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Portsmouth v Peterborough United - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Tactics: Will Fergie’s tactical tweaks for Posh cause Sunderland problems today?

Following a hot and cold run of form, Darren Ferguson has made minor changes to keep Peterborough alive in the race for promotion. What can Sunderland learn from this?

Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Peterborough versus Sunderland is one of two significant matches left at the top of League One this season. Both teams have arguably the best two forwards in the division, and could also share promotion together.

I looked further at Peterborough to see what we can expect from the Posh this afternoon.

I watched extended highlights of the 6 most recent games below.

  • Peterborough v Hull
  • Peterborough v Portsmouth
  • Rochdale v Peterborough
  • Blackpool v Peterborough
  • Peterborough v Accrington
  • Fleetwood v Peterborough

Since late October, Sunderland has trailed Peterborough on PPG. As the graphic shows, we have largely been behind Peterborough until March 23rd, where Sunderland have been level on PPG with today’s opponents - and will be going into the game.

Points Per Game 20/21 Sunderland (Red) Peterborough (Blue)


In the first 4 matches listed, Peterborough used 3-4-2-1.

After the Blackpool match, they switched to a 4-2-3-1.

3-4-2-1 Example

3-4-2-1 formations average player location for the starting XI

4-2-3-1 Example

4-2-3-1 formations average player location for the starting XI

What is interesting about the two formations above is that their top man, Jonson Clarke-Harris (9), has a very deep average location on both.

Clarke-Harris is more than a goalscorer for this team, and his work rate is superb. He often drops deep to hold up the ball and to track back, which is why his location is deep.


The lighter the colour, the more activity

This is where Peterborough attempt their passes - it’s heavily skewed to the left side of the pitch. It’s rare you see activity to one side of the pitch. Even when watching the matches, you may not notice this, but the data suggests most of the activity starts on the left.

And this is also seen in where passes end up.

Stopping Peterborough playing down the left will be important today.


Peterborough are ranked the #1 team in scoring goals this season (1.74 goals per game) - and, in their last 6 games, Peterborough have performed above their average, scoring 2.16 goals per game.

Despite performing above their average goal per game, Peterborough have averaged 12.3 shots per game (season average is 12.7) in this time as well. So, for every 5-6 shots they have, one has found the net.

Peterborough are ranked #5 in goals conceded this season (0.97 goals conceded per game) - and in their last 6 games, Posh are performing worse than average, conceding 9 goals and averaging 1.5 goals conceded a game.

The defensive side of Peterborough remains a difficult one to read, as they conceded 3 goals on 3 occasions, but then also kept 3 clean sheets.

Ferguson’s minor tweak

Sometimes football is a game of very fine margins, and changing a particular minor detail can have huge implications. After losing 3-1 to Blackpool, Darren Ferguson changed from a 3-4-2-1 to a 4-2-3-1 and also dropped Siriki Dembele, who has scored 7 and assisted 10 goals across 35 appearances.

From watching the footage, I actually thought Dembele had a negative impact on the team - he never tracked back, or worked as hard as other players.

On an individual level, Dembele looks a great player and I expect he will not be playing League One football after this season.

Formation Change

Example 1 v Portsmouth

The space 3-4-2-1 can leave if stretched

Portsmouth didn’t make the most of the space produced by stretching Peterborough. The red box is the room they have to use, and I circled a defender who could cover the space if required.

Example 2 v Blackpool

This is the last time they used 3-4-2-1, and you can see why.

Blackpool in possesion

Peterborough have little to worry about here.

Blackpool have the ball well within their own half.

A long diagonal pass is hit to Mitchell (highlighted)

With a very simple long-range pass, Blackpool then got in behind the midfield and have a 2-v-1 on the wing. The player where the arrow is coming from is our own Elliot Embleton, who recognises the space and follows the arrow.

Embleton has Peterborough stretched

Now Embleton has made the run, Mitchell lays it off and Embleton is left with two options - e either crosses it, or cuts the ball back to Mitchell. He elects to cross, which goes out for a corner - and Blackpool then score from the resulting set piece.

Can Sunderland win?!

The answer, of course, is yes.

Peterborough have won their last two league games playing 4-2-3-1 and I would expect a similar lineup and formation to Friday. It is hard to judge whether they have just been lucky or have seriously improved switching to a 4-2-3-1, but their defence looks more settled. I would still look to test their full-backs, as we have unbelievable quality out wide in Jordan Jones and Aiden McGeady, who are more than a handful at this level.

Sunderland MUST approach this game like any other match. Most of us would probably take a point this afternoon, but we are in the business of winning now, and that means beating your promotion rivals.

Peterborough are a very solid, credible opponent, who we beat with Parkinson in charge - we can certainly do it again with Lee Johnson and his tactical creativity.


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