Huddersfield Town’s first game back in the EFL Championship after being relegated from the Premier League came against last year’s play-off finalist Derby County. After losing manager Frank Lampard to Chelsea, it was the first competitive match under the new boss Phillip Cocu. Jan Siewart was looking to get Huddersfield off to a flying start, after a deeply disappointing Premier League campaign.
Tom Lawrence inspired Derby to a 2-1 away win, in a game that saw both teams missing clear chances on goal and some self-destructive defensive mistakes. This article will attempt to look at how both teams approached the game, in particular, the way Derby managed to control the offensive and defensive requirements of the match itself. This tactical analysis of the game will attempt to highlight the way in which both teams tried to win the game, and how eventually Derby came out 2-1 winners.
Huddersfield lined up with the 4-3-3 formation, with the emphasis on Arron Mooy to be the creative spark to unlock the Derby defensive line. Jonathan Hogg sat in front of the back four and often became the third centre-back to allow Terence Kongolo and Florent Hadergjonaj, the two full-backs, to get forward. Juninho Bacuna played the box to box role for Huddersfield offering both attacking and defensive support. Alex Pritchard and the extremely rapid Adama Diakhaby provided the width which was vital for the way Huddersfield wanted to play.
Derby played a narrow 4-2-3-1 with Tom Huddlestone and George Evans being the two holding players with the exciting prospect in Kieran Dowell at the number 10 position. Tom and Florian Jozefnoon were the two wide players, however, they picked up their positions in the inside narrow channels to provide support for Martin Waghorn.
Derby’s build-up play
With the 4-2-3-1 that was used by the Rams, the build-up play from the back was vital in the way in which they wanted to approach the game and for their tactics. The two centre-halves would often split, and one of the two defensive midfielders would come between them both to pick up the ball to start attacks. This was usually done by Evans, and it worked to great effect, as Derby were able to hold onto the ball for large parts of the match, especially the first half.
Having this sort of flexibility allowed many aspects of the game to go in Derby’s favour, as they could not only drag Huddersfield players out of their natural positions, but they could also find spaces for attackers such as Lawrence and Jozefnoon to pick up and attack the Huddersfield backline. This is an important aspect of how we could see Derby play for the rest of the season. Evans was the most likely of the two to drop into a deeper position, as his technical ability on the ball is exceptional, and fits this role extremely well.
This image could be seen throughout the game, and it was a reason that Siewert’s team were able to get up the pitch so quickly. Due to their quick play out from the back, and quick transitions from defence to attack, Derby were able to get into a lot of situations whereby they had three to four attackers in a ready position to score.
This was due to the excellent work of the two defensive midfielders by dropping between the centre-backs to create this space. This can be seen in the picture below. The attack you can see happening below is from a pass from Evans who was just in front of the two centre-backs. This pass took a lot of Huddersfield players out of the game and allowed the two wide players and the striker of Derby to get into goal scoring positions. This chance almost leads to a well-worked goal, however, a good save by the Huddersfield keeper keeps it out.
Lawrence grabbed a brace in the game on Monday night, quite rightly earning him the man of the match award. He had an excellent game and caused the defence of the Terriers all sorts of problems. The main reason for this was the position he played in, which was the inside left channel. As mentioned in the line ups Derby started with a 4-2-3-1, with Lawrence playing on the left, however, what is interesting to analyse is the tactical role he played in the victory. Instead of being a pure winger, he was almost playing as an inverted forward.
The reason this is interesting to look at is that Jozefoon, who was playing on the right, was almost hugging the touchline. This was, therefore, a clear tactical ploy to cause problems for the Huddersfield defence. Lawrence would make runs from wide to inside the full-back and centre-back to cause confusion for the Huddersfield defenders. In the picture below Lawrence could have made the run in behind the full-back and squared it across, however, he made the movement inside the full-back and centre-half, due to the tactical set up by Cocu. These runs and movements may seem simple, but it is evident that this was a tactic from Derby to use the excellent mobile ability of Lawrence to exploit a clear problem Huddersfield had which was defending against fast wingers.
We have looked at Lawrence’s running with the ball at his feet and his runs in behind, however, another aspect is positioning when Derby were trying to score goals. In many cases, Lawrence would be supporting Waghorn as a second striker, which once again was a tactical ploy to cause Huddersfield problems. Lawrence picks up a position just outside the Huddersfield penalty area, at this moment none of the defenders know who to pick up, and as a result, Lawrence is left to have a free strike on goal.
This is due to his central movements exploiting the narrow and rigid shape of Huddersfield, allowing a clear shot on goal. Due to Lawrence’s movement, there are also many Derby players free who could have been picked out if they were not offside. This clearly was a tactical move to cause these problems.
When Huddersfield looked to move to attack, they tried to counter-attack in behind Derby’s backline as much as they could. Due to Cocu’s team attempting to keep the ball as much as possible, this meant that when Huddersfield picked up the ball in defensive transitions in further positions up the pitch they were able to attack horizontally through the Derby backline. They tried to get players such as Grant and Diakhaby breaching through as much as possible. This did cause some problems for Derby due to this being a reoccurring tactic used by the Terriers throughout the first half.
As Huddersfield operated in a narrow 4-3-3, it meant these counter-attacks were more likely due to the central press from the three central midfielders and the two narrow forwards. This was to counter Derby’s possession-based 4-2-3-1, and had Huddersfield got the first game in the match it could have meant that this tactic could have been used more as the game went on.
One player which was key to this Huddersfield counter-attack was Diakhaby. His blistering pace from the right side of midfield meant that counter-attacking was a viable option for Siewert’s team in this game.
Huddersfield attempted to use this blistering pace to get in behind the Derby defence made of players such as Richard Keogh who are not well known for their pace. Diakhaby was getting in behind a lot in the first half, however, this stopped after Derby scored the two goals and got control of the game. Had Huddersfield used this tactic more often, a different result could have been on the cards.
One of the most important reasons as to why Derby were able to hold on to the 2-1 lead, especially in the second half was due to their well-drilled defensive shape. When operating in a 4-2-3-1, the defensive side of the game has to be spot on in order to prevent space from outside the box. The role of the two holding midfielders Derby had, Huddlestone and Evans, meant that Siewert’s team were able to control the central areas of the pitch, and prevent Huddersfield from attacking through the middle and forcing them to go wide. Derby have excellent aerial defenders, so defending crosses would not be a problem for them.
Out of possession, this meant that Derby’s shape was strong, and especially in the second half did not allow the Terriers to use the likes of Mooy and Bacuna to hurt them through central areas. Derby were therefore well drilled, and this paid a huge benefit for the result they gained.
As this analysis showed, Derby overall were deserved winners of this EFL match. They controlled large spells of the game, despite a push from Cocu’s team in the second half. They will look to build on this win in order to push for a promotion challenge this season. As for Huddersfield, it remains to be seen as to what they achieve this season. No doubt they have excellent players who are going to add value to the club, however, they are lacking in key areas such as defence which could hinder chances of returning to the premier league.
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