One to Watch: Harry Pickering
For his Scouted Football debut, George Ford picks out a young player who's impressing in the lower echelons of the EFL. First up is 21-year-old Crewe Alexandra left-back, Harry Pickering.
Harry Pickering is the latest of Crewe’s academy products to attract attention from leagues above. The 21-year-old has made the club’s left back position his own since his debut in April 2017, when he became Crewe’s fourth youngest player to feature in the Football League. He has gone on to make 99 career league appearances to date and next season will be plying his trade in League One for the first time after Crewe finished as runners up in a curtailed League Two season
The 6’1" defender will be keen to showcase his talent at the higher standards of the third tier, but the Railwaymen could struggle to prevent his head being turned by the prospect of playing at a Championship club soon. Having so many games under his belt – 118 career apps – by the age of 21 has seen him develop more quickly than peers that are yet to make a first team appearance. His understanding of the game will have also been aided by Crewe manager David Artell’s decision to provide him with game time in centre-midfield as well as on the left wing. Pickering is not the finished article and still has some developing to do, but with time on his side he should end up having a successful career.
Using data from Wyscout, the table below highlights how Pickering has increased his overall game involvement over the past three seasons. Not only has his total contribution increased, but this season his percentage of total actions was the highest it has been in his career – further indicating his continued development.
Athletically, Pickering is no slouch and has a great engine to get up and down the pitch for 90 minutes – he was only substituted twice all season. He also has a reasonably clean injury record, only missing a handful of games via a hamstring injury in 2018 and at the end of the same season following a hernia operation. Bouncing back from these injuries to play lots of games the following year demonstrates his impressive physicality, and assures he will be able to keep up with rigours of long seasons as his career develops.
Every full back needs to be competent at defending one-on-one, or at least good enough to disrupt an attacker’s rhythm and force them backwards. The Crewe left-back is still developing his defensive capabilities but he has proven more than adequate in League Two.
Pickering will seldom engage early, instead preferring to wait for the attacker to take a bad touch and capitalise on their mistake, or attempt to block their cross. Alternatively, by having a high starting position, he can step out of defence and try to steal the ball before the attacker reaches it – as such he comes out with the ball often, winning 65.2% of his defensive duels. Sometimes he gives attackers too much room and they manage to get a cross in – improvement in this area will make him a better all-round full-back.
His aerial duel win percentage is amongst the worst in the league for left-backs: he wins only 38.3%. Nevertheless, he takes up good positions to win defensive headers and stays goal side, so that even if he loses the aerial duel his body makes contact with the attacker and puts them off balance.
One of Pickering’s main strengths is his passing range and decision making; he knows which type of pass to play and when. According to Wyscout data, he has the third highest total amount of passes in the league (2,125), a total which is only bettered by two of his Crewe team-mates: Ryan Wintle and Perry Ng. Making 56.8 passes per 90 proves Pickering’s importance in the team’s build-up play. He has attempted the most progressive passes of any left back in the league, emphasising his desire to play forward balls, and is equally comfortable playing passes down the channel or inside to find teammates where possible. In addition, he has attempted the most through balls in the league – 52.
In attacking areas of the pitch Pickering can be a real threat. As well as being a capable crosser of the ball and willing to make lung-busting overlapping runs, he also drifts into central areas of the pitch to cause confusion amongst the opposing defenders. In the attacking third Pickering remains composed and does not rush his decision-making. If he improves the quality of his end product when crossing the ball – he currently has 35% crossing accuracy – he would become a more consistent attacking threat. He can differentiate the types of crosses he puts into the box to keep the opposition guessing, but is prone to over-hitting them or generally missing his targets.
In some situations, he opts to play a penetrative pass down the side of the box or into the penalty area to find the runs of his forwards; Pickering’s stand-out stat this season has been his key passes. According to WhoScored, he played the most key passes (89) of any defender in England’s top-four tiers, even surpassing England and Liverpool defender Trent-Alexander Arnold's total of 75.
Harry Pickering is undoubtedly one of the most talented young full-backs in the EFL. He already possesses the key attributes of a modern day full-back, so more first-team minutes will only expedite his development. He is undoubtedly gifted and with Crewe’s rise to League One now has a bigger platform to display his talents. Time and opportunity will decide his ceiling, but for the present he most definitely remains one to watch.
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