The Red Bull network of clubs has become one of the best in the world at scouting and finding some of the best young players who they then develop and improve before selling them on for massive fees.
The likes of Liverpool‘s Sadio Mané, Dominik Szoboszalai, Borussia Dortmund‘s Erling Haaland, Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konaté and Naby Keïta are just a few examples of how well this strategy has worked out, and the Red Bull network has been particularly proficient at finding talent in Africa. Patson Daka, the 22-year-old Zambian striker, is perhaps the crown jewel of this effort and having impressed during his time at Liefering and then at Red Bull Salzburg, he has now signed for Leicester City, in the Premier League, for a reported fee of £23 million.
This deal is also yet another example of Leicester City’s superb transfer planning in the last couple of seasons, as they have brought in some excellent young players with a lot of potential. Daka looks like being the successor to Jamie Vardy, and the timing of this move means that he will be able to settle in and adapt to the Premier League before being asked to become the main man at the King Power Stadium.
Playing and statistical profile
Daka is 6’1” tall and weighs 74 kgs, and his primary position is as a centre-forward. He is primarily right-footed, although he is quite good with his weaker foot as well, having scored quite a few goals with left-footed shots from a range of distances.
The Zambian international is quite a versatile forward, as he can play in a range of roles, but has thrived when playing as part of a front two for Salzburg. The club have primarily used a 4-2-2-2, in line with the Red Bull philosophy, and while Marco Rose and Jesse Marsch – the two head coaches he played under in Austria – did change their systems on occasion, they still usually persisted with a front two.
This will be something that may not necessarily be the case at Leicester, as Rodgers’ preferred system seems to be a 4-2-3-1, although he did move to a 3-5-2 quite successfully for large parts of last season, with Kelechi Iheanacho partnering Vardy. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out during pre-season as well as the start of the new season, and Daka may need to adapt to a slightly unfamiliar system at Leicester.
His career heatmap shows how he tends to operate primarily in the penalty area, while his work outside the box sees him gravitate towards the right flank. This is partly down to the fact that he has played in a front two for the majority of his career, and so, as the right-sided centre-forward, will often drop deep and wide, especially as the ‘wide’ midfielders in Salzburg’s system stay quite narrow.
In terms of his statistical profile, it must be noted that Daka is a goalscorer, before anything else. He scored 34 goals last season in 3,042 minutes of action across all competitions for Salzburg, which equates to a staggering rate of 1.01 goals per 90 minutes.
This is not a flash in the pan either – Daka scored 27 goals in the 2019/20 season at a rate of 0.85 goals per 90 minutes, showing just how lethal he has been. These statistics are even more impressive when we look at his xG stats for the same period – Daka had a total xG of 28.77 and 23.62 for the last two seasons respectively, equating to 0.85 and 0.77 xG per 90.
This demonstrates that while the Zambian has been overperforming his xG, he does not do so by a large margin – indeed, even if he had just met his xG totals, they would still be extremely impressive goalscoring numbers, and such high xG stats reflect his ability to get into excellent positions repeatedly – a skill that will be extremely valuable at Leicester City.
We will now look at some metrics from Daka’s 2020/21 season and compare him with strikers from across Europe’s top 5 leagues to understand just how good he is in comparison to his peers.
We are only considering players who had at least 1000 minutes on the pitch last season, as per Wyscout, and we will also look at both the entire universe of strikers who fit these categories, as well as U-23 strikers, to highlight Daka’s ability for his age group.
The first chart of this analysis is a simple comparison between non-penalty goals scored and xG per 90 for all strikers in the top five European leagues who had played at least 1000 minutes last season, along with Daka. It is important to remove penalties when calculating xG, in particular, since it is the most valuable scoring opportunity according to xG models (Wyscout gives it a value of 0.76; most data providers will be in the range of 0.74-0.76), and thus it will unfairly reflect well for regular penalty takers. Non-penalty xG, as well as goals, is a good way to evaluate players’ ability to get into good goalscoring positions and, of course, finish those chances off.
Players in green are 23 years old or younger, with those in red older than 23. We can see how Daka was one of the most productive goalscorers across Europe last season – his numbers here are even more impressive than those mentioned above since they are only for the league, while he came in second on both metrics, only behind Robert Lewandowski for npxG per 90 and Luis Muriel for non-penalty goals per 90. Muriel was very successful as a super-sub for Atalanta last season, which explains his ridiculous goals/90 ratio, and therefore Daka has the best goalscoring ratio for players who were regular starters for their sides.
These numbers are even more notable when we see just how few U-23 players have managed to post similar numbers – only Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe are anywhere near him, which should be an indicator of Daka’s quality.
Our next chart looks at touches in the box and shots per 90, with the size of each plot indicating the percentage of shots on target. Once again, Daka ranks among the top for both metrics, and this is also a good indicator of how he is a big threat in the box as well as a relatively high-volume shooter. What’s more, he got over 53% of his shots on target, which explains how he has managed to generate such impressive goalscoring and xG numbers. Another reason for this is that he rarely takes long-distance shots – all of his goals last season came from inside the penalty area.
