In the second of a five-part series looking at young players in Sky Bet League Two, this week the focus is on Plymouth Argyle forward Luke Jephcott. The Welsh Under-19 international has burst onto the scene this season to help push the Green Army into an automatic promotion place. The January Player of the Month has managed six goals in 14 appearances this season from just 22 shots and thrust his name into the limelight.
Jephcott has learned off one of the best. With Ryan Lowe’s appointment in June 2019, Jephcott has been one of the many to thrive under his management and see a rapid improvement in his breakout year. The right-footed striker has seen a partnership develop with January signing Ryan Hardie and with the uncertainty around the club’s fate, their goals have put them in pole position to be promoted.
The role Jephcott plays
Lowe sets up his side in a 3-5-2, similar to the way England set up in the world cup with a holding midfield player sitting slightly deeper. This style has rarely differed throughout the season with Lowe sticking with two strikers up the pitch to press from the front. The image below shows the setup from Plymouth’s 3-0 victory over Macclesfield Town.
Plymouth look to play through the thirds and often through their holding midfield player operated by Tyreeq Bakinson or Joel Grant. When in possession, one of the strikers will look to drop in between the lines to receive and lay off to a midfield player making a third man run. With penetrative passes from deep, this allows Plymouth to make blindside runs from offside positions and drop in unnoticed to receive with more time on the ball and with width given from their overlapping full-backs.
In defence, Plymouth look to press from the front with the two forwards pressing high to set traps, cutting off the pitch to make the opponent predictable. When Plymouth press they encourage the opponent to go long, to then be aggressive with their back three. This allows their back three to sit higher up the pitch and reduce the space to play in between. When the back three is stretched, the holding midfielder will look to drop in to maintain numerical superiority in central areas.
Jephcott operates as one of the two forwards and is tasked with moving the opposition often with his quick movement. He often looks to make opposite movements to his strike partner, either coming deep to receive either in the channel or centrally. Or making a movement int behind, taking advantage of a central defender stepping up to mark his partner to exploit the space left unoccupied. What this role allows Jephcott to showcase is a fantastic work ethic to do the unselfish work, creating space for teammates and pressing opponents. Often Jephcott looks to bring teammates into the game higher up the pitch, drawing opponents towards him to make create quick combinations to unlock low blocks.
Jephcott has shown a willingness to work for his side and this has clearly caught his manager’s eye to give him the chance to showcase his ability in a season which may finish with a quick return to Sky Bet League One. Jephcott has certainly taken this chance, but what qualities has he shown to maintain his place in the side? This tactical analysis will now look deeper at Jephcott’s success.
Plays on the last shoulder
As mentioned before, Plymouth will look for an opposite movement from their forwards, one in behind and one in front. Firstly, looking at how Jephcott looks to move in behind, his timing when making his move is crucial to his success.
The first image shown below highlights the movement that Jephcott makes in between defenders in central areas. As, in this case, Ryan Hardie makes a movement towards the ball, Jephcott is ready to move in behind with his body shape facing the goal as well as already being on the move before the pass is made. Jephcott operates on the blindside of the defender, who is also in a worse starting position to turn and chase any penetrative passes.
With this movement, Jephcott is able to stretch the opponent and create space for midfielders in front of the opposition’s defensive line, playing penetrative passes closer to goal. With the pace that Jephcott shows, this gives him the advantage against sides who play a high line to create chances in central areas and in between the posts.
In this second image as shown below, the pass is coming from a wide area. Here Hardie has made a move into a channel, similar to what Jephcott will show later, to stretch the opponent and create gaps in between defenders. Jephcott looks to make a similar move off the back of the defender and into the space created from the defence shifting to receive in the central channel. With an average of 3.43 touches in the opposition area per match, Jephcott is able to get into scoring positions on a regular occasion.
Jephcott has clearly found this to be fruitful when it comes to his output with all six goals being scored within the penalty area. In fact, 19 of his 22 shots have come from inside the box with 52.6% on target. This shows that Jephcott has come to find positions in the area to get shots away and often from the movement he has made earlier to give him the time and space to do so. As shown in the graphic below, Jephcott is not one for a shot from range so this movement is crucial to contributing towards his success.
Now we make the switch to how Jephcott operates when he makes a movement in front of the opposition’s defensive line. Similarly to before, there is an opposite movement with his partner this time dropping into pockets of space in between lines. As Jephcott isn’t the biggest physically, in order to get the biggest advantage he can, he uses his opponent as a springboard to bounce off of to drop down into areas unoccupied.
If he can’t gain this advantage, Jephcott will look to start offside, then making a blindside movement, catch his opponent unaware to then receive in space with time to combine and penetrate. This is best shown in the first image with the clear space that Jephcott operates in between lines.
With this movement it gives defenders a choice. Either they track Jephcott leaving space behind but aim to maintain his direction facing away from goal. Or, leave Jephcott to receive in space and drop to reduce the opportunity of a ball going over into space for a forward. Either way, it allows Jephcott to receive in an area to combine with midfielders and progress his side up the pitch to then play wide into overlapping full-backs or retain in areas to build.
