Tactical Analysis: West Brom 1-1 Everton

Diego Lugano headed in a second half equalizer to give Pepe Mel a 1-1 draw with Everton in his first game as West Brom manager. Lugano was an unlikely hero- he had been largely responsible for Everton's opener after his slow reaction to a Romelu Lukaku flicked header left Kevin Mirallas through on goal to finish with ease.

It was a strange contest with few clear cut scoring opportunities. Everton were a far cry from the energetic, attacking side they've become known for under Roberto Martinez and West Brom didn't have the quality in the attacking third to offer a consistent goal scoring threat.

Martinez went with his usual 4-2-3-1. Ross Barkley remains sidelined with a broken toe and Steven Pienaar missed out with a groin injury so Martinez had to do some shuffling with his three attacking midfielders. Kevin Mirallas played through the middle, Leon Osman played on the left and Brian Oviedo on the right.

Mel opted for a 4-4-2 in his first game in charge. Matej Vydra partnered Nicolas Anelka up front. James Morrison was chosen ahead of Youssuf Mulumbu to partner Claudio Yacob in the middle of midfield. They were flanked by Christ Brunt on the left and Zoltan Gera on the right. Gareth McAuley was unable to recover in time from a hamstring injury and was replaced by Lugano at center back.

Probably the most interesting tactical feature of the first half was West Brom's pressing in midfield. They defended in banks of four. Morrison and Yacob would immediately close down Gareth Barry and James McCarthy when they received the ball in deep positions in midfield. Behind them, Olsson and Lugano would stick tight to the backs of Lukaku and Mirallas and follow them when they tried to drop off into midfield to find space. The midfield pressing limited the amount of time Barry and McCarthy had on the ball and forced them into making backwards and sideways passes. They struggled to play penetrating passes into the front four and as a result the pace of Everton's passing moves was much slower than we're used to seeing.

That Everton's goal came from an uncharacteristically direct move was in part due to West Brom's pressing. Martinez's side had been struggling to transition from the midfield to the attacking third when Sylvain Distin bypassed the midfield altogether and clipped a long ball into Lukaku making a diagonal run. Here, West Brom's tactics hurt them. Because Morrison and Yacob were pressing Barry and McCarthy in midfield, it meant neither were available to pick up the #10 Mirallas in between the lines. As a result, one of the two West Brom center backs had to step out and stick tight to him rather than tucking in and providing cover on Lukaku. The screen shots below show the sequence leading up to the goal. Lugano steps forward to get tight on the back of Mirallas while Olsson marks Lukaku (image 1). Lukaku makes a diagonal run in behind Lugano, forcing Olsson away from his left center back position towards the right channel, leaving an ocean of space through the middle of the pitch (image 2). Lukaku flicks a header on into that space and Mirallas spins off Lugano and beats him in behind for pace. Without a spare center back to provide cover it was an easy finish for Mirallas.

Image 1: Lugano and Olsson tight to Mirallas and Lukaku
Image 2: Olsson forced to track Lukaku's run towards right channel, Mirallas sprints into space left open in behind
West Brom's primary attacking approach in the first half was through the channels. Both Everton fullbacks Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are encouraged to provide width high up the pitch when Everton are in possession, thus leaving space in behind them for the opposition to counter into. Anelka would quickly drift wide into this space when West Brom won the ball back and receive outlet passes in the channels. He'd look for Vydra or one of the midfielders breaking forward but too often West Brom's passing was sloppy on the break and they couldn't take advantage of some favorable positions in wide areas.

Mel changes to 4-2-3-1
They key to West Brom getting back in the game was Mel's change in shape to 4-2-3-1 after he introduced Mulumbu for Gera in the 60th minute. Mulumbu played in midfield alongside Yacob, allowing Morrison to move into an advanced #10 position behind Victor Anichebe who had come on at half for Vydra. Anelka moved to the right wing. The shift to three in central midfield allowed West Brom to more comfortably keep possession in attacking areas. Morrison provided the link forward that had been missing when the shape was 4-4-2. West Brom had completed 56 passes in the attacking third in the first hour of play before the change. They completed 45 attacking third passes in the 30 minutes after it, a spell that saw them get an equalizer and close out the contest looking the more likely to find a winner.

