Premier League 2019/20: Brighton & Hove Albion vs Watford – tactical analysis
Before the game, both managers would have thought three points is a realistic outcome for their team. Similarly, at the final whistle, both managers might have felt that with a bit of fine-tuning at both ends of the field, they could have walked away with three points. However, for this Premier League clash, the points share was equal to the scoreline ‘1-1’.
Watford opened the scoring on 19 minutes, capitalising on an intercepted pass, Abdoulaye Doucouré drove to the edge of the Seagull’s box to finish hard and low into the side netting down to the goalkeeper’s left. Fifty minutes had eloped before Brighton & Hove Albion fired back with a response, and it was in this period of the game we got a real sense of the character and quality of Graham Potter’s side. Brighton & Hove Albion showed mental toughness to be patient and persistent in their build-up play as they were hunting for the games next goal for so long. Something we knew of Brighton & Hove Albion from earlier games this season they are not a side to rip up the game plan when they are chasing, a goal, rather they hold firm to their identity, persist and on this occasion, they found the breakthrough.
Iranian midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh delivered a low cross into the Hornet’s box after a fast break-in transition, before Watford had time to get defensively organised. Subsequently, in attempting to clear the ball while still facing his goalkeeper, Watford left-back Adrian Mariappa turned the ball into his net on 78 minutes to make it 1-1. Similar to the Seagull’s boss, Nigel Pearson showed moments after conceding that he knew his team gifted the opposition a goal with a basic defensive error.
In the tactical analysis below, we tell the story of the game from a tactical standpoint.
While the analysis delves deeper into the tactics deployed by both managers, with support of key statistics and data, we also highlight where the game might have been won or lost.
Brighton & Hove Albion: 4-2-3-1
Potter makes four changes to the side that drew away to West Ham Utd last week, three of the changes within the back four. Martín Montoya, Adam Webster and Bernardo all make way for Dan Burn, Shane Duffy and Mattias Schelotto who makes only his second start of the season. While in midfield Dale Stephens is withdrawn for Solly March, although not a direct swap, march moves out wide while Aaron Mooy pairs with Davy Pröpper in midfield.
Pearson makes but one change to the side that suffered the dramatic late comeback to Everton last week. The central-midfield pairing of Nathanial Chalobah and Etienne Capoueis split to allow 24-year-old English midfielder Will Hughes to step in, in place of Chalobah in midfield.
Brighton’s patient build-up
Brighton exercised a lot of patience and persistence in the attack, trusting that should they honour their playing philosophy and principles of play they would get full value for their discipline. Beginning with Matt Ryan in goal and the defensive unit in front along with the two central-midfielders The seven players were crucial for developing prominent attacks in the final third. By having the full-backs high and wide to stretch the opposition horizontally, Brighton was better able to beat the Hornet’s block. Along with the good movement from both central-midfielders in this phase to move into the wide areas this was fundamental to understanding how the Seagull’s had 66% possession.
Above, we see Davy Pröpper is about to receive a pass from the centre-back and then continue the attack out to the right-back Schelotto. Notice the position of the Brighton full-back’s and how they serve to stretch the Watford midfield.
As the play progresses inside the opponent’s half notice in the above image how the central-midfielder movement helps create a three-versus-two scenario in the wide areas in favour of the attack. Schelotto the right-back continues forward as right-midfielder Solly March occupies the half-space.
In the image above we see another example of the central-midfielders movement, Mooy arcs his run to meet the forward pass from Dunk in the wide channel. Simultaneously the full-back on the same side which is out of frame moves into the central area to create space for Mooy to carry the ball as well to offer an inside passing option.
The above data represents Brighton’s passing network. Accounting for the average positions of each player for every combination of three or passes. Notice the density of the lines between the back four and the centre-midfielders.
Credit to Graham Potter’s side for being so resolute in their principles to play to dominate possession and build up through the units to get success. The trade-off is that it subsequently offered Watford ample time to drop back and form a low-block to deny Brighton success in front of goal.
