Dave Artell’s Crewe Alexandra welcomed the league leaders of EFL league one Peterborough United at Gresty road. ‘The Posh’ as Peterborough more commonly known as, have been on a run of nine games unbeaten under former Manchester United player Darren Ferguson. Ferguson is in his third stint as the manager of the Posh and is bidding to win promotion with the side that gave him his first managerial breakthrough back in 2007. Crewe having lost a seven-goal thriller to Shrewsbury just three days previous to the encounter were looking for a much more defensive and stern performance to get any result from the game.
This tactical analysis will look into the various tactics deployed by both the managers to looking to grind out a result going into which the posh were the favorites on paper. But as it turned out they were taken by surprise by Crewe as we look in this analysis below.
Will Jääskeläinen started in goal for Crewe Alexandra with the back four of Harry Pickering at left-back, Omar Beckles and Luke Offord at center-back and Perry Ng at right-back. Artell has kept the same back four in the 4-1-4-1 system for most of the games this season and this game was no different. The back four was shielded by the all-important Ryan Wintle playing in a defensive midfield role. His performances have been raising quite a few eyebrows throughout the division lately. Charlie Kirk and Daniel Powell occupied the wide positions on left and right simultaneously. Tom Lowery and Oliver Finney completed the midfield three for Crewe and Mikael Mandron was given the responsibility to lead the line for the Railwaymen.
Darren Ferguson started with Christy Pym in goal and a back four of Niall Mason at Right-back, Frankie Kent and Mark Beevers at centre-back and Dan Butler at right-back. Brown and Reed were deployed as the double pivot in the 4-2-3-1 system with Dembele of the wide left and Ward on the wide right. Sammie Szmodics was deployed in the number 10 role, playing behind the lone striker role which was fulfilled by Jonson Clarke-Harris.
Dave Artell had set out his team to stay compact in between the defensive and the midfield line to allow passing options. The players quickly got into position and formed small triangles at all areas of the pitch to get out of tough situations throughout the match. They had 81% passing accuracy and completed 410 out of 507 attempted passes. They had 74 successful progressive passes and 79 back passes throughout the game stating that they played the match on the front foot always looking forwards. Crewe also had 14 successful passes in Peterborough’s 18-yard box further stating their dominance in the statistic, which resulted in 9 shots out of which 3 were on target.
In the above instance, we see how the posh’s pressing system had pegged back Crewe in their own half, but dealing with the press effectively how they were able to do for the entire match, Crewe’s players staring with Pickering formed two simple triangles to provide passing lines for whoever had the ball at the moment. This tactic is shown by the red dotted lines in the image above. The certain play as they were able to move out of their own territory stretched Posh’s defence up and resulted in an ineffective cross at the other end of the field. Crewe had long spells of possession (20seconds or more) for more than 40 times in the whole game further stating their dominance and effectiveness in having 57% for the entire game.
Crewe’s Wing play
Both of Crewe’s wingmen Powell and Kirk and an excellent game as they were stuck to the byline to prove their team with width and support to make the pitches as big as possible. This resulted in Crewe swinging in 24 crosses throughout the game which proved to be a nuisance for the opposition to deal with. Kirk and Powell would also switch inside and attack the channels at various occasions inviting Pickering and Perry Ng the full-backs to bomb forward and provide an extra passing option. This understanding between the midfield and forward line proved crucial in helping Crewe beat the league leaders.
In the above image, we see the tactical approach of Crewe in breaking down Posh’s pressing. Posh’s forward line had decided not to press the centre-back pairing of Offord and Beckles, so they were free to pick out long balls from the defensive position for a quick transition. They attempted a total of 67 long balls up forward. Here Offord had time and space inside his own half so he looks up and sees Powell on the right-wing and launches a long ball which he collects sweetly and after and quick exchange with Lowery clips in a great ball at the far post which is headed wide by Kirk arriving to meet it.
In the instance above, Kirk first goes in to attack the channel but as he sees the space left behind by the opposition fullback he changes direction and attacks the same. Pickering the left-back see this and feeds him quickly to his feet. Another great example of the tactic deployed by Crewe Alexandra to get in behind Posh’s defence.
In the play above, Kirk receives a long ball from the wide right which he controls and looks to cut inside to get a sight at the goal. As soon as he decides to do this Pickering realises it and bombs to provide him support with an overlapping run thus leaving the defender to deal with two situations at the same time and using the numbers game to their advantage.
Ryan Wintle’s excellent performance
24-year-old Englishman Ryan Wintle had an afternoon to remember as he put on an eye-catching display from deep midfield as he was the focal point of mainly everything that Crewe produced. From braking up opposition to directing plays and spraying long balls, Wintle did everything right that was asked of him. He had a passing accuracy of 79% and won all his 6 contested duels. But it was his involvement in both the goals which earned him high praise from his manager after the game.
For the first goal, WIntle wins back possession just inside his own half plays a neat one-two with his teammate and bombs forward from the midfield line leaving two players behind. Just as he releases the ball to Finney, who is brought down by a challenge outside the area. Pickering places the ball with his side foot freekick in the bottom left-hand corner of Pym which goes inside if the inside of the post.
For the second goal, Charlie Kirk lashes onto a loose pass from Dan Butler and races up to finish the golden opportunity gifted to him by the opposition.
Peterborough’s poor positioning
Darren Ferguson had set out a team that looked to be playing a compact 4-2-3-1 position but once the game had settled in the players in the defensive and midfield third found themselves everywhere on the pitch. The first half passed without Posh having mustered zero shots on target. They just had one attempt for the entirety of 45 minutes to show for. The right-back Niall Mason who’s a former Real Madrid youth player found himself out of position on multiple occasions and was replaced at halftime by Ferguson. Posh had possession for an entirety of just 22 minutes. Posh’s pressing system was unorganised in the first half which resulted in Crewe having most of the ball and they had to sit back and defend deep, but in doing that they gave cheap fouls away one of which resulted in the first goal. The graphic below shows the poor positional tactic used by Peterborough United and how most of their defensive and midfield line was all over the place.
Poor Decision Making
In the above instance, Posh left-back Dan Butler had the ball on the byline and Szmodics made an excellent run down the field but rather than spotting his run and playing the ball through Butler decided to take the safer option and pass backwards which resulted in the ball going back to their defensive line and Posh lost any attacking momentum they had. This was the story of the game with Posh players taking minimal to no risk in order to break the stern Crewe defence down.
In a similar type of situation, the final ball was lacking. This time the culprit was Reed, as Dembélé had made an excellent run and had the correct ball been played he would have found himself one on one with the goalkeeper. But Reed decided to keep possession and the chance went begging.
Improved second half
After the dismal first-half performance, Ferguson tweaked his system and made his team’s midfield line press higher and forward line to press lower. This stopped the half-spaces in the middle of the field being exploited by the Crewe midfielders. Although it stopped Crewe from playing through and constructing any more meaningful chances this tactic in return created very little for Posh going forward and the game ended without any more goals for either side.
This game was supposed to be a routine victory for Peterborough United who had come on the back of an undefeated streak of nine games. But Crewe proved to be better prepared for the game and outplayed The Posh in the entirety of the first half. It was one of another classic example of the fact that every game in the EFL is different from the other and most teams have got what it takes to qualify for the playoffs.