Macclesfield pose an interesting challenge for Wrexham, in some ways similar to what Aldershot look to do, in that they shift players around fluidly when in possession. However, unlike Aldershot, the exchange of positions does not tend to be so pronounced: Aldershot’s wide strikers would drop deeper than their midfielders to create pockets of space and opportunities to penetrate; Macclesfield’s rotation of their midfield five tends to be more effective at creating space in areas around the edge of the area, looking to create shooting opportunities.
Their fluidity is both their main attacking feature and a characteristic which leaves them looking slightly vulnerable to the break, which might explain why their away record is so much better than their home results. We saw at The Racecourse on the first day of the season that their extra numbers in central positions allow them to control possession, but at home, when looking to push opponents back, their vulnerability when they lose the ball has been punished.
The main feature of Macclesfield’s play when they have the ball is the rotation of the midfield players. While Tyrone Marsh runs the channels up front, stretching the defence and creating space behind him, the five midfield players move in a fluid manner, popping in up unexpected places to try to drag defenders out of position.
A manoeuvre Macclesfield often look to execute to pull defenders out of position involved the interchange of their wide players and full backs. The wide midfielders drop narrow and deep to flood the middle of the pitch, with the full backs pushing up to offer width and targets for the diagonal. However, if the ball isn’t delivered to them, they will reverse their positions: the full backs drop back and the wide players run back into advanced attacking positions.
When Macclesfield don’t have the ball they drop into a more rigid 4-2-3-1, with Danny Whitaker and Ryan Lloyd in the holding positions. When they win the ball back in their own half the wide players take the cue to flood the central positions, creating space for the full backs to push up the line, offering themselves for a diagonal. However, this can leave them vulnerable to the counter attack down the flanks if Macclesfield lose the ball while the full backs are high up the flank.
The full backs’ positioning when Macclesfield have the ball is crucial – their fluid system relies on the full backs being intelligent enough to read when there’s a danger the side is over-committed. Both Whitaker and Lloyd, who by inclination want to get into attacking positions, are liable to push on from their deep starting positions, often at the same time, leaving a dangerous gap in the middle of the pitch. The full backs will be conservative in their positioning in these scenarios, pushing up far enough to support attacks but not so far that they aren’t able to drop back into the back four when the opposition counter-attack. Macclesfield also seem to be quite consistently vulnerable on the break from their own set pieces – both Tranmere goals in the recent 2-2 draw came from Macclesfield corners.
Having such fluid movement in midfield, and progressive players in the double pivot positions, can leave Macclesfield quite open in the centre of the pitch, in front of the centre backs. This is sometimes because they might lose their shape when they lose the ball, making them vulnerable to a swift counter, and sometimes because the nature of the central midfielders mean they are not naturally inclined to win the ball on the edge of the box.
In their last match Hartlepool by-passed the central midfielders quite often, and manufactured a lot of shooting opportunities in central areas in and around the box. They will have been disappointed not to have scored more than one goal.
It would perhaps be misleading to describe Whitaker and Lloyd as a double pivot in the traditional sense. They don’t sit and occupy the space in front of the centre backs: instead they will step up to track the nearest midfielder when he drops off, which occasionally made it look like they’d gone man-to-man in midfield. This added to the impression that the gap left in front of the back four could be exploited.
At the back, George Pilkington is a consistently impressive central defender at this level, but two seasons ago he was troubled by the pace of Kayden Jackson. Wrexham played very direct, looking to use the height of Mark Beck to create flick-ons for Jackson to chase, and the striker drew an early yellow card for Pilkington, latching onto a Beck flick and turning the centre back to go clear. From that point onwards, Jackson was a real threat, discomforting Pilkington by running in behind him.
Alongside Pilkington, Lowe is a similar type of centre back, who relishes physical battle but looks a little slow on the turn. Whitaker looks to drop off and split the centre backs to start passing out from the back, but neither centre back looks totally comfortable when they look to develop play from their defensive third themselves.
However, Macclesfield have an experienced defensive unit, with two solid full backs and a good shot-stopper, of course, in Shwan Jalal!
Going forward, Macclesfield are able to control possession in the opposing half, but lacked penetration at Hartlepool. Their midfielders have all looked keen to try their luck from the edge of the area in recent games, and Lloyd’s incredible goal from his own half at Maidenhead certainly suggests a willingness to grab a speculative opportunity!