Let’s find some players.

 

On Twitter recently I’ve been trying to clean up my pass maps. I’ve been clustering every pass into one of 100 “types.”

snip20170104_151

This is only based on starting and ending position, there are of course many other variables that could be added: when a pass comes in a possession sequence, body part, where previous pass was played, position (MC, FW, etc) of player as a proxy for options in front and behind, if a team is flooding their own zone to keep possession in useless areas which skews completion %, etc. All of these would contribute to a robust passing model but are not accounted for here. Nevertheless, we press ahead.

 

I started looking at how often teams played certain types of passes. For example, here are Liverpool’s and Swansea’s attacking maps.

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Liverpool tilt the pitch forwards and wind up playing short passes in the attacking third just outside the box a huge amount. Swansea never pass the ball to the left (sorry Wayne Routledge, it’s nothing personal) and play around the midfield stripe a good bit.

 

I then wanted to see which teams were “overperforming” their pass types. If we know how often teams in general complete a certain type of pass, it’s simple to add up expected completions and see which teams are beating that. At the top are mostly teams who you expect: Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Napoli, etc (City slide down the ranks a bit here when you account for pass type). The next step is to look at players. I’ll use this basic framework to try and find interesting transfer candidates who stand out from their team and/or couple other solid output with ball progression.

 

We want players we don’t have to break the bank for and prefer those who are under-the-radar, so while Willian, Nasri, Coutinho, and Banega stand out they will not be purchasable for most teams. A few other filters: outside the PL (to save money), sub 30 years old, and under 8m on transfermarkt. I will be role-playing as the stat-crazy agent trying to sell a team on my guy and then as a skeptical transfer guy raising some questions.  Well, here we go.

 

 

 

 

Center Backs-H Below Izzo

  1. Armando Izzo (Genoa), 24

Agents Pitch

You want a Boateng or a Hummels right? Playmaking and skill in possession from centerback allows you to shift the entire offense forward and not have to hit low EV long balls from the goalie or use a defensive midfielder as a third center back. Armando Izzo is your man to move possession forward.

Izzo has played as a very forward minded right CB in a 3-man defense. He leaps off the page at Genoa gaining his team an extra 50 completions from what you’d expect from looking at his pass types. Only 20 players across the top 4 leagues have added more than 50 completions and most are huge stars from excellent passing teams: Thiago, Cazorla, Ozil, Hamsik, Filipe Luis, etc. Genoa are basically completely average outside of their standout Izzo.

He doesn’t really play like what you generally think a center back does. When you look at where he passes the ball and try to find players who do so similarly, you get hybrids like Nenad Tomovic, Joshua Kimmich, Antonio Rudiger or Mauricio Isla who play right back alongside center back or midfield. To drive the point home, Izzo was the leading passer in the final third in the Genoa-Roma game. He even scored the only goal! (Just don’t check on which side that goal went in, please.)

Don’t take only the stats word for it. More tactically minded analysts/coaches who have closely followed Genoa’s training camps have loved Izzo’s play as well (and if you don’t care about age the 30-year old Gentiletti would be a fantastic addition).

Now, you are surely wondering if he’s one of those fancy all-glamour-no-grit-sweet-passer-but-defensive liability types?  I’m here to assuage those. Genoa are one of the tougher teams in Serie A to complete deep passes against (almost a standard deviation below average in the 30 yard radius around goal and the toughest to complete against in the 15-yard radius around goal). Drilling down further, only Crotone allow a higher share of key passes to come from their defensive left side than Genoa (not Izzo’s side). So teams struggle to complete deep passes against Genoa, and when they are creating chances they come from Izzo’s side at one of the lowest rates in the league.

 

Who to pitch to for maximum earnings: Dortmund, Everton, Southampton, Bournemouth

 

 

Front Office Questions: Can this guy actually defend? That key pass side stuff doesn’t really convince me. These stat guys generally have no clue when they talk about center backs and defense, let’s get one of our other non-stat guys who might have a whiff (but just a whiff) of a clue on center back defense to check on that, at least he will sound more convincing. This agent is convincing on the passing stuff and Izzo does seem as if he can start attacks from CB in a 2 or 3 man back-line and maybe even right back. Let’s get working on the scouting side quick because there’s a chance this guy might be a true difference-maker. Also, let’s try and get to talk to Izzo man-to-man and get him to cut this slimy agent out, he keeps WhatsApping me to Venmo him $100,000 to ensure the signature. Sad!

snip20170104_140

 

 

Other, Lesser Recommendations

2. Benjamin Hübner (Hoffenheim), 27

 

Fullbacks

  1. Jonny Castro (Celta Vigo), 22

 

Agents Pitch

Want a fullback like Wendell from Leverkusen who is a great passer and wins balls all the time on defense but don’t have the money to get Wendell? Jonny Castro from Celta Vigo might even be a better passer and a more active defender. On a team that is below average in terms of expected completions, Castro stands out bigly. No player on a team with a negative total has a higher over-performance than Castro’s +36 completions. He’s not exactly a Danny Rose type output guy, more of a helper in the buildup if you have players who can create shots up top. This can be seen in a differential pass map that shows the areas of greatest difference between two players.

snip20170106_192 snip20170106_193

 

To go along with his passing goodness, he has defensive legs. Castro makes an interception or wins a tackle 6.7 times a game and gets dribbled past just 0.6 times. No fullback in the PL can match Castro’s 6.7 number.

