In this tactical analysis piece, you will read the game analysis of West Bromwich Albion against Hull City. Two teams of EFL Championship with different goals: West Bromwich Albion desires to be promoted into the EPL, while Hull City fights to avoid relegation. This article includes the tactics that the two managers chose to face each other, and what they could have done differently.
West Bromwich Albion started the game with a 4-3-3 formation. Sam Johnstone was between the goalposts. Dara O’Shea and Kieran Gibbs were the right and left full-backs, respectively. Kyle Bartley and Ahmed Hegazy were the two centre backs. Romaine Sawyers was the defensive midfielder, who was playing in front of the two centre backs. Filip Krovinovic and Rekeem Harper were the two centre midfielders. Matheus Pereira and Kamil Grosicki were the wingers of the team, while the centre forward was Charlie Austin.
Hull City chose a 4-2-3-1 formation against their opponent. George Long was the goalkeeper of the team. Reece Burke and Jordy de Wijs were the two centre backs. Leonardo Lopes and Matthew Pennington were the left and right full-backs, respectively. The two defensive midfielders were Kevin Stewart and George Honeyman. Jon Toral was the attacking midfielder. Martin Samuelsen, who is on loan from West Ham United, and Mallik Wilks were the two wide attacking midfielders, left and right, respectively. The striker was Josh Magennis.
Starting the analysis from when West Bromwich Albion did not have possession of the ball, we can see that the players were positioned high up the field. In that way, the home team was trying to put pressure to its opponent. The two central midfielders, Krovinovic and Harper, were coming into the final third next to the striker to block the build-up game of Hull City. With those kinds of movements, West Bromwich Albion was trying to balance the numerical disadvantage that Austin had against the two centre backs. By doing so, West Bromwich Albion was creating a 3 v 2 advantage. Apart from that, West Bromwich Albion managed to have balance when one of the two defensive midfielders of the opponent was coming deeper to help the build-up of Hull City’s game.
Going a bit deeper on the field, West Bromwich Albion was defending with a 4-1-4-1 formation. The only player that was higher up the field was the striker, while the left and right-wingers were coming deeper and forming a straight line with the two central midfielders. In that way, the team was becoming more compact, as the distances between the lines were getting shorter. Moreover, West Bromwich Albion had a second advantage from this situation: the wingers were closer to the place where a challenge was taking place. It was easier to receive the ball and start a quick counterattack, therefore, as Grosicki and Pereira are two technically gifted and quick players.
Beginning the analysis from the back, we could see that West Bromwich Albion’s centre backs could not transfer the ball into the middle third of the field with ease. That was happening because of Hull City’s defending formation. Hull City was defending with a 4-4-2 formation, and a medium defensive block: Toral was coming next to the striker and was starting the first defensive line some metres down of the centre, in the opponent’s half. For that reason, Sawyers (the defensive midfielder) was moving in front of the four defenders and was trying to become the linking player between the defensive and the offensive lines. With those movements and positioning, Sawyers was making the transfer of the ball through the thirds easier, because he was creating a numerical advantage, as he was becoming the third player in a 3 v 2 situation.
West Bromwich Albion’s players were targeting more their flanks. The team had in total 85% of their attacks coming from the flanks. Particularly, West Bromwich Albion’s possession game was played more on the left side – Hull City’s right flank. Probably, that was happening in purpose, as the right full-back and the right centre back of Hull City, Pennington and Burke, were facing a lot of defending issues. The West Bromwich Albion’s players that were moving in the left side of the team were trying to take advantage of that situation. Gibbs, Conor Townsend and Grosicki were moving behind Pennington’s back and were receiving a lot of vertical passes with a lot of space in front of them.
Analysing West Bromwich Albion higher in the final third of the field, we will see that the team had a lot of support around the box when the ball was in the flanks. The two central midfielders, Harper and Krovinovic, were taking a high position around or in the box next to the striker, Austin. This was giving extra options for the carrier of the ball to have an effective delivery into the box. This is very important for a team because the carrier of the ball can be less predictable in his final pass, and, moreover, the defenders have to face a more demanding situation with three or four players into the box. The decision making is, therefore, tougher, and the chances for a mistake are higher.
