Opposition Scouting Report: Luton Town

With a trip to Kenilworth Road on the horizon, I have taken a closer look at our next opponents, Luton Town, and in particular their last two games – the most recent of these came at Pride Park against Derby County.

Derby County 2-0 Luton Town

Here’s how they lined up against The Rams:

After setting up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation in each of their first 13 games of the season, manager Graeme Jones decided to change things up and opted for the 4-1-4-1 formation with Callum McManaman and Harry Cornick playing either side of lone frontman James Collins.

FIRST HALF

I thought Luton did well in the first half at a tough place to go, and played some decent stuff at times. They didn’t create too many chances, however, but they’ve got a clear way of playing and this is what I’ll talk about in this report.

A lot of Luton’s best play came from the wide positions, and they looked to create opportunities for their wide men (either their fullbacks or wingers) to get balls into the box from the byline. They do this by creating 3v3 or 3v2 situations on the flanks, where typically one of the CMs will go over to support the two wide men, and they try to create openings for the crosser through quick, sharp, triangle passes or one-twos which often result in a fullback or winger getting slipped through to the byline in order to get a cross in to the box – with 3 or 4 attackers waiting in the middle.

Below are a few screenshots which will show this in action.

Viewers of Luton Town last season will be very familiar with this move, it proved extremely successful and contributed to the majority of the brilliant Jack Stacey’s 8 assists in League One.

If City set up in their usual away formation of 5-3-2, then naturally they will be outnumbered on the flanks (should Luton play the same way on Saturday) so it will be down to their outside CMs and possibly outside CBs to support the wingback to try and prevent any overloads. The positive, however, is that they will have 3 CBs in the box waiting to defend any crosses into the box.

The below screenshots show another example of this move in action.

Another interesting aspect to Luton’s game is the fluidity of their 3 central midfielders. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie and Ryan Tunnicliffe started this game and they often rotated positions throughout the match. When in possession, any one of the CMs would drop in between the two CBs and the other two would take up more advanced positions further up the pitch. This made them a lot harder to mark as they were constantly switching positions when in possession.

However, when out of possession, Mpanzu tended to be the one who would sit in front of the back four most often, with Tunnicliffe and Shinnie just in front of him, because the ex-West Ham youngster is much stronger and defensively able than than the other two CMs.

Even though most of Luton’s play came down the flanks, and the right flank especially, there was one attack in the first half which came through the middle and, even though they were playing a 4-1-4-1, showed off what they look to do in their diamond set up (I will talk about this more later when I look at their last home game vs Millwall). The striker Collins dropped deep and took up a good position between the midfield and defence and, when he received the ball, he turned and tried to play a ball through to winger Cornick – who made a run in behind from out to in. It didn’t amount to anything, but this could be dangerous against City, especially if they play a back three as there will be gaps to exploit either side of the outside CBs.

I guess I should talk about the goal that gave Derby a 1-0 lead at half time! If you haven’t seen it already, in the 11th minute Matty Pearson played what seemed to be an innocuous pass back to keeper Sluga, who failed to control it and the ball rolled under his foot and into the net. It was a shocking error from the Croatian international, and one Graeme Jones just couldn’t legislate for. In fact, Sluga was at fault for the second goal as well. In the second half, Tom Lawrence mis-hit a cross from the right flank and it should’ve been easily dealt with by Sluga. However, he was caught out of position and couldn’t get back in time to keep it out. Having watched every goal Simon Sluga has conceded this season, if I’m being kind, 8 out of 20 of them have been down to his errors. If I’m being critical, then 10 out of 20 were down to the Croat. He’s a clear weak link for The Hatters, however I believe he’ll finally be taken out of the firing line on Saturday – with 2018/19 promotion winner James Shea waiting in the wings.

SECOND HALF

Again, the second half was pretty even and if it wasn’t for the two freak goals in either half, Luton would’ve got something out of this game.

What was a clear theme in the first half carried on in the second. The Hatters kept trying to find openings down the flanks. On one occasion, right back Bree took up a more central position, occupying Tom Lawrence (who was in the LB position at the time) which created space for Cornick on his outside. The ball came to the winger, and his low cross was a dangerous one.

Later on in the half, yet again 3 Luton players combined down the wing and their quick, triangle passes created an opening in behind. This time it was down the left and it was left back Potts, Tunnicliffe (who drifted wide, with McManaman taking his place in the middle) and Shinnie. Potts’ cross was put behind for a corner, with four players waiting in the box.

In the 63rd minute, The Hatters switched to their usual diamond formation, with Izzy Brown coming on for Callum McManaman. Brown played at the tip of the diamond, in a half-false 9, half-number 10 position, Collins moved to the left as a wide striker, and Cornick played as a wide striker on the right.

Basically, something like this:

Although their starting positions were quite wide, Collins and Cornick were constantly looking to make diagonal runs in behind, from out to in.

Soon after this substitution & tactical change, Brown picked the ball up from deep, nutmegged Derby CM Bielik, and ran at the defence. He then slipped a ball through to Cornick (who made a nice, diagonal run in behind) and his cross was flapped away by Roos. This was a similar patttern of play to the one in the first half where Collins tried sending through Cornick, and it is a common move Luton try when playing in this system.

