Neil Harris’ Millwall were looking to build on a respectable start to the season when they faced Grant McCann’s Hull City, who had only picked up one victory so far. A victory could have a real boost effect on the season for both teams. Hull were looking to bounce back from a disappointing exit from the League cup from the hands of Preston North End. Millwall were also looking to bounce back from being knocked out of the league cup by Oxford United.
In the end it was a tame 1-1 draw that saw few chances and excellent defensive work by both teams. Goals from Jed Wallace and Kamil Grosicki in the first half meant that the honours were shared in this EFL Championship clash. This tactical analysis will attempt to highlight the way the game panned out, and the tactics used by both teams. In particular with this game, the excellent defensive units of both sides and how they stopped opposing players creating chances.
In terms of the Lineups for both teams there was a large element of similarity in the systems that both teams operated with. For The Lions, they lined up in a traditional 4-4-2 system with Matt Smith and Tom Bradshaw operating as the front two looking to add an element of physicality to Millwall’s attacking play. Wallace and Connor Mahoney were deployed as the wide players on the day, looking to put crosses in the for the likes of Smith to get onto. Ben Thompson and Ryan Leanord were the two central midfielders in order to try to control the game and break down the Hull backline which would be crucial to them trying to win the game. Murray Wallace, Jake Cooper, Alex Pearce and Mahlon Romeo made up the back four with Bartosz Białkowski between the sticks.
As for The Tigers, they lined up in a 4-4-1-1, with Josh Mageniss as the striker, and George Honeyman just behind playing almost as a number 10. The two wide players were the exciting pairing of Jarrod Bowen and Grosicki, who would look to use their pace against Milwall’s defence which lacked pace. Kevin Stewart and Jackson Irvine were the two anchors in midfield, who looked to spray the ball into dangerous positions. The back four was made of Matthew Pennington, Reece Burke, Jordy de Wijs, and Eric Lichaj, with George Long between the sticks. The tactics that both teams used were evident, and it would fit in to the story of the match.
Millwall going direct
A trend that could be seen through the duration of the match was the direct style of play from Millwall. They used cross field passes and used a vast number of crosses in order to try and use the aerial ability of Smith and Bradshaw. This was coupled with the fact that they had the likes of Mahoney and Wallace who are excellent crossers of the ball. Furthermore, a weakness that Hull have is keeping out goals, and Millwall tried to use this to their advantage by targeting a specific weak point that they had. Hull, for example, like to press high up the pitch. As a result, Millwall used the long ball in order to beat this press and avoid losing the ball in their own half. Moreover, Hull are also a team that play with a very high line and rely on the pace and awareness of their central defenders to be able to get back in time in situations whereby the ball goes over the top. This again was used by Millwall as a tactic. By going long, the emphasis would be on winning the first header and the other attacking players getting on the second balls in dangerous areas of the pitch. This tactical usage is seen in the pitcure below. By attempting to go long, it allowed runners In behind the defensive line as we can see. The runners are a plenty, and by going long it allowed this sort of play.
As mentioned previously, another way that Millwall used the direct tactic was by using a high frequency of crosses into the box. This was once again a way of unsettling the Hull defensive line. As we can see in the image below there are a lot of bodies in the attacking box from Millwall’ s perspective, making clever runs to confuse the defenders. This was an excellent tactical move therefore for Millwall to utilise these physical attributes.
Another noticeable aspect of Millwall’s game was the excellent defensive structure that they deployed throughout the match. The most noticeable thing about their defending was how compact the defensive line was. When in defensive transitions, the Lions’ back four was extremely solid, and they did not allow much space between the lines. They therefore did not allow any space In behind, and they were exceptionally good at winning duels. This again could be seen as a really good tactical plan to stop the attacking players of Hull getting any joy in the attacking areas. The likes of Honeyman are excellent when they are able to have space in behind to find runs for the likes of Bowen. As seen in the image below, when Hull are on the attack, the space between each Millwall defender is minimal in order to stop them from getting attacking success. This is known as rope defending, whereby when one defender goes out of position the rest fill in. Millwall did this excellently on the day, and this shows why they did not concede a goal in open play, but from a spectacular free-kick.
There is no better example of this defensive shape than the picture below. The Millwall defenders are so narrow that it almost seems that they are playing with 4 central defenders. Preventing the horizontal ball in the spaces in front and behind the backline was vital, and is a good reason as to why The tigers deployed this specific defensive style. The defending aspect therefore could be seen as a priority to attempt to win the game.
Hull on the break
A very interesting trend that took place was Hull attempting to counter-attack. Hull usually play with the ball at their feet and try to break down the opposition. It was no different in this game, however, as mentioned earlier Millwall defended extremely well and Hull struggled to break them down. This therefore led them to take a pragmatic approach in the game and use a more counter attack baed system. They attempted to use the pace of both Bowen and Grosicki. Making runs in behind was something that they attempted to do to exploit the lack of pace in the Millwall central defence. This therefore led to diagonal switches of play with lots of bodies moving forward together. When attacking The Tigers moved in packs in order to give the man on the ball more options when finding a pass. As we can see in the image below, Hull are able to move forward in a counter attacking motion. This was a clear tactic that could be seen throughout both halves.
Another way in which they tried to use the counter-attack was by clever movement. When on the ball, it would take a lot to be able to break down a defence as rigid as Millwall’s. Therefore, subtle runs and clever passes were a huge requirement to be successful in scoring goals. Furthermore, this was something that they had to try to do as much as possible. As we can see below the movement that the forwards took was key to joy in counter-attacks. In this image the counter-attack makes a great chance for Honeyman to finish however he could not get his shot away, however, the focal point is the clever movement highlighted from the forwards highlighted below.
An aspect of the game that was much less surprising was the intensity and pressing that Hull displayed over the 90 minutes. They were extremely effective in stopping the space that the defenders, especially the fullbacks, had to come out with the ball. This could therefore be an explanation as to why Millwall deployed the long ball tactic, to deal with this press. All the Hull attackers would constantly press the ball when they did not have it, which put extreme pressure on the Millwall backline. Millwall gave away possession many times due to this press being enforced on them. Hull overall did not make the most of the opportunities that came because of winning the ball up high in the opposing half. Had they been able to, they could have won the game, which is something they need to look at in order to be successful this season. As we can see here they are denying the full-back from coming out without significant pressure to do so. This was effective to stop the long ball coming into their central defenders which was a weak point they were suffering with.
We can also see a similar image below, whereby the Hull attackers are denying space for Millwall to play into, which was key for them through the match. It was effective to an extent, however, a slight increase in frequency and then quality when the chances were presented could have resulted in more goals.
Overall it was a tight game which saw little chance creation from both teams. The game itself was asking for a creative spark to break down the defensive lines both teams had in play. This analysis attempted to give an honest opinion of the match, and the ways in which the two teams tried to win it. Hull used the counter-attack to try and get through the rigid Millwall back line and attempted to use pace to do this. This worked well to an extent, however, they lacked the final pass to secure the win. Millwall took a different approach and tried to go long in order to hurt Hull’s weak area of the pitch. Both teams must be admired for the way in which they defended, and how they filled the defensive requirements that such a tough match early on was asking from them. Finally, it would be rude not to mention the outrageous free-kick Grosicki scored to equalise for the Tigers, which will most certainly be in the running for Championship goal of the season.
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