Bristol City continued their unbeaten run last Saturday after a 2-2 draw with Barnsley at Oakwell. Dean Holden’s side had won every Championship game coming into this match, in contrast to Barnsley who had collected a single point from 12. In the week prior to the fixture, the Tykes parted with manager Gerhard Struber, who left to join MLS side New York Red Bulls. Adam Murray stepped in as caretaker for the match, which seemed a comfortable fixture on paper for the Robins. This tactical analysis will cover how both sides performed throughout the 90 minutes.
It was Barnsley who started brightly, taking an early lead thanks to a towering header from Michal Helik. The score stayed 1-0 going into the break, but a deflected effort from Jack Hunt after half-time evened the score. In the 51st minute, Tyreeq Bakinson was able to make it 2-1 to the Robins, another shot that was deflected past Jack Walton. It looked to stay this way up until the last minute of added time, where both Michael Sollbauer and Callum O’Dowda challenged for a header inside Bristol City’s penalty area. The two clashed heads and referee Leigh Doughty deemed O’Dowda’s challenge enough to be a foul. The Barnsley centre-back had to receive on-field medical assistance, eventually leaving the pitch on a stretcher. After a six-minute pause in play, Cauley Woodrow stepped up and powered the penalty into the roof of the net. This was ultimately the last kick of the game.
Barnsley once again started using their 3-4-1-2 formation, naming four changes after their 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough. Goalkeeper Jack Walton made his fourth appearance of the season, with centre-backs Michael Sollbauer, Michal Helik, and Mads Andersen in front of him. Jordan Williams and Clarke Oduor both started as wing-backs, alongside Alex Mowatt and Romal Palmer who played in central midfield. Luke Thomas acted as a number ten, providing link-up play to strikers Conor Chaplin and Cauley Woodrow.
In the other dugout, Dean Holden only made a single change within his lineup. He was forced to replace Dan Bentley with academy product Max O’Leary due to injury. Zak Vyner, Taylor Moore and Alfie Mawson, on loan from EPL side Fulham, once again started together, with Jack Hunt and Tommy Rowe providing options on either wing. Tyreeq Bakinson, Jamie Paterson, and Andreas Weimann made up the midfield three, behind a front two of Chris Martin and Nahki Wells.
Barnsley on the front foot
When progressing forwards, Adam Murray’s side often played through the central areas of the field. This is where their playmakers were most efficient due to their formation. Throughout the game, both Thomas and Chaplin helped contribute to five of Barnsley’s ten key passes, including one in the build-up to the corner Helik scored from.
Here we see wing-back Jordan Williams look forwards to find Cauley Woodrow with a driven ball. Notice he drives centrally towards the penalty area rather than down the wing, aiming to find a striker in front of him. Woodrow controls the ball well and moves into the six-yard box, but Vyner blocks his shot and Bristol City concede the corner. Woodrow was the main target for his teammates against Bristol City, as when he receives the ball he can dribble past the players around him. He beat their defenders three times out of his five opportunities, the most for a Barnsley player during the game.
When starting attacks, goalkeeper Walton sometimes played short into his own third. This allowed Barnsley to move up the pitch while also retaining possession. Wing-backs Williams and Oduor were often the main targets when starting these sequences, as the lack of attacking wingers from Bristol City gave them extra space to receive the ball in. Above, we see Chaplin obtain the ball after a pass from Jordan Williams, who then looks forwards to play in Woodrow. Bristol City compact themselves, preventing the opportunity to play the striker in. However, due to Barnsley’s shape, they play can centrally to Mowatt. Because of these tactics, a second attack within the same phase can start without losing ground.
The Tykes in transition
After losing the ball during attacking phases, Barnsley used their forward players to instantly press the opposition. Doing this gives defenders little time to make a decision, increasing the chances of them losing possession.
Above we see an example of these tactics, with Chaplin, Woodrow, and Thomas shutting down Alfie Mawson. Due to their press, the Bristol City defender is forced to play backwards to Vyner. Then, unavoidably, he has to play back to goalkeeper O’Leary.
Here we see how Barnsley get back into their defensive positions after losing the ball up the field. Herbie Kane works back to cover the central areas of the pitch, while Williams closes down the Robins’ attacker. The Tykes changed to a 4-4-2 after Kane and Elliot Simões were substituted on. Jordan Williams changed position to left-back and Luke Thomas became a right midfielder, giving them more structure when defending. This change can be seen when comparing Bristol City’s opportunities in the first and second half. Their xG was 1.29 but then decreased to 0.52.