Izzy Brown added a spark when he came on, in the sense that he could dribble past players and run with the ball in central areas, committing defenders.

As I said near the top of the page, Luton didn’t create too many chances, but you could still see how they look to fashion out opportunities. On the other hand, Derby didn’t create many chances either, so there’s not a lot to say about Luton Town in a defensive aspect, other than Mpanzu was a good, physical presence in front of the back four and both of Derby’s goals were freakish and down to big errors.

This was the first time this season that Graeme Jones deviated from the 4-4-2 diamond formation. Was this a one-off, or should City expect to line up against the 4-1-4-1 on Saturday?

Luton Town 1-1 Millwall

Seeing as we’re playing at Kenilworth Road this weekend, I thought it would be useful to see how Luton play at home, so I’ve also watched their game vs Millwall (which was the game before they took on Derby).

Here’s Luton’s starting XI against the Lions:

This was the thirteenth time in a row that Graeme Jones set his team up in the 4-4-2 diamond formation, and exactly like how they ended the Derby game, Brown operated in a part-false 9, part-number 10 role, with Collins and Cornick playing as wide strikers. Also, Butterfield started as the deepest midfielder in this game, with Mpanzu and Tunnicliffe ahead of him.

FIRST HALF

As I said above, The Hatters started the game with Collins as a wide striker on the left, tasked with making runs from out to in. However, I don’t think this gets the best out of the Irishman – I believe he’s at his best when he plays centrally with his back to goal rather than wide left looking to run in behind. Although he’s not a typical target man, and has a bit of pace and good feet, playing him on the left just doesn’t get the best out of his best attributes. Perhaps Luton would be better off if he swapped positions with Brown?

One of the biggest chances of the first half fell to Harry Cornick. Mpanzu drove forward with the ball (which he’s great at), beat a couple of players before laying it off to left back Potts to whip in a cross from the byline. Cornick arrived at the back post from his wide striker position and should’ve scored the header. Should Luton start with this formation, then this is something Bristol City need to watch out for – the back post runs into the box by the wide strikers, when the ball’s on the opposite flank.

A minute later and James Collins almost scored from a corner – his near post flick was well saved by Bialkowski. In fact, Luton are very strong from set-pieces in general, they have scored the joint most in the league from them (6). Something else for Lee Johnson to watch out for.

A drawback with this system, or perhaps just with Izzy Brown, is that he never looks to get into the box when the team has a crossing opportunity. For example, in the 23rd minute, after good work on the right hand side, Cornick floated a ball in to the box but there was only James Collins to aim at in the middle. This occurred throughout the match (until Luton found themselves a goal down), and if Brown attempted to get into the box at every opportunity then it would’ve caused a lot more problems for the Millwall defence – even if he isn’t the strongest in the air.

SECOND HALF

Like against Derby, Brown was looking to receive the ball between the opposition’s midfield and defence, then turn and run at the back four whilst looking to slide through one of the wide strikers – and the Chelsea loanee was able to do this a lot more in the second half. Should Luton play the same way at the weekend, if Bristol City can stop Brown, they will minimise The Hatters’ threat through the middle.

Luton were much better in this match, and created a lot more chances than they did away to Derby, however it was the Lions who took the lead at Kenilworth Road in the 60th minute. No one got tight enough to Jed Wallace on the edge of the box, and he was able to get a cross-cum-shot away which was parried by Sluga (another error in my opinion) straight into the path of the sliding Tom Bradshaw.

In response, Jones switched to the 4-1-4-1, bringing on wingers LuaLua and McManaman for Butterfield and Cornick. James Collins moved to his best position (central striker), and Izzy Brown dropped back to CM.

Straight away, winger LuaLua ran at Millwall’s right back and managed to put in a dangerous low cross towards James Collins, whose near post effort was saved. As you’d expect, the number of bodies in the box improved when Luton went a goal down. Collins, McManaman and Brown were all in there now, as opposed to just Collins like it was at times before the Millwall goal.

Luton managed to equalise with 4 minutes to go through Callum McManaman. Substitute Luke Bolton’s low cross from the byline (yes, another low cross from the byline!) was converted at the near post by fellow sub McManaman – who drifted into the box.

IN SUMMARY

I’ll summarise what I’ve said above into some bullet points.

When playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation:

  • Luton often try to create crossing opportunities out wide by creating 3v2 or 3v3 scenarios. They carve out openings for the crossers through quick, one-touch play.
  • The 3 CMs are very fluid and rotate positions when in possession. Mpanzu sits in front of back four when out of possession.

When playing in a 4-4-2 diamond formation:

  • The two strikers start off in wide positions and look to make diagonal runs in behind.
  • The tip of the diamond sits in between the opposition’s midfield and defence, and looks to slide through one of the wide strikers when he receives the ball.
  • The wide striker on the opposite flank attacks the far post from crossing situations, however the tip of the diamond sits on the edge of the box. Thus meaning there are few bodies waiting in the middle.

In general:

  • Luton love low crosses from the byline!
  • They’re great at set pieces, the joint best in the league.
  • Simon Sluga is in awful form and is very error prone.

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