The data also allows us to ascertain what Daka is not good at, as in this case, where the chart looks at dribbles and progressive runs per 90. The Zambian international only averaged 4.08 dribbles and 1.19 progressive runs per 90, which puts him firmly in the middle quartiles for both metrics. Daka is not the kind of player who will pick the ball up and run at defenders, getting past them through sleight of foot. He is much more likely to play quick one-touch passes to his teammates and make runs into space to receive possession again. However, he did have a dribble success rate of just under 50%, showing that while this is not a key part of his skill-set, he can get past an opponent in 1v1 situations when needed.
Thus, these charts allow us to build a basic profile of the kind of player Daka is – an excellent goalscorer who gets into good positions in the box, and is also involved quite a lot in the box. He is a quality shot-taker, getting the majority of his shots on target, while he does not make too many dribbles or progressive runs on the ball. Daka is a very agile and mobile forward and having established his statistical profile, we will now look at some in-game examples to see how he could potentially fit into Leicester City’s lineup.
Movement, positioning and close control
As mentioned earlier, Daka’s biggest asset is his movement – the 22-year-old makes excellent runs off the ball to get into good positions to receive possession, while his runs also often create space for teammates. He is also quite intelligent, knowing when to drop off and when to run in behind, and this variation in movement keeps opposition defenders guessing.
Daka is also quite good at playing quick and accurate one-touch passes in tight spaces, and this ability, combined with his intelligent positioning and movement, allow him to play quick combinations with his teammates in and around the box to open up space.
This is a good example of such a situation – Daka drops off from the Tirol backline to receive the ball to feet…
…and then plays a first-time flick back to his teammate, who then tries to play the ball back to him to put him through on goal, but the pass is intercepted.
Here, he drops away from the LASK defence, and with his strike partner staying on the defensive line, he is in a lot of space between the lines to receive the pass…
…and attempt to play his teammate in behind down the left flank.
Daka is one of those rare strikers who are comfortable dropping deep and running in behind – this should make him the perfect partner for Vardy in Leicester’s attack, as he could be the one to drop off to allow Vardy to run in behind. On the other hand, Daka himself could be the player making the run into space behind the backline – the Zambian is extremely quick, and his acceleration makes it nearly impossible to catch him once he has gone past you.
An example of a goal he scored against LASK Linz last season, where he runs onto a pass from his teammate…
…and finishes off the move with a smart finish into the corner, with his left foot, no less.
While we have mentioned just how fast Daka is, it is not just his speed that makes him so dangerous when running in behind. The 22-year-old is extremely intelligent, and he will often make subtle changes in his positioning, or in the timing of his runs, that will give him the advantage, either in terms of space or time, to then go on and score.
Initially, Daka is attempting to make a run in behind here, but Enock Mwepu’s pass to him is blocked.
As Mwepu regains possession, Daka has now moved out to the right, with his teammate playing the ball infield instead.
The opposition’s narrow positioning has allowed the Zambian attacker to now have a lot of space to run into behind the defence…
…and he is able to arrive unmarked onto his teammate’s pass, with the goalkeeper needing to make a good save to prevent a goal here.
This is another example of Daka’s excellent movement, incidentally also from the same match. When the ball is wide, Daka positions himself between the two LASK centre-backs here.
However, as the move progresses and his teammate now attempts to cross into the box, Daka comes alive, making a quick burst into the space ahead of the centre-back. Because he does so from behind him, the defender has no idea of Daka’s whereabouts, and is caught completely unawares…
…allowing him to nip in front and score with a superb glancing header.
Our last example is another instance of some excellent movement from the Zambian. Here, the dotted yellow arrow denotes the most obvious run for Daka to make – between the two Rapid Wien centre-backs, as his teammate advances with the ball. However, he makes a run across the space, towards the other centre-back. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the logic behind it will become clear in a moment.
As Daka runs across the two defenders, his marker stops and does not follow him, since he is now moving into the other defender’s “space”. That defender, however, is already preoccupied with Mergim Berisha, the player on the ball, and so does not track Daka either, leaving him free to run onto Berisha’s pass. The 22-year-old has a slightly poor first touch which allows the defender to recover, but luck comes back on his side, when his left-footed shot takes a deflection of the same defender and rolls into the net for a goal.
So how will he fit in at Leicester?
This scout report has shown that Daka is a superb finisher, with his intelligence enabling him to get into good goalscoring positions. The Zambian is able to both drop off and run in behind, and he is quite good at getting into space and away from defenders.
This, along with the fact that he has largely played in a two-striker system at club level so far, makes us believe that Brendan Rodgers would be best served by using him as part of a 3-5-2 for the Foxes. He could play with either Jamie Vardy or Kelechi Iheanacho – his skill-set is diverse enough to be the foil for either of these strikers, and it will be very interesting to track his progress in England now, as he certainly has all the attributes to be a superstar in the making.