Sizzling Sakala: Analyzing Gerrard’s latest Zambian recruit for Rangers – scout report
Rangers have announced that they have made a deal to sign Fashion Sakala from the Belgium Pro League team, KV Oostende. The 24-year-old will be the latest prospect to make a move to the UK where he will be joining his new teammates in the summer.
He has registered 13 goals and 3 assists in 28 league game this season which is a fine return for a youngster playing for a team that are competing in the league for a spot in the next season’s Europ League. This scout report will feature the statistical and tactical analysis of Sakala as a player and how he will be contributing to Steven Gerrard’s tactics at Rangers with his strengths and weaknesses. Let’s begin the analysis.
Role at Oostende
In Blessin’s setup at KV Oostende where he deploys the 3-5-2 formation, Sakala starts as one of the two strikers and mostly it would be on the right side of the pitch. But as a striker and is a forward, Sakala is not restricted to the left side and often finds himself in the right flank to support teammates or receive the ball.
His position in the front line also depends on whom he partners with. The two players he has constantly been partnered with are Marko Kvasina and Makhtar Gueye. He starts on the left side while playing with the former and on the right side with the latter. But we can start by assuming he is a striker by trade and is the main source of verticality (stretches defences by staying high) for his team like in the image below.
Finishing and shooting ability
The main attribute that people judge a striker is based on his ability to score goals and take his chances. More importantly, a striker is expected to take a lot of shots that increase his chances of scoring goals in a game. Sakala averages 0.49 goal per game while averaging 2.97 shots. His expected goals per game are at 0.57 which means that at present he underperforms his expected metric but most importantly he takes a lot of good chances on a very consistent basis about which we will discuss in detail. We can see his shot map in the image below.
From the shot map, we can infer that he has scored 3 goals from the 6-yard box with one of them very close to the goal and having a very high xG (0.74). His other non-goal shots in the 6-yard area come from wide regions and from angles where it is very difficult for him to score goals. We can also see that he takes most of his shots from the right side of the penalty area. A large chunk of red scatters are there on the right side when compared to the left side. This is due to the fact that he has started a lot of games as a right striker. Also, we can notice that most of his goals have come from the left side or are at least oriented towards the left when compared to the right. This comes despite the fact that he has taken very less shots from the left side. From this, we can infer that he can be at his clinical best if he is made to start from the left side.
This is because as a right-footed player, he gets a natural angle from the left side where he can cut inside and take a shot like in the above image. He can also perform a feint here and go outside to take shots with his weaker foot in rare situations. Whereas from the right it is difficult for him to make the right curve on the ball with this preferred foot which makes it easier for defenders to block it or keepers to save. We can also notice that he takes a lot of sub-optimal shots from outside the box. Though it’s to see strikers taking a lot of shots, some of them can be avoided due to the value that they bring as a whole and in those situations, he could have made a pass to his teammates. An example of this can be seen below where he takes a very poor shot from outside the box with his weaker foot. The defenders around him are attracted towards him and the ball. This means that his partner to his left is free with a clear view towards the goal. These are some situations where he needs improvement in his decision-making on the ball.
We discussed how he has underperformed his expected goals metric as he has scored 13 goals from an xG of 15.28. Modern strikers like Lewandowski and Erling Haaland are known to be ruthless finishers and are known to be great overperformers on their xG. But overperforming xG doesn’t constitute that a player is an elite-level striker. The simple reason being xG overperformance is something that is not very sustainable at a very high level. Barring players like Messi, who has consistently overperformed his xG for a very long time, no many of them has actually been able to do it. We can take the example of Anthony Martial at Manchester United. He has been regarded as one of the best finishers at the club and has consistently overperformed his xG ever since his arrival. As a striker, he is known to take very few shots especially in sub-optimal zones but still converts them into goals. This season though he has been caught out as the goals have dried tremendously and has been underperforming his xG. Also, he does not get into good scoring positions with his movement, which means that he cannot make up for his finishing drop by taking those easy chances.
