Derby County is a team that never lacks young talents. 19-year-old Irish player Jason Knight is one of them, graduating from Derby’s Academy. This season, he has shown some of his quality and gradually, occupies a spot in the starting 11.
Role in the team
With 22 appearances and four goals, Knight can play several positions for Derby. He usually plays as left/ right attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 to help link the play. He can also play as a wide midfielder in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-3.
Knight’s transitional awareness is impressive. He does great in both defensive transition and offensive transition. In switching from defending to attacking, he will break out fast to the front line. Even if he marks his matchup deep to his own third, he will boost up and run to the front line, with on average two progressive runs in attacking transitions per match. I will use an example to illustrate this attribute:
The picture above shows that Derby’s players were crowding to get the possession back but the ball kept bouncing around different feet. Knight at the far side was keeping an eye on the situation but didn’t rush to make his move. Then Wayne Rooney successfully recovered the ball. Let’s see the next picture:
Knight didn’t rush to move until he recognized the trigger for him to get at full speed. The trigger was Rooney successfully possessesing the ball, instead of jumping around the ball. If the ball kept jumping in a chaotic situation, there was still some potential threat in defence. Knight recognized the right time and triggered to speed up, providing depth. The scenario ended like the picture below. Knight successfully provided depth in front:
Apart from switching from defending to attacking, he does great in switching from attacking to defending too. His sharp anticipation of the defensive transition always helps his team to delay, prevent forward progression, and get the ball back. Next is an illustration of his contribution in defensive transition:
The first image was to illustrate the situation. Knight was on the sideline, passing the ball to the middle. There was no teammate in the middle, so the ball was free. That was when Knight anticipated the situation. He saw one of the Manchester United players was near the ball. Then he started chasing back, proactively, even when the ball was not possessed by Manchester United’s player. Just as the picture below:
Then the opponent was in possession. Knight quickly dropped whilst still staying near the ball area. In this way, he could immediately press and delay the opponent from progressing forward. He also pressed in a right angle to block the forward passing option in this situation below:
Knight is not one of those playmakers, and he doesn’t provide a lot of creative passes. On average, he has 28.15 passes per match, with an accuracy of 79.85%. However, his passes are mostly one-touch. He recognizes the situation and makes the best decision given that situation. He plays it quick and simple, and always tries to pass to get his teammates in a better position for the next action. Below is an example:
As you can see from the picture, Knight was holding up the defender. It was congested in this right flank area but there was a huge space in the middle. As Knight was holding up, he drew the other two defenders to run towards him by not touching the ball and pushed back. As the other two defenders crowded in, there was more time and space for his teammate to execute. Then two defenders got close enough. Knight then touched the ball and one-touch passed to ball to space. His teammate had more time and space in zone 14 handling the ball.
Let’s look at another example that Knight passed simple and quick to get his teammate into a good position. The picture below manifests what happened on the flank.
From the two pictures above, we can see that this was a 2v2 situation on the flank. Knight and his teammate did a one-two to get the play advance. Knight then opened up his body, scanning around the field. He saw in advance the space and the movement of his teammate. When the ball went to his feet, he used the front foot to get the first touch. This helped the play go forward and the second touch pass took no time, accurately reaching the space, instead of passing to feet, to help the play go further. This created a 1v1 for his teammate in the attacking third, which was favourable to the attacking team.
Knight’s execution was quite simple, but also well designed. His one-touch pass can get his teammate to a better position. However, there is more than that. As I mentioned, he can recognize the situation and make the best choice. When there is a chance for the killer pass, he certainly will take it, in his simple way. Below is a picture showing his final pass against Charlton Athletic in EFL Championship.
From the example above, we can see that even when he did not receive the ball, he had already planned what to do next. He saw the space and the third man run of his teammate. He opened his body in advance, getting his non-kicking foot ready. With just one simple touch, he passed the ball penetrating the line, creating scoring chances for his teammate.
Despite being an attacking player; Knight has contributed a lot in defending. He has on average 6.2 in recovery and 3.7 in recovery in the opponent’s half per 90 minutes. What’s more, he also has 3.92 interceptions per game. His defending attitude and hard work have earned a lot of possession for his team.
In general, as a wing attacking midfielder, he marks the opponent’s fullback. He does great in this aspect. His marking will usually get the opponent’s fullback/ wingback out of the picture. Below is an example of marking Diogo Dalot when facing Manchester United:
As you can see from above, Knight opened his body to see the ball and see the man he was marking. He kept a suitable distance from Dalot, occupying the goal side to protect the space behind. When Bruno Fernandes received the ball, he anticipated the run of Dalot. Knight immediately turned his body side on, always occupying the goal side as below:
And this running protected the space behind the defensive line. Dalot’s run ended in nothing and Manchester United gave the ball to Derby. His anticipation and the switch of body shape were quick in this scenario. These incisive moments helped eliminate the threat from the opponent’s fullback.
Apart from his marking skills, he also does well in recovery. He is willing to track back in the deep area and out of his zone to help regain possession for his team. Those recovery runs are quite effective and well-timing in getting possession back. Below is an example against Manchester United:
As you can see from the above analysis, Juan Mata was about to pass to Odion Ighalo. Ighalo was unmarked in this scenario. Knight recognized this situation. He left his zone to help in the middle as the ball travelled to Ighalo, just as the picture analysis below:
The result was just as above: Knight recovered and poked the ball to his teammate. Derby County regained possession. Jason Knight knows when he needs to stay in his zone to mark his matchup, and he also knows when to leave his zone to help his teammate. Here is another example of his recovery:
The picture above manifested how deep Jason Knight would track his matchup. When the opponent’s fullback joined in the defensive third, Jason Knight would still mark him. When the ball was passed to the fullback, Jason recognized the right time to get the ball back. Then Derby County immediately launched a counter thanks to that, just as below:
Room for improvement
His passes contributed to team attack, but as an attacking midfielder, he doesn’t provide many forward passes. His forward passes per 90 are only 5.85, with an accuracy of 64.1%. The lack of forward passes is mainly due to his close body shape. Here is an example:
As you can see, he didn’t get side on and open his body shape. This prevented him from getting the best vision of the field. He could only see the square and back pass options. If he opened his body, he could see the forward options and get more chance to pass or dribble forward.
Jason Knight is still young. He still needs to expand his arsenal to deal with all sorts of situations on the pitch. With more and more experience, we expect to see him with more creativity and better performance.