Huddersfield Town hosted West Bromwich Albion in an interesting match in the EFL Championship. The home team is fighting to avoid relegation, while the away team fights for direct promotion to the EPL. This tactical analysis will focus on how the two teams approached the game. From this analysis, we will see which tactics worked, and which did not have the results that the two managers were wanting.
Huddersfield Town chose the 4-2-3-1 formation. Jonas Lossl was between the posts while Richard Stearman and Christopher Schindler were the two centre-backs. Next to them, Trevor Chalobah and Harry Toffolo were the right and left full-backs, respectively. The two defensive midfielders were Jonathan Hogg and Andy King. Lewis O’Brien was the attacking midfielder, while next to him was Chris Willock and Juninho Bacuna as the right and left wide attacking midfielders, respectively while the striker for Huddersfield Town was Fraizer Campbell.
Experienced manager Slaven Bilic, who has previously coached teams such as EPL side West Ham United, chose for West Bromwich Albion the same formation (4-2-3-1). Sam Johnstone was the goalkeeper and Ahmed Hegazi and Semi Ajayi were the two centre-backs. Dara O’Shea and Conor Townsend were the right and left full-backs, respectively. The two defensive midfielders in front of the defensive line were Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers. Matt Phillips and Grady Diangana were the right and left wide attacking midfielders, respectively. Matheus Pereira was the central attacking midfielder while Hal Robson-Kanu was the centre-forward for West Bromwich Albion.
Huddersfield Town chose to play against West Bromwich Albion with a direct and quick style. That was a way for the team to avoid the opponents’ high pressure. Moreover, with that kind of play, Huddersfield Town tried to get many players near the opponents’ defensive third, which gave them the advantage in putting instant pressure remarkably close to the goal area.
Starting the analysis from when Huddersfield Town were trying to build up the game from the back, we can see that the goalkeeper was playing direct and long balls to the right flank of the team. Lossl was targeting the right attacking midfielder, Willock, and the striker Campbell. Willock was the main source of danger for West Bromwich Albion in the first half, with his dribbling and ability to drive forward with the ball.
The idea behind that tactic for Huddersfield Town was to get a high and long ball between the defensive midfielders and the defensive line of West Bromwich Albion. By targeting one of the right wide attacking midfielders or the striker, Hegazi, West Bromwich Albion’s centre-back, had to step out and stop the ball being controlled in that area. Huddersfield Town had many players in that area and could try to regain the ball, starting an instant counterattack, and taking advantage of the gap that Hegazi had possibly left.
The second aim of this tactic was to bring more players into the game, in a quicker way and higher up the pitch. That gave Huddersfield Town the chance to put instant pressure on in the opponent’s half. If Huddersfield Town had chosen a different build-up style of play, it would have been tougher to break the lines of West Bromwich Albion, because their opponents were doing well when pressing in their opponents’ half.
We can see this by analysing the PPDA metric from Wyscout. PPDA is a metric that measures the pressing intensity by the number of passes that a team lets its opponent complete in the final part of the field. Specifically, West Bromwich Albion had a total of 3.9 PPDA, which means that Huddersfield Town could complete 3.9 passes in their half, because of the high pressure.
Huddersfield Town, by completing more long balls, and playing with a quicker and more direct style of play, managed to avoid the high pressure of their opponent, and at the same time bring more players into the middle and final third. Huddersfield Town were justified in the persistence of this style of play, as the second goal came from a situation like this.
When Huddersfield Town were losing control of the ball, they were trying to put instant pressure to their opponent. Because the goalkeeper was playing direct and long balls, Huddersfield Town had more players in the opponents’ half. That helped the home team to put instant pressure on the opponent when winning control of the ball. This was a one-way reaction for Huddersfield Town, as if the players did not pressure the opponent, West Bromwich Albion would have time and space to make a counterattack. That would be a disaster for Huddersfield Town, considering the number of players that they had high up the pitch because of the long balls.
Huddersfield Town have shown great ability during the season in scoring from set-pieces. The early goal here from another set-piece gave them the advantage to play better against West Bromwich Albion’s game. To do this, Huddersfield Town’s formation was turning into a 4-4-2 while defending.
The attacking midfielder, O’Brien, was coming next to the striker. Those two players were the first line in Huddersfield Town’s pressing zone. O’Brien and Campbell were positioned narrowly to block a vertical pass to the two defensive midfielders. They were trying to manipulate West Bromwich Albion’s build-up game by forcing them to pass into the wide areas of the field. That was because a 4-4-2 formation has an advantage in the wide areas, as the wingers and full-backs can support more efficiently with one of the two central midfielders. In addition, the central midfielders have a numerical disadvantage, as they must face an attacking midfielder and the two defensive midfielders.
Additionally, when the ball was transferred into the wide areas by West Bromwich Albion’s players, extra players were coming to pressure the receiver of the ball. That restricted a direct pass to the defensive midfielders, who were trying to support the game by moving alongside and in front of the defensive line. By doing so, Huddersfield Town’s players were cutting off the transfer of the ball into the middle and the final third of the field into key players like Pereira.
