After somewhat of a golden period for Welsh football led by talisman Gareth Bale, some may wonder what is next for the new crop of players coming through. The emergence of the likes of Ethan Ampadu and Harry Wilson has left fans excited, although it is undoubtedly David Brooks of Bournemouth who is the jewel in the crown after a fantastic Premier League breakthrough season. This tactical analysis will look at how David Brooks performed at Bournemouth.
With Wales hoping to qualify for next year’s European Championships and Bournemouth looking to further cement their place in the Premier League, the continued development of Brooks is key to both.
Born in Warrington, Brooks was nurtured in the Manchester City youth academy from the age of seven up until 17 before he was let go after being deemed too small. His 5-foot 2-inch frame was not enough to put off Sheffield United however, who took a chance on him soon after his release. His first taste of senior football came soon after his move to Yorkshire as he was loaned out to Halifax Town, an experience which improved him both mentally and as a footballer, the rough pitches and opponents improving the balance and agility needed to become an effective attacking midfield player.
The summer of 2017 brought the big break at both club and international level. Confusion was caused after he was called up by both Wales and England for the prestigious Toulon tournament, with the latter pipping their neighbours and Brooks eventually led England to the trophy, scoring in the final and picking up player of the tournament along the way. His star had risen so much so that a loan move to Chesterfield agreed prior to Toulon was cancelled as he was fast-tracked to the first team at Sheffield United.
Used primarily as a central midfielder throughout his youth career, Chris Wilder saw enough from Toulon to fast track him into the first team as a number 10 or second striker. Picking up space in the pockets made by striker Leon Clarke or the advancing wing-backs. He first announced himself to the wider public during the Steel City derby where he played off of Clarke up front but attached himself to the opposition full-backs, pulling them inside and creating space on the overlap or in the interior channels for advancing midfielders. United ran out 4-2 winners with Brooks picking up the man of the match and creating derby history with a now iconic nutmeg in the red side of Sheffield.
After his exploits for Sheffield United including a first senior goal in a win at Elland Road and a full Wales debut in the Stade de France, it was only a matter of time before top-flight clubs began to take note. An issue with players of this ilk growing rapidly is the sacrifice of technical ability for physical ability. However, this was no issue as he combined technical flair and poise with the physical attributes required at the top level.
A Debut Season In Numbers
For a middle club in the Premier League, it is key that midfielders are chipping in with consistent goal contributions, easing the pressure on forwards. Looking purely at the goals and assists registered, the season can be a success. Seven goals and five assists put Brooks fourth in Bournemouth’s goal contribution rankings, behind only forwards Josh King and Callum Wilson and winger Ryan Fraser, as the team finished on 56 goals, only the top six scoring more. When analysing Brooks’ numbers closer however, the consistency is striking. A goal contribution every 193 minutes puts him near the top of the list of young players in the Premier League, making a PFA Young Player of the Year nomination no surprise.
The consistency of the Welshman becomes more evident when looking at his ‘expected’ numbers. When looking at shots, it is clear to see that both shot selection and finishing are both at a high level already. An xG (expected goals) of 0.25 per 90 is actually slightly inferior to his actual goals figure of 0.27 per 90, reflecting on both the consistency and quality of his finishing. Shot selection has also played a part in these figures. When looking at the seasons shot map, there are very few from long distance, with the vast majority coming inside the box and just the one goal outside of it at home to Brighton in the Premier League.
Assists tend to follow a similar trend, too. His xA (expected assists) were at 0.17 per 90 so there wasn’t too much disparity between that and the actual assist figure of 0.15 per 90, as well as contributing 1.17 key passes every 90 minutes. The stats, therefore, show what a consistent attacking threat he has become in a relatively inconsistent side and the potential to chip in with more goals and assists as he becomes a more mature player.
Where Has He Fit In?
It was always going to be interesting to see where Eddie Howe would play Brooks in the Premier League after his role as a 10 or second striker for Sheffield United, England and Wales. With Howe tending to favour a 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-1-1 with more orthodox wingers throughout Bournemouth’s stay in the Premier League, it was widely expected that Brooks would play centrally and high up alongside a more conventional number nine, picking up the pockets between the lines left by King or Wilson. This season however, he was predominantly used on the right of a four-man midfield.
Using inverted wingers on each flank, Bournemouth were able to create overloads in central areas. Brooks and Fraser moving into interior channels gave both the centre-backs and central midfield players passing options forward into dangerous positions. With the wide players moving into pockets infield, it gives free rein for the wing-backs to move higher up the pitch and hug the touchline. Although switching to this 2-2-4-2 formation whilst attacking can leave them susceptible to counter attacks, for Brooks it allows extra space in the final third, fully utilising his skill set.
His rapid outside to inside movement can be seen best in his goal during their 5-0 win at Brighton. Brooks and King pulled both the full back and centre back wide before the former moved horizontally inside, picking the ball up before playing a one-two and slotting beyond Mat Ryan. These kinds of movements have been key to the success of Bournemouth in attack as well as the individual performances of Brooks.
After an impressive first season for David Brooks with Bournemouth which has seen a PFA Young Player of the Year nomination and a new contract, it will be interesting to see his next move. Rumours of a move to Tottenham continue to swirl and a switch to Pochettino’s Champions League finalists may suit him. His raw attributes and football intelligence could translate well to a team with higher quality players and with additional athleticism, he could become a serious player in the mould of his Welsh compatriot, Gareth Bale.
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