Where to aim pitch to maximize earnings: Manchester City, West Ham

Other, Lesser Recommendations

2. Yuri (Sociedad), 26

3. Giulio Donati (Mainz), 26

 

 

Attackers

  1. Bruno Fernandes (Sampdoria), 22

Agents Pitch:

If I asked you do you want a Christian Eriksen clone, you’d immediately say yes right? If you look at where Bruno Fernandes passes the ball, Eriksen is the single closest comparison you can find. If you then go stat-by-stat, Fernandes looks very similar to Eriksen, except he doesn’t appear to need a hair transplant anytime soon.

Let’s look at some of their stats side-by-side.

Relative To Team Comp% divides each guys comp% by the team average. (raw numbers Eriksen: 80%, Fernandes: 77%)

Relative To Team Comp% divides each guys comp% by the team average (100=avg). (raw numbers Eriksen: 80%, Fernandes: 77%). Extra comps is how many completions above or below expected the player contributes based on their pass types. Pass share is % of total team passes he plays.

Sampdoria take 4 fewer shots than Tottenham, so Fernandes has even more impressive shot contribution numbers. He doesn’t come with Eriksen’s set piece reputation, but you can find someone else to get you a goal a season there. snip20170104_142

Front Office Questions: Is this guy too cross happy? 10 crosses per 90 is pretty ridiculous, though in the past he has much more reasonable numbers.

Who to pitch to for maximum earnings: Stoke, Bournemouth, Everton

 

Other, Lesser Recommendations

  • Gianluca Caprari (Pescara), 23
  • Jeremie Boga (Granada), 20

 

 

 

Midfielders

  1. Petros (Real Betis), 27
  2. Ivaylo Chochev (Palermo), 23
  3. Remo Freuler (Atalanta), 24
  4. Roque Mesa (Las Palmas), 27

Agents Pitch for Petros to Crystal Palace

Petros is absolutely an ideal deep-lying midfielder for your team. He completes passes at a rate way ahead of his Betis teammates. On a team that is overall well-below average (-160 completions below expected), he is +30 completions. These are generally safe passes played out wide, but he’s great at doing it and that’s exactly what you guys need. You often struggle with getting the ball to your wingers to start attacks, MacArthur and Ledley are both below-average passers and are playing big minutes for you in Petros’s position, grab him for an upgrade that you really need in a season where every point is crucial. If you are worried it will weaken your defense, don’t be. Petros has 7.5 won tackles or interceptions per game while Ledley + MacArthur combine for 6.8 between them. He does the defensive work of both while outpassing them by leaps and bounds.

snip20170104_137

 

Agents Pitch for Chochev

Chochev brings a really unique skill set to the table, not many players can combine the things he does really well together.

 

-He’s efficient: No Palermo player completes forward passes into the deep attacking zone (defined as a ~30 yard radius from goal) at a higher completion % than Chochev.

 

-He’s dangerous: No Palermo player has a higher rate of key pass per pass than Chochev in this deep attacking area.

 

-He gets shots: Chochev takes a shot in the box per game trailing only Nesterovski and Robin Quaison (who both have played forward). No one else on Palermo takes over half a shot in the box per game.

 

-He works extremely hard defensively: Only a pair of center backs two top his huge tackle and INT rate (5.9 won tackles+INTs) on Palermo.

This is serious two-way potential that gives you the chance to play him all over the pitch.

Where to pitch for maximum earnings: Leverkusen, Leicester, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen

Front Office Questions

Why does he get involved so rarely with the ball? A very low 33 passes per 90 rate raises questions to me.

 

 

The latter two (Roque Mesa and Freuler) are certainly more upmarket types. Roque Mesa is a Xabi Alonso-esque type player. Maybe I will try to get Manchester City interested. Freuler is more of the rangy Kroos/Koke type who is going to give you solid production in the box. I might ring Dortmund first on that one.

 

 

 

 

Well, there you go. My list of guys who I think could provide good bang for your buck in the transfer market and immediately help teams with money to spend. As a blogger my job is done but as an agent I am shooting for the stars with some of these pitches, so wish me luck and that I can wet my beak with several shady kickbacks so I can then roll that over into investments into 16-year old South American midfielders in an illegal scheme with a Portuguese team! Until next time, the Secret Agent/Statsbomb Blogger.

