Messi Data Release Part 2, 2008/09 - 2011/12

Last week we unleashed the first part of our Messi dataset, covering the big little man's early days from 2004/05 - 2007/08. That first release offered a unique look into the burgeoning years of our intrepid protagonist. His formative days have never really been given this sort of treatment before, so the value was obvious and people seemed to have fun with it.

We did our analysis on the site featuring all sorts of data nuggets and cameos from famous faces. Of course though the whole point here is to get it out into the wider world so you can have a go with it. It's early days for this project but already folks are starting to get their feet wet. This project isn't just intended for experienced analysts, we want it to be a gateway for everyone into the world of playing with data (hence why we produced R Primers in English and Spanish). Here's an assorted selection of what folks on Twitter have shared so far, with apologies to anyone who feels left out:












Now though, we bring in part two. Given Messi's inconsistent playing time during those initial years, the real meat of his career was yet to come. With this new dataset you'll really get the chance to sink your teeth into some beefy stuff.

Our second release covers 2008/09 - 2011/12. That'll be the entirety of Pep Guardiola's time as Barcelona manager and, my word, what heady days they were. Trophies galore, heaps of goals and essentially turning football on its head (for better or worse, depending on your perspective) via the medium of a million passes. This, of course, is also when Messi himself went truly supernova. At 21-years-old he had now moved from 'best young talent in the world' to 'this is absurd, how is he even doing this, Jesucristo'.

But don't take my word for it. All of that data is now yours to play with at your own leisure (it actually quietly went up last night! Hello to any eagle-eyed folks - Ethan - who spotted that). If you've yet to use our data then head over to our resource centre, sign the user agreement and jump in. If you're already set up then you don't need to do anything, the new seasons are all there. Enjoy finding your own ways to demonstrate Messi's ridiculousness.

Again, if you're a bit tentative with getting started then have a gander at our guides for using the data in R. Hopefully they'll offer a gentle nudge in the right direction.

GUIDE IN ENGLISH HERE -> Using StatsBomb Data In R English

GUIDE IN SPANISH HERE--> Using StatsBomb Data In R - Spanish

However you approach it you should have a blast digging into the Pep-era data. Next week this tour takes us to the 2012/13 - 2015/16 seasons, the era of 'Messidependencia', the dawn of a new preposterous attacking trio and all sorts of records being broken.

Until then, be well and have great days.

Young Talent Reflections Part 2: Midfielders and Fullbacks

In part 1, we took a deep dive into the winger position and how different skills relate to scalability at the highest level. In part 2, we’ll be turning our attention to midfielders and fullbacks


What is needed from the central midfield position has evolved tremendously over the past 10 to 15 years, with greater credence and appreciation given to midfielders who can combine both a high level of functional athleticism along with on-ball coordination. This has made the term "press-resistant" become frequently used within football's lexicon. With where European football is in 2019 at the highest level, finding a midfielder who can possess both qualities ensures that a club has a better chance of solving a greater variety of equations during matches. Obviously finding a midfielder who has close to elite press resistance is easier said than done and it’s why someone like Mousa Dembélé, specifically his peak form from 2015–17, is held in such reverence because he embodied the best of both worlds.

Of course before being able to produce on-ball actions, having smart spatial awareness is key and is a common trait among the best ball movers in Europe. Knowing where they are and whether there’s open space around them dictates whether a player could be aggressive in searching for a high value play or better off recycling possession to a nearby teammate. Everyone’s favorite golden boy, Frenkie De Jong, is an obvious example of someone who exhibits the right balance of understanding of these characteristics. He is one of the best midfielders in his age group at scanning his surroundings before receiving a pass. When he scans and deems a scenario where he can be aggressive, his abilities as a dual threat allow him to puncture the opposition and progress play. This is one of several reasons Barcelona shelled out £65 million for his services, because he has the smarts to best accentuate his extensive on-ball gifts.

A common sight during matches is the deepest midfielder retreating close to the centerback, allowing the fullbacks to push on higher up the pitch. From there, the midfielder has to have the requisite ability to make ground passes between the lines into the middle third and even beyond, transitioning past the earlier stages of buildup. It is a must as well for teams wanting to compete at a high level that the deep midfielder tasked with this is comfortable making these passes. Amadou Diawara is a great example of someone who has performed this task at a high level in his limited game time at Napoli, it is no doubt one of the reasons why Roma acquired his services this summer. Ibrahim Sangaré is another example of a player who can perform this role at a solid level (though not quite as proficient as Diawara), and while I have genuine questions about his ability to consistently hit more difficult aerial or ground passes through the midfield into dangerous areas in the final third, there’s a level of functionality to his passing in earlier phases of buildup.

Of course, a deep midfielder must be able to be press-resistant if dribbling, which can manifest itself in different ways. Perhaps it’s dragging the team forward through awe-inspiring runs from their own third into the middle third and beyond, or it’s a more subtle type of resistance which involves little shifts of the body to move horizontally to get open space and continue the possession, or perhaps a combination of both lateral elusiveness and eventual forward progress. Lucas Torreira during his time at Sampdoria and for stretches at Arsenal last season would be an example of someone who was more of the elusive type of midfielder that would pick and choose when to gain considerable forward yardage.

Tanguy NDombèlé gets a special mention here, because he possesses a lot of the skills needed to succeed at the highest level. At a young age, he already is one of the better midfielders in Europe at progressing play in a positive manner off the dribble. He showed that at lower levels with Amiens while playing in a multitude of positions, and continued to do so at Olympique Lyonnais. We can see aspects of his elite athleticism where he combines both the initial burst and speed needed to gain ground moving vertically, with the fluidity to maneuver within tight spaces. While NDombèlé’s overall skillset is different in ways compared to Dembélé, they do share a similar dominant trait, that of being able to get from point A -> point B.

To go along with his ball progression via dribbling, NDombèlé’s passing has shown to be at a high level in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League, particularly his passing into the final third and beyond. This was something I was initially a bit skeptical of, but with a greater sample size, it’s abundantly clear that he’s a very good passer and should project to continue so in the Premier League. He can hit a variety of passes into dangerous areas in a number of scenarios: off the dribble, during counter attacks or broken transition plays or against deeper blocks when Lyon had a clear talent advantage.

All of that is to say that Spurs are quite lucky to get someone of NDombèlé’s talent level, even at his price tag. There are two other players to highlight when it comes to ball carrying and forward passing for midfielders. One of them is Hamed Junior Traorè, who proved to be a fun under the radar prospect in Serie A during his half season at Empoli. While he’s a bit raw at his current stage of development, he had the outlines of a intriguing midfielder given his ability to drive play off the dribble and his aggressive nature, shown by attempting to turn any situation into something potentially advantageous (with mixed success). He’s still at the start of putting the entire package together, particularly his passing, but he’s someone to keep tabs on moving forward.

