The Pilgrims make the long trip up North to the Mazuma with three wins in their last three in League one, scoring ten and conceding just two. Ryan Lowe´s only fear – in his pre-match interview – for his table topping side is the potential for being complacent.
On the other hand, Stephen Robinson is trying to lift the spirits of his Shrimps side, who have seen three defeats from the last three, all on the road, conceding ten and scoring six.
I’m delighted to have the assistance of Plymouth fanatic Ben Fuller to bring me insights from the summit of League One! With both sides scoring for fun, he shares his expectations for his visit,
¨Goals. There have been 28 goals in the past 6 games for Morecambe. The last 6 Argyle games have seen 19 goals. With Argyle recently forfeiting some of their defensive grit for a more attacking style of play, I think Morecambe will have opportunities to score with Phillips and Stockton. Argyle made a fast start on Tuesday against Bolton and I think we will look to attack from the off and press high to force the Morecambe backline into mistakes.¨
Comfortably dismantling Ian Evatt´s Wanderers side at a rain-soaked Home Park, involved three unanswered goals and one of EFL´s most iconic goals so far this season.
A counter-attack in the 94th minute found Danny Mayor one-on-one with Bolton keeper Joel Dixon. After chipping the ball past Dixon and with a gaping open goal directly in front of him, a simple placed drive would make it a third, surely?
No! Despair and frustration all around as the ball got stuck in the rain-drenched pitch. The ´baton´ was then handed onto Ryan Hardie who, despite his prolific form, was also stopped by the saturated surface.
It was left to Ryan Broom to lash the ball home from within the 6-yard box to finish the job. Dixon may as well have been a spectator behind the goal for the 9 seconds it took Plymouth to finish the move from when Mayor had initially out-done the Trotters´ shot stopper to the ball nestling behind the line.
Cue wild celebrations with slides you´d expect from a water slide you lay on your lawn – not a rainy night on the South coast! It seems somewhat symbolic to Argyle´s grit, that even extreme elements cannot stop them scoring at the moment! Wyscout had their expected goals as an impressive 2.97 to 0.33 in favour of the winners.
Meanwhile, Morecambe lost 3-1 in a confidence-denting result against fellow promoted side Cheltenham Town. A performance, particularly from a defensive point of view, which left even the most faithful Shrimp troubled for League One safety prospects.
However, it’s worth asking ourselves, would we have taken 18th spot after 13 games in our first ever season in League One with 4 wins already? If we expected it all to go plain sailing with a squad of 17 new players, then perhaps we need to re-align our expectations.
With the expertise of Ben we´ll review team selections, Argyle´s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities against them and threats we can expect from Plymouth.
Robbo said in his pre-match interview that he wanted to ´take the shackles off them´ and that,
¨It’s about being brave and making brave decisions. Stepping forward. Getting back to our DNA. Pressing people, landing on the ball and passing the ball¨.
We recruited with a 4-3-3 in mind and it’s been our most used formation under the former-Northern Irish international. According to Wyscout, The Shrimps have set up this way in 48% of League One minutes with 5-3-2 used 15% of the time.
4-3-3 easily turns into 4-1-4-1 when out of possession, so in reality we’ve used a hybrid of the two in 60% of our games. I fully expect us to line-up with 4-3-3 to play to our strengths and attempt to exploit the gaps in Ryan Lowe´s 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 system in the wide areas.
There´s aspects of the way we were playing against Accrington for 40 minutes, before Shane McLoughlin´s red forced a tactical change, which we can use for this fixture. Stanley were set-up in a similar 3-5-2 to what we´ll expect from our opposition, and despite us only having 36% possession, we had a system which could hurt them on the break.
Jonah Ayunga wasn´t available for either of these fixtures, but I still expect Robbo to go with his more natural wide options of Arthur Gnahoua and Wes McDonald. The pair will be tasked at getting into the pockets of space behind the wing-backs, on the counter, and delivering crosses into the box. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked if he continued with Ayunga. He has hinted, before on a ShrimpsNet podcast, that he prefers to have a hybrid CF/wide forward alongside Cole and a more natural wide player as the three forward players.
Out of possession, this may turn into a 4-1-4-1 with both wide forwards dropping deep to follow their attacking wing-backs and Toums to sit between the lines.
Sadly, Alfie McCalmont passing finesse will be missing due to a thigh strain he picked up during international duty. On the plus side, Shane McLoughlin returned against Cheltenham and was one of our bright sparks. He played at wing-back, in a role he often played at AFC Wimbledon, but I envisage he’ll return to the middle of the park to add his extra bite´ and box-to-box energy.