Stepping deeper into the field, the defensive line was getting support by the wide attacking midfielders. Willock and Bacuna were coming deeper and closer to the full-backs and were trying to support the defensive line closer to the goal area of their team. In that way, Huddersfield Town was becoming more compact, and it was more difficult for the opponent to approach the box. Huddersfield Town did well in the first half, as the opponent managed to enter the box only from set-pieces, and just once from an open play situation.
Looking at the compact defence that Huddersfield Town tried to apply during the match, we can understand the fact that the only player that was higher up the pitch when the ball was in the defensive third of the team was the striker. Campbell was the one that was staying higher in the field, and he was targeted with direct passes to start a counterattack. The rest of the players were close to the box, with a compact low defensive block. The formation was remaining the same: with two zones of four players, and the attacking midfielder in front of them. O’Brien would be the link player that would be receiving the first ball after the regaining of possession, and his duty was to transfer the ball to the striker to start the counterattack.
West Bromwich Albion were surprised by Huddersfield Town’s quick goal. Despite that, however, West Bromwich Albion dominated possession in the game, even though they faced several issues in approaching their opponent’s box. The way that Huddersfield Town were deployed on the field made things tough for West Bromwich Albion, as key players like Pereira were cut off from getting the ball. Pereira had to come deep in the field to receive the ball. That restricted Pereira’s ability to help his team with his creativity further forward. Pereira was receiving the ball in areas that were surrounded by opposing players: that means that he did not have the time and space to “unlock” the opponents’ defensive line.
Another problem that West Bromwich Albion faced was to do with the fact that the two defensive midfielders could not receive the ball. The two easy and safe options for the players that were trying to build up the game were the goalkeeper and one of the two centre-backs. Those players had limited options for a forward pass into the middle third. They were trying directly to break the pressure of the opponent with diagonal and long passes into the wide areas. They were targeting the wide attacking midfielders in between the lines of the opponent. A long diagonal pass is a good option when the opponent has its lines high and is pressing high up the field, because the transfer of the ball is quicker, and there are chances for exposure into the wider areas of the weak side of the field.
Another way that West Bromwich Albion tried to break their lines was with the defensive midfielder, Sawyers. He was coming deeper, between the centre-backs and the full-backs, to become the extra player and create a numerical advantage in the defensive third of the field. By doing this, Sawyers allowed the full-back to get higher up the field. This would be a great way to break the first line of pressure if the centre-back were passing the ball at the right times – something that was not happening. Passing the ball at the right time is crucial as this gives the precious time that can be beneficial for the receiver of the ball.
Slaven Bilic made a double substitution when the second half started. One substitution was in the midfield area, and the other in the offensive line. The defensive midfielder, Livermore, came off and Filip Krovinovic came into his position. The second substitution was Phillips, the right attacking midfielder, with Kamil Grosicki coming into his position.
Those replacements, especially Krovinovic, gave an extra boost to West Bromwich Albion. Krovinovic, in addition to Livermore, was given the role of the holding midfielder and that helped the team in several ways. Firstly, Krovinovic gave them an extra option in the midfield area. Until then, Sawyers was the only player that had been trying to receive the ball between the centre-backs and full-backs. By doing so, Slaven Bilic made his team less predictable, which is an important thing when your team is dominating the possession.
Furthermore, Krovinovic helped in the creativity of the team from a twofold point of view. Krovinovic could carry the ball and pass forward to help the team in the offensive part of the game. Moreover, his role as a holding midfielder gave him the chance to move and take up a position outside of Huddersfield Town’s box. That made West Bromwich Albion more dangerous, as the team had an extra player out of the box that could either pass or finish a phase with a direct shot from those areas.
The second way that Krovinovic helped his team was the fact that his addition to the team meant Pereira could get further forward on the pitch. Krovinovic managed to receive several balls in the middle third of the field. That gave West Bromwich Albion an extra player to transfer the ball to through the thirds. In that way, Pereira had no reason to come deep to receive the ball anymore. He could therefore stay higher and receive the ball in areas where he would be more dangerous for them.
Another way that West Bromwich Albion tried to break the pressure of its opponent, especially in the second half, was to transfer the game via a centre-back to the weak side of the game. The players were moving the ball into the wide areas, and when the opposition’s players were overloading the space, West Bromwich Albion’s players were trying to transfer the ball with a quick passing game into the other side of the field. In that way, the team could move the ball without risking a long and inaccurate pass that would have given control of the ball to the opponent.
Huddersfield Town achieved a great victory here in the battle to avoid relegation. Danny Cowley’s team before that game were needing four points to avoid relegation, and would be more than happy to gain at least one from West Bromwich Albion. With that victory, they made a huge step in sealing their place in the Championship next season. On the other hand, West Bromwich Albion found life difficult against their opponent, and did not have the solutions for the problems that Huddersfield Town set. This result also sealed Leeds United’s promotion back to the EPL.