Wellington Phoenix has had a mixed A-League campaign so far. Currently sitting in 9th place, they have won six, drawn three and lost eight.
They have played some fantastic football thus far, showing the ability to break the press with intelligent passing, win possession and move forwards quickly on counter-attacks and hold the ball in midfield areas with short, sharp combination passing.
While people have lamented at the fact that Wellington hasn’t been able to convert their chances, their expected goals tell a different story. Wellington has an xG of 25.5 compared to the 29 goals they have scored.
Their midfield has been a success, with poor defending costing them points in matches.
Clayton Lewis has been one of their better players this season, despite it being the 24-year-old’s first season of football in the A-League.
Signed by Wellington from Auckland City in October 2020, Lewis was known to be an attacking midfielder/advanced playmaker with vision, technique and a good first touch.
Lewis began the season in that position, although slightly wider, playing on the left of Wellington’s 4-2-2-2 formation in midfield.
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He demonstrated good technique and passing ability, but didn’t seem to operate as comfortably and lacked the ball carrying ability that Ufuk Talay likes in his side, which allows them to attack with quick transitions that include Ulises Davila, David Ball or Reno Piscopo (who Lewis was deputising for) taking the ball up the field.
When Piscopo regained his fitness, it appeared that Lewis would shift into a super-sub role, coming on to affect matches in the last twenty minutes.
Lewis found himself starting in a deeper role against Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2-2 draw in late February and impressing.
After beginning the next match, a 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory, on the bench, Lewis was brought back in against Newcastle Jets due to the absence of Cameron Devlin.
Lewis, playing alongside Alex Rufer once again, showed quality and positional and tactical awareness in a 2-0 victory over the Jets and remained in the starting eleven for a 3-0 over Perth Glory.
Looking to today, Lewis has made eight consecutive starts for the Nix and has played in a deep midfield two in seven of them.
“I have played a little bit deeper than I normally would like but I’m starting to enjoy that number six role at the moment,” Lewis told stuff.co.nz.
“As a six I need to think a little bit more defensively but I’m happy to do that for the team and let the 10s and the strikers go do their thing up front and work on that rest defence and make sure that we don’t get countered.”
His main attributes are his passing and technique, and he’s used that perfectly in a deeper position, being able to find the likes of David Ball, Ulises Davila and Reno Piscopo (when fit) in between the lines.
He has kept the ball moving for Wellington with composed one-touch passes, and you can see how trusted he is by his teammates – he has a fantastic ability to remain composed and play one-twos with teammates even if there is a marker right behind him.
His teammates respect that and exchange passes with Lewis to help break through presses.
Lewis has created 30 chances and made 30 key passes this season – an average of 2.1 per ninety.
He has established himself as his sides main corner taker and has put sixty-three crosses in this season.
He has shown good positional awareness and intelligence in defence and has made 26 interceptions. His 12 tackles won shows his calm, Dutch-influenced defensive style, which is to jockey opponents and force them into wider areas where the team can do less damage, and also slows down ball progression and movement from the opposition.
Clayton Lewis has shown tactical awareness, technique and strong passing ability in his new role, and Ufuk Talay will be pleased with the gem he has found in the new New Zealand deep playmaker.
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