How Frank Lampard has transformed Alex Iwobi into the heartbeat of Everton – scout report
Throughout his time in senior football, Alex Iwobi has pretty much exclusively been used as a winger for both Arsenal and Everton. He was expected to produce both goals and assists from wide positions where he would be isolated in 1v1 situations against opposition fullbacks. However, that was never, and never will be his game. Iwobi still produced good, yet inconsistent performances in those positions, even though he was played in a role which didn’t suit his strengths.
A £35 million price tag when he moved to Everton came with high and unrealistic expectations, for a player whose performances should not be judged by his output. The question then becomes, ‘what does Iwobi offer?’. Well, he is a player most suited to playing in central areas, with excellent close control and passing abilities, which allow him to be excellent at helping his teams retain possession, as well as creating chances from the half-space. Alex Iwobi is a hard-working midfield player who is strong in both defensive ground duels and creative with his passing and ball-carrying.
For the first time in his career, Alex Iwobi has finally been given a chance to play in a central area by current manager Frank Lampard. He has started the season in fine form, with consistently strong performances from deeper, whilst also adding goal contributions on top of that. This strong start even earned him a nomination for the player of the month award, which further proves just how well he has been playing.
This tactical analysis will come in the form of a scout report to show what makes Alex Iwobi stand out in his first season as a central midfielder. The analysis will highlight the skills Iwobi possesses that make him so strong in midfield and the tactics that allow him to showcase some of his strengths.
Iwobi’s role at Everton
Frank Lampard has mainly utilised a 4-3-3 formation at Everton this season. He has instructed his team to go long in the build-up, with the aim of winning the ball back up in higher areas from loose balls. In the build-up, this makes the Everton midfield redundant, although they need to have good anticipation and skill under pressure to retain the ball in higher areas.
In settled play, Iwobi is used to maintain possession of the ball. while also moving higher up to create chances for the front three. While Alex Iwobi is better suited to a possession-based side, where he can display his excellent technical skill more frequently. This style still allows him to have lots of time on the ball, as his teammates look for him to pass the ball to and progress play through him.
Alex Iwobi’s biggest strength, and something that makes him more suited to playing as a midfielder rather than a winger, is his excellent technical quality which makes him a reliable passer of the ball and a ball magnet for his team. In the build-up phase, Alex Iwobi always drops deep to help his defenders have a forward passing option to progress play. Iwobi has the positional awareness to always be an option for his teammates to pass the ball to, which enables them to build play rather than going long and having the risk of winning the aerial duel or not.
In the deep areas, Iwobi is comfortable at dropping deep and sometimes rotating with his full-back, to take responsibility for the build-up by being the man to progress the play for Everton. Alex Iwobi has the technical skill to control the ball under pressure, the vision to find teammates, and the ability to pass the ball through tight spaces. This image below shows how Iwobi is composed enough to keep the ball rather than go long, as well as the actual ability to find a forward player in acres of space. Iwobi’s composure on the ball has regularly allowed Everton to retain possession and start attacks rather than going long and taking the risk of the front line winning the aerial duels.
The pass map below shows Iwobi’s preference to play on the left-hand side of a midfield three, although on occasions he has also played on the right side. Alex Iwobi is a player who enjoys having the ball, and frequently gets in positions to receive it and offer routes of ball progression. Although he’s playing in a direct team, the map still shows just how much of the ball Iwobi has been getting. A key skill of Iwobi’s ball-playing excellence in the middle of the park is his ability to retain the ball even when under pressure. Iwobi’s dribbling should be expected to be good, after his stints in wide areas for the majority of his career, and this previous experience makes him extremely talented at getting out of high-pressure situations. The image below is a perfect example of Iwobi’s ability to take multiple players out of the game, by shuffling the ball across from one foot to the other and instantly playing the pass to the free player.
Alex Iwobi has recently also added a variety of passes into his game. As a dictator of attacks, it’s important that Iwobi has the ability to switch play effectively in order to try and stretch the opposition’s back line from side to side, to open up gaps either centrally or out wide. Iwobi seems to have a real arsenal of passing weapons, with the ability to play incisive passes, driven balls over the top, lofted through balls and hard passes into feet.
