Charlton have been one of the Championship’s dark horses so far; Lee Bowyer’s men beat Blackburn 2-1 on the opening day, going on to better that with a 3-1 win at home to Stoke seven days later. They lost on penalties to Forest Green in the Carabao Cup after a stalemate in 90 minutes but Lyle Taylor scored a late penalty in the 2-2 draw with Barnsley, taking his tally to three goals in as many games.
But taking a closer look into the tactics of Bowyer’s men, it’s not easy to see exactly what the young manager has up his sleeve on a game by game basis.
Three different matches in the league this season, three different formations played. Ranging from a 3-5-1-1, to a 4-4-1-1, and a 4-1-2-1-2 narrow. With no matches ending in defeat as an added bonus, we have to ask ourselves why there have been this amount of changes so early on in the season. However, when we look at the oppositions formations for those games in particular, a pattern does appear to emerge.
As you can see from the above formations, it almost appears as if Bowyer is planning his teams shape around the opposition’s formation, as though he is looking to find the perfect counter tactic.
For example; Blackburn Rovers lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, three attacking midfielders to support the lone striker. On this day, Charlton Athletic lined up with three central defenders and five across the midfield with the wingers acting as wing backs. With the sheer amount of players that filled the defensive zones, Charlton managed to nullify their opposition with a very solid a structured defence, and in turn exploit Blackburn’s willingness to throw more bodies forward. Very clever.
But it didn’t stop there; Stoke City lined up with a narrow 4-4-2 diamond. This time Lee Bowyer has his side set up in a 4-4-1-1, with Gallagher behind the striker. But Gallagher was actually much deeper than this formation suggests. It was more of a 4-5-1 with defensive midfielders. They crowded out Stoke’s narrow midfield and were quick to pass out wide to their wingers who had time on the ball. Again, a great counter formation set up.
Then there was their last game; Barnsley lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, not too dissimilar to how Charlton lined up the week before. This time, however, Bowyer had his men set up in a 4-4-2 narrow diamond. The way Charlton played against Barnsley was different from the previous two games and they took the game to Barnsley, possibly as they have just been promoted to the Championship together they may have fancied their chances more. Although, Charlton didn’t pick up the win, Bowyer’s philosophy appears to be taking shape in the Championship already.
Taking a look at the player influence stats below, you can see how Charlton set up in the first two games compared to the third.
When it came to the matches against Blackburn and Stoke, its clear to see that Charlton’s players were deeper in their own half the majority of the game. But this isn’t down to them being on the back foot because of better opposition, Bowyer had his side invite that pressure. After all, Charlton only conceded 40 goals in the league last season albeit in a lower division, Bowyer has every right to faith in what appears to be a solid defence.
Both centre backs stats have been impressive this season, with Lockyer making 9 clearances, blocking 3 shots, and making 2 interceptions, whilst Pearce has made 13 clearances, blocked 3 shots, and made 1 interception. Even more impressive is neither player has been dribbled past once in the three matches they have played. The partnership they have had in such a short period since Lockyer’s move from Bristol Rovers is a testament to Bowyer and his coaching staff.
Inviting the pressure against their opposition and frustrating them is exactly what they did relying on that solid back line, urging both Stoke and Blackburn to push players further forward, which in turn was a trap both clubs fell into. Be it the boldness of the clubs thinking that they were coming up against a club from the league below we’ll never know, but Charlton were able to exploit the space and took the lead in both games. Ultimately going onto win them too.
The Barnsley game although not a winning result, showed that Bowyer had some versatility up his sleeve as he abandoned inviting the pressure and took the game to the Tykes, almost to their detriment. It was an entertaining game but a completely different style to what we had seen in the first two games of the season.
The stats above back this up. Showing that in the first two games they appear to have been on the end of a back to the wall job. Fortunately, stats only tell half of the story and it’s the result that matters. The results that Bowyers men got for him racking up 7 points from a possible 9. Scoring 7 goals from 13 shots on target too, Charlton are proving to be one of the most clinical teams in the Championship right now with Lyle Taylor spearheading their attack.
So what can we expect from the Nottingham Forest game?
In contrast to Charlton’s usual array of different formations, Forest have been extremely consistent in how they have lined up this season, shown below.
Lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation in every game so far, Forest’s structure is clear, and their style of play is established. It’s a formation that offers defensive cover but also the opportunity for their wingers to advance in support of the striker. It is also another formation that Bowyer’s side has yet to come up against so far this season, and it would not be surprising if he has his side line up in a fresh formation to exploit any holes left behind by the advancing wingers.
Forest’s season began with a 2-1 defeat to West Brom, but they responded by holding Leeds to a 1-1 draw, beating Fleetwood 1-0 in the cup and then displaying their ruthless streak on Saturday when Joe Lolley, Lewis Grabban and Michael Dawson scored in the 3-0 triumph over Birmingham.
Charlton boss Lee Bowyer could include new signings Tomer Hemed and Erhun Oztumer in his side to face Nottingham Forest on Wednesday. Hemed moved on a free transfer after leaving Brighton, while fellow forward Oztumer also joined without a fee after being released by financially-troubled Bolton.
Defender Chris Solly will need to be assessed after suffering a head injury in the 2-2 draw at Barnsley on Saturday. The on-loan Beram Kayal is likely to miss out again with a groin injury while Lewis Page, who has not played since October, remains sidelined.
Forest boss Sabri Lamouchi says he is considering freshening up his side despite an impressive 3-0 win over Birmingham at the weekend. Lamouchi is concerned about a round of midweek fixtures so early in the season and wants to ensure there are fresh legs in the side to face Charlton.
Portuguese midfielder Joao Carvalho will travel with the squad as he nears a return from the injury he suffered in pre-season, although – with only a couple of training sessions under his belt – he is unlikely to feature. Yohan Benalouane remains sidelined following surgery.
It is honestly a tough one to call. Forest have a solid squad, but Charlton’s unpredictability under Bowyer is currently paying dividends and there is no reason that can’t continue for a prolonged period this season. For me personally, this has to be one of the games to keep an eye on, on Wednesday.
All diagrams from StatsZone unless stated (@StatsZone)