In the fourth installment of a look around Sky Bet League Two’s up and coming young players, this week focuses on Crewe Alexandra’s full-back Harry Pickering. The 21-year-old youth academy product has shown an impressive season alongside fellow local products Perry Ng, James Jones, and Ryan Wintle. Pickering has particularly made a partnership with another academy product Charlie Kirk on the left side, notching up 39 appearances in all competitions.
With Kirk catching a lot of the attention, the attacking full-back Pickering has gone slightly under the radar. But, with manager David Artell giving Pickering the chance to move forward it has allowed him to showcase his athleticism and crossing ability in the final third. With Crewe looking like securing promotion to Sky Bet League One with the stoppage to the season, there is little proof to say he can’t make the step up in quality.
Artell sets his side up in a 4-3-3 with the focal point being Chris Porter as the sole central striker. Pickering operates on the left side, with an attacking role, Pickering looking to overlap Kirk to provide constant width. The example above is from Crewe’s 5-0 victory over Morecambe.
In possession, Crewe tend to play through the thirds with the holding midfield getting possession often from to play to two advanced midfielders picking up positions between the lines. Crewe also has the option to go more direct towards Porter with midfielders making runs into space left behind. The wingers provide width, but often look to cut inside with an overlapping fullback, such as Pickering, creating an option. Artell allows a fluid system with rotations for players to find high positions with the security of support from behind. Players such as Pickering must be adept to recognise patterns moving forward, but also shown the commitment to recover when possession breaks down. A side with their full-backs in the 3 highest progressive passers in the league shows just how much Artell wants players such as Pickering involved in the action.
Out of possession, Crewe will look to win the ball high. With their full-backs pushing high, this gives Artell’s side the advantage to win the ball back quickly. Pickering is an integral part of this, winning 65.2% of his 8.15 defensive duels per 90. Pickering can be caught high up the pitch, relying on teammates to delay the opponent for support to arrive. With this high press comes space behind, which opposition look to exploit with direct passes from back to front. This points to a weakness in Pickering’s game with 4.46 aerial duels per 90 at a success of only 38.32, below the average for fullbacks in the division.
Pickering has impressed going forwards especially though, and in this tactical analysis, we will look at the aspects which have caught the attention of so many this season.
Overlaps and Underlaps
Pickering is clearly seen to be an attacking full-back, with the left side for Crewe being a prominent threat with Kirk playing on the wing as well. Pickering looks to provide an option, attacking space in high areas either overlapping, providing width for Kirk. Or underlapping, taking up space centrally when Kirk provides the width himself, stretching the opponent.
The stats point towards how involved Pickering is in these high areas. Pickering makes 2.46 dribbles per 90 with a success of 64.1%. However, more importantly, Pickering completes 1.36 progressive runs per 90 highlighting his attacking role within Crewe’s system. The stats point towards a heavily involved attacking full-back but let’s look at how Pickering gets into these positions with his movement off the ball.
In this first example, Pickering looks to provide the width for Kirk on the outside channel. As Kirk is seen as a threat, the opposition looks to double up, forcing Kirk onto his weaker foot. With the overlapping run of Pickering, he not only provides an option to move the ball, but also removes a defender from pressuring Kirk. This allows Kirk to have a one versus one where he can attack space behind left by the defender covering the run of Pickering.
As well as creating space for Kirk, Pickering is also able to receive the ball in a higher area, closer to the box to showcase his crossing ability. As he makes an overlapping run, the area he receives in allows for a first-time cross to challenge unsettled defenders centrally. Pickering’s teammates centrally will have the option to make multiple runs with Pickering favoring low crosses from the by-line towards the near post or the penalty spot.
In this second example, Pickering shows how he exploits space with an underlapping run. As Kirk creates the width, he is again doubled up. With both the full-back and winger for the opponent going to press this creates a gap in the inside channel for Pickering to exploit. He makes a blindside run in behind to receive and cross in between the recovering defenders and goalkeeper.
Pickering doesn’t only look to underlap to provide crosses from deep. In this next example Kirk is still wide but in a higher position with the opponent’s full-back and winger committing to press. With a Crewe midfielder rotating wide this requires Pickering to make a central movement recognizing space left in between with a lack of midfielder recovering for the opposition. Pickering receives in the half-space, where he can look to cross deep towards the back post or move into the box. As this movement causes the opponent’s central defenders to step out and press, Pickering creates a one versus one situation on the edge of the area to drive and deliver low.
In this final example, the underlapping movement from Pickering creates central space for Kirk to move inside onto his favored right foot. By taking away the recovering full-back, Pickering has opened space on the edge of the area for Kirk to attack, drawing a central defender out of their space to face one versus one. With Pickering also making a movement-wide, if the move were to break down, Pickering would then be in a high position to provide width and support if Crewe looked to recycle possession.
