This is the first time in the Roman Abramovich era that Chelsea fans have to witness their beloved club suffer a transfer ban and are forced to use a squad which includes many players who are in the early stage of their career. Frank Lampard has to find a way to combine available players like Jorginho, N’golo Kanté, alongside young players from Chelsea Academy like Tammy Abraham, Reece James and especially those who played under Lampard’s management in Derby County in the last season like Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori. Although he has a long-term plan with Chelsea’s young talents, Lampard hard to balance his star players’ experience and his youngsters’ desire to prove themselves. That means those who haven’t had a level to play in the Premier League have to find another way by going on loan to the Championship. One of those is Conor Gallagher – the FIFA U-17 World Cup Champion.
He joined Swansea at the same time as Rhian Brewster – a former Chelsea Academy player, who went to the Welsh club on loan as well from Liverpool, and Gallagher and his countryman immediately created a strong connection and brought new inspiration to the Swans. Particularly, Gallagher has five assists after 10 matches as he occupied himself a certain foothold in Steve Cooper’s squad in midfield. The English youngster also played 26 matches for Charlton Athletic in the first half of this season, thus Championship is not so stranger to him. In this tactical analysis piece, we will examine Gallagher’s remarkable traits and also his main role in Swansea’s squad.
Conor Gallagher is a modern attacking midfielder with wide movements and the ability to quickly make accurate passes and use it to thoroughly exploit spaces in the opponent’s defensive structure and bring scoring chances to his teammates. The fusion between his mindset and personal skill set and his ability to provide the ball to his colleagues in many ways makes him become the centre in every Swansea’s attacks. But also the target number one to isolate with Championship teams when they are facing this Welsh team.
Steve Cooper’s tactics are to work the ball into the final third by using the combination between his winger, full-back in the same wing and a player who plays in the centre to overload the area and create chances for wingers to go for the overlap. Therefore Gallagher’s skillset and agility are very useful to help the Jacks achieve their goal.
Swansea are a team that likes to play out from the back through their flanks, so apparently Cooper always wants his players to create an overload situation with the participation of the two wingers and one player who plays in the centre area. The centre player who joins with his wingers to outnumber their opponents usually is one of these three: Matthew Grimes, Brewster or Gallagher. When the ball is processing into the final third, Gallagher is the one who moves to the flanks with the purpose to help his teammates go deeper in the final third so he can create a cutback or cross it to the box. This is also a remarkable habit which Gallagher performed when he was playing for Charlton.
Particularly, when one of Swansea’s wingers is on-ball and directs the ball to the final third, Gallagher simultaneously moves to receive the ball from his teammate, and also drags along an opponent’s full-back. After attracting the full-back’s attention and opening space behind him by luring him out, the English attacker gives the ball back to the winger, and then his winger runs forward and passes the ball to the box.
Although supporting teammates to outnumber the flanks and helping them go deeper for overlap are both good, it’s still not enough. As mentioned above, Gallagher is Swansea’s brain in every attack. A good skillset and a brilliant mindset in playing football allow him to have many attacking methods not only in the wings but also in the central area. With Grimes’ support, Swansea build their play up from the wings but they do not have to process it into the final third.
When one of their wingers dribbles on one flank and then slow cuts inside, that is a signal for Gallagher to move to the area near the box in the central zone, or to get out of the box. By doing it, Gallagher detaches himself from opponent’s low defensive line and receives the ball without any marker by his side.
Once he has the ball outside the box in the centre, there is more than one kind of providing which he can use to create a scoring chance for his team. Due to the horizontal shape of the opponent’s defensive line, he can proceed with some different makings.
If defenders are shrunk, Gallagher can pass the ball to a player who is free in the half-spaces; if defenders are dilated, a long shot is his choice. If defenders maintain their distance well, Gallagher can fake a shot to eliminate his opponent and open a wider angle to shoot.
To an attacking midfielder, finding space is one of the essential factors because it has an impact on the creation of their passes. It’s not only searching for a space that they can operate in comfortably but also the gap through which their teammate can easily deliver the ball to them. Gallagher understands this principle well.
When he is off-ball, Gallagher usually moves between defensive lines to find the right place to stand and wait for his teammate before receiving the ball and doing the next steps.
Quick thinking and smart passing
Johan Cruyff once said: “Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practising. Then you can work in the circus. The technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your teammate.” The simple and accurate passes are things that create an excellent attacking midfielder; Gallagher is following the predecessors and he is going to be one of them in the future. He owns touches with enough power and accuracy, even with some delicacy in using the backheel competently; Conor Gallagher is obviously learning the first pages of a book named “The Art of Passing”.
Because Gallagher is the centre of every Swansea or Charlton’s attack, it’s understandable that the FIFA U-17 World Cup winner usually get stuck with one or two markers when he is about to receive the ball. Thus a backheel helps him a lot in creating the element of surprise, it makes the defender miss his momentum and then this defender is not able to chase the winger who is going to cut the ball back or pass it horizontally to the striker.
Gallagher himself is an attacking midfielder, but the thing that makes him “modern” is the ability to move wide – not only horizontal movement but also vertical. He is extremely enthusiastic and usually drops to the middle to acquire the ball so that he can distribute it to his teammates in the flanks.
The former Charlton’s player always finds a way to kick the ball through at least one opponent and ensure that his colleagues are free to run.
Another way for Swansea to distribute the ball to the flanks is by using long passes, and no one in the Welsh club is as good as Gallagher. Apparently The Swans does not use this method so many times, but they need it sometimes. Gallagher does not usually use a long-range kick, but when he does, his passes always go with accuracy.
What makes Gallagher’s passes so good?
We can’t deny the fact that Gallagher’s passes are excellent. However, feet are just the tool, the secondary; the prerequisites of becoming a good attacking midfielder are mindset and observing ability. An accurate pass from Gallagher’s feet is a combination that comes from his quick observation, agility and a bit of support from physical strength.
As we spoke previously, every Swansea’s attack goes through the UEFA Europa League champion; that makes him target number one with many teams in the EFL Championship. There is always at least one player who goes to mark him when the ball is under his control in the final third. The number 33 only has two or three seconds at max to check his surrounding for the decisive pass. The most important thing is the ball has to arrive in time; it must not be too early, or too late. Seems like the way Gallagher does it is exactly spot on.
The above instance also indicated us about Gallagher’s physical strength. Being in the opponent’s closure whenever he is the ball controller forces Gallagher to be more certain, more careful in defending it from defensive players who always come with one desire to regain the ball control. Gallagher is not too strong, but also not too weak. Combining with his calmness, those traits make him look so confident with the ball.
In this scout report, we showed you Gallagher’s importance and his role in Cooper’s system. The English youngster is also about to end this season after playing for two different clubs. Alongside many other talented players of England who are at Gallagher’s age, the English football fans have more things to look forward to.
No one is perfect and Gallagher is not an exception. From this analysis, we can see how he performed this season and that he deserves an opportunity to play in Chelsea’s senior squad, just like Mount or Billy Gilmour. And soon, the Blues will welcome him home.