Brighton’s movement in the final third
Perhaps if Brighton were a little more fortunate in front of goal this season and they occupied a higher position in the table, I believe their style of football and creative movements in the final third would get greater recognition. In the final third Brighton will play with seven or eight players ahead of the ball which serves to stretch the opposition horizontally, and create passing combinations at shorter distances which help keep the attack fluid.
In the above image, we see the central-attacking-midfielder, Pascal Groß play a pass to the right-midfielder, March. Notice the movement of the right-back, Schelotto as he begins deeper and wide, then progresses inwards and higher into the half-space only to then move into space vacated by the right-midfielder.
Notice in the above two images the stages of a three-player passing combination to penetrate centrally. Mooy the central-midfielder plays a pass to Leandro Trossard from deep. Trossard plays a pass forward for Neil Maupay to receive on the half-turn. In one touch Maupay plays a short pass forward into Mooy’s run as he arrives one versus one against the last defender. On this occasion Brighton penetrated, but unfortunately, it goes down as one of the better xG moments of the game that were missed as Mooy could not evade the goalkeeper with his shot.
The above data set shows Brighton’s change of formation and personnel of the course of the game. Notice how in the last third of the game Potter switched to two strikers up-front with Maupay and Glen Murray.
Brighton utilise multiple crossing positions
When we review Brighton’s highest xGA and xG rated moments, we will usually see a diverse range of attacking schemes. Sometimes central penetration with low-short ground possession and some times from crossing positions out wide. Perhaps due to Watford’s low-block that Brighton’s attacks generally developed into the wide areas before an attempt to penetrate the Hornet’s defence. The Seagull’s seemed to prepare for and attack from various crossing positions. Whether it was an orthodox out-swinging cross from the wide channels or an in-swinging cross from the half-spaces It was clear by the organisation and timing of the attacking movement the Brighton had prepared to get success from crosses.
Two points to note in the above image, the type of cross and the overload or attackers to the cross. March who crosses the ball with his left-foot offer an in-swinging cross, this is a little more troubling for a defender to contest with as the direction, and the momentum of the ball is moving towards your goal. If the defender cannot meet the ball on the correct side to head away from goal, then the defender may subsequently help it on towards his own goal. For similar reasons the attackers may prefer this type of ball because the ball always stays in front of their run and they can better adjust their body to execute with a better touch.
Since Pearson’s appointment, Watford looks a much-improved side defensively. Watford seems a side with a defensive pride. Even in the latter stages of the game, all ten outfielders done their duty out of possession quite well which is perhaps why the fashion in which they conceded the goal bothered Pearson so much as it was a defensive error. Although Watford averaged a PPDA (passes per defensive action) of 14.0, they still reduced a dominant and dangerous Brighton side to an xG of 1.15.
Sometimes the stats do not tell the story, considering the figures tell us Watford allowed Brighton an average of 14.0 passes before interference we must account for other factors. For the fact that Brighton utilised the deeper-lying defensive players to retain possession quite often, Watford seemed more contempt to keep them at bay higher up the field as the Hornet’s were disciplined in their low-block.
In the image above we see the Brighton left-back Burn, in the possession and looking for an opportunity to play forward. Notice how the right-midfielder and the central-midfielder for Watford move across to block the passing lane before pressing. Watford’s compact mid-block forced Brighton into more horizontal patterns rather than the vertical opportunities they were seeking.
Above is an example of the Watford low-block. Notice the position of the players relative to the ball. We see Deulofeu the Watford player at the top of the image is denying any gaps for passes to be played through and is quite contempt to let play go wide and outside for then he can engage the press. Similarly, Etienne Capoue the Watford midfielder moves across near his left-back to deny the passing option to Mooy in the half-space. Likewise, the entire back four are compact and deep enough to deny any ariel threat. Although Brighton is in possession 30-yards from goal there seems to be no option to exploit temporarily.
