In the final part of a look around Sky Bet League Two’s up and coming players. This week the focus is on Salford City forward Brandon Thomas-Asante. With 6 goals and 2 assists this season, the former Milton Keynes Dons academy graduate has certainly made an impact at the Peninsula Stadium after an indifferent start.
After a short stint at Ebbsfleet United at the start of the season, Thomas Asante has come into the first-team reckoning as Salford looked to move up the table towards the playoffs. With a positional move forwards, Thomas-Asante has been able to showcase his pace and power, with the faith from manager Graham Alexander.
So how does Thomas Asante integrate into Salford’s system? In his early years, he was operated out on the wing to utilize his explosive pace, however, at Salford he has been moved to a central role. As seen in the example below from Salford’s December 3-1 win over Crewe Alexandra, Thomas-Asante partnered Adam Rooney in a strike force as part of a 4-4-2.
In possession, Salford will look for Thomas-Asante in two ways. Either playing into his chest with pressure from behind. Or into the channel, often created from a movement away to open space in between. With movement in front, Thomas-Asante looks to move the ball quickly with runners out wide stretching the opponent to receive in a one versus one opportunity. Runners from deep is a consistent theme for Salford, with central movement from midfielders such as Richie Towell into space behind providing support for players such as Thomas-Asante to play quickly in tight areas.
Out of possession, Salford looks to set up compact and narrow with their two banks of four. With two strikers, in transition, the pace of Thomas-Asante allows for a quick breakaway. As shown below the majority of actions Thomas-Asante partakes in a counterattack occur around the halfway line. This is an area where he will receive from deep, operating a wide position, carrying the ball infield to find teammates forward runs. On further analysis, his movement infield attracts opponents attention towards him, allowing these forward runs to be blindside and difficult to track, giving space in behind.
Thomas-Asante’s contribution to the counterattack is part of an area of his game most impressive. His ability to carry the ball under pressure given his size is certainly an attribute to not take lightly. In this tactical analysis, let’s look closer at what’s caught the eye this season.
As mentioned before Thomas-Asante is an effective ball carrier, especially attacking space as showcased in counter-attacks. With his pace and agility, Thomas-Asante is able to bypass opponents to move into the final third, drawing defenders towards him, leaving space for teammates in areas beyond.
Thomas-Asante has shown impressive stats with his ability on the ball. With 5.02 dribbles per 90 at a success of 56.7%, Thomas-Asante has maintained possession in congested areas within the final third. As the graphic below shows, Thomas-Asante often finds the majority of his dribbles towards the left inside channel. His success in areas such as these are shown by 71.2% of his dribbles maintaining possession. These positions have allowed Thomas-Asante to attempt 28 shots at an expected goal of 2.31. Clearly, these dribbles are putting Thomas-Asante into areas where he can make a bigger impact and utilizing his abilities correctly.
But not only does Thomas-Asante show impressive stats in the final third. It’s his ability to progress his side forward with possession. Thomas-Asante displays on average 2.23 progressive runs per 90 with a successful action, be that a shot, accurate pass, or goal on 43.2% of the occasion. The diagram below shows the progressive runs Thomas-Asante makes as well as his passes.
Highlighted here is the number of times Thomas-Asante progresses the ball into the final third, either receiving deep, moving into the final third. Or receiving in between the lines moving into the box, also showcased by the dribbles graph earlier. What must not be discounted however is Thomas-Asante’s progressive passes with an accuracy of 77.1% towards the edge of the box.
So, let’s look at some examples of Thomas-Asante in action. The first shows Thomas-Asante who has received possession deep and turned to drive at the opponents back four. Thomas-Asante progresses infield attracting the attention of the full-back and centre-back away from his teammate in the wide channel. With this progression, the centre-back commits, and Thomas-Asante makes a progressive pass into the wide channel. As another movement centrally takes place, the full-back has to track centrally giving more space to the wide teammate.
Due to the pace Thomas-Asante shows, if an opponent is caught square, this allows for runs in behind to be undetected with greater success. With the opponent’s body shape also focused on Thomas-Asante he is able to commit defenders higher up with runners in behind exploiting them in a breakdown two versus one.
In this second example, Thomas-Asante makes a progressive run this time much deeper in the final third. Instead of running at the defense, he makes a movement along the horizontal line. With this, it encourages more defenders to step out as Thomas-Asante moves along the defensive line from the half-space into zone 14. As he moves centrally both centre-backs step out to engage, creating space in behind for Towell to move in beyond and receive a penetrative pass in a key area. Committing defenders is a clear attribute of Thomas-Asante, an area we will discuss later especially around the box. But on the counterattack, Thomas-Asante has also shown how effective his progressive runs can be at breaking with pace. This next example below shows Thomas-Asante in possession, receiving the ball on the edge of his own area. He has progressed in a high-risk area with possession and surrounded by pressure. With this again the same principle remains.
As the opponent looks to counter-press, Thomas-Asante makes an intelligent progressive pass into the wide channel. The importance of the progressive dribble is developed by his confidence to carry the ball at pace under pressure in tight areas. At the success he has applied this it has created space for others with opponents recognizing his threat on the ball. However, it is not only his ability to carry the ball that has impressed.