Barnsley’s defensive organisation
When out of possession, Adam Murray arranged his side to cover the central areas of the field. Bristol City use Tyreeq Bakinson as a pivot, so Barnsley make sure the space around him is shut down. This then reduces the chance of him playing splitting passes through their midfield.
Here we see Thomas, Palmer and Mowatt arranged in a way that prevents the Bristol City centre-backs from playing balls through the middle. Analysis of the game shows 87% of Bristol City’s attacks came through the centre of the pitch, with defender Zak Vyner losing the ball most often out of any player for the Robins (18). We can attribute this to the way Adam Murray arranged his side to cover the central areas of the field.
When on the back foot, Barnsley arranged themselves so that their defence became a flat back five. As we can see above, the Tykes got every man behind the ball bar one, providing them with an outlet if given the chance to counter. Here, Bakinson looks for the feet of Paterson, but due to Barnsley’s defensive structure, he is forced to play sideways and away from the penalty area. These tactics worked for the majority, as analysis shows Bristol City only made four key passes in open play throughout the 90 minutes.
Bristol City in attack
The 3-5-2 formation the Robins have been using this season allows them to both attack and defend with five players. Both strikers and attacking midfielder Jamie Paterson have the freedom to get forwards, along with whichever wing-back is opposite to the side of play.
Here, we see four Bristol City players drive into the box during a counter-attack against Barnsley. Martin, Weimann and Paterson all get into the penalty area in hope of getting on the end of potential rebounds from Nahki Wells’ shot. During this phase, Jack Hunt is the wing-back who joins the attack, and ends up scoring from a Chris Martin set back – his third assist of the season.
In the majority of attacking phases, Dean Holden’s tactics involved finding target man Chris Martin in the final third. The striker was involved in 34 passing combinations, the most of any Bristol City player during the game.
Here we see Martin pick up the ball in the midfield area, looking to advance into the final third. As the striker came short to collect, Jamie Paterson can move into the hole that was left to provide additional forward options. In this phase of play, Martin plays wide to wing-back Jack Hunt, and the Englishman attempts a through ball to Wells but is intercepted by the Barnsley backline.
Bristol City in transition
At 2-1, Barnsley started to play with a lot more tempo, looking to get back into the game. They played faster and more direct balls through the midfield, in which Bristol City had to deal with. Above, we see Bakinson, Moore and Vyner press Barnsley after losing possession further up the pitch. In doing this, they have a better chance of winning back the ball and recycling play from there.
After winning the ball in their own third, the Robins would start attacks through Tyreeq Bakinson. However, Barnsley were effective at preventing those passes from occurring, and so long balls to either strikers or midfielders were used. Above, we see Bakinson come short and show feet to Vyner, but due to the opposing players around him, the centre-back chooses to play long to Andi Weimann.
The Robins in defence
Throughout the last ten minutes of the game, Bristol City altered their formation slightly to deal with the number of Barnsley attacks. The 3-5-2 was changed to a 5-4-1, with Antoine Semenyo and Tomáš Kalas being subbed on to fit the formation. Zak Vyner moved forwards and became a second defensive midfielder, with Kalas filling that space Vyner was in.
Above is the formation Bristol City used during the last ten minutes of the game, before the Callum O’Dowda substitution. He was bought on for Jamie Paterson, swapping wings with Weimann when he came into the game.
Here we see how Bristol City set up when dealing with Barnsley’s attacks. The five defensive players are structured outside the penalty area, preventing the Tykes from getting into the 18-yard-box. The Robins make sure to outnumber Barnsley’s players, making it easier for their defenders to cover space across the box. Through their tactics, Bristol City’s midfielders are told to cover the central spaces further from the net. Note this is the area where Luke Freeman scored his goal for Nottingham Forest against Holden’s side last game, and so the space is packed with extra Bristol City players.
To conclude, a 2-2 scoreline is probably fair for both sides. The statistics show Barnsley had more of the ball and took more shots than Bristol City throughout the game (17 vs 13). However, the Robins had more shots on target and created better chances to score compared to Barnsley. It was a controversial penalty put away in the 12th minute of added time that split the points, allowing Bristol City to continue their unbeaten league run. Barnsley will be pleased to be the first team to come away with a point from Dean Holden’s side this season, and will now look towards their next fixture against Stoke City.