Next up on the Socceroos Scouting Report, Jackson Irvine. Here's his statistical profile and it's the most Jackson Irvine statistical profile ever. pic.twitter.com/iIxBGb88WD— Ante Jukić (@badsokkahtakes) December 5, 2021
Despite missing out on the first month of the 2. Bundesliga season, Irvine's statistical output this term could not be more reflective of his footballing capacity, for better or worse.
Irvine doesn't exactly excel in creation or build-up, nor provide much of a defensive presence, but his goal-hungry approach from that area of the pitch has nevertheless made him a valuable asset for Timo Schultz's side.
As is reflected, though, Irvine holds a very singular role within Schultz's setup and it's been sufficient so far.
Outside of physical capacity, Irvine's defining strength in play is his ability to provide penalty area threat and runs that occupy the defensive line from midfield. Almost by definition, though -- even looking at more prominent examples in European football such as Georginio Wijnaldum, Dele Alli or Mario Pasalic -- midfielders who can provide penalty area threat require players around them who can do more of the heavy lifting in build-up play. But more on that later.
The 2. Bundesliga exhibits a distinctly chaotic brand of football, but the 28-year-old is a chaotic kind of footballer and he suits the current league-leaders. St. Pauli's 4-4-2 diamond under Schultz arguably extracts the maximum out of Irvine. While Eric Smith can maintain position for depth in possession or potential defensive cover, it allows Irvine to dart into spaces that can either stretch the defensive line or force attention from the centre-backs. On the weekend against Schalke, Irvine had a subtle but nevertheless important role in Guido Burgstaller's opening goal.
Irvine's biggest strength is CB occupation from midfield. Exhibited again on the weekend vs Schalke. pic.twitter.com/iccqwV0T2G— Ante Jukić (@badsokkahtakes) December 5, 2021
In this scenario, with St. Pauli progressing the ball on their left side, it allows Irvine to affect the game in advanced areas from the right as the weak-side midfielder. Schalke do not defend the situation well at all, but Irvine's run does enough to keep their centre-back Marcin Kaminski occupied, which then allows Burgstaller to peel off, and receive the ball with enough time and space to finish against his old club.
In a way, Irvine's defining strength is still deeply relative and comes at a consequent cost, before even considering everything else he doesn't provide. As noted, the mere ability to maximise his penalty area threat is dependent on other players and complementary attributes. As noted, Irvine works at St. Pauli because he holds a rather singular role, and his potential impact on games arguably depends on which side of the pitch the ball is on.
Irvine isn't a player who wants the ball in situations that might ask questions of his first touch or technical capacity. More importantly, though, he becomes rather lost when he doesn't sense the opportunity to dart behind the defensive line.
It's kind of bewildering how a player in that position and at that level can be so transfixed on the ball in phases of play. The opening goal conceded against Heidenheim in October was particularly good example of this. St Pauli struggle to play out from a goal kick, but Irvine's staring at the ball in the offensive phase transfers to the defensive, allowing Tobias Mohr free entry into the penalty area to score.
Irvine's weaknesses provide a sizeable trade-off, though. pic.twitter.com/crInU7fTpL— Ante Jukić (@badsokkahtakes) December 5, 2021
Potential Socceroos fit
Irvine will not control a game with possession, nor provide positional superiority or consistent effort defensively. The reality is that he is not a deep-lying midfielder, and playing him in such a role for the Socceroos takes away the one thing he actually excels at. Although Australia's recent 1-1 draw against China showed signs of encouragement for Irvine to attack the penalty area, starting position matters in this sense, because ground coverage coming from the base of midfield in Graham Arnold's formation becomes a subtle issue.
If Arnold adheres to that system, Irvine arguably should not be starting, but that's not to say he cannot make an impact at international level. It becomes a matter of utilisation and interpretation of what individual players can actually provide. Despite everything he doesn't do, the 28-year-old is one of Australia's more prominent examples of how Arnold's system is incompatible to personnel.
If Irvine is to continue as a starter for the Socceroos, it should arguably be within a midfield three, especially if striker Adam Taggart starts. As shown at club level, the only way he's impacting the game is by being closer to goal.