The other area I’m slightly torn is at left back between Liam Gibson and Greg Leigh. Both players offer great options, but I believe a fully fit Leigh is the favoured option for his athleticism, power and forward thrust on the ball. When we signed him Robbo suggested, if Greg had not had his injuries he´d be playing at a higher level. Therefore, it’s not a giant leap to suggest a fit Leigh has the potential to be the best player on the pitch in a League One contest.
Despite conceding 3 goals mid-week at the Jonny-Rock´s Stadium, Jökull Andrésson came away with credit in the bank. He pulled off some decent saves to keep us hanging in the game and there’s no reason why he won’t keep his spot for Saturday.
¨Everything is very settled in terms of tactics for Ryan Lowe. We have played 5-3-2 in every game so far this season and we are so used to the patterns of play and structure of the team in this formation. The only selection headache for Lowe will be with the front two. Jordan Garrick has started up front in the last two games after a sensational performance of pace and power against Oxford. However, I feel like Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie offer the most balanced front two and Lowe will want them both starting now that they are both match fit.¨
Ben is delighted with the balance and structure of his side,
¨It has been a perfect season so far for Argyle. We have a superb balance in midfield at the moment with Jordan Houghton, Ryan Broom and Panutche Camara. Houghton provides the calm passing presence at the base of the three, he often picks up the ball from the centre backs and has superb distribution out to the wingbacks.
Camara is all legs and energy and will lead the press from midfield, arriving late in the box and surging through box-to-box. Broom has been superb recently and provides the team with great link up with the front two and a dribbling ability to break at speed.
I think we will look to impose our style from the first minute of the game on Saturday and give Morecambe no room to breathe in the midfield.¨
With The Shrimps´ well-documented fragilities in defence, it appeared like Michael Duff selected his Cheltenham side to be aggressive in the forward-line. As Ben has suggested, I would expect Ryan Lowe to demand his side start on the front foot and look to pin us in early on.
One area they troubled Bolton was via the crosses of wing-back Connor Grant who delivered nine crosses with three hitting their target.
Grant got in more advanced positions than his left-wing back team Joe Edwards – illustrated in their heat maps below.
This move below against Wanderers illustrates how Grant (number 15) loves to quickly get forward and deliver a dangerous low-ball into the box with his left foot.
In these situations, if your full back stops the cross at source and clears for a corner you´d understandably feel a short-term sense of relief. Think again! Argyle scored off the back of two corners last Saturday.
According to Wyscout, they have won the 3rd highest number of corners in the division (79) and have scored 4 goals from corners in League One. They’ve yet to score a header, though.
Reviewing their corners, they are particularly sharp at winning first contact to put the ball back in dangerous areas and are also quick to recycle cleared balls.
In open-play Plymouth are equally troublesome and lead the way for shots in League One (152) according to The Analyst.
Another area where The Pilgrims are strong is countering at break-neck speed. Their leading scorer Ryan Hardie, with 8 league goals and 2 assists, has blistering pace to get in behind. He completed 5 of his 7 dribbles successfully against Bolton and has proven he´s ice cool in one-on-one opportunities.
It’s difficult talking about weaknesses of a side so comfortable in their system, who have not lost in 13 games since their opening day defeat to Rotherham United on the 7th August.
Ben feels the lack of options is their one Achilles heel,
¨As we have been starting games so strongly and getting early goals, there has been a bit of a drop off in quality in the second halves of games recently. We are not blessed with strength in depth and with George Cooper and Niall Ennis still out and Danny Mayor only just coming back to fitness, I think we are vulnerable if we haven’t got the lead after the first 60 minutes as we don’t have the ability to change the team radically if needed.¨
There´s no doubt the pure opportunistic nature of Cole Stockton to pull a rabbit from the hat with a goal has helped Morecambe. Some argue this is a weakness as players do have natural drop offs when they have strong purple patches. If so, you could make the same case for Argyle logically. Plymouth have outscored their expected goals more than The Shrimps have with a net positive of 6.96 compared to 4.28. Essentially, Argyle are ´finding more rabbits´ than Robbo´s men have, so you could perhaps expect a levelling out at some point.
According to Wyscout, Ryan Lowe´s men have the second highest number of ball losses in the division (1653). When you combine that with the fact that they have a lower than average press intensity, it suggests they will give you opportunities to play. Their PPDA is 11.21 compared with 10.15 with a lower PPDA illustrating a more intense press.
Before we get too excited about the ball losses, it’s worth considering their 5,351 passes is 691.75 more than the League One average (1,419 more than Morecambe´s) and could explain why their absolute numbers of ball losses are high. More passing of the balls leads to more opportunities for errors.
