In the past few seasons, James Morrison has firmly established himself as one of West Brom’s key performers under the successful spells of first Roy Hodgson and now Steve Clarke. Morrison has been at his most successful and influential for Albion when played in central midfield, often just behind the striker.
That’s why it was baffling to see Morrison shunted into a wide role in the opening game of the season against Southampton, and it was all together less surprising that West Brom’s attacking threat was far more limited with Morrison playing from the right.
Against Everton, Steve Clarke made the right call in switching formation back from the 4-4-2 he tried against Southampton back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that Morrison thrived in last season.
It was not surprising to see that The Baggies had more of an attacking threat against Everton using the 4-2-3-1 formation, as they created 7 chances compared to the 5 created against Southampton, and registered more shots on goal; 7 shots at Goodison park, 6 at The Hawthorns. It was also not surprising that Morrison had far more influence on the game at Everton.
Against Southampton, Morrison found it difficult to get into the positions where he is at his most effective, in the middle of the pitch collecting the ball and surging towards the penalty area or slotting passes in behind the defence. This was mainly down to the fact he was placed out wide, but also becauseNicolas Anelka also likes to drift into these positions, thus nullifying Morrison’s threat somewhat, particularly as that is one less option for Morrison to threat a ball into the path.
Passing and Creativity
Against The Saints, Morrison did get more touches of the ball in the wide area(47) than he did against Everton in the central area(45) but it was his passing and creativity stats that demonstrate the negative effect of 4-4-2 on Albion’s playmaker. Morrison attempted 32 passes, with a completion rate of 75% against Southampton. In the game with Everton, Morrison attempted 31 passes but was successful with 85% of these passes.
The significant stat is that Morrison played 28% of his passes against Southampton backwards, away from goal, with only 31% of his passes going forward, the rest passed sideways into the middle of the park or to Billy Jones overlapping from right back. Against Everton, Morrison played 35% of his passes forward but more importantly only 23% of the passes back and away from goal.
Morrison had a far better pass completion rate in the attacking zones against Everton, 79% compared to the 64% he achieved against Southampton, although Morrison did attempt more passes in the attacking zone against Southampton. The Scottish international had the same amount of passes in the final third against both teams(10) but again Morrison achieved a far better completion rate against Everton, 77%, than against Southampton, 63%.
He was still not at his most influential creatively, only making one chance for his team-mates, though this can be put down to the fact Albion still had far less possession than their opponents. The fact Morrison created 0 chances against Southampton should tell you all you need to know about how threatening West Brom were on the opening day of the season.
It was also noticeable against Everton that Morrison got himself into far more threatening positions than he did against Southampton, which comes from being played behind the striker. Morrison only managed one shot against Southampton, which was off target.
Against Everton, Morrison had West Brom’s best chance of the match and forced Tim Howard into a fine save to deny him, whilst he also had two other attempts on goal, making him the Albion player with the most shots against Everton.
It is clear not just from the statistics but from watching the games themselves, that West Brom are a far more potent attacking threat when Morrison is used from a central position. With Albion’s lack of options up front, it’s vital Clarke persists with Morrison in this role as he looks for other ways to cover the loss of Romelu Lukaku’s goals from last season.