INTRODUCTION

You´d have been forgiven for writing off Burton Albion´s League One survival chances, when for the second time, Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink was appointed their manager, on the 1st January this year in season 20/21. On his arrival, The Brewers found themselves 6 points adrift from safety, having played 3 games more than Rochdale in 20th. 

The Dutchman, a former Premier League forward, produced a miracle. Under the previous regime they had averaged 0.62 points per game, whilst under him they averaged 1.76 and finished 16th. Ten points ahead of relegated Rochdale. To put into context, extrapolating over 46 games, this form would have given them 81 points (Blackpool finished 3rd with 80 points).

Burton´s League One position 2020 / 2021 from BBC

The fans from the Staffordshire outfit would have been particularly encouraged by three wins from three at the start of this season – including wins over pre-season promotion favourites Sunderland and Ipswich. 

Since then, they’ve won just 1 in 9 games to dampen the mood somewhat.

I’m delighted to have the expertise of Edward Walker – co-host of D3D4 Podcasts and Burton Albion die hard – to help pick apart what lies ahead in this fixture.

Edward expects the following, 

¨Honestly, a battle! Morecambe have been a bit of a free-scoring team so far, a side that find the back of the net themselves but also give the opposition goal scoring opportunities as well. Burton on the other hand, are probably the opposite of that. They are a team who aspire to keep clean sheets and make use of key moments to decide matches. It’s been narrow margins in their wins so far and I would expect the same from this match.

Morecambe, I  expect will have more of the possession, possibly plenty more. Burton have shown themselves to be a side better without having more of the ball. It enables them to keep a solid defensive structure, win possession and then hit the opponent on the counter when (their) numbers have been committed forward. ¨

Interestingly, Burton´s four wins in League One this year have all come when they’ve had less possession than their opposition – averaging 41.28% in those games according to Wyscout (credit to Joel Shooter for bringing this stat to my attention). 

That being said, Morecambe are hardly ball possession heavy with an average of 44.7% possession, slightly less than Burton´s 44.9%. 

Through this preview, with the assistance of Edward, we´ll review the selection questions for both managers, whilst also reviewing Burton´s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities against Burton and Threats from them.  

SHRIMPS´ SELECTION DECISIONS

I tend to think Stephen Robinson will return to his favoured 4-3-3 formation.  The 5-3-2 which worked a treat in the first half against Wycombe, having brought Ryan Delaney into the side to try and combat the aerial threat of Sam Vokes.

The Gaffa was furious with the defending, which allowed Wycombe to score four and secure all three points in injury time. Delaney also seemed to pick up a knock during this game, so he may be a doubt although the international break will have given him a chance to heal. 

Reading that back is a surreal reminder of how our fortunes have changed recently. How many League One sides have had their season disrupted by the World Cup Qualifiers? 

Leeds-loanee, Alfie McCalmont, has been selected for U21´s and full Northern Ireland match day squads.

The Shrimps have had 13 days break since the defeat at Adams Park and I’m certain Robbo will have been working on strategies to keep it tighter at the back – particularly from set pieces. 

In central midfield, Shane McLaughlin will have to serve the final game of his three match ban and Alfie McCalmont was with Northern Ireland´s full international squad which creates a decision for Robbo. Alfie was an unused substitute for both games away to Switzerland and Bulgaria, but The Shrimps boss could use this chance to give another player an opportunity. Callum Jones has yet to feature regularly, but has given a good account of himself whenever called upon and was dependable for 96 minutes in the Papa John´s Trophy against Hartlepool. 

Aaron Wildig, who has only featured in 77 League One minutes, is another option who played the full game in the cup. Aarron has been recovering from illness, so I believe the Gaffa will go for Callum. It wouldn’t shock me if McCalmont started though, he had his best game during the defeat to Wycombe and scored to top it off.

The other area where I believe there will be a change is in the wide areas. Jonah Ayunga looks to have the bit between his teeth and is looking more dangerous as an attacking threat with each game. He also scored his first goal for The Shrimps against the Chairboys in Buckinghamshire with a beautiful top corner strike from the right outside the box.

Jonah Ayunga celebreating his goal against Wycombe (photo from Morecambefc.com)

He also looked threatening during the Hartlepool game, in which he played a full match for the first time since injury. His direct driving runs and strength will give the Burton defence a distraction from Cole ´the goal´ Stockton. I anticipate he´ll take the place of Wes McDoanld, who can be used as a highly effective substitute. 

ED´S ALBION SELECTIONS

¨Hasselbaink and Maamria have a load of players to pick from. A busy summer window, on top of an almost as busy January window the season before, has left the Burton squad looking its healthiest in terms of numbers for a long, long time. When everyone is fit, there is notable depth in every position, and I’m not sure every Burton fan would currently be able to agree on their strongest XI as the options, particularly up top, are vast.¨

Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink (from Burtonalbionfc.couk)

¨Consistent fitness has been one of the key issues so far, though. Players have had periods out of action, particularly those who play in forward and deeper midfield positions. On top of that, a couple of the summer signings, namely striker Louis Moult and defender Sam Hughes, have yet to feature this season because of injury. Moult in particular likely won’t play a part until the New Year.

