In recent seasons, Chelsea have preferred to let their youngsters go out on loan. They want the players to experience a higher level of football and therefore enhance their ability. In terms of finance, some of those deals usually bring the club revenue and cut the wage bill short. This has become a very familiar scene at the London-based club which saw several names leaving the club either for a short period or on a permanent basis.
Conor Gallagher is one of those names who have been through that process this summer as he arrived at Charlton on loan. A U17 World Cup winner along with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden, he was still playing for Chelsea’s youth team before this summer window.
But at Charlton, he has lifted off after a streak of impressive performances for the newly-promoted side in the Championship. This tactical analysis scout report will provide an analysis of Gallagher’s performance at the London-based club up to now. Furthermore, using statistics and footage, we will point out his standout attributes and how has he influenced the team’s tactics.
Overview and style of play
After a summer haul of many new additions, Gallagher joined the squad with the expectation of replacing Joe Aribo. The new Rangers signing had had a very impressive season for the Addicks, scoring ten goals in a total of 39 appearances across all competitions.
In Lee Bowyer’s 4-4-2 diamond formation, he plays as a left-sided central midfielder along with another loanee in Josh Cullen. They support attacking midfielder Johnny Williams up front and receive the screen from veteran Darren Pratley below. As a dynamic midfielder, he usually divides his attacking and defending responsibilities quite equally.
In attack, his flexible, progressive runs provide a passing option for his teammates, and when he picks up the ball the creativity in his moves makes him a threat inside the box. Meanwhile, Gallagher is a part of Charlton’s 4-3-1-2 defensive structure. He usually puts pressure on the ball carrier as they enter their defensive third and intercept passes coming towards him.
Is he a playmaker or a dynamic midfielder?
Charlton have many talented midfielders in their squad, with several of them being playmakers. The likes of Sam Field, Josh Cullen and Erhun Öztümer tend to dictate the tempo of the game and will be the team’s main source of creativity. This also means Gallagher can be used in a different role that fits his style of play, specifically in the dynamic midfielder role.
His hard working attitude and the energy that he brings in every move helps him adapt to this role quicker. He has a quick mind which decides what he should do and where he must occupy. But that doesn’t prevent him from making passes to start the attack for the whole squad.
On the ball, the vision and anticipation he developed during his time with Chelsea allow him to find his teammates more accurately. Furthermore, with his traits of making long passes and changing the team’s attacking directions, those attributes become more crucial. When Charlton play against teams who usually defend deep in their half, this is the attacking method that they could use to break them down.
As Charlton’s formation swarm the central area, this requires both central midfielders to drift wide and occupies the half-spaces. Also, it’s worth noticing that Gallagher occasionally switches his position with the attacking midfielder to create more flexibility in his movements and he can shift across the pitch on more occasions.
When he moves to the wide area, he would create a passing triangle with the wing-back and the striker which helps them bypass the pressure. It also helps him capitalise on the space behind the opposition’s defensive line.
By positioning himself on the wing to receive the ball, Gallagher will be able to make crosses into the box. Using his vision, picking out the striker who has moved into free space is possible. Lyle Taylor is a striker who is good in the air due to his physicality (1.88m – 6’1”), therefore he can be at the end of the cross to head it home. Charlton also have new signing Chuks Aneke on the bench whose height is 1.91m (6’2”), and they are all possible choices that Gallagher could send the ball to.
Another viable option for the young English midfielder is to make a low cross that goes across the box. Jonathan Leko has the pace to beat the last line of defenders and approach the ball for a tap-in. Another new signing in Macauley Bonne is also a name that likes to score from close-range.
Registering an average of 2.54 long passes (with the accuracy rate of 56.3%) and 7.63 forward passes (64.6%) per game, he is establishing himself as one of Bowyer’s first choice for his midfield diamond. The confidence that he has when deciding his pass destination creates the insurance for the receiver. It allows him to continue the progressive run and even outline his intention.
With that being said, Gallagher could still play as a playmaker when needed. In terms of his stats in the first six games, they are quite decent for a player of his calibre. But compared to Cullen, the West Ham loanee still shows superiority in his passes. As a natural playmaker, Cullen provides more creativity on the ball and links up with his teammates on more occasions.
His intelligence is not only showed among his passes, but he also makes the most out of it in his off-the-ball movements. Starting from a deeper position, Gallagher usually arrives late for the situation and capitalises on space being left behind. On his way to that gap, either Taylor and Leko could feed him the ball which allows the young English midfielder to continue his progressive run.
In the situation below against Brentford, his run started from deep inside the middle third and he also noticed the gap in behind the opposition’s defensive line. Using his pace, he sprinted towards that space and beat his marker at the same time. Meanwhile, Taylor dropped deep to receive the long pass which he laid it off to Gallagher later on.
During that same match, one of those situations eventually led to the winning goal for Charlton. In this scenario, his positional awareness helped him identify a huge gap right in front of the box. Thanks to Taylor’s movement which attracted two defenders, it helped the Chelsea loanee to receive the through ball and go on to beat David Raya.
