Anybody connected with the recent events surrounding Charlton Athletic will know that the South London club have been reinvigorated by the arrival of new owners and a restored sense of hope not seen since their promotion from League One under club legend Chris Powell in 2010. Which is why the premature termination of Connor Gallagher’s season-long loan deal was met with such anguish by large portions of a fanbase still resentful towards Chelsea following their flippant acquisition of Scott Parker at the start of the Abramovich reign. Disgruntled fan’s comments were however ultimately the result of losing a player so remarkably talented and productive in the midst of a relegation run-in. But with the news that Gallagher has now joined up with his former England U-17 coach Steve Cooper at promotion-pushing Swansea City, there is now a clear progression in the player’s trajectory that no rival fan can object to. With this in mind, we take a look at the impact Gallagher could have in South-Wales.
Swansea’s drab derby day draw with Cardiff City will largely be remembered for the farcical treatment Sheffield United forward and Swansea fan Oli McBurnie upon being pictured signaling explicit gestures towards Cardiff fans. But aside from such overly sensitive and pedantic narratives, the game itself gave light to the impotency of Swansea’s midfield and offered up Gallagher as the antidote. Bersant Celina, the man Gallagher will be hoping to displace showed impressive footwork and an eye for goal against Cardiff, driving forward before using the defender to arrow a shot off the woodwork, but this season has shown that whilst displaying exemplary technical attributes he lacks the cutting edge that Gallagher possesses – the Kosovo international has contributed to just three goals over the course of the campaign. Gallagher, on the other hand, has already scored six goals this season in a Charlton side averaging just 9.1 shots per game (the lowest figure among all 24 clubs in the Championship), and his expected goals tally of 5.59 means his current return is by no means circumstantial and more a result of his impressive shot accuracy.
Much of Swansea’s attacking play relies on width but the addition of Rhian Brewster from Liverpool means Cooper is likely to adapt his side’s tactical identity in order to utilize Brewster’s pace in behind. Against Cardiff Cooper unsuccessfully tried to pigeon hole Brewster into his set-up, employing him to move into the channels and pick up possession. This only served to isolate Brewster and lead the youngster to produce low-quality long-range efforts. Cooper is well aware that he must adopt a system in which his midfielders pick up these wide positions before using their superior technical ability to drive at the goal and produce defense-splitting through balls. This is where Gallagher comes into play, for his time at Charlton showed not only that he was a threat in front of goal but also a superb player in the transition, with virtually identical statistics to Celina both in his dribbling (1.4 compared to 1.5 dribbles per game) as well as his ability to draw fouls (more than double Celina’s 0.7 at 2 fouls per game). Charlton themselves are a team who rely on width – like Swansea nearly 80% of their attacks come down the flanks, often utilizing their wing-backs and midfielders to create overloads on the flanks, and as a result, Gallagher is no stranger to drifting into the half-spaces and picking up possession. His ability to execute a key pass is an area of weakness that can often let the youngster down but learning under Celina who averages 2 key passes per game provides no better platform from which to learn.
Whilst on the topic of areas in which Gallagher will look to improve during his time at Swansea, there is likely to have been discussions between Chelsea’s backroom staff about making use of Cooper’s possession orientated style of play to encourage Gallagher to improve his ball retention (whilst at Charlton, he was akin to surrendering possession almost four times a game through a combination of unsuccessful touches and tackles). This, however, has much to do with Charlton’s insistence on playing long balls – The Addicks rank seventh for long balls played, whilst also ranking 18th for short passes in the Championship this season, into the feet of Gallagher leaving him with little time to control and assess his options. Swansea, on the other hand, have one of the highest average possession figures in the Championship with 52.7% and rank fourth and fifth respectively for both short balls played and passing accuracy. Cooper is looking to play his way out of the Championship with a short incisive passing game that draws some similarities to Chelsea in the way that they look to channel their play through the centre of the park before utilizing the runners’ out wide.
Mason Mount is a player who gathers much acclaim for his ability to press high and win back possession as seen in his first senior goal for the Blues when he dispossessed Leicester midfielder Wilfred N’Didi on the edge of the area before advancing and slotting past Kasper Schmeichel. This attribute requires impressive anticipation to trigger the press as well as execution in winning the ball back without giving away a foul. Gallagher has shown himself to be capable of replicating Mount’s style of play averaging nearly three tackles and interceptions per game whilst only committing 1.8 fouls in the process. Mount is far more tactile in his approach only pressing when he feels appropriate, and as a result, conceding fewer fouls but this is whilst also contributing nearly half the tackles and interceptions Gallagher does. The caveat, of course, is that Gallagher often drops deeper in order to increase Charlton’s deep ball progression, but the underlying statistics, as well as Gallagher, likely being given a more free role in which to operate means he can hone in on his ability to press high and showcase his worth to Lampard’s system.
Having reviewed his numbers at Charlton in accordance to both Swansea and Chelsea’s tactical identities it is now abundantly clear as to the holistic thinking behind Lampard’s decision to disrupt what was a fruitful loan spell in South London in order to further encourage Gallagher’s progression into the first team. It is yet to be seen how much game time the 21-year-old will be given but having previously worked alongside Cooper there seems little discernible reason as to why he’d be starved of opportunities.