Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

If we lose, I want to do it my way

Brighton defend by attacking, but they frequently lost the ball against Roma. If they used Gross or Gilmour to follow Dybala instead of Igor or Van Hecke, they would not have had to leave Lewis Dunk 1v1 against Lukaku.

Figure 1.1 - Brighton's pressing shape in the middle third.

This is fine the way they’re pressing here if Igor and Van Hecke stay back to defend with Lewis Dunk.

Figure 2.1 - Brighton counter-pressing with Igor following Paulo Dybala forward.
Figure 3.1 - Igor again following Paulo Dybala forward as Brighton press in Roma's half.

The issues come when Brighton use the outside center-back to follow Dybala. Dybala would drop, and then a massive space would open up behind.

My solution would be to have the far-side pivot player drop back and follow Dybala instead of having the center-back jump out.

That would allow for the ball-side center-back to stay back with the rest of the center-backs. This slightly more thoughtful approach would leave them less vulnerable in transition.

Figure 3.2 - Roma pass through behind down the right-wing with a lot of space between Brighton's back and second line.

This space between the back line and second line is not positive. This is living on the edge. They aren’t aggressive enough in the press to win back the ball, and when the ball is played through they surrender control of the pitch. Now they are chasing.

Figure 4.1 - Igor and Jan Paul van Hecke push forward to cover the space Pascal Gross and Billy Gilmour would take up. Ball is played over the top to Romelu Lukaku.

In this example, Gilmour is fine to press high but what if Gross stayed back? That would allow Igor to mark or double-team Lukaku with Dunk.

Figure 4.2 - Romelu Lukaku is 1v1 with Lewis Dunk.
Figure 4.3 - Lewis Dunk miss-controls the ball and Romelu Lukaku is in on goal. Lukaku scores.

Brighton are relying on the individual ability of their defenders to defend in 1v1 situations when they should be a bit more humble. They should be compensating for the obvious mismatches in quality by defending in numbers.

They lose the ball too frequently right now to be this vulnerable.

Just one small tweak with that far-side midfielder sitting back zonally to cover for the center-backs would fix that.

Here is Roberto De Zerbi describing his belief that they must stick to their way of playing and not fold:

We lost 3-1 to Man City and my staff and I had doubts while preparing for the game. Be courageous or sit back? At the end of the meeting, I threw my mobile phone against the wall shouting: ‘I didn’t waste 10 years of my life. If we lose, I want to do it my way. We’ll play openly, attacking Man City in their box.’ Nobody had ever done it.

They can attempt to defend aggressively, pressing high, but as I stated when I said Roberto De Zerbi is a mirage; they don’t have to completely ignore the fact that the other team might be better on the day. It is okay to surrender one player in the press if it means that you won’t have to defend 1v1 at the back.

If Roberto De Zerbi was given a better squad, there would likely still be defensive issues, like there was last season at Brighton, but they’d score at least one more goal than their opposition. They should have scored at least two goals in the first half. Danny Welbeck missed two sitters.

It is not as bad as it seems, but there are solutions to fix obvious deficiencies.

Match: Roma 4-0 Brighton, 7 March 2024

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