Stuart Pearce’s new signing Chris Burke has been one of the top wingers in The Championship for several years – his arrival at The City Ground represents a significant sharpening of Forest’s attacking weaponry.
Burke is what I call a speculative player – when he gets the ball is inclined to risk losing possession rather than passing to maintain pressure – the opposite to, for example, the recently departed Raddy Majewski, a player so influential in Forest’s possession football over the past few years.
Burke is particularly determined to make an impact himself rather than passing the responsibility to others, and bases much of his game on carrying the ball into an area where he has the space to do so – this is where he has his success. He has a good grasp of where space is (or will appear) and the skill to reach it. In practice this means dribbling the ball – something only one player did successfully on more occasions last season in The Championship.
What makes Burke so effective is that he is one of the more complete wingers at this level – we associate this position with running at defenders and crossing the ball, but we see a lot of players played out wide who are not true wingers; Burke is, and this is reflected in his ability to dribble and cross accurately.
There were players last season who made more successful dribbles per game, and more accurate crosses – but none combined the two as well as Burke. Of all The Championship’s top men at running with the ball, Burke was the more accurate crosser (see table, right - crossing accuracy is in orange).
We saw how good Djamel Abdoun could be at times last season at getting past the defender just enough to put the cross in, but in reality he showed little else – Burke is no such one-trick-pony, and varies his play according to the situation.
As touched on above, Burke has good awareness of where space is appearing, and coupled with his ability to run with the ball, you will often see him cutting inside to exploit a common tactical flaw – where a corridor of space appears between the defence and attack (see diagram, left, which can be enlarged when clicked).
We’ve seen him score against Forest in this manner, and he carries a significant goal-threat. A trademark Chris Burke goal would typically involve him running at a defence, cutting inside when defenders are worrying about a right-footed cross, and shooting into the far corner with his left-foot.
Burke made an unusually low amount of passes last season (less than 20 per game on average), but I don't get the impression this is down to greediness, or him not being involved – he touches the ball a reasonable amount of times for a winger. I think the low pass-rate is due to his tendency to hold onto the ball until he can see a pass he wants to make. This plays to his strengths, as he is difficult to dispossess.
This player’s game is highly weighted to attacking, and – at least for Birmingham – he tended not to get particularly stuck in defensively. He will track back, but (in my opinion) acted more as a positional obstacle rather than having any defensive bite – this was reflected in his statistics last season; he only made 28 tackles in 44 appearances, was in a position to make only 3 blocks, and gave away only 9 fouls, which is always a good indicator of how much a player is trying to win the ball.
I believe this to be another signing that gives us a clue as to how Pearce wants to attack. For the past few years we have seen Forest come forward in a patient manner, building their possession with attractive passing football (when it’s worked); Burke, Fryatt and Veldwijk are players more suited to quick and aggressive – perhaps even more direct – attacking.
Another hint that this is how Pearce wants to attack is the side-lining of players like Darius Henderson, but more obviously Raddy Majewski. The Pole is certainly the most efficient player with the ball at Forest, but suits a style of possession football in which the team turns the screw, rather than having a quick impact.
I think Pearce’s choices with personnel indicate he wants the four advanced players to have a cutting edge rather then to keep the ball and bring others into play.
How often they can bring this kind of player into the game will be where Forest fail or succeed this season. You could, of course, say this of any team – they all need to get their dangerous players on the ball, but if Forest are going to play a 4-2-3-1, it may be more important, as if things aren't working the front four can easily become outnumbered using this system.
Burke's contribution during the friendly against West Brom may be typical – he was a little isolated until his decisive impact in setting up the goal. This was apparent in some of his games for Birmingham last season – hopefully playing for a more dominant team will give him more opportunities.
I think we might see the very best of this player at Forest. Pearce is certainly improving Forest's cutting edge, and signing a player like Burke, who has proven ability to cause defences at this level problems, will make a big difference to their goal-scoring ability.
Thanks for reading, thanks to the fantastic www.whoscored.com for statistical help, and check back soon for a round up of Forest's other signings.
Burke statistics for last season (will expire next week): whoscored stats 13/14
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