Matthew Clarke has extended his loan with Derby County for the 2020/21 season. He played 35 matches for Derby last season. He participated a lot in ball progression when playing out from the back.
In this tactical analysis in the form of scout report, we will examine what Matthew Clarke can bring to Derby’s tactics. Then we will check what aspect Clarke should improve in the future.
Before delving into the reason Derby County extended his loan and what he can bring to Derby, we’ll do a little scanning of his stats in Derby last season. We’ll compare his stats with other central defenders in the EFL Championship in this analysis.
The first metrics we’ll be looking are progressive passes per 90 and the accuracy. Since Derby County possesses great intention to play out from the back, Clarke has the responsibility of delivering the ball into an advanced area.
As we can see from the above scatter plot, Clarke is situated in the first quadrant, which means his progressive passes per 90 and accuracy are both above the average level for centre-backs in the EFL Championship. He has 8.14 progressive passes per 90 and the accuracy is 68.35%. These stats indicate part of the reason Derby extends his loan, as he helps ball progression in building up from the back.
The second metrics we’ll be looking at are related to his aerial performance. As a centre-back, it’s crucial to possess the decent ability to handle the aerial duels.
Clarke has 6.22 aerial duels per 90, which is the average level amongst all these centre-backs in the Championship. Nevertheless, the success rate is good and above the average level- 66.08%.
Then we shall use Padj (possession-adjusted) interceptions and sliding tackles, as well as defensive duels to see his defensive style of play.
For Padj sliding tackles and interceptions, Clarke possesses some good stats as his Padj sliding tackles are 1.03 and interceptions are 8.68. They are all above the average level amongst all these EFL centre-backs. However, Clarke doesn’t engage much in defensive duels as he only has 4.315 defensive duels per 90, which is below the average level. The success rate is decent (68.15%).
Why Derby County extend his loan
From Derby’s perspective, in their current player profile, they don’t have a qualified natural left-footed left centre-back. Craig Forsyth is a left-footed and he can be deployed s left-back and left-centre back, but his performance as a centre-back is not good enough. Thus the only qualified left centre-back is Clarke. This is one of the reasons Clarke is extended the loan.
From the tactical perspective, Clarke can also bring something to Derby. Firstly, his ball-playing ability is good and he is a press-resistant player. He can help keep possession when encountering pressure and even progresses the ball into an advanced area when he is pressed. He can keep an open body shape before receiving and constantly scans the pitch. Then he will use a one-touch pass to exploit the dynamics of play or use his first touch to half-turn for a bigger angle to hit the pass. This attribute can guarantee the successfully playing out for Derby, and the pivot can stay higher than dropping deeper to help progress the ball forwards, due to the ball-playing ability of Clarke.
The above is the exact illustration of what Clarke can bring to Derby’s playing out from the back. While the opponent tried to use a two-man first pressing line to press Derby’s goalkeeper and centre-back-duo, the pivot Rooney didn’t have to drop deep to the defensive line to form a three-back shape. This is because of the press-resistant level and the ball-playing ability of Clarke. In the above scenario, he kept an open body orientation before receiving. This enabled him to see more on the pitch and he was able to pick Rooney’s right foot in the next line with the one-touch pass. The pass was accurate under pressure and Derby was successful in breaking the pressure.
This is his contribution in possession. Defensively speaking, we already know from the above section that his output in Padj interceptions is huge. This output is mainly thanks to his good observation and positioning in defending. As he does the scanning in possession when off-the-ball, he will also constantly shoulder-check and scan the surrounding. Then he will position himself in a good place, marking the opponent within an arm’s reach, following the principle of getting “ball-side, goal-side” in marking. This marking and positioning will enable him to be the first to access the ball and therefore output in interceptions will follow.
The above image is an example of both marking and positioning. The ball was on the flank and the cutting-in then cross might happen. Clarke sat in the box in an open body to see the ball and also see the man. He then chose to get ball-side and goal-side of his matchup, putting the opponent within his arm’s reach. This positioning enabled him to be closer to the ball than his matchup, and as the opponent crossed Clarke was the first to access the ball, disrupting the opponent’s attack.
Apart from his positioning which may help disrupt the opponent’s attack, his coverage on the left side in the back is huge as you can see from the below heat map.
The huge coverage on the whole left part of the own half the pitch can contribute in a transitional concern. The left-back Max Lowe can push higher in attacking, as in defensive transition Clarke is able to use his positioning and mobility on the left of his own half to disrupt the opponent’s counter. The whole left-hand side will be covered by Clarke and Lowe is freed to concentrate on showing his effectiveness in attacking.
Above is an example of this. The opponent recovered the ball in the back and hit it long to the left side in Derby’s own half. Lowe wasn’t chasing back in full speed as Clarke could move to the flank and delayed the opponent for him. Clarke did so and he cleared the ball away on the left flank as Lowe didn’t need to recover in full speed. Also the position of Lowe was high in possession as Clarke could move to the flank and bought time for him to chase back.
Room for improvement
From the individual perspective, if Clarke wishes to play in a higher stage like Arsenal or Chelsea in the Premier League, there are a couple of things that he should improve. The first is the distance when he prevents the opponent from turning. He gets too close to the opponent and is easily beaten if the opponent is skilful and fast.
The example above manifests how close Clarke gets when he tries to prevent the opponent from turning. He got too close and the whole weight of his body lay on the opponent. If the opponent managed to get through Clarke won’t be able to quickly accelerate and turn to protect the space behind. If he cannot improve on this aspect, some potential dangerous scenario might happen in the next season.
The next problem would be his off-the-ball movement in playing out from the back. He is willing to move when off-the-ball but his movement doesn’t get him out of the opponent’s defensive shadow. Thus his receiving position is actually unavailable. What’s more, he might run into his teammates’ space which might kill the play.
In the above scenario, after he picked Lowe on the left, he ran forwards to receive. However, that space was already taken by Jason Knight and Clarke’s run killed the space as the striker tracked him. Furthermore, he ran forwards meaning that there was no cover for Lowe. From the defensive transition perspective it was not a solid move, since if Lowe lost possession in that position, there was a complete opening for the opponent. Thus this kind of run when off-the-ball would potentially kill the playing out ability of Derby and also create an unfavourable situation in potential defensive transition.
Matthew Clarke certainly possesses good qualities that Derby need for developing their style of play: playing out from the back, pushing up the full-backs etc. However, his weakness in certain aspect might hurt Derby’s performance in some way. If he could improve and fix these problems in the 2020/21 season, a higher stage is waiting for him in the future.