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EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics

EFL League One 2022/23: Why Peterborough were thrashed by Wycombe despite dominating the game – tactical analysis

This season in English football, we have seen numerous examples of teams being able to beat anyone, despite their differing positions in the league table. EFL League One fits that description, which is why there are a host of teams battling it out for a spot in the top six for a chance of being promoted to the EFL Championship.

One team who is in the mix is Peterborough United, who have been something of a yo-yo club between League One and the Championship in recent years. They find themselves just outside the play-off places, and they have their inconsistent form to blame; following their 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Wycombe Wanderers, they have won just once in their last five fixtures. Wycombe, on the other hand, are putting some strong form together as they look to mount a promotion bid.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at what went wrong for Posh in attack, along with an analysis of the tactics used by Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe side that enabled them to steamroll their way to a win. Wycombe arrived with a clear tactical idea and game plan to combat Peterborough’s attacking force, and hit them where it hurts in crucial moments.

Lineups

Hosts Peterborough used a 3-4-2-1 (or 3-4-3) shape that looked to overload in wide areas in attack. Their back three remained unchanged from their 2-0 win against MK Dons, while Jeando Fuchs came into the midfield picture, picking up a central role alongside Jack Taylor. The front three also remained the same as the victory over MK Dons, with Jonson Clarke-Harris leading the line.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics

Wycombe also opted for a three-man defensive unit but lined up in a 3-4-1-2 as they looked to combat Posh’s attacking plan while having a dangerous numerical presence in attack themselves. This shape was seemingly selected to combat Peterborough’s shape, as Wanderers usually go with a 4-2-3-1 system. Former Posh defender Ryan Tafazolli, who scored one of the goals in this tie, lined up alongside Joe Jacobson and Jack Grimmer, with Jordan Obita and David Wheeler operating in the wide midfield/wing-back roles. A fresh midfield unit of Lewis Wing, Josh Scowen, and Anis Mehmeti proved to be a good selection by Ainsworth, as was the experienced attack lineup of former Premier League striker Sam Vokes alongside Gareth McCleary.

Why Posh couldn’t make their possession count

The opening portion of the game was a scrappy affair but there were still some tactical elements present that would be the basis of the whole game. Peterborough had 63% possession and registered 25 shots on goal, so they definitely had some sort of dominance. In this segment of analysis, we will investigate why all of that possession and attacking presence resulted in nothing for Grant McCann’s side.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
Posh looked to overload attacking areas, focusing on wide zones.

Typically, this was the ideal attacking picture for Posh – plenty of players in the attacking unit with coverage in both wide and central areas. The player on the ball is Kwame Poku, and the tricky winger was unlucky not to register an assist in this game with his contributions. We saw a glimpse of Peterborough’s tactics in these areas here, as it became apparent that they wanted Puko to get into 1v1 situations and run at defenders before putting a cross in from the byline.

The highlighted Posh man in the middle could have made a simple run into the gap between the two Wycombe defenders, where he would’ve collected the ball in a dangerous area, but he remained central and drifted into the box. This, although a small detail, was an indication of Posh’s intentions regarding Poku’s role in the attack.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics

And this graph shows us how important Poku can be for McCann’s team. His pace and tricky dribbling can be a nightmare for defenders, and at 21 years old, he will only develop into a better player. In this tie, he made an impressive eight penetrating carries, with a good number of runs in midfield positions too. As we mentioned, he was unlucky to get a goal contribution to add to his tally – he currently has three goals and five assists after 16 games, a very healthy record for a young player.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
Jones was an important player when it came to progressing the ball into the final third.

On the left flank, Posh didn’t always have the same edge as they did on the right flank. While Ricky-Jade Jones (another young talented winger at the club) did offer some threat in attack, there were times where he was frustrating to watch too. In build-up phases, like the one above, he offered good supporting positions that allowed his side to take possession into the final third. However, as we will discuss momentarily, his contributions in the final third didn’t hold the same quality.

Another noteworthy element of Posh’s attacking tactics was the role of Clarke-Harris, who often dropped in deeper to operate as a link between thirds. He showed good awareness and tactical understanding in doing this and often positioned himself in close proximity to the nearest winger to increase the chance of combination plays in those areas.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
Jones opts to cut inside and attempt a shot on goal.

Now, this move culminated with a tame effort from Jones, and to some extent, you can’t blame him for trying a shot. However, when you look at the movement and positioning of his teammates in the box, you have to question Jones’ understanding of his role. He showed good technical ability to carry the ball from a deeper area into the space you see above and shows quick feet to wrong-foot both of the Wycombe defenders trying to stop him.

