Aberdeen finished fourth, a point behind third place, but more importantly a point off the Europa League qualifiers. It’s been a season to forget for them as the side struggled to mount any momentum. As a result, their performances were inconsistent and included heavy defeats against both Rangers and Celtic. However, Sam Cosgrove’s goals were enough to save face for the club.
Criticised for his overly defensive tactics, manager Derek McInnes sought to add more goals to his forward unit in January. Consequently, Aberdeen signed St. Johnstone winger, Matty Kennedy, a welcomed addition by the Pittodrie supporters. Kennedy netted three goals and one assist in 10 games for Aberdeen, totalling six goals and eight assists throughout the 2019/20 campaign.
Northern Ireland has struggled to find a consistent winger since Jordan Jones’s injury back in September. It was around this time when Kennedy caught the eye of the former Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill, later earning a call up to the senior squad in October. This scout report will better inform the reader of Kennedy’s strengths and weaknesses and will provide and make use of his statistics from this season. By doing so, we can develop an objective foundation that will allow for an accurate tactical analysis and evaluation of his ability.
Depending on the tactics, the Belfast-born winger will play predominantly on the left but has demonstrated an adequate capability on the right and as a supporting striker. However, it’s on the left, playing as an inverted winger, where Kennedy is more of a threat. From this position, he’s able to keep the opposition guessing.
The former EFL prospect has displayed his technical ability with both feet, resulting in accurate crosses when he drives down the line, and accurate shots when he cuts inside. As a result, playing him as a left-winger allows Kennedy to do what he does best; create chances.
Let’s examine his positioning at set-pieces.
During defensive corners, Kennedy marks the man closest to the taker. Aberdeen make use of his quick acceleration, which gives him a chance of intercepting. Failing that, he applies pressure instantly.
At attacking corners, Kennedy will either take it or occupy a space on the edge of the box. If Aberdeen lose possession, Kennedy’s speed enables him to keep up with and break down opposing counter-attacks. If Aberdeen recover possession outside of the box, Kennedy’s crossing and long-range shooting ability threaten the opposition’s defence.
During defensive free kicks, Kennedy stands in the wall or marks a potential runner. If he’s in the wall when the ball has been played, he breaks it immediately. In this scenario, Kennedy travels forward to provide an opportunity to counter-attack.
At attacking free kicks, Kennedy occupies a similar role as he does for attacking corners. His intense pressing style, crossing and long-range shooting ability are capable of threatening the opposition’s defence.
At Aberdeen, Kennedy’s defensive responsibilities changed. Having started the season with St. Johnstone, Kennedy was permitted to remain further forward. However, at Aberdeen, McInnes was keen to get the 25-year-old to track back and support the defensive unit. Kennedy’s role is to prevent the opposing full-back from whipping in dangerous balls or cutting inside. Therefore, Kennedy must be fit and fast enough to get back into position as required. Moreover, he needs to apply continuous pressure if the full-back receives the ball.
Unsurprisingly, it’s been under McInnes’ management where we’ve seen Kennedy show discipline in challenges. The stats tell us he’s ranked 85th in defensive duels, averaging 4.41 per 90. The reason for this low tally is because of his positioning during his time at St. Johnstone. However, more importantly, he has a 59.6% success rate in these duels. We’ll discuss Kennedy’s defensive technique in the next part of the analysis below.
Above, Kennedy defends his channel against the Celtic full-back. As the ball reaches its target, Kennedy is lightning fast to react. As a result, he’s in the opposing player’s face, denying him any chance of a pass inside. Now, due to the speed and attacking mindset of most modern wingers, they are excused for diving into challenges and being easily beaten. Not Kennedy.
The no. 23 is agile, low to the ground and disciplined. When the Aberdeen winger is close enough to the defender, he will jostle and force the man to either dribble the ball down the line or pass backwards. Kennedy’s 59.6% success indicates the likelihood of him recovering the ball, should the opposing player try to dribble past him.
If we take a step back from Kennedy’s technical defensive attributes, instead focusing on his recoveries across the entire pitch, he averages 4.85 per 90. The map above illustrates Kennedy’s conservative role when dropping deep, as well as the aggressive role in the opposing half to counter-press and create chances.
Going further into the statistics, let’s examine his recoveries in the final third. He averages 2.67 counter-pressing actions per 90. Surprisingly, his most effective counter-pressing comes from the right. However, consider the context. He finds himself on the right after set-pieces.
