With the English Football League One season being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seven teams find themselves within three points of each other, fighting for direct promotion or a play-off spot. Wycombe Wanderers find themselves at the bottom of that pile, albeit with a game in hand, with the lowest goal difference among these seven teams.
They have been left to rue their lack of goal-scoring threat with their top scorer, Adebayo Akinfenwa, having scored just 10 goals this season. However, he is closely followed by left-back Joe Jacobson who has nine goals under his belt this season. It is worrisome for a team pushing for promotion to have a full-back nearly leading the scoring charts but such has been Jacobson’s importance to this Wycombe team.
‘The Chairboys’, as the team are known, have placed a huge amount of faith in their left-back in order to challenge for promotion to the Championship. In this scout report, we will go through a full tactical analysis of Jacobson to see how he fits the tactics adopted by coach Gareth Ainsworth and what he can potentially offer for other clubs looking for a seasoned full-back.
Image taken from Wyscout
The heat map shows us a few interesting things about the full-back’s positioning. Jacobson is more comfortable with staying in his own half and rarely pushes as far up as the opposition penalty box.
He also appears to play through the centre at times although he has not been used at other positions. His positioning in the penalty box resembles that of a deep defending centre-back or a left centre-back in a back three. Further up his positioning in the centre resembles that of a defensive or central midfielder.
With such a deep-lying positioning, it might be confusing to see that the 33-year-old is the team’s second-highest scorer this season. This brings us to the part on the heat map at the opposition penalty spot. The Welshman is a set-piece specialist and is the team’s designated penalty taker. He has taken seven penalties this season, scoring six, with a conversion rate of 85.7%.
With his general positioning covered, we will now go deeper into an analysis of the full-back’s game play and how he plays under the current team tactics.
Let us first start with the analysis of Jacobson’s attacking. As seen from his earlier heat map, the left-back does not often move to very high portions of the pitch. However, compared to the other left-backs in the league, Jacobson fares highly in terms of his shots on target.
The Welshman takes about 1.08 shots per 90 with an accuracy of 35.29%, ranking among the highest of all the left-backs. It might be surprising to see a deep playing full-back rank so highly in terms of shots and shots on target but this could be due to the fact that Jacobson is tasked with set-piece duties and takes most direct free-kicks as well. Moving on from his shooting to his goal scoring, we can see his expected goals and goals per 90 for this season.
As seen from the above graph, Jacobson tops the charts both in xG/90 and goals/90 compared to all the other left-backs. An important thing to note as well is the fact that Jacobson has scored more goals this season than his expected value. With an xG/90 of 0.19, the Welshman has a goals/90 of 0.29 and this shows that he has fared pretty well in a goal scoring sense. It should also be noted that all his goals have come from set-pieces, majorly penalties.
Moving on to his assists, the full-back has seemingly underperformed this season. Considering his set-piece ability, the team has come to expect more assists from him through the season. However with an xA/90 of 0.2, the 33-year-old has only recorded 0.03 assists/90 this season.
This underwhelming statistic could be the result of two things. Firstly, it could be attributed to his positioning as mentioned earlier. His deeper-lying role means that he has not been able to supply as many crosses to attackers in the box. Supplying just 2.64 crosses/90, Jacobson ranks lower compared to the other left-backs. Most of his crosses have also come ‘early’ per se as shown below.
Image taken from Wyscout
Though the full-back boasts a high xA from his crosses he has not recorded even a single one from them. He also plays about 3.47 passes to the box/90, shown above, which is among the highest in the league. This brings us to the second reason behind his underwhelming assist statistic. As mentioned earlier, The Chairboys have not scored many goals this season. The lack of goal scoring threat up front has seen them score the least amount of goals among those fighting for promotion. This could potentially be a reason why Jacobson has underperformed in terms of his assists this season. With a better attacking line-up, expect his assist stats to improve as well.
Overall, the Welshman has proven to be above average in attack and has made himself an asset for the Wanderers further up the pitch.
