With the majority of European leagues currently in close season, various members of the OptaPro team have been taking the time to profile the player who stood out most for them during 2018/19.
The first six profiles were published earlier this week and can be found here. This next batch includes players based in England, Germany and Italy.
Miguel Rios, Football Intelligence Manager
Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
At 28 years old, Raúl Jiménez was a really interesting signing by Wolves last summer. The Mexican forward quickly adapted to the demands of the Premier League, both on and off the pitch, playing a total of 3,122 minutes (91% of all available league minutes) and starting 36 matches.
He attempted 31.06 passes per 90, ranking him 4th in the Premier League for centre forwards who featured in at least 1000 minutes. His aggregated pass total also ranked him second overall amongst forwards across the season and he was involved in 36.6 sequences per 90. Most of those sequences consisted of 3 to 5 passes, of which 17.1 started in the middle third.
He stood out especially for his ability to create attacking opportunities, contributing 0.4 through balls per 90 (27.3% of all Wolves’ through balls) and 0.4 big chances (22.4%). He proved to be a significant player, not only in the penalty area but also in deeper areas where he linked-up play, bringing wide players into the game and creating opportunities for others. He was directly involved in 42.5% of all of Wolves’ goals this season, scoring 13 goals and contributing seven assists. He attempted 111 shots over the campaign, the fourth highest of any Premier League player, including 86 in the opposition box.
His defensive contributions cannot be overlooked either – he ranked fourth of all Premier League centre forwards in recoveries per 90 (4.04), of which over half occurred in the middle third. He ranked second in interceptions (0.74 per 90) behind Lucas Moura, and also recorded 1.08 clearances, where he was used in defensive set pieces very effectively.
He also demonstrated a good work rate and his intelligent movement, where he moved horizontally across the pitch to force opposition players to mark him, allowed players like Diogo Jota and Joāo Moutinho to exploit the spaces in front.
This all demonstrates how he adapted to the Premier League, where he understood his role both in terms of scoring goals and creating opportunities for others, both with and without the ball.
Philipp Obloch, Consultant – Germany
Kai Havertz and Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen)
Bayer Leverkusen possessed two young players who created a real buzz in this season’s Bundesliga, particularly following the appointment of Peter Bosz as Head Coach in December. Together, attacking midfielder Kai Havertz (19) and Julian Brandt (23) in central midfield were directly involved in 43 goals in all competitions, including 35 in the Bundesliga. This figure covers more than 50% of all Bayer’s goals.
While Brandt created the most chances of all Bundesliga players (86), Havertz became a more direct threat to the opposition goal as the season went on. The teenager surpassed his season xG total by over five, contributing 17 goals, the third highest goalscoring output in the league. While this level of overperformance may not be sustainable next season, Havertz’s output still remains high, especially for such a young player.
Together they were the only players aged under 23 to rank in the top ten for involvement in shot-ending sequences and in the 2019 calendar year, following Bosz’s arrival, Brandt and Havertz ranked first and third respectively for sequences ending in a goal.
After five and a half years in Leverkusen, Brandt is moving on to Borussia Dortmund this summer, where he will slot in nicely into Lucien Favre’s possession-based team.
Tom Reynolds, Football Intelligence Team Lead
Gianluca Mancini (Atalanta)
A nail-biting final day in Serie A saw Atalanta secure third position and a place in the 2019/20 Champions League.
Playing in a side which rely upon their players being comfortable in possession, Mancini certainly fits that criteria. That, combined with his versatility, which has seen him deployed across Atalanta’s back three, means it is no great surprise that Gasperini has given him 2600 minutes across all competitions this season.
Of all players who played at least 900 minutes in central defence for Atalanta during the season, Mancini recorded the highest proportion of forward passes (38.4%), however he saw less ball compared to the more experienced Andrea Masiello and Rafael Tolói, who both completed over 50 passes per 90 compared to Mancini’s 44.1. As shown by the location of his passes in the heat map below, he moves the ball primarily into wide areas, often to Hateboer. He also plays into central locations to Freuler and de Roon, who drop deep to receive the ball and start attacks.
The young Italian is currently on international duty participating in the UEFA U21 Championships and La Dea will be hoping they can retain his services this summer after increased speculation of a move to AC Milan.
Ryan Bahia, Marketing Manager
Nathan Ake (AFC Bournemouth)
No-one has played more for Bournemouth than 24 year old Nathan Ake over the past two seasons, and last year Ake played almost every minute available. That’s remarkable consistency for a relatively young (and versatile) centre back.
Raw defensive statistics can sometimes be misleading as players on struggling teams will often record a higher number of actions. However within the context of a single team they can help identify which players ‘sense danger’ – essentially positioning themselves well – and higher counts on these statistics can also demonstrate an element of a defender taking responsibility. Blocks and clearances for example don’t just happen on their own, and often require the defending player to be aggressive and proactive in these situations. Defensively, Ake ranks first in his team for shots blocked, clearances and tackles, as well as ranking second (behind Jefferson Lerma) for recoveries and interceptions.
A left footed player, Ake has also shown to use the ball well, with only Ryan Fraser being involved in more sequences for the club this season. A quick glance at Ake’s pass map shows a quick overview of his passing style, often looking to shift the ball out wide.
Daniele Trombetta, Consultant – Italy
Sandro Tonali (Brescia)
Highly regarded across Europe, 19-year old midfielder Sandro Tonali was one of the standout players in Berscia’s title-winning Serie B campaign, helping the club secure a return to the top flight.
Despite his tender years, Tonali quickly established himself as the pivot in the centre of the park, fulfilling one of the key functions in the team with intelligence and quality.
Before turning 19 he received his first call up to the Italian U21 side, featuring in two friendly matches in March before being selected in the Azzurri’s squad for this summer’s UEFA U21 Championships.
On the field Tonali is the player tasked with bringing the ball up the field and into the opposition half. During the season he made 9.6 passes into the attacking half per 90, which ranked him twelfth of all defensive and central midfielders across Serie A and Serie B who featured in at least 1000 minutes. In addition, he was amongst the top 15 players for the most passes played into the attacking third per 90 (10.7), which further emphasises how he looks to penetrate forward when his side has the ball.
42.5% of all his passes go forward and he also records a high number of long passes – 6.9% – so he clearly looks to play positively.
Tonali is predominantly right footed, which suits his side who look to mostly play through the right-hand channel. He would often look to play first-time forward passes, looking to play into a striker dropping deep or looking to play in a midfield runner into space, with Dimitri Bisoli being the most frequent target.
The heatmap below shows how Tonali looked to play a large volume of passes into the right channel from central areas around the halfway line.
Of the 144 defensive and central midfield players who played at least 1000 minutes across the top two tiers of Italian football last season, Tonali was just one of two players to have been born after 2000 (the other being Empoli’s Hamed Junior Traorè), which only re-emphasies what he has achieved at such a young age in helping his side secure promotion.