Portsmouth have made a real statement of intent by signing John Marquis from Doncaster Rovers.
The prolific League 1 striker was signed on a three-year-deal and is the largest transfer fee Portsmouth have spent since entering administration in 2011.
Fans and pundits have unanimously praised the transfer, expressing that club finally have the 20+ goal a season striker they needed.
This opinion has been entrenched into many observers after watching Pompey fail to achieve promotion; but the team did not struggle for goals last season.
Throughout the 2018/2019 season, Portsmouth scored 109 goals in 62 matches. No team outside the Premier League achieved a higher goal total.
However, these goalscoring stats have been soured due to the manner in which Pompey failed to gain promotion.
Firstly, Portsmouth only failed to score in eight games all season, but two of them were in underwhelming displays against Sunderland in the playoffs. Secondly, opposition teams such as Luton and Charlton got promoted with strikers who scored 20+ goals.
And finally, many fans were frustrated by Pompey’s attacking deficiencies in certain games. When Portsmouth were on the back foot last season, the midfield seems none existent at times and aimless long balls to an isolated Oli Hawkins were a blemish on generally solid performances.
These circumstances all lead to Pompey splashing the cash on John Marquis. His goal record speaks is undeniable but given the way Portsmouth line-up and their style of football, is Marquis the right signing worth the money?
By using Wyscout and video analysis, we can see what sort of player Marquis is behind his goalscoring record.
Initially, I had my doubts on whether John Marquis would be the right fit for Kenny Jackett’s 4-2-3-1 system.
The striker has to be a complete forward, a player who is able to score a variety of goals, contribute to build-up play and to be able to beat defenders in the air or through dribbling.
Portsmouth do have options for this role, but Marquis is easily the most well-rounded and prolific player out of all the strikers in the squad (fig 1).
Figure 1 The attacking stats for Portsmouth’s strikers, showing the amount of goals they are expected to score per 90 minutes and how the players play off the ball. (I have used Harrison’s League 1 stats from Bristol Rovers considering his low sample size last year and Ipswich’s poor performances overall.
Marquis is a lot more than just a penalty area striker. Compared to Ellis Harrison and Oli Hawkins, he’s more accurate with his shooting and makes more progressive runs off the ball. Marquis is also apt at dribbling and can take on defenders to create one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper.
Marquis also has a higher expected goal stat (xG), as he can score multiple types of goals with his weaker foot or headers.
With this adaptability and ability to goal numerous types of goals, Marquis would be the best equipped to play as the striker in Kenny Jackett’s 4-2-3-1
Jackett’s system requires the striker to be part of a front four which counter attacks or controls possession as a unit.
As mentioned in my analysis on Marcus Harness, Kenny Jackett’s 4-2-3-1 formation relies on all the forward players being involved in build-play, creating space for themselves or making key passes to others.
Last season, Marquis have shown his ability to be part of build-up play across the pitch.
His positional awareness in and around the penalty area is excellent and can create chances for his teammates in tight spaces.
This awareness also relates to how close Marquis himself is to a defender and the position of his teammates, often holding up the ball and placing a short pass to an on-rushing teammate.
Marquis’ positional awareness is not limited to the penalty area, linking up with counter-attacks quickly by using through balls.
Marquis’ ability to link up play with other forwards and midfielders would lead to Pompey controlling the midfield and dictating possession more in games. Often in games where Hawkins played as the striker, his lack of mobility lead to him being isolated from the midfield. Although this was not entirely his fault, it led to Portsmouth being wasteful in possession and more aimless direct passes.
Kenny Jackett used Hawkins last season as he could disrupt defenders and win direct passes, but Marquis can fulfil this role to a certain extent.
Marquis can be a focal point but the type of passing and build up play has to change.
The Focal Point of the Front Four
As the focal point of the front four last season, Oli Hawkins was the main target man. His job was to hold up the ball and make key passes out-wide for Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis to run onto.
Hawkins was often put into situation to win “duels”. A duel is when two players are competing for possession, either by competing for an aerial ball or running onto a pass.
A pattern of play by John Marquis in one of Doncaster’s play-off matches against Charlton is the perfect example. Here, Marquis is challenging for the loose ball against a defender and he’s able to gain possession and make a first time pass to his teammate.
These underlying stats highlight the contribution of a striker off the ball (fig 2).
As expected, Hawkins has the highest amount of duel wins but a lot of these were defensive duels; he was often asked to play deeper to defend a one-goal lead. Therefore, Marquis still holds up to a certain extent, winning a similar number of offensive duels and being able to harass defenders.
Additionally, Marquis lost the ball less often and was able to receive more passes due to his positional sense, supporting the idea that he’s more than just a goal scorer.
Despite being adaptable, Portsmouth will need to change their style of play to accommodate John Marquis, but these changes will not be a detriment to their success.
The main change has to be how Portsmouth transition from defence to offence. Direct passing is fine but aimless long balls have to go.
Transitions to John Marquis have to be through the midfield along the floor, which suits his mobility and allows for Portsmouth to drive play against the opposition.
Figure 2 The stats for the striker’s offensive play off the ball, his ability to contest with defenders and his positional awareness.
Overall, the Marquis signing is the right one to make. The former Doncaster Rovers player is a guaranteed source of goals and can contribute to Portsmouth’s build up play as well.
If Kenny Jackett is not stubborn and adapts the style of play slightly, Portsmouth can fully utilise Marquis in a way which can dominate the opposition.
A front-four of Marcus Harness, Brett Pitman, Ronan Curtis and John Marquis is a line-up which will cause any defence in League 1 problems.
That forward unit is mobile, flexible and more importantly, has the potential to score a lot of goals. Considering his underlying stats, Marquis can succeed at Portsmouth with slight tactical tweaks.
John Marquis is the player Portsmouth have always wanted and always needed.
Photo: Portsmouth FC
Video clips: Wyscout/EFL