This transfer window, many talented attacking players have been purchased from Championship clubs. Examples include Che Adams, Neal Maupay and Oliver McBurnie. However, while the aforementioned players have all made the step up to a Premier League club, Kemar Roofe made an unusual switch from England for Belgium in the form of a transfer from Leeds United to Anderlecht. This tactical analysis scout report will investigate the player, identify his background, strengths, weaknesses and provide an objective statistical appraisal of the player in comparison with other departing attackers. Such analysis will be utilised to discuss how Roofe fit into Marcelo Bielsa’s tactical system at Leeds, and how he may fit into Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht.
While synonymous with many players who have developed through an English club’s academy system, Roofe’s career pathway also has some moves many would find unexpected. Starting out at West Bromwich Albion as a youth player, Roofe impressed enough to earn a professional contract, however, he was unable to force his way into the seniors to make any first-team appearances during his four-year professional stint at the club.
Like many youth prospects, Kemar Roofe was transferred on several loan deals, the first of which was Víkingur Reykjavík, the unexpected move mentioned above. Roofe made two appearances for the team but failed to score. After the combination of a lack of opportunities and performance-based impression, Roofe took on loan deals closer to home at lower-league clubs including Northampton Town, Cheltenham Town and Colchester United. However, the player only scored one goal in 17 appearances and failed to nail down a starting role or permanent transfer.
At 22, Kemar Roofe was still young enough to progress his professional career. He went on loan to Oxford United and finally produced the performances which his reputation as an exciting academy prospect from a Premier League team suggested. Roofe scored six goals in 16 games and did enough to tempt Oxford into making his deal permanent.
After dropping down the leagues to secure a first-team role at Oxford, Roofe then began to showcase his talent on a regular basis. He scored 26 goals in 49 appearances at Oxford in 2015/16, a ratio of 0.53 goals per appearance, essentially meaning he scored just over one goal every two games. Due to his impressive performances, Roofe was voted English Football League Two player of the year in 2016 and was also included in the League Two team of the year. His individual performances helped Oxford gain promotion to League One in second place.
The 2015/16 performances of the Englishman were enough to attract the attention of Leeds United, who won the battle to sign him for an undisclosed seven-figure sum. Since then, Roofe has played under numerous managers including Garry Monk and Marcelo Bielsa, both of whom saw Roofe as an instrumental player in the team. Between 2016 and 2019, Roofe scored 28 goals in 110 appearances for Leeds as they pushed for promotion to the Premier League. A decreased rate of 0.25 goals per appearance occurred, however, comparisons between his time at Oxford and Leeds are difficult due to the higher quality present in the Championship.
2018/19 under Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa is well known for being an influential manager, earning praise for his tactical innovation over the years from Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino. To give a quick summary, Bielsa Ball, as it is frequently referred to, is a tactical system which involves fast attacking football, aiming to win the ball back in high areas to enable dangerous starting points for attacks. Within possession, there is a mixture of rehearsal and creative invention, with players allowed offensive freedom within the confines of play which involves multiple positional rotations in order to create space and overloads in different areas of the pitch. The team plays out from the back on many occasions. Full backs and wingers push high, the central defensive midfielder drops back or roams where needed, the other central midfielder holds hs position while the number 10 pushes up behind the striker. Out of possession, the system is frequently identified as a 4-1-4-1, but in possession, it plays as a 3-3-1-3
Kemar Roofe fit into the system well, with his work rate, physical ability, movement and link-up play being cited as strengths in the defensive and build-up phases, before his finishing ability and goal return impressed in the box.
Playing as a centre-forward, Roofe had to be the trigger for Leeds pressing, to complete this role successfully and press the central defender or deepest player on the ball, Roofe needs the mental attitude and physical ability to continue to press intermittently for 90 minutes. Roofe understood that his movements may need to be unselfish, he may not win the ball himself, but his pressure may force the opponent to play a pass to a team-mate, who should be under pressure from another Leeds player. This process would continue until Leeds win the ball back or the opposition team beat the press. Another example of Roofe’s work rate can be seen in his tracking back. Roofe often shows his determination to win the ball back by tracking a player who beats the press, often deep into his own half. While Roofe doesn’t always win the ball, he makes it far more difficult for the offensive player to progress.
