• Brian Maurer

Derrick Jones: The Efficient Number Six

By Brian Maurer

Image courtesy of Charlotte FC


Derrick Jones has emerged as a pivotal piece of Charlotte FC’s midfield over their final stretch of games. Throughout the course of the season Charlotte have lost the midfield battle consistently. Charlotte’s head coach, Christian Lattanzio, opted to add Jones to play alongside Brandt Bronico seven games ago against NYCFC and he has not looked back.


Jones has appeared to be a missing piece that has helped Charlotte actually take control in the middle of the park more regularly. In a few of Jones’ recent performances there are several traits he has that stand out as to why he has been such a key performer for the Black and Blues.


Anticipation


Jones’ ability to anticipate opposing teams’ movement both defensively and in possession is one of his skills that stands out the most. Against the Chicago Fire, Jones consistently had a read on where they were trying to move the ball, and used his positioning and long frame to intercept multiple passes and to poke heavy touches.


He would do this by subtly shifting with the play and scanning for who the nearby passing options are and then waiting for the ball to be passed and then jumping in the passing lane to disrupt the attacking build up. Time and time again he did this against Chicago and against Toronto FC.


Jones’ anticipation makes him a very efficient defender, which can be observed both when watching him play, and in several defensive statistics. Jones’ successful pressure rate is 38.2%*, which is the highest among all regularly contributing Charlotte FC midfielders. His ability to time his tackles against dribblers is also astoundingly high at 80%. His overall tackles won rate is 60.9%. Jones’ defensive efficiency has made him a regular standout performer since being added to the starting lineup.


His efficiency does not stop with his defensive abilities. Jones also uses his anticipation when Charlotte FC are in possession as well. He scans well and notices how the opposition is marking and pressing to help him predict where the space is going to open up so that he can then shift his body into those spaces to make himself available for passes from his centerbacks.


He does this with very little movement, often only needing to take a step or two, because he notices when and where the space is going to open up before it does so he can make his way over to it efficiently.


Possession Skills


When Jones is in possession of the ball he also has several skills that help him maintain possession and progress the ball forward. He uses his body extremely well to help him keep control of the ball, often shrugging off defenders when they attempt to press him when he’s dribbling. He uses a combination of his strength and ball handling skills to turn and carry the ball forward into attacking areas and away from the opposition’s press.


While he does not take defenders on often, when he does he is very good at doing so, as he has a successful dribble rate of 80%, showing his efficiency on the ball. This rate leads all regularly contributing midfielders.


He is also clever in receiving the ball. Part of this is his anticipation, as discussed earlier, as he is good at figuring out where the space is going to open up during build up play. He also uses his strength to shield defenders away from the ball and technique to keep his touches close, making it very difficult to take the ball off of him when he is receiving a pass. Jones’ receiving success rate is 97.2%, and is also the highest among regularly contributing midfielders**.


Size and Strength


It would be ridiculous to ignore the fact that Jones is a massive midfielder, and it is definitely an asset. However, this is the third trait on this list because it is his technique and awareness that are what make him so good. He uses his size and strength to then enhance his technique to make him even more difficult to play against.


For example, his technique allows him to keep the ball close to his body and is able to help him maintain possession of the ball and to carry it forward. He then makes his possession of the ball stronger by using his frame to shield defenders away, and his longer legs to give himself a reach advantage over other smaller attacking midfielders, who are regularly the ones pressing him.


The other asset with his size is that he is strong in the air both on long balls in the middle of the park, and on set pieces. Again, in aerial duels, it's not just his size that makes him an asset. On a corner kick against the Chicago Fire Jones put a header off the post, missing a goal by inches. He created the separation from his defender by alertly seeing the space open up on the back post. He then shook his defender with a shifty move.


His size did not play a role until his diving lung towards the back post. Up until that point he had already anticipated the space that was opening up and craftily found a way to beat his defender to that space. His lunge and strength at the end of the play is where his size then comes into effect. The point again here is that he is big, and strong. That is obvious by just looking at him. But what is most important to understand is that he uses these physical attributes to enhance his other ball playing skills.


What Has He Done For Charlotte Lately


Since earning the starting job in New York, Jones has become a mainstay in Charlotte’s starting lineup. Here is a look at some of his underlying numbers in his past seven starts and a comparison of how he has done during that stretch of games compared to other Charlotte FC midfielders.


Passing

Completion %

Prog. Passes/90

Medium Pass Comp %

Jones (Last 7)

85.7%

1.86

91.7%

Bronico

85.3%

3.17

90.1%

Bender

80.9%

3.60

88.5%

Alcívar

78.9%

1.86

85.1%

McNeill

84.5%

2.46

91.8%


Possession

Dribble %

Reception %

Carries/90

Turnovers/90***

Jones (Last 7)

80%

97.4%

35.9

.65

Bronico

56.3%

92.7%

36.9

.82

Bender

52.6%

82.1%

33.3

3.13

Alcívar

38.5%

91.6%

36.7

1.42

McNeill

50%

87.8%

31.2

2.05


Defensive

Succ. Pressure %

Succ. Tackle vs Dribbler %

Tackles + Int/90

Jones (Last 7)

42.5%

70%

4.14

Bronico

29.4%

35.8%

3.47

Bender

27.3%

27.8%

2.70

Alcívar

21.5%

31.3%

2.92

McNeill

18.8%

50%

2.61

If there is one trend that sticks out the most across all three of these categories it is that Jones is a very efficient player for Charlotte FC when in possession and defensively. My personal speculation as to why he is more efficient than any of Charlotte’s other midfielders is because of his anticipation and his ability to read the game.


When watching Jones play he is constantly scanning for positions to set himself up to make a defensive play or to receive a pass. This attribute is, to me, what separates him from the rest of Charlotte’s current midfield options. He is an efficient ball player in both attacking and defensive phases of play, which is what Charlotte FC have lacked for most of their season until the last few weeks. Which is when Jones was given the starting position.


Team Impact


Another area that can be looked at to help understand Jones’ impact on the team is seeing how well the team has performed overall since he took over a regular starting role. In Charlotte FC’s past seven games that Jones has started, the team’s expected goal difference (xGD) is +2.3.


In the previous 25 games the team’s xGD is -6.3. To put those numbers into a game-by-game perspective, when Jones became a starter, Charlotte’s xGD improved by more than half an xG per game (from -.25 to +.33). Obviously, Jones is not the only factor that has changed the results of Charlotte’s form, but it can definitely be considered one of them.


A New Feel in Midfield


For the past few games Charlotte’s midfield has looked quite different than it did early on in the season. Jones, Bronico, and Karol Świderski have been the midfield trio of late. This change has shown an improvement in technicality in the middle of the park, as well as an ability for Charlotte to impose their will centrally at times. Something they could not do for most of the season.


Bronico and Świderski have both gotten a lot of respect and admiration for their work throughout the course of the season, as they should. But it should not go unnoticed how big of an impact Jones has been in several facets of the Black and Blues' recent games. He will most likely continue to play a major part in Charlotte’s last ditch playoff run, and could force the hand of the Charlotte FC front office to exercise the option in his contract through his exceptional play to end the season.


* All stats found on FBref.com unless otherwise noted.


** Nuno Santos has a higher percentage than Jones, but as he has not started yet, I would not put him in the regularly contributing category quite yet.


***Found on MLSsoccer.com (Jones' turnover/90 stat is based on the entire season as the MLS website would not let me look at Jones' turnover stats in each of the games he played)