As the chief executives of the EFL continue to debate and discuss the best option for Leagues 1 and 2, football fans across the country hold their breath. Those clubs and fans involved in a relegation tussle will be hoping for a null and voided season. On the flip side, those involved in the promotion are praying for a return to ensure a good season does not end without success. One side hoping for the latter is Crewe Alexandra. The Cheshire based side currently sit top of League 2, with the automatic promotion in their own hands. Their fans, players and everyone involved in the club will be hoping that even if the season cannot resume, they are still promoted, one way or another.
This scout report of Crewe will take an in-depth look at the cornerstones of Crewe’s success so far using tactical analysis. It will highlight their ability on the counterattack, a weapon they have used effectively. The tactical analysis will also deal with their attacking play. It will inquire into how they have been the top scorers in League 2 this season. The report will also take a look at Crewe’s impressive possession styled game, and how they are able to break lines to progress up the pitch. First and foremost, we will view Crewe’s line up and formation.
Crewe’s success this season can be accredited to their consistency in formation and XI. They nearly always field 433 with the same players. Routinely playing the same XI week-in, week-out has one large benefit. The players can familiarise themselves with each other in-game situations. This allows for a rhythm to be created and players can appreciate the movements and actions of their team-mates. This helps with positional play in defensive and offensive shape. As well as that, it hugely helps with link-up play and on-field relationships. This is key to Crewe’s game, especially out wide. A lot of their progressive play and attacking action happens in wide areas, so relies on wingers and fullbacks to have a good understanding of each other’s game. This is an area the scout report will consider further on.
Following on, it comes as no surprise that Crewe have opted with a 4-3-3 formation all season. This formation caters for wingers who don’t have as much defensive responsibility. Crewe is able to reinforce themselves defensively with a 3 man midfield, and this gives the wingers greater freedom. This also promotes their counter-attacking style of play. They can keep bodies in further up the pitch and look to attack quickly once they have regained the ball.
As previously mentioned, a key factor in Crewe’s success is their wing play. The 4-3-3 formation releases their wide players from heavy defensive duty, and they can maintain the width and be effective in the attacking phase. Crewe utilises their wingers to great effect, and they do so in one of two ways. They will either isolate the full-back with a quick switch of play. Alternatively, they will create overloads in wide positions. The scout report will now consider both ways through tactical analysis.
Firstly, Crewe will look to quickly isolate the winger and the full-back with a quick switch of play. Crewe usually build-up from the back and play through midfield, drawing the opposition to a press. On occasion, rather than playing through the opposition, they will go long. As the wingers are given the freedom to stay wide, they receive the ball and can attack the defender in a 1-on-1 situation. This increases the likelihood that the winger will beat the opposing player and create a goal-scoring opportunity, as the images below will show.
Alternatively, Crewe will look to utilise their wingers and wide areas is by creating overloads. If a switch of play is not an option, they will still look to get the ball into wide areas. As the build-up is more progressive, it gives opportunities for the opposition to get bodies back. However, Crewe overcomes this by ensuring wide players have support. More often than not, a central midfielder and/or full-back will be on hand to assist the winger. This allows Crewe to create overloads in wide areas and ultimately creates situations where Crewe are still able to get in behind to create goal-scoring opportunities. Therefore, these tactics used by Crewe are key to creating their goal-scoring chances.
We will now use analysis to consider the tactics Crewe use to build-up play from the back. Crewe have, rightly so, receive plaudits for the excellent possession and build-up play. At times it seems they carve the opposition open akin to EPL side Man City managed by Pep Guardiola. One of the key tactics to this success, which the analysis show, is the rotation in midfield. This scout report will now consider these tactics in further detail.
During the start of the build-up, the forward and midfield players will generally start in their normal position within the 4-3-3. When the centre back receives the ball, the midfielder will make a run beyond the forward and the winger will come deep into the space generated. This allows them to get the ball into midfield. As the analysis has previously shown, Crewe is not afraid of playing a long ball. As a result, the midfielder who makes the run from deep is not simply a decoy run, and there is every chance he will receive the ball. This forces the opposing player to follow the run. Therefore, space is created in midfield for the winger to come deep and receive the ball.
The purpose of this is to ensure they can build-up play from deep and progress up the pitch with the ball. The runs made creates space centrally. This makes the ball easier to play into midfield areas and allows for Crewe to turn and move up the pitch. It also forces opposition players out of position. A difficulty that teams find when trying to play a possession style of play is that the opposition can sit deep and compact. Players being fluid in their positions drags opposing players and makes it easier for Crewe to play through. Therefore, the tactical analysis has shown how Crewe effectively use deep progressions to move up the pitch.
Finally, the report will use analysis to consider the tactics used by Crewe to be effective on the counter-attack. The scout report has shown thus far that Crewe can attack and hurt the opposition in many ways. It is no wonder therefore that they are the league’s top scorers. As the analysis will now show, they use the counter-attack to great effect.
The key to their success on the counter is the freedom their wide men have been given. The scout report previously highlighted that the wingers stay high and wide. This is a result of the tactics of their 4-3-3 formation, which allows for cover and support to be provided by the midfield. During turnovers of possession therefore, the ball can quickly be played forward and in-behind, for the wingers to run onto.
Areas of improvement
These tactics, however, does come with some negatives. Whilst the midfield provides decent cover, they can become exposed in wide areas and centrally against a 3-5-2. This pits a midfield 3v3, whilst still ensuring players in wide areas. Therefore, a step up in division should be accompanied by a solution. The best solution to ensure they do not become overrun would be a slight switch in formation against a 3-5-2. A move to a 4-2-3-1, with the wingers slightly more reserved, will help them defensively against better opposition, and in particular the 3-5-2.
The tactical analysis has shown that Crewe has enjoyed a fantastic season, and would be worthy of promotion one way or another. Crewe plays an attacking brand of football and possesses many weapons in their artillery to hurt the opposition. They can play long and direct, getting in behind quickly. Crewe can play slow and progressive, carving open the opposition at will. They can also sit back, and play on the counter to devasting effect. However, as the analysis has shown, the tactic in this is the wingers. Without, their success going forward in all these different methods would not be possible.
However, an area of potential weakness would be defensively. They concede a high number of chances, and an improvement in the quality of opposition could see them punished more often. To try and defend against this, a more conservative 4-2-3-1, as opposed to the 4-3-3, would allow them greater defensive stability against better opposition.