The other player of interest is Houssem Aouar. Unlike Traore, Aouar is arguably ready now to help a major Champions League club may well be another sell high prospect for Lyon now or in the future. For stretches over the past two seasons, it’s arguable that he was near the same caliber of prospect as NDombèlé, and he’ll be gifted more responsibilities this upcoming season with his teammate departed. The appeal with Aouar is obvious: a technically gifted midfielder who can operate within tight spaces in the middle or final third. His overall skillset has a high level of scalability given he also possesses ample athleticism to elude defensive pressure. It’s not too hard to imagine him assuming a role as an elite free roaming #8 in the not too distant future if or when he makes the step up to a super club.

One final note on free roaming #8's: in a similar manner to deeper midfielders, positioning is a huge thing to focus on when analyzing them. How are they stationed during buildup play, and as the ball progresses further up the field? How much do they move in search for space between the opposition's midfield and defensive lines? From there, you can analyze how cleanly they receive the ball once they're open between the lines, and whether they can immediately receive and create enough space from the nearest marker to plan out their next on-ball action. Being able to do this at a relatively high level should correspond favorably to putting up solid metrics such as chance creation and passes into the box in open play.


In a similar manner to how midfielder responsibilities have evolved over time, fullbacks have had a similar progression. What used to be a position that was perhaps more of an afterthought has become one of the most important cogs in the machine. Transfer prices for fullbacks are slowly starting to reflect the massive importance that they have, but they still lag behind other positions. It actually brings up an interesting discussion on whether we’ve reached the upper limit on what could realistically be asked from them given their two-way responsibilities, and if there’s another shift for the position on the horizon.

For now, it’s clear that elite fullbacks are burdened with not only having to be defensively responsible, but also being adept in attack. Those defensive responsibilities include having to be astute in knowing when to gamble with defensive actions to snuff out potential dangers. Get it wrong, and it could lead to chaos behind you. This is an area in which Youcef Atal, an electric a prospect as he is, still has some room for improvement. Though he shows good moments in correctly utilizing his athleticism into effective pressuring of the opponent, he has his moments where he completely whiffs on gambles and leaves teammates to clean up his mess.

Fullbacks in general must possess good off-ball awareness when defending in multiple scenarios, whether it be acting as a central player to help nullify counter attacks or pushing up to help counterpress following changes in possession from their already high positioning. When defending in their own third, they must be cognizant of off-ball runs and tracking their marker. Otherwise, they’re having to bank on their recovery speed to make up for the initial mistake. Fullbacks can at times get away with not being totally locked in off-ball, but it's not something that should be a regular occurrence.

In attack, to a large extent, fullbacks have assumed the roles that more nominally attacking wide players used to have: running up and down the touchline and creating chances from the wide areas. There’s a high demand for fullbacks who can create separation off the dribble and get into the final third with regularity. Athleticism, and in particular functional athleticism, are becoming more of a must to assume a starting spot at a major club. Going back to Atal, it is here that he shines brighter than arguably any other fullback prospect in Europe. It can’t be stated enough just how much of an elite athlete he is, so much so that Nice experimented with him playing as a winger (to varying degrees of success) towards the end of the season. What makes Atal special is that not only is he a threat towards the touchline to beat his marker, but also to make runs from outside to inside and getting into the penalty box for potential passes within the box.

Another example of a young fullback with an appealing intersection of athleticism and playmaking is Angeliño. Compared to Atal, Angeliño isn't quite the nuclear athlete but would still rank as comfortably above average. It is his passing, and in particular his diversity in creating chances, that makes him a fascinating prospect. Despite playing as a left-back, his expected goal assisted rate of 0.21 per 90 minutes ranked third among PSV players that played at least 900 minutes in the Eredivisie. He also ranked 3rd among PSV players in open play key passes per 90 and 1st in open play passes into the box with a monstrous per 90 rate of 3.91. Simply put, he produced playmaking numbers that are much more associated with upper tier wingers, let alone fullbacks. One could poke holes at his production being a byproduct of playing for a super club, and while there's some truth to that, the eye test with Angeliño has been encouraging both at the lower end in the Eredivisie (NAC Breda) and at the higher end (PSV). The main question with him is how much of his playmaking could be translated if you put him in a big 5 league, especially for a club that doesn't have such a pronounced talent advantage. Perhaps we'll get to see that question answered if Manchester City decide to sell Angeliño before the summer window closes.

Finally, an interesting test case for a fullback who differs slightly from the current template would be Ferland Mendy. What makes Mendy fascinating is his high level of comfort operating within the inside channels and ability to conduct play from there. Though there are other fullbacks who can perform this task, Mendy is on the higher end of the scale. He’s a dual threat to either make passes into or from the left halfspace or progress play individually. Of course, he also can perform the traditional parts of the fullback position as well with overlaps and passes into the box from the wing. Having a fullback who can perform inside or outside potentially makes for great diversity in deciding how buildup would occur on the left side, and choosing the type of left winger to pair with Mendy.


The general idea over the past two seasons of examining wingers, midfielders, and fullbacks was to have a better idea of what skills truly mattered, and which player archetypes would scale well against elite competition. In that respect, I would say that I'm better off now compared to where I was when beginning the project. Having said that, this type of contextualizing is still far from being an exact science for myself, with there being obvious room for error. It’s not an easy task to forecast what the next trends in football will become, and the best clubs in Europe are generally able to see where the wind is blowing in terms of evolution and adjust accordingly at a better level than someone like myself who is analyzing this from the outside.

As it currently stands, it's more likely for young central midfielders to thrive if they possess a potent blend of athleticism and passing. From there, you can break down those whose athleticism revolve more around north -> south movements than east -> west, and different types of passing acumen. Moving down the pecking order in European football is when you'll start to see young central midfielders lean more towards either robust athleticism or incisive passes. The fullback position is similar in some ways, especially there being a high demand of both athleticism and passing, though there's more needed of fullbacks to be able to cover ground moving north -> south. Though there's some variation in the categorization of fullbacks, the general trend at major clubs is for them to ably overlap in the wide areas and deliver passes into the box.

For both midfielders and fullbacks, the ideal is to find a young player who can be hyper athletic and technically astute, but that's not an easy task for lots of clubs and even ones with incredible resources at their disposal. You'll find cases like Aaron Wan-Bissaka who is elite in one area but has question marks in others. There are only a finite amount of elite young talents, and it's imperative for clubs to identify which ones are the best of the best, most likely through a combination of scouting processes along with rigorous statistical analysis. Getting it right at an earlier stage than others could make a huge impact both in the league table and future player transfers and there are still clubs that do it better than others and consistently. Ideally you want to be the club spending £15m and selling for £40m, not the opposite.

Introducing the Lionel Messi Data Biography

Scene: StatsBomb Strategy Meeting, Autumn 2018

“Should we release a new men’s data set soon? People seem to really enjoy the World Cup.”

“Probably? We’re definitely going to release the Women’s World Cup next summer, and we’ll put it out daily.”

“Oo, I like that.”

“Okay, but back to the men’s side… what could we release that would matter?”

“We could do a season of Premier League data. That would certainly get eyeballs.”

“Nah, Manchester City already did that in 12-13.”

“Really? Man, where did that data go? No one even knows that.”

