Ben Brereton Diaz made headlines this summer when he was surprisingly selected to represent Chile in Copa América. Brereton’s mum is from Chile, and despite him having represented England at youth levels, Brereton made his Chile debut this summer in the South American football showcase — Copa América. This took the footballing world by surprise, causing a frenzy of headlines, and Brereton Diaz has become sort of a cult hero in Chile recently following his national team performances. However, Brereton is making headlines on the field this season as well, with an excellent start to the season for Blackburn Rovers.
Brereton Diaz started his career at Nottingham Forest, where he made 53 appearances before moving to Blackburn. Although he has had good seasons previously at Blackburn, none have compared to this season where he has scored 13 goals in 17 games for the Lancashire club and is the Championship’s joint-second top scorer behind Aleksandar Mitrović. Although we are only 17 games in, this is Brereton’s highest ever goal tally in the league, beating his previous high of seven goals. In addition to this, Brereton Diaz has made eight appearances for Chile, where he has notched three goals and one assist, which is a respectable haul in international football. This tactical analysis and scout report is set out to look at Brereton’s style of play and his key attributes plus some of the reasons for his impressive goalscoring record this season.
When seeing a surprise player with such an impressive goal record, the instant thought is whether or not this is just an overachievement that will see them return to their previous ways soon. This leads us to look at Brereton’s expected goals (xG) data for a more accurate view of his play this season. When analysing the data, we compared Brereton Diaz to similar top players in the Championship. As he is an inside forward/ striker we looked to compare him to a combination of both.
Regarding xG, Brereton Diaz has the second-highest xG this season when compared to other Championship attackers, with 11.67; only Mitrović has recorded a higher xG. This is the same for xG per 90, with only Mitrović, Dominic Solanke and Shayne Lavery recording higher numbers (although Lavery has played much fewer games). The table below shows both xG and xG per 90.
As we will discover later, a key feature of Brereton Diaz’s game is his ball-carrying ability, we can measure a few metrics but, in this example, we will look at dribbles per 90 and progressive runs per 90, Brereton Diaz scores highly in both. So far this season, he has managed just over four dribbles per 90 and 1.5 progressive runs per 90. When watching Brereton Diaz, his ball carrying skills stand out which will be addressed later but this is then reinforced by data, which is critical.
The final aspect of Brereton Diaz’s game is offensive duels won and offensive duels per 90. Again, Brereton Diaz scores highly amongst other Championship attackers with 11.3 offensive duels per 90 at a success rate of 30%. This demonstrates a strong ability to not only create offensive duel situations but also to win them.
Through the data, it becomes apparent Brereton Diaz is a unique player. He has a combination of carrying the and dribbling which is better than most traditional strikers, yet isn’t quite as efficient or successful as the typical inside forward/winger. But he shows throughout that he is one of the most effective attackers in the EFL Championship and what he is doing isn’t a fluke.
Brereton Diaz can play as both a striker and an inverted inside forward. However, this season, his best performances have come from the inverted inside forward role on the left-hand side. This is shown in his heatmap for this season.
Playing here allows Brereton Diaz to make the most of some key attributes which we will discover later. So far this season, Blackburn have used several different tactics, as they have versatile attacking options. However, when they can, they like to use a 4-3-3, with a front three of Brereton Diaz, Dolan and Gallagher. Within this, Blackburn will often drop Tyrhys Dolan deep to get on the ball between the lines and play as number 10 despite lining up as the middleman of the front three, which then allows both Gallagher and Brereton to drift infield. Both Gallagher and Brereton are comfortable attacking as a striker and can be seen rotating that duty. This role is perfectly suited for Brereton Diaz and may have a lot to do with his improvements in form this season.
Cutting inside onto his right foot
With Brereton usually being deployed on the left-hand side and not being a left-footed player, this leads to him usually cutting in onto his right foot. Brereton will often stand his man up, quickly shift the ball onto his right foot and quickly look to get a cross or shot off. This is shown brilliantly by a situation earlier on in the season against Hull City, where Brereton Diaz has been given the ball on the edge of the box and has two options. He can go left towards the byline or he can cut in onto his right foot. As he is such a dangerous dribbler, fullbacks like to give him space which he manipulates by shooting or crossing quickly. In this situation, his choice is made easier by the fact a teammate is looking to make an overlapping run.
In this case, he manages to shift the ball onto his right foot and get a brilliant right-footed shot off which flies into the corner, providing a great example of why Tony Mowbray has been using him on the left.
In the next example, we see Brereton Diaz take a different choice but one that’s just as effective. Brereton Diaz has the ball in a 1 v 1 situation on the left-hand side and again he has two options; he can go left towards the byline or cut inside onto his right.
He, again, cuts in onto his right foot but this time plays a brilliant clipped cross to the back post where Sam Gallagher (who you can’t see on this image but is lurking at the back post) plays a brilliant, cushioned header to Dolan who converts.
Playing on the left as a right-footed player allows for different attacking options and can help us understand why we have seen the rise in inverted wingers and forwards. Firstly, the player can dribble the ball either way. Secondly, playing a bit deeper infield allows room for an overlapping fullback to make a run on the outside. Finally, it allows for reverse passes beyond the backline to midfielders making attacking runs.
