This summer Jonjoe Kenny became one of the recent examples of a young English player moving to Germany on loan looking to kick start their career. Kenny’s situation is slightly different, in that he has made appearances for Everton, and that now at the age of 22 is entering a point in his career where he has to perform. Since his move to Schalke, Kenny has performed consistently well for the Gelsenkirchen-based side, playing every game in the Bundesliga and impressing David Wagner and I’ve no doubt Everton’s staff. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Kenny is performing at Schalke, how his strengths fit into their tactics and assess his future career prospects.
The main taking point of this analysis of Kenny is his ability to play line-breaking passes from full-back, something which has been backed up by statistics from the Bundesliga. Kenny has completed the 5th most progressive passes in the league so far this season, and below we can see some examples of these passes within Schalke’s system.
A key feature of Kenny’s game is his reluctance to play straight passes down the line, which are often difficult to control for the receiver as they often have to be received with their back to goal, therefore leaving less passing options available. Instead, Kenny tries to be patient when possible, and looks to play diagonal passes into the centre of the pitch, which gives the receiver of the ball more passing angles when receiving the ball, and therefore gives a better chance of ball progression. We can see here a common pass from Kenny, where he receives the ball from the centre backs and plays the ball back inside.
We can see another example here of this kind of pass, this time with the passing angle narrowed slightly. Again, rather than playing a pass down the line, Kenny plays a much more difficult pass inside, with Schalke able to progress the ball. The runners down the line offer another option for Kenny but also create space in the middle for players to receive.
We can see one final example here, where Kenny could again try and play down the line, or choose to turn and go backwards. Instead, with a pressing player close, he tries a pass inside at an acute angle, and successfully plays the ball inside. Again, with Schalke’s attackers in lots of space thanks to the wide players, Schalke can progress through the middle.
Considering how many he attempts, being in the top 30 in the Bundesliga for progressive pass accuracy is pretty good, but there is some room for improvement still. Practising these progressive passes in these games for a full season will no doubt aid his development and allow him to boost his accuracy.
It’s also possible Kenny could have more progressive passes tallied up, if not for Schalke’s occasional lapses in build-up play, which we can see below. Again, the same principles apply of a decoy runner creating space by vacating a space and encouraging a runner to receive inside it. However, occasionally, the runner arrives too late or not at all, which is when Kenny is forced either backwards or down the line. It’s also important to avoid playing into pressing traps in situations from wide areas, for example below Kenny refuses to play the ball unless Serdar is able to move from his man and closer to him.
Here, when Kenny receives the ball the space should already be vacated and Kenny should be able to play an inside pass. The decoy run should start to be made while the ball travels to Kenny, but because it is made when Kenny receives the ball, it becomes obvious and predictable and Kenny cannot simply wait for the space to become ope, as he is being pressed from the front.
Kenny is also a good crosser of the ball and shows good movement consistently to get into high-quality crossing positions. Kenny is able to time deep runs from wide areas well, with the key feature being his starting positioning and timing to start the run. Kenny avoids being marked by remaining deep, and also gives himself enough time to make the run and gain momentum without being caught offside. Remaining wide also poses the obvious dilemma for the defender of whether to cover the inside or outside passing lane, which in my opinion the answer should always be the inside one in these situations. Kenny therefore has lots of space to receive the ball in behind and can cross across the box.
Here, Kenny’s run is triggered by the Schalke player receiving the ball and turning out. He can then receive the pass within more space by arriving late. His pace also allows him to start his runs slightly later, but again, the timing of when to start the run is key for Kenny.
Once in these positions, Kenny is dangerous from crossing positions, with a decent crossing accuracy of 36%, which is 10% higher than Séamus Coleman’s accuracy at Everton, with Coleman averaging half a cross more per game.
Kenny also seems to have a great attitude out of possession, and contributes to Schalke’s overall tenacity when out of possession. Below we can see some examples of Kenny pressing successfully, and demonstrating some out of possession intelligence.
In this example of a defensive transition for Schalke, Kenny recognises a gap in the counter-press and therefore recognises that he must immediately press the player looking to receive the ball. He is then able to get tight as the ball is received, and able to stop any potential counter and win the ball back.
Here Jadon Sancho receives the ball with his back to Kenny, who stays tight and pushes Sancho back, while not allowing him to turn. His tenacity then allows him to keep at Sancho, eventually tackling him.
This tackle leads to a counter-attack led by Kenny as seen below, where Rabbi Matondo has a good chance to score.
Here Kenny’s press is a little slow, as he could get tighter to the player who receives the ball but sets off too late. Kenny, however, is able to correct his mistake, recognising that he cannot get to the first ball, therefore deciding to cut the passing lane of the first man and intercepting the ball.
Area for improvement
As far as improvement goes, there are several little tweaks Kenny could make to his game, but nothing too major. Kenny’s strength could do with some work, as he has a habit of almost bouncing off players at times when trying to tackle, but this is a relatively easy fix and his attitude tends to make up for it. His technical dribbling skills are still pretty raw as well as his first touch, with only a 47% dribbling success rate and only 1.73 successful dribbles per game compared to Coleman’s stats of 46% success with 5.02 per game. Adding this element to his game and improving his first touch would benefit him and add another dimension to his play. His defensive numbers are virtually equal to Coleman’s so far this season and Kenny’s offensive numbers such as crossing accuracy are marginally better, so if Kenny can maintain his good start to life in Germany, he may find a starting position for himself back at Everton, or a permanent move elsewhere. Kenny is by no means refined yet, but there are areas of his game which indicate potential, as highlighted in this scout report.
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