Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

The weakest part of Nicolas Jackson's game

The weakest part of Chelsea forward Nicolas Jackson’s game is his movement in the box. Experienced strikers are constantly attempting to deceive defenders with their movements. Nothing should be predictable, and you must always be in an athletic stance.

Figure 1.1 - Marc Cucurella ready to cross waiting for Nicolas Jackson to step into that triangle of space.
Figure 1.2 - Nicolas Jackson backs up into cover as Marc Cucurella gets tackled.

That first movement from Nicolas Jackson to make the run central towards Lewis Dunk is good, but he needs to check the space within that ball-side triangle of defenders to the near post when Marc Cucurella cuts inside.

That lack of experience translates to unintelligent movement. The intelligent move is to check to the space because you can’t get a ton of power on a header on a looped cross up into that gaggle of Brighton defenders near the penalty spot, but you can tap it in across the goal if you check to that triangle of space.

Figure 2.1 - Marc Cucurella on the underlap is played the ball. Watch Cole Palmer and Nicolas Jackson.
Figure 2.2 - Cole Palmer attacks the triangle of space at the near post as Marc Cucurella crosses.

Cole Palmer does the right thing. He attacks that triangle of space at the near post when Marc Cucurella is ready to cross. You’d want Jackson to then recognize the pass is going to the near post, and he should want to then get behind Lewis Dunk. Remain in an athletic stance.

Remaining in an athletic stance means that your body, your legs, arms, chest are prepared to shoot or receive. If the ball falls to you, your body should not have to adjust.

Figure 2.3 - Nicolas Jackson to the penalty spot as Cole Palmer heads in the goal.

Instead, when Palmer heads the ball, Jackson checks to the penalty spot, likely betting that Palmer will miss the header and it will fall to him. This is another unintelligent run in my opinion.

If Palmer’s header is saved, the rebound is going to fall right into the six-yard box, and no one will be there to tap-in the goal. That’s where Jackson should be.

And he’s also not in an athletic stance. His chest is pointed away from the goal, his left foot is up, knee bent. He needs to have his chest pointed at Palmer, arms out square to the ball, with his left foot ready to collect or shoot first-time.

Figure 3.1 - Malo Gusto is played the ball on the overlap. Watch Nicolas Jackson and Cole Palmer.
Figure 3.2 - Malo Gusto crosses. Cole Palmer attacks the space at the near post and Nicolas Jackson continues his run straight.

Once you see Malo Gusto on the overlap, the run should be automatic. Fake a run to the far post, like you’re planning on trying to get on the end of a low cross across the goal, but then you check back into the space ahead of Brighton’s back-line.

Plant the left foot down hard to shake off the defender, check to the space with your chest pointed towards the ball, and have your right foot ready to shoot.

Figure 4.1 - Nicolas Jackson's body is unprepared for the cross, on the far post, as Malo Gusto attempts a shot/cross.

This is great movement to sneak to the back-post, but you have to attack the space once the pass is played. His body isn’t prepared to attack the cross; he is not in an athletic stance.

Right leg should be ahead of the left, ready to launch off the left heel, to sprint the moment Gusto crosses. He’s trying to stay onside, but he should be preparing his body, out of view of the defense, to sneak up on that far-post.

Figure 5.1 - Malo Gusto on the break, watch Nicolas Jackson and Christopher Nkunku.
Figure 5.2 - Christopher Nkunku fakes a run to the far post and then checks to the penalty spot, taking advantage of the space created by Nicolas Jackson's continued run. Malo Gusto crosses to Nkunku, and he scores.

This is an intelligent run from both Jackson and Nkunku. Jackson continues his run which creates space for Nkunku. It pins Brighton back towards the net.

Nkunku deceives the defender with his run. He checks to the far-post, that makes right-back Tariq Lamptey commit to defending the low cross across the goal. Then Nkunku checks to the space behind Jackson. He’s in an athletic stance, chest pointed at the ball, with his right leg prepared to shoot first time. Simple pass into the net for the goal.

That instinct to know how to deceive based on where the ball is comes with experience. Remember that Nicolas Jackson is only 22 years old. You would be wrong to compare him to experienced 25-year-olds like Viktor Gyökeres or Victor Osimhen.

Jackson’s work-rate, tackling ability, engine, speed, dribbling, and hold-up play is special. Constantly running without a noticeable drop in fatigue. The flicks, the improv, the ingenuity, the entire package is unique. Take him out of the team and put in a more traditional center-forward, and you lose that quality that few center-forwards have outside of the box to connect play.

He’s great at getting the right positions to run the channels. Train him to move more intelligently in the box, surround him with creators, play him the ball, and give him the confidence so that he can return to the clinical finishing of his Villarreal 2022/23 season, and you have one of the most dynamic and versatile center-forwards in world football.

In a world where you need players to feel comfortable in all positions, he is the perfect type of striker to build around.

Match: Brighton 1-2 Chelsea, 15 May 2024

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