As highlighted, Bielsa’s tactical remit is to create space via player movement and rotations. Roofe learned to understand this and unselfishly utilise his movement to attract defenders out of position, prior to offensive midfielders for Leeds exploiting the space. Such movement frequently involves a drop-off movement and link up with wide players or attacking central midfield players. Roofe is adept at performing such movements, which also create space due to the decision of a central defender to follow him or retain the defensive line, given his background playing as a winger and support striker or number 10 in previous club roles.
Whilst Kemar Roofe’s discussed strengths all contribute to the successful completion of tactical processes, Roofe’s goal-scoring as a central striker also need an appraisal. It is Roofe’s movement, dribbling ability and pace which enable him to find shooting opportunities in and around the opposition’s penalty area.
A potential weakness to Roofe’s game is linked to his small stature. At just 5ft 10in height and 65kg, Roofe is a lightweight striker in comparison to many other Championship strikers and their opposing central defensive counterparts. This hinders his game if Leeds are ever forced to play long balls up to the striker as he lacks the physicality to challenge in the air, leading to Leeds relying solely upon ground play with Roofe as the lone striker.
This is also the case for aerial crosses into the box, Roofe is rarely able to impose himself on a central defender and win an aerial duel in order to have an attempt on goal. To counter this, Roofe utilises his movement in the box, and rather than competing with defenders, he finds space where he can operate at his own aerial level if he can be found by a teammate with a cross.
Another aspect of Roofe’s game, which may be defined as a weakness, was his injury proneness throughout the 18/19 season. Historically, the player has been fortunate not to suffer many injuries. However, throughout the season, Roofe missed 13 matches through injuries including knee ligament damage and a calf injury. Should Roofe have been fit for some of the matches he missed, Leeds may have been celebrating an automatic promotion spot as opposed to a loss in a play-off semi-final. With Roofe in the squad, he led Leeds to record a 56% win rate versus a 50% win rate when Roofe was not in the Championship squad. This highlights the importance of Kemar Roofe within a squad.
In preparation for the 18/19 season, injury struck again as an ankle injury occurred and is set to keep him out for four weeks. While the injuries do not seem recurring or related, multiple lower limb injuries could be a concern. It remains to be seen whether such injury issues are behind Roofe or whether it will hinder him during his time at Anderlecht
Comparison with Championship exports
In order to add further context to Roofe’s performances and why they warranted interest from Anderlecht, we can compare Roofe to Championship players from 18/19 who have been bought by other clubs. In the case of Tammy Abraham, he has gone back to parent club Chelsea.
|Player||Non-penalty goals per 90||xG per 90||Goal conversion %||Assists per 90||Dribbles per 90||Dribble success%||Successful defending per 90|
While all of the players in the list scored more goals than Roofe, when we account for injuries and the varying minutes played via per 90 stats, we can see that all players have extremely close goals per 90. Roofe is finishing his chances at 0.11 per 90 under the average rate, this differential is superior to Neal Maupay, and Tammy Abraham, but not, Che Adams or Oliver McBurnie who outperform their xG. Roofe is outperformed in terms of goal conversion rate and assists per 90, ranking fifth in both. Roofe should be looking to improve on his one assist in the league when he gets underway at Anderlecht. The multifaceted influence of Roofe discussed above is reinforced by the dribbles per 90 and successful defensive actions per 90 stats. Roofe is ranked first for both, highlighting his movement off the front and the dribbling skills earned via his playing time in different attacking positions. Roofe’s work rate in the press and tracking back stacks up in the data, suggesting he successfully performs tackling, interception and duel events when pressing or tracking more so than the other players compared.
How will he fit in at Anderlecht?
While Leeds will give everything to earn promotion to the Premier League this season, Roofe has decided to join Belgian First Division A team Anderlecht. Four-time Premier League winner, Vincent Kompany, is the new manager. His appointment and the prospect of being a part of a potential Anderlecht’s rise challenging for a top division trophy and earn a champions league place is likely to have encouraged Roofe’s decision.
Anderlecht performed poorly in the 18/19 season, finishing fourth in the regular season and bottom place sixth in the play-offs. On the face of it, such finishing positions do not seem disappointing. However, when you consider that Anderlecht are the most successful Belgian team, with 34 championship wins, any season where Anderlecht fail to win or fail to challenge for the title is deemed a poor one.
