This game between Derby County and Watford was played in round 5 of the EFL Championship. The hosts have been worrying about result last weeks, but Wayne Rooney gave a victory in the last game against Norwich. So, Phillip Cocu team had a great expectations about this match. Watford, descended to Championship, try to hold on in the group of leaders. Both coaches choose identical tactical structures with 3 central defenders. Due to this fact, we saw a lot of 1vs1 situations; it was suitable for the guests, because they had more skillful and experienced players in the squad. Let’s look at our tactical analysis.


EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

It’s necessary to notice, that basically tactical structure 5-4-1 can turn to something like 3-4-3 or 3-2-5 in attacking phase and 5-4-1 or 5-2-3 in defensive phase. Vladimir Ivic and Phillip Cocu tried to mirror the scheme of the opponent. As it was said earlier, because of the high skills of Watford players, it was more comfortable for the guests. Ivic gave a chance to play for three fast skillful footballers: Joao Pedro, Quina and Sema. Activity on the flank was supported by Ngakia and Kiko Femenia, whose task was to add to positional attacks and maintain ball moving.

There was two good moments in game plan of Watford: fast forwards had to do a progressive runs through defensive scheme of Derby and when the game structure was unbalanced, they had to do a quick counterattacks, using a lot of space. Derby was trying to do the same, but they didn’t have skillful players enough. Without a doubt, Wayne Rooney is a great footballer, but he don’t have necessary physical conditions now to do the same as Watford forwards.

Watford defensive structure

To block fast ball moving forward, Watford used 5-2-3 system, which was turning to 5-4-1 and 5-3-2 sometimes. It was necessary in order to break flank activity of the hosts and to create 3 vs 3 situation against 3 central defenders.

EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

5-2-3 and 5-3-2 system was used when Derby’s wingbacks pushed high to make a game zone wider. 5-4-1 system helped to stop quick ball transition when wingbacks stayed near the 3 center-backs line.

EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

When 5-3-2 was used, Quina or Sema shifted to the center, to help blocking two Derby’s double pivot. To sum up, the main idea of Vladimir Ivic was to deny fast ball transition forward and to make a Bird’s and Shinnie’s life more difficult.

Watford offensive phase

Next step of our analysis is to look at how the guests tried to make a field as wider as it could be, using 3-2-5 system. Then situation was dangerous and Watford defenders was under pressure, wingbacks was running back to make a build up structure more whole. It made an offensive scheme like 3-4-3.EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

In order to prove that the main idea was to make a field bigger, there is a fact, that game footage contains paucity of frames, when most of footballers are next to each other in Watford build up phase. It would be better to look at this from tactical camera.

EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

The guests tried to get two positive things. Firstly, when they made a field bigger and pushed wingbacks wider, they gave central midfielders enough time to make a decision, being without any pressure. Secondly, they caused serious damage in defensive structure of Derby, because hosts tried to do a high man-oriented pressing. So, sometimes the game structure became unbalanced and fast and skillful players of Watford used the space that appeared.

Derby County offensive phase and role of Rooney

The hosts were afraid to made a serious mistake in build up phase. That’s why they didn’t push wingbacks far away from central defenders. The scheme was something like 5-2-3; they tried to look for a chance to progress ball forward through center or used the gap between opponent’s wingback and players of the central area.

There were 3 basic ways for Derby to make something dangerous in attack. The first was to try to create overload in the center or to deceive an opponent by fake movements. But it was too hard and didn’t work very well. The second was to use a gaps between wingbacks and central players.

EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

The third was to do a long ball to former Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney. It’s necessary to notice that it worked well when the game structure was unbalanced and there was enough space between 3 central defenders and players of central zone of the filed. Captain tried to make a header to partner or carry the ball in order to wait somebody and make a positional attack. Also, when Derby made a quick attack, Rooney tried to stay back of the game zone; it helped him to gave the ball after clearances or if his partner didn’t find a dangerous choice to play.

EFL Championship 2020/21: Derby County vs Watford - tactical analysis

Rooney didn’t make a lot of touches, but his role was important without any doubt. It’s very good to have a player with different skills and experience; exclude tactical benefit, he is a master of corner kicks, free kicks etc. It’s no argue, that this things are very useful for Derby, especially when they have problems with positional attack.


To sum up, Vladimir Ivic choose very good tactics and flexible structure. There were fast and skillful players in attack, who allowed the ball to penetrate through defensive structure of the hosts. Watford controlled the ball and lured out Derby players to do high pressing. Stats help us to look at the fact, that Cabasele played important role in build up – a lot of times he set in motion Watford’s attacks. Tom Cleverley was the brain of ball moving through the center. It cause destruction of whole defensive structure and created a lot of space for Watford players when the game structure was unbalanced. In other words, the aim of attacking plan was to create space and use the best speed qualities of attacking players. Joao Pedro scored a beautiful goal at 76 minute; this idea gave them what they wanted.

Derby doesn’t have so fast and skillful forwards in the squad, so, they tried to find a chance to progress the ball forward by dint of Wayne Rooney’s smart decisions or ball moving in free area without pressure. Due to  identical defensive schemes, it was too hard to create positional attacks for both teams. So, the main activities came from unbalanced game structure.

The competition they are playing in, without any doubt, will give a lot of beautiful games for us, but we can’t say it about this game. Despite the fact, that there was tactical fighting and wasn’t a large number of dangerous moments (0,38 xG Derby vs 0,28 xG Watford), it can be useful to see this match in order to look for some tactical issues that coaches did.