A Rejuvenated Ryan Kent

From the moment Michael Beale was announced as manager, he’s made a number of very clear changes both on and off the pitch.

His initial interview included terms like ‘taking the handbrake off’ and ‘play with more freedom’.

Those changes have been clear to see; a return to higher positioned fullbacks, the CM’s playing higher and running beyond, CF dropping back to link play and create room for others and, most importantly, a return to the wide players playing narrower.

The 4-2-3-1 approach has allowed those 3 players much more freedom to interchange, pick up central position and always have passing options and overloads available to prevent them being isolated as we had seen earlier in the season.

That change has helped the forward players across the board. Fashion Sakala has been all about end product since arriving, however 8 goals/assists in 8 league games under Beale (he had 2 league goals/assists under GVB) speaks to the effectiveness of the changes and added freedom.

Malik Tillman has also seen the benefits. It’s not just the uptick in production (4 goals/assists in 8 league games as opposed to 5 in 13 under GVB), his overall game and impact has improved significantly.

The same holds true of Alfredo Morelos. Not overly involved under GVB for various reasons and only 4 goals/assists in the league to his name, in the 8 games under Beale that number is already at 7 goals/assists.

Perhaps most importantly, however, has been the re-emergence of the overall involvement from Ryan Kent.

For much of the season Kent found himself isolated wide on the left, in most cases his only available options being a safe pass back to Barisic or attempting to beat the inevitable double team that was waiting for him. Opposition teams found it very easy to double up on Kent due to the predictability of his starting position and lack of passing options available to him.

Each example is very similar and it was the story of most of GVB’s time this season. Kent isolated on the left facing two defenders with no fullback support to draw defenders away and no real passing options offered from CM.

That often led to either a safe pass backwards and possession slowly recycled or Kent having to try and beat multiple defenders and create a moment of magic. When he did opt for that route it wasn’t uncommon for him to end up facing 3 or 4 defenders instead.

It’s not overly surprising that Kent seemed low on confidence and frustrated.

With the arrival of Michael Beale, however, all of that has changed.

Kent has been given total freedom along with the other forward players to ‘break the rules’ and find positions that allow him to be more involved and effective. A quick look at Kent’s passes received under GVB as opposed to Beale shows a player who has gone from being stuck out wide to a player free to drift around the pitch and impact the game.

The pass maps are a good indicator, but it’s the actual games that show the significance of the changes.

The fullbacks playing higher and providing the width has allowed the 3 players behind the striker to drift in field and find holes in the opposition shape, the areas where Kent really excels.

Whether it’s drawing multiple defenders towards him to free up others and create overloads or simply driving into the space now available, Kent has significantly more options and room to operate.

In both cases above you see the fullback being drawn all the way in to Kent centrally along with midfield players and leaving Barisic completely free to overlap. It’s now much harder for opposing teams to double up on Kent due to the variation of his starting position and the overloads it creates.

Alternatively, here you see Kent and Cantwell have switched sides. Picking the ball up on the right you see Tavernier high occupying the fullback, Kamara and Tillman both high occupying midfielders and Morelos dropping in occupying the CB. That allows Kent the opportunity to drive into the space in a one against one situation, which he takes full advantage of before playing Morelos in.

Another example of that freedom is on display here. This time it’s Tillman and Cantwell who have switched positions with Kent in his more typical left sided area. However, he once again makes use of his freedom to attack the central space which allows him a shot at goal from 18 yards.

That central space has already become an important area. Kent’s shot map early in the season was almost exclusively from the left, but we’re now seeing him in central shooting positions regularly and via different approaches.

Whether it’s dribbling his way into a shooting position, running beyond or arriving late, he’s getting himself into those dangerous areas far more regularly.

It’s simply a much more varied attacking approach that is putting the players into the positions they are most effective.

It won’t surprise anyone that Ryan Kent is at his best when given creative license to roam. It’s the role he played to a career best season under Gerrard/Beale in the 55 winning season and it’s already proving highly effective since Michael Beale’s return.

The results of the change in approach are hard to argue with; 9 wins from 10, 0 defeats, 22 goals scored and a huge uptick in performance from both unshackled ‘wide men’ in Kent and Sakala are a big part of those results.

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