After turning a few heads during his loan spell at West Bromwich Albion last season, Conor Gallagher has turned several heads in 2021-22, with his stunning displays for Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace. Gallagher fits into Vieira’s 4-3-3 like a fever dream, and has become the most important player in a normally Zaha-reliant set-up. So with that, today we take a look at why Conor Gallagher has been so effective for Crystal Palace, after his first 19 appearances for the Eagles. Here is our latest tactical analysis.
STYLE OF PLAYEmbed from Getty Images
Conor Gallagher has been praised over and over this season for his Frank Lampard-esque timing of runs into the penalty box. But the 21-year-old is so much more than just a late arriving goal-poacher. Gallagher is fantastic out of possession, holding a highly important role in Palace’s defensive set-up and ability to win the ball back high up the pitch. An energetic presser with loads of energy, Gallagher is a quintessential number 8, who could also easily classify as a talented modern day number ten. With Vieira occasionally switching to a 4-2-3-1 this season to get Gallagher to bounce off of Christian Benteke, the British midfielder has been able to perform both roles to great effect for his team.
With James McArthur out injured and Cheikhou Kouyate gone for AFCON, Gallagher’s been the only main constant in a midfield three that otherwise would desperately miss his industry and box-to-box ability. Not only is Gallagher the most active presser for Palace, he’s also the most creative attacker – highlighting his overall importance.
IN POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Featured in John Muller’s ‘no-touch All Stars‘ on The Athletic, Conor Gallagher is not the most active of Palace players in possession. He’s much more about running power, carrying ability, and of course, goal-scoring ability from his impeccable off-the-ball movement, than anything to do with passing. His 35 passes per 90 ranks in the bottom 12 percent of players in his position, and his 76% pass accuracy ranks in the bottom 8 percent, despite not being all that progressive. Gallagher could develop this side of his game more in the future, but for now, it’s just not his role.Embed from Getty Images
What he lacks in passing desire, intent and accuracy, he massively makes up for in on and off-the-ball running. His 72% dribbling success rate is absolutely unreal for any player, let alone one who dribbles more than 89% of the players in his position. If defenders try and get touch-tight, he’s easily able to twinkle his toes and work it beyond them, or win a foul. But if given space, Gallagher will easily carry the ball forward, or pass it off to someone else before sprinting forward. In truth, that second option is more likely. The Chelsea loanee has a great understanding of Vieira’s positional play, shifting to the wide right when his right winger comes inside, and often overlapping down the right wing. Similarly, as the striker moves wide, Gallagher can easily adopt correct central positions in their stead. He’s a great progressive carrier, but much more safe with his passing rather than supremely progressive. When he tries to be, it just doesn’t come off. Instead, he trusts his bulldozer skills, and uses that to his best advantage, while constantly looking to create space for others.Embed from Getty Images
Not only is Conor Gallagher capable of winning fouls, but he’s also the one they often rely on to take subsequent set-pieces. Free kicks, corners, you name it – Gallagher’s on it. This shows just how much Vieira and the team trust his abilities to work magic, and while he hasn’t contributed an assist from a set-piece so far, he has created 13 chances.
Then, as we all know, as the team work their magic out wide and deliver into the box, Gallagher is phenomenal at timing his runs, ghosting in, and finishing off chances. Only one of his seven goals this season have come from outside of the box, yet opposition teams still can’t seem to find a way to mark him. His talent comes both from the sheer speed he has in his locker to quickly join attacks, but also from his astute awareness to seek out space and time his runs correctly. You’d think he’d be the player opposition clubs most desperately attempt to stop, but instead, the 21-year-old seems to ghost into the box as though he’s underneath Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. From there, he can score headers, volleys, left-footed or right-footed strikes, with his stronger right foot responsible for 86% of his goals this season.Embed from Getty Images
For most of this, you’re probably imagining Palace playing on the break, catching their opposition in transition, and Gallagher gliding into to the box to place the ball in the corner of the net. While it’s a stunning image, many of midfielder’s goals this season have come from longer moments of possession. That means as Palace break down their opposition in the creation stage, Gallagher’s lurking and patiently waiting at the top of the box for his moment to shine. The likes of Benteke, Edouard and Ayew are then able to stretch the opposition back-line closer to goal, allowing the 21-year-old more room to run into. Out of all the Conor Gallagher traits, this is the one that has most caught the eye.
OUT OF POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
As already mentioned, Conor Gallagher is far more than just a goal-scoring central midfield. He’s remarkably capable and sound in defense, playing a massive role for Vieira’s team in helping to keep the ball out of the net. The Palace man has applied pressure almost 25 times per 90 since this time last year, which ranks better than 95% of the players in his position. Encouragingly, his numbers in terms of pressing success, pressures in the attacking third, and tackle success are all up from his days at West Brom. This is in part down to Vieira’s style, but also in part down to Gallagher’s more astute uses of his aggression. To use a terrible commentator term – Gallagher wants to get “stuck in”. He plays as if the football is his own personal ball, that he doesn’t want to let anyone on the opposition have for even a second. So whenever he’s anywhere close to the ball, you can expect Gallagher to be putting in a foot, or harrying the player away.
