Ex-Luton Ryan Tunnicliffe adds much needed bite and balance to the new-look Pompey midfield while creating a stronger dressing room

By Freddie Webb

Very few signings show vocal gravitas right from the start, but Ryan Tunnicliffe has already shown – from his words and actions – that he’s determined to hit the ground running at Fratton Park.

Portsmouth had to fight off intense Championship interest to secure the ex-Luton midfielder on a two-year deal, but the lure of first-team football and linking up with former teammates were enough to secure his signature.

Danny Cowley is clearly focusing on two things with his transfer policy: experience and stylistic fit.

Tunnicliffe fits both needs, having over 250 Championship appearances under his belt while having an aggressive style of play in defence and going forward.

He’ll add a little bit of everything, especially playing alongside former teammate Shaun Williams.

While the experienced Irishman is an archetypal playmaker, Tunnicliffe is a strong box-to-box alternative who gets stuck in and disrupts play across the pitch.

He didn’t get as involved in the tackle as Tom Naylor or Andy Cannon did last season, but Luton don’t always utilise a high press, and often play against stronger opposition.

Despite making less challenges on average, the 28 year-old manages win more defensive duels than both former Blues midfielders at a higher level.

His 63.22% success rate for tackles out of possession in the league is above average at Championship level, so on paper, he should dominate any midfield battle and allow Pompey to transition quickly and create chances.

His lack of aerial threat is a major concern though. Naylor broke up countless aerial threats, and his absence will put more pressure on the centre-backs, especially when up against direct sides.

Cannon’s energy – shown by the sheer number of duels he makes – will also need to be replaced, but Tunnicliffe adds a good blend of both ex-Blues midfielders.

He can be utilised as a supporting midfielder in a high press who can dribble into high danger areas or act as an out ball.

For attacking contributions, Tunnicliffe averages more touches in the box, and has a comparable number of progressive runs to Cannon.

Cowley loves his Pompey side to press high without the ball and play high in the opposition half, and Tunnicliffe’s metrics fit that approach.

Deep completions – a pass made in or just outside the penalty area – are also highly important for breaking down compact defensive sides.

Pompey can utilise Harness’ and Curtis’ pace in the wide areas to create space, so having a midfielder like Tunnicliffe to pick out those passes is essential.

Both his average number of League deep completions (0.95), and progressive runs (1.25), are above average when compared to other Championship midfielders.

However, Tunnicliffe’s passing accuracy is weakness. Yes, he was playing against better opposition than Pompey last season, but Luton were midtable and favour a fluid passing strategy, so he would have been expected to pass regularly despite being alongside playmaking teammates.

Aside from passes to the penalty area, he averages less than Naylor and Cannon across the board.

He’s also behind in terms of passing accuracy, which is crucial to an extent, as any attacking contributions made won’t matter if the final ball is poor.

These weaknesses are worth mentioning, but fans shouldn’t worry about them too much.

Passing accuracy relies on a lot of factors, not just a players technique, so they aren’t everything.

The key for any successful football team is to utilise a players’ strengths and mask their weaknesses.

Marcus Harness, Ronan Curtis and Shaun Williams are all creative players who are comfortable in possession and can make accurate passes regularly.

Pompey’s attackers will rely on quick transitions between opposing defenders – through dribbling and passing – to create scoring chances.

Tunnicliffe is there to facilitate that style of play and contribute to it in a pinch.

Pompey need a midfielder with an engine to constantly be involved in the play across the pitch, and the analytics support his ability to do that.

The Greater-Manchester born midfielder is also already proving to be a key influence in the dressing room.

He could have signed for a Championship club and played a backup role like he did last season.

But Tunnicliffe wanted a major role at a club, and is already showing that determination, drive and professionalism.

He spoke adamantly after the friendly against Havant & Waterlooville that the teams standards in the first half weren’t good enough, not for a team which wants to develop “winning habits.”

Having characters like that in the squad is essential, especially for a club rebuilding and bringing in lots of new faces at once.

Good habits need to be implemented early so the new team can be more cohesive and hit the ground running when the season starts, and having model pros like Tunnicliffe in the squad can make that happen.

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Header photo: Portsmouth FC

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