As mentioned with Thomas-Asante’s role, he is not only utilized for his pace in behind but his ability to link and maintain possession. In fact, given his size, Thomas-Asante showcases his ability to shield possession in high areas against clearly stronger physical players.
With 6.5 received passes per game, Thomas-Asante is clearly an integral part of the build-up for Salford. Along with the 15.49 offensive duels per 90 at a success of 36%, this highlights the work Thomas-Asante puts into to retain possession in pressured areas. What’s more impressive is his ability to retain with his back to goal, rather than a one-dimensional player moving into channels.
This first example below shows Thomas-Asante dropping to a deeper line to link and combine. As he drops, pressure arrives from behind. His run deeper creates space beyond to move in behind, a principle we discussed earlier. But here Thomas-Asante uses his intelligence and vision to maintain possession at a high tempo. His sharp movement ahead of his marker allows him to reach the ball first and flick into his teammates’ path in the wide channel.
Although this example shows less of his physical attributes in holding up the ball, it shows the variety of Thomas-Asante’s game. His quick movement to position himself early gives Thomas-Asante the advantage to maintain with opponents around. With the timing of his movement, this brings a rash decision from the defender opening up space elsewhere for teammates to move into. As well as operating in between two defenders in the half-space creates a confusion of roles to disturb the unit.
This next example showcases his physical attribute more, but also highlights the importance of Thomas-Asante’s positioning. In the first image, Thomas-Asante makes a movement along the horizontal defensive line from the central channel to the inside left. The timing of the movement and pass allows for Thomas-Asante to receive in front of his marker in the half-space. With this movement, Thomas-Asante operates in a passing channel out of the shadow of the player pressing the teammate in possession.
As the move progresses, Thomas-Asante deaccelerates before the ball arrives, positioning himself to receive and turn in one motion. Due to his early low position, the opponent struggles to slow and moves to the wrong side of Thomas-Asante. This allows in a fluid motion for Thomas-Asante to turn and move into the space unoccupied, maintaining possession on a higher line.
This movement to maintain possession in higher areas has allowed Thomas-Asante to utilize his attributes in dangerous positions for his side. By utilizing his timing to receive and hold up the ball to bring teammates into play, this creates opportunities for Thomas-Asante to penetrate the penalty area. A concept we will look at next.
Thomas-Asante’s ability to penetrate the opponents 18-yard box has directly linked to his impressive output mentioned earlier. Linked with the concepts discusses, Thomas-Asante uses his progressive runs and ability to maintain possession high to give him the best chance to isolate defenders one versus one, to then move in.
With 4.15 touches on average per game in the opponent’s penalty area, Thomas-Asante has been able to average 2.66 shots per 90. With 45 of Thomas-Asante’s 58 shots coming from within the penalty area, this is certainly an area where he is more destructive with a goal conversion of 13.3%.
How Thomas-Asante manages to get into these positions can be seen in the graphic above. The most glaring concept is the number of carries Thomas-Asante demonstrates, especially in the inside left channel of the box. With Thomas-Asante receiving in and around the box, his quick feet allow him to dart inside either towards goal. Or as seen frequently in the graphic towards the by-line to deliver. Let’s take a look at some of these examples in action.
This first example focuses on Thomas-Asante driving into the area by isolating a defender one versus one. Thomas-Asante has looked to provide width, allowing for a switch of play to stretch the opponent’s backline. Thomas-Asante then moves off the back of the full-back to receive in the left inside channel to drive diagonally infield towards the box giving his opponent minimal time to set and position.
With his quick feet, Thomas-Asante pushes the ball in front to encourage the defender to commit, before quickly knocking the ball past into space behind. With this quick movement, it gives Thomas-Asante the time and space to finish across the keeper.
This second example highlights Thomas-Asante’s ability to receive in tight areas. Again, Thomas-Asante’s quick feet gain control, moving the ball towards the defender then away to shield. As other opponents press he knocks the ball quickly past and moves into the space left behind towards the by-line.
As the move progresses, Thomas-Asante pushes towards the by-line attracting a central defender to move out of his near post area. This allows for a near-post run from forward Rooney across the front of the defender into an area to receive a pull back cross. Also with multiple players moving towards Thomas-Asante, it creates an undercrowded area, making it easier to pick out a teammate at speed such as an advanced midfielder.
Thomas-Asante has clearly taken his opportunity in the second half of this season. With his output for Salford catching the attention of many baring in mind in August he was starting out in non-league football. Next season will be for certain important for Thomas-Asante to maintain his output figures and team this with consistency.
With the attributes to succeed at this level, Salford can be seen as an ideal place to continue his development. To take a raw talent was a risk for a club looking to continue their promotions streak, but it looks to have been the correct choice to do so.
To come from the same academy which has produced players that have moved to clubs such as Everton and Tottenham Hotspur is tough to follow. However, Thomas-Asante has clearly made a step in the right direction with his end of season form.