Pereira had an exceptional performance against Hull City, with three assists and many more positive moments in the game. Pereira had a key role in the game, where he helped his team to organise themselves better in the positional game.
Pereira was supporting his teammates when they were trying to start a positional attack with possession of the ball. For that reason, he was coming deeper on the field and was turning into an extra central midfielder. He was receiving the ball under pressure, and he could turn and link the defensive and the offensive lines. Above, we mentioned that West Bromwich Albion were targeting mostly the right flank of Hull City. That did not change for Pereira, as he was coming deeper and more inside on the field, and was trying to pass the ball into Hull City’s right flank.
Pereira was the right attacking midfielder, but he had a free role in the field, where he could move inside on the field, especially in the final third of the field. In that way, he was driving the ball in the central axis of the field, and was transferring the ball from the right to the left flank via combination game. Breaking down the two formations, we could see that in the area between the centre of the field and Hull City’s box there was a 2 v 2 situation from the two centre midfielders of West Bromwich Albion and the two defensive midfielders of Hull City. So, Pereira, by driving the ball inside the field, was becoming the extra player that could unlock that situation.
At the half of the second half, West Brom’s manager decided to change Pereira’s position and made him an attacking midfielder. The formation changed into a 4-2-3-1, with Pereira being an attacking midfielder. That gave Pereira even more freedom in his movements, as he was not restricted from being at the right side of the field. He was freer to move in between the lines and opponent’s half-spaces. He was using his technique and creativity, and managed to break the defensive line with his vertical passes. That was an indicator that helped West Bromwich Albion’s game, as Pereira’s position made him even more participative in the possession game, and less predictable.
Starting Hull City’s analysis without the ball, we could see that the 4-2-3-1 formation was turning into a 4-4-2. The attacking midfielder, Toral, was becoming the second striker next to Magennis. These two were the first defensive line of the team. Hull City were not pressing the opponent and chose to defend with a medium-block formation. The players with this formation were trying to make the opponent’s centre backs play the ball to the flanks and not to the central midfielders. This fact gave extra compactness in the shape of the team, as it gave the players the option to be closer to each other and shorten the distances between the lines.
When Hull City managed to win the ball, it was going into a very quick and effective offensive transition. That was something that caused several issues to their opponent, as West Bromwich Albion did not find an applicable solution to stop that problem. Hull City tried to take advantage of Wilks’ technical and physical characteristics, as he is a quick player and he can dribble the ball on the field under pressure and transfer it into the final third. Wilks was doing everything right, but his final decision was most of the time incorrect. That hurt Hull City, as they squandered many chances that could have given them a better outcome in the match.
When Hull City had control of the ball, they were trying to play out of the back but without effectiveness. West Bromwich Albion was pressing high up the field. This is something that we can check from the PPDA metric of Wyscout. PPDA is a metric that shows the pressing intensity in 60% of the opponent’s half. The lower that this number is, the better for the team that puts the pressure on the opponent. Hull City has completed 7.3 passes in total in its half. Particularly, in the second half, the opponent’s pressing intensity was so high that Hull City was only making 4.7 passes in their half before losing control of the ball. That made Hull City choose a more direct approach to the game, and to try to transfer the ball quickly through the thirds.
Hull City could have done better in the game. According to Wyscout’s report, the team chose to play 66% of its attacks from the right flank and only 27% from the central part of the field. West Bromwich Albion during the game faced an issue to deal with the free space between the defensive midfielder and the two centre backs. That was the space where Hull City’s striker, Magennis, was coming deeper to support the possession of the team, and the attacking midfielder, Toral, was playing. If the midfielders could transfer the ball into that space, Hull City would have had more chances to produce some dangerous situations in the final of the field, as there was free space in front of the defensive line of the opponent.
This was an interesting football game to watch. Two teams that have two different goals in the EFL Championship, a game with many goals, much intensity and many noteworthy tactical points for someone to spot. It ended as an important victory for West Brom in their promotion goal. On the other hand, Hull City needs to try more to get better results to stay out of the relegation zone. A compact defence, effectiveness and better decision making in the final third are all indicators that could help the team with its battle to avoid relegation.