In the most recent March International fixtures, Brentford talisman Ivan Toney proudly made his England debut in their 2-0 win against Ukraine at Wembley. It’s another chapter in the forward’s incredible upwards journey from playing in the 4th tier of English football only 8 years ago to now representing his country of birth.
It was, in fact, an even sweeter moment for Toney after missing out on a place in the national squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The striker’s consistent form throughout the season – being the 2nd highest English goalscorer in the Premier League after Harry Kane – left head coach Gareth Southgate in no doubt to call up Toney for the European Championship Qualifying fixtures.
On the back of his fabulous 2022/23 season, at the MBP School of Coaches, we looked to analyse Ivan Toney’s performances in a Bees shirt this season, aiming to identify what makes the striker so special through the fundamentals of the game he applies and how his strengths are utilised by his team in the different moments of the game.
Set Piece Reference Player
From analysing Toney’s profile, it is clear that his main strength comes in his dominance in aerial duels. His high upper body strength, as well as his excellent timing and ability to get great height when jumping, means he poses a real danger in attacking set pieces.
No other team exploits the 5th phase of the game better than Brentford in the Premier League. A dedicated Set Piece coach along with a Set Piece analyst means the team are well prepared before every fixture in exploiting opponent’s set piece defensive systems.
The Bees use Toney to great effect in their corners, free kicks, and throw-ins in Z3, often using the forward as the reference player in their rehearsed routines. Whether he is attacking the initial ball or the flick-on from a teammate, Toney generates a lot of shots on goal in this moment. This is exemplified in the statistics of the forward’s 16 Premier League goals this season – an incredible 11 of them have originated from a set piece (either through a penalty, direct from the cross/throw-in, or from the 2nd phase.
Moreover, Toney is a marksman from 11 yards out, already scoring 5 penalties this campaign. His unique two-step paused run-up slows the penalty right down and enables him to react more effectively to the direction the goalkeeper dives to. In fact, Toney only developed this technique after missing a penalty (the only one in his career) at his previous club Peterborough United.
Threat in the Box
Toney’s dominance in the air isn’t only utilised in set pieces, as the forward generates a lot of shots from crosses – a big focus of Brentford’s attacking principle of play in the final 3rd.
In addition to the previous strengths mentioned, it is his deceptive movements to find space away from his direct opponent which allows him to be found on crosses.
Applying the Individual Forward fundamental of ‘finding the position behind the backs of the center backs in potential crosses from the wing’, the England striker will move into positions on the blindside of the opponent, making it more difficult for them to see the direction of his runs. Furthermore, the Brentford man will at times move to the back post, where he usually finds qualitive superiority in attacking the cross against much smaller and less aerial-dominant full backs.
One area the former Newcastle forward has developed in during the 2 years in the Premier League is his link-up play. Implementing the Individual Forward fundamental of ‘offering support as the second line’ is required for a team like Brentford whose principle of play in Zone 1 revolves around attracting the press of the opposition before taking advantage of the space on the 2nd line.
Once the opposition start to engage higher up the pitch, Toney’s intelligent movement connects angles to the on-ball defenders, enabling them to play long balls to bypass the opposition’s first two pressing lines. Toney’s quality to lay off passes to forward runs from the midfielders, or to flick-on passes to the wingers helps Brentford to benefit from any generated spatial advantage.
Lastly, Toney can also be used as a platform to connect play when the team have possession of the ball in the progression zone and in the final 3rd. In these areas, Toney can ‘offer support for continuity of the play as the first line’, moving in support to the ball to help mobilise possession into the wide channels.
Toney has already beaten his goalscoring record in his debut Premier League campaign. With 10 games left to play, and his team in contention for European places, we are interested to see his continuing progression into one of the top number 9s in the Premier League, as well as becoming a consistent part of Gareth Southgate’s England set up.