The image below shows Alex Iwobi switching play, where he plays a 40-yard ball, yet the ball never goes too wayward. This shows his excellent passing technique and simultaneously means that the Aston Villa defensive block has very little time to shuffle across the pitch.
The final aspect which makes Alex Iwobi such a dangerous midfielder is his creativity in the final third combined with his ability to play an incisive pass through the back line. Iwobi has the maturity and tactical awareness to make correct decisions the majority of the time in the final third.
When the pass is not on, Iwobi is smart enough to just retain possession, whilst he has the confidence and ability to play deadly balls even when the defensive structure may seem like it’s all there. This image below shows just how deadly Alex Iwobi can be in the final third, with his top-notch passing ability to perfectly weight a pass to break past the defensive line whilst also not being so heavy that the goalkeeper can intercept it.
Another form of creativity for Alex Iwobi is his crossing from the half-spaces. Iwobi has the vision to spot runners and play a pass where it is perhaps better for his team to keep possession from the opponents. The image below illustrates how Iwobi has identified a 2v1 at the back post. He plays in a perfectly curved cross, which is missed by Onana but the 2v1 means that McNeil can attack the ball after everyone else has missed it.
Alex Iwobi has already played a number of key passes in Premier League games this weekend. His ability to penetrate opposition back lines, even when playing for a team who is more defensive and sees less of the ball, shows just how impressive his passing abilities are. The map below shows every time Iwobi has played a pass for a teammate who has then shot. Creating so many chances, when playing for a weaker team shows Iwobi’s efficiency in front of goal.
A big reason as to why Iwobi was always played wide in his earlier career, was because of his excellent ball manipulation abilities. This simply meant that he could lure defenders in to try and win the ball back, which would then unbalance them, thus making it easier for the likes of Iwobi to dribble past them. Having the ability to manipulate your opponents is probably the most important skill required when you played for a team like Arsenal who faced low blocks and needed someone comfortable in tight spaces.
However, an elite winger also needs the ability to beat their man using pace, for when a defender gets too far and you cannot manipulate them anymore. Alex Iwobi always lacked the burst of pace to regularly beat his man, which meant defenders could back off him without the usual consequences when playing against top wingers.
The image below shows just how good Iwobi is at manipulating the ball when a defender comes too close. Alex Iwobi likes to lure in opponents by moving the ball towards them before taking it away and dribbling around them. Iwobi also has the ability to effectively turn either way, meaning he is comfortable in different areas of the pitch.
While Iwobi doesn’t have the quickest burst of pace, he has the stride length in his legs which allows him to be a very effective ball carrier from deep. Having longer strides means that you can cover longer distances with the same amount of steps and energy used up. The image below shows a perfect example of how Iwobi on the run is impossible to dispossess, taking the ball from the left back area all the way past the halfway line.
The image below further illustrates how Iwobi likes to play. As you can see, the majority of the carries come through the central area of the 18-yard box, rather than on the sides as wingers do. Iwobi’s lack of pace out wide, alongside his strong ball manipulation skills, perfectly describes just why he is better in central areas, and should not be used in wide positions again.
Historically, Alex Iwobi has only scored 16 goals from an xG of 20.5. This underperformance in front of goal is yet another reason why Iwobi should be utilised deeper. His lack of composure in front of goal, alongside his inability to strike through the ball with power make him a pretty average finisher.
However, this past season, Iwobi has displayed promising signs in front of goal, by taking more efforts from range, where he has more time to pick a target and aim for it. There have been numerous occasions this season where Iwobi was inches away from scoring, and this past weekend his shot from range against Manchester United was finally successful.
If Iwobi can maintain his accuracy of shots from range in the future, he will become a final third threat in terms of both goalscoring and creativity, which will make him a dangerous opponent for any team he faces. In the past, it has been easier to back off Iwobi and prevent more dangerous outlets from gaining possession than Iwobi, although this no longer is the case and defenders will be panicking if Iwobi picks the ball up in a dangerous area.
In conclusion, this scout report has summed up exactly why Alex Iwobi has shone in midfield, why he is a danger for any opponents he comes up against, and how Frank Lampard achieved this. Alex Iwobi’s final third threat is extremely dangerous and his ability to help Everton retain possession makes them a completely different side compared to seasons in the past, where the midfield has usually been overly energetic, and full of runners rather than ball players.