The second round in the EFL had an interesting match: Luton Town, before the game with Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, hosted Derby County. In this tactical analysis, we are going to show the tactics and the analysis of the two competitors. The two managers, Nathan Jones and Phillip Cocu, had a tactical battle, with Luton Town’s manager taking the crucial victory for his team at the last moment, after watching one of his substitutions scoring some minutes after entering the field.
Luton Town started the game with a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Simon Sluga between the goal posts. They showed a flat back four: as a right full-back Martin Cranie, Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley as the two centre-backs, and Rhys Norrington-Davies, who is on loan from EPL side Sheffield United, was the left full-back. Glen Rea was in the pocket, as a defensive midfielder. The two central midfielders were Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Luke Berry. On the right flank was Harry Cornick, while on the left flank was Elliot Lee. James Collins was the striker at the edge of the formation.
Derby County chose to start the game with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with David Marshall as a goalkeeper. Their flat back four saw Andre Wisdom and Matt Clarke play as the two centre-backs, and Nathan Byrne and Craig Forsyth were the right and left full-back, respectively. Graeme Shinnie and Max Bird were the two defensive midfielders. Wayne Rooney played in front of them as an attacking midfielder. Next to him, on the right side, Kamil Jozwiak was a right winger, and on the left side was Jason Knight. Jack Marriott was the striker for Derby County. Jordon Ibe, the new arrival and ex-Bournemouth and Liverpool player did not make the trip to Luton Town.
We will start this tactical analysis by seeing how Luton Town played when their players had the ball at their feet. Luton Town tried to take advantage of the wings, and especially of the right flank, where Cornick was playing. Cornick is a player with good pace, good technique, which makes him good at offensive challenges, and can deliver the ball into the box from wide areas. Cornick as a right winger caused many problems for Derby County’s defensive lines: Luton Town preferred a direct approach with counter-attacks. Therefore, if we add up this, and the fact that Derby County’s full-backs were high up the pitch, we can see a combination that could be productive for Luton Town as a team. Below, we can see how Luton Town was attacking by using the flanks, with the right flank having more attempts compared with the central axis and the left flank.
Here, we can see Cornick receiving a pass from his teammate. The left full-back of Derby County, who is Forsyth, is out of position, because of his high position while his team has possession of the ball. That gives the advantage to Cornick, as in scenarios like these, there is empty space in the defensive line’s wing, which he has the characteristics to expose.
Luton Town’s manager chose the 4-1-4-1 formation: a defensive midfielder was in the hole between the defensive and the central line, who had the role of the screener in front of the two centre-backs. In front of Rea, who had that role, were two central midfielders that had the holding role: those were Mpanzu and Berry, who were supporting defensively and offensively. Luton Town took much from those two, as they were positioned in and around the box, giving extra options to the carrier of the ball. In the picture, we can see Mpanzu making the run in between the channels and trying to move in behind the defensive line.
The picture below is showing the players that Luton Town had in the opponent’s box. This is the goal that they scored for 1-0. The highlighted players are the two central midfielders: Mpanzu on the left, and Berry on the right, who in this particular phase scored. Luton Town’s midfielders were positioned in and around the box, and were giving extra solutions if they were needed. We could see the difference if these two players were not high up the pitch, as Luton Town would have just two players in the box, and now we can see four. That makes a huge difference for the defenders, as all of the attackers are moving in between them, and marking it tougher.
Starting the analysis from when Luton Town was pressing, we can notice that the players were starting their defence high up the field. The striker, Collins, alongside Cornick, the right winger who was playing higher were the two first defenders of Luton Town. Behind them, Mpanzu was taking up a position. With this, Luton Town tried to restrict Derby County’s build-up by positioning three players high up the field, opposite of the two centre-backs and the defensive midfielder. This picture is showing an example of the setup and the matchups between Luton Town’s and Derby County’s players.
Looking a bit deeper up the field, Luton Town was switching again in their regular 4-1-4-1 formation to defend: the striker was the first defender, and he had an unpleasant role within a 1v2 situation. He was trying to manipulate the two centre-backs to play just alongside him on the pitch and not forward. Behind him, the two central midfielders were marking Derby County’s defensive midfielders. The target for Luton Town was to restrict an instant pass in the central part of the field to the two defensive midfielders.
While Luton Town’s scenario was working for situations ahead of the midfield, things were complicated when Derby County managed to bring the ball higher up the field. This is because Rea, the defensive midfielder, usually had two players dropping deep next to him in a space that he could not cover on his own. Therefore, in the first half, Derby County managed to pass the ball through into that area. The picture below is showing Rea having two players next to him, and a lot of space in between the lines. Derby County was trying to exploit these spaces.
