After seeing manager Daniel Stendel lost his job due to a struggling start to their return season to the Championship, Barnsley wasted no time in finding a successor for him. It turned out, though, to be Wolfsberger A.C.’s manager Gerhard Struber, who led the club to their first Europa League group stage campaign in their history. His first match in the Championship was against Middlesbrough, and although his team did show some positives, they still lost out on three points when Ashley Fletcher’s goal at the 54th minute sealed the match for the home side.
For Hull City, their convincing 4-0 win over promotion-chasers Preston North End had helped them moved closer to the play-off group as they were separated with sixth-placed Swansea City by just three points. As they travelled to the Oakwell Stadium of Barnsley’s, there were hopes that they could pick up the form that kept three points at KC Stadium over an in-form Preston. Unfortunately, Alex Mowatt’s goal inside the first half opened up a match in which Barnsley took control for the majority of time with Mike-Steven Bähre and Conor Chaplin sealed it for the home side during the second period.
This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of Barnsley’s 3-1 win over Hull City. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out what went wrong with Grant McCann’s tactics over Gerhard Struber’s tactics.
In his second match with the club, Struber lined his side up in a 4-3-1-2 formation as he had a full list of players to choose from. Two players who managed to shake off their injury problems to join up with the rest of the squad were Aapo Halme, who was deployed as a single pivot in front of the defence, and Jordan Williams, who replaced Dimitri Cavaré as the right-back for this match.
Up front, Cauley Woodrow was implemented as a striker more than an attacking midfielder as Struber wanted to use the former Fulham player’s physicality to shield the ball for his teammates and link up the play. Playing alongside him was Jacob Brown and they received support from attacking midfielder Conor Chaplin.
On the opposite side, McCann opted to remain consistent with his 4-2-3-1 which could be seen as a 4-4-1-1 on several occasions. At the same time, he also had a handful of players who missed out through injuries which included several of rotational players. Jon Toral was one of them as he was absented from the squad list that travelled to Barnsley alongside Angus McDonald and Brandon Fleming.
Meanwhile, new signing Leonardo Da Silva Lopes was able to return to the starting lineup after he recovered from his illness and he paired up with Jackson Irvine as central midfielders. At the same time, summer additions Josh Bowler and George Honeyman were chosen to fill in the attacking midfielder positions alongside Polish international Kamil Grosicki.
Hull City’s style of play
Approaching this match with high confidence after their 4-0 win over Preston, it was no surprise to see Hull deployed a positive mentality in order to gain control of the match. They tended to build attacks from their defensive line and made the most out of the passing ability of Reece Burke and Jordy de Wijs. Along with that, the centre-backs also received support from the wing-backs who occasionally stayed deep to involve in the build-up process and one of the two central midfielders.
Having at least five players during the build-up, it was possible for Hull to have numerical superiority to support their ball circulation process against Barnsley’s high press. This also helped them to move the ball in a quick fashion and at the same time, reducing the build-up time which allowed the wing-backs to progress possession up the pitch. Another thing to note about Hull’s build-up is whenever the ball carrier received the ball, at least one of his teammates would come close to him and offer to pick up the ball. It helped him to relieve the pressure that Barnsley players had put on him while also allowing the team to maintain possession.
Still, as good as they were in maintaining a high percentage of possession, which stood at 43% at the end of the match, they found themselves struggled to create chances. From the xG graph, it was possible to see that the visitor were only able to register a total xG rating of 0.04 inside the first half, which was from Jarrod Bowen’s chance.
It was not until the period between the 60th minute and the 65th minute that saw them created more significant chances towards Barnsley’s goal. Since they were trailed by two goals, the fact that they have to push forward in the search for a goal to come back into the match during the late period of the match seems like an obvious thing.
One tactical change that McCann made in order to help the team was subbed on target man Tom Eaves and encouraged his players to play more crosses into the box. Starting off as the lone striker up front, now Bowen was dragged back to play as a second striker behind the former Gillingham striker. This allowed the English youngster to add more creativity into his play by creating intelligent movements to attract the attention of the opposition’s defenders and created space for his teammates. Furthermore, with his dribbling ability, it was viable for him to drive forward on his own and created a chance for himself.
