Scottish football has historically received criticism over the quality of football compared to other nations’ first divisions. But the Scottish Premier League has never been short of talent. The latest player to gather international scouts’ attention is the 21-year-old energetic left-back, Kieran Tierney. In this individual analysis, we’ll discover what makes him a top fullback, and what could be expected from him in the future.
With Celtic lining up in a variety of formations such as a 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-1-1 – it’s Tierney’s ability to play in defensive and attacking fullback roles to such a high standard that allows him to be so useful. His ability to play as a left-back supporting his midfield in transition is great. What is equally impressive is his ability to play as a left wing-back with no player ahead of him, something you usually see, with the 3-4-3 system become a trend in the last few years.
Tierney starts 76% of games at LB and the remaining 14% at LWB. Underlining his versatility.
Tierney is number 63 for Celtic. All through the game, he was the only player on the left-wing. In the first half, he played as a left-back with the task of supporting his midfield in transition.
In the second half, he was pivotal in the formation change. With Celtic going to a 3-5-1-1 in attempt to press more efficiently, Tierney pressed higher up the pitch. This aided his team massively in the press, allowing his side to trap Leipzig higher up the pitch. Or, setting up in a low block, which closed any space for the adventurous RB Leipzig to exploit.
Sprint speed, work rate, and intelligence are the best three ingredients Tierney has to offer.
Kieran Tierney possesses very good pace. This allows him to be an even better player. He can make decisions at a fast pace, anticipate attacking situations, and attack players at speed. A combination that makes for a world-class full-back.
In this image shown above, Aberdeen are pressing Celtic very well. However, as Tierney has overlapped into space, Aberdeen are forced to shift across to counter this. Tierney catches them in transition, he anticipates that there will be open space for him to run into and exploit if he knocks the ball past his man.
Tierney has blistering pace, this knock on created a foot race between the Aberdeen right-back and Tierney. Tierney won the race, and as a result of this, he has shifted the entire defence & midfield – opening acres of space for his teammates to exploit.
An eye for a pass
Like most top fullbacks, Tierney has an excellent eye for a pass – something incredibly vital for any attacking left-back that allows them to impact any big game.
Tierney has the ability to draw players in with his direct dribbling, this often opens up space for him to exploit. With an impressive pass success ratio of 80.4%, Tierney is a trusted and safe passer. With 8.38 passes into the final third per game, it’s proven that Kieran Tierney is a progressive passer who will pass into dangerous zones when the opportunity arises.
In the image above, we see an intelligent through ball that led to a goal. This vision shown by Tierney asserts his overall ability, and how he is such a complete fullback. With 4.34 passes into the box per game, Tierney shows the desire to set up goals or play key passes that split defences.
The image above underlines Kieran Tierney’s impressive technique. This pass to Sinclair broke an intense press by Aberdeen. This image above also shows how good he is under pressure, with 3 players surrounding him, and other Aberdeen players pressing Celtic players coming deep, it highlights Tierney’s high levels of composure – something highly important to any modern attacking fullback.
Robertson v Tierney
With two special talents playing in one position, Scotland will have a tough job trying to decide who to play. Statistically, it’s a closely fought battle. With Andrew Robertson winning some, and Tierney winning another set of key stats. Lets’ compare some of the more important stats for fullbacks and I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Expected assists is a metric that is becoming more common as the days go by. It is a metric based on the quality of chances. Roberton everso slightly wins this one. With an xA of 8.04 compared to Tierney’s 7.96. This metric predicted correctly, with Robertson boasting 8 assists over Tierney’s rightly so, predicted 7. This stat rightly so shows that Robertson is better going forward, and is a much more potent threat in the cross.
Crosses per 90;
This is a shocker! Tierney delivers more crosses per game than Robertson. Tierney whips in 4.41 crosses per game, as opposed to Robertson’s 3.73. But this goes back to the old saying, quality over quantity.
Dribbles per 90;
This is an underrated stat for fullbacks in my opinion. The ability to dribble at a high pace is what makes Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy so good in the attacking phase. Tierney also shares this trait, with an impressive 4.26 per game. Robertson is a much more old-fashioned fullback and doesn’t boast such skills – with just 1.61 per game. This impressive trait allows Tierney to manipulate the ball, and transition his side at a high pace.
Defensive duels won %;
Another stat that asserts Tierney’s impressive defensive ability. Tierney has an impressive 24% of tackles won per game – now, this doesn’t sound impressive, but it is a great ratio. Robertson has a slightly lower percentage of 20%. With the speed of wingers in modern football and the levels of trickery – this is a fantastic stat for Tierney.
First and foremost, full-backs are defenders – and Tierney can certainly defend. With high levels of leadership and bravery, a stat that can’t be proven by statistics, Tierney is a master of defence.
With 18.53 duels won per game, Tierney is a clean and composed defender. Similar in that to Rio Ferdinand. 8.04 recoveries in the oppositions half is something Tierney also possesses, his work rate supplemented by his clean tackling makes him an impressive defender.
Above is Tierney’s heat-map. this image underlines his monstrous work-rate. What’s interesting is that this image shows his eagerness to cut inside and dribble. Something that allows his side to transition out of the defensive phase. It also shows his impressive levels of stamina, allowing him to get up, and down the pitch for the entire 90.
Kieran is a great ball-winner. With 5.06 interceptions per-game, he can win the ball back with his fast interceptions. His pace allows him to be an asset in attacking and defensive phases. And this interception stat proves how potent he just is.
At just 21, Kieran is ready to ply his trade in a top 6 Premier League side. With the ability to attack at pace, win the ball, and whip in crosses all throughout the 90. There is a real demand for complete fullbacks, and Kieran Tierney ticks this box.
And with Robertson the competition for the left-back role in the Scottish national team, Kieran certainly has the motivation to continue improving. And if he does, he could be one of the best left-backs in world football. It certainly wouldn’t shock me if we see him in a Chelsea, Spurs or Man United shirt sometime soon.
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