City fans have been debating, discussing and investigating just what Bill Gilmour will offer them from a very limited body of work, a bit like when one Oliver Skipp arrived here from Tottenham last summer.
Gilmour may have burst onto the scene labelled “a terrific little footballer” by Graeme Souness and “fantastic” by Jose Mourinho – so far accruing a Champions League winners medal and a Euro 2020 man of the match award – but first-team appearances have been relatively scarce.
So, what is Gilmour actually like as a player, and where does he fit in at Norwich City?
- Press resistance
One of the easily noticeable aspects of Gilmour’s game is his ability to remain calm and retain possession when under high pressure, highlighted by his 89.3% pass completion rate.
The 20-year-old is unfazed by the close attentions of opposition midfielders and in many situations manages to beat the press, drawing his opponents in before taking them out of the game at the perfect time.
This ability was most obvious in Gilmour’s breakthrough FA Cup performance against Liverpool, where he retained possession extremely well on several occasions when pressed by Jurgen Klopp’s famously efficient side. The Scot won the man of the match award on that night, too, and it could’ve proved a springboard had injury not scuppered his progress.
- Safety in possession
Gilmour does have the ability to advance play with his passing and can be progressive with the ball given the right conditions, but the priority is always to retain possession. Gilmour’s passes travelled a total of 3746 metres in the 2020/21 season, but only 531 metres forward.
This doesn’t, of course, mean that the Chelsea loanee plays no positive role in attacks, and is often used to change the angle of attacks. Gilmour’s ability to take the ball under pressure means that he’s comfortable receiving the ball with his back to goal and quickly playing to the other side of the pitch; he offers the option to switch the play quickly and safely, often able to get his team out of trouble when under pressure in deep areas.
Ball circulation is a strength in Gilmour’s game, his high volume of passes (74.1 per 90) helping keep the ball moving.
- Pressing Proficiency
Gilmour’s physicality has been questioned by some City fans, especially given his five-foot-seven height and the club’s messaging that more physical recruits would be added this summer, but Stuart Webber’s latest recruit isn’t lacking in the defensive department.
He boasted 23.4 pressures per 90 in the 2020/21 season – an average higher than that of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Ilkay Gundogan and Declan Rice. Kalvin Phillips, perhaps the most high octane defensive midfielder in the Premier League, pressured opponents 23.6 times per 90 last term.
Gilmour only won 0.34 tackles per 90 over the season, so his contribution may go under the radar, but he was involved in 6.21 successful pressing actions (instances in which his team won the ball within five seconds of his press) per game- more than any of his aforementioned counterparts- so will add to the Canaries as a team player without the ball.
- Healthy Aggression
Norfolk’s newest Canary may not tackle often but when he does, he does it properly. His attitude is, by all accounts, outstanding, so this aggression clearly doesn’t spill over, but there’s a feisty tackle or two in Gilmour. Despite being smaller than most of his opposition, the Scot stands up well to the physical battle, his natural hunger helping him even if he doesn’t win too many headers.
Gilmour’s dad, Billy Senior, described this ability, saying that “Billy loves a tackle. [He] loves getting straight back up and running away with the ball. It’s always been in him.” Joe Edwards, assistant coach at the Chelsea Football Academy, agreed, stating that Gilmour had “a lot of courage and a lot of aggression about his game.”
Where will he play?
City undoubtedly see Gilmour as an option for their deeper central midfield roles, as part of the ‘2’ in Daniel Farke’s trademark 4-2-3-1. In fact, the likelihood for the youngster to play there was key in his arrival at Carrow Road, given Thomas Tuchel’s preference for a ‘double pivot’, and Chelsea’s resulting keenness for Gilmour to join a club that played with one.
Tuchel’s own openness to a 3-4-3 clearly means that Farke is free to do as he wishes around Gilmour, but it seems unlikely that the former-Lippstadt man will stray from his formational preference given the fact that one of his key signings arrived on the back of it.
What will his role be?
This is where things start to get complicated, as City’s most settled midfield hasn’t tended to include a player like Gilmour. Last season’s best duo consisted of Skipp and Kenny McLean, the former tasked with laying the foundations and patroling the back-line – occasionally even dropping into a back three – while the latter did the majority of the vertical running, shuttling from box to box and helping out at both ends.
Gilmour’s heatmap suggests that he’d be more comfortable in McLean’s role, although his attributes and the mystery status of Skipp’s potential return hint at him replacing the Tottenham man.
A deeper dive into Gilmour’s statistics from the 2020/21 season shows that he likes to get involved all over the pitch.
Billy Gilmour’s role at Norwich City: Key Statistics
|Pressures per 90
|Touches per 90
|Tackles per 90
These statistics, combined with the above heatmap, highlight Gilmour’s preference for operating at the heart of the pitch, again hinting at playing in McLean’s box-to-box role. Lost here, however, would be both the partnership Gilmour and McLean have worked on as Scottish internationals and the latter’s “indispensable” talents; it’s often forgotten how impressive ‘the mayor’ was in a difficult Premier League season for City.
So can Gilmour replace Skipp?
He certainly possesses the requisite raw talent, with an ability to bite into challenges and an intelligence to time interventions a vital aspect, but Gilmour’s career hasn’t yet required him to play that role consistently throughout games- his low volume of tackles will be a concern. Relying on the extraction of raw talent is also a risky business, as Norwich found out with Przemyslaw Placheta last season.
As outlined above, a three in midfield seems unlikely (City will operate with a ‘10’ but they’ll play closer to Teemu Pukki than the pivot), so one of the dilemmas facing Farke will be which role to use him in.
Luckily enough his team have a pre-season ahead of them where these things can be ironed out, and it’ll certainly be interesting to assess how the teams line up at The Walks for their friendly with King’s Lynn in less than two weeks’ time.