For that reason, Luton Town in the second half changed formation while defending. Rea came out, and Cranie turned into a defensive midfielder. James Bree came on as a right full-back, into Rea’s position. This meant that Luton Town were defending with a 4-2-3-1 formation: Berry was moving higher up the pitch as an attacking midfielder, while Mpanzu was playing deeper, next to Cranie. In that way, the team was trying to win more space in the midfield area and restrict the passes in between the lines, supporting the defensive midfielder in situations where he was outnumbered.
The more the ball was moving closer to Luton Town’s box, the more Luton Town was becoming compact. Luton Town was trying to put as many players as possible in and around the box to protect the goal. The two central midfielders were coming deep, with Mpanzu staying a bit higher. That was because he usually was the one that was receiving the ball to start a counterattack. The wingers were coming deep into the midfield area, too. In that way, it was easier to receive the ball and take advantage of their speed. In the picture below we can see Luton Town defending with the two wingers deep, and Mpanzu having a slightly higher position compared to Berry, who stepped deeper to offer support.
Here, Berry did make the pass to Mpanzu, who is driving the ball into the free space. In that way, he is giving time to Cornick to get higher up the pitch and be in an advantageous position to receive the ball in behind the defensive line with empty space.
Derby County’s approach to the game
Starting Derby County’s analysis from when they did not have the ball, we can see that the team was pressing up high on the field with a 4-4-2 formation. The 4-2-3-1 formation was turning into a 4-4-2, with Rooney the attacking midfielder, coming higher up the field next to Marriott, the striker. That was a way for Derby County to restrict Luton Town while in possession, and while their players were trying to build up the game from the back. That change in the tactics worked for Derby County, as the picture below is showing Wisdom, the right centre-back of Luton Town making a backward pass to the goalkeeper. Derby County managed to restrict until a point Luton Town’s attempts to build up the game from the back.
Derby County’s disorganisation caused the team to lose the game. Both goals of Luton Town came after crosses. On both occasions, the cross came from the left side and ended up in the area were the responsibility for marking was with the left full-back, Forsyth, and the left-sided centre-back, Clarke. For example, as the picture is showing below, the first goal came because two players were not marking tightly their opponents into the box. A good cross could be beneficial for Luton Town, as it happened and Berry scored for 1-0.
Derby County faced issues in the wide areas defensively. Luton Town managed to put players in behind Derby County’s left full-back. That caused problems for the defensive structure and gave Luton Town chances to expose the free spaces on the flanks with quick players like Cornick. As we mentioned above, Luton Town was attacking more from the flanks. Therefore, decision-making from Derby County’s full-back, especially in their defensive duties, was crucial to retaining the defensive balance for the team. The picture below is showing a bad decision of the left-full back, Forsyth: he stepped out to intercept the ball, but he left much empty space behind him, which the winger could take advantage of.
When Derby County was in possession of the ball, they were trying to play out of the back. As we analysed previously, Derby County did find space in between the lines. When Derby County managed to put the ball into that area, their next job was to move the ball into the wide areas. Rooney and one of the midfielders, usually Shinnie, were moving into the areas next to the defensive midfielder, and were trying to play with an instant pass to the wide areas. In the picture below, we can see exactly this: Rooney moving into the channel, receiving a pass, and then playing with one touch out to the wide areas, where the full-back is trying to expose the empty space.
Derby County’s manager decided to change some things in his team’s tactics during the second half. Louie Sibley came on into Shinnie’s position. Rooney, who was the attacking midfielder, turned into a central midfielder with a supporting role. Sibley played as an attacking midfielder, and, later, when the formation changed into a 4-4-2, he played as a striker. The next change that he made was to change the winger’s position between them. Luton Town’s full-backs faced some issues on tracking players behind them. Here, we can see both full-backs losing their players and letting them move and receive the ball behind them. Therefore, Derby County was trying with those changes to take advantage of this weakness.
Lastly, by bringing Rooney deeper on the field, Derby County managed to improve the quality of the forward passes. The team had an extra player that had the technical characteristics to pass the ball forward through the channels and into tight areas. That gave Derby County the confidence to put more players into the box and wait not only from the wide areas as they did in the first half, but also from the central axis. In the picture below, we can see Rooney passing a penetrative pass that breaks the low defensive block outside of Luton Town’s box. Moreover, we can see that Derby County has four players around the box ready to step in.
Overall a very interesting match that could have ended up in every direction. Luton Town, with a more direct approach in the game, managed to threaten Derby County mostly from counterattacks from the wide areas. On the other hand, Derby County found solutions to break Luton Town’s lines in both halves, despite the changes that the home team made. Derby County wasted some good chances to take the lead when the score was 1-1, so it is reasonable for them to have a bitter taste from this loss, especially as it came in the last minutes of the game.