Patson Daka – Player Profile

Dominic Wells (@DominicWells_SJ) provides the lowdown on Leicester’s new center forward:

In his only season with RB Salzburg (2019/20), Erling Haaland averaged a goal every 61.25 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga. The man who replaced him, Patson Daka, performed similarly (albeit at a slightly lower rate), by scoring a goal every 72.29 minutes in 2020/21. The Zambian international’s goalscoring prowess has caught the attention of a number of sides across Europe, and today Leicester announced his signature on a five-year contract. Here’s why the 22-year-old certainly has the pedigree to translate his performances in Austria to the top flight in England:

Intelligent and high-energy presser from the frontNot hugely involved in build-up
Pace to threaten in behind1 v 1 dribbling ability
High-volume shooterAerial duel success
Experience in a front two

Within RB Salzburg’s system, and setup, Jesse Marsch demands that his side presses high. To facilitate this, Daka is one of the two initiators of the press – alongside one of his strike partners; Mergim Berisha or Sekou Koita. But, it’s difficult to attest this quality to the exciting forward, or whether it’s a byproduct of the Marsch system. Regardless, Daka’s tenacity out of possession – intrinsically aided by his quick bursts of acceleration (reaching his max speed quickly) – creates chaos in the opposition defensive third. Within this, he’s also exceptional in these manic scenarios and frequently exploits errors from defenders once under pressure. 

Having a tactically developed coach (like he has with Marsch at Salzburg) during the “formative” years of Daka’s growth is already highlighting some excellent net positives. His understanding of the protocols in the press are good; shifting well to cover the “spare man” out of possession (i.e. the holding midfielder/centre-back) and also utilising cover shadows when pressing the defender in possession. Inside of the structure, he maintains his position in the block astutely, recognising when to press out of the shape and when to hold. Because of this knowledge, but also good execution of application, Daka is often successful when aiming to turnover possession – with an obvious caveat being the quality of opposition – potentially inflating his success rate.

Daka’s application is primarily within a front two. This season, RB Salzburg have utilised a formation with two strikers for 88% (37/42) of their domestic league games this season – with Daka often being partnered with Berisha. If the formations Rodgers has resorted tothis campaign (in absence of goal-scoring wingers) that are constructed to maximise the skillsets of both Vardy and Iheanacho are the future of the Northern Irishman’s reign at Leicester City, then Daka would be an excellent acquisition – while still being one within a single striker setup. 

Initially, Daka’s scoring metrics – and just overall shooting metrics – are exceptional. The forward is averaging a goal every 0.54 shots on target, with a staggering 47.5% of his shots being on target. This isn’t a case of scoring a lot of goals due to an excessive quantity of chances, albeit that still slightly rings true, but Daka is incredibly efficient as a striker – and this always translates well to a “top” league. Occasionally, forwards playing in Europe, but outside of the elite leagues, will accumulate high goal-scoring tallies and thus attract suitors from these “top” leagues, by having a plethora of goal-scoring chances (missing lots of them) and eventually overcoming the skill deficit of the league. This truly isn’t the case for the young Zambian striker – his ability is unquestionable. He’s capable of receiving possession from all angles, manipulating space to allow easier chances on goal – and also his body to score with either foot or head – which correlates into a threatening array of assets from a “poacher-esque” forward.

When looking at both Vardy and Daka’s impact in the penalty area, there’s a lot of similarities in how they both operate. Potently, the two individuals both benefit – and are also hindered – by their gravity (essentially attracting opposing defenders) in the box, which is a knock-on effect of their goal-scoring prowess and danger in these areas. It’s perhaps due to this that both forwards are limited with their touches in the box, with Daka (6.5) having a slightly more involved role than Vardy – 5.76. As has been mentioned earlier, players can achieve similar results in metrics in different ways, but again, I think Daka approaches the spaces in the box similarly to Vardy. The Zambian is instinctive in the box, thus requiring limited touches to convert chances into goals, and he’s also adept at drifting into channels to help provide vertical passing lanes – which is seemingly redundant for penalty area entries, but it actually provides different angles for Daka to utilise.

I’d suggest that neither of the two forwards would be referred to as a “focal point” striker, as their usage in buildup is limited – despite Daka dropping into half-spaces and between the lines in tandem with his strike partners movements. Instead of being overly involved prior to chance creation, they’re crucial to translating possession in the final third into goals, as they’re surrounded by creators. This overlap in roles would make the transition to the Foxes’ style of play much easier for Daka, even if he had to adjust his positioning from a two striker structure – where he’d hold wider natural positions and gradually drift centrally during a passage of play – to holding this central positioning inside of a single forward formation (4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3). 

One of the other metrics we’ve evaluated is xG and xA per 90 – which, again, Daka performs admirably in. As expected from a forward, Daka’s xG (0.88) per 90 is a lot higher than his xA (0.16) per 90 – but his scoring in both metrics is above the average of Europe’s top five leagues. Utilising his xG numbers, you can understand just how frequently the Zambian forward is finding high percentage goal scoring opportunities – which is also backed up by video scouting. This ability to consistently find spaces in the penalty area, and also convert them into shots – at a good rate (like we explored earlier), isn’t restrictive to the Austrian Bundesliga. It’s of course an “easier” division to find pockets and allude defenders, but that intuition should translate fairly flawlessly into the Premier League.

As for his xA, Daka is creating chances for his teammates at an above average rate – even if it’s just slight. It’s difficult to overlook the quality of the league, as RB Salzburg ended the season with 94 goals – 2.94 per game, so accumulating xG and xA is fairly routine, and should be contextualised. Regardless, the value of Daka also having 0.16 xA per 90 shows that albeit with a preference for goal-scoring, he’s an astute creator for his side – he doesn’t suffer from having tunnel-vision in the final third (bombarding the goal with shots and eventually scoring), he’s capable of scanning the surroundings and making optimal decisions. This is probably a by-product of functioning inside of a front two for a couple of seasons. 

There’s a lot of similarities between Patson Daka and Jamie Vardy, both incredibly quick across the ground, exceptional finishers of chances – regardless of the difficulty of opportunity – and smart and effective pressers. Vardy’s first few seasons in the East Midlands were inside a front two, and he was able to translate that muscle memory into a fully-functional solo forward – perhaps Daka’s implementation at RB Salzburg (also inside a two) could have a similar effect. 

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