It’s also worth noticing that Brentford have left Gallagher unmarked and allowed him to execute what he intended. Besides the Montserratian striker, each Charlton player was followed by one Brentford player. They all won the superiority to keep them in control and in sight, but for Gallagher, as he accelerated towards the gap he left Mathias Jensen behind. Ethan Pinnock noticed this and attempted to close him down but unfortunately he wasn’t quick enough to reach for the ball and stop the goal.
Meanwhile, when Gallagher is on the ball he usually runs on from midfield, skip away from his marker, and play the ball wide towards the wing-back. On average, he registered 3.5 dribbles per game and completed 54.5%. As he (and the other attackers) is given the license to dribble more with the ball, it’s no surprise to see such a high number for a central midfielder.
Confidence with the ball at his feet is something that we occasionally see from the youngster. He never shies away from going on his own and even beat the opposition’s player with a small technical move. Under the pressure, Gallagher would turn his back towards the marker and play a ‘round-the-corner’ ball to one of his teammates. This requires the players to be concentrating on knowing where the ball carrier will drop the ball, but it also keeps the attack progressing up the pitch.
To do what he is doing on a weekly basis a player must have stamina and strength to cope with the expectation. Gallagher is no exception, although this is the first time he’s experiencing a higher level of football compared to his time with Chelsea U23. There is a reason why he is a regular presence for Charlton in the five recent games and his dynamic style of play acts as a link between the midfielders and the attackers. While Pratley usually stays deep and Cullen moves forward occasionally, Gallagher joins the attack and turns the formation into a 4-2-2-2. He pairs up with Jonny Williams to provide support for the striking duo up front, as well as looking for chances themselves.
Besides being a threat in open play, he is also capable of driving free-kicks to the direction that he wants, similar to the shot below. The flair that he adds into the shot and the vision which helps him identify the weak spot are two common things that Gallagher shows in these type of situations. Up to now, he still hasn’t had the chance to showcase his ability to Charlton fans. But with the season still in its early days, it won’t be too long until Gallagher sends the crowd into raptures with a free-kick.
Involvement in the team’s defence
As mentioned, he is very actively involved in defensive duels across the pitch. He isn’t worried about the fact that he may lack physicality against the opposition as there is only one thing in his mind: recovering possession. On his way to tracking back into his team’s half, he will assess the situation and pick out what is the best solution for him.
In case he is positioned near the ball carrier, he would sprint towards the player and force him to make a heavy touch. After that, his leg span will help him stretch out for the ball and send it towards a defender below him. On several occasions, Gallagher could even show the ball carrier onto his weaker foot and put pressure on him to win possession back. It’s fair to say that he is a modern midfielder who can take on responsibilities at both ends of the field.
Gallagher is never a player who likes to get stuck into tackles, but would rather win the ball on his feet. Indeed, as he only made an average of 1.04 sliding tackles per 90 minutes while having 4.85 interceptions and 6.4 recoveries (43.2% were inside the opposite half) to his name. But playing in a system which requires pressing and aims to recover possession high up the pitch, committing fouls seems inevitable. He averages 1.73 fouls per game and has received one yellow card when playing against Reading.
As the team tends to defend high up the pitch, they are required to create quick turnovers and swarm the final third with men. Playing as a left-sided central midfielder, Gallagher could drop out from his line to occupy the half-space. His positioning and decision-making sometimes help him to predict where the ball carrier is passing the ball towards. It allows him to disrupt the ball’s movement and intercept the pass.
At times his pace also comes in handy when he attempts to cover gaps in front of the box. This shot from the game against Barnsley shows their right-back, Toby Sibbick, reach for the ball and continue his run. Still, Gallagher (marked in darker red) noticed his run and chose a quicker way to both cover the gap and win the duel later on.
This will become extremely helpful for his teammates who can’t recover from their attacking positions. Gallagher will then fill in their spot and form the defensive line along with the remaining defenders. He could even become the focal point in creating overloads or shifting the structure laterally to prevent the opposition from entering the box.
Having been in the side that triumphed in the U17 World Cup in India, Gallagher makes a late start compared to several of his teammates. Still, his time at Chelsea developed his ability and also provided him with what he needs to become a better player. The time has finally come for him to experience the level of football that is able to give him playing time.
At Charlton, he has thrived and upped his game in Lee Bowyer’s 4-1-2-1-2 formation. Adopting a more dynamic style of play and with the energetic attitude that he has, Gallagher has turned himself into a very reliable option. On the ball, he has the option of making penetrative passes towards his teammates to create chances for them, or he could capitalise his dribbling ability to drive forward on his own, attracting the attention of defenders and create spaces for his teammates to move in. In defence, his positioning and spatial awareness help him identify the gaps that need to be filled in, therefore he could intercept passes to recover possession for his side and signal for the start of an attack.
Gallagher has a very bright future in front of him. At the age of just 19, he is on his way on becoming another successful graduate from Chelsea’s academy. Furthermore, his impressive performance might catch the eye of Frank Lampard sooner or later. With his philosophy of giving youth players a chance to prove themselves, his first-team debut in the blue shirt should come on a very near occasion.
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