The 1-1 result was fair as neither side did enough to win this. Despite looking less than their best Everton were the better side in the first half. West Brom improved in the second half and Mel deserves credit for the impact his switch from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 had on the balance of play.

Mourinho gets tactical decisions wrong in fortunate West Brom draw

Jose Mourinho escaped with his Premier League home unbeaten record in tact thanks to a controversial penalty deep in the final seconds of stoppage time that gave Chelsea a 2-2 draw with West Brom. Ramires went to ground after minimal contact from Steven Reid but referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot for a Chelsea penalty to the dismay of West Brom's players. Eden Hazard coolly slotted the ensuing spot kick to earn Chelsea the point.

Following last weekend's 2-0 defeat at Newcastle, Mourinho expressed frustration with his players saying he "made 11 mistakes" in selecting the squad. The players deserve their share of criticism for a flat performance this afternoon but Mourinho should also come under scrutiny for a questionable squad selection and a second half change to 4-4-2 that left Chelsea stretched in midfield and was largely responsible for West Brom's go ahead goal.

Steve Clarke's side were incredibly well organized, defending in compact, narrow banks of four. Claudio Yakob and Youssouf Mulumbu did an excellent job shielding the back four in their defensive midfield roles and Chelsea's attacking midfield trio of Hazard, Oscar and Willian found little space between the lines to receive passes.

With West Brom defending narrow to limit the ability of Chelsea's attacking midfielders to play quick passing combinations through the middle, the space for Chelsea was on the wings. Hazard and Willian tucked inside from their outside attacking midfield roles, opening space for the fullbacks to advance down the touchline. Cesar Azpilicueta retained a deep position at left back but right back Branislav Ivanovic was encouraged to push forward and was always free on the right wing in the attacking half. Chelsea needed a right back capable of playing dangerous balls into the penalty area. Time and again Ivanovic got the ball in advanced areas on the right only to hit weak crosses into the penalty area that failed to get past the first defender. Mourinho's insistence on using Ivanovic at right back in league games seems curious. He's no doubt a solid defensive full back and his aerial ability is useful on both attacking and defensive set pieces but he's poor going forward. Azpilicueta is a more mobile right back with a better delivery from wide areas. This was a contest built for a solid attacking full back and Ivanovic simply didn't offer enough going forward. Perhaps Mourinho consistently selects Ivanovic so he can easily transition to a three center back formation if Chelsea go behind (which he did today) but Azpilicueta would have been the better right back choice today.

Mourinho's decision to once again leave Juan Mata on the bench was a curious one as well. It's no secret that under Clarke West Brom defend deep and are compact and very well organized. It requires creativity and clever movement into little pockets of space to break them down, two areas where Mata is excellent. Hazard and Willian are both fine players but they are at their best when they have open space to run into. Mata is built for games when space in the attacking third is at a premium and a special final ball is required to unlock the opposition defense.

Mourinho was most disappointing in his ill-advised decision to replace Frank Lampard with Demba Ba with the score even at 1-1 and move from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. The change was meant to be a proactive one to get Chelsea a game winner but ultimately cost them a goal. Lampard had been poor and needed to come off but the formation change left Chelsea far too stretched in the middle of midfield. Oscar dropped in alongside Ramires in the middle of the pitch and both players moved forward in possession to help in the attacking third. This meant that when Chelsea gave away possession there was no one sitting deep in midfield to protect the center backs and West Brom had plenty of space to break into quickly. For West Brom's second, Ivanovic gave the ball away too cheaply. Oscar and Ramires were in advanced positions at the time and were forced to make recovery runs. West Brom broke forward quickly. Oscar was forced wide to the left to pick up Shane Long. Ramires was unable to recover in the middle which left Sessegnon unmarked 22 yards from goal. Petr Cech should have parried away Sessegnon's rather tame effort but the goal likely would never have happened had Chelsea still had three center midfielders on the pitch.

For me, Oscar and Ramires are too fluid a midfield pairing in a 4-4-2 system and can therefore cause Chelsea to get too stretched. I think if you're going to move to that formation you have to choose one of them to do the box to box running and be paired alongside John Obi Mikel, a true holding midfielder that will protect the back four.

Down 2-1 Mourinho was forced into moving into an attacking 3-5-2, bringing on Mikel for Azpilicueta and replacing Oscar with Mata. Chelsea would ultimately get their equalizer but had Mourinho made better tactical decisions they'd have never been in a position where they needed the fortuitous penalty to salvage a point.

