Canadians Abroad: Hat-trick hero Jonathan David shines for Gent

gents-jonathan-david-vies-for-ball-in-champions-league

Roma's Leonardo Spinazzola, left, and Gent's Jonathan David vie for the ball during their Europa League round of 32 first leg match at Rome's Olympic stadium, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Every two weeks, Sportsnet will highlight the top-performing Canadian player abroad and provide an in-depth breakdown of his most recent performance.

Arsenal, Leicester City and Everton are reportedly tracking Jonathan David. He may have other suitors abroad, too, and there are several reasons why teams of that stature are monitoring him.

He provided three more reasons on Sunday.

The Canadian forward recorded a hat trick to help Gent defeat Sint-Truiden 4-1 on Sunday. He’s now scored 18 goals this season and leads the Golden Boot race in Belgium.

Typically, David has been deployed as a No. 10 behind a strike partnership – usually Laurent Depoitre and Roman Yaremchuk – where he’s given license to roam across the pitch.

Jonathan David’s heat map for the 2019-20 season with Gent. (via Wyscout)

“I think [positional flexibility] helps me a lot because when you are a versatile player, that means you can adjust to any position and any situation,” David told Sportsnet in September. “If I want to stay deep and just make runs in behind, I can [do it]. If I want to come in, combine and be in the pockets, I can also do that because I have experience playing as a 10. I think it helps me a lot in different situations on the pitch.”

That versatility was utilized by Gent coach Jess Thorup this week. David was the primary striker for Gent in their loss to Roma in their Europa League round-of-32 clash on Thursday due to Yaremchuk’s injury.

Three days later, David partnered Giorgi Kvilitaia, but was positioned slightly deeper compared to the Roma game.

Right off the bat, David was pressing the Sint-Truiden defence. This has been commonplace throughout the campaign, but it’s noteworthy how he implements that pressure.

For example, instead of just charging aggressively towards Thibault De Smet – which would enable De Smet to pass it to his right – David covers the defender’s right side, forcing him to play it back to goalkeeper Kenny Steppe. This pushes Gent’s line of engagement further forward and forces Steppe to kick it long.

One of David’s best qualities is his off-the-ball movement. This is only his second full season as a professional player, yet he has the wherewithal to make those incisive runs without defenders noticing.

Not even 10 minutes expired when David helped draw a penalty. He dropped deep, then slyly ran behind the defence before executing a back-heel flick to Kvilitaia, who was subsequently fouled in the box.

Those off-the-ball runs were a constant theme on Sunday. In the photos below, David starts his run from the left flank – undetected – and nearly gets in position to score at the back post off a Kvilitaia flick-on.

Finally, after 25 minutes of huffing and puffing, David eventually blew the house down.

The quick-fire brace didn’t slow him down, either. David was still a threat around the penalty area, even if some of his teammates’ passes didn’t reach his feet.

In the screengrabs below, David is surging towards the box, but then he slows down while Kvilitaia continues running. The defenders follow Kvilitaia, thus allowing David to receive a pass in an open pocket of space before shooting from distance.

His hat-trick goal exemplified this trait perfectly. David started his run at midfield and followed the play from start to finish.

Because David was the second striker, he wasn’t responsible for Gent’s creativity. Normally when he’s the No. 10, he’ll be stringing the attack together.

We will highlight that area of his game in future editions of this series, but if we examine David’s stats radar for the season, he’s clearly well-rounded with his distribution.

David is currently registering 0.54 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes and 0.34 non-penalty expected goals (xG) this season in all competitions. While he’s outperforming his xG, this was also the case last year. He’s such a lethal finisher that it may not matter if he posts unsustainable-looking numbers.

This is why several clubs are intrigued by the 20-year-old. David has 22 goals and 10 assists in 37 matches across all competitions. But it’s his comfort playing in a fast-paced and physical league that will make him a very attractive option for any club.

BITS AND BOBS

• Alphonso Davies logged a full 90 minutes in Bayern Munich’s wild 3-2 win on Friday. Davies was deployed as a left wingback, which allowed him to be regularly involved in the final third. The more the 19-year-old can push forward, the better for him and Bayern. The Canadian should be in the starting 11 for Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Chelsea.

• Doneil Henry debuted for Suwon Samsung Bluewings in their 1-0 loss to Vissel Kobe in the AFC Champions League last Wednesday. Playing as a right-sided centre-back in a 3-4-3, Henry was pushing up a lot in an attempt to thwart attacks. Henry often does this – sometimes to the detriment of his team – but there is enough cover in a back three to take those risks. He was shaky with his distribution whenever Vissel pressured Suwon’s back line, but it was an otherwise solid debut.

• Quietly, Cyle Larin has enjoyed a stable season with Belgian side Zulte Waregem. The 24-year-old is operating as a second striker, leads the team in assists (six) and is second in goals (7) in 27 league appearances this season. There have been noticeable improvements in Larin’s game since moving to Belgium, primarily his vision and aggression in the box. As the radar below highlights, Larin is becoming a more complete forward, which could boost his national team stock.

Cyle Larin’s stats radar for Zulte Waregem this season. (data via Wyscout)

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.