Even though Brentford just missed out on promotion to the Premier League this season after losing to Fulham, Ollie Watkins had a fantastic season. Watkins played in every single Championship match this season, scoring 26 goals and bagging three assists as well. Those performances this season has attracted the interest of some Premier League clubs. This scout report and tactical analysis will analyse some of the performances of Ollie Watkins from the 2019/20 season.
Role in Brentford’s team
Thomas Frank’s tactics set Brentford up in a 4-3-3 formation with Watkins operating as the out and out #9 in the side. Watkins also has the freedom to be able to roam along the front line. He will occasionally drift wide or deeper into a #10 role. However, most of the time Watkins will stay centrally and try to exploit the space in behind the defenders. In the below image, Watkins is able to find that space in between the two defenders which results in Benrahma playing a ball over the top in behind to try and find him.
As you can see above, Watkins finds the space between the two defenders and is able to make a run in behind. Even though this move does not result in a goal for Brentford, it does show Watkins ability to see the space open up to exploit. Frank’s 4-3-3 is also a system that is very much focused on counter attacking play. While Frank’s side will also hold possession, the front three are much better on the counter attack. This system very much plays to Watkins’ strengths, which I will discuss next.
Positioning and off the ball movement
Watkins likes to operate in the half spaces between the midfield and defensive lines. He usually does not drop deep often to help defend. Watkins is more of a striker who defends from the front, and will press opposition defenders or the goalkeeper when they are in possession of the ball. When Brentford are in possession and driving, Watkins likes to be in the box as the target man.
As shown in the image above, Watkins is the player closest to the opposition goal and is being marked by the defender. In this sequence as well the defender is caught ball watching, which gives Watkins the space to have a headed chance on goal. Another advantage for Watkins is that he was able to find himself in front of the defender that is marking him, giving him a better chance at winning a header.
Another thing that Watkins is able to do off the ball is drag opposition defenders out of position. Because of the danger that Watkins possess, many times the fullback is pulled out of possession, which leaves the outside player free to run in behind down the flank. This is also very prominent when Brentford are on the counter attack. With the pace of their front three and how quick they are able to break, sometimes the fullbacks are caught out. The image below shows an example of this ability by Watkins.
As shown above, Watkins is positioned in between two of the Barnsley centre-backs, while the wingback is caught out. This allows Watkins to attempt to make a run in behind while being marked by two of the centre-backs. This then frees up Mbeumo to be able to run unmarked into the space to Watkins right. As you can also see the wingback is trying to get back to defend, but isn’t able to get back quick enough. Unfortunately, Marcondes makes the wrong decision and decides to shoot which ruins the play. For this Brentford side, Watkins’s off the ball movements during last season contributed to a lot of chances being created.
Out of all of Watkins goals in the Championship this season, 30% have been scored from headers (8/26). Three of these were in one match against Barnsley this season. Though Watkins stands just under six feet tall, he is very good in the box when it comes to heading the ball towards goal. Even when he doesn’t make contact and the defender is able to clear away, he still is able to find the space in the box to have an attempt.
In the above image, even though the defender clears the header, Watkins is in a good position in between the defenders to have had a good chance. Finding himself in space in the 18-yard box is something that Watkins does extremely well. This allows him to have so many chances from headers and almost make double digits with them. Below are a couple of examples.
In the first image above Watkins positions himself on the shoulder of the last Swansea defender. As the cross is played in, he drifts past to the defender and into the back post area. Watkins then darts forward and forces the Swansea defender to clear. While it does not result in a goal, this shows Watkins ability to find the space in the box.
This image shows a better opportunity by Watkins. The cross is played in and Watkins is able to drift behind the defender as he is caught ball watching. This allows Watkins to drift in between the two defenders and find the space to attempt a header. This time Watkins does make contact, but ends up heading it wide. This also shows how Watkins is able to make his own space and also how he scored eight headers this season.