The first example of Jephcott making movement in front shows a quick flick to penetrate space in behind. This comes from sharp movement which drags a defender into midfield. This allows for space for a runner to make a move into a central channel, giving the opponent less time to recover against a high line.
In this second example, Jephcott doesn’t receive the ball in central areas. Instead he looks to move an opponent out of the way, making a move into the channel, creating space centrally for a midfielder to move in. Jephcott is clearly seen as a threat but a player that his team utilise often. He receives the ball on average 14.8 times a game, with 2.1 of those being from a long pass. Although many of these passes are counted as long, a lot are often on the floor, through defensive lines.
Jephcott doesn’t only move in front to create space for his teammates, he can utilise this movement for himself. In this next example, he has dropped down to receive in between but instead of looking to combine, lets the ball roll across his body to the front up, and attack his opponent with them backtracking.
As mentioned before with how Jephcott looks to receive in between the lines, it is also important to focus on his end product. As shown in the diagram below, Jephcott receives the ball in the areas where he is effective with forward passes, as highlighted. Within this area of the pitch, a number of his passes are seen to have been passed backwards. These passes are where Jephcott has received a penetrative pass, facing away from goal, to layoff to forward-thinking midfield players. The passes forward can be seen to be towards players in the wide area, most likely an overlapping wing-back.
As Jephcott makes this move deep, his partner makes an opposite movement as mentioned. In the first example, Jephcott is seen to drop deep and receive in the wide channel, while his partner, Hardie, is ready to make a move in behind. Jephcott shows his playmaking qualities to make a diagonal pass into space to break a line he has created with his movement-wide. Due to his sharp movement Jephcott has time to turn and play a through ball into a dangerous area with minimal touches without the momentum of the move dropping.
For a forward, Jephcott shows impressive passing statistics with 21.07 passes per 90 and an accuracy of 75.3%. These statistics rank him alongside proven EFL forward Jerry Yates from Swindon Town. As well what is impressive is where Jephcott makes his passes to. He makes 3.5 forward passes per 90 with 1.6 passes into the final third and 1.4 into the penalty box. This highlights the real focus of his actions to be positive with the ball with good vision and execution.
The second example below highlights this. With Jephcott dropping deep, this time around the penalty box, he is able to create space behind and produce combinations in tight areas to finish with a diagonal pass into the 18-yard box. He does this by dropping down at an angle to create a passing lane which allows him then to pass forwards with minimal touches so a covering defender can’t recover. His game insight is impressive here as Jephcott recognises the situations which will arise based on his movement in order to create space in a low block.
Press from the front
Jephcott doesn’t just offer movement in the attacking third, he also offers Plymouth a different dimension off the ball. With the pace Jephcott possesses from his movement in behind, he is able to also showcase this ability towards hunting down and pressing the opponent.
Plymouth engage with a high press with an average of 9.76 PPDA this season according to Wyscout with 69.23 duels winning 59.9% of them. Jephcott has contributed to 4.7 loose ball duels winning 23.4%. Additionally, the forward makes an average of 1.42 interceptions, showcasing his engagement in the high press that Plymouth deploy.
What Jephcott offers off the ball is pressure at pace, as shown in the example below. Jephcott looks to press at an angle to cut off half of the pitch and make the move predictable. In this instance, the ball is forced forward, allowing Plymouth to win back possession quickly. The attitude Jephcott shows to continue closing down lost causes highlights his importance to Plymouth’s system out of possession.
In this second example, Jephcott is seen to apply pressure on the goalkeeper after pressing the defender, forcing them back to again play a long pass, allowing Plymouth to regain possession. This example also showcases an example of the loose duels which Jephcott is involved in where he applies pressure in the attacking third so the opponent struggles to play through, resorting in playing over.
Although Jephcott showcases a press with intensity, his failure to deaccelerate effectively resorts in composed defenders bypassing him easily. In order for his efforts to be effective on a consistent basis, Jephcott must use his concentration to slow down allowing his teammates to recognise triggers and where possession can be won within the trap set.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece in the form of a scout report, we might say that Jephcott’s movement both in behind and in front when finding space in between lines are the clear positive aspects to his game. If you were to compare Jephcott to someone higher in the EFL, you might look towards Birmingham City forward Lukas Jutkiewicz with regard to his work rate as an aspect of his game.
Jephcott has clearly shown a willingness to learn from an experienced forward in Lowe and build a partnership with Hardie to good effect for Plymouth. He has the ability to make movement into intelligent areas where he can influence the opposition frequently both in the build-up as well as the final third.
These attributes show why Jephcott has burst onto the scene in his breakout year, developing very well with the ability to make the step up. It will be interesting to see how he deals with central defenders who are more intelligent where his lack of physicality may catch up on him.
Is he already on the Premier League level? Maybe not at the moment but time will tell as to how far he goes.