When it comes to deciding who makes the England squad for the upcoming European Championship, Gareth Southgate is going to have a headache when selecting his strikers. Stars such as Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford will be among the ones expected to be chosen, but when it comes to backups and impact substitutes, the ex-Middlesbrough manager will not have an easy decision to make. Already within the current Premier League season, we have seen the rise of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has bagged six goals in four games for Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton side. Alongside that, Jamie Vardy has continued his goalscoring habit into this season, as well as Callum Wilson and Danny Ings who have also been impressive so far.
One name that may have gone under the radar though, is Ollie Watkins, a new signing this season for Aston Villa. Dean Smith got his man off the back of an impressive Championship campaign last season, picking up 25 goals for Brentford on the way to a play-off final. This scout report will compare Villa’s new striker to established frontman Harry Kane, evaluating the two in preparation for the 2021 Euros.
An overview of Ollie Watkins
To begin this analysis, we start with the man who put three past Liverpool before the international break. When performing for Brentford last campaign, the Englishman was the main feature in Thomas Frank’s side, playing as a classic number nine in the majority of fixtures. He finished the season having contributed to 28 goals in total, on average scoring every 165 minutes. He was included in WhoScored.com’s Championship Team of the Season alongside Serbian Aleksandar Mitrović.
So far this season, Ollie Watkins has played as a lone striker for Aston Villa in all three Premier League fixtures. He has scored five goals across all competitions, with an average xG of 0.83 so far. When playing for Brentford, he had both Saïd Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo either side to support him going forwards. Comparing this to Villa’s squad, they play a slightly different system to the Bees’ with a 4-2-3-1 rather than 4-3-3.
When playing for Dean Smith’s side, Watkins has Jack Grealish and Trezeguet either side of him, with new signing Ross Barkley just behind in the ten role. This seems to be an effective system so far, Villa’s perfect record and top goal difference evident of that success.
Off the ball movement
As a lone striker, Watkins makes runs between the two centre-backs to try and get in-behind the defence. Doing this creates opportunities for his teammates to play either a through ball or ball over the top for him to run onto.
In this example we see Villa’s full-back advance into space on the wing, looking up to see if Watkins will make a run forwards. We can see what areas he places himself in to try and foster goalscoring opportunities, running off the defender’s shoulder to create a one-on-one situation.
In this case, Stoke City’s tactics allow their defenders to pick him up before he receives the ball and he, therefore, recycles his positioning.
In the example above, Watkins also shows his feet for Villa’s midfielders to find. Notice he has a teammate behind him, giving him the freedom to break away from the backline and offer support deeper than usual. He can find pockets of space in-between the opposition’s defence and midfield, picking up the ball and advancing play from there.
As well as being the main forward outlet for Aston Villa, he is also required to press the opposition when out of possession. So far this season, he has recovered the ball a total of 51 times, with the majority of them coming outside the penalty area.
Here we can see that due to his positioning, he can win the ball from mostly outside the 18-yard-box and create chances from there. When we compare this to the areas he takes shots and gets goals from, eventually, he may score because of his effective pressing.
Above, we see an example of Watkins pressing the Stoke backline in their recent League Cup fixture. His press forces the centre-back to switch play to the other side of the pitch, where the opposition has fewer players. When Stoke look for forward options from there, few outlets are available and have to clear the ball long.
Comparison to Harry Kane
So, when comparing Ollie Watkins with Tottenham Hotspur’s star striker, this tactical analysis will find relevant similarities and differences between the two. For a start, both strikers’ xG per shot is very similar. Kane leads the Premier League with a total number of shots taken so far, with a figure of 18 averaging 4.27 every game. In comparison, Watkins has only taken nine shots this season averaging 2.78 every 90 minutes. As a result, both their xGs per shot are very similar, 0.2 and 0.28 respectively. In fact, Watkins is more likely to score with his shots compared to Kane.
Then, when looking at the passes either player receives, they are nearly identical. On average, Kane receives 12.82 passes per game and Watkins receives 12.68. This tells us that if Watkins found himself in the same positions Kane does, he would potentially be able to deal with the number of passes he receives from teammates.
Finally, we can compare both Kane and Watkins’ goal conversion statistics. Last season, Watkins scored 24 goals from inside the penalty area and one from outside. His total goal conversion rate was 21.6%, with 41.4% of all his shots going on target. Similarly, Kane also scored 24 goals when inside the box. However, his goal conversion rate was slightly higher, 24.4%, with most of his shots ending up on target, 51.2%.
To conclude this scout report, we can see Watkins has had a successful start to life in the Premier League. Scoring a first-half hat-trick against last season’s champions is no easy feat, taking his chances well and being composed in front of goal. The question of England coming to knock on his door though may be up for debate.
As of right now, the performances of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jamie Vardy may just be enough to keep him out of the national side. However, if he can continue performing the way he is, especially against the likes of ‘big six’ opposition, then Southgate may start to take more notice of the player from Torquay.