“It’s not a terrible idea, but maybe we can do better.”

“What about a season of La Liga? I feel like that market has been under served and deserves some love.”

“Not bad. Maybe you do 17-18 so you get both Ronaldo and Messi in it.”

“That seems fine, but I’m still not excited.”

“I have this idea for some older matches. The Manchester United treble turns 20 this spring. It would be really interesting to collect some of that run and do the analysis of those games in a modern light.”

“Oo, I love that. Let’s do it.”

“Yeah, but it’s still not enough data for a public release. People want something they can sink their teeth into.”

“What if we release the last two seasons of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and really compare from a data perspective? They are clearly the two best players of all time.”

“Ronaldo, yuck.”

“One or two seasons of Lionel Messi isn’t cool."

"You know what would be cool? ALL of Lionel Messi.”


“Oh shit... that’s never been done. Messi started in like 2005 - I don’t think data companies produced x/y data that early.”

“Can we even get the video on that?!?”

“Let’s find out!”

And that is how the Messi Data Biography began. Getting the video was an enormous pain in my ass. None of the usual video platforms have video anywhere near that far back. We then talked to friends, clubs, and former media rights holders for months trying to track down all these matches. I pulled every string I could think of and we were still only able to get to about 90% completion, hitting a hard wall with the last 10%. About at the point where we were going to buy DVDs off eBay in a hope we could fill in as much as possible, Pablo Rodriguez found a super-fan video archivist, and this source filled in all the missing matches. You all owe Pablo many, many drinks for his service. I’ve basically been floating on a cloud ever since.

So what is the Messi Data Biography? Quite simply, it is a data archive of every match Lionel Messi has played in La Liga since his career began in 2004-05.

We collected all of this data with our own time, energy, and crossed eyeballs (the old video is really poor quality) over the last few months as a kind of passion project. At this point, every single member of the StatsBomb and Arqam team has contributed, and I can only thank them for all of the hard work getting us to this point.

The MDB exists on the top tier StatsBomb Data spec for the 18-19 season, so despite the fact that these matches occurred as far back as 04-05, the data is the same incredibly rich event data our Champions League customers use right now.

It was expensive. It was painful. It is… fucking brilliant.

Messi's first senior goal? We've got that. Messi's entire Pep career? That too. The body count from all of the opponents Messi nutmegged in his career? Also in the data!

And we will be releasing all of this data TO THE PUBLIC over the next four weeks.

To recap: Free data. For the entire La Liga career. Of the greatest footballer ever.

The schedule from July 15-August 9 (a.k.a 'Messi Month') looks like this:

Monday - Analysis from each set of seasons will be published on and our media partners.

Tuesday - That same data will be released to the public for non-commercial use. The first Tuesday, we will also publish our own R primer written by Euan Dewar to help people who are new to the data and R get started.

Wednesday and every other day after - You get to analyse, visualise, and simply play with the data yourselves.

This is our gift to football. We hope you enjoy.

--Ted Knutson
CEO, StatsBomb

P.S. I know there will be soooooo many questions people have. I may put out an FAQ next week to answer the bulk of the important ones. (Like will you release all of Messi's CL data, etc etc etc.) For now, just enjoy your weekend!

P.P.S. I said I wouldn't leak until July 15th. I didn't. This isn't a leak. This is an ANNOUNCEMENT. It's like, a totally different thing.

NOTE: If you wish to use any data from the Messi Data Biography for commercial purposes, please send an email to

England Under-21s Had a Disastrous Euros. There Are Still Players Who Can Make the Step Up.

In terms of results, it’s hard to imagine England Under-21s having a worse tournament than what played out in Italy this summer at the European Championship.

Things started off reasonably well. England first played a France side stacked with top tier talents like Houssem Aouar and Moussa Dembélé. The Young Lions were able to play a mostly even game with the French for an hour, with a terrific individual goal from Phil Foden putting England ahead. An inexplicable moment of stupidity from Hamza Choudhury, however, put England down to ten men.

With the side not only a man down but playing without the squad’s sole defensive midfielder (in the kind of quirk that national teams often deal with, England’s talented young midfielders right now are overwhelmingly forward thinkers), England were totally unable to prevent France from generating attacks and deservedly conceded two late goals. The volume of good chances France created in the last half hour makes it hard to argue with the result, but there were genuine signs of encouragement when the contest was eleven against eleven.

There were fewer positive signs in the subsequent games. Choudhury’s suspension really hamstrung England, and an unbalanced midfield were never able to exert any control over matches. Granted, when you concede three goals from outside the box, as the Young Lions did against Romania, it’s hard not to feel like fate was working against you. But these were chaotic games where anything that could happen seemingly did. They spoke to England’s lack of disciplined midfielders, and arguably manager Aidy Boothroyd’s selection choices.

What they did not speak to, though, is the talent of the players. Of the 23-man squad, 14 have won a World Cup or European Championship at various youth levels with England. Among those without an international medal are Aaron Wan-Bissaka, recently bought by Manchester United for £50 million, and James Maddison, who would likely command an even higher fee if he made the same rumoured move. This is a promising group.

England senior side manager Gareth Southgate will surely want to see promote plenty of them in the coming years so let’s take a look at who might be progressing and how close they are to break through. (For purposes of this article, we have only looked at outfield players. Goalkeepers aren’t under as much of a time-crunch to develop, so let’s give Dean Henderson, Angus Gunn and Freddie Woodman a few more years before making serious judgements on them.)

Tier One: Ready Right Now



This is less a tier than a man. Mohamed Mohamed wrote about Maddison here at StatsBomb back in April, and it’s obvious that his qualities could translate to international football:

“[Maddison is] just constantly on his toes trying to get himself into open space for teammates to get him the ball. Whether it be moving a couple of yards diagonally to be between two opposition players, or making in-out cuts on the blindside of his marker to lose him, he’s got a lot of tricks in the bag… His positioning and ability to interpret space is arguably his greatest strength, constantly hunting for openings within the opposition. His ability to pass into tight windows in the middle third has been solid, along with his capacity to either be the initiator of combination plays or act as the link-man.”

No English midfielder under 24 completed more open-play passes into the box per 90 in the Premier League last season, while only Harry Winks managed more deep progressions. There were concerns earlier in the season that the 4-3-3 system England are currently operating would not have space for a No.10 like Maddison. This has been somewhat alleviated since Rodgers’ arrival at Leicester has seen the 22-year-old move into more of a “free eight” role alongside Youri Tielemans, though one can wonder whether England’s midfield shape is too conservative for someone like him.

Nonetheless, he offers playmaking qualities sorely lacking in a team that recently started a midfield three of Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley. He might not be a perfect fit, but he would certainly offer variety to England’s build-up play that has been lacking. Call him up in September, Gareth.