One huge factor for recognition is Capoue’s role to help his back four stay centred and balanced. This image is a good example to show how Capoue help’s his team stay in their defensive shape. The Brighton right-back is aiming to serve a cross into the box. Knowing full well that if the full-back steps out to press, then Brighton could play a shorter pass into the half-space to penetrate instead of crossing and take advantage of the full-back out of position. Instead, so the Watford left-back can stay compact and thereby allowing his centre-backs to stay centred and balanced Capoue travels across to deny the crosser any opportunity. Capoue plays a huge role in his teams’ defensive identity as it was Capoue’s interception that started and led to Watford’s only goal.
Watford in transition
If Brighton can be acclaimed as a team that wants to dominate with the ball, then Watford by equal measure can be honoured as a team that values the transition. Although at times Watford’s opportunities to transition to attack were few and far between, it no less affected their capacity or focus to do it well. Similarly when they just turned over possession if within range of the opponent to counter-press they would be compact in units and deny Brighton any subsequent progress higher up the field.
In the image above, we identify a moment immediately after Watford win back possession at the half-way line as Brighton were developing an attack. Capoue steals possession and immediately looks to supply the near-side winger, which in this case was Deulofeu. Notice the high and central movements, Decoure makes run beyond the last centre-back while centre-forward Troy Deeney also looks to take up an advantageous position to meet a cross by moving away from the ball carrier.
When transitioning to attack Watford would not resort to aimless or hopeful distance with a long pass. The majority of turn-overs in their favour resulted in nice give-and-go combinations, that would progress to the most advancing player which in most cases would be Deulofeu and Pereyra on the left and right-wing respectively. Perhaps intentionally to exploit the space left by the vacant Brighton full-backs returning from their offensive duties this seemed to be the most often occurring pattern in the transition to attack. In fact, Watford’s goal came from an attack moments after possession was won at the halfway line. This is perhaps one of the most improved areas of Watford’s game since Pearson took over.
In those few moments Watford won possession, and the opportunity to progress was denied also while Brighton was retreating in anticipation of a direct attack, Watford was afforded the opportunity to build and attack from deep. Although this may not seem to be in their identity of late, Watford were no less prepared or capable compared to any other aspect of their performance.
In the above two images, we see stages of Watford’s build-up play to advance into wide areas in the opponents half. As the ball was circulated from Watford’s right side defender to the left-back, we see Watford offer good movement in support to play beyond the midfield press. As the left-back Masina plays a pass to the on-coming left-winger Deulofeu, he makes an underlapping run on a different vertical line to create a forward option to progress the play. The central-defensive-midfielder Capoue comes short to offer support while out of frame to the right a safety option lies in the centre-back, Craig Cathcart. When Watford was quick, and they had Brighton horizontally stretched the options to play forward were available.
As per the data above, we see Watford’s passing network, accounting for combinations of three or more passes. Although the lines are not as dense as their opponents, we still see the dynamic passing patterns link through every unit almost equally.
Watford cutting-in from the flanks
Watford change the point of attack so well from the left flank, as Deulofeu picks up possession in a high-wide position he takes his first touch inside and the Spanish winger’s teammates adjust accordingly. Generally, as Deulofeu drives inside with the ball support will arrive to replace his vacated position on the left, this is generally the full-back coming from deep. Such to provide an option that if the attack is halted, play can be redistributed to the left for an attacking cross to be delivered. As the Deulofeu drives inside the movement in front we tend to see is the strikers take up positions to attack an in-swinging cross, while the opposite side winger also tucks in as an option at the back post.
In the image above, we can see Deulofeu drives inside with the ball. As the ball is on his safe side, it allows him to look up and have good visibility to pick the right option. Centre-forward Deeney arcs his run to the back post on Brighton’s weak side to offer a run to a potential cross. Right-midfielder Pereyra, who is temporarily out of position, looks to offer himself as an option as he moves towards the half-space.
This pattern of play, in particular, is a feature of the Watford attack we are used to seeing in particular. There seems to be high-value in these phases for Watford, as well, when we account for Watford xG opportunities in recent games, it seems prominent chances were developed from these types of attacks.
