Following the news over the last week that the EFL have set a conditional date for the return of the Championship, one side who will be glad to hear this is Preston North End. The Lancashire based side have aspirations of reaching the Premier League and should be raring to go following the resumption of football. Thus far, they have enjoyed an excellent season.

Preston are in sixth place and currently occupy a Play-off spot. However, the Championship is fiercely competitive. With fixtures against fellow promotion hopefuls Brentford and Nottingham Forest, they will have to be at the top of their game. Their form going into the break left more to be desired. Three consecutive defeats and a poor record against fellow top-six sides make for bleak reading. Nonetheless, the unexpected break could be a blessing in disguise, allowing Preston to regroup for the final stretch. 

The following tactical analysis scout report will provide in-depth analysis on Preston North End. It will highlight key tactics in their game, on which their success has been built on. The tactical analysis scout report will use analysis to show how they effectively play ‘long ball’. It will also use analysis to highlight any other significant tactics  The tactical analysis scout report will also seek to highlight any potential weaknesses and areas of improvement. It will consider improvements to make should they get promoted as well as improvements to make should they not. Firstly, the tactical analysis will take a look at their formation and tactics.  


Preston have more often than not started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This allows them to maintain control in midfield with two holding midfielders. Johnson, who plays in the 10 is key to the success in this formation. He plays as a drifting 10 and positions himself in areas of the pitch as when he is needed. The formation allows Preston to be compact but means they sacrifice an attacking threat, and as a result, are one of the lowest scorers in the top half of the Championship. This is an area that the tactical analysis scout report will consider in greater detail.  Firstly, the tactical analysis scout report will consider one of their primary tactics, and that is playing direct football.

Preston North End 2019/20: Scout report- Playing direct football tactical analysis tactics

Playing direct football

Whilst football in England evolves, and more sides are playing a shorter passing game, few teams in the Championship have enjoyed success by playing direct football. Preston are one of those sides. Very rarely do they look to build play up from the back. When the ball is recycled, they will go back to the keeper Rudd who will play a long ball forward, bypassing the midfield.  David Nugent, whilst not a traditional target man, is excellent at holding the ball and bringing others into play. Johnson and others will get close to retrieve the second ball and play can start higher up the pitch.   

One of the reasons Preston deploy these tactics is an awareness from Alex Neil that they do not possess the players who can play from the back. As a result, the long ball tactic facilitates Preston to bypass the midfield area and allows them to start attacks in the opponent’s half. This is an effective tactic, as they can progress further up the pitch quicker and play in dangerous areas of the pitch.  This is evident with nearly a quarter of their total passes per 90 being long balls.  Preston is, therefore, able to get up the pitch quicker than if they were to build-up from the back, giving the ball to their more dangerous players.  

Therefore, the tactical analysis has shown that a key part of Preston’s game is playing direct football. The tactic is an effective one. They are able to get up the pitch quicker and play in the opposition half. By playing direct, they give the ball to their attacking players in dangerous areas and helps them in their offensive play. 

Preston North End 2019/20: Scout report- Playing direct football tactical analysis tactics

Runs from midfield and making space in behind

The scout report will now consider another key tactic in Preston’s attacking play. Very often in-game, Nugent will come deep and this movement allows for runners from deep. Nugent, at 35, simply does not have the legs to make stretching runs in behind anymore. Therefore, he will often come short to receive the ball and line-up play. This drags the opposing centre-backs into midfield and creates space beyond them for the attacking three to run into.  

One of the key reasons this will be done is to create space in behind. Nugent creates a dilemma for the centre-backs by coming deep. If they do not follow him, he can turn and drive forward. If they do, they have left space in behind. By creating this space, Preston’s players can latch onto through balls and go 1-on-1 with the keeper. It also forces the opposition to rethink their game. The threats of through balls and deep runs mean the back four need to adjust. This will often lead to opposition dropping slightly deeper to ensure there is cover available. As we can see, one simple movement from Nugent creates a variety of consequences. Dropping deep will gift Preston territorial advantage and allow them to conduct play in the opposing half, suffocating and making it difficult for the opposition to get out.  

Therefore, the tactical analysis has shown that a key part of Preston’s attacking play is deep runs from midfield. This juxtaposing movements of the forward and midfielders create problems for the opposition. It allows for space in attacking areas which are important to offensive success. Any attempt to resolve this issue from the opposition gifts Preston possession and control.  

Preston North End 2019/20: Scout report- Playing direct football tactical analysis tactics

Area of improvement

As the tactical analysis has previously shown, Nugent is vital to the way Preston play in an attacking sense. However, the analysis has also highlighted that the forward is towards the end of his career. Nugent has only one goal this season, and Preston’s lack of goals may be their downfall. They are not particularly poor in front of goal. However, the three sides directly above them have the top three goals scorers respectively in the league. One, therefore, cannot help but feel a 20 goal a season striker would propel Preston into certain challengers for an automatic position.  

One striker who would help Preston and be available for free this summer is Lyle Taylor. The forward has 11 goals to his name so far and plays in a far inferior side. His style of play isn’t entirely the same as Nugent, but it is something he can improve on. He goes into space and likes to get involved in the play, and under Neil could become a player who comes deep and makes selfless movements the same way Nugent does.  

One area of concern, however, would be that Taylor is already 30. He would be a good short term solution and be a source of goals for 2-3 seasons before Preston would have to reinvest. Whether Preston decides to make a move for Taylor or not, it is evident that a striker is a position that needs upgrading for any future success.


The tactical analysis has highlighted a good season so far for Preston. They play a system which the players are familiar with and a steady 11 brings consistency from the players. Whilst they are not necessarily a long ball team like Stoke under Pulis, for example, they are not afraid to go direct.  The veteran Nugent is excellent at hold up play and bringing other players into the game from these long passes. It is a tactic which has been fruitful, as Preston can bypass the midfield and start attacks closer to the opposition goal.  

Another key part of their attacking play is midfield runs. Nugent uses his experience and makes clever movements, dragging centre-backs and creating space for quicker players to exploit from deep. These movements cause confusion in the opposition backline and forces reshuffles, which only aides Preston and provides them with further control. 

The tactical analysis did, however, note an area of improvement. One cannot help but think that Preston would be higher in the league with a 20 goal a season striker. Nugent’s work of the ball is key, but a player who can score and do the same as Nugent is what is needed to take Preston the next level. Charlton’s Taylor is an option, given he is out of contract and has a decent scoring record. However, they may look for a loan signing or dropping down a league and acquiring a young striker, given Taylor is now into his 30s.