Runs in behind
Another key aspect of Brereton Diaz’s game is his ability to run in behind defences. Brereton Diaz is deceptively quick and making runs in behind is one of the strongest aspects of his game. This example is from Blackburn Vs Hull earlier in the season. Blackburn has managed to break the midfield line and the man in possession is carrying the ball into space which has allowed Brereton Diaz, who has come infield, to make a run in behind, to the space shown.
Although the midfielder doesn’t find him straight away, he continues his run and does a great job of staying onside.
He is eventually found however he is left with a tight angle and only manages to force a save from the keeper. If his run had been found earlier, you can’t help but think he would’ve scored — or at least would’ve had a better chance of scoring.
The second example of Brereton Diaz running in behind defences comes against Derby County, in a more recent fixture. Derby has just lost possession and Blackburn is looking for a quick attack. Here, Brereton Diaz is looking to make a run between the fullback and centre-half into the space shown.
Although the ball has been played simpler into Sam Gallagher’s feet, Brereton Diaz is still looking to make a run into the space behind the defenders.
The ball is then played off to Dolan, while Brereton Diaz has kept his run alive and is finally going to get the chance to go through on goal, thanks to a nice pass from Dolan.
He manages to retrieve the ball and calmly slot past the keeper for what was his second goal of the day.
Both of these examples show how Brereton Diaz loves to run in behind defenders and into space. He uses several factors to make his runs effective. Firstly, he utilises his position, usually making the run from out to in, as he did against Derby. Secondly, he likes to get between the fullback and centre back which creates an element of confusion over whose responsibility he is, hence why neither followed him in this example. Finally, he has great speed to make sure he meets the pass and can manage to get a shot off without a tracking defender getting back.
Carrying the ball & Dribbling
Brereton Diaz has a brilliant ability to carry and dribble with the ball. This is another reason why we see him deployed in that inside forward role. As we established earlier in the data section, Brereton Diaz has managed four dribbles per 90 and 1.5 progressive carries per 90, this season. Both allow him to use his combination of speed and strength and when he gets the ball, he is very hard to move off it, riding challenges and shrugging defenders off him.
The following example is from Blackburn’s recent game against Sheffield United, where the ball has been fired into Brereton Diaz, who is positioned between the centre-back and right-back. He is managing to hold the defender off using his body and strength and he has two options: he can either look to accelerate into the space on his left or he can look to cut back inside.
In this case, Brereton Diaz goes to his left and manages to create a yard of space for himself as shown below. By going left from the first touch, he has managed to make the defender go much more square, which will help him to shift the ball onto his right much easier.
Again, he has two options — he can go to his left or cut back onto his right. Brereton Diaz chooses to cut into his right which shouldn’t come as a surprise, by now. In doing so, he’s managed to sandwich himself between two defenders but he shows his strength by managing to shrug Jayden Bogle off the ball.
After shrugging Bogle off the ball, Brereton Diaz ends up surrounded by 3 defenders and being challenged by Chris Basham but again, Brereton Diaz shows his strength and ability to ride challenges by breaking the challenge.
After managing to continue his run past Basham, John Egan eventually brings him down only for the referee to not award a penalty, which is suspect, to say the least. If he wasn’t brought down by Egan, he was most likely getting a shot off.
This shows Brereton Diaz’s brilliant ability to create chances from nothing using his running ability. As well as being quick with the ball at his feet, he is also powerful and it’s very hard to stop him when he gets going, as you can see from the above chance. Whether he is carrying the ball to get his team up the field or carrying the ball through on goal, Brereton is a highly efficient and quality carrier of the ball.
Brereton Diaz has a brilliant knack of getting into the right area off crosses and finding himself there to convert home. He excellently attacks the ball and makes well-timed and executed runs to make him deadly from crosses. This is something you may not expect from an inside forward; however, Brereton Diaz is unique and his history as a ‘number 9’ shows when attacking crosses. The first example is from Blackburn’s recent game away at Derby. The ball has been worked out to the right and at the top of your screen, you can see Brereton Diaz waiting to make his run into the box. He is patiently keeping his position so he doesn’t go too early but also so the defender doesn’t become aware of his presence.
As the crosser is about to whip the ball in, Brereton Diaz is still holding his run and not alerting the defenders. The area marked is where Brereton Diaz gets his shot off eventually.
As the ball comes in, Brereton Diaz times his run beautifully, managing to get to the ball before the left-back and get a shot off which goes in the back of the net at the second attempt. He has scored goals like this at the back post on a couple of occasions this season and this is one of the many key weapons in his arsenal.
This analysis has outlined how So far this season, Brereton Diaz has been excellent and showing a real diverse array of attacking talents which, I am sure, will put him on the radar of many Premier League clubs and even rumours of La Liga clubs showing an interest. He has displayed a unique and versatile set of attacking skills, from his dribbling to his threat off crosses making him dangerous in every situation his team may find themselves in. Brereton Diaz has shown us the qualities of an inside forward but also a striker, which is what makes him so dangerous and why he is the second-top goalscorer in the Championship.