Their passing average of 79.2% outperforms the League One Average of 77.84, so they aren’t more sloppy than the average side. Still, it does mean if a team is patient they will at least be given the ball, as opposed to a side like MK Dons or Bolton (when on form) who will strangle you with possession!
OPPORTUNITIES AGAINST ARGYLE
Ben suggested if a side can still be in the frame heading into the latter third of the game, Argyle don´t have a lot coming off the bench to push them over the line,
¨When reviewing some of our recent goals conceded, there have been a few that have come from wide areas where the opposition wide players have got in behind our wing backs and crossed a ball over to the back post or towards the edge of the penalty box for an opposite winger or midfield runner from deep. Someone like Adam Phillips might get some joy with some late runs in the box.¨
Whilst a clean-sheet seems almost unimaginable for a side who is conceding 1.71 goals per game this season and 3.33 in the last 3 games, keeping it as tight as possible may be our best opportunity.
This doesn’t mean playing without aspirations to score or attack when we win the ball. As Carlon suggests in his quote, looking to limit space with full gusto is better than a half-baked solution.
It wouldn’t look pretty and if it didn’t end in a result, it may lead to discontent in certain corners, but it could perhaps be our most likely way of getting a result. By allowing a side onto us, we open up the opportunity for our wide players to bring in the spaces when we win the ball back.
It also means Adam Phillips´ killer passes could find Cole in more space with a quick transition.
Another area we should look to exploit are down the wide channels, left open in a 3-5-2 system.
When you review Plymouth´s heatmap from their Bolton game, there seems to be an apparent lack of ball possession in the right side of their defence. The majority of Joe Edward´s 64 touches are either on the half way line or mid-way into the opposition’s half out wide.
A clever ball into the channel for either Gnahoua or McDonald – depending who is playing on the left – or even Greg Leigh if he can get beyond Edwards could prove fruitful. If they find themselves in possession, they could either try to take on James Wilson in their right centre back position or hit an early cross to Cole Stockton, feed Adams Phillips for one of his classic runs into the box or even the opposite wide-forward coming centrally.
Ben sees their leading marksmen Hardie or their wing-backs to be their biggest threat,
Hardie’s pace is frightening and if he gets behind the defence of the Shrimps, he normally scores when 1 on 1. Look out for James Wilson or Brendan Galloway sending long balls down the channels into Hardie to get in behind, especially if Morecambe shut down the short pass into Houghton. Our wingbacks, Conor Grant and Joe Edwards, are both centre midfielders by trade and love to cut inside. They are both comfortable on the ball and are excellent at linking the ball into Houghton so that he can progress the ball forward from midfield as well.
For the dangers of Hardie´s blistering pace, we can’t afford to be caught with a high line. For this reason, I believe we may be suited to play a 4-3-3 that turns into a 4-1-4-1 out of possession and be somewhat cautious about throwing men forward.
I believe we’ve proven in our games so far we´ve got quality ball-carriers and Cole Stockton to move the ball forward without being too gung-ho. This doesn´t mean we shouldn´t shuffle up as a unit. Infact, quite the opposite. Some of our best play has come from overloads in the final third at The Mazuma Stadium, so we must move quickly back and forth up the pitch. This requires hard work and commitment for all members of the team to carry out their roles efficiently in defence and attack. I am excited to see Shane McLaughlin back in action. For me, he epitomises what will be required in terms of work-rate and endeavor in order to get a result.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
There’s no doubting the task on hand for The Shrimps. To sufficiently stop the threats from The Pilgrims, it’s going to require better performances as a collective than we´ve seen in the last 2 ½ games (we were excellent for 45 minutes against Wycombe). As discussed, they will likely look to take the initiative, capitalise on set-pieces in 2nd and 3rd phrases and have bags of pace to counter given the chance.
Plymouth players and fans will arrive with the confidence they’ve not been beaten since the opening day.
That being said, if last season is anything to go by, we know that special things can happen on the Lancashire coast. The Shrimps, as relegation favourites in League Two, pulled off a promotion against all odds. Is this task anymore difficult than what was achieved last year?
The Mazuma Stadium support has been sensational this season. It can be easy for any of us to forget what great progress we´re making on and off the pitch when we hit a bad run of results.
I’m confident, if we put in a performance to the level we’ve shown we can, we can go toe to toe with Plymouth with the Shrimps matching them and getting something from this clash.
I would like to say a thank you to Ben Fuller for his brilliant insights.
Don´t forget to follow him on Twitter
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