WBA Opposition Scouting Report

All analysis conducted on previous WBA game against Aston Villa which ended in a 2-2 draw.

Offensive style of play

Offensive Data

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West Brom are an interesting side in terms of their attacking style.  A side that tactically can mix it up and vary the way they build their attacks, WBA rely heavily on a formation and shape that is all about getting the ball to the front 3 in dangerous areas. As the above data suggests this a side that create lots of chances, and their chances are generally ones with a high % outcome of a goal. West Brom have 2 distinct ways of mounting their attacks; Building through the midfield to the forwards where rotation and movement is key and counter attacks predominately out to the left to isolate opposition full backs.

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The above graphic shows WBA passing network and average positioning against Aston Villa.  This can be quite a confusing graphic so I’ve pulled out some key features below:

·         WBA favour and have a clear tactical instruction to attack down the left hand side. The sheer amount of passes compared to right shows the left hand side bias. No doubt the biggest factor in this tactic is Harvey Barnes, without a doubt the most creative player in the team. Also noteworthy that the WBA right back tends to stay deep and support the CBS - almost becoming a back 3 - which allows Kieron Gibbs the licence to overlap Barnes as he cuts in from the left.

·         WBA like to play through the phases of the pitch, in this sense no 18 Gareth Barry is vital. He is the 1st short pass receiver from the defence and generally the one to push the ball into the more offensive minded players. Although his direct passing is not “dangerous” he is involved in the start of many moves.

·         The WBA CBs tended to have a fair amount of possession. Naturally this can be influenced by opposition tactics, but this season Dawson and Hegazi have both had a fair amount of possession at the back. WBA will try to be patient and move the opposition out of their defensive shape but there is a clear ability from Dawson specifically to play diagonal passes to the left.

·         In this game, taking away the defenders, the highest passing combination was Barry to Harvey Barnes with 9 passes attempted. Again more evidence that WBA have clear tactical plan to overload the ball to the left hand side of their attack.

·         One key aspect of the above positioning is No 10 Matt Phillips. This season Phillips has been converted from a right winger to the ride side of a 3 man midfield. He is always the most advanced, a strong and powerful runner with the ball with a great shot, cross and pressing ability. His bias to drift towards the right in this game allowed Dwight Gayle, a natural CF, to move central and closer to Jay Rodriguez. It is this fluidity that makes WBA so dangerous, their shape is not set and the attacking players are dynamic taking up various positions throughout a game, most of this stems from Phillips taking up advanced positions on the right when in possession

·         Final point of note is the amount of balls into Jay Rodriguez No 19 from the midfield. While still possessing some pace and movement, Rodriguez often drops off into no 10 role to link play with his excellent technique. With Phillips, Gayle and Barnes all running beyond him this another aspect of how they attack.

Counter Attacks

In this game and in other analysis of their season WBA are an outstanding counter attacking team. The key to this is there option to look for immediate diagonal passes from the back to left channel for Harvey Barnes. Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi 1st half pass map tells a story in terms of intended target especially with their longer range passing. If they can they get the ball out wide and quick, allowing Barnes, Gayle, Robson-Kanu or Matt Phillips to receive and turn in space with the opposition defence unorganised.

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In focus - Matt Phillips

As stated above Phillips was a key performer in this game.  The below snapshot shows an example of his positioning throughout the game generally when West Brom had possession in their own half. The snapshot below highlights the positioning of Jake Livermore and Gareth Barry, both playing as a deeper double pivot combination, often behind the ball.

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This allows Phillips to operate in spaces between the opposition midfield and their defence where he can receive passes and drive at the opposition. His event map from the 1st half (below) shows just how much Phillips, despite playing in a midfield 3, dominates the right hand side. It is this to be aware of as if given time and space Phillips has quality delivery and he is a strong powerful runner with the ball.

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Another recent snapshot taken from the Brentford game (above) shows what happens when Phillips receives the ball on the half turn if given space. His pace and technical ability allow him to go past other midfielders and break defensive lines, putting WBA on the front foot and driving at a defence with normally 2 or 3 forwards ahead of him all of who are dynamic and dangerous in their movement.

In Focus – Harvey Barnes

The most influential/creative player on the pitch for WBA, Barnes is in incredible form. In the game against Villa no one on the pitch for WBA attempted more dribbles than him (7), he assisted 1 goal and had the largest contribution to attacks for WBA. He possesses pace, but it is mainly his technical ability that is impressive. He is able to manipulate the ball to take it under his control in his stride, turning away from defenders and driving towards goal with great ability to open the play up for himself or others. Barnes’ heat map shows how despite being tight the touchline at times he drives inside and likes to operate in the left half-space channel where is crossing or dribbling creates opportunities.

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His shot map also display’s his intention to drive inside on his right foot, all of his 4 efforts were from cutting in from the left and this is something United must be aware of.

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Defensive style of play

Despite being well ranked in the table this WBA team is one that has defensive weaknesses. The setup they have, while ensuring a good attacking platform, means 2 more defensively minded midfielders are required. While Jake Livermore has excellent mobility, Gareth Barry did not in the Aston Villa game and this is a key area that could be exposed if you can overrun the centre of the WBA midfield. 

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The action map above is both Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore’s combined attempted tackles against Aston Villa. Most noticeable is how much work they are having to support defensively in the full back areas. Due to playing 3 advanced forwards who all tend to press hard, often the full backs can be isolated meaning the 2 deeper lying CMs have to shift across. Consequently, an opposing team can have success if they can a) overload the full back areas (perfect for Sheff Utd’s 3412 flying wing back formation) or pull the WBA CMs wide and attack the space in the middle. Kieran Gibbs’ heat map (below) is more of a left wing back or left midfielder than a direct left full back and this area although showing his threat and support the to attack going forwards also shows an area to look on defensively.

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Villa were excellent at this against WBA. The above snapshot shows a pass played into the no 10 area to Jack Grealish, despite a strong and organised defensive back 4 line look at the space out wide and the ability to create 1 v1 situations or even overloads if the numbers were available. Isolating the 2 deep lying midfielders is key to breaking the structure of WBA.

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Above is Aston Villa’s shot map against WBA (Shots from inside penalty box only). All these efforts were from dangerous areas and a high % of scoring, highlighting the deficiencies in the WBA backline. A striker with clinical finishing inside the box could well have capitalised on more of these chances.

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The above action map shows the locations of where the key passes for those shots originated from. Villa did a great job of committing enough men forward in wide areas that they could exploit Kieran Gibbs’ attacking nature by working opportunities from the right hand side. The key to this was the fact Villa didn’t work the ball out wide immediately, instead they played through the middle to draw WBA centrally and then played out wide when a 1 v 1 opportunity or an overload was present.

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Aston Villa pass network showed a) a very good performance from them but mainly b) that the wide areas are key to exploiting this WBA team. The fact the Villa wingers had so many touches and passes received showed the space and time they were afforded. Against Sheff Utd, as the away team, no doubt WBA will sit in at times and look to hit on the counter attack but the space will be there in the wide areas at times as Kieran Gibbs especially is required to commit forwards in order to give space to Harvey Barnes, it is this area United need to be exploiting at all costs.

Key themes summarised for defensive weaknesses:

·         Space and opportunity to exploit 1 v 1 in defensive wide areas

·         Opportunity to open up gaps in WBA central midfield area by playing in central space channel in front of WBA back 4 if midfield can be overloaded

·         Overload and crossing opportunities out wide especially in the WBA left full back area

·         Lack of mobility of WBA CBs

All data from WhoScored and Wyscout.

Jay SocikComment