There are plenty of options within the squad, but it could still be a while yet until we get full squad selection available and get to see Burton at completely full strength.¨

ALBION´S STRENGTHS

Edward believes they’re strong from dead ball situations, but believes they´ve not fully utilised them yet, 

¨We have also been a team who offer a strong set piece threat, particularly from corners and free-kicks but also we have a player in Tom Hamer who has a long throw in his locker. Burton’s conversion rate from that throw has been very poor so far, and there’s a worry that it’s become too predictable to be used as often as it does.¨

This is supported by the data from The Analyst. Extraordinarily, Burton Albion are the only side in League One to have a higher expected goal from set pieces than from open play – 7.8 to 7.3 expected goals. 

https://dataviz.theanalyst.com/season-reviews/2021/?competition_id=11&season_id=2021

Burton have also created the highest number of shots from set-pieces with 64, but for all this, they have only turned three of those into goals. 

Edward believes it´s the centre backs who are most likely to capitalise on these opportunities at the Pirelli Stadium, 

¨Conor Shaughnessy who will either look to complete a flick-on or attack the goal himself. Ryan Leak has become popular with fans for his no-nonsense approach to defending and it feels like a goal is on the way for him at some point this season as well.

Conor Shaughnessy´s 21/21 League One shot map from Wyscout

The 25 year old Irishman, Shaughnessy, has managed 5 attempts on target in the last 6 games. All have been from within the box and three of the five have been headers. 

The wider players will also offer a threat according to Edward,

¨In  Lucas Akins and Jonny Smith, Burton have a pair of wingers who have an exceptional workrate in both offensive and defensive stages. Smith is the particular livewire, springing forward on the counter attack, and a player who can be dangerous cutting in from the right flank onto his left foot.

In League One, Smith has averaged an impressive 6.95 dribbles per game with a 54.4% success rate according to Wyscout. What I notice about him from looking at plenty of match footage and also from the Sky game vs Cheltenham is he likes to hug the touchline and start deeper. His teammates look comfortable finding him early, including simple balls from the right full back. Whilst he does like to cut in on his more natural left foot, he also often asks questions of the opposition defence by going on the outside and putting in a low to mid-height crosses. 

He reminds me of former-Shrimp Carl Baker, who used to cause headaches for EFL defences.

Jonny Smith heat map from Wycout & image from Newschainonline.com

One feature to look out for is Conor Shaughnessy´s diagonal long balls forward to Akins, who is a physical threat for flick ons. According to Wyscout, this was the most common pass combination in the Burton side with 10 passes from Shaughnessy to Akins, in their last League One game against Plymouth.

Edward also believes the coach who scored 127 Premier League goals has a fox in the box, 

¨Kane Hemmings, who scored 15 last season, is a natural poacher. I think his hold-up play and one-touch play can go under the radar at times, but his main skill is being a player who can find space within a crowded box to tap the ball home from close range. It’s unlikely he’ll get a goal from anywhere outside the penalty box, but there’s a good chance one could come if the ball drops to him from within it¨

Whilst Kane has only averaged 42.4 minutes in League One this season, he is a threat every game he features averaging 2.2 shots with 62.5% on target and scoring twice.

ALBION´S WEAKNESSES

Edward sees an issue if their first choice central midfielders are not available: 

From the games so far, Burton’s best deep midfield pairing has looked to be Deji Oshilaja and Tom O’Connor. Both have strong roles within the team, Oshilaja acting as a mobile, combative screen in front of the backline and O’Connor proving to be a more technical player who can provide the link between defence and attack with his simple but progressive passing. There have been games where either one or both of these players hasn’t been available to play in midfield, and you notice the difference. There are certainly others who can play in those deeper positions, but there does seem to be a noticeable drop in quality there.

According to Wyscout, Edward´s preferred combination in deep midfield, O´Connor and Oshilaja, has only been used twice in full games this season, against Shrewsbury and Portsmouth in League One. They won both games. On the flip side, they have only won two games out of ten in which these two haven’t played the whole game together. 

He also has concern about one aspect of their set-piece routine, 

For a team that look to provide a set piece threat, there’s real concern emerging about the efficiency of throw-ins. The move has become really predictable, Hamer’s throw targets the space near to the front place, where  Burton looks to play a flick-in that sends the ball deeper into the six-yard box for people to attack. This method has produced one goal so far, an equaliser at home to Gillingham, and most oppositions have worked out an effective way of dealing with it. It’s become a real frustration with plenty of Burton fans as we know what’s coming, and unless Burton win the first ball, the chance fades away because nothing of note can happen if play goes to a second phase. It’s one of the main things that I really think needs to be worked on because that throw can be such an effective weapon at this level if used well.

