Ivan Toney plays as a striker for Peterborough United and has undoubtedly been their talisman this season with 26 goals to his name in all competitions. Toney’s brilliant season has led to ongoing transfer speculation with the English striker linked with a move to the likes of Nottingham Forest, Derby County, and Celtic. The main reason for his likely sale is Peterborough’s failure to gain promotion from League One, with Toney the standout player in the league throughout the campaign.
Toney’s overall career has been inconsistent to say the least as he had seven previous clubs before Peterborough at the age of only 24. Since his three-year spell at Newcastle United earlier in his career where he made his Premier League debut, Toney has been a mainstay in League One. In fact, in the five previous League One seasons before his move to Peterborough, he was only able to manage a return of 25 league goals. This is in comparison to the 40 League One goals he has scored in the two seasons he has enjoyed at The Posh.
This scout report will look at the reasons for Toney’s remarkable upturn in form at Peterborough and what he will offer to his potential suitors. Through a tactical analysis, we will look at the role of Toney as a clinical finisher and as a link-up player to their other attacking talents, which is a vital component of Peterborough’s tactics.
A system that suits Toney
Peterborough have employed their 3-4-1-2 formation in 93% of their games this season with Sammie Szmodics as the number 10 behind Siriki Dembélé and Toney. This style is extremely expansive with 68 goals scored (53.89) in the 32 league games played, which is the best in the league and seven clear of the next highest scorers Oxford United.
The amount of chances Toney is given highlights that Peterborough’s expansive approach is suited to him. Not only is he a threat in the penalty area with his head and on the floor in open play, but he is also a huge threat from set pieces and crosses. Toney’s average of 3.51 shots per 90 shows the number of chances he was given and the dangerous areas he was able to occupy regularly. To put this stat into context, the average for shots per 90 for all League One players was 2.03. Toney’s 122 shots were the highest in the entirety of League One.
This heatmap shows that Toney’s role is not only limited to the penalty area and he has at times dropped deeper to become the link player for Peterborough. This part of Toney’s game is underestimated and must not be forgotten when analysing his attacking traits. In fact, Toney has managed four assists this season with an XG of 5.06, which is the fifth highest for all League One strikers. This is notable, particularly for clubs looking at the English striker, as there seems to be a misconception that he is limited to be a lethal finisher in the box. However, there is much more to his game than that.
Runs in behind and between the centre-backs
One of the main features of Toney’s game is his direct runs that target the space in behind and between the centre-backs of the opposition. The runs that Toney makes come from a variety of situations such as balls from out wide where he drifts in between the centre-backs, but also long passes which he can receive through his pace. The striker’s runs are intelligent as he is always looking to occupy space and never be man-marked, which makes him extremely hard to defend against. An example of Toney’s intelligence in the final third can be seen in the frame below.
Toney’s movement has created problems for both centre-backs in this situation, as a result of Toney’s late and intelligent run into the six-yard box. In this instance, Toney has come from deep and utilised his pace to get the wrong side of the centre back at the far end of the frame, but also has left the other centre defender in a helpless position. This defender’s positioning has become too square and he is unaware that Toney’s late run has given him the advantage over both defenders for a tap in and another goal to his tally.
This goal is an example of how Toney can come alive in the box with his sharp movement. In fact, a closer look at touches in the box per 90 for all League One strikers is another indicator of Toney’s predatory instincts. His record of 5.29 touches in the box on average per 90 is second in the league for strikers and is only bettered by Bristol Rovers’ Timmy Abraham. The graph below presents the data for xG and touches in the penalty area to show the strength of Toney in both categories, in comparison to his contemporaries.
The graph tells its own story with Toney clearly in a league of his own. In fact, the main reason for Timmy Abraham being above Toney for touches in the box per 90 is down to the fact that the on-loan Fulham striker only registered four appearances for Rovers. Toney’s xG stats alongside his attacking flair inside the box demonstrate his superiority, and it is clear why he has attracted so much interest from teams with higher wage bills and in higher divisions.
Late runs into the penalty box and in between centre-backs is not the only way Toney has found joy this season. Toney is often on the end of long balls and balls in behind as he likes to play on the last defender, in order to use his pace and cause further problems for the opposition. He is 13th for received long balls for all League One players this season with 3.32 on average per 90. So why is this important, and how has Toney used this to add another layer to his attacking threat this season?
The frames below are two of Toney’s goals this season with both coming from a long ball put forward from deep. This has been a tactic used by Peterborough at times this season, especially when struggling against a low block as it can remove the deep lines of defence and create a chance quickly.
The first frame is the lead up to arguably Toney’s best goal of the season against Lincoln. As a result of a long ball hit forward, Toney takes it over his right shoulder and on the half-volley delightfully lobs the goalkeeper. When putting this goal into the context of this analysis, it is important to note that the long ball from the right-back may have seemed hopeful but with the first touch and talent of Toney, Peterborough continually used it to their advantage throughout the season.
This can also be seen in the second frame when Toney scored a consolation goal against Burnley. This was another long ball from the right-back position which Burnley failed to deal with, and Toney impressively rounded the keeper and slotted it home. Therefore, the variety of runs made by Toney and the technical ability he possesses is what makes him such a nuisance for the opposition. At the age of 24, he has all the attributes to reach the level of a top-level Championship or even a Premier League striker in the coming years.
