“When I first changed to football it wasn’t exciting for me, I was taken away from something I loved, and that sucked.” – Sam Kerr

In a world where elite female footballers have started to stand out, it is a surprise to see a startling admission from one of the world’s leading strikers. A Ballon d’Or nominee and golden boot winner across two continents, Sam Kerr has been on top the game for several seasons and her rise has been nothing but spectacular. After playing AFL football and switching to football in her early teens, Kerr never envisioned herself playing at the highest level but making her international debut at the age of 15 persuaded her to continue taking it seriously. Even after back to back injuries that almost ruled her out of the 2015 World Cup, Kerr showed incredible resilience to come back strong.

After a stunning World Cup, Kerr returns to the National Women’s Soccer League for the Chicago Red Stars looking to propel them to the top four. The Chicago club currently sits sixth, five points behind league leaders North Carolina Courage.

With a crunch clash against North Carolina coming up on Monday, the Red Stars will need Kerr firing on all cylinders to claim all three points. This scout report and tactical analysis aims to bring a deeper understanding of Kerr’s style of play and what we can expect from her for the rest of the season.

Sam Kerr – Playstyle

Sam Kerr is a 25-year-old striker that plies her trade in the United States for the Chicago Red Stars and Perth Glory in the A League. Kerr has been the top scorer in the NWSL for the past two seasons scoring a combined 33 goals and currently leads the charts with nine. She became the NWSL’s record all-time goal scorer and the first player in its history to score four times in one game en route to claiming the competition’s 2017 Golden Boot and MVP Award.

Kerr is a predator in the penalty area who is characterised by her exceptional lethality and positioning. The Australian forward excels in one v one situations often getting the better of goalkeepers when through on goal. Although she is a traditional number nine, Kerr’s preference to drop deep into midfield and link up play creates space for her team. This drags players out of position allowing her teammates to exploit the spaces in behind.

Golden girl – Goals

Kerr is an elite level striker to primarily score goals. The modern number nine has seen their roles differ under different tactics. Some are tasked to hold up play whilst others are asked to create space for more clinical attackers. Kerr can do it all. She has the ability to create space, hold up play, and most importantly score a plethora of goals.

The best way to characterise Kerr’s role is that of a deep-lying, complete centre-forward. This type of forward is an archetype of an all-round goal-scoring striker. She is often seen dropping into midfield, laying off possession to her midfield whilst the wingers are seen running in behind the opposition full-backs. While we will explore her link-up play in more detail later on, it plays an important part in the build-up that places her in excellent goal-scoring positions.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Sam Kerr predicts the ball’s trajectory and drops deeper to create space for her teammate to pass and her run [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr times her run perfectly leaving the defenders behind [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr now faces the goalkeeper in a one v one situation, rounding her to score [Credit: Wyscout]
Kerr’s balance, positioning, and timing is a hallmark of her style of play. She times her runs to perfection giving the last defender no chance as she powers through towards goal. As the sequence of play above suggests, Kerr is positioned on the shoulder of the defensive line between the two centre-backs.

As possession is won back in midfield, the Australian striker drops slightly to gain an extra yard of space to run off of. As the ball is played through, Kerr races through the two defenders who are seemingly unaware of Kerr’s quick movement into the penalty area. Eventually, she is faced within a one v one against the Houston Dash goalkeeper who she successfully rounds and scores.

Not only is Kerr an expert dribbler but the Chicago Red Stars forward is equally proficient aerially. Standing at 5’6, Kerr isn’t an obvious aerial threat, however, her smart movement and positioning inside the penalty area allows her to gain traction over her markers and score headed goals. The following phase of play is an excellent example that combines her intelligent movement and heading ability.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr patiently waits between the two centre-backs and waits for the deep cross to come in [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
The Jamaican defence are slow to react as Kerr brushes off her marker to beat the centre-back in an aerial duel to score [Credit: Wyscout]
Against Jamaica in the World Cup, Kerr can once again be seen positioned between the two centre-backs as the cross comes in from deep. Through the crowded central areas, Kerr breaks away from her marker and times her run to meet the floated cross beating her marker in the air. Though there is an element of poor marking from the Jamaican defence, Kerr’s mobility cannot be denied. She intelligently drifts between defenders and looks to be aggressive aerially.

Defenders don’t look to mark her aggressively during set-pieces because of her height but she’s shown that even with her slight frame she can be dangerous. This is further backed by the statistics that show her attempting 4.4 aerial duels per 90 at a success rate of 57.9%.

Playmaking

Another weapon in Kerr’s repertoire is her playmaking skills. As well as scoring goals, Kerr acts provider, supplying assists and creating space for her teammates. As a striker her number one priority is to score goals which is evident from her tally, however, her link-up play goes hand in hand with her playstyle.