We can see that the reason why Sakala has taken a lot of shots and has a high xG is because of his instincts and his ability to get into good positions to take shots regularly. His xG per shot is at 0.19 which is a very good number. Players having this capability is preferred due to the fact that they can score 2 goals from every 5 shots which is more valuable than scoring 1 goal from 1 shot in a match. Even the likes of Lewandowski and Haaland take a lot of shots in good positions while also being insanely good finishers. So we can say that Sakala in the long term will be more successful in converting his chances.
Movement in and around the box
We mentioned his ability to get into good scoring positions with his movement inside the box. He has averaged at least 5 touches in the penalty area per game in the league this season. Let’s delve deeper into that and analyze his movements. In the first example below, we can see Sakala initially taking a few steps away from the defender close to him as his teammate near the flank has just beaten a player and is about to deliver the cross. Immediately Sakala makes a sudden acceleration by making a diagonal run across the defender and he meets the cross to take a shot. The initial pull-back from him ensured that the defender was not close to him and if he had to monitor Sakala then he had to change his body orientation. This meant that both Sakala and the ball were ar opposite ends and only one can be viewed clearly with his positioning. This helped Sakala to make a sudden burst on his blindside and attempt a header.
He also has intelligence on when to make the right runs and time them to arrive at the right instance in the box. In the example below, we can see that one of his teammates has the ball in the flank and is about to put in a cut-back into the box from the byline. We can also see that his strike partner, Gueye, has made a run closer to the goal while also dragging two defenders with him. This opened a space in front of them and Sakala (red circled) ensures that he moves slowly into the box so that separation is created between him and the defenders and when he has entered, he can go and occupy the space to receive the ball.
His sudden adjustments to his movement is another reason why it is very difficult to defend against him. In the example below, he looks to make a run towards his right side (red circled) but then sees that Gueye too looks to make the same run (black circled). So he immediately shifts his run and now makes a run towards the goal as Gueye has dragged the central defender with him. His sudden change in movement also means that the full-back close to him cannot react quickly and has to chase him at the last movement. He goes on then take a shot in the vacated space after a cut-back from his teammate.
From the examples see, we can assume that he has been benefitted by playing with a striker who makes good runs that drags defenders with him and opening up space for Sakala to exploit. Though the statement is partially true as Sakala individually is capable of producing well-timed runs of the ball and receive passes. We can an example where he makes a well-timed run off-the-ball run in behind the defence. After bringing down the ball neatly which also deceives the keeper, he goes onto score the goal.
He is also good at finding the tiniest of spaces between players and making a run in between them. This set of runs are executed in such a way that they come on the blindside of at least one of the defenders. Finding spaces is something that is very important in football and players with very high intelligence are the ones we can see consistently doing it. In the example below, he went to the flank to initially receive the ball which was played from the deep regions. He held it well until a player came to support him. After playing the ball to his teammate, he identifies the space at the centre of the box and makes a run into that space from the flank to occupy that region.
Sakala is a constant threat around the box with his presence and always looks to move into dangerous positions. He doesn’t drop deep very often but has shown the capabilities to link well with his teammates and support the team to bring the ball into the final third. His off-the-ball movement is probably the main reason why he gets to take so many shots per game. At Rangers, with a lot of creators around him, his output will definitely increase and in the longer run, he will surely overperform his xG and be much more clinical.
Duels and attacking ability
Sakala has a very good pace that is generally expected from a forward. Along with that he also has a very burst of accelerations that helps him get past defenders. Whenever he has the ball he looks to get past players using his pace. But he is not someone who possesses elite-level dribbling skills that helps him to beat players. On average he attempts around 5.38 dribbles per game but only 44% of them have been successful. But he has the ability to be progressive on the ball with his runs as he records 2.67 such runs per game which is good for a striker who is not mainly someone who likes to receive the ball to his feet. At 178 cm, he is not very tall but still is very good at winning aerial duels. This is because of the upper-body strength that helps him to sustain duels against stronger duels. We can see an example of his ability to maintain a good body posture that helps him to win the duel.