Liverpool miss Sturridge's vertical threat in loss to WBA

West Brom produced an unlikely 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield despite taking 20 fewer shots and being outpossessed 59% to 41%. The home side missed a slew of decent opportunities before Gareth McAuley's header put the Baggies ahead on 81 minutes, including Ben Foster's penalty save on Steven Gerrard in the 77th.

Despite controlling the balance of play and managing to force Foster into a couple of fine saves, Liverpool lacked a bit of industry in the final third, largely owing to the absence of Daniel Sturridge to a thigh problem.

Luis Suarez took up the center forward position recently occupied by Sturridge while Jonjo Shelvey played in the hole behind him. Jordan Henderson was used as a left sided attacker and Stewart Downing played on the right wing. As he so often does when lined up as the main striker, Luis Suarez would drop off the opposition center backs and collect the ball between the lines. He's tremendous at drifting into defensive seams, turning and running at the back four. However, without Sturridge's pace, Liverpool lacked anyone making runs in behind the West Brom center backs for balls to be played through. When Suarez collected the ball between the lines, no one made the type of interior run in behind that might threaten Jonas Olsson and McAuley. As a result, one center back could step to Suarez while the other sat in to provide cover.

Sturridge often tends to remain high up the pitch on the shoulder of one center back. When Suarez plays in the hole behind him and manages to get the ball in the seams it forces the free opposition center back to step out to him and opens space for Sturridge to make a diagonal run into the space opened up by the center back moving out to Suarez. Without a vertical option in behind the defense, Liverpool often shuffled the ball wide to the right where Downing and Glen Johnson looked to combine and get crosses in the box. The two combined for 17 crosses, with Downing alone crossing 13 times. Several of Downing's balls in were excellent but without a physical #9 like Andy Carroll in the side, getting the ball wide and crossing it into the box is never likely to be an effective strategy for Liverpool. Olsson and McAuley are more comfortable dealing with high balls into the area than with pacey forwards running in behind them. Only two of Downing and Johnson's 17 crosses found a Liverpool player, despite a number of them being quality balls in.

Liverpool produced some decent football at times and will feel unfortunate to have failed to take anything from a game in which West Brom produced virtually nothing offensively for the first 80 minutes. However, the absence of Sturridge's pace meant they were often forced to attack down the wings and send 50-50 balls into the box- a difficult strategy when you're playing without an actual number nine. It was no surprise then that they produced some of their best chances, including Luis Suarez winning the penalty, when Fabio Borini came on at striker and Suarez dropped into the withdrawn role. Sturridge is a more suitable center forward than Borini however and Brendan Rodgers will be keen to have him back in action. It's incredible that Liverpool have still failed to manage a win against a side in the top 10.

Preview: Arsenal vs. West Brom

West Brom and Arsenal will look to get back to winning ways when they meet at the Emirates Saturday afternoon. Arsene Wenger's side are winless in their last three league games and sit 10th in the table, their worst start to a season in 18 years. Steve Clarke's Baggies have lost their last two but have had more to celebrate this season- despite the recent defeats West Brom are off to their best start to a Premier League campaign. They find themselves 5th in the table, level on 26 points with fourth place Spurs and 3rd place Chelsea. 

Wenger will have to deal with several injuries to first team regulars. Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will all be sidelined while Bacary Sagna is also doubtful. Carl Jenkinson will replace Sagna at right back. Aaron Ramsey may be given the start on the right in the absence of Walcott with Alex Oxlade-Chamberain expected to fill in for Podolski on the left. Wenger also has Tomas Rosicky and Gervinho available. He could opt to play Rosicky on a wing or in the hole behind Giroud and push Cazorla wide.

Boaz Myhill will fill in for the Baggies at goalkeeper for Ben Foster who is recovery from groin surgery.
A Clash of Styles
This game will showcase a clash of two very different playing styles. Arsenal build attacks patiently from the back, move forward as a unit and retain possession. West Brom defend deep and look to counter rapidly. Arsenal lead the league in possession, averaging 59.9% per game while West Brom are fourth from bottom with 43.5% per game.

