EFL Championship is back. Reading and Derby County are teams that will fight for promotion to the English Premier League this season. As Derby has lost Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe, it would be intriguing to see how their flank attacking pattern will develop over the course of this season.
In this tactical analysis, we’ll be discovering the tactics that changed the game for both teams. In this analysis, we’ll try to find out how Reading dominated in their defending and what kind of problem Derby encountered in attacking.
Reading: Rafael Cabral, Michael Morrison, Liam Moore, Andy Yiadom, Omar Richards, Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent, John Swift, Lucas João, Michael Olise, Ovie Ejaria.
Reading closing the centre of the pitch
Reading didn’t win without reasons. They did a great job in this match in each stage of the defending, and Derby wasn’t able to threaten Reading’s goal due to this.
When Reading stayed in a high block and pressed, their goal in this stage was preventing Derby from utilising central spaces. To achieve this objective, they utilised a 3-1 shape to press the six-man passing-unit in the back, which was more like a 2-4 or 4-2 shape for Derby County. Reading kept a compact shape and tried to force the ball to play wide. As the ball went wide, Reading’s pressing block would shift to the ball side in a compact manner. Their weak side winger would cluster into the central zone to mark the weak side pivot, instead of staying in a balanced position to take care of the weak side full-back as well. The ball side pivot would be marked by the attacking midfielder John Swift. This had successfully prevented the opponent from using two pivots to progress the play.
Above is an illustration of their responsibility of each player in front. The striker forced the centre-back to play wide. As the ball travelled to the side, the pressing block shifted to the ball side. The right-winger Michael Olise pressed Derby’s left-back Craig Forsyth. The attacking midfielder Swift marked Max Bird and the left-winger Ejaria shifted to the central area to mark Shinnie. Thus, Derby was not available to progress the ball through the centre, and they couldn’t progress the ball easily through the strong side either.
As the positioning of the weak side winger was more towards the centre, there was more space on the weak side flank. This encouraged Derby to switch the play to the weak side to progress the play. And actually Derby enjoyed switching play to the weak side. They were already familiar with this approach as in the last season they employed this method to progress the play effectively. Nevertheless, this was exactly what Reading wanted for Derby. Even though Derby could switch to the weak side and progressed the play forwards, they still used the flank rather than the centre. This was due to the mobility and the use of attacking midfielder, as he could shadow a pivot with just a few steps of lateral movement. Also, the shifting movement of both wingers was quick. The ball-side winger was able to press the ball carrier outside, while the non-ball side winger could shift inside to cover the other pivot.
As you can see from above, the scenario was one or two seconds after Derby switched the play. Reading’s pressing block switched fast and the distributed responsibility for each player was carried out effectively. Derby still couldn’t play through the centre but was forced the ball to the flank if they wished to progress the play into an advanced area.
Then, if Derby’s players decided to progress the play through the flank, they would find it hard to maintain possession due to the compactness and the involvement of the wingers. Wingers were active in tracking back and doubling up with the full-backs to challenge the ball in the middle third and the own third. Full-backs would try to prevent the opponent from turning while wingers would run back directly to challenge the ball. That’s Reading’s main method to gain possession. With all these tactics mentioned above, Reading was able to deny Derby County from getting into dangerous areas and creating threats.
Derby County’s ineffective attack
Apart from Reading’s solid defensive structure, Derby County also had their problems in attack. While they employed a 2-4 or 4-2 shape in playing out from the back, the pivots were marked by Reading as mentioned in the last section. As they were marked, they stood still and there wasn’t any rotation to create space in the centre. This was mainly due to the responsibility assigned to these two players was a bit overlapping, as no one was instructed to run over the second pressing line of Reading.
Furthermore, Derby’s attacking midfielder was not of help in playing out from the back and also midfield penetration. He didn’t drop to the midfield area to help open the play, and as the ball was switched to the weak side, he didn’t capture the timing into space centrally to provide as a central passing option.
As you can see from above, the weak side centre-back already received the ball from the switching play. His head was already up and he was searching for an advanced passing option. There was the space in behind the four-man pressing block of Reading. However, Sibley didn’t capture the right time to go in that space and left his centre-back mate unsupported. As the attack on the flank was already ineffective, the centre-back then decided to pass back.
Apart from the midfield trio’s problem, the attacking units on the flank were not capable of gain advantage in 2v2 situation. Especially for the right-flank attacking unit Whittaker and Wisdom, they didn’t quite understand each other’s intent as their combination was bad. The run and the pass were not synchronised for many times.
The image above is an example. Wisdom possessed the ball and instigated the opponent to press. He intended to control the tempo of the pass by hitting the pass the moment the opponent began to press. However, Whittaker didn’t begin to free himself of the marker until the pressing player on Wisdom had already finished his pressing run. The pressing run had already closed the passing angle for Wisdom and it was not available for him to pick Whittaker. Thus, Wisdom forced the play and possession was lost.
Reading’s effective central combination
As Derby County encountered problems in attacking, Reading was the exact opposite. Though Derby had more possession in this match, Reading’s attacking manner was more effective. Their striker João was the reference point of the attack as he could drop to the midfield utilising hold-up play and passed to the teammates who were facing forwards, ready to hit the final pass. His strong physique and agility helped him to keep possession as well as to turn with the ball to find free player on the other side.
The above is an example of Reading’s central combination using João as the reference point. João dropped into the midfield area to link up the play. This triggered Olise’s run towards the defensive line as no one was occupying the defensive line. Olise’s run brought the marker Bird with him and freed the space in the centre for Swift. Then Swift stayed in the space and there was so exchange passes between Ejaria and João.
Later, as we can see from the above picture, the space created by Olise was still there as Bird didn’t return to his original position. He was trying to prevent João from turning. However, João still managed to turn using his great turning technique and strength, and he picked Swift in the space. Swift, in this situation, was completely unmarked and facing forwards. He then was able to hit the final pass with great quality. And the following shot gained them the corner which led to a goal.
After the former Manchester United player Wayne Rooney got on the pitch, the attack was more fluent and space for final passes would be more. While Derby did encounter problems as they lost two good full-backs, Rooney should be a solution to Derby’s current problems. If Derby wishes to compete in the EPL with teams like Liverpool and Manchester City, more recruitment is needed.