It is not only his runs in behind and between defenders that Toney has caused problems from this season, but also his aerial prowess, as he has scored six goals from headers. At 5 ft 10 inches and a striker renowned for his qualities as a poacher, Toney’s heading ability also goes unnoticed and is another valuable tool in his arsenal as a complete striker.
For a striker that is not known for aerial abilities, the above graph is striking as his data sits very well in conjunction with the other League One strikers. To understand the graph fully, it is important to note that the ideal positioning for both categories is to be at the top for the side axis (head goals total) and nearer the right-hand side for the bottom axis (aerial duels won %). Toney fits both these categories and with an aerial duel win percentage of 44.22%, he sits well above the average with his six headed goals the second best in the league behind Blackpool’s now released 6 ft 4 inches striker Armand Gnanduillet.
An example of Toney’s heading ability can be seen in the frames below. Not only is he a threat from set-pieces, but also from open play opportunities when the ball is out wide. This is another way Peterborough have been able to score past low blocks and the fact they were so free scoring last season is a lot down to the versatility of Toney as a striker.
The first example of Toney’s heading ability is from open play as Marcus Maddison drops deep in right-hand side of midfield to play a delightful ball to the striker. Toney’s run is exquisite, and his intelligent positioning is yet again in action. Instead of simply standing next to the defenders, he has dropped in the space between the centre-back and right-back to ensure a free run, so he can get on the end of the cross. In the second frame, we can see that the right-back has been unable to track Toney and the other centre-back is already pre-occupied with the other Peterborough striker. The movement in this goal is important, but the diving header to put the finishing touches on the move is a testament to Toney’s all-round ability.
Toney is also a huge threat from set pieces and corners with his jump to get his head on the ball, which is extremely hard to defend against. The frame below is a headed goal from Toney against Ipswich earlier in the season. It is important to note the power of his headers from corners and he is often a target from Peterborough’s corners. Toney’s heading ability is not something he has always possessed but as he has got older and adapted to the league, he has become an ever-present threat in the box with his feet, but now also his head.
More than just a finisher
Toney is not limited to just being a goalscorer and has shown signs throughout the season that he can drop deeper and link the play. This is something he has started to develop as his career has developed and with four assists to his name and impressive build-up statistics, Toney has shown he can be the creator and not just the finisher. First, we must look at Toney’s data in terms of link-up play and assists compared to the other strikers in League One. In order to do this, we will look at the graph below which plots assists on the horizontal axis, with key passes per 90 on the vertical axis. It is important to note that strikers had to register at least one league assist to qualify for this graph.
When looking at this graph it is easy to draw the conclusion that Toney’s assist output is impressive in comparison to the other League One strikers. However, his key passes per 90 is just above average. Toney has shown signs throughout the season that he can contribute effectively when dropping off to play more key passes. This is an area that Toney can improve, especially given that he has shown lots of promising glimpses of his strengths in playing an active role in Peterborough’s build-up play.
The frames below are evidence of Toney’s ability to drop off and link the play, which if he starts to do more frequently will improve him greatly as a player. The first frame shows Toney occupying a deep central role and lifting a ball over the top to his striker partner Dembele. It is notable how different the positioning of both strikers is with Toney clearly identifying a weakness by occupying the vacated space in central areas to kick-start an attack.
As we have seen earlier, Toney is often at the end of Peterborough’s long and through balls but in this instance, his role has changed. Ultimately Toney doesn’t do enough of this but in the first frame, the ball is perfectly weighted to his striker partner and very nearly results in a goal. This demonstrates that Toney is very much capable of dropping deeper to create opportunities but perhaps it has been Peterborough’s reliance on his goalscoring output which has restricted this part of his game.
The second frame below also shows Toney occupying a deeper role to create a chance for his teammate. This time he has occupied the right flank, highlighting his versatility and ability to occupy multiple positions, which is another facet to his all round game.
A breakdown of Toney’s passes to the penalty area is another indicator of his role as a creator when he adopts a deeper role in the attack. The diagram below shows all of Toney’s penalty area deliveries last season with the type of pass indicated by the colour or shape of the line.
It is significant that half of Toney’s six key passes have come from the right flank, with an additional two coming from the opposite flank. The variety of positioning and direction that the passes are coming from shows that he is not limited to just central areas as a striker. Toney often likes to drift, and it is his constant movement that makes him so hard to mark off the ball, which is why he can find so much space in congested attacking areas.
Ivan Toney is an impressive League One player and the rate at which he has scored goals this season is likely to result in a transfer in the very near future. Peterborough are willing to sell, especially in the current coronavirus climate, and it is without doubt that he will be a major coup for whoever gets his signature.
Toney’s all-round game, combining lethal finishing in the box with dangerous and intelligent runs in behind, are key factors for his goalscoring record for Peterborough. However, he has shown that he can be more than just a finisher and become a creative player. This is something that will be of interest to clubs like Nottingham Forest and Derby County who struggled to create chances and score enough goals throughout last season’s campaign. Also, Celtic would love to have a finisher like Toney in their ranks to add to their attacking quality. It could be a big summer ahead for the 24-year-old striker.