Watford require Foster’s distance
Ben Foster is a key part of the Watford attacks, particularly in restarts such as goal-kicks we see the men in yellow- utilise their goalkeeper’s kicking distance. 70% of Foster’s distribution is long ariel passes into the final third of the field where the Hornet’s strikeforce is ready and waiting to contest. We see Watford set up to compete for first contest of the ball generally with Deeney or Doucouré while the wingers make inward runs beyond the strikers in the hope to meet the flick header. Should the first attempt be unsuccessful, followed closely behind are the full-backs and deeper midfielders Hughes and Capoue to create secondary success.
The above data shows Ben Foster’s distribution in the game. Accounting for the Blue lines as ‘successful’ we see Watford got all their success when not competing with the tall centre-backs of Brighton.
Here we see an example of Watford’s attacking attempts from goal-kicks. As Deeney competes and wins the first contest for the ball, the Watford striker flicks a ball onwards for Deulofeu and Pereyra to compete for against the last Brighton defender. Again, seldom do these moments produce any rewards directly but indirectly such secondary success we see Watford accomplish is corner-kicks, along with free-kicks and throw-ins in the opponents final third.
Notable stats to highlight for this aspect of Brighton’s performance, the Seagull’s won 74% of ariel duels, had a PPDA half of their opponents count of at 7.7, and reduced their opponents to a total xG rating of 0.57 for this game. Although at times it appeared today as the Brighton attacking exhibition versus Watford’s defensive solidity Potter’s men were capable and efficient out of possession.
Upon reflection, they will have to owe Watford’s goal to the individual brilliance of Doucouré they will still know for their defensive shape and compactness a clean-sheet was with their grasp today. In transition, Brighton was efficient in knowing when to engage the press versus dropping into a block. When in their defensive shape the sea-siders were balanced, keeping their centre-backs in place, protecting the goal and denying any opportunity on the weak side.
In the above image, we see Watford develop a dangerous attack on Brighton’s right flank. Notice that although the central-attacking-midfielder has further distance to travel to cover the right-back pressing the ball, the centre-backs remain centred and balanced to meet and deal with crosses and ariel threats. The left-midfielder also drops to follow the advancing Watford winger into the box.
Ryan’s range bypasses the block
The Brighton boss made tactical tweaks to find the breakthrough late in the second half. As we noticed earlier, Potter changed to a two-man partnership up-front. The trade-off to all their brilliant build-up play was it was allowing Watford to organise a deep block, to bypass this challenge the Seagull’s opted for long goal-kicks intermittently. The experienced and ariel proficient striker Glen Murray would contest for the first ball while Maupay and the supporting wingers would amass a strong follow up to claim some reward for this strategy. Similar to Watford, they did not claim any success directly but were able to create secondary opportunities by attacking a stretched Watford defence and winning corners and free-kicks in good territory.
In the image above, we see Murray compete for the first ball while the wingers move in close proximity to compete and win the second ball. Mooy and Pröpper from the right side of the image also move to support, in anticipation that Murray is not successful they may collect a defensive header and continue the attack.
Above we see the data collected on Brighton’s goalkeeper Matt Ryan. Notice that from phases of distribution, 35% were opted to go long. Accounting for the blue lines as successful we see a greater degree of variability as to where first long passes were won.
Although the Seagull’s are not typically known for long passes from deep Potter proves his side are adaptable and they will not preside over breaking down a low-block for 50 minutes. It’s kudos to Brighton for having such a dynamic approach to find the breakthrough, out of 16 long passes 12 were successful, and that is a significant stat for a team with an identity of possession-based football.
Frustration and elation in equal measure for both managers for this game, the fashion in which both goals were scored would have pleased both managers, however, watching their sides concede you cannot help think both managers are screaming the same thing “basics, basics, basics”.
Brighton needed the three-points to get further afield of the drop zone while Watford needed the three-points to get out of the drop zone. Should any misery befall either team at the end of the season no doubt they will look back at this game as an opportunity missed. Considering the quality of both teams, they both can collect points against tougher opposition, and it may begin as soon as next game week. Up next for Brighton is a tough away trip to Sheffield United while Watford will have a huge task away at Old Trafford towards the end of February.
To track the progress of both these sides be sure to follow us as we give you a comprehensive review of their performances and all the talking points.