Nathan Jones – Luton Town – Tactical Analysis

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Luton Town have been the the surprise package of the EFL Championship this season, particularly from a tactical standpoint, where Nathan Jones has his team firing on all cylinders. Furious over his players’ love for table tennis, Jones has instilled a perfectionist mindset amongst his players that is challenging each and every individual to reach new levels of stardom. The club have been slowly climbing the ladder since being promoted back into the Football League in 2014, and fast forward to now, they sit 5th in the Championship play-off positions with a real chance of reaching dreamland. Here is our tactical analysis of Luton Town under Nathan Jones, with added Football Manager insight from FM expert Dhillon Gill.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-4-1-2

Luton Town have set up in some combination of a 3-5-2 formation in 32 of their 44 matches so far this season, favouring the 3-4-1-2 as the framework for their attacking excitement. Jones has been right in sticking by his favourite system of choice, as the team have accumulated just one win in the five matches they played in a back-four.

When wanting to opt for a more defensive approach and contain the opposition, they may shift into more of a flat 3-5-2 or even a 5-3-2.

Of the notable names, you may recognize the former Arsenal academy product Henri Lansbury, Aston Villa back-up keeper Jed Steer, and the versatile Robert Snodgrass – who enjoyed nine seasons in the Premier League. But the true stars have been some of the lesser known names – such as the exciting young striker Elijah Adebayo. Adebayo’s quadrupled his tally from last season, bagging 16 goals this time around in 40 appearances. The versatile Kal Naismith has also impressed both from a defensive perspective and in terms of goal contribution, scoring 2 goals with 7 assists this season as a defender. With a team of battlers and warriors, Luton excel from set-pieces, winning a significant amount of aerial duels per game (the fourth highest in the league at 24.4). With this in mind, you can probably make your own assumptions about their style of play, and the type of approach they may take to winning football matches. Let’s just say, they don’t win pretty.

DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLES

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Despite their high position in the table, Luton have accumulated just 44.2% of the possession this season – the fourth lowest in the league. But rather than just soaking up all the pressure in their defensively minded 5-3-2, Luton press from the front and then look to hit teams on the counter. They play a direct passing style, with verticality in their quick transitions, and constantly search for their target men up front from any situation.

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Defensively resilient and well organized, Luton prefer to create traps centrally and force the opposition into making mistakes, rather than settling on the ball. Therefore, they often attempt to force the play into the middle, where the pressing traps come to life. While man-marking is often scrutinized in the modern game, Jones elects for a predominantly man-to-man marking scheme, whereby his players mark tight and look to win the ball back as soon as possible. With two central midfielders often sitting in front of Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Jones often leaves the Congolese midfielder free to sweep in behind and screen the opposition striker, anchoring the back-line. In their compact structure, Luton leave little room to penetrate through the middle. Opposition teams often combat that concern by opting for overloads in the wide areas, where Luton’s compactness can come back to bite them. Luton have conceded 20 crosses per game through their narrow defense, the fourth most in the league. But in their organized 5-3-2 low-block, Jones’ men gather in numbers around the width of the eighteen, clearing the ball out of danger time and time again.

Having conceded just 48 goals in their 44 matches, Luton have achieved wonders this season, and Jones’ defensive approach has been a massive reason why the club sit in fifth place.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

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At this point, you can probably guess that Luton are more akin to a Burnley than a Liverpool. They favour long passes in possession of the ball, in fact playing the most long passes per game in the league this season at 76 per game. With just 44.2% of the possession, only Birmingham have completed fewer than their 255 short passes per game. Their main targets for these passes are vertical, straightforward passes into their target men, with one often knocking the ball onto the other to sprint in behind. Adebayo is the team’s main target, having won 4.2 aerial duels per game. As the ball is travelling forward to the 24-year-old, the two central midfielders look to push up with the ‘number ten’, supporting knock downs and second balls to advance the team up the pitch. The wing-backs also take their moments to venture forward, maintaining the width on either side to stretch the field. Taking a note from Chris Wilder’s days at Sheffield United, one centre-back also often pushes up with the play to overload central areas, which is one area in which Kal Naismith has accumulated so many assists.

Having scored 62 goals this season, Luton Town have managed to turn their low possession into absolute magic. Harry Cornick and Elijah Adebayo may have scored 27 goals between them, but the remaining goals have been spread around the team to ensure they never become over-reliant on one or two figureheads.

PLAYING LIKE LUTON ON FOOTBALL MANAGER

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With the data gathered, we’ve used Football Manager to manipulate the style of play that Nathan Jones’s side uses, providing examples of how to achieve success with his tactics. The samples shown are similar to how the team operates in a real-life scenario.

Man Marking: With an intense pressing style, Luton look to win the ball back as quickly as possible. As part of this, Nathan Jones has set up his team to man-mark and push his wing-backs right up against the opposition’s full-backs, along with the defensive midfielder lurking in the middle, ready to pick up anything loose. While the two forwards and two central midfielders are marking closely, the ‘BWM’ is again protecting the back-line, screening the opposition’s front-line.

Defensive Organization: When defending, Luton look to force their opposition inside through angling and compactness. With the extra man in the middle for Luton, this trap is very effective and often turns into a quick counter-attack. Up front, only one forward occupies the halfway line, meaning the other forward has come back to support his team, in a sort of 5-3-1-1 shape.

Even in attacking phases, the back three remain disciplined, and the defensive midfielder sits just in front as a ‘BWM’ (Ball-Winning Midfielder). This ensures a sound 3+1 rest defense to overcome the opposition’s counter attacks, while remaining on the halfway line to push opposition strikers further away from goal. With their sound foundations in place and a no-nonsense approach, Luton make a significant amount of blocks and clearances. This lines up with the real world, where they’ve made the joint-most clearances per game (21.9) and joint-second most blocked passes per game (7.6).

Hold Up Play & Possession: Adebayo acts as the target man, who generally likes to hold up the play and bring his teammates into the mix through lay-offs. This can occur even from goal kicks, where Luton make no attempt to play out from the back. Harry Cornick remains ready to run in behind on any knock-downs, from his position as the second striker.

The Data Hub has picked up that Luton often win the ball back high up the pitch; often a consequence of the amount they dish it away.

More than any other team in the database, Luton compete in an outrageously high number of headed duels. This makes sense given their high-ball approach, where their long-passes rarely ever touch the grass. But it’s not just via the use of their target men in which they compete for headed duels. The back three would also be best describe as beasts in the air, with Tom Lockyear winning more than 4 per game in the real world.

Passing Map: Here is a realistic example of a typical passing map during a Luton game. The main pass, as expected, is to the target man, where most of the action takes place. We can also see that right-centre-back (Burke) shifts across to the right, constantly looking to combine with his wing-back, who remains lower than the left side.

With that, if you wish to use the Nathan Jones Luton Tactic, either with the Championship team or another, we’ve created a tactic file, which you can import into the game via our premium subscription.

CONCLUSION

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Nathan Jones’ Luton Town have impressed in the 2021-22 despite their limited funds and limited possession. With sound defensive foundations in place, Jones has his team fighting for promotion to the Premier League, currently sitting in fifth place. So, one key question stands: could we see Luton defeat the odds and advance to the Premier League via the play-offs, as Blackpool did many years ago?

Thank you for reading through this write-up today on Luton Town, inspired on the back of watching the team play and seeing their intensity, which made us look into them more and see the secrets behind their success this season.


So there it is! Our Luton Town tactical analysis, followed by how to play like Jones’ team in Football Manager brought to you by FM Expert Dhillon Gill. Be sure to check out more of our Manager & Team analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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