Aberdeen hosted Livingston in the penultimate game of the weekend in the Scottish Premiership. The home side came into the match on the back of a midweek victory over St Johnstone as they play catch-up following their squad’s isolation period. Livingston have struggled for form in the early matches however a solid display against Rangers the previous week would have encouraged Gary Holt and his side. The home side were victorious thanks to second half goals from Lewis Ferguson and Scott Wright. The visitors drew one back through Scott Pittman but couldn’t find an equaliser.
This tactical analysis will look at how both sides lined up and how their tactics contributed to the outcome of the match. Further analysis will look at the issues which Aberdeen have suffered so far this season and how these were evident in this match.
The home side made five changes from their midweek victory over St Johnstone, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Joe Lewis continued in goal while former Manchester City man Shay Logan replaced Ronald Hernandez at right-back. Scott McKenna returned, replacing Tommie Hoban alongside Ash Taylor in central defence with Jonny Hayes continuing on the left. Former Rangers man Ross McCrorie moved into central midfield to partner Lewis Ferguson with Scott Wright playing ahead of them. Ryan Hedges and Matty Kennedy both came in to start out wide and Marley Watkins made his debut upfront.
Livingston made two changes from their 0-0 draw with Rangers. Robby McCrorie, twin brother of Aberdeen’s Ross, returned in Goal while the midfield and defence remained unchanged. Nicky Devlin and Jack McMillan were asked to get forward from full-back with Jack Fitzwater and Jon Guthrie at the heart of defence. Marvin Bartley was the deepest midfielder with Craig Sibbald often dropping alongside him to link play. Jason Holt and Alan Forrest played narrow, putting emphasis on the full-backs to get forward. Scott Pittman looked to get forward from midfield to support Scott Robinson in attack.
Aberdeen’s build-up struggles and Livingston pressing
In their opening two fixtures, the obvious issue for Aberdeen has been progressing the ball. Derek McInnes’ side has a strong emphasis on getting the ball forward directly from the central defenders. The ball is often aimed into wide areas which sees the central areas of the park neglected. While the change of shape in this match saw the ball played more regularly to Scott Wright in central areas, the midfield two of Ferguson and McCrorie were still often bypassed. This can be attributed to a couple of factors. One being the central defenders opting to play long rather than find their midfielders and the other being that the midfielders often failed to show for possession.
As shown below, Ash Taylor moved the ball wide to Shay Logan. Livingston press with Robinson and Forrest While Craig Sibbald and Scott Pittman track Ferguson and McCrorie in the centre. With Robinson and Forrest pressing a pocket of space is opened up. Had Lewis Ferguson moved into this space, or been better positioned in the first instance, this would’ve given Logan an option rather than being forced into the long ball which resulted in a turnover. Had Ferguson been deeper Logan could’ve played the ball to him before moving wide himself or allowing Ferguson to find Hedges in the wide areas.
Credit should be given to Livingston however, who pressed effectively. Robinson’s pressure on Taylor gave him no option but to go wide to Logan. Alan Forrest’s body position aimed to force Logan wide by blocking any potential pass centrally had the option been on. They had likely assessed Aberdeen’s struggles to progress centrally and aimed to continue forcing them into wide areas where they could then suffocate possession.
For much of the first half Sibbald and Pittman were man-marking Ferguson and McCrorie. This can be seen in the example above, and again below. While Ferguson dropped deep, Sibbald followed with Pittman picking up McCrorie and Bartley Keeping tabs on Wright. Alan Forrest once again positioned himself well between Taylor and Logan giving himself options to press the ball or close a passing lane. Ferguson’s movement bringing out Sibbald created a pocket of space in the centre of the park once again. There are plenty of ways in which Aberdeen could have used this space. Scott Wright and Ross McCrorie could both have made a move into it and taken the ball from Ash Taylor before looking to progress it forward further. Although far riskier and potentially out with his skillset, Taylor could have attempted to carry the ball forward himself which would have altered the dynamic in the centre as players moved around him.