 

 

 

 

  • PipPirripsaurus

    Thinking about relative average for a second:

    Let’s say we have two teams with the same number of passess from mid->attack and the same number of passes from def->mid

    (simplifying things a little)

    Team 1 plays twice as many passes than team 2 in midfield.

    Let’s do away with the averages for a second. Team 1 is going to have it’s def->mid and mid->attack as redder than Team 2 and it’s mid-mid as greener. (and vice versa)

    One one level that seems useful, you can see the type of pass out from the keeper that swansea play (and they favour their right side), but are they playing “more” deeper passes or just their attacks are relatively shorter and cut out further from the opposition box?

    Not suggesting this isn’t useful, but it probably needs some more context

    • Dustin Ward

      I don’t quite follow. If they have the same amount from mid->attack, how does one have twice as many from midfield?

      It doesn’t show sheer volume, so yes Liverpool are red in areas where they play more passes than Swansea is green. But showing volume is not the goal, it’s to show teams tendencies. I could do volume ones alongside them I guess

  • NunyaBusiness

    Big fan of Jonny Castro. Not such a big fan of some other stuff posited here…but whatever.

    Jonny was my pick for Liverpool to pick up a young fullback cheaply. I suppose still is, though I like Benjamin Henrichs as well for Kloppenspielen. One thing that wasn’t mentioned here, he can play either on the left or right, so he could have backed up/rotated in for both Milner and Clyne, and then been the heir apparent to Milner whenever he slows down.

    • Dustin Ward

      Henrichs is fantastic as well, either one would be great for Liverpool though it seems as if they aren’t that interested in getting another backup for some reason. Several years now to do so and Milner being moved there wasn’t exactly obvious to most

      • NunyaBusiness

        Hard to say what will happen in summer, though.

        I wouldn’t actually say Milner to FB was that cryptic. In terms of the type of player, I actualy had him down as similar to Grosskreutz, who Klopp used both as a wide mid and a fullback at times. Obviously, he’s better than that, but in terms of the types of things he contributed just from a statistical standpoint…it wasn’t far off. I did think they would buy and Milner woul dbe more a utility guy, but I imagine Klopp said the similarity as well and figured well might as well try and, lo and behold, you had one of the best LBs in the world playing midfield and wing his whole career lol.

        Given his age and the seeming lack of confidence in Moreno, I expect Liverpool to make a move for a young LB to groom this summer. 31 yo is a scary age for a LB, even one as dedicated and committed to professionalism as Milner.

        • Dustin Ward

          of course, I absolutely would like to see a FB this summer (or now).

          Milner is a good reminder that positional flexibility is so much greater than us stats guys generally give credit for. when we looked around for good fullbacks last year we couldn’t really make a case Milner would be a good FB. Pep with Lahm and friends another classic example, it’s just pretty much a blind spot for us.

          • NunyaBusiness

            I try not to let it be. We’re also trying to look at entire leagues, whereas teams are focused on their players. I found the Grosskreutz/Milner similarity because when Klopp was hired, I specifically analyzed for similarities on the LFC squad to players Dortmund had, to try to get an idea of who could play what roles. Milner didn’t really fit as a midfielder, but he did as a jack of all trades Grosskreutz type (turns out he only has one trade now though). Lallana also looked like someone he could do something with (similar to Kuba), but didn’t really anticipate the formation change. Bottom line, since I support Liverpool and know them best, I can understand these things better.

            Looking again, I definitely favor Henrichs (and he also can play left or right), but he may not be considered a bargain guy either.

            I’m really wondering about center backs these days. I normally distrust Italy and France, but Wesley Hoedt is interesting to me. Ramy Bensebaini tripped a wire last year at Montpelier and now looks good with Rennes as well.

            Unless I’m being very speculative (low $$) or the player is very very good (or both, like Grujic or Naby Keita in Austria or Gabriel Jesus in Brazil) I tend to distrust players from outside the top 5 leagues.

          • Dustin Ward

            do you write these up somewhere? I kind of suspect Henrichs won’t be a bargain guy, Leverkusen are strange with how many premium guys with a premium coach reputation-wise they seem to have for those results.

          • NunyaBusiness

            No, I guess maybe I should. I’m in a grad program right now that is about to kill me haha. I’ve had people tell me I should start a blog, but it’s like eveyrone has a blog, how do you get readers? I had O. Dembele on my radar about a month before Mohamed did here. I wanted LFC to go after him in the winter window. I think ultimately they prioritized Mane first and didn’t want anything to muddy the waters for that.

            I’m also not nearly as good with the graphical analyses as you are. I’d love to know what tools and data sets you use. I’m trying to learn the tools that were written about in the article here (by Marek I think?) in the program I’m in. It’s not easy haha.

            I have a feeling Henrichs will never leave Germany (Bayern), but that wouldn’t stop me from trying.

            I did some work a while back looking at progression of players (in a different way to how Colin did it) and so that drives some of what I value in young players now.