With 7.08 expected assists, Pickering clearly is a producer of chances. Along with being the set-piece taker for Crewe, Pickering has shown his quality in wide areas. Pickering’s opportunities to cross can come down to his willingness to get into a high position to deliver.
As the graphic above shows, Pickering completes the majority of his dribbles in high areas. Either Pickering will drive with the ball on the outside to deliver across the face of goal. Or pick up from deeper with a lofted cross towards Porter. Pickering completes 3.31 crosses per 90 with a success of 34.68% but with the ability to change up his type of crosses, he has shown his technique is up there with the best in league 2.
The first example of his crossing ability comes off the back of an underlap as mentioned before. Pickering beats his man in the wide channel before attacking the by-line for a low driven cross into the crowded penalty box. With calmness and vision, Pickering is able to pick out a teammate arriving late on the penalty spot to create an opportunity for his side.
Another example of Pickering’s forward-thinking approach is shown below. Pickering looks to take his opponent on after supporting Kirk in the wide-area to balance an original two versus two. With a drop of his shoulder, Pickering uses his pace to get past and towards the by-line again into an area to deliver.
When he hits this area, Pickering looks to deliver quickly to reduce the opportunity for recovering defenders to set themselves. With a good delivery towards the front post at pace, his teammates are able to make blindside movements across the front of their marker to finish, giving the goalkeeper little time to react.
Pickering’s ability to show a different option down the left side for Crewe is one of the reasons for their success this season with 1.18 deep completed crosses per 90. In this next example, we highlight his quality from a deeper position, to find teammates who often make a movement across the penalty spot from far to near. With an in-swinging ball, Pickering aims for the far post with pace and whip to give the keeper little chance of coming to claim. The pace on the cross means only a flick is needed directed goalwards. The ability to deliver with such quality from differing positions showcases exactly why he has become such a threat this season with the statistics to back it up.
Pickering doesn’t just show quality in the wide areas, his passing stats have him as the highest passer per 90 in the league according to Wyscout with 56.78. However, it is not just the volume of passes Pickering shows but where he plays into to progress his side to advanced positions.
With the dangerous Kirk in front, it is obvious to see from the graphic below the number of passes down the line. However, as Pickering picks up higher positions he looks infield, especially with diagonal passes towards the head of Porter. Pickering averages 9.43 long passes with an average length of 37.71m, pointing towards a clear tactic for Crewe utilizing his ability on the ball to pick out Porter with his movement off the back of the center-back.
Pickering doesn’t only look long, with 4.54 of them into the penalty area, providing an emphasis on final third penetrations. It’s also the quality at which Pickering shows, with 22.87 forward passes per 90 at an accuracy of 66.24%. Often it may be argued that playing in a deeper role gives Pickering time to play forward easily into areas of little pressure. However, Pickering shows he can break lines with 13.95 progressive passes per 90, putting him third in Sky Bet League Two, with his teammate Perry Ng topping the list.
An example of Pickering’s forward-thinking passes is shown in the example below. As Pickering steps into midfield, with Kirk providing the width, he looks to find the direct ball. As Porter has picked up a position on the back of a defender, Pickering recognizes that with a running jump Porter should have the advantage to maintain possession on a higher line. With midfielders in position to make a move off, Pickering provides one of his 8.36 final third passes to find Porter, allowing Crewe to maintain and combine behind the opposition midfield.
How Pickering is so successful with his passing statistics is his ability to get higher up the pitch quicker in order to play penetrative passes closer to his recipient. Being further from his goal allows for high risk passes to be played in a lower-risk area of the pitch, with the confidence to look forward and the technique to execute.
This final example shows a combination of just how Pickering manages to get into these positions to make progressive passes. Pickering starts in possession of the ball deep, with a low-risk pass infield towards a rotating holding midfield player. Instead of maintaining his position, Pickering recognizes the pattern in front to time his run forwards and receives on a higher line.
Pickering makes his movement forward to receive in space in a central position. As the opposition has looked to nullify the threat of Kirk, Pickering has managed to make a move off the back of his direct opponent, into space from where he can look forwards to penetrate. Crewe also work this pattern intelligently. With the holding midfielder from before moving towards Kirk as well as a higher midfielder, this encourages more opponents to follow. When Pickering receives in the space, there are fewer players between himself and a teammate on a higher line, where he can either drive into and pass, or player a long pass onto the head of Porter.
Pickering has certainly shown his quality going forwards, with the assists to show he is a threat around the opposition box. The license for Pickering to receive the ball in higher areas has allowed him to showcase his delivery, with teammates willing to fill the box.
With Pickering’s ability going forwards, questions will point towards his defensive work as part of being the modern-day full-back. His willingness to recover gives him the license to step forward with minimal risks, but when stepping up a level his physicality may come into question.
Certainly, Pickering has shone this season and moved out of the shadow of his partner in crime Kirk. Another product of the academy system, Crewe clearly are showing their pathway continues to work. It’s a system even premier league giant Manchester United and Chelsea would be envious of.