The map below shows the regions where he has contested the aerial duels. We can see that most of the duels have happened at the edge of the upper-middle third. These are mostly from long balls that were launched from the deep. The green ones are the successfully won duels while the red spots are the unsuccessful ones. We can see that he has lost a lot of duels that were launched centrally while managing to win some of them in the wide regions. Even the tallest centre-forwards always find it difficult to win these duels and someone of Sakala’s height will always struggle. But still, he has managed to win and the most impressive them is that a lot of them have come in the opposition’s penalty box.
Moreover, he also deploys the side step technique to hold the ball against players and does well in executing that technique. This comes in handy when you are pitted against the strongest set of players. Rangers struggle against a physical opposition in the form of Slavia Prague where their players were unable to win the duels against the physically strong Slavia players. This is one of the reasons why Gerrard is interested in bringing the Zambian to Glasgow as he can be decent at winning these duels. An example of that technique is given below, where he protects the ball while then laying it off to his teammate as Oostende attack their opposition.
How will he fit at Rangers?
Before looking into his potential role at Rangers, let’s first look at the regions where he has received passes from his teammates. The following chart shows those regions where he has received a pass. We can see a lot of them come in the flanks with very little coverage in the central areas. Centrally we can see only inside the box where we see a big yellow spot right next to the penalty spot.
We mentioned how he constantly made runs inside the box but he also makes runs into the wide regions which are to drag the opposition centre-backs. This helps his team to create spaces for the other players to run into. When we look into the starting location of the passes made to him in the below image, most of them come from the flanks again.
To analyze in detail we have looked at the different clusters of progressive passes that are made to him. All of them come from the flanks or are targeted towards the wide regions. The first two clusters (teal and white) are crosses or cut-backs from either side of the pitch. These are the top-two clusters in terms of the overall threat generated by the pass and are mostly. Almost 80% of these passes come from the wing-backs. The next two clusters (blue and green) are those that come mostly from the deep regions in the form of switches or crosses and they also involve the wing-backs.
The last two clusters are the ones that are generally delivered over the top of the defender from the wide regions. We have discussed this type before where Sakala makes runs from the central regions to receive these passes. We can see an example of such a pass from his teammate in the example below as his movement to the flank pulls out a centre-back with him.
Now coming back to the Rangers and let’s look at the passing network they had against in their 4-1 win against rivals Celtic. We see that apart from Ryan Kent most of their threat come from their full-backs, Barisic and Tavernier, as they were the source for most of the passes that disorganised the Celtic defence. Their actions also include key passes and most of them were cut-backs or crosses into the box.
Gerrard has been deploying Ryan Kent as a false-9 in recent months and has deployed him in a similar style to how Klopp has used Roberto Firmino at Liverpool. Kent drops deeper to create midfield overloads while his dropping means that a centre-back follows him and wide forwards like Roofe and Morelos attack the space left by that CB. Sakala could certainly be deployed in place of one of the two wide forwards and Gerrard could play a 4-3-1-2 formation like in the image below.
If Gerrard wants all of his forwards to play then a 4-2-3-1 would also be feasible with Kent now being deployed as a specialist no.10 and Sakala would play as the lone striker up top. But it has to be seen whether Sakala can actually play the lead man upfront. So far he had been deployed with another player beside him and a lone forward role is something that needs to be developed in his style of play. Finally, let’s see how he compares with the current forwards present at Rangers in the chart below. We can from the chart that all 3 of them are equally similar in most of the statistical metrics.
Roofe seems to be excelling in the creative aspects (key passes and xA) while also scoring most number of goals. Morelos is slightly more direct as he has taken the most shots while also the most number of touches in the box. Sakala on the other hand has won the most number of aerial duels and also has a higher xG/shot value which means that he gets into good scoring positions more often, as we mentioned before when compared to the other two. Overall, all 3 of them can complement each other with their style of play and with Ryan Kent on the mix the forward depth for Gerrard has been tremendously boosted.
While it might take some time for Sakala to settle at his new club in Glasglow with a change of league and also potentially a new role with the slightly altered style of play. But surely he seems to be a very promising talent and will certainly add a new dimension to the Rangers attack. If Gerrard can find the right ways to smoothly integrate Sakala into his setup, Rangers could certainly have another forward that could lead them to consecutive title wins next season.