For Eaves, playing in the role of a target man, he had the chance to make the most out of his physicality to turn up at the end of crosses and converted the chances that were created into goals. In the situation below, with most of Hull players had entered the 16-yard box waiting for a cross from Grosicki, the Polish winger picked out Eaves, who positioned himself on the far post and he did that precisely. While Eaves wasn’t able to head the ball towards the goal, substitute Keane Lewis-Potter finished up his job with a close-range header that sealed the consolation goal for the visitor.
Speaking of Bowen, the influence that he left in this match was undoubtedly significant as the leading striker in their 4-2-3-1 formation. But luck wasn’t on his side today as he attempted to pick up the goal-scoring streak that saw him scored eight goals in the last seven matches. Nonetheless, it is worth looking at the responsibilities that he took on in this match and analysed how he had helped the team to approach Barnsley’s 16-yard box.
Firstly, he tended to drop deeper than usual to link up the team’s play, similar to a false nine. It is quite rare to see him positioned himself on the shoulder of defenders and turned up at the end of through passes, but he would rather move close to the attacking midfielder and offered support for the midfielders and wingers in progressing the ball up the pitch. Still, he tended to be quite vulnerable in Hull’s counter-attack using his pace and positional awareness.
With the fact that Barnsley usually pressed high, that also meant they had to push their defensive line higher to provide support for the players up front. This was when Bowen’s positioning allowed him to receive the pass from his teammates while still be able to beat his markers and sprinted towards Radlinger’s goal as he was usually found standing in between the centre-backs. By doing so, he was able to reduce the need of wing-backs overlapping and then sent crosses into the box for Bowen but rather encouraged them to sent long passes into space surrounded him to allow himself continuing the attack.
Another use of his dropping deep trait is to bring his teammates into play and helped the team’s attack to have numbers rather than relying on individual efforts. In the situation below, Barnsley were once again being put in the defensive transitioning process as their players attempted to recover their positions after the high press was bypassed. Against pacey players such as Bowen himself or Grosicki, the defenders had to go with the option of swarming the space surrounded the ball carrier and tried to tackle the ball away from him.
They managed to do so, eventually, but the tackle combined with the fact that the ball hit Grosicki’s feet later on, it fell onto Bowen’s run and allowed him to capitalise the space being left by Barnsley’s defenders. Fortunately for the home side, his shot was dragged wide to the left side of the goal and went past it.
Defensively, Hull weren’t too bad either, especially after the wake of Barnsley’s opening goal. From their general formation of a 4-2-3-1, the players switched it into a 4-4-1-1 and at times, even into a 4-4-2. Their defensive shape consisted of two distinct lines of four which took on different responsibilities.
The first one, which was formed by the midfielders, was tasked to stretch wide in order to occupy both the central and wide areas. They were also the first line that attempted to press the opposition since they deployed a conservative press while only started to do so when Barnsley’s players got the ball into the middle third. Along with attacking midfielder Bowler, the players would attempt to win the ball back and prevented the home side from continued progressing it into their defensive third.
The second line of the defenders took on the responsibilities of defending zone 14 and tracked the run of Barnsley’s attackers to prevent them from entering the 16-yard box. Furthermore, the physical advantage of the two centre-backs also helped the team in defending against crosses and long balls that headed into the box. Playing against a team who had players that could make intelligent movements, Hull’s defenders were also required to be disciplined in maintaining their positions in order not to create space behind their backs.
As decent as they were in terms of defending inside the first period, they also left a few problems that need to be taken into account. One of them was leaving too much space between their two defensive lines. In both situations above and below, there were players who managed to position themselves inside that gap and turned themselves into possible passing options. The situation below even led to Mowatt’s opening goal later on as Bähre quickly made a flick into the gap for Chaplin and they continued to make one-two passes until a cross was sent into the box by the former Portsmouth player.
Barnsley’s style of play
Under Struber, Barnsley have started to demonstrate the principles that the Austrian manager used to deploy for Wolfsberg. The first noticeable tactical point that can be seen quite easily is the implement of the high press. Usually, the players would take on the man-oriented press that saw each player responsible for one of Hull’s players.
