Schalke’s revival this season under new coach David Wagner is also the revival of midfielder Amine Harit. After joining Schalke in 2017 from Nantes, the Moroccan had a good first season amassing three goals and seven assists. However, Schalke’s last season was a big mess, especially for Harit. Influenced by a car accident and several problems off the field, the 22-year-old was never able to continue his performance of the first season and thus lost his place as a regular starter. During the winter break, there were even rumours that former manager Christian Heidel wanted to sell Harit because he and former coach Domenico Tedesco had lost patience with him.

In the end, Harit stayed and is thriving again this season. In 14 games in the Bundesliga, he has already amassed six goals and three assists as well as two assists in the cup. This does not only mean that he already scored more goals than in the previous two years combined but also that he is the most dangerous midfielder in the Bundesliga this season. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the Moroccan’s role in the system and tactics of Schalke 04 and then examine what his strengths are and how sustainable his numbers are.

Position and Movement

First of all, it might help to start with a tactical analysis of what has changed since David Wagner took over. While the former Huddersfield coach almost always uses a 4-4-2 out of possession, his team is very flexible in possession often using a hybrid-formation. This season, Schalke often switch between a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2. While Harit was often used as an inverted winger on the left side at the beginning of the season, he played as a central attacking midfielder in the last few games. Regardless of the formation, Wagner’s idea of “Vollgasfußball” contains a big emphasis on a high and intense pressing. Since the 48-years-old coach took over, Schalke only allowed 9.65 passes per defensive action (PPDA) compared to 11.05 last year.

In possession, their build-up play is still a work in progress. Schalke have a lack of creativity and only rank 12th for NPxG per game in the league. Therefore, they rely very much on counter-attacks or the individual quality of Amine Harit to create something. The Moroccan is very comfortable receiving the ball with his back to the goal due to his exceptional first touch. Despite that, Harit loves to have the field in front of him. Because of that, and since he’s given much freedom in Wagner’s tactics, Harit regularly drops deeper to provide the link between the defence and attack. He either tries to progress the ball through a dribbling or a smart pass to break the lines.

Progress the ball

In this part of the tactical analysis, we will focus on situations where Amine Harit drops deep to support the build-up. As soon as he does so, he immediately attracts multiple markers on himself. However, the Moroccan knows how to solve these situations,  using one simple pass to create space for his teammates and bypass several defenders.

Amine Harit 2019/20 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Figure 1: Here, Harit has a deeper position on the pitch and manages to eliminate 5 defenders with a smart pass to striker Benito Raman although being pressed by two defenders.

Similarly, in the example below, Harit positions himself in his own half. However, this time he decides to take on his marker and progress the ball with his dribbling.

Amine Harit 2019/20 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Figure 2: Once again, Harit tries to progress the ball from a very deep position. This time, he decides to take on his opponent.

Upon beating his first marker, Harit attracts even more defenders, none of whom can stop him. Having dribbled past three defenders, he has created space, that allows him to run towards the opposition’s backline.

Amine Harit 2019/20 scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Figure 3: Harit broke through Leverkusen’s midfield and created a dangerous situation for his team

The analysis above can only hint at the importance of Harit for the Schalke offence. Apart from Suat Serdar, he is almost the only creative player of the Royal Blues. That makes him the focal point of many counter-attacks or attacks from the build-up. His importance for the Royal Blues is further underlined by 2.71 progressive runs per game.

Outstanding dribbler

The last figure leads us to his biggest strength: dribbling. Looking back at Harit’s first season in Germany, he immediately impressed fans and teammates with his dribbling. Harit was an essential part of the runner-up in 17/18 and the best dribbler of the Bundesliga that season amassing 4.8 successful offensive dribbles per 90 and a success rate of 56.37%. Although he had a bad second season in 18/19, he still had the second-most successful dribbles per 90, just after Kingsley Coman.