Tier Two: Options For Euro 2020, if They Have a Good Season



Ryan Sessegnon’s first season in the Premier League could not have been under worse circumstances. In one campaign, Fulham went through three different managers, all with their own ideas about how to use Sessegnon, and all unable to build anything like a coherent side. It’s hard to fault Sessegnon for not setting the world alight in such an environment, and it’s not obvious that this should be a permanent black mark against him. Even through all this, he put up a better open-play expected goals assisted per 90 than any young English player in the Premier League except Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had teammates a fair bit better than Sessegnon’s. A move to Spurs has been heavily rumoured and Mauricio Pochettino could well help him develop his obvious talent. While Sessegnon offers a lot on the ball in the final third, his acceleration could better suit starting at the left-back role from which he can move up the pitch. Here he could easily challenge Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw for that England spot in the long term.

If any young player is obviously being groomed to make the leap to the senior team eventually, it’s Phil Foden. Player of the tournament in the Under-17 World Cup two years ago, Foden has transitioned to the Under-21 side without an issue, proving to be England’s outstanding performer against France. Of course, playing for Manchester City is both a blessing and a curse, as he has both the ideal manager to develop under and perhaps the toughest pathway to a starting role in world football. It’s very easy to imagine Foden playing less than 1000 league minutes next season and this would be a not insignificant hinderance to his development. Nonetheless, his talent is so obvious that even in those circumstances, one could imagine Southgate taking him to Euro 2020 as the 23rd man in the squad.

There are a lot of reasons to be sceptical of Frank Lampard’s appointment as Chelsea manager, but it could be good news for more than a few young English players. Mason Mount may or may not be ready to play Champions League football. What he does have is a season under Lampard at Derby, and if the new boss at Stamford Bridge takes some time to get Chelsea playing the way he wants, he may look to people who already understand what that is. Mount was more of a solid contributor at Derby than anything spectacular, but Lampard is clearly a fan, and anyone who gets serious minutes for Chelsea is likely to be in the England frame almost by default (see: Barkley, Ross).



In much the same boat is perennial StatsBomb favourite Tammy Abraham. Across two seasons in the Championship, the 21-year-old has scored 41 non-penalty goals, at a rate of just over half a goal per 90. Sandwiched in between those two second-tier seasons was a year at Swansea. While this year was deemed a failure by many (enough for Chelsea to send him back down a division), it came at a truly awful attacking side that spent a lot of time relying on the “playmaking” abilities of Tom Carroll and Sam Clucas.

Despite having as close as a striker will ever get to no service, Abraham still put up a solid 0.31 expected goals per 90, the best rate of any young English player outside the top six. Chelsea’s past disinterest in promoting young players has been particularly tough on Abraham, but he could well be the one to benefit the most from Lampard’s appointment. The solid-but-unspectacular Callum Wilson currently serves as England’s back up to Harry Kane and it’s not unreasonable for Abraham to target overtaking the Bournemouth man this season.

Wilson could well also face competition closer to home, and I’d be remiss not to mention another past stats (and personal) favourite here. His Bournemouth colleague Dominic Solanke is highly thought of within the England youth setup, having won the Golden Ball at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup and continued his good work at Under-21 level with nine goals in 18 appearances. On a purely numbers level, his time at Liverpool was fairly ridiculous in a very small sample size, putting up a figure of 0.76 expected goals and expected goals assisted per 90, better than anyone at the club save for Mohamed Salah. It’s entirely possible that this small sample size was wildly unrepresentative of his true ability, and some injury issues have seen him not yet hit his stride at Bournemouth, but it’s definitely possible that he could establish himself as Bournemouth’s most important striker, and Southgate would be hard pressed to take Wilson ahead of him next summer.


Tier Three: Longer Term Bets

Aaron Wan-Bissaka might be the unluckiest player on this list. The right-back had a huge breakout season for Crystal Palace, earning widespread plaudits and getting a big money move to Manchester United. Were he playing just about anywhere else on the pitch, he’d be a shoo-in for the England squad. As it is, Kyle Walker has fully established himself as the country’s first choice right-back while Trent Alexander-Arnold stands just behind him as one of the most promising young English players in any position. Wan-Bissaka is another player Mohamed wrote about recently for StatsBomb, and most of it remains relevant in an England context:

“Manchester United potentially spending up to £50 million on Wan-Bissaka represents a bet on him eventually becoming one of the better fullbacks in the world two to three years from now. For that to occur, his offensive value will have to get to a high enough level through ironing out some of the kinks. Given how good he projects to be defensively over the next few years, it might be that he merely needs to be a slight net-positive offensively rather than a no-doubt stud in attack. It’s not impossible to imagine that being the case for Wan-Bissaka: his dribbling abilities are outstanding and that alone brings value. His passing isn’t a lost cause, though it’s not a strength yet.

The hope is that his dribbling abilities continue to translate and create passing opportunities for him that it wouldn’t exist for others, and with more reps in advanced areas as well as playing with talented teammates at United, he becomes a better offensive player. That version of Wan-Bissaka would be more than worth the high price tag that United will reportedly paid for his services. The more pessimistic angle would be that Wan-Bissaka’s passing never appreciably develops from its current state, and as a result, his game doesn’t quite scale up to the highest level of competition and makes him less of an asset.”

It’s hard to disagree with Mohamed’s central thesis: that Wan-Bissaka is an excellent defensive full back who offers much in terms of dribbling ability but needs to improve his passing. This feels in complete contrast to his England rival Alexander-Arnold, who offers so much on the ball but at times gets caught out by fast wide players. The race to become Walker’s successor might be one about seeing who can add the other side to their game first. Right now, the Liverpool player seems very much in front, but time could be on the new Old Trafford arrival’s side if he can continue to improve.



Leicester pair Harvey Barnes and Hamza Choudhury have both acquitted themselves well under Brendan Rodgers and could easily make the jump to the national side at some point. In his half-season loan to West Brom, Barnes had the highest scoring contribution of any young English player in the Championship, with expected numbers largely backing up these performances. As one would expect, his numbers were a little worse when returning to the Premier League, but still offered enough as a solid wide forward contributor to suggest there could be a real player here. Choudhury, meanwhile, has put up big defensive midfield numbers in limited minutes. Leicester already have one of the league’s better aggressive ball-winning midfielders in Wilfried Ndidi, so minutes are limited for the youngster, but Rodgers has shown willingness to use them both in big games. Choudhury probably can’t contribute to England right now, but as Jordan Henderson ages out of the side and Eric Dier seemingly won’t push on, there may be an opening for him in the future.



Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been knocking around international youth football for some time now without ever seriously threatening to break into the senior team, but he still looks capable of doing so. His 3.9 aerial wins per 90 in the Premier League last season puts him as one of the more dominant target men in the division, and it’s relatively rare for someone to match that with the burst of pace that he has. Calvert-Lewin is still a fairly unimpressive goal threat, getting just six last year from 22.1 90s, but the raw tools are such that he could be an excellent all-round forward in a few years.

Morgan Gibbs-White could have the highest ceiling of anyone in this squad bar Foden, though there is still quite a lot of work that needs to be done to get there. The Wolves man was an impressive cog in the Under-17 World Cup winning side, failing to get the headlines of Foden or Rhian Brewster but still looking a cut above most of the others in the knockout stages. While his role in that tournament was out wide, most of his minutes for Wolves have been in more of a central, creative midfield role, and he may end up moving even deeper. Like many young players, it’s not obvious what he’ll end up being, but as a technique player capable of a dribble he should be able to fit in somewhere.