When it comes to heading in aerial duels, Watkins only won 40% of his aerial duels this season. What he does do well in long ball situations is put the opponents off while in the air. This gives his teammates the opportunity to press the recipient well if Watkins puts them off.
Pace, passing, and finishing
While Watkins may not be the best in the air, he excels at the three attributes mentioned above. Pace is one of Watkins’s strongest assets and he puts it to good use. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, Watkins likes to sit in the half spaces and make line breaking runs. And with his pace, he is hard to stop once he gets going. In a counter attacking system like Brentford plays, Watkins’s pace is able to be put to good use. This is one reason he is able to really excel in this side.
If it wasn’t for his finishing ability, I would say that Watkins’ passing and link-up play are his strongest attributes. With the ball at his feet, Watkins is very good. With 1232 passes attempted last season in the Championship Watkins has a 75% pass completion rate. This for a striker is a very good return. It is also his ability to link play together that also is a big benefit for Brentford. While Watkins will not often drop into the defensive third to help on defense, he will drop near the halfway line. He will also call for the ball at his feet. He then will attempt to hold play up while his teammates are then able to run past into attacking positions.
As shown in the image above, Watkins finds the space and calls for the ball at his feet. Unfortunately the pass does not find him. Something that I found interesting about this is Watkins decided against running into the space in behind. Instead he decided to drop a little deeper and call for the ball at his feet. In this position, he had enough time to receive the ball and then play a quick pass to either the player running in behind down the flank. He also could have turned and ran with the ball himself.
The image above shows that when Watkins does drop past the halfway line, it is usually as an outlet pass. The Brentford defender passes the ball up to Watkins who is able to turn easily and spot the run of Mbeumo. While the pass is overhit slightly and the goalkeeper gets to it first, Brentford regain possession. In regards to link-up play in the Brentford side, Watkins is one of the main contributors.
In regards to his finishing ability, Watkins is one of the most clinical finishers in the Championship. Watkins ended the season with 26 goals to his name and had a mix of techniques. Watkins scored eight goals with headers, ten with his right foot, and seven with his left foot. While he is predominantly right footed Watkins is also able to put his left foot to good use as well. Watkins also finished the season with a 58% shot accuracy, which is also very respectable.
Another interesting thing is that 24 of his 26 goals were scored from inside the box. Watkins is very much a ‘fox in the box’ striker, someone who likes to pounce on loose balls in the box and also use his vision and movement to be in the right place at the right time.
The above image shows this ability in more detail. Mbeumo’s shot hits off the post, and Watkins is the first player there to tap in the rebound. Watkins slowly starts to drift more to the outside, which leaves him in prime position for the tap in. This also shows his vision and ability to read the play quickly and pounce on the opportunity.
There are not many weaknesses in Watkins game, but one that stands out the most is his discipline. Watkins only picked up four yellow cards this season but did commit 76 fouls. This number was 10 more than he won. Another weakness in his game is him going on runs too early. Watkins was called offsides 57 times this season. This could also be down to the heavily counter attacking system he plays in that makes him the outlet man.
One example of his poor positioning is shown above. Watkins attempts to time his run but goes too early before Marcondes plays the pass. If he would have waited a second more he would have been onside and through on goal.
This example above shows his poor position at times more clearly. In this phase of play, Watkins is aware of the defender in front of him. However, the man behind is keeping the high line and staying disciplined. Watkins does not realize this and stays a bit further ahead of the defender and can’t get back before Benrahma plays the pass. This once again results in another missed opportunity for the Bees.
This tactical analysis shows that Ollie Watkins was one of the most talented strikers in the Championship this season. His ability to play with the ball at his feet, pass, and finish, show how complete he is. His strengths heavily outweigh his weaknesses and it is no surprise that clubs in the Premier League have an interest in the striker including Aston Villa and Tottenham. Brentford will not be playing in the EPL next season, but there is every reason to believe that Watkins will be.