For an estimated fee of around £15 million, Daniel James became Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first signing since he took over from former Chelsea manager José Mourinho. This was a big step up for James as he would be expected to perform on a whole new level. At first, the youngster embraced this pressure scoring three goals in his first four games. He has not scored in the Premier League since with his only goal coming in Manchester United last game against LASK Linz in their 5-0 win.
It is always a big test to see how a young new signing will perform in their first season at a big club. This tactical analysis/scout report will review James season so far as even though the Welshman only has four goals to his name he has provided six assists in the Premier League more than any other United player, demonstrating he is a threat for the Red Devils. The analysis will also look at how James works within Ole counterattacking tactics.
The first aspect of James’s role for United is to look at his positioning. For the majority of the season, James has been playing as a left-winger. In this position, he is required to stay out wide and as high up the pitch as he can be. This is so he is in a position to be dangerous when United turnover the ball. The reason he has to stay out wide is to utilise the winger’s best attributes. James most notable strength is his pace. Therefore to make the most of this keeping him out wide, this enables him to target the space behind the full-backs.
Looking at James’ heat map, it illustrates the area he occupies most when in each position. Notice how his main position is on the wing just above the box. This is because as a right-footer he is able to cut inside and look for a shot on his favoured foot, or he is able to deliver an inswing cross. What the heat map also shows is James’ discipline to stay out wide as even on the opposite wing he still keeps to the same position and doesn’t drift inside. This is important for United as the width stretches their opponents.
Daniel James is fast and there is no doubt that his speed will cause a problem for any defender. As a result, his dribbling style is based around utilising the space he has in front of him, as a result when running with the ball James will opt to take bigger touches to cover ground as quickly as possible; he will do this only using the outer part of his right foot. Knocking the ball in front of him makes it easier to run on to. This is something James will try and do as much as possible in a game as on average he attempts 5.25 dribbles per 90 minutes; he can do this with success as out of 238 James has completed 57.6%.
In the example below, it illustrates how this can be devastating as he has been able to drive with the ball into a dangerous position. At this point, his dribbling technique changes he is faced with a defender in front of him and to make it difficult to judge what direction he wants to go James will push his touches from side to side, they are still larger touches as he wants the defender to commit to a tackle so James can go the other way. What this example also shows is his awareness of what his teammates are wanting to do as he uses Bruno Fernandes lateral run to cut inside and score.
However, where James does struggle is in tight situations when the defender is close. This is because James wants to knock it past his defender and run. Like this example below shows the LASK defender is tight to James there is space past the defender that James is looking to target, however all he tries to get past him is to push it past him. As James is trying to take the direct route it does not work because the defender can get his body in the way and stop the run, resulting in James losing the ball. In this situation, James would have been better trying a bit of skill to go past the defender. However, credit to James, he is aware he does not always have to ability to get past the defender and will, therefore, look for an alternative solution like a pass back or across.
As the analysis has mentioned James has a wide starting position. This is so United are effectively able to counter-attack. The image below demonstrates James actions in counter-attacks. The first thing to notice is the type of acceleration James makes. From his wide starting position, James will run slightly inside, this is so he is closer to the other United players in the attack. It also means he is running across the full-back making it harder for them to track the run. What the figure also shows is that he is more effective counter-attacking from the left-side as out of the 12 occasions his counter attacks have resulted in a shot, eight have been from the left. This illustrates that when running from left to right James is more effective as he is unpredictable.
The reason James is better running from left to right is that he is heavily right-footed, therefore he can be more effective. However, he is not able to do this on the right-wing. Using the example below it shows James picking up the ball in his ideal position on the right. As he is facing forward and has space to run into, he wants to get closer to United’s attackers and as a result, instantly starts to run slightly inside. The problem he has is that Manchester City is aware he wants to make this run but does not like using his left foot. Therefore at some point in this run, he will want to stop and try and go back to the right. All this means for City is that a centre-back needs to step up and stop the run across. As he is predictable in this scenario City are able to stop the attack.
In the example above it is harder for James to be unpredictable. However, as the example below demonstrates in a similar position but on the opposite flank, it benefits his dribbling style as the analysis has mentioned how James likes to run with the ball coming in from the left gives him the option to run in two different directions while meaning the same momentum. This is harder to do on the right which is reflected in his dribbling success as against a left-back James has won 18/36 (50%) whereas against a right-back James has won 45/65 (69.9%). At 19.9% this difference shows how his dribbling technique favours being on the left.
Problems with his back to goal
James is quick and part of that is down to his diminutive figure. However, because of this, it means he struggles to hold up the ball with his back to goal. As Solskjær wants him to be high up the pitch, it is an important skill United need in order to get up the pitch. This is particularly a problem against teams that press high up the pitch as it means he can be crowded out.
As the example shows James has his back to goal and as City play with a high press they are able to get numbers around James. As the Welshman does not have the strength to hold up the ball long enough for a United player to get into the gap so they can move forward it results in James losing the ball. What James also lacks is the ability to turn his man, if he could quickly turn the defender it would enable United to get forward and he would not need to hold the ball up.
In a similar way to his dribbling technique being on the left favours James, as it means he is more likely to get into a position to get a shot off on his right foot as out of his 77 shots 55, are with his right foot. The graphic below highlights where James shots from, notice how the majority are in and around the edge of the area and on the left-hand side. This is because of his shooting technique. As James is heavily right-footed when he can he will try and curl the ball into the far corner.
The problem for James is not his accuracy as 42% of his shots inside the box are on target and considering 50/77 shots are inside the box. His problem is how often he is shooting as on average he only has 1.59 shots every 90 minutes. This may be because teams are aware he wants to cut inside or simply James is not getting into the right areas.
Another problem James has is his technique favours accuracy over power. This can be effective but it does mean the shot needs to be perfect. As the example below shows, he has a lot of the goal to aim at and opts for his favoured curled effort in the bottom corner. It is not a bad shot as it does force the keeper into a save however he may have been better going for power as the keeper would not have time to get across.
The analysis has looked at James on both flanks and has shown that his dribbling favours being on the left. It is also clear that being on the left is better for James shooting. However, the tactical problem Solskjær has is James is better crossing from the right side. In fact just as there is a sizeable gap as when crossing from the right he has 39.2 %(20/51) success whereas on the left only 28.6% (8/28) are successful. This is also represented in expected assists as from the right, James’ crosses have an expected assist of 1.52 whereas on the left it is 0.19, and unlike his shooting on average James will attempt 4.08 crosses per 90 minutes.
As the graphic below illustrates the difference is not because of the type of cross as the majority of crosses are on the ground. The difference is where they are from. Notice how on the left more of James’s crosses are from a more central position and inside the box whereas on the right they are closer to the flanks and further out, because of this it gives James more time to pick out across. What this suggests is that when playing on the right it encourages James to get down the line more than it would on the left.
To conclude this tactical analysis it is clear that Daniel James has adjusted well to life at Manchester United this season and has been a key part of their attack for the majority of the season as since his arrival he has made 27 appearances in the league only two from the bench. His contribution in six assists does indicate that despite the lack of goals he is an asset. However, when Marcus Rashford is back it will be interesting to see where Solskjær thinks James best position is with Rashford preferring the left.