Therefore, reflect on the role he plays, as well as his lethally accurate crossing ability, especially off his right foot, and then we start to get an understanding of the statistics. When he counter-presses on the left flank, this is more often than not from regular play. Thus, he is more reluctant to play direct. Instead, he assesses the situation and moves the ball inside, towards his midfielders.
Kennedy continued to be a threat in the SPFL this season. Despite switching teams midway through, the Northern Irishman went on to demonstrate why he is one of the best left-wingers in Scotland. Kennedy will play as an inverted winger.
Here, the no. 23 is responsible for creating width through quick movement into the channels, breaking lines and progressing play, by utilising both feet and tricky footwork, creating and scoring goals with a relentless mindset. The Aberdeen winger is known for his dribbling, crossing and long-range shooting ability.
Ok, so let’s look at his dribbling ability first. The statistics highlight Kennedy’s relentless nature to attack by running at defenders as much as possible. The left-winger faces, on average per 90, 17.06 offensive duels, the second-highest in the league.
He also ranks second in the league with most dribbles per 90 at 10.55 with a success rate of 51.48%. Moreover, and deemed more important, is his talent to progress play via his dribbling ability. Kennedy ranks second in the league for the highest average progressive runs per 90, 4.28, accumulating 104.4 metres per game.
Above, the ball travels toward the Aberdeen left-back, Andy Considine. As this happens, Kennedy drops off his marker and looks to receive a pass on the half-turn. The image illustrates Kennedy’s speed and ‘street smart’ nature.
Note the distance he’s given himself to collect and pick up momentum to beat the opposing right-back. It’s intelligent movements like these that allow him to progress play for Aberdeen.
The picture above shows the progression made by Kennedy from the previous image. The opposing right-back delayed the no. 23, slowing his dribble down, thus allowing the opposing right midfielder to double up on Kennedy. The left-winger has the dribbling ability to evade the challenge.
He faints before driving toward the by-line, where he can deliver a cross. Note, his ability to maintain possession through his close control has built trust amongst his teammates. Note also the black arrows that highlight the Aberdeen forward’s movement. They pile into the box in anticipation of the delivery.
So, having progressed play, Kennedy now finds himself in a scenario where he must create goal-scoring opportunities. He has three options; pass, cross or shoot. We will analyse the two he’s shown to be most effective in this season; crossing and shooting.
The statistics above represent all the crosses made by Kennedy this season. The map shows that he can cross effectively from either side, with versatility being another string to the Aberdeen winger’s bow.
He ranks seventh in the league with most average crosses per 90, at 5.48. However, it’s his accuracy that impresses. Kennedy finds his target 46% of the time. On top of that, he provides on average, 1.91 deep completed crosses per 90, fourth highest in the league.
In the picture above, Kennedy has carried the ball into the corner. He is travelling at speed, having used skill and speed to beat the full-back. His ability to cross accurately with his left foot under pressure is outstanding. The ball finds his teammate, Connor McLennan, who converts the cross. Given the context of the example above, Kennedy possesses a mesmerising ability to create goal-scoring opportunities from crosses.
In other instances, Kennedy will shift the ball inside onto his preferred foot. It’s in these moments that he attempts to utilise his shooting ability. Let’s look at the statistics.
The statistics above represent the goals he’s scored in the Scottish Premiership this campaign. The map illustrates the pockets of space that Kennedy finds himself being able to shoot from. Note how every shot occurs within the width of the box. It confirms Kennedy’s method of cutting inside to shoot.
This approach makes sense, as he will shoot across the keeper providing opportunities for his teammates anticipating rebounds. As a result, he ranked 13th in average shot assists per 90, with 1.43. Moreover, he’s hungry for goals himself, taking on 33 shots in total, averaging 1.43 per 90.
The picture above illustrates Kennedy scoring a goal from range. To create the opportunity, he cut inside and dribbled past several midfielders. After beating them with skill, the defensive unit pressed. Here, he decides to have a shot, which goes in, and highlights his confidence, technique and power when it comes to shooting.
This season, Kennedy has consistently created chances for his teammates, as well as scoring a few himself. As an inverted winger, he’s gifted with having two good feet capable of crossing, dribbling and scoring. Defensively, Kennedy adopts a low centre of gravity that allows him to track the paciest of full-backs, preventing them from crossing or beating him with skill.
At 25 years old, and having trained with the Northern Ireland squad back in October, Kennedy will be fully aware of the carrot dangling in front of him. If he can continue his development at Aberdeen, it will be a matter of time before the GAWA gave him an opportunity. What happens next is up to him.