Now moving on to an analysis of the Welshman’s defending. It seems to be Ainsworth’s tactics to give Jacobson a more central role as compared to the average full-back. He seems to play a shifting back four, where one full-back drops deeper and moves centrally to maintain a defensive line with the centre-backs while the other full-back moves higher up, usually for a tackle.
This shifting back four however appears to be used only at higher portions of the pitch. When the opposition forwards reach the final third, Jacobson and his fellow full-back both maintain the same line as the centre-backs and stay compact. As a result of these tactics, Jacobson finds himself defending and engaging attackers in his own box.
The above images show the 33-year-old falling back and meeting attackers in the penalty area and not further up or near the touch-line. His is able to give cover for his centre-backs as well as stall the attacker and gain some valuable time for the defence to thwart the attack. However, a worrying stat is that the Welshman does not rank very highly in terms of defensive duels with attackers.
He engages in far fewer defensive duels per 90 as compared to the other left-backs in the league with one of the lowest success rates. Playing in a slightly more central role than the others could be a reason why he has not engaged in as many duels as the others but the success rate is a cause for concern for the seasoned full-back.
On the other hand though, Jacobson makes up for this with one of the highest shots blocked per 90.
We can infer that the full-back is more comfortable with allowing the attackers to come to him before putting his body in front of the shot and not taking him on. Jacobson appears more than willing to stall the attacker and then force him into a shot as the midfield and defence would be able to cut off the passing options.
This experience and ability to read the game has also seen the Welshman rank highly in terms of interceptions.
He boasts one of the higher interceptions per 90 and his deep-lying nature coupled with his compactness to the centre-backs could be accountable for that. Jacobson is more than capable of reading the opponent’s passing before moving in to intercept and this is a very useful attribute for a full-back. Rather than carelessly engaging attackers, the left-back seems content with letting the attacker making the first move before countering it swiftly.
This bodes well for a team that likes to defend deep in their own half.
Player in transitions
We now look into Jacobson and his play in transitions between attack and defence. In terms of his transition from defence to attack, we do not see much of this in Jacobson’s game-play. His tendency to defend deep as per the tactics of the team makes it harder for him to push out and join in the counter-attack. As a result, the full-back stays behind to give support for the centre-backs if the ball is lost and the team needs to fall back again.
When transitioning from attack to defence however, we see the Welshman fall back in two different ways depending on which flank the opposition counters from.
As can be seen from the above pictures, Jacobson adopts different positions when facing counter-attacks from opposite flanks. He tends to adopt a more aggressive approach when the attack is down his wing and rushes out to take on the forward. The full-back aims to press the opposition and in doing so, nip the attack in the bud. While this may be a risky option if he is beaten the first time, it allows him to hold up play for his defence to get back in time.
When the attack is from his opposite wing however, Jacobson adopts a deeper lying role. As mentioned earlier, the full-back maintains a defensive line with his centre-back. This offers the defence support for when the counter-attack is quickly switched to his wing. In such cases, the 33-year-old’s passive approach this time around sees him primed to make crucial interceptions and tackles. His positioning almost as a third centre-back also allows either of the two centre-backs to move forward and put the opposition under pressure. This enables the midfield to fall back as well and get bodies behind the ball to better defend the attack.
In this way he is able to fall back effectively and be better suited to stopping any counter from the opposition forwards.
A major strength of the full-back is his set-piece ability, following famous full-backs such as Roberto Carlos at Real Madrid or Dani Alves at Barcelona. This ability of his has seen him take most of the set-pieces for the team, be it penalties, free-kicks or corners. In this section we will go through an analysis of his set-pieces.
With penalty-taking usually done by the team’s leading striker, Jacobson has made this task his own. Majority of his goals this season have been from penalties, 66.6% to be exact. As easy as it looks, scoring from the spot is a daunting task that the Welshman has seemingly mastered. Having taken seven penalties for Wycombe this season, the full-back has missed just one with a success rate of nearly 86%. Below is a visualisation of his penalties this season.