But when you have two or three players in the box anticipating a cross – especially when one of those is a strong centre-forward with good aerial ability (Clarke-Harris), you have to ask whether Jones is just being greedy and looking for glory himself. Or, as mentioned, does he not fully understand his role and the instructions set? As it sometimes seemed he was on a different page from his attacking teammates.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
Jones finds himself in a 1v1 situation but hesitates.

We have another example of this uncertainty from Jones in the second half. Again, he started the move well to drive forward toward the box and showed good confidence and ability in a 1v1 situation. But his decision-making in a key moment slowed the attack down. The yellow lines indicate his two best attacking options – he could have dropped the shoulder and driven towards the byline, or he could have checked backwards slightly and floated a cross in towards any of the four teammates in the box.

Instead, we saw hesitation followed by a backward pass – yes, a decent cross from a teammate gave Posh a half-chance, but Jones had a good opportunity to inflict some damage. He is clearly a player with huge potential, and over time, match experience will equip him to allow him to become a truly dangerous winger.

How Wycombe hurt Posh in transitions

Two of Wycombe’s goals came from set plays, so the goals themselves weren’t a result of a tactical aim, but they went to Peterborough with a clear gameplan. Wycombe didn’t exactly park the bus, but they chose their moments to soak up the pressure before attacking in moments of transition. Essentially, Wycombe looked to use Posh’s formation and tactics against them by catching them out in transitions.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
Wycombe look to hit Posh in a transition, exploiting unmarked space.

As mentioned, attacking in transitions was a key part of Wycombe’s tactics in this tie. With the method of attacking in transition comes other important factors, like exploiting space left by the opponent, and exploiting even the smallest lapse in concentration to make that quick leap up the pitch.

We saw this a few times in various areas of the pitch from Wycombe, and at times it was clear why they are sniffing around the playoffs, with good quality on display – on both an individual and collective basis. Often, in the event of a transition, the team who have lost the ball and are having to defend against the counterattack, are often out of position defensively, which gives the attacking team the chance to hit them quickly. Wycombe often looked to the channels to do this, but in the example above, good vision and awareness saw a line-breaking pass in a central area, that allowed the ball to be carried into a dangerous area.

This is where we see the difficulty in adopting these counterattacking tactics, though. Despite not being fully set up defensively, Peterborough still outnumbered Wycombe heavily, making it very difficult for the visitors to cause real harm in this particular instance. What didn’t help them in this scenario was McCleary coming back from an offside position – he initially made that run into the channel as he was often the target in transitions.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
McCleary picks the ball up on the flank, where he was a danger on multiple occasions.

Gareth McCleary, even at the ripe old age of 35, is still an integral part of Wycombe’s game. He has featured 21 times this season and has nine G/A to his name, so he is clearly still contributing to a good standard. But if you just watch him for a few moments, you will understand why he is so important away from the goals – his experience and game understanding are extremely obvious to see in his movement, positioning, and decision-making, and he seems to have formed quite the partnership with Sam Vokes, who also holds a great deal of experience.

Vokes had dropped in deeper to collect a high ball in vintage Vokes style, before playing the ball to McCleary, who often drifted into wide areas to use his pace and tricky feet to trouble defenders. Vokes continued his run towards the box before showing good awareness himself to take up a dangerous position.

EFL League One 2022/23: Wycombe Wanderers vs Peterborough United – tactical analysis tactics
McCleary and Vokes combine in a dangerous move.

McCleary did what any good winger would do, and ran at his marker in an attempt to get past him. The Posh defender’s primary concern was to not let McCleary get to the byline and ultimately allowed him to turn inside. Vokes, who would usually be seen lurking in the box awaiting a cross, instead noticed the space at the edge of the box and received the ball from McCleary, who followed his pass with a bursting run into the box, looking to receive the return pass from his strike partner. Vokes attempted the through ball, but it was just slightly behind McCleary and Posh were able to defend the attack… just.

This impact from McCleary was relevant and present throughout a lot of Wycombe’s attacks, and it was McCleary’s work in a similar area in the 75th minute that saw Wanderers kill the game off, with the veteran bagging an assist.

Conclusion

Possession isn’t everything in football. In fact, without the right decision-making, it can be futile. We saw this with Liverpool on Monday night, who registered 73 percent of the ball despite losing 3-1 to Brentford. Maybe Peterborough were unfortunate to come away without a goal, but Wycombe deserved this win. They had a clear game plan in mind and stuck to it. As we said, they didn’t park the bus, but they defended well enough when called upon and acted swiftly with quick thinking in ke