When he’s not so close to the ball, Gallagher shuffles well in their 4-3-3 to 4-1-4-1 blocking patterns, holding the line and shifting with the play. The whole of the Palace midfield have been excellent this season at keeping shape in both line structure and height, and Gallagher exceptionally covers for his nearest teammates when needed. Similar to his astuteness of space in attack, the 21-year-old drops if he sees his defensive midfielder pushed higher, or shifts ever so slightly in behind if his right winger goes to press. As the opposition progress into a creation stage of their own, Gallagher will then either wait just outside of the box to block or intercept, or may drop into the box if extra support is needed.Embed from Getty Images
On set-pieces, he’s often responsible for the opposition’s ‘goalkeeper disrupter’ as we now like to call it, and then will quickly help to drive the team forward if and when the ball is cleared away. While he can sometimes be overzealous in giving fouls away and getting his team into the messy set-piece situations they so often concede from, Gallagher’s defensive work rate and desire to win the ball back still have to be commended.
MAKING A GALLAGHER REPLICAEmbed from Getty Images
In discovering more about the type of player Conor Gallagher truly is, we want to highlight his skills and abilities across all five of the popular ‘4 Corner Model’ factors (yes, you read that right), used to assess player development and ability in more sports than just soccer. We’ve covered the technical/tactical side and even some of his physical attributes, but players are never signed or re-signed on the basis of only that. So let’s talk about how you could make a Gallagher replica if you were ever trying to mix together ingredients in a Stranger Things lab experiment.
A player’s footballing skills and techniques.
- Excellent dribbler and seamlessly escapes tight spaces.
- Intelligent presser and tackler of the ball.
- Superb finishing, shot-creation and goal-creation.
A player’s footballing IQ, including their awareness of space, position, and the game both as a single entity and as a whole.
- Solid understanding of his RCM position, and over-arching role within the team.
- Quick to cover and support nearby teammates when required.
- Frequently scans the space around him, making adjustments and decisions accordingly.
A player’s bodily characteristics, including how they use their body to achieve advantages.
- Height: 5’11½, Weight: 163 lbs.
- Great physical fitness, endurance and durability.
- Quickly covers ground, and exudes great speed off the ball.
- Solid strength, and plays with a lower centre of gravity than his height would suggest.
A player’s internal thought, such as motivation, resilience, confidence and decision making.
- Does not want the ball at his feet for long.
- Fearless attitude and constant desire to win the ball back for his team.
- Highly motivated, brave, and confident in his abilities.
- Vocally and expressively wants every decision to go his way, but will not dwell on refereeing decisions for long.
- Responds quickly and well after he’s fouled, or a teammate’s pass doesn’t match his excellently timed run.
A player’s communication, teamwork and social circumstances.
- Vocal presence, and often tells teammates where to be on the field.
- Supports teammates well on and off the field and seems to be well liked among teammates.
COULD HE PLAY FOR CHELSEA?Embed from Getty Images
It’s probably undeniable that Connor Gallagher has showcased enough talent so far this season to justify a return to Stamford Bridge. But whether or not he fits the style of play and could transcend their midfield remains to be seen. Gallagher is more of a Mason Mount figure than a Jorginho, Kovacic or Kante, and has shown an ability to play as a number ten for Crystal Palace. A Thomas Tuchel styled inverted winger could be a healthy mix between his current right-centre-mid role and the occasional number ten role he plays for Palace, but it might not best suit his box-to-box ability. In a high-possession based team, Gallagher may also struggle to properly fit in and adapt to Tuchel’s style of play where the central midfielders are key to build-up phases, and switching play left to right. Given that he doesn’t really want the ball for long, he would probably be best suited to a team that also don’t have the ball for long.
He would however be excellent in defensive transitions, which is where Chelsea’s midfielders have excelled since Thomas Tuchel came through the door. So in deciding whether or not Gallagher could play for the Blues, let’s examine his strengths and weaknesses in greater depth.
Stylistically, we have to be honest. Gallagher might be better suited for a different role on a different team. He’d be a great player for Chelsea, and who wouldn’t want to see another Lampard-esque player floating into the box? But he will probably have a better time playing in a midfield three, where he’s able to do more box-to-box running, and be his unique self. There aren’t many players like Conor Gallagher around, so the more midfielders you have in your team, the more freedom you allow a player like that to go on and express themselves. He’d probably work well in a press-heavy Ralf Rangnick team if they ever wanted to switch to a midfield three, or could even do well at a Liverpool or Tottenham, where there is less competition for places and more room to grow. The very best place for him might just be to stay at Palace for another year, assuming they could have enough sway to convince him and Chelsea of another one-year loan deal. Chelsea currently have three of the best central midfielders in the world already, and this alone should deter him from fully making a return to Stamford Bridge next year.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Conor Gallagher has been the loan signing of the season, becoming Crystal Palace’s most important player in the blink of an eye. The 21-year-old has scored 7 goals with 3 assists in 19 appearances so far this campaign, establishing himself as the only un-droppable figure in Vieira’s midfield three. With an astute awareness of space, his position, and the game, Gallagher expertly ghosts into the penalty area to adopt perfect positions to score. With more of an emphasis on pressing than passing, Gallagher would fit into a press-heavy team in the future, but Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea might not be the very best fit due to what they already have at their disposal. We instead suggest Gallagher stay at Palace for another year, if the club can secure another shock loan move. For now, Conor Gallagher is ripping Premier League defenses apart, acting as Crystal Palace’s key man, as the Eagles sit well above any threat of relegation.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Conor Gallagher at Crystal Palace in the 2021-22 Premier League season. Be sure to check out more Player Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite using the links below! Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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