There have been many discussions surrounding the loan system and whether or not it works. For every Harry Kane, there are probably 20-25 that disappear into the abyss. Much like many other clubs, we utilise the loan system and send many of our young players out every season in the hope that they get some much-needed first-team football. The aim of these articles is to keep track of our loan players and see how they have performed in their most recent match. Now, a lot of our players don’t get regular game time at their ‘loan homes’ which is incredibly annoying not only for Wolves but also for the individuals in question. This, in turn, means that we can put the spotlight on certain loan players with relative ease, so don’t be surprised to see some recurring faces here. We begin with Connor Ronan.
He is on a season-long loan at the Bescot Stadium (Walsall) and after a bit of inconsistency which saw him play minutes here and there, win man of the match awards and everything in between, he’s finally arrived. Last weekend, against Wycombe, Ronan picked up the man of the match award again, so it’s only right that we begin with young Irishman. Ronan is one of those players who is still looking for his best position and a lot of it hinges on what formation the side he’s turning out for is playing. One thing has never changed, though – his ability with the ball at his feet.
Staking A Claim In Central Midfield
Against Wycombe, Ronan was Walsall’s lynchpin throughout the game as he held his own in central midfield. To begin with and to give you some idea of the magnitude of his influence on the game, take a look at how much the ball went through him.
As you can see, Ronan (#31) had a relationship with every single player on the pitch. We’ll have to excuse the small number 11 by the corner flag as one can only imagine that he came on to keep the ball by the corner flag as the game was getting old. Arguably Ronan’s best attribute is his footballing mind. He’s just quicker at reacting than the players around him, especially at League One level. If you watch him play, his mind is constantly ticking, looking at how he can help improve the team. Should he hold his run? Should he dart into the space? Ronan demonstrated traits at both ends of the spectrum against Wycombe.
One of the actions from the game at the weekend which sum him up in the nutshell was portrayed when he pinched the ball off Akinfenwa. See below.
Ronan is banking on the defender winning that 50/50. If that does happen, he wants to be on the ball making things happen. On a side note, you do have to wonder where the Wycombe midfielders are, but I’m guessing that’s a story for another day. As soon as he picks the ball up, Ronan is looking for options.
Where Can I Play The Ball?
Ronan recognises the easy option of playing the ball short. He has other ideas, though.
He spots the forward making a run and plays, what I like to call, a Ruben Neves pass.
Audaciousness or confidence? Regardless of which one you may think it is, it’s an exquisite pass. From a Walsall point of view, it means that if they want to, they can turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. On the whole, Ronan was pinging balls like that for fun all game, however, he also knew when to play the ball short before looking long. Case in point coming up…
In this instance, Ronan plays the ball out to the right-hand side. If he wanted to, he could open his body up and look for the ‘Hollywood pass’, but he’s more mature than that. Ronan knows that he’s better off biding his time. The right-back has nowhere to go, plays the ball back to Ronan and this happens…
After having limited success at playing with the right-back, Ronan decided to go the other way. As simple as that. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Leahy isn’t quick enough at getting the ball out of his feet and the attack is thwarted. Once again, it’s a trademark Neves pass.
If At First, You Don’t Succeed
The two examples that I’ve shown so far show Ronan picking the ball up with ease. Yes, he had to be in the right place at the right time for the first one, but you know where I’m coming from. In the one I’m about to show you, it shows Ronan bursting forward, looking for the ball.
Ronan sees the room behind their midfield and wants the ball playing around the corner. Sometimes, you don’t always get what you want, though. After realising there is no feasible way he’s picking the ball up there, he comes back to look for it.
He bypasses Wycombe’s #9 for the second time in about ten seconds and collects the ball in a not too dissimilar position (depth-wise) to example number one that we looked at. By now, you know what’s coming next.
Instead of searching for the long ball forward, Ronan intelligently switches the play to the other side of the defence and Walsall are good to build once more. In years gone by, when Ronan picked that ball up, he sometimes would’ve driven with the ball right into trouble and put his side on the back foot. The fact that he’s recognising there are better options on occasion shows that he’s developing which is pleasant to see.
76% Success Rate
76% is a half-decent return. If we were to be overly critical, we could say that he will need to add another 10% or so onto that before Nuno probably even gives him a sniff. It’s not just passing that Ronan brings to the table. You can see the purple line above which denotes a key pass, can’t you? That’s there because Ronan very nearly set up two Walsall goals at the weekend. His actual assist, which came from a wide free-kick, doesn’t show up due to the fact it was a dead ball situation. Let’s take a look at the key pass from above, which all stems from a burst into space from Ronan.
A Surging Run
One of the benefits of playing in a midfield three is that you can make lung-busting runs forward and not worry too much about the consequences as your two teammates should have you covered. Emphasis on the word should. Anyway, Ronan motors down the right-hand side with only two things on his mind. Receive the ball and get it into the box.
It doesn’t quite fall right in the area and the chance goes begging, that’s not to say there was anything wrong with the delivery, mind. In hindsight, could Ronan have taken the ball into the area and then fizzed a ball across the six-yard box? Maybe, but let’s take it one step at a time. We’ve focused the majority of this article on Ronan’s passing and attacking actions, so it’s only fair to close on a solid piece of defending, you know, just for equality.
Stand Your Ground
While I may be running the risk of repeating myself, Ronan’s intelligence shines through again. Perhaps in his younger days, he would’ve made a rash decision and conceded a potentially costly free-kick in this situation.
He’s doing the right thing and any player worth their salt would do the same in this particular situation. Cover the defender in case the attacker finds his way through. It’s what happens next that is more impressive.
A younger, more naive Ronan may well have jumped in there, as I said not too long ago. He doesn’t and that particular phase of the attack is over meaning Walsall can regroup and defend as a unit against phase two. You only have to look at the space in behind Ronan to realise what an important decision it was by Ronan to stand the man up rather than over-commit. The difference between winning and drawing? Not that action on its own, but accompanied with the assist, you could say that Ronan was the difference, yes.
All Over The Place
Nothing really epitomises a fabulous all-round performance quite like a heat map. No words do the amount of heat on that pitch justice, so I won’t even try.
All in all, it was a stellar performance by Connor Ronan in the middle of the park against Wycombe and he will be hoping for more of the same against Burton Albion on Saturday. It begins a spell of three games in a week for Ronan and Walsall, so hopefully, he’ll pick up plenty of minutes.
One More Thing
Overall, it’s hard to draw conclusions from one game, nonetheless, if Ronan can replicate that level of performance for the rest of the League One season, more and more people will look up and pay attention which can only be good news for Ronan and Wolves.
Until the next time.