Hal Robson-Kanu is not a strange name with almost all football fans in England. After nine years of playing for Reading, the Welsh striker is about to end his fourth season with West Bromwich Albion. The team that plays under Slaven Bilić’s management is having an excellent performance in the Championship and they are heading to a promoting ticket to the Premier League after two years of absence with the strategy in which Robson-Kanu is an important part of. However, there are people who can’t stop wondering about what does a striker who only has ten goals after 31 matches do in the team which is in the top two of the league? In this tactical analysis piece, we introduce you to Hal Robson-Kanu’s performance and examine his role in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Bilić recently uses in West Brom.
Scoring is not the first priority
The success of the Croatian coach’s tactics with the Throstles comes from competently utilizing the 4-2-3-1 formation and his tendency of putting three of West Brom’s attacking midfielder/wingers close to the forward; therefore they can form a narrow attacking quadrilateral which allows them to interchange their position, disorganize the opponent’s defending structure and punish their mistakes. This kind of operation can help the striker not to be isolated – the weakness of 4-2-3-1 formation. Thus everything goes clear when it comes to the reason why Robson-Kanu doesn’t have many goals so far: Things that the 31-year-old striker brings are accurate passes and the ability to link Bilić’s players together.
The numbers don’t lie: The number four has taken 62 successful forward passes over 89, also he just missed three backward passes after 96 attempts. Robson-Kanu’s passes to the final third have a success rate of 48.6% and it is 75.8% when it comes to passes that went to the box.
Besides, moving constantly on the field aids the Welshman much in putting pressure on defenders, forcing them to lose the ball or make a mistake and take over the ball and possession for his team. The image below shows us the former Reading player’s heatmap at West Brom this season.
On-ball actions and the ingredients that make Robson-Kanu’s passes so good
As we mentioned earlier, Robson-Kanu contributes to West Brom’s attacks with passes in high accuracy and turns himself into a bridge that connects all of his fellows. We can consider him a “ball transition” with accuracy in either forward or backward passes. Plus, the 31-year-old striker possesses good technique, enough to trick almost Championship defenders and create for himself space for a pass.
Speaking of personal technique, the attacker who scored against Belgium in the 2016 UEFA Euros quarter-final, owns 60 successful dribbles after 120 attempts, also 37 progressive runs before the Championship had to temporarily stop (due to coronavirus) are such an impressive index for a striker with a huge body like him. Robson-Kanu’s moving routine is to roam to the flanks, the places that he can utilize his technique and get rid of defenders with his outstanding dribbling ability and sudden acceleration; as a consequence, he usually suffers more than one foul from his competitor in average.
Using techniques is not the only modality that West Brom’s top goalscorer often uses to enhance the quality of his passes. Sometimes the Welsh striker uses his vision to observe his colleagues even before he gets the ball – see, observe, imagine, and undertake.
Finally, Robson-Kanu utilizes his body strength very thoroughly. Passing backwards like him is not as easy as we see. It seems to be easy because he always does the hardest part very well: to protect the ball under defenders’ pressure. His sacrifice is like a magnet that attracts all of the opponents’ attraction and then they open the space unconsciously for West Brom’s wingers to run toward and receive the ball.
The benefit of mobility
As we spoke previously, Robson-Kanu’s ability to move wide is the key for The Throstles to diversify their strategy. Body strength, stamina, pace bring him advantages whenever he is on-ball and they also turn him into a scary pressing machine of Bilić.
Ball recovering is very important in football. Bilić understands this clearly and that is the reason for making Robson-Kanu and the two wingers the first pressing line with the purpose to regain the ball control as soon as possible. Let us indicate to you the match of West Brom against the league leader Leeds United to see how Bilić’s front players operate to take out their opponent’s possession in both direct and indirect ways.
In the instance below, we can easily observe that most of the players in both teams were in West Brom’s half. Robson-Kanu was an exception because he had an exemption in defending duty, he was waiting up the field. When the defender on his side kicked the ball away, a Leeds defender was supposed to control the ball. He was more proactive than the Welsh striker, but Robson-Kanu quickly rushed towards him and put massive pressure on his competitor so that the Leeds player had to give up the ball and kick it out of the field to make sure Casilla and his goal net were safe. West Brom had a throw-in and Robson-Kanu was the one who regained it by himself when his colleagues were just crossed the midfield line.
In the other sample, this is a “pressing trap” which Robson-Kanu and his fellow formed right in front of Kiko Casilla. When a home team’s winger was keeping his eye on a Leeds full-back, the West Brom’s number four stood between Casilla and two of Bielsa’s players to block the passing lanes. Thus, the former Real Madrid goalkeeper was forced to undertake a long-range kick and then the ball went out of the field just like the above sample. This modality of the Croatian coach reminds us about Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final; The Reds set up a certain pressing system that didn’t allow Spurs to step into the central area, it forced them to play long balls. Similar to this match, The Throstles’ front players stood between their contestant’s players, remove their passing option, and then the opponents threw their possession away by themselves.
The statistics also point out that Gareth Bale’s countryman has 386 offensive duels and won it 98 times so far. He also recovered the ball 31 times on the opposite half; which means he has one recovery on the opposite site per half. The index is not everything but it partly points out that Robson-Kanu’s ability to press is extremely strong and those above particular cases proved that right.
In this scout report, we show you that West Bromwich Albion is heading to the Premier League, stronger than ever in the last two seasons with the second position on the league table. The success of Slaven Bilić’s attackers mostly relies on the mobility of his wingers and especially Robson-Kanu, his top goal scorer. From this analysis, we can understand the Welsh player brings them the perfect connection and the chance of playing in the Premier League is not also the team reward, it is the reward for Robson-Kanu himself because of his performance over the entire season.