Lineups and shape (5-3-2 vs 4-3-3)
Opening 20 minutes
Luton carried out their expected approach pre-match, targeting us with longer balls where they would look to use their significant physical advantages to win both first balls and second balls.
They did this with great success in the first 20 minutes especially, often playing directly up to Adebayo and Morris down their left side. When they played this longer pass, they would crowd the surrounding areas to pick up second balls and use as a platform to play off. One of Luton’s strikers would challenge the first ball and his partner, Clarke and Campbell, plus the left wing-back Bell, would all move closely in anticipation for the second ball.
Similarly on crossing situations, Luton would look to load the box with their two 8’s, both strikers, and the far side wingback, with Lansbury hovering on the edge to pick up second balls. Doughty’s header which hit the post following Bell’s excellent delivery showcased how Luton were looking to target us in these situations.
However, after the opening 20 which was littered with unforced errors from ourselves in possession, we started to cause Luton problems, especially in the midfield area.
Luton used a man-marking system in the middle, and on a few occasions we were able to exploit this by creating a free man centrally. This was often with the full-backs, as they were the free players against Luton’s 5-3-2 system.
This caused Luton an issue in a couple of ways:
1. If a midfielder stepped out to press, he would be leaving his man in midfield
2. If their wingback jumped out to press, this would leave space behind in the channel
A few of our best moments during the half came from these situations, such as in the build-up of Amad’s strike towards the bottom corner which was well saved by Horvarth.
Second half control
For much of the second half we were on top, and continued to exploit Luton’s system in a similar manner to how we did in the first half.
When we were building up, which dropped both fullbacks into quite a deep position, which constantly gave us an easy pass out past the Luton press. This deeper position also meant it was a massive distance for the wingback to cover to jump out to press, and therefore put more responsibility on their strikers to do this (and is a far harder job).
Dajaku’s withdrawal and Amad’s switch to striker also gave us a better foothold in the game. As he has done in previous matches, Amad played as a false 9, which further overloaded Luton in their midfield area. This allowed us to push our fullbacks on as their midfield three were occupied with their man-marking tasks, and their wingbacks were pinned back by Clarke and Roberts’ positioning on the touchlines.
As a result, we were able to pin Luton in and recycle the ball from side to side, creating some good combinations in wide areas (down the right especially when O’Nien advanced forward).
We also used lots of rotation in the wide areas to disrupt their man-marking. In the first example, Roberts dropped to draw out Bell, Embleton makes the run wide and Amad makes a great underlapping run into the gap created inside. The second example is an outstanding move of how these quick rotations and combinations can be so effective.
Another feature of the second half was how much better we used the width of the pitch. Roberts and Clarke really stayed wide which helped us in a number of ways.
Firstly, they offered us an option for diagonals, but more importantly it allowed us to pin the Luton wingbacks deep and prevent them from getting any pressure on our fullbacks.
Ultimately, this better use of width got us the equaliser. On the right side initially Roberts has Bell pinned back which allows O’Nien to advance as Clarke is 2v1, and then when the ball is switched over to the left Clarke is 1v1 with Bree as Cirkin has prevented the doubling up.
This ability to pin Luton’s wingbacks using width had a massive effect on their ability to press in the later stages of the game and gave us lots of control. Here, for example, the Bell is almost out of picture, their midfield are dragged across and Michut is in acres of space to receive.
As we progress into the final third, this again gives O’Nien all the space to move forward and create the overload down the right.
Considering our previous performance, I thought this was an excellent point at one of the toughest grounds in the division. One of the most impressive aspects was how we stood up to Luton physically, dealing with crosses and set-pieces well on the whole and then exploiting their weaknesses with our quality in possession.
Even though he was only on the pitch for 20 minutes, you could also see how much we’ve missed Ellis Simms/ a striker over the past few weeks. Simms immediately gave us a target to play off, and could have pinched a winner with a well-timed run near the end.
As it stands we have only lost one game to anyone outside of the current top 6 (Boro), so with our next three being Huddersfield, Cardiff and Birmingham, maintaining this run and picking up a win or two will have us in a really good position heading into the World Cup break.