Before the start of 2023/24 season, Luton town had never step foot in Premier League. Rob Edwards, who arrived in the midst of the 2022/23 season oversaw the ‘Hatters’ long time dream come true as they defeated Coventry in the Play off Finals to ensure a place in 2023/24 Premier League season.
But as quick as they rose from rock bottom to the top, the reality of the competition that Premier league offers has also hit the Hatters hard. As of writing this article, Luton languish in the bottom of the table without any points yet. They play Fulham at Craven Cottage this Saturday, what can the Hatters improve tactically to finally get points on board? Let’s examine –
Luton Town’s Game Model and System: The good and Bad Things
A) The Good: Luton’s in possession Ideas, usage of Hybrid CB-FB’s
Pic 2, 3, 4: Brighton’s Buildup and Final 3rd Execution
In my opinion, Luton’s buildup and chance creation ideas are really good. Against both Brighton and West Ham like the above pics illustrate, Edwards’s usage of a 4 back buildup in a 4-1 or 4-2 where one of the wingbacks (could be Giles or Doughty) is generally stationed high has potential to pay dividends eventually.
Let’s look at it in more detail: In Pic 2, against West Ham, Luton built with a 4-2, usually having Chong and Nakamba as the support structure behind Barkley’s free Number 10 role, while RCB Reece burke in possession plays as the RB as Doughty is pushed high. Again in Pic 3, we see similar concepts, this time LCB Amari’i Bell plays as the LB, Ryan Giles is stationed high. The best advantage this generates is it enables the usage of 3v2’s in final 3rd out-wide (In Pic 4, we see Brighton defender that’s pinned by No.9 Morris is rushing to defend Ryan Giles who has ample space to hit the cross to Adebayo, the 2nd striker inside box).
To put the ideas described into a simple clip, Rob Edwards strongly emphasises on using the 3rd man combination with the Wingback stationed high and hopes pinning CB’s of opposition teams that defend with a back 4 with Morris can yield them 3v2 situations in the wide after which they use crosses into box as their best bet of chance creation with Adebayo and subsequently Nakamba or Barkley all running onto the 2nd balls.
The Bad: Their 5-3-2 Out of possession System
Pic 5: Ryan Giles in 1v1 against Solly March as he runs back to recover to the 5-3-2 shape
This one might be tad bit or maybe completely unpopular opinion, but Luton’s defensive shape choice is their Achilles heel and let me put this way: it is a consequence of their own in possession ideas.
Because Edwards wants one of his Wingback high to build in a 4-back, whenever they lose possession higher up the pitch, teams can always find the gap that’s behind the wingback because the LCB/RCB tuck in and always leave the wingbacks having to deal with direct 1v1’s and risk leaving a large space behind.
A best example is illustrated in Pic 5, Ryan Giles was too high to track and while Bell has tucked in as the LCB already and can’t leave Welbeck unmarked, Giles is forced to defend himself in a direct 1v1 against March and surrender a huge amount of space behind into which if the Luton 8’s drop, that will leave gaps in Midfield and allow central penetration, an even more riskier threat.
A better illustration is in the clip above, had it not been for Welbeck’s poor decision-making in the final 3rd to not square it to Joao Pedro, it was sure-shot goal for Brighton. But look back at why Welbeck was in that position, even if Giles won the duel, a simple throw into the space we talked about that emerges behind the wingback is enough to penetrate into Luton’s final 3rd.
Ideally in my opinion, a 4-4-2 would be much more efficient, though it will require a more CB-FB capable profile to play in the backline, I’d say Reece Burke being capable of a Fullback during his time at West Ham or Hull City is something for Rob Edwards to retrospect.
Conclusion: Rob Edwards Needs time but also cant afford too much of it
As Rob Edwards spoke in the presser ahead of the Fulham game, he perhaps reflected similar thoughts (Comments via BBC): “We’ve experienced the ruthless nature of the league. We’ve had some tough games but we’ve learnt a lot.”
“We have to learn that we can’t give any gifts away. [We need to be] more compact, resilient and to defend the box very well, but [also] be more ruthless in transitional moments and, when we get the opportunity, have attempts on goal.
“Conceding nine goals in three games is too many and we need to become more defensively solid and not give too many chances away.”
It would be interesting to see what Luton conjure up against Fulham as Edwards would have to get the best balance between what he wants in offence and how he structures Luton off the ball.