Livingston’s pressing and Aberdeen’s struggles in build-up often went hand in hand. Similarly, to the above examples, the defenders were closed down and penned in forcing them to play long balls. This was made easier for Livingston thanks to Aberdeen’s lack of options. As shown below, Jonny Hayes collected the ball deep in his own half. Marvin Bartley had stepped out onto him forcing him further backwards while Scott Robinson blocked his only passing option. Pittman and Holt on this occasion have the Aberdeen midfielders covered which keeps them penned in using the touchline. While more options could’ve been offered to Hayes had Ferguson or McCrorie dropped into the space between defence and midfield it still would’ve been difficult to get out. This meant Hayes was forced long.
The long ball forward was probably more than a clearance than an attempt to find a teammate. Therefore, it found tis way towards Kennedy rather than the obvious target Watkins. When the ball came forward the Aberdeen attackers found themselves either too close to the ball or not close enough. As shown below, there are two obvious pockets of space available, neither of which are occupied by red shirts. Watkins and Kennedy are very close together so would struggle to help each other while Scott Wright is too far away to get onto a knockdown had Kennedy been able to win the ball. Ryan Hedges is right on the touchline on the opposite side of the pitch. While he can’t be directly involved in the play his presence keeps the attention of McMillan which creates some pace in the defence which could have been exploited. Hedges could also have been a good out ball had Aberdeen been able to touch the ball down before switching it to the Welshman.
Neither side is known for their fast free flowing football, but rather for their pragmatism and organisation. For this reason, it came as little surprise that much of the game consisted of the two sides trying to break each other down. Starting with the home side, they often reverted into a back five when defending with one winger playing as a wing back and the full back tucking in. This was seen most frequently with Ryan Hedges sitting back while Jonny Hayes stepped out from left back while Devlin overlapped for Livingston. This can be seen below. Aberdeen form a back five With Logan tucking in as the right centre-back. Hayes stepped out to face up Nicky Devlin. Devlin’s overlap was a feature of the away teams play. The full back making four crosses, joint most in the match. Jason Holt played as the right midfielder for Livingston however sat very narrow creating the space for Devlin.
Hedges dropping in can be seen again below, this time he is less tucked in with the ball on his side. He stays close to McMillan while the midfielders close down the ball. On the near side, Matty Kennedy had dropped back to cover the onrushing Devlin while Hayes sat narrower. This flexibility allowed Aberdeen to account for the number of bodies which Livingston attempted to get into the box at times.
Livingston were also, unsurprisingly, well disciplined at the back. Off the ball, their full backs stayed in position and didn’t press particularly high. This job was instead, left to the hard-working midfielders ahead of them. As shown below, they have a sturdy back four in place. Marvin Bartley acted as the screen in front of them. Craig Sibbald, Scott Pittman and Jason Holt patrolled the area in front of Bartley picking up attackers or looking to intercept. This structure meant Aberdeen struggled for space and relied on individual quality to pick holes in the defence.
Livingston also looked to crowd Aberdeen out at times by creating overloads. As shown below, they pushed Aberdeen into wide areas, using the touchline as another defender. This tactic was used further up the park but also in the defensive areas as shown here. The midfielders all push into a small space forcing Aberdeen backwards. Jack Fitzwater stepped out of defence to challenge and as he did this, Marvin Bartley dropped into the defence to ensure a gap wasn’t left.
Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the most exciting encounter with neither side getting much of a foothold in the match. Aberdeen suffered from the same issues they have so far in struggling to break teams down. Livingston took advantage of this through their pressing forcing Aberdeen into the wide areas. Both sides defended fairly well with chances at a premium. Their organised defences were rarely breached with goals coming from a penalty and pieces of individual skill for Aberdeen and a driving run from Jack Fitzwater for Livingston. There was a slight improvement from Aberdeen as they began to control the game more however Derek McInnes will still be looking for improvement. Gary Holt’s side still didn’t look particularly dangerous in front of goal and will be eager to replace Lyndon Dykes presence in attack.