Elsewhere, Reiss Nelson was heavily flattered by a goal return in the Bundesliga last season of seven from an expected total of 1.94, but he nonetheless seems a useful wide forward who should hopefully get minutes for Arsenal next season and is young enough at 19 that he has time to develop into something more. Centre-backs are perhaps the most difficult position to project future success onto, since it relies so much on both surroundings and reading of the game that can develop a little later. Nonetheless, Derby’s player of the season Fikayo Tomori hasn’t done anything wrong yet. A fairly aggressive front foot defender, he should suit the relatively high pressing style that England want to implement long term. Lloyd Kelly has largely played left-back so far in his career, but the centre is probably his final destination. If past performance is an indicator, he’s going to a lot of defending to do under Eddie Howe’s style at Bournemouth, so there should be plenty of learning opportunities. Similarly, Ezri Konsa is making the Premier League jump after a year in the Championship and has a reasonable shot at being a very good defender, but it’s difficult to predict what he will end up being.

Tier Four: Longer Shots

It might be harsh to put Jonjoe Kenny in this category. He’s a right back who provides solid defensive work and decent attacking play with rare dominance in the air from that position. But if Wan-Bissaka is unlucky to have to compete against this right-back crop, the argument applies doubly so to Kenny.

Similarly, Jake Clarke-Salter could easily be in the above group, but for a 21-year-old Chelsea loanee to still spend time at Vitesse does not suggest he is considered a future star by the Stamford Bridge hierarchy. If he doesn’t at least go to a decent Championship side this season, he should be thinking about a permanent move away from Chelsea. Someone who has quit the Stamford Bridge loan army is Jay Dasilva, a solid all round left-back now owned by Bristol. He may surprise us, but considering Chilwell is only a year older than him as England’s established starter in that role, and he doesn’t have the upside of someone like Sessegnon, the future may not be bright for his England career. Kieran Dowell probably has a future at Premier League level, but it just might not be for England. After Choudhury was sent off in the first game and England lacked any other natural defensive midfielders, Dowell moved to the deeper role and looked as though his passing could be a threat from that position, perhaps more so than higher up the pitch. Spending the second half of last season on loan at Sheffield United, he looked ok, and will spend another year in the Championship at Derby. Dowell could be a solid player eventually, but it doesn't seem like he’s particularly special.

Last and, to be brutally honest, least is Demarai Gray. At 22, he is no longer eligible for the Under-21 side, and in truth it’s not obvious that he should have played as much as he did at the Euros. Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi are both significantly younger than Gray and have already jumped well ahead of him in terms of Southgate’s wide options. Even Marcus Rashford is younger than the Leicester winger. Looking at his numbers, it’s hard to find anything that stands out as really exciting. All the best, Demarai.


A World Cup round-up

By the time you read this, the United States women's national team might have recovered from their seeming three-day bender, but the magic, the magic, that was the 2019 World Cup will still live on, in our hearts. It's time for a round-up. Jill Ellis came in for a degree of flack in certain circles of Twitter for the States' style of play and their bypassing of midfield, where some of their best players are. Was that fair? While the US made the fourth-most crosses per game (14), these crosses made up a very small percentage of their pass attempts into the opposition penalty area (they had the fifth-lowest rate for this). Even if only including the knock-out round, their rate of relying on crosses to get the ball into the box stays at a similar level nudging up from 28% to 30%. I'm acutely aware that I'm probably not representing the complaints of the Ellis-sceptics (I tried, believe me), but they can point to the games against France and England as supporting evidence of their cause. Although the United States comfortably beat Spain and the Netherlands in the knock-outs - not just in attack, but limiting their opponents to just 0.26 expected goals in the two games combined - those two marquee matches were more of a coin-flip. England weren't just a penalty away from extra-time in scoreline-terms, take that chance out and the two sides would have been neck-and-neck in chance quality terms. There have been murmurings of discontent in both England and France after their exits to the United States - about the stage at which the exit came, rather than the opponent - but they should be reassured by how close they came in these matches. If things had gone slightly differently, then perhaps it would be the French players sharing their celebrations on Instagram and the United States going through a period of crisis. Something else to note for the Ellis-sceptics is that the United States' final shots came in the 64th minute against France and the 58th minute against England. Teams often change strategy to protect a lead, but this is a whole different level of it, and very probably not an ideal one. That is, I'm sure, enough on the Americans. The World Cup wasn't just about them, and there were so many players who caught the eye. Caroline Graham Hansen was the one who many were drawn to (and was highlighted before the tournament started by Katja Kragelund), but the dribble queen of the tournament was Cameroon's Ajara Nchout, who averaged 6.14 successful dribbles per 90 minutes at a 78% success rate. While we're on dribbling, shout-out to Abbie McManus, whose only successful dribble in the tournament was also a nutmeg - we'll keep the victim a secret to spare their blushes. Spain were a collective 'one to watch', their rise since 2015 showing the power that can come through an at-least-slightly supportive mix of FA, clubs, and public. Jenni Hermoso and Lucia Garcia were two stars of the attack, but some 'wow, those are good stats' praise should be sent the way of full-back Marta Corredera. She put up some incredibly high defensive numbers, as well as dribble and ball progression figures. Full-backs are becoming household names on a slightly more frequent basis nowadays, and Corredera was up there alongside the best of them. It would be utterly remiss of me not to mention the player who, as an Englishman, I say was the true best player of the World Cup, Ellen White. She gave opponents no rest, pressing them more consistently than most, if not all, forwards at the tournament, and coupling it with a fantastic ability to find space to have, and finish, high-quality chances. A remarkable 64% of her open-play, non-headed shots came with zero outfield defenders between her and goal. Out of the strikers to take ten or more of these shots, only Sam Kerr and the aforementioned Graham Hansen bettered it. Her performances in France will reassure Manchester City, who brought her in just before the World Cup started to replace compatriot Nikita Parris next season, with Parris joining a long line of world stars at Lyon. The World Cup has brought domestic leagues into sharper focus across the board, with fans worldwide calling on their FAs to build on this summer success (or invest due to a lack of it) and grow the women's game. One can only hope that, by 2023, these discussions and fan- and player-led protests are no longer even needed. Talking about the present and the future and things away from the pitch, editing the World Cup coverage for StatsBomb was a dream. I've referenced pieces by Katja (on Norway) and Michele Taylor (on Spain) already, but each of the freelancers was great, Rachel Rose Gold on Jamaica, Anushree Nande on stand-outs of the group stage, and Eilidh Thomson breaking down the Netherlands-Sweden semi-final. Me and regular editor Mike Goodman popped up with some articles now and then too. Playing with the freely available StatsBomb data for some of my articles was also particularly fun, and I'd urge anyone interested in stats to check it out and poke around. The pressures data in particular is something that's a whole new world to explore, and the data even has an expected goals model and sequences framework built in so that you don't have to create those things yourself. You can find more information about how to get started here and StatsBomb have their own R package to help you work with the data here.

