League One is as competitive as it has ever been. Anyone from Ipswich in 10th and above would feel they have a chance of promotion to the Championship. One team that has perhaps performed above expectation is Fleetwood Town, managed by Joey Barton. Having finished the previous season in 11th, they currently sit in 5th, 1 point of their entire total for last season, with 11 games still to play. They are a tough team to beat, having lost only 7 games so far this season. They tend to stick with the same group of players starting each week, and this consistency has formed the basis of their successful season so far.
This tactical analysis scout report will use analysis to identify the tactics Fleetwood have used that have made them successful. The scout report will consider the tactics behind the key to their attacking success: maintaining good width. The tactical analysis will also identify their strength on the counter-attack, and how they are able to get a large number of bodies forward in attacking positions.
Fleetwood often starts in a 4-3-3 formation, or variation of it. They can be flexible and switch to a 4-2-3-1, 4-1-3-2 or a 4-3-1-2. However, they will often look to ensure they have at least three bodies in the midfield to ensure they are not overrun in a key area of the pitch. Their preferred tactics and formation, the 4-3-3, is the best formation to achieve their goals, as the analysis will highlight. Paddy Madden is their top scorer with 15 goals, a clinical striker in the 3rd tier of English football. Harry Souttar at only 21 is a leader and organiser in the backline and the loan signing of Barrie McKay is one they’d hope to make permanent, having impressed so far during his loan spell. The image below will show their most-used XI this season before the tactical analysis will go into further detail.
Maintaining width in the slow progressive build-up
The 4-3-3 formation and the tactics that Fleetwood employ allow them to maintain width when attacking and going forward. The width is key, as they often look to get in behind in these areas and cross. Alternatively, they will maintain width to make the pitch as large as possible, looking to then exploit gaps centrally. The wingers or full-backs will often stay wide during slow, progressive build-up play or in transition, and the analysis will show why they employ these tactics.
During the slow progressive build-up, the wingers will stay wide and make the pitch as large as possible. Fleetwood will look to quickly switch the play with a long ball. This drags opposing full-backs out and creates space in the half-gaps in central areas. It is this position that Fleetwood will look to exploit. They will often look to cross the ball for Madden to attack, or look for a midfielder coming onto play. They employ these tactics to create space in central areas.
As the image above shows, Fleetwood have been able to create space in the half-gap by the wingers staying wide. They actively then look to exploit this space and give their attacking players more time on the ball in dangerous areas.
Maintaining width in transition
As the tactical analysis scout report had previously stated, Fleetwood will also look to ensure they have a level of width during transitions. Often when out of possession, the wingers will tuck in slightly, making it difficult to play through. As a result, they lose a bit of width until they recover possession. To ensure they can still employ their tactics successfully in transitions, they use overlapping full-backs.
Whilst the wingers will tuck in centrally out of possession, the full-backs will keep their position. This is done first to ensure they are able to quickly get out to the opposing winger. As they are difficult to play through, opposing teams will often look to switch the play. Full-backs staying in their natural position and not tucking closer to centre-backs, meaning they can quickly close the gap. Secondly, should they win the ball back, they are able to assist in the transition. By staying wide, they can quickly break forward. Wingers are able to stay central to ensure the counter does not break down and the full-backs provide the width. This also allows them to overload in transition, and they are able to counter-attack superbly.
As the image above shows, Fleetwood were able to get the full-backs overlapping the wingers in a quick transition, allowing them to create a goal-scoring opportunity. This will lead the tactical analysis scout report to the next part of Fleetwoods tactics.
A vital part of Fleetwoods tactics and a key cog in their success is their ability on the counterattack. The 4-3-3 formation they use always them to break forward with bodies as previously explained. The tactical analysis scout report will consider how they achieve this in further detail.
Firstly, Fleetwood will look to engage in a high press, closing down the ball but largely focusing on cutting down passing lanes. The striker will press the opposing centre-backs and wingers will cover the half-spaces. The midfield 3 will go man for man and should an opposing forward drop off to receive the ball, a defender will follow making it difficult to turn. They do this to try and trap the opponent. Rather than actively hunting the ball, they create situations where a pass seems like an option when it isn’t. This forces the opposition to make a wrong or bad pass, from which they can pick up on the loose ball and drive forward.
As the image above shows, Fleetwood look to engage in the midfield to ensure a simple pass is not on, whilst blocking passing lanes with the front line. The use these tactics to try and win the ball back by forcing the opposition into a mistake, and subsequently look to counter-attack.
Counter-attacking in numbers
The tactical analysis scout report used analysis to show how and why Fleetwood set up their press to create a counter-attacking situation. Once they’ve successfully trapped their opponents and won the ball back in the opposing half, they are able to get bodies up the pitch quickly. They are able to achieve this because of their shape. The 4-3-3 formation allows them to keep 3 players higher up the pitch, and the 2 out of the 3 in midfielders will join. Their shape enables them to effectively press and cover space and once it has been won back, then they are able to push forward in numbers to be deadly on the counter-attack.
As the image above shows, they have been able to win the ball back in the middle 3rd. From that position, they push forward with ease, as the 3 forwards are already high up the pitch. Once again, they do this to ensure they remain solid if the opposition tries to build-up from deep, and maintain a threat should they win the ball back.
Area for improvement
One area where Fleetwood could potentially improve is the goal-scoring department. They have only managed 51 goals in the league this season, much lower when compared to the teams around them. If they are to make the step-up to the Championship, goals would be vital in ensuring it is not an immediate return. Paddy Madden and Ched Evans have both previously had unsuccessful stints in the Championship, so it is an area they would need to improve on.
Getting an experienced Championship striker could be a challenge. A more realistic option would be looking at a loan player from the Premier League. A youngster coming in and looking to prove himself and get valuable game time to accompany Madden and Evans would only provide healthy competition.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis scout report has shown that Fleetwood have enjoyed a highly impressive season, and are serious contenders for an automatic spot. They are defensively solid in their shape and are able to attack quickly and precisely on the counter-attack. In possession, they look to maintain as much width as possible. They do this to create spaces in key areas of the pitch, and they have the players to exploit those situations. This is largely what their success has been built on, and is a formula that would bring some success should they play their first-ever football in the second division of English football next year.
They are not, however, the perfect team, and would need to invest if they are to survive in the Championship. They need more goals in the squad and if they can not get an experience Championship striker, they should delve into the loan market.