Peterborough’s 68 goals in League One make them the country’s joint highest-scorers with Manchester City but more staggering is that 24 of those goals have been scored by Ivan Toney. He first emerged at Northampton where he became the youngest ever player to make a first-team appearance for them at just 16. Plus, in the 2014/15 campaign at just 19-years-old, he scored eight goals in League Two before moving to Premier League side, Newcastle. Here he made four appearances for the club and they all came as a substitute. Nevertheless, he is taking League One by storm and proving the doubters wrong as his price tag of just £500,000 back in 2018 seems like a bargain as he has already exceeded expectations for the club.
In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we will look at Toney’s play-style and what tactics Darren Ferguson uses for him through analysis and match footage.
Overview and play style
Even though Toney is Peterborough’s striker he likes to float across the back four and often take up the position in between the full-back and centre-back, we can see this in the image below. Out wide he can isolate players and in the modern game full-backs are required to be more attacking minded and this results in them being poor at tracking his runs or they are found out of position. His positioning out wide allows him to go up against someone who is less versatile at defending compared to being up against the centre-back.
Toney dominates these situations through his fantastic movement but he is also fast and able to hold off defenders with his physicality. He often uses double movements to pull away from the defenders to create a yard of space in these deadly areas. I will now go on to analyse Toney into further detail.
One of Toney’s biggest strengths is his exceptional movement off the ball which allows him to create space for himself and his teammates. As we highlighted earlier, Toney is deployed as a striker but he effectively drops between the lines to link up play when Peterborough are transitioning from defence into attack. This is highly effective as the opposition centre-backs don’t know whether to move out of position and step up onto him or if they should drop off and allow him space. Both circumstances Toney has been accustomed to dealing with this season.
In the image below, he moves infield away from his marker in the pocket of space in front of the opponent’s defence and in behind their midfield. This allows him to pick up the ball and receive a direct pass into his feet, in this situation the centre-back is caught in two minds as he is unsure whether he should press Toney or stay back. Toney recognises this and excellently plays a ball over the top of the flat-footed centre-back and his teammate goes through one on one.
This move is hugely beneficial for Peterborough as it allows them to beat the press from the opposition by going directly into his feet and taking out the majority of their team via one direct pass.
Another example shown below shows Toney again dropping deep but this time the centre-back decides to step up and press him, trying to take away his time on the ball in the pocket of space.
He can see the onrushing Stevenage centre-back and the space vacated in behind so he uses a quick one-two with his teammate to get around his marker and exploit the space in behind.
He is an exceptional player for creating space, no matter what style of defending the opponents use on him. More so, Toney doesn’t just create the space for himself, he can be unselfish by making runs to allow his teammates to utilise. In the image below, Toney makes a run from the flank to an inside position, this attracts the opponent’s right-back to follow him and this results in his teammate to find space out wide.
If Toney made the run out wide it would’ve kept the right-back in position and made it easy to defend against as both of the attackers would be in the same area and making near-identical runs.
His excellent movement also links into another strength that Toney possess, which is his immense finishing ability. Toney smartly situates himself in between the oppositions centre-back and full-back. This allows him to be on the blindside of the centre-back but also be in control of the full-back at the same time.
In the image below, it shows us his movement coming from a central position where the centre-back could see him, to him drifting in between the two players.
In the same passage of play, the image below shows us that he keeps his positioning as the centre-back doesn’t know where he is and the full-back is ineffective as he is stood in behind Toney. The ball gets drilled across the box and he taps it in.
Toney will often also be even further out wide and start beyond the full-backs positioning. By starting out wide it allows Toney to isolate the full-back in a 1v1 situation. In the image below, Toney has stayed wide, he drifts past the full-back and then he tidily bends the around the goalkeeper into the opposite corner of the goal.
In the channel Toney finds a lot of his success, Peterborough often go direct and the long ball down the line can catch teams off guard. In the image below, Toney stays on the shoulder of the full-back and gets played through the channel, he stays composed and smartly lobs the goalkeeper who is ever so slightly out of position.
Naturally, Toney is in a deeper position than normal strikers. This offers Peterborough more defensive protection when they’re out of possession. He will come into his own half to make it harder to play through the centre of Peterborough and he will often stop the source of the opponents start of their build-up play. In the image below, Toney has dropped deep to put pressure on the build-up play from the opposition, he is rushed into an early shot due to his deep pressing.
When he is in these positions, Toney is eager to start a quick counter-attack. In the picture below, he won the ball back in his own half and he sends a long diagonal through ball to his teammate which plays him through one on one. He likes to play forward and be as positive as he can even if they have just regained possession back.
Nevertheless, he won’t just press in a deeper role. When the opposition have possession in the defensive third he will intelligently read the opponents pass and sharply press where he is anticipating it to go. In the image below, the pass gets played to the opponent’s goalkeeper and Toney notices the danger as it is close to the goal line.
The goalkeeper takes a touch and Toney pounces on the opportunity and he pushes it into the back of the net.
Toney loves to get stuck in as we have seen him pressing opponents all over the pitch. However, this can cause drama and get him involved in altercations and be carded from either a late challenge or losing his temper. This season in League One, Toney has received the most yellow cards for Peterborough (10), which is three more than any other player in their team.
This has resulted in him being suspended for a game and when Peterborough are pushing for a playoff spot, key players like Toney need to be available as often as possible.
Although this is part of the package with Toney and this aggressive style will cause conflict, he will get stuck in and it can have a small benefit that his physicality that has improved drastically can get players to go hard on him and get them in the book or even see red.
In the image below, it shows us when Toney is shielding the ball with his large frame, the opponents struggle to get around him and subsequently they have to bring him down to get it off him and this results in them being carded.
At the age of 24, Toney still has plenty of time to take his game to the next level. Going to Peterborough was definitely the right step in his career but he has proven this season why he can play at a level higher or even in the Premier League with Liverpool, Manchester City and co. If Peterborough fail to gain promotion, there will be clubs lining up to get him but where suits him best?
Basing his strengths and weaknesses from this scout he would be most suited to Burnley. Both of Burnley’s strikers are coming to the end of their peak in their careers, as Chris Wood is 28-years-old and Ashley Barnes is 30. They also have promising youth coming through the ranks as Dwight McNeil has broken through this year at the age of 20 and this would make a great transitional change by giving game time to the younger players. Additionally, Shaun Dyche can still keep his signature style by playing direct football as we have highlighted this is a strength of Toney’s.