Young Talent Reflections Part 1: Wingers

Over the past two seasons, I’ve dedicated the majority of my writing towards Europe's prospects and attempting to figure out makes them tick.

While my previous writing slanted towards player profiles on younger players, the general success rate of youngsters coming out of Ligue 1 was what drew my focus. The past two seasons have been an attempt at expanding coverage of young talents using the same model of analysis to cover the other big 5 leagues along with the Eredivisie. I’ve always found it to be more interesting in focusing at the individual level versus the team as a whole when examining football, which could be reasonably seen as a bit counter-intuitive given that soccer isn’t quite like basketball where a superstar can be such a dominating figure in affecting wins/losses. There’s also a much richer tapestry of public football writing at the team level compared to young talents, so there was a niche to be had in attempting to examine prospects at a deeper level.

Part of the inspiration for focusing on individuals comes from a website that actually has nothing to do with football, but rather a basketball website called The Stepien. The Stepien is a website dedicated to in-depth and nuanced coverage on young basketball prospects in relation to the NBA draft, their chances at being able to make it to the NBA, and what their potential ceiling is as prospects once they get into the league. One of the things I appreciate about them is that they’re able to contextualize the strengths/weaknesses of a prospect in relation to the current trends of the NBA and whether that hinders or elevates their standing, to go along with team fit/optimizing player development. Though public writing on footballing young talents has gotten better at including an examination on team fit, it could still do better at also comparing their skillset to the ever-changing landscape of the sport at the highest level.

Given that the season is over and the summer transfer window is nearing, this seemed like an opportune moment to do a deep reflection on some of the bits that I’ve learned from undertaking this two season journey into young talent evaluation. On the whole, I'm not sure how much value this will have, but I think there’s something to be said about having transparency on my end for future reference when looking at players. To be sure, even with what will be said moving forward, I would be the first to tell you that all of this is merely a fraction of what goes on inside clubs, especially ones that have their ducks in a row. People like myself who do this don’t have access to medical or background personal information on young talents when examining them, which are big parts of the overall picture. More than anything, this should be considered musings from someone on the outside.

As for the actual players being scouted, the image below is a rough list of the young players that I’ve watched some level of match footage over the past two seasons, divided into very broad player archetypes. While I’ve dipped my toe into looking at other positions like centre-back and goalkeepers, it would be disingenuous to try and write in detail on them, especially seeing as there are much more qualified individuals that would be valuable resources in that department (Mark Thompson for centre-backs, Paul Riley and David Preece for goalkeepers).

For part 1, we'll be solely looking at wingers. Without further ado...


Of the player archetypes that I’ve looked at, the wide position is definitely the one that I’ve looked at with the most detail. I also think that it’s the position that lends itself best when it comes to using crossover knowledge from basketball.

You can think of wingers in some ways like how analysts contextualize lead initiators in the NBA. The best of the best in basketball are able to shoot in multiple ways from numerous areas on the court (spot-up shooting, shooting off of a live dribble), have the requisite functional athleticism to beat their man with a live dribble, and have vision to make advanced level reads with their passing. Having demerits in either shooting/passing/dribbling pushes you down a rung, and in some instances, hurts your ability to play at the highest level. Certainly with young talents in the NBA, there’s leniency for not seeing that total package right away from the majority of them, but finding enough glimmers of hope for this is the goal. This type of mindset can be transferred quite easily when projecting young wide talents in football.

When people talk about dribbling when it comes to wingers, there can be a lack of analysis outside of “he can beat a man or two”. Certainly, the ability to beat people off the dribble is important, but clarity should be given when describing dribbling aptitude and the process behind it.

There are a multitude of ways for a wide player to execute a 1v1 dribble: cutting inside with their favored foot, walking the sideline by pushing the ball, quick intricate moves in tight spaces, carrying the ball from slightly deeper areas (the Hazard specialty). When it comes to the first one, the importance of gaining access to the halfspace (and beyond) are paramount: greater passing angles, the addition of being a threat to shoot, and even simply the continuation of possession. Finding wide players who are able to do this with some regularity can be such an asset. In sort of the same vein with how shooting is such a bedrock skill in the NBA, dribbling for wide players can be seen in something of a similar light because it is an avenue to unlocking other areas in their game.

Another dribble that some wide players have in their pocket is the ability to push the ball along the wide areas and sprint to receive it themselves while getting past their opponent in the process. This could happen either around the middle third or closer to the penalty box. Though the benefits that come from this play aren’t quite as pronounced as the inside dribble, you can still have better opportunities at delivering low passes/crosses into the box following good execution off the dribble along with getting into the box themselves.

Ismaila Sarr has so far shown enough ability to suggest he'll continue to be really good at this, and his improvement this season has come from his ability to utilize that threat along the sidelines into more playmaking opportunities. Justin Kluivert during his time at Ajax was another example of a winger who could turn his dribbling out wide into something productive near or just inside the wide area of the box.

On the other end of the spectrum, a worry of mine for Oussama Idrissi was that he had issues trying to execute this type of dribble in the Eredivisie (below). While Idrissi was a proficient dribbler on the whole (3.28 dribbles per 90), there were enough instances of him not having that extra gear to make you wonder how he'd do outside of the Eredivisie (it's also fair to point out that his destiny could simply be moving up the ladder and playing for Ajax/PSV, which would alleviate these concerns).

One more note on dribbling skills in isolation: while it's not a death sentence to be extremely one-footed in terms of dribbling acumen, it does put a heightened emphasis on possessing on-ball athleticism. Two test cases for this are David Neres and Samuel Chukwueze. Both of them are on the extreme end of only utilizing their left foot for dribbling and overall on-ball actions, but there's more to believe in with Chukwueze than with Neres given his ball-carrying during transition and greater separation after using feints and sidesteps.

There's also a level of physicality that Chukwueze has that Neres doesn't quite possess, which helps with Chukwueze's dribbling. This isn't to say that I would rank Chukwueze as a better player than Neres, but both players make for an interesting comparison. While dribbling is a foundation skill for wide players and dribbling diversity should be examined, a winger becomes much less interesting if he can't bring much of anything else to the table.

It's all well and good to have the athleticism to rack up dribbling statistics, but if far less good comes out, it just adds up to a shoulder shrug. This is partly why someone like Jordon Ibe hasn't kicked on during his time at Bournemouth because of a lack of definable skills elsewhere post-dribble. It's best to look at wide players who can leverage their dribbling exploits into something greater, either for themselves or others. With regards to the skill intersection of dribbling + shooting, one area that is interesting is being able to create shots off the dribble.

This is admittedly a more niche area given that shots for wide players off the dribble don't make up a large portion of their shot distribution. These shots also tend to be on the lower end of shot quality, but it's still nice to have that shot in your back pocket from time to time when the game mucks down and getting 5-8% shots represents a semi-decent option. Among the many things that Leon Bailey did in 2017/18 that made him a valuable prospect, he definitely would classify as a wide player who could get his own shot.

