EFL Championship 2019/20: Charlton Athletic vs Derby County – Tactical Analysis
After an amazing start to the EFL Championship season, things have slowed down for Charlton Athletic in their recent five matches. One win and three losses is somewhat an average record, but considering the strength of their opponents such as Fulham or Swansea, it’s an understandable record for Lee Bowyer’s side. With that in mind, they hoped to bounce back when welcoming Derby County to The Valley stadium.
In contrast to Charlton, Derby have had a slow start to the season with only three wins after twelve matches. But a strong form in the last five matches built confidence for the squad as they aimed for a positive result in London. Unfortunately, things went the opposite way for Phillip Cocu’s side. Macauley Bonne gave Charlton an early start with a goal during the first ten minutes. While Derby were still struggling to find a way to threaten Dillon Phillips’ goal, Naby Sarr doubled their lead and in-form player Conor Gallagher rounded up their 3-0 win at the 67th minute.
With Lee Bowyer received a three-match touchline ban, his assistant manager, Johnnie Jackson stepped up to replace the former Leeds player. He went for a similar formation to the one that Bowyer set up when Charlton played Fulham before the international break. Maintaining the back-five was one of the most noticeable points as he dragged Darren Pratley to the central centre-back position and replacing Jason Pearce in the meantime.
Lyle Taylor is only expected to return in mid-November and that gave Macauley Bonne the chance to lead the line. Besides Taylor, new signing Chuks Aneke, Ben Purrington and Lewis Page also missed out through different injuries. As a replacement for the injured full-backs, Jake Forster-Caskey was used as a left-back in recent matches.
Cocu opted to keep the same formation when they secured three points against Luton Town. The former PSV manager only made one change to the starting lineup, with Martyn Waghorn was chosen to occupy the right-winger position in place of Florian Jozefzoon.
Also, Krystian Bielik and Jayden Bogle both started after injury scares that forced them to withdraw from their respective national teams. Besides that, Derby had a few key names missed out from this match in Jack Marriott, Tom Huddlestone and Richard Keogh due to different injuries.
Charlton’s style of play
Lining up in a 5-4-1 formation, but Charlton didn’t show the intention of sitting back the whole time. Instead, they opted for a positive approach right at the start of the match. By using their formation in a flexible way, it was possible for the home side to keep doing what they have done best.
In possession, the players formed a passing block inside of their half and tended to position themselves near the halfway line. With two centre-backs who are comfortable with the ball at their feet in Tom Lockyer and Naby Sarr, their ball circulation process was made more efficient through their presence. Furthermore, Forster-Caskey is a playmaker with the passing and dribbling attributes. This helped the defenders to connect to the midfielders easier by making passes to the former Rotherham midfielder and he would lay it off towards either Josh Cullen or Conor Gallagher.
Since both central midfielders also dropped deep on a few occasions, the centre-backs also had the option of making direct passes towards their feet. It’s worth noticing that Cullen left a significant influence on the team’s play being the main source of creativity. The West Ham loanee registered forty completed passes out of 46 and won ten duels in 17 that he involved in.
Cullen has formed a very tight partnership with Gallagher this season, with one played as a playmaker and the other is a dynamic midfielder. Both played a very important part in how Bowyer wants his team to play this season and this match was not an exception. In an earlier analysis of Gallagher, I have pointed out about his role and analysed his influence on the team’s tactics. His enthusiastic style of play allows him to roam more from his position and receives the ball across the pitch. At the same time, it also helps him to participate more in both attacking and defending sequences.
But one of the points that I found very interesting about the Chelsea loanee is his intelligent positioning. In the shot below, notice how he free up himself by picking out a pocket of space that allowed him to receive the pass from Sam Field. With no significant pressure, he oriented his body towards the goal and dribbled a bit more towards the 16-yard box. The shot at the end of the situation was exquisite as he drove it to the top left corner, out of Kelle Roos’ reach to cap off a perfect day for Charlton.
From this situation, it’s quite easy to see that Derby made a major problem in controlling gaps on the pitch. Combined with their conservative press, the visitors allowed Charlton to have much more time on the ball and executed what they planned. Since the home side was a wing-oriented team, they tended to distribute the ball down both wings. Derby knew this and aimed to overload on one side of the pitch while attempting to recover possession.
But what they found out quite late was Charlton was willing to change their attacking direction using long passes, similar to the shot below. With at least two players occupying in either flank, they could circulate the ball out of the overloaded area and sent it to the opposite flank. Especially on the right-hand side where they had a natural wing-back in Chris Solly and a pacey winger in Jonathan Leko, Charlton made the most out of it and created a tired day for Scott Malone.
Another of Charlton’s attacking method that also involved long passes was to attack the space behind Derby’s defensive line. With both wide players were willing to stay narrow and sat on the shoulders of defenders alongside Macauley Bonne, the ball carrier had more options to make lofted passes. They pinned the opposition’s defenders down and created a gap in between the lines for their teammates to move in.