Tom Hamer preparing for a throw (Image: Richard Burley/Epic Action Imagery

OPPORTUNITIES AGAINST ALBION

Edward has concerns in terms of his sides strategy to kill games off, 

Burton have also shown to be a team that doesn’t go for the jugular enough. Frustrations came from a recent game against AFC Wimbledon where Burton took a second-half lead, and dropped off rather than looking to push for a second against a team committing more forwards. It’s also a risk when you drop deep to defend a lead, and on this occasion it ended with Wimbledon grabbing a late equaliser to deny what could have been a very good 3 points. Burton aren’t really what I’d consider to be a high-scoring team, but against the quality Morecambe have I think it would be a big risk to try and sit back and see out a 1-goal advantage, should they find themselves with one.

Burton are averaging 0.91 goals per game, whilst Morecambe are averaging almost double with 1.81 goals per game. You’d have to be an EFL fan living under a rock to have not noticed Cole Stockton´s form. His 9 league goals in 11 games has earnt him League One Player of the Month for both September and October, whilst he’s also due to pick up October´s Goal of the Month Award (thanks largely to Southampton fans strategic voting against Portsmouth´s Curtis).  

Cole Stockon´s August & September League One Player of the Month awards (pictures from SkySports & Morecambefc.com respectively)

After the Doncaster defeat on the 18th September, I was concerned we were over reliant on Cole as someone who will stick the ball past the opposition keeper.

Since then, in four league games, we’ve scored eight goals from players who are not Cole Stockton.

Adam Phillips, in particular, has been in deadly form scoring three. Six of Adam´s seven shots from open-play from within the box have been on target. Half of the shots on target have been goals and have all come since the Doncaster game. His late runs into the box are difficult for defenders to pick up! 

Adam Phillips´ League One Shot Map from Wyscout and image from thevisitor.com

I´ve been impressed by Arthur Gnahoua since the start of the season for his work-rate, but his end product has caught my eye lately. Earlier on in the season, he got himself into good positions, then mishit crosses or passes. In the last few games he has looked calm and composed in the business end of the pitch. Against Wycombe, according to Whoscored, he completed three key passes. A key pass is the final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball having an attempt at goal without scoring. 

If Ayunga starts, he won’t be scared to shoot and add to his first goal of the season, which he picked up in our last League One game.

ALBION´S THREATS

Albion have a PPDA a little bit lower than the League One average with 9.14 compared to 10.29, according to Wyscout.

PPDA is an indication of press intensity with a low PPDA indicating an intense press and vice person. Edward believes their press out of possession could be a potentially winning ingredient to the game, 

¨As mentioned previously, the forward line is designed to spring upfield on the counter and take advantage of defences either out of position or low on numbers. 

In an ideal world, Burton’s game plan will be to make Morecambe play out from the back, force mistakes in Morecambe’s half, and capitalise on winning the ball close to the opposition goal. This worked perfectly in a home game against Portsmouth, I can’t see Morecambe being as patient in possession.¨

Jonny Smith pressing high against Portsmouth. This interception started the move for Burton´s first goal.

Burton only had 37.2% possession in their home game vs Portsmouth, but they made 58 interceptons to Pompey´s 36. This allowed them to attack an unprepared back-line and both their goals came from winning the ball high in the Portsmouth half.

It´s likely Albion will attempt the same tactic against The Shrimps in Friday´s game.

Portsmouth´s Mahlon Romeo getting pressed high by Tom Hamer and losing possession. This lead to Burton´s winning goal.

Another potential threat may come in the form of a loanee according to Edward,

Kane Hemmings is a player I mentioned previously, but the alternative striker option, Daniel Jebbison, is someone who can also hurt Morecambe if given the chance. He’s a young forward on loan from Sheffield United, and is slowly adapting to life with an EFL club and looking to become a player with a clinical edge as opportunities are not likely to come his way on a regular basis in this system. He will look to play off the last man if given the opportunity, but has a good size to him as well which could prove useful if the ball is sent up to him so that he can take it down and bring others into play.

The Canadian born 6ft 3 striker on-loan from Bramall Lane was subject of a £5 million bid from Everton. However the bid was rejected due to him being seen as ´the future of the club´ according to Sheffield United chairmain Prince Abdullah.

He has two goals in three games across all competitions and according to Wyscout, he is averaging 1.84 shots per game. In one moment against Plymouth last Saturday, it took him 5 seconds to take the ball approximately half the length of the pitch. Robbo´s men will have to stop him early to ensure he doesnt get a free run at the visiting sides defence.

LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!

Whilst both managers will be looking to keep it tight, the reality is both sides possess threats that can hurt the other in attack. Morecambe have conceded the 3rd most shots and Burton the 4th with 155 and 152 shots respectively. There will be chances at both ends!

We envisage Burton Albion will be content to let The Shrimps have possession in their own half, but set traps to try and win the ball back quickly to create chances.

Equally, Morecambe can play a similar game. Their fast transition when regaining the ball caused Wycombe all sorts of problems in the first half last Saturday.

This game will be decided by who is more confident and comfortable in possession, whilst working the hardest to win the ball in dangerous areas.

I would like to say a big thanks to Edward Walker for his crucial insights and expertise.

Don´t forget to follow him on Twitter and it´s worth checking out his Ground Guide – https://www.thematchdayman.com/ for useful away travel information.

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW

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