Monday, 4 August 2014

Player under the microscope: Chris Burke

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 for statistical help, and check back soon for a round up of Forest's other signings.
Further reading:
Burke statistics for last season (will expire next week): whoscored stats 13/14
Nottingham Post interview: Interview
Clips of some goals: Cardiff & Birmingham


  1. Brilliant article as usual Boffin, great, in-depth analysis. I think Burke will turn out to be a stellar signing for us. I've seen some complaining of his lack of pace but, while we could do with a little more speed, I think he brings a lot to the side. A midfield of Pato-Reid-Lansbury-Vaughan-Burke (with the likes of Osborne on the bench) is fantastic at his level.

  2. Cheers Chris. That midfield you mention looks perfect to me - the three lads in the middle bringing Pato & Bruke into the game would be very dangerous - I don't even think you'd need to give them any instructions. I think Pearce could just say to Reid, Vaughan and Lansbury "play in the middle and sort it out however you like" and they're intelligent enough to link up and move around sufficiently to dominate. But you need a cutting edge - this is where Burke & Paterson would come in - and Fryatt/A.N.Other.

    Cheers for taking the time to comment.

  3. Cox, Mackie, Henderson, Derbyshire, Abdoun out. Fryatt, Burke, Veldwijk in. Paterson and Blackstock remaining. We have over the past few years had many strikers/wingers who don't seem to go well at Forest (but go better elsewhere sometimes). Are we better off now? Has quantity been replaced by quality? Billy seemed to sign a lot of forwards almost in desperation but didn't seem to "improve the team". Have we got it right yet Boffin?

  4. Replying to my own comment Boffin. Two signings overnight. Pretty exciting . The Peterborough lad is unproven at this level but is young and has scored at four clubs (every club he has played at except Watford where he didn't get a game). Looks like a very strong squad with a lot of youthful players in the squad or on the fringes. Only two target men: Velwijk (unproven) and Blackstock (injured) but hey looks great. What do you think Mr Boffin??

    1. I think we've seen the quality you speak of already pal; Burke and Antonio's goals show how much of a threat they are - I don't see them as being as good at other parts of the game as, say Jamie Mackie, but that offer a goal threat. As mentioned in my blog, I think this is what Pearce wants from his offensive players, while Billy was happy for the goals to come from everywhere.

      Assombalonga looks sensational to me - and that's from a game where he didn't have everything his own way as far as goal-scoring is concerned. His movement was instinctive IMO and he immediately looks like he'll grow up into a top class player.

      As to your original question; I'm not sure if we have it right, but the one sure thing is that they will be more threatening when they get in goal-scoring positions. Ask me in a month. Or two.

      Thanks for reading pal.