Brennan Johnson “wants to take his game to the next level”, according to Ange Postecoglou and the £47.5m signing from Tottenham has done just that throughout his career. With the advice of his former manager, a look at the stats that could excite Spurs supporters…
By Adam Bate, commentary and analysis @ghostgoal
10:49 a.m., UK, Monday, September 4, 2023
“He’s ambitious and hungry and wants to take his game to the next level,” Ange Postecoglou said of Tottenham’s new signing Brennan Johnson. The 22-year-old Wales international has shown the ability to do so consistently over his short career.
As recently as 2021, he was on loan at Lincoln City in League One. Subsequent promotion with Nottingham Forest came in his first campaign at Championship level before making a strong impression in the Premier League last season.
This next step should not be a problem.
Postecoglou was referring to Johnson’s character when he said “he’s going to fit in very well with this group”, but the sight of Spurs exposing Burnley’s high line for the first and last goal in their win 5 -2 Saturday seemed made for the new signing too.
Speaking to Michael Appleton, Johnson’s manager during that breakthrough season with Lincoln, he stressed that exposing that space when offered is the player’s greatest strength. “He’s devastating running behind,” Appleton said. Air sports.
“He’s not the kind of player you can leave one-on-one with 50 yards behind. He tends to occupy two players. He has the ability to pick up the ball at the edge of his own surface and within seconds let the opposition defend their lives in their own half.”
Johnson scored 13 goals for Lincoln that season, followed by 19 in his first season as a Forest regular and another 10 last term. Those numbers are particularly impressive considering he didn’t play like a proper striker, often operating from the outside.
“It’s different from what we already have,” Postecoglou said. Tottenham have wingers who prefer to get inside like Dejan Kulusevski and Manor Solomon, players who rely on trickery to evade their opponents. Johnson’s profile is interesting given Spurs’ form.
He tends to beat defenders on the outside, keeping his position on the sidelines. This could be important for Tottenham as Postecoglou likes to invert full-backs. This puts the responsibility on wide forwards to provide width – while threatening the goal.
The contrast between his Premier League heatmap and his Premier League shot locations shows that while most of his touches on the ball come close to the touchline, that hasn’t stopped Johnson from getting chances in many good areas. Pace takes her there.
Stats show that only Marcus Rashford, among players with 150+ runs, moved the ball further with the ball at his feet in the Premier League last season. Johnson was just ahead of famous solo dribblers Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin.
It was essential for Nottingham Forest’s counter-attacking game. “Having players who can play through transition and get you 40 or 50 yards up the pitch on your own rather than needing clever combinations with others is huge,” Appleton explained.
“He’s one of those people who can get you on the pitch when you’re in shock. It takes the pressure off. I’ve worked with forwards who can lose interest and be disappointed if they haven’t been given the right service, but Brennan has a fantastic attitude. He’s always a willing runner.”
There were times last season when Johnson had no choice but to try to do it alone. One of the problems with carrying the ball such a long distance, at the speed at which he carried it, was that by the time he was looking for options, they were no longer visible.
There is a statistic that highlights this problem.
Using tracking data, it is possible to calculate the number of passing options available to a player at the time he released the ball. Teammates are considered success options if the expected success rate of that pass is at least 80 percent.
Johnson had by far the fewest options of any player. In fact, he was the only player to make 150 or more runs and have, on average, less than one passing option. As a result, attacks were in danger of running out of steam. With more support it could have been different.
Submitting these numbers to Steve Cooper in his office earlier this year, he said Air sports: “It’s an evolution that we want to make as a team.” With Heung-Min Son and others for company, Johnson now finds himself in a team that has already made this evolution.
This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this £47.5m signing.
On the one hand, there will probably be less chance of a counterattack at Tottenham. He leaves the team with the lowest possession in the Premier League this season – 32 per cent – to one with an average of 59 per cent of the ball. This will test different skills.
On the other hand, there will probably be more chances with the ball at the feet. James Maddison’s exquisite passing, the numbers in the box, the movement around him, could all help Johnson become an even more dangerous proposition for opponents.
His new boss is already convinced. “With his technical and physical qualities, he should fit in very well,” said Postecoglou. Johnson’s career history to date suggests that when a new challenge comes his way, he quickly takes the plunge.
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