Expect West Brom to drop their wide midfielders Odemwingie and Gera alongside Yacob and Mulumbu in defense to create a second bank of four. Jenkinson and Gibbs will join in the attack for Arsenal from their outside back positions, pushing Odemwingie and Gera further towards their own goal. Ramsey will likely tuck inside from his right midfield position, creating space for Jenkinson to overlap. Jack Wilshere will push forward towards Cazorla in possession and look to link defense to offense. The Gunners will look to create short combinations of passes around the penalty area and find gaps in West Brom's back four to slip the ball through. They need to do a better job of turning possession into genuine goal scoring chances. During their current three game winless streak their opponents have taken more shots on target in each game despite Arsenal winning the possession battle in all three games and completing more passes in the final third.

With Jenkinson and Gibbs pushing forward, West Brom will look to quickly counter in the space behind the two Arsenal outside backs when they regain possession. Shane Long will likely float into these wide channels to provide one option for an out ball. Gera and Odemwingie will also try to quickly break in behind Jenkinson and Gibbs. It'll be Morrison's job to quickly transition forward in the middle of the pitch and link with Long. With Wilshere moving in to more advanced positions in possession, Arteta will be responsible for slowing down counterattacks, particularly by denying Morrison opportunities to get on the ball in space. The Spaniard's positioning was incredibly poor on Swansea's opening goal last weekend when he completely switched off on attacking midfielder Michu and left him unmarked just in front of the Arsenal back four.

The screenshot below shows Arteta 15 yards to the left of Michu, moving into an area Arsenal already had well covered. Chico is able to clip a pass into Michu, forcing Vermaelen to step to ball and leave space in behind him. Michu plays a simple on-two with Luke Moore, breaks past the Dutch center back and coolly finishes the breakaway. Had Arteta been in the correct position in front of the back four, Vermaelen who have never had to step out, allowing space behind him for Michu to run into (in fact Michu wouldn't have even received the ball). Arteta will have to do a better job tracking Morrison when West Brom look to break.

Central Midfield Zone
As mentioned above, defensively West Brom will likely drop their wide midfielders Gera and Odemwingie alongside holding midfielders Yacob and Mulumbu to create a midfield bank of four. Against Chelsea's 4-2-3-1, Shane Long dropped alongside James Morrison to pick up Chelsea's two holding midfielders, Mikel and Romeu on that day, and left the center backs unmarked. Both Mikel and Romeu like to sit in front of the back four and circulate the ball sideways; neither are particularly strong at linking defense and attack either with their dribbling or forward passing. Their reluctance to push forward meant Long and Morrison could defend them fairly easily while still remaining high up the pitch in good counter attacking positions when West Brom regained possession. It also meant West Brom had a spare holding midfielder so Chelsea's attacking central midfielder (both Hazard and Sturridge played there for the Blues) was outnumbered. West Brom had a spare center back as well so in the central attacking zones Chelsea were outnumbered 2 v. 4. As a result, the Blues lacked a vertical passing option and were forced to play the ball sideways.

Arsenal will pair Jack Wilshere alongside Mikel Arteta at center midfield. Wilshere is more of a box-to-box midfielder than either Mikel or Romeu and will push higher up the pitch and do a better job of linking defense to offense. The Baggies will therefore have to decide if they want Morrison to track the forward movement of Wilshere so that they have a spare holding midfielder and can defend the dangerous Santi Cazorla 2 v. 1 higher up the pitch. If they do that Long will drop in and sit on Arteta. The danger for West Brom of playing like this is that they could get pushed too deep defensively and not have an out ball when they retain possession. Therefore I'd expect Morrison to pick up Arteta, leaving a 2 v. 2 match up higher up the field between Cazorla-Wilshere and Yacob-Mulumbu.

Arteta's role circulating the ball and dictating the tempo of the game is crucial for Arsenal. Team's that have kept him off the ball have had success against the Gunners- their ball movement becomes far too slow without his involvement. He averages 88 completed passes per game, second in the Premier League only to Michael Carrick. In games he's completed fewer than 80 passes Arsenal are averaging only 0.75 points per game (1 win, 3 losses, 3 draws) and 0.57 goals per game. In games he's completed more than 80 passes they're averaging 1.63 points per game (3 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws) and 2.5 goals per game. Clarke will therefore likely put an emphasis on using some combination of Morrison and Long to keep Arteta off the ball and prevent Arsenal from getting in any type of rhythm in possession.