In most of the time, those passes were aimed towards Bonne as he occupied the role of a target man. The former Leyton Orient striker had the physicality to shield the ball and then laid it off towards a teammate. Furthermore, his movement of dropping deep for the ball would drag along one of the defenders, leaving space behind their back. This invited both wingers to tuck inside and capitalise the space that Bonne created while waiting for a through ball to be made to them.
Defensively, Charlton set up in a clear 5-4-1 formation inside their half. They attempted to stretch their shape wide more often to occupy both the central and wide areas. Usually, the defensive line would keep things compact in front of the 16-yard box and prevented Derby attackers from making runs into the area. At times, both full-backs had the option of moving wide to create a 2v2 situation with the wide midfielder for preventing crosses that headed to Chris Martin.
Meanwhile, the midfield four were able to keep the distance between the players quite wider than the defenders, as long as they could control the Derby players surrounded them. At times, they pushed higher up the pitch to disrupt the opposition’s build-up and could lead to the gap behind them being too opened. But the fact that the players remained discipline and closed down the players that involved in the build-up tightly helped them prevented the ball from progressed into their defensive third.
A big advantage that Charlton gained from setting up in a 5-4-1 formation was a numerical advantage. With nine players involved in the team’s defence, it’s quite easy to swarm their half and closed any possible gaps. Derby also faced some struggles in finding a way to Dillon Phillips’ goal, which was shown in the number of chances that they created (they only had two of their four chances on target).
Derby’s style of play and their problem of controlling space
As mentioned in the subheading, Derby didn’t have such a good day in controlling the opened gaps. Firstly, they faced a fair number of troubles when defending against Charlton’s attack. Due to the dynamic movements from the opposition’s players, the visitors usually left many spaces unoccupied inside their half. This allowed the likes of Gallagher, Williams or Leko to capitalise on that advantage and progressed Charlton’s attack, similar to the shot below.
With three players involving in the defending situation, it’s quite surprising to see Derby players left a huge gap in between them. They have won numerical superiority in the 3v2 situation but still allowed Gallagher to move into that space and received the pass. This is one of the situations that was commonly shown during the match in which several of them came back to haunt the away side.
One of the reasons that led to this error was due to their conservative press. The players were more preferred to maintain the defensive shape and were hesitated to step out of position. Again, it helped Charlton’s ball carrier to have more time and space to aim their passes.
The situation above also showed similar things, which Waghorn could have done better to stop the pass from Forster-Caskey. With some intense pressure, the former Rangers player should be able to recover possession and created a counter-attack. Instead, he remained conservative while waiting for his teammates to cover up for him. But in contrast, they also stuck to their position without understanding Waghorn’s intention.
At the other end of the pitch, things weren’t so much better for the visitors. On several situations where they distributed the ball wide, the full-backs usually found themselves lacking passing options. As the attackers tended to position themselves on the shoulders of defenders, there were times that they, again, left spaces unoccupied.
While it was possible for either Jayden Bogle or Scott Malone to dribble the ball by themselves up the pitch, having at least a passing option around themselves would make them feel more comfortable. Not to mention, it also helped them progressing the ball into the final third with a higher successful rate rather than waiting for a long pass to be made towards their run, similar to the shot below.
The advantage of utilising the long passes strategy was to make the most out of Tom Lawrence or Jozefzoon’s pace. They could turn up at the end of passes to pick up the ball and sprinted towards the 16-yard box. It was a useful strategy since Charlton occasionally pushed their defensive line higher and the away side could attack the space behind the defenders.
Along with making long passes, Derby also attempted to use through ball to find a way into Charlton’s box. With the fact that the away side won the numerical advantage inside their half, it was tough for Cocu’s side to use short combinations or individual efforts. By positioning themselves in between Charlton’s defensive lines, Derby were able to attack the central area using short passes towards them.
But it was not a viable option for a long period of time, as Charlton soon noticed this problem and closed down that gap. Dragging the midfield four nearer to the defenders was the solution that they went with, and at times, even encouraged Pratley to push up to create a 4-1-4-1 formation.
On a day that Charlton have outplayed Derby in both attacking and defending, there was no doubt that three points would stay at The Valley stadium when the whistle was blown. Furthermore, the away side left a major problem in controlling the space which allowed Bowyer’s side to capitalise constantly.
Not able to find a solution to that problem was one of the factors that contributed to Derby’s lost. Cocu and his players continued a slow start with the third win of the season, and they must solve the disadvantages that they showed in this match before they welcome Wigan Athletic.
Meanwhile, this win could prove to be crucial for Charlton as this will build their confidence ahead of a tough streak of matches. They were tremendous during the match by making the most out of what they did best and Derby’s errors. Their next three opponents won’t be an easy task though, as Bristol City, West Brom and Preston are all aiming for either a promotion or play-off spot. Still, if they continue to perform like what they did in this match, there is a possibility that they will secure some positive results.
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