As we can see from the graphic, all of Jacobson’s successful penalties have been low and nearly on the ground. He has mostly placed the ball into the net and not aimed to beat the keeper with sheer power. The one penalty he has missed though has been higher up and at a comfortable height for the goal-keeper to save. He has not shown preference to either side with relatively similar number of shots both ways and we can infer that he mainly attempts to read the goal-keeper’s movement before slotting home. Such calmness from the spot has been an important reason behind the Welshman’s impressive goal scoring stats.
Apart from penalties, Jacobson has also shown great free-kick ability as well. Apart from his goal from a direct free-kick, he has also been able to play accurate balls in to his teammates in the box. His impressive free-kick abilities have also seen him make an impressive 43 key passes from set-piece situations, second only to Sunderland’s Chris Maguire. Below is an assist from a free-kick for teammate Akinfenwa.
As we can see from the graphic, Jacobson is able to play the ball into a corridor of uncertainty between the keeper and the back-line. This accurate ball in behind the defence enables Akinfenwa to slip in between the gap and header the ball past the goal-keeper. With a more physical or with players posing more of an aerial threat, free-kicks would potentially be very good scoring opportunities with the full-back over the ball.
It does not stop there however, with Jacobson being as good on corner taking duty. Surprisingly, Jacobson has more goals from the corner this season than from a direct free-kick. His two corner goals against Lincoln City, the first one being adjudged an own goal before being awarded, saw him complete his hat-trick in a 3-1 victory for Wycombe.
The Welshman’s ability to generate curve and whip on the ball was too much to handle for the Lincoln goal-keeper and the ball flew over him and into the back of the net. Although it would not be something to try every single time, the fact that Jacobson is able to conjure up new opportunities out of nowhere like these definitely adds to his strengths.
Moving on to the full-back’s weaknesses, we see that he tends to be overly aggressive at times. This does not mean only fouls but also the tendency to move out of position to follow an attacker.
As can be seen from the image above, Jacobson pushes out from his more central starting position and presses the attacker back to his own half. While this may aid in curbing the threat in the short-term, it leaves the centre-backs exposed to any long balls being played down the gap in his original position. It leaves the opposition with various spaces to exploit and split the Wycombe defence.
Another example of this is shown below. In his attempt to press the attacker, Jacobson leaves a whole area down the wing for the opposition to run into. Had the Sunderland player on the left-most been ahead of his defender as shown, it would have opened up a very good passing opportunity that would have allowed him to run freely towards goal.
The other issue is that it creates a pocket of space behind him for the forwards to run into. As can be seen, the Sunderland forward, marked with a red circle, is able to make an important run behind Jacobson. This run puts him in a prime position to receive the ball in an excellent area in front of goal. Effectively, Sunderland could have scored off this attack with another three to four passes.
This aggressiveness has also led to the full-back ranking high up the list in terms of fouls per 90.
With about 1.18 fouls per 90, Jacobson ranks highest among the other left-backs in the league. This could be a major area of concern considering his deep-lying nature and tendency to take forwards on in his own box as well. The last thing The Chairboys would need with an already dismal scoring record is to give away cheap penalties for the opposition to score.
Apart from his aggressiveness, the full-back also has a very average progressive passing statistic. Though his progressive passes per 90 are above average in number, the accuracy of those passes is below average when compared to the other left-backs.
A seasoned full-back of his ability should definitely be able to play more accurate balls up the pitch and link up better with wingers or forwards. Even though he plays at a more central role, he should be able to move the ball up the pitch more effectively and help in starting attacks from the back. This is definitely an area of concern and one which he could look to improve.
Aged 33, Jacobson is soon approaching the twilight of his career and a season in the Championship could be something that would interest him. Whether that happens with Wycombe Wanderers is yet to be seen but with his impressive set-piece ability and ability to read the game there is no doubt that a few Championship clubs could give him a chance. Teams posing an aerial threat or alternatively teams with fast paced attackers capable of winning fouls in the opposition box could look to sign the Welshman to provide them with some experience in that department.
Though his aggressiveness might be a deterrent, it is also important to note that Jacobson is more defensive around his own penalty area and is more than capable of stalling attackers and cutting out passes as well.
While he is currently pushing for promotion with The Chairboys, there is no doubt that he is more than capable of pushing for a spot in the teams above in the Championship as well.