Boro - what went wrong?
As Ben has already shared some excellent conclusions on this subject, I thought I would delve back into the role of a performance analyst and look at the how the goals from 3-0 loss away to Boro were conceded, more than the “we are useless” argument that seems to be taking credence at the moment! As we all know we found ourselves 3-0 down and the game gone before even half an hour had elapsed. However, those goals all came from very avoidable situations and it’s these situations I want to examine.
Excuse the blurry images...
Goal 1 – Martin Braithwaite (6’ min)
Let’s look at the starting position of our defensive setup for the first goal. Despite the blurriness, look at the obvious glaring errors in our setup (highlighted for those with vision as bad as mine).
It is always hard to tell if a team are operating a joint zonal/man marking system. I believe that’s what we are trying here with Jack O’Connell the spare “free” man to go and win the ball. However, two Boro players are completely free in space. Those two players just happen to be Ryan Shotton and Aden Flint, who for anyone who hasn’t watched the EFL in the last four years is bloomin’ good at heading the ball. It’s astonishing that two threats have been left open so early in the game when you would hope set-piece setup was fresh in the mind of the players - particularly against a Tony Pulis side.
Prior to the corner being taken, you can see Chris Basham frantically trying to organise people to mark, having realised that he was overloaded. There was a clear disorganisation and lack of attention from the whole side who were all ball watching.
Picture 2 for Goal 1 (shown below) shows the state of play after Shotton (previously left unmarked) had made an error in judging flight of the ball and got only minimal contact on the ball. This caused the resulting deflection to land on the right corner of the 6 yard box.
Here we are now in to the 2nd phase of play or “2nd ball”. Some may look at the bounce of the ball and describe what happened next as luck; however if you look closely you can see that the three Boro players at the far post all have good body positions compared to our defenders. Our defenders, mainly O’Connell, are square on to the ball. This means any sudden deflection or change in path and they have to shift their feet much more to get into a blocking position. As it happens, Jack couldn’t clear the bouncing ball and it fell kindly for Braithwaite to score a tap in. How could we have stopped this? A better, more organised defensive setup to begin with!
Goal 2 – Aden Flint (17’ min)
Okay, so Aden Flint is a pretty mammoth guy. He is naturally going to win headers even if you do everything right. All you can do is make sure a) he doesn’t get a clear run at the ball and b) if he does look like winning the ball you compete physically as much as possible to ensure he does not make a clean contact… Last night we did neither.
Below I have highlighted Flint and our defenders’ positioning as the ball comes across from the corner. Initial thoughts… we seem to have learned a lesson from the 1st goal and have gone pretty tight in a simple man-marking system, with Egan picking Flint up. So how does this develop into a goal?
Turning now to the image below - what do we see? Flint has had a clear, unchallenged run at the ball. To give credit here - which is hard in snapshots - Boro actually produced a very clever small movement to create space for Flint. The first Boro player runs around the front of our two defenders to the back post position he is taking up in the photo. This caused a momentary block and then the two United defenders managed to get in each other’s way while trying to follow their individual men.
The result? Flint now has momentum, natural height and a distinct physical strength advantage. The only final step for the defender here is to “bump” Flint or try and put him off in anyway. The goal was avoidable on many levels. The setup again being an issue. What could we have done? Simple fix would have been the two United defenders should have blocked the run from Flint earlier. By not allowing him to attack this space, there is simply no goal.
Goal 3 – Downing (24’ min)
The worst of the three goals in my opinion. The picture below shows all the starting positions of players involved upon the cross beginning. Circled is Downing (goal scorer), Braithwaite, Baldock and Fleck.
What’s most concerning here - and a theme of the evening - is the body position of Fleck. In this freeze frame you can physically see that Fleck has his whole body pointing towards the ball – he is likely aware of the danger Downing poses, hence having tracked him into the box, but by shaping this way he risks losing him (which, of course, is what happens). The star on the picture represents where Fleck’s positioning should be, with his body opened out to see the ball and the player he is marking.
The picture above now shows the cross rolled on a few seconds and what do we now see? Fleck has completely lost Downing.
What you can’t see from the snapshot, but will if you can bring yourself to rewatch the highlights, is Fleck makes an unnatural move towards the centre and the ball (probably due to not being natural in this current position and situation). This then allows Downing around the back of him unattended. From here Fleck can do nothing but hope that the cross is a poor one, and unfortunately a fairly benign cross was allowed to end up in a very dangerous position and result in a scrappy goal.
The first 25 minutes were a defensive shambles, especially from set-pieces. This is one area we were poor in last season both offensively and defensively and it requires vast improvement as many teams in this league pride themselves on good set-piece records.
From open play we again appeared pretty decent without being spectacular and we are clearly a very good passing team, although as Ben suggested the game state at 3-0 is a huge factor in our perceived improvement. The issue is that without solid defending from set-pieces and crosses whipped into the box, we have no foundations to build a performance on.
Analysts study set pieces at clubs constantly. If I were QPR analyst looking at Tuesday night, I would be thinking here we have a vulnerable and disorganised team defensively. The positive being that there is some easy fixes in here, things we weren’t doing last season and things we can improve very quickly. Improvement being the key word all round.