In a series for OptaPro, TruMedia Networks’ Paul Carr uses the award-winning ProVision to analyse stand-out players and teams from leagues and competitions across the globe. This third article takes a new approach, exploring how a recently promoted team may scout for attacking talent.
You’re the technical director at a newly-promoted Premier League club. Congratulations! Now the real work begins, as you seek to improve your squad while maintaining team chemistry. You have an expanded budget and must spend it wisely.
While all clubs would like to recruit the best talent from the best leagues, we know that is not always possible. As a recently promoted side, you’ll likely be shopping for deals in the second cut of European leagues, hoping to unearth a new talent in the Netherlands or Belgium, or even the league you just left.
Let’s say you know exactly what your team needs: an inverted midfielder to plug into the left side of attack in front of your overlapping fullback. We take to ProVision to analyse some initial targets that may fit the bill here.
Understanding what’s important
First, pick a few statistics to represent the desired skillset. The abilities to both score and create chances are almost a given, summed up by non-penalty expected goals and expected assists.
The preferred player would be active defensively on both sides of midfield since pressing high is ideal, but defending well (and probably a bit deeper) is more realistic for a newly-promoted side. Defensive actions (tackles, interceptions and clearances) are further broken down by field location to cover both abilities.
To narrow the pool of candidates, the search is limited to the just-completed European league seasons for players:
– From the Dutch Eredivisie, Belgium’s Jupiler League, Ligue 2, 2. Bundesliga and England’s Championship
– Who played as a left midfielder, left attacking midfielder, left winger or left wing back
– With at least 900 minutes this season
– Currently age 30 or younger
– Who are right-footed or use both feet equally well
That leaves 73 players on our target list, with the four selected statistics (expected goals, expected assists, defensive actions in each half of the field) scaled on a per-90-minute basis.
Knowing that these four metrics are all important to our search, it is essential that we showcase them alongside each other, despite them not necessarily relating directly to one another.
Colour-coding also further helps us interpret the data, which is especially useful when presenting to those not working directly with performance data on a daily basis. From quickly scanning this list (which is sorted by expected goals), Preston North End’s Callum Robinson (seventh in xG) is the first player to rank highly in three categories, and he ranks lower in defensive actions in the defensive half.
Different clubs will understandably place different weights on these metrics. In this instance we’re making no assumptions, and are valuing each of the categories equally, simply adding up the ranks of each player in the four categories.
That leaves Valenciennes’ Gaëtan Robail as the clear front-runner, as his four ranks add up to 40, which is 16 spots lower than any other player on the list.
The 24-year-old played 903 minutes in 14 league games for Valenciennes this season, moving into the starting line-up over the final three months after being loaned from PSG’s second team in January.
A heat map of his touches shows that he also spent time on the right side of the field last season, so he has the versatility to contribute at different positions.
His pass-zone chart raises a red flag, almost literally. As the image below shows, he completes passes at the lowest relative rate from the areas he occupies the most (rectangles are sized by frequency and shaded red-to-green for worst-to-best relative pass completion rates). On the other hand, the 903 minutes provide a small sample size, and no box has more than 15 passes.
Robail does however appear to have good finishing skills over a small sample size. His 27 shots produced seven goals, overperforming his xG by 3.5.
The second player on our simple list is Feyenoord’s Sam Larsson, a 25-year-old who narrowly missed Sweden’s World Cup squad. His heat map indicates he plays higher up the pitch than Robail, and he also performs well from a defensive standpoint.
Larsson’s pass-zone chart also shows that he completes passes at a better rate than Robail in and around the penalty area.
We can take the graphic a level deeper by focusing on of Larsson’s more successful zones. On the left side near the top of the box, his detailed pass-zone chart shows where he completes from that area. Larsson usually plays short passes from there, and he’s quite good at it, while he has mixed success on passes into the six-yard box. The Swede appears to be a good fit for an attack that needs a left winger.
These are only two of several listed players who could be considered, depending on how these first-glance statistics are weighted and how the eye test confirms the numbers. This is one way in which ProVision can inform recruitment, by providing statistics and graphic tools to quickly identify qualities and abilities, both narrowing the prospective pool and finding players who might have been otherwise missed.
ProVision is the cutting-edge analytics tools developed by OptaPro in partnership with TruMedia Networks. You can find out more about this platform here.