian Benteke helped the team to win a lot of aerial duels. The Belgian big man had 16.67 aerial duels per 90, only behind Troy Deeney. And, the aerial duels won percentage was 51.58%, the best in the league!
Meanwhile, the wingers stayed around the Belgium striker to look for the second balls. You could see the example here, which Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha came near to receive the layoff.
Of course, you know we are going to mention Zaha. The Ivorian international is the key player in the team: technically gifted, quick, skilful and it was so difficult to defend him. Zaha had the second-highest dribbles per 90 – 11.6, completed 53.8%. Another metric he ranked second was his 4.54 progressive runs per 90.
Below is the heat map of Zaha in this season, he was staying extremely wide. The main reason was not only providing the attacking width but also creating spaces to pull the right-back out, exploiting the 1 v 1 opportunities. He was unstoppable in these situations.
You would wonder how Palace survived despite scoring the fewest goals in the league – 24. This was because of their solid defence, 32 conceded goals were only one behind Manchester City, ranked fifth of the league.
Given their 11.29 average PPDA which was the 13th of the league, clearly they were not a team that opted a high pressing scheme. Instead, Palace set a midblock to deny the opponents and troubled City at the Etihad back in January.
As we have drawn below, the block was in a 4-5-1 formation. However, it might be asymmetrical as Zaha always stayed higher, defended less. This was reasonable as the Ivorian winger was expected to utilize his speed and dribbles in the counter-attacks.
However, the block was not perfect. There were several issues, hence, their xGA was 42.7 instead, 10.7 more than the actual conceded goals. We could discover them in this example.
Firstly, the striker was not defending enough often, as he was expected to be the target man in the offensive transitions and stayed higher. Therefore, pressure on the ball was limited, this gave the opponent to play the vertical passes comfortably. They could play through the block despite it was compact.
Second, the defenders were encouraged to step out and cover spaces behind the midfield. As a result, the defence always lost shape and the opponent could play through balls behind the defence. In this example, James Tomkins left his position to approach Michael Obafemi. Nathan Redmond exploited this opportunity to run behind him and picked the forward pass in the above picture.
Another issue of Palace was their defence in the wide areas. The full-backs tended to act conservatively and avoid challenges. Consequently, they often conceded crosses because of the suboptimal body orientations.
We used an example as shown above. Youri Tielemans was a right-footed player, but the body shape of Joel Ward opened the passing lane for the Belgian international’s strong foot. Therefore, Leicester accessed the half-spaces easily. Ward should have forced Tielemans to use his weak foot in this case.
Similar to Burnley, Palace were pretty safe already, only needed a few points to guarantee a place in the Premier League next season. A player to be watched is Zaha, as he was 27-year-old already, probably pursuing a transfer to a larger club. The Ivorian could continue to try impressing the scout and coaches for more potential buyers in the summer.
Remaining opponents: Bournemouth (A), Liverpool (A), Burnley (H), Leicester (A), Chelsea (H), Aston Villa (A), Manchester United (H), Wolves (A), Tottenham (H)
What to watch: Zaha’s impact, their direct style of play, the defensive block
Expected points: 26.4 – (19th)
Points: 27 – (18th)
Bournemouth could not replicate the success of the previous seasons, they were deeply-troubled in the relegation battle after getting 27 points in 29 games. It seems issues appeared at both ends when looking at the team stats – 31.2 xG and 53.4 xGA were both 18th of the league.
Eddie Howe often played his team in a 4-4-2, but also trying a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 sometimes. We generated their average positions and passing links from the Wyscout below.
In this image, some features of the team are observed. Bournemouth were attacking asymmetrically – the left-back pushed higher than the right-back. Also, only the left centre-back was connected to the progressive options, while his partner was conservative, showing no strong linkage to the midfield players. This was understandable as Nathan Aké is a better ball-playing defender than Steve Cook.
Bournemouth were very unimpressive in the offensive team metrics, none of them was ranked on the top half of the table. Although Howe was famous for his open play approach, this was not working this season because of the slow tempo and personnel.
We have drawn the build-up shape of Bournemouth here, the 2-2 boxed shape or a 2-1 triangular shape were commonly seen as the pivot tended to operate in front of the centre-backs. Meanwhile, the full-backs provided the width of the attack.
However, we could also notice some issues. In higher areas, Bournemouth lacked progressive options to exploit the centre as the pivot stayed very deep. You could see six Newcastle players were caging a Bournemouth player. It was because of the unnecessary committed numbers in the build-up, why using four players when only one opponent was in the first line?
Given the inefficacy of the open plays, Bournemouth were spending their efforts on the set-pieces and this has worked quite well. They have scored 10 after a set-piece, the only team that matched Liverpool in this season. Phil Billing, who was 198cm tall has helped the team in this phase a lot.
We show you some typical setups of Bournemouth corners here. Although Billing was the tallest player, he was not the main target, instead, he mainly attracts the defenders and tried to block them. You could see Billing were denying two players from moving in the below scenario.
The real target is often Aké, who began the runs from deep. This helped the centre-back to escape from tight markings, hence, being free to any spaces generated at the front post. This was the reason why Billing was blocking the opponents. You could find Aké trying to attack the front post here.
The defence has been the major issue of Bournemouth. We are showing a weakness of the team that led to some conceded goals this season. They were poor at defending crosses and the second balls in the penalty box.
This could be attributed to a structural issue and the individual issues. Since Bournemouth always looked to press with the defenders, positions of defenders kept changing because of the movements of the opponents. These positional interchanges have led to mismatches in the penalty box, hence, suboptimal when defending the crosses. You could see Aké was out of the box even the ball was in the box.
Also, Bournemouth could not set offside traps effectively, plus some suboptimal body shapes that only allowed the defenders facing one direction. These hindered Bournemouth to defend crosses and marking the free players.
In this case, Allan Saint-Maximin’s delivery went to the far post and headed in by the unmarked DeAndre Yedlin. Why was the right wing-back unmarked? It was because of the confusion and collapse of the defence.
As mentioned, Bournemouth were in a dangerous position as issues appeared at both ends. It was impossible to solve everything in such a short period, hence, Howe had to sort out a more direct way to win the game. Unfortunately, they are having an extremely tough schedule, they might need a miracle to stay in the Premier League.
Remaining opponents: Crystal Palace (H), Wolves (A), Newcastle United (H), Manchester United (A), Tottenham (H), Leicester (H), Manchester City (A), Southampton (H), Everton (A)
What to watch: build-up plays improvement (if any), offensive set-pieces
The above were mainly explaining the general style of plays of teams. It was difficult to show all the variations and tactics of the teams in a concentrated version analysis. We wish these would give you some hints and suggestions on what to notice when the Premier League returns. This is the last part and all the series is completed!