Having attempted more than 7.5 dribbles per game over the last two seasons, Harit doesn’t dribble as frequent this season. On average, he “only” attempts 5.57 dribbles per game in the Bundesliga, but with an outstanding success rate of 60%. Harit’s progressive dribbles create space and dangerous situations for his teammates as shown in the analysis above. Breaking through a defence gets easier when Harit is drawing several opponents towards him. Despite the pressure, he knows how to dribble around opponents and pass the ball into the unmarked space. Although he has improved this season in recognizing this kind of situation, there’s still potential in his decision-making.

Amine Harit 2019/20 scout report
Figure 4: Harit enables his teammates a 2 vs 1 situation leading to a goal by drawing the attention of 5 defenders at the same time and then eliminating them with a single move

What makes his dribbling so special is not his pace but his acceleration and tight ball control. This paired with his low centre of gravity allows him to wait until the defender acts and then react quickly.

Drawing fouls

What further stands out in his game, is his ability to draw fouls. In both of his first two seasons, he has suffered the most fouls per 90 min of all who have played at least 1000 minutes. It looks similar this season with only Leonardo Bittencourt drawing slightly more fouls than the Moroccan with 3.27 per 90. This shows us how opponents struggle to cope with the 22-year-old’s tricky feet and play style. His ability to draw fouls is even more important considering how much Schalke rely on set-pieces. While they almost scored 50% of their goals after set-pieces in 2017/2018, it’s still 1/3 this season. What’s exciting beyond that, is that Harit has won the most penalties of all Bundesliga players since 2017.

His passing is improving

During his first two years, Amine Harit was never known as an outstanding passer and he still isn’t. However, there are signs of improvement. This season, he has an overall passing accuracy of 83.7% with 4.04 passes into the final third and 2.49 passes into the box respectively. Only three attacking midfielders have higher accuracy than Harit (81%) when it comes to passes into the final third. Albeit these numbers are in no way particularly extraordinary, Harit has shown some great signs of his vision that makes him suitable for a central role as the examples below illustrate.

Amine Harit 2019/20 scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Figure 5: Despite a deep-lying defence, Harit possesses the vision and composure to find space for a cutting pass in the penalty area
Amine Harit 2019/20 scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Figure 6: Breaking the line with a single through pass

What about his finishing?

Harit’s numbers are surprising since he was never known as an elite goal scorer. Looking at his Expected Goals, we can see that Harit has had chances that would normally produce 2.72 goals making the difference between his expected and actual goal tallies 3.28 – the highest in the league. That tells us he is currently finishing chances the average midfielder would not and might suggest remarkable ability in front of the goal. However, especially when considering his history of goals, that may revert towards the mean as the season goes on.

Amine Harit 2019/20 scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Figure 7: Harit’s shot map in 2019/2020

Although he scores more frequently, Harit still has problems to get into dangerous areas. First, it can be stated that he shoots more this year averaging 1.46 shots per game (excluding penalties), while in the previous seasons he averaged approximately one shot per game. However, as the shot map illustrates, his shot selection is in some ways questionable. His goals are almost the only quality shots he has produced all season. Because Harit takes half of his shots from outside the box, his xG/shot of 0.10 hasn’t improved at all. Furthermore, due to his inclination to position himself deep, he only averages 1.82 touches in the box per game.

We can see a similar picture when analysing his assists. Harit averages 0.15 expected assets per 90 and is currently overperforming his expected assists by 0.94. This is not surprising since Schalke has overall scored 8.05 goals more than their numbers would suggest. However, Harit can also play the penultimate pass and has amassed three pre-assists this season.

Conclusion

As this scout report showed, Amine Harit shines in particular with his outstanding dribbling and his ability to draw fouls. Beyond that, this tactical analysis also showed that Harit made some improvements in other areas of his game such as his passing. Therefore, and despite his numbers being not sustainable in the long term, Amine Harit is definitely a player to watch. If he can further improve his shooting and his passing, he could develop into an even better player, especially considering his young age.

To put it in a nutshell, one can say that the youthful recklessness that Harit once wore has dissipated. The problem child of last season who should already be sold has completely changed himself both on and off the pitch and has become one of the shooting stars of the Bundesliga. With his dribbling and his agility, Harit is not only an entertainer but a player that can help many teams.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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