They tended to be aggressive in recovering possession while keeping the number of fouls as low as possible. This allowed them to monitor the players that involved in Hull’s build-up process in their sights and acknowledged about the direction they would pass the ball to. When this happened, a player would close down the ball carrier and apply pressure on them while his teammates marked the available passing options around that player.
In case their press was bypassed, the players would quickly retreat into their half and formed a 4-3-1-2 that defended quite deep in their defensive third. They usually stretched their shape wide but also maintained a sufficient distance between the players that wouldn’t allow Hull’s attackers to make the most out of it and entered the 16-yard box.
Also, by keeping the distance between the lines as narrow as possible, they also eliminated the possibility of the opposition’s players capitalising the space in that area. Combined with their high press, it helped them enjoyed a decent day in terms of keeping things tight at their end, which was the crucial factor to their convincing win at the end of the day.
In possession, they also deployed the mentality of playing out from the back-line. Similar to Hull’s strategy, the players also tended to move the ball in a quick fashion in order to reduce the team’s build-up process. At the same time, with the involvement of all four defenders and at least two midfielders, the home side also had numbers to help them in bypassing the press from the opposition.
One of the two midfielders involved in this situation was Aapo Halme, who was deployed as a single pivot but tended to drop in between centre-backs Mads Andersen and Bambo Diaby. Similar to a half-back, his responsibilities were to link the defenders with the midfielders while also offering to bring the ball out of defence.
As the ball progression process was occurring, it was easy to notice that Barnsley’s players had the tendency of staying narrowly, as shown on the average positions map. It was not a surprise to see this as Barnsley’s general shape can be seen as a 4-1-2-1-2 at times with most of their players positioned inside the central part of the pitch.
There were a few exceptions in Brown and Bähre as they were natural wingers and played out wide during the first few games this season. Stendel also allowed them to drift wide more often to provide width for the team’s attack and also supported the overlapping full-backs. Meanwhile, Woodrow was usually seen roaming from his position as he tended to swap place with Chaplin to allow the former Portsmouth player to burst forward.
One of the main method that Barnsley usually deployed to progress the ball into the opposition’s half was using long balls. As mentioned, Brown was more of a natural winger who was used as a striker on the day. He had the pace that could help him beat his markers to turn up at the end of long balls, which encouraged Diaby and Andersen to do so more often during the match. Chaplin was another option for the centre-backs to direct their passes towards, but it was chosen on fewer occasions as Diaby and Andersen too could dribble forward and made more simple passes to him and Woodrow.
Furthermore, being a wing-oriented team during the majority of their attacks, they also relied on crosses on a constant basis. Again, the role of Brown and Bähre was mentioned as they were the two players who drifted wide often and received the ball in both flanks too. And the type of cross that was used during their attack was usually low crosses that allowed the attackers to approach George Long’s goal more easily, which, in this case, was Chaplin, who scored the second goal of the game for Barnsley.
Another interesting point that can be found from Barnsley’s style of play in this match is their corner routine. In two of their corners that being taken in this match, Barnsley players played it short by a pass to the player standing at the near post. He would come close to offer a passing option while also beating his marker. Also, as they also used another player who positioned near the taker, it required a Hull player to come out and mark him. With the ball being passed to another player, that marking player had to change direction as he headed towards the ball carrier at the near post. The Barnsley player who was now free from pressure would enter the 16-yard box and continued to maintain the passing triangle with the other two, at the same time, offering to pick up the ball while scanning for another potential receiver inside the box.
In his second match with the club, Struber finally had the chance to enjoy the victory taste with Barnsley after his team beaten Hull with three goals being scored by Mowatt, Bähre and Chaplin. With similar principles that the Austrian manager had used at Wolfsberg, he deployed into a new formation in the 4-3-1-2 while also making sure that his players would adapt to his tactics easily and make the most out of their abilities.
On the opposite side, Hull found themselves struggled to keep up with Barnsley as they were on the back foot on several occasions, amid the fact that they did hold the home side from making the score 2-0 before the 70th minute. Their 4-0 win over Preston was a positive sign in their play-off chasing campaign, but this lost against Barnsley shows they need more adjustments to their tactic in order to be at their best for the push for top six.
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