Whilst there is not much data to confidently suggest Anderlecht’s approach for the season. A tactical analysis of the initial three matches suggests that Anderlecht will play with a 4-3-3 formation, also known as a 4-1-4-1 formation if the wingers drop back to support the midfield. On paper, this system is the same as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds formation. However, Kompany’s in and out of possession philosophy is unlikely to follow the same format which sees Leeds turn into a 3-3-1-3. Instead, a 2-3-5 can be seen in the average formation. So far, it would appear the Anderlecht team are still getting to grips with Kompany’s style of play, given they have had one loss and two draws in their opening three matches.
In terms of play, it looks as though Anderlecht are looking to dominate possession like Bielsa’s team, with an average of 67.9% possession, the highest average in the league. They look to build on that possession and create space by passing the ball, Anderlecht are also ranked first for passes per game with an average of 622 per 90, however, of these passes per game, 48 are long which is ranked second in the league. Although given Anderlecht play more passes in general, it is likely that their percentage of long passes is lower than league competitors. This is reinforced as Anderlecht also have the highest pass success rate with 89%, suggesting that shorter passes, safer passes are played to contribute to such accuracy and possession. Given Kompany’s exposure to Pep Guardiola and the philosophy of playing out from the back, such short passing stats also suggest a playing out from the back approach. This is confirmed via match analysis. Out of possession, Anderlecht are a pressing side, with 8.77 PPDA, fourth-ranked in the league.
If we compare this statistical start of Anderlecht to Leeds, we can see some similarities. Leeds topped the charts for possession in 18/19 with 62.9%. Leeds were second for passes per 90 with 468, 50 of which were long, similar to Anderlecht’s total but more in terms of proportion. Leeds were ranked 5th for passing accuracy with 82%. Leeds’ frantic pressing style is also confirmed with a PPDA of 7.62, a ranking of seventh in the Championship.
While there are major differences between the leagues, it is clear by the statistical comparison and how each team ranks in their respective leagues that there are many similarities between the play of 18/19 Leeds and 19/20 Anderlecht. Both teams like to play out from the back, defend and attack via the maintenance of possession and utilise an intense press when they lose the ball to try and win it back to attack or maintain control of the contest. It would appear that Leeds play in a more intense league in general, with a PPDA of 7.62 only ranking them seventh. The PPDA and tactical tendencies of Leeds also suggest that they try to move the ball faster, utilising a higher proportion of long passes, resulting in a lower pass success rate than Anderlecht.
The similarities between Leeds, Anderlecht are unsurprising. We also must bring Manchester City into the equation who also play a similar way. The influential manager chain stems from Bielsa. Guardiola studied Bielsa’s football during his early managerial years. From there, Guardiola developed a similar style with his twist, before passing on his knowledge to Kompany who is just starting his managerial journey. Therefore, the similarities between the teams are more than coincidence, they are a combination of widely shared values of football with individual tweaks based on personal preference or playing squad available.
Due to the similarities between Leeds and Anderlecht’s play, it suggests that Roofe will not have to adapt his game too much. In an appreciation line regarding modern data analytics and scouting, it would be positive to discover if Kompany and his recruitment team at Anderlecht analysed Leeds, Roofe and projected their style of play to determine whether or not the player could meet the demands of the tactical set up at the Belgian club. After hearing how meticulous Vincent Kompany is in his playing preparation, it would suggest that he would request the same of his recruitment team and analysts.
Roofe’s main task will be forming partnerships with his Anderlecht teammates, impressing Vincent Kompany in training and taking his chance of the field when given. At the moment, Roofe is injured. When fit, he will challenge Pieter Gerkens, the selected centre forward in the first three matches, for the sole striker role. A positive for Roofe is that he can play on the left or right-wing if needed, however, given the numbers he has produced in the last few seasons and his positional preferences, it will be the number 9 role that he desires.
Overall, Kemar Roofe has proved himself to be an effective and important player in a complex tactical set up under Bielsa. He is able to lead the line, not by physical presence, but by his impressive movement, link-up play and finishing when played in himself. Roofe has the mental and physical attributes to maintain an intense press and trackback when opponents beat the initial press. In a comparison with other Championship exports, Roofe holds his own, with compared players ranking slightly better for goals and assists, but Roofe offering more in terms of movement, dribbling and defensive aspects. The pathway to Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht looks straightforward in terms of tactical adaptation given the similarities between Anderlecht’s recent tactics and Leeds in 18/19. However, it will be interesting to see if, when fit, Roofe can earn a starting spot in the team and adapt to perform effectively for Anderlecht.
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