If one was to look at shooting in a more isolated manner, that's where team dynamics become a much bigger factor and how that could affect shot locations. Certainly there's still individual influence that exists with shooting skills. If a wide player is able to have equity as a two-footed shooter or something close to that (Ousmane Dembele for example), that is valuable to have on your squad and makes them less likely to be shaded onto one foot when being defended.

Another skill of shooting when scouting young talents is whether or not there's enough confidence to project them being a good finisher when accounting for shot placement. Though you're overall better off finding wide players who have strong expected goals per 90 rates, because that's more of a repeatable skill over time, finishing skill is still something worth investigating.

Though he no longer qualifies as a young talent, part of the appeal with Nabil Fekir during his younger days was him having a shooting style that would be conducive to outdoing post-shot expected goals models. Serge Gnabry is another test case given his goal tally outpacing pre-shot models in his previous two seasons in Germany, which presented the possibility that he could bring extra value as a plus finisher. It'll be interesting to see if that does turn out to be the case with Gnabry, as he was essentially level with his goal tally this season at Bayern when accounting for placement.

Playmaking responsibilities for wingers have evolved over the past 10-15 years, with full/wing-backs taking up a fair amount of the traditional duties that wingers used to have, one of those being pumping balls into the box from longer distances. This isn't to say that wingers still aren't tasked with lots of playmaking usage, but now you're much more often finding them making shorter ground passes into the box and accumulating open-play key passes in that manner (of course there's an added benefit if wingers can also have some crossing acumen).

There are metrics that when pulled together can give a decent picture at how good a winger is at making plays for others: open-play key passes, expected goals assisted, passes into the box. The more boxes that are ticked, the greater certainty there is. As for how playmaking can translate over film, a good sign is if they're able to have some level of diversity in the way they create their chances. This could be cut-backs, making reverse passes to slip runners at an angle into the wide areas of the box after accessing the halfspace areas, or throughball attempts that split the backline of the defense with different parts of their foot (outside/in/toe poke).

This shows a level of coordination that should instill some confidence that it's translatable across different levels of competition.

An interesting test case for this will be Steven Bergwijn, should he depart from PSV this summer. The Eredivisie has gotten a reputation over the years for not having their talents translate well elsewhere, but Bergwijn has displayed enough diversity with his chance creation over the past two seasons to believe that he'll not be another example of that. He's got near elite touch with his passing in the final third, and he's also able to possess this touch on the move, which is impressive.

Wingers not only create chances against a set defense, but can also provide value as playmakers during transition opportunities. This could mean that they're the initiators of the counter attack from deeper areas, or ending the transition attack with an incisive pass inside the penalty box. Being a good playmaker during transition involves the combination of decision-making along with on-ball coordination, all the while having to do that at top speed. That is far from being an easy task, which makes what Jadon Sancho has done at Dortmund quite special. He's an absolute terror during Dortmund transitions where he'll receive the ball in space and make either forward passes into the box for open teammate or cutbacks from the right side of the box.

Wingers can also act as playmakers but also have the burden of carrying the ball from deeper areas, particularly if the club is not exactly stacked in collective talent. Malcom's 2017-18 season was filled with these type of moments where he would be utilized as an outlet for transition play, push the ball up the field and still be tasked with making key plays in the final third and penalty box. What was difficult to project was how much this style of play could translate to bigger clubs that dominate play and face more set defenses.

On the negative end, it's a worry when not only a winger doesn't successfully complete difficult passes, but opts to look away and settle for merely recycling the ball. It's one thing to have failed attempts at passes, but to leave stuff off the table in opting for conservatism is a concern. With Nicolo Zaniolo, this was an issue of mine amidst the hype machine that was generating for him during parts of last season. He didn't provide ample value as a passer, which almost made it like Roma were playing with 9 outfield players instead of 10.

Will this linger with Zaniolo the rest of his career, or will it become less of a concern moving forward?

The majority of the discussion has focused on what wingers can do on-ball, but off-ball work is certainly a noteworthy component as well. Wingers who have some questions surrounding their athleticism on-ball can certainly make up some of the lost value with having elite or sub-elite speed + timing with runs. Of course finding wingers who can able perform on/off ball is the dream, but in the absence of that, there's still value to be had by being a speed demon with good positional sense.

Though he is proficient on-ball, Hirving Lozano is damn near special off of it, and Chiesa should project to do well in using his off-ball speed to create shooting opportunities once he gets to a good/great team. For all the worries I've had with David Neres as a prospect (documented here and here), a big reason why I can't get too down on him is because of how dangerous he can be with this part of his game to go along with his passing accumen. Certainly, how much of this skillset he will be able to show outside the Ajax cocoon is a genuine question, but Neres' off-ball work should be able to travel at some level and it's encouraging that he was able to show this part of his game during Ajax's Champions League run.

So after all that's been discussed, what can teams try to look for when scouting young wingers? There's no easy answer to this. In a perfect world you would find a prospect who checks off all the boxes, but that's not realistic because at that point, you would be searching for a young Lionel Messi. Dribbling diversity via functional athleticism is a near must, along with the ability to maneuver oneself within the halfspace.

Between looking at post-dribble actions concerning playmaking and shooting, I would lean towards playmaking being more important given the greater likelihood of good-to-great chances being accumulated via post-dribble passes versus individually creating your own shot. Ideally, the winger that's being scouted should have a repertoire of passes into the penalty box that they can make from the final third, but they should at least have the reverse pass into the wide areas of the box as something they can go to when trying to unlock the defense.

There are certainly clubs that would rather find a high-volume shooter from the wide areas rather than a dynamic playmaker, which goes back to team fit and optimization for the scouting club. Before ending part 1, I would be remiss if I didn't touch on perhaps the most intriguing prospect I've come across and one I've talked about quite a bit, Marcus Thuram. If I had to do a big board/ranking of wingers based on current talent level + future upside (something that's done all the time with American sports when looking at young talents), he'd probably be further down the list, but I still find him to be a fascinating player and something of an unknown despite having played over 4000 minutes in Ligue 1 over the past two seasons.

Part of that is due to playing for a small club like Guingamp, while there's also the wonder on whether he'll continue to be a wide player or shift towards more of a central role. The reason why I'm slightly more in favor of letting him continue to start from a wider position for the near future is his high level of functional athleticism to beat people off the dribble using his unique combination of size and speed, in particular his gift for covering ample ground with his first step and his usage of his off-arm to keep opponents away from the ball.

As well, he's shown just enough glimpses of playmaking equity that if I was running a mid/high level club, it would make me want to continue to see just how much he could grow in that part of his game as a winger when surrounded with better overall talent. It's not a situation where there's absolutely nothing to work with his actions post-dribble, though it's fair to wonder just how much room for improvement exists with Thuram's passing.

There's the real chance that should he play on a top 4-6 clubs in a big five league, he would be more of a utility player than a major contributor, but it isn't entirely unreasonable to think that he could hit his higher end outcomes and become a prominent player for notable European clubs if his passing really becomes a strong suit. With Guingamp's relegation to Ligue 2, Thuram should be able to be had at a fairly cheap rate and I would try to get him as a lottery ticket with the knowledge that weren't he not to appreciably improve over time and remain at more of his floor, it wouldn't be too much of a disappointment given transfer fee and wages.