Kerr is often seen collecting possession deep in midfield with runners off either side of her causing mayhem and confusion amongst the opposition ranks. If we take a closer look at her passing statistics in 2019 for the NWSL, notice how she attempts an average of 25.83 passes per 90. Combine this statistic with the 5.68 accurate forward passes per 90 with a 61.2% success rate, Kerr noticeably provides more than most potent strikers.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Sam Kerr drops infield to both receive possession from deep and create an opening in behind [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Emily van Egmond can now capitalise on the space created by Kerr. La Vanna and Kerr interchange passes to quickly transition possession into the final third [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr’s channel run distracts the defensive line putting van Egmond in a favourable one v one situation [Credit: Wyscout]
The above example showcases Kerr’s playmaking and link up ability as a centre-forward. Here you can see her drop into midfield with a centre-back following her. This has created an opening in the Jamaican defensive line with Australian midfielder Emily van Egmond now able to occupy the open space.

As Kerr receives possession she interchanges passes with Lisa De Vanna and drives forward into the left channel. This has now caused multiple players to commit to stopping this phase of play by focusing on one player’s movement. Space has now clearly opened up for Van Egmond to wrap around and put herself in a goal-scoring position.

Many top strikers such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Kylian Mbappe possess a selfish style of play and look to take on shots that could benefit from a pass. Kerr has broken the mould and shown that centre-forwards can score 20 plus goals and create opportunities for her teammates.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Sam Kerr’s heat map [Credit: Wyscout]
As is further evidenced by her heat map, notice Kerr’s positioning outside the area that signifies her movement both in and out of the area. Kerr’s ultimate goal is to progress the ball forward and keep the attacks ticking. Quickly recycling possession and making sure it isn’t stalled is what makes both her club and country so efficient at scoring goals.

Intelligent movement

Kerr’s ball-playing abilities have been clearly defined; however, another added trait that deserves a mention is her astute dribbling ability. Her intelligent runs both on and off the ball place her in good goal scoring positions. During the build-up phase, Kerr’s movement and body positioning off the ball determines the outcome of the attacking move.

The right body position allows her to scan the field and visualise the pitch ahead of her and knowing where her teammates are positioned. While there is a new breed of centre-forwards known for creating space and hardly being prolific – Roberto Firmino and Karim Benzema – Kerr is one of the very few strikers that infuses intelligent movement and clinical goal-scoring ability. These types of strikers are a rare breed with non-scoring strikers very much part of the managerial trend, however, if one possesses the kind of talent that Kerr has then you build a team around her.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr’s body position allows her to take a quick touch around the defender and put her through into the unoccupied space [Credit: Wyscout]
The graphics above demonstrates Kerr’s ability to find and utilise empty spaces behind the defensive line. As she receives possession, notice her angled body position, this allows her to exploit the unoccupied space in behind the full-back.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
The two players are now focused on Kerr’s run through the channel. Space opens up for Kerr’s teammates [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
This move has effectively opened up space in the penalty area for a late run by a midfielder [Credit: Wyscout]
The exquisite touch and run in behind drags two Washington Spirit defenders away from her teammates creating a potential 3v2 attacking scenario for the Chicago Red Stars. After reaching the edge of the penalty area, Kerr holds up play and waits before deciding her final passing option. Having noticed the gap in the penalty area, Kerr floats a well-timed cross for a diving header from an onrushing midfielder.

Chicago Red Stars employ a 4-2-3-1 formation with the two supporting wide forwards playing in a narrower position. Katie Johnson and Yuki Nagasato aren’t traditional wingers thus play close to Sam Kerr. However, Vanessa DiBernardo is arguably the most important player on the Red Stars’ team. DiBernardo acts as the link player between the double pivot and strikers. With two defensive midfielders sitting behind her, DiBernardo effectively threads balls towards Nagasato, Johnson, and Kerr.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Sam Kerr’s average position [Credit: Wyscout]
The relationship between Kerr and DiBernardo has unlocked defences time and time again with much of the focus on the Australian. Kerr’s movement and ability to find pockets of space benefits the likes of DiBernardo who are able to utilise spaces that created to score goals.

Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr’s forward run takes two defenders to close her down [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
Kerr waits for support and perfectly times her cross for Vanessa DiBernardo [Credit: Wyscout]
Sam Kerr 2018/19 - scout report- tactical analysis tactics
DiBernardo has no one closing her down and is able to get a shot away [Credit: Wyscout]
As this sequence of play highlights, Kerr dribbles forward shifting the focus of two defenders onto her. She holds up play till more support arrives but in doing so has distracted the Utah Royals’ defenders from re-organising their defensive line. DiBernardo’s late run sees her in acres of space allowing her to score under no pressure.

Red Star

After such a fantastic performance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup for Sam Kerr, she returns to the Red Stars to continue her impressive form. Through our analysis, we can conclude that Sam Kerr is without a doubt one of the top players in women’s football and will certainly rival Ada Hegerberg of Lyon as the best striker worldwide. Her all-around play style makes her a potent weapon in any strike force. After being such a prolific finisher in the NWSL, Kerr might want to test her mettle on European soil to cement her inevitable status.

Kerr is yet another influential role model that can shape the careers of young girls in the United States and Australia bringing in a new wave of players. Even after a career-threatening injury, Kerr has shown incredible mental strength that translates both on and off the pitch. The Red Stars will need Kerr firing on all cylinders if want to harbour any hope of making the top four in the NWSL.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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