But can Patson Daka do it in the Premier League?
Some years ago, when word was spreading about the teenage Norwegian phenomenon banging in goals for RB Salzburg, we wondered – who was Erling Braut Haaland's backup? We looked, and we found Patson Daka. And the intriguing thing was, Daka's numbers were almost as good as Haaland's. That could have meant one of two things: either both strikers had inflated stats because of Salzburg's dominance in the Austrian Bundesliga, or both of them were truly exceptional players. These days, we're leaning toward the latter.
The folks at Red Bull seem to agree. They only needed to see Daka on a six-month loan at their second-tier feeder club, Liefering, before they brought him to Salzburg. Right now, it looks very likely that Daka's next step will be to join fellow Salzburg product Takumi Minamino in the Premier League, at Leicester City.
But it's a huge step up from Austria's top tier, as Minamino found out at Liverpool. Does Daka have what it takes to succeed one of the world's toughest domestic leagues? First, let's take a look at this smarterscout young prospect's ratings in our models:
What stands out right away is Daka's enormous attacking output, even at a Premier League standard. It's so high that he may supply a boost of 0.13 expected goals per match above the output of a median Premier League striker. We can also see that Daka is very good in the air on dead balls and is a great tackler.
But Daka has some weaknesses, too. He's poor in ground duels on the ball, which helps to explain his low ball retention, and our algorithms make him a mediocre finisher in open play for the Premier League. He'll find the GKs in England to be quite a bit better than the ones he's used to facing.
In the Premier League, strikers also have much less time on the ball, so being able to win a 1v1 in possession can be a pretty important skill. That said, Daka has modified his game somewhat to protect his weakness. Here's how his style evolved over the past two seasons:
His propensity to dribble went way down in 2020-21. You can also see that even though his defending quantity fell, he was able to disrupt more opposition moves and recover more balls. Indeed, his defending quality rose as he polished up that part of his game.
The part of Daka's style that didn't change was his profile as a target man. He received a huge number of balls in the box and got his shots off at an outstanding rate, showing the sort of numbers Robert Lewandoski puts together across the border in the German Bundesliga. And the quality of Daka's shots is astronomically high:
It only took Daka four shots, on average, to score a goal in 2020-21. When you take a look at his shot map in open play, you can see why:
The map shows that Daka can score from wide angles inside the box, but he's most active facing directly at goal and doesn't try his luck too often from outside. When he is outside the penalty area, he has a range of short and long passes, as his smartermap shows:
The smartermap also shows that Daka was most active as a dribbler on the flanks or on the edge of the box to the GK's left, and that he had a preference for that side in his overall positioning. This could work for Leicester if they decided to play a back five with Timothy Castagne or Ricardo Pereira as a RWB, with a three-man midfield. Either Daka or Kelechi Iheanacho, who also prefers to come through the right channel, could partner with Jamie Vardy up front. Whether Daka and Iheanacho could play together as productively might be more of a question mark, but the good news is that the Foxes played with two up front and three CBs for the last 12 matches of the 2020-21 season.
The idea of playing two up front makes even more sense when you consider the players with a similar style to Daka's. The closest match in Europe's top five leagues is Lautaro Martinez, who spent most the past two seasons at Inter Milan playing in a two with Romelu Lukaku (and picking up a Scudetto along the way). In the Premier League, Daka comes closest to Danny Ings in style, and Ralph Hasenhuttl has increasingly used Ings in a two as well:
All three strikers have low ball retention at a Premier League standard, and they're all active defenders as well as being prolific in the box. But Martinez, the marquee name among the three, is also excellent in 1v1s in possesson – he takes risks but can beat his man.
Putting all of this evidence aside, perhaps the best indicator of Daka's ability to succeed at a higher level is the pathway of his former teammate. Here's a comparison of Daka's 2020-21 campaign with Haaland in 2019-20, before he joined Borussia Dortmund:
To be sure, Daka and Haaland's playing styles were fairly similar in their last seasons in Austria. But in both of the areas where we pointed out that Daka was lacking – ground duels in possession and finishing in open play – Haaland has formidable skill. Even with these advantages, however, Haaland had an adjustment period. His attacking output fell in his first half-season in Germany... but then it came roaring back in 2020-21.
What's the bottom line? Daka may have a slightly tougher task adapting to one of Europe's top five leagues, and he'll probably need time to adapt as well. If things go well, the Zambia international will have a chance to do his "full armour of God" celebration on some of global football's biggest stages.
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