And that's all for wingers. Next week in part two, we'll be looking at midfielders and fullbacks.

A look at the Atletico Madrid rebuild

On May 14th, Antoine Griezmann announced publicly that he was leaving Atletico Madrid. He’s still lingering on the books as Atletico and Barcelona publicly air out a bizarre, tense negotiation process, but at the time of Griezmann’s announcement, the club faced a serious question: How do we rebuild this team? Griezmann was their best player, one of the few on earth who can turn a game on its head and carry a team. His role during his entire Atletico tenure was to lug an offensive scheme that rarely dared to enter the final third or score more than one goal per game. Griezmann, a key cog who orchestrated so much for France in the World Cup, was reduced to slowing down counters and recycling possession on so many occasions. Atletico lost their main creator, but have also lost so much of their core. Diego Godin has moved to Inter Milan. Filipe Luis and Juanfran are leaving the club. Lucas Hernandez, a breakout young defender and one of the league’s best, has left for Bayern Munich. He was the man that could’ve eased the transition. Rodri Hernandez, the most valuable defensive midfielder in Spain, was sold to Manchester City -- a team that suits his playing style much more. Rodri, like Griezmann, will thrive in an environment where he sees more of the ball. Only Koke, Saul, Tomas Partey, Stefan Savic, Jan Oblak, and Jose Gimenez remain from that Atletico squad that took to the field in the 2016 Champions League final against Real Madrid in Milan. Nearly two months after Griezmann’s announcement, Atletico answered the call by spending just over £176m on four players: Joao Felix, Marcos Llorente, Felipe, and Renan Lodi. Hector Herrera was nabbed from Porto for free, too. They took an unprecedented gamble on Felix -- spending more money on him than any club in history (apart from Paris Saint-Germain) has ever spent on a player. Felix, as promising as he is, has just a one-year sample size at the top level. However, that small sample size is a very impressive one. Felix is not a Griezmann carbon copy, but has tremendous upside as a 19-year-old who thrives behind the main striker, is comfortable creating from deep, composed in tight spaces, and is a quick incisive passer and cool finisher -- all traits Simeone needed Griezmann for. A lot will be asked of the teenager by Simeone, and it will be interesting to see how his physical profile endures an entire season of defensive work. The Portuguese is not an athletic freak -- he often is taken out of the game in the second half due to his low stamina. Defensively, we’ve yet to see him in a low block like Atleti’s. But, in a vacuum, Felix is an interesting replacement for Griezmann, and despite Atleti spending £113m on him, they will be well on course to have a £100m+ net positive for the summer once they sell Griezmann officially. Atleti needed to move the needle somehow during this rebuild, and not many other stars would’ve been at their disposal with Felix’s specific skill-set. This Atleti team has come too far and come too close to fall into irrelevancy again. With Simeone -- the man who defines this era -- still around, they will always try to be competing at an elite level. It won't be easy, particularly with the squad still needing work. Atletico fans can at least be optimistic about one thing: Simeone tends to have his team at an elite defensive level regardless of who plays. Last season, it was a guessing game as to who would be available at the back. Lucas Hernandez missed 26 games due to injury; Jose Gimenez missed 19; Stefan Savic missed 18; Filipe Luis missed 13; Diego Godin missed 10; and Juanfran missed 9. Simeone’s defense was a mish-mash of whoever was humanly able to walk, and rarely did he have his preferred quartet. Still, Atleti had the best defensive record in La Liga, and lowest expected goals against of any team in Spain. When all else fails, Jan Oblak goes into alien mode and masks defensive cracks. This solidity will give the rest of the team a base to work from. How all of the new signings will integrate into the reinvention of Atletico will be fascinating. Marcos Llorente, like his predecessor Rodri, plays his best as a single anchor where he can read passing lanes and start counters. But Simeone never gave Rodri the gift of playing that role, and rarely deviated from his 4-4-2 where he unapologetically arranged a midfield of four central midfielders. He also never gave Rodri, a deft passer, a possession-based scheme that took advantage of his vertical artistry. Still, Rodri’s numbers across the board were impressive, and it will be exciting to see what he can accomplish under Pep, in a blueprint where players zip around without the ball and provide outlets for long-range passes. City will make life easy for him.

Llorente, a player less adept than Rodri with the ball at his feet, is among the best readers of the game at his position in Spain, as he showed in his breakout year at Alaves in 2016/17. He continued this under Santiago Solari this season, albeit in a small sample size, surprising and impressing with his vertical passing, dribbling, and shooting. When you lose Rodri -- the most promising defensive midfielder in Spain and possible heir to Sergio Busquets -- flipping him to another league for £63m and replacing him with someone like Llorente for £27m is about as good as you can do. Llorente, a close friend of several Atletico players, is still only 24, and midfielders often don’t peak until they’re in their late 20s. Atletico have salvaged the situation well. Atletico’s biggest concern has still not been addressed: Goals. If no other striker arrives, they will be hoping Alvaro Morata takes a big leap this season. Morata looked good in Madrid last season during his loan spell -- finally looking at home and in a comfortable environment. That form needs to continue, and even improve. But that’s asking a lot of a striker who’s never been prolific. Morata is now 26, and has scored more than 12 goals in a season just once. Atletico’s goal-scoring woes go beyond taking chances too, they are deep and systemic. This team doesn’t create at a high clip, even with Griezmann around. Their chances were worth just over 39 expected goals last season by StatsBomb's figures, a mark that was only 11th-best in the league, and a galactic 24 expected goals behind Barcelona. Simeone has tried to play more offensively in the past. In the 2016/17 season, following another Champions League final heartache against Real Madrid, he had his team playing higher up the pitch. It worked for a good stretch, but Simeone has struggled finding a balance since then, and his team hasn’t quite looked like their elite selves for a couple seasons now. Atletico haven’t been able to find consistent help for Griezmann. Any of the creators they’ve signed to help him -- Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins, Vitolo -- have not panned out. Angel Correa has had patches of brilliance but isn’t consistent. Yannick Carrasco was a headache to deal with, but they do miss the danger he created on the flank. Joao Felix would have been an interesting pairing alongside Griezmann to form a tasty transition offense -- but that window is likely gone now. Instead, Felix will have a heavy burden on himself, whether it’s fair or not. Fans will find it difficult to turn away from his price tag. If Felix’s small sample size is misleading, then there’s no way to flip him and make your money back -- that’s a sunk cost. But if Atletico are willing to be patient with him, they should be excited about his ability and upside. In a vacuum, Felix fits a lot of needs, even if we are still likely several years away from his peak. This will be a difficult transition period for Atleti, but one that’s not as bad as it initially seemed. They are still a top-three team in Spain with the current roster, and tons of room for future growth. Circle that home game against Barcelona in December -- the Wanda will be raucous as they welcome back Griezmann.