Crystal Palace 1-2 Ipswich Town: Two different 4-2-3-1s

Ipswich Town were the winners of an entertaining and unusually high-quality game at Selhurst Park. In terms of the narrative of the game, the turning point was Claude Davis’ red card early in the second half, though the main point of tactical interest lay in both sides’ attempting to exploit the width of the pitch. That the visitors came out on top in this regard was the key to victory.

Crystal Palace lined up with something approximating a 4-2-3-1, but the notation is of limited use given the fluidity of the formation. Neil Danns and Owen Garvan were the two deepest-lying midfielders, with Andy Dorman, Kieron Cadogan and Wilfred Zaha ranged behind the centre-forward Alan Lee. Ipswich started with a similar formation but with more traditional wingers, Andros Townsend and Carlos Edwards, on the left and right flank respectively.

Crystal Palace v Ipswich starting line-ups

A tale of two right-backs

The first half was full of energy and momentum, and both teams tried to capitalise on this by sending players down the right flank. Both the Ipswich right-back Jaime Peters and his Palace counterpart Nathaniel Clyne pushed forward when their team had the ball, while the rest of the back four shifted infield to close the gap.
Although both had a largely attacking brief, Peters and Clyne went about this in different ways. Peters bombed up and down the wing, not only offering wide options for the Ipswich midfield but also freeing up the right-midfielder, Carlos Edwards, to make an impact infield. This strategy worked for Ipswich – although Peters was kept in check by Palace left-back Julian Bennett, the Canadian stretched the home side’s defence and allowed Edwards to take advantage of the space created between left-back and centre-back. It was in this way that Edwards should have opened the scoring, arriving late at the far post to turn Jon Stead’s cross over the bar.
Nathaniel Clyne’s role was similarly attacking, though in getting forward his aim was not to cover the entire flank himself, but rather to overload the Ipswich left side. This tactic enjoyed a degree of success, with Wilfred Zaha and Kieron Cadogan shifting to the right, helping to create 3-versus-2 situations which, with a better final ball, might have produced tangible results. While Ipswich were able to compensate for their right-back’s absence by shifting the rest of the defence over, Jaime Peters’ continual presence out wide meant that Julian Bennett was unable to do the same for Palace. This caused problems for the hosts in other areas.

Palace off the ball (left) and on the ball (right)

Stead and Leadbitter exploit space, Lee isolated

Both Palace and Ipswich deployed lone strikers – Alan Lee for the home side, Jon Stead for the visitors. Stead was well-supported by Grant Leadbitter, the central component of the three players behind the striker, and the two combined well to repeatedly take advantage of the space left by Clyne’s attacking forays.
Alan Lee, meanwhile, was largely isolated up front. The Palace midfield trio of Danns, Garvan and Dorman (nominally the left-midfielder but, as Palace’s attacks were so concentrated down the right, generally moved inside to provide support centrally) sat deep at all times, meaning that even when Lee was able to win headers there was no one breaking from midfield in support. Unlike Stead, who had Leadbitter behind him, Kieron Cadogan’s role was to provide support on whichever flank Palace were attacking, and had little impact in central areas. Ipswich’s dominance in the middle of the park was such that Lee often found himself being marked by Luke Hyam, the defensive midfielder, while the centre-backs Gareth McAuley and Tommy Smith were largely untroubled.

Ipswich in possession

Palace’s deep midfield
As alluded to previously, Palace’s central midfield operated in deep positions. This was mostly to feed passes out to the right, though it also served to prevent Grant Leadbitter from operating effectively ‘between the lines’. Although this had adverse effects, such as isolating the centre-forward, it opened up space from which one of the central defenders to bring the ball forward and perhaps initiate attacks. Unfortunately for Palace, this pocket of space was occupied by Claude Davis, a player hardly renowned for his on-the-ball capabilities. An example, perhaps, of some of the Palace players not being suited to George Burley’s tactical ambitions.

Ipswich quick to make most of numerical advantage

Ipswich took the lead from the spot after Claude Davis hauled down Jon Stead and was sent off, before Leadbitter converted the resultant penalty. The visitors were quick to double their advantage, Grant Leadbitter crossing from the vacated Palace right-back position for Carlos Edwards arrive at the far post and put away an almost identical chance to the one he had missed in the first half. Although Neil Danns pulled one back with a scrappy goal in stoppage time, the match was already decided. That the game was won within a few minutes epitomised its overriding theme – while both sides had a solid system, Ipswich took the points by being quicker to adapt effectively to changing circumstances.

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