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Data Scouting Young Creative Passers

By Nick Dorrington | August 3, 2020 | Analytics

One of the advantages of using data in the early stages of a scouting process is the ability to filter down to a list of interesting players in a given role. It’s been a while since we’ve done some straight up data scouting on the site, so let’s try and identify some players aged 21 or under who stand out in the numbers in terms of creative passing and chance creation.

This article is also avaliable in Spanish.

Our search will include all the top flight leagues in our database as well as the second divisions of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. It will also only include players who have seen at least 1,200 minutes of action during the 2019-20 season (or 2019 or 2020 for those leagues that operate on a calendar-year basis). The given ages are how old the players would have been at the end of this season, had it completed on time.

The three metrics we’ll filter by are open play expected assists, open play passes into the box and throughballs. To whittle things down, we’ll look for players who are roughly inside the top 50 in the age group in all three. That produces the following cutoffs:

- 0.16 open play expected assists per 90
- 1.35 open play passes into the box per 90
- 0.22 throughballs per 90

We’ll also apply a filter on the percentage of successful box entries achieved by crosses in an attempt to weed some of the more classic winger types.

That gets us down to these 11 players.

NameTeamAgeMinutesThroughballsOpen Play Passes Into BoxOpen Play xG Assisted
Calvin StengsAZ Alkmaar212276.000.752.890.32
Cody GakpoPSV Eindhoven211553.080.291.620.23
Conor GallagherSwansea City201891.270.241.380.17
Dejan KulusevskiParma Calcio 1913202959.120.241.370.22
Dominik FitzAustria Wien201937.520.512.180.25
Dominik SzoboszlaiSalzburg191771.570.461.680.23
Jadon SanchoBorussia Dortmund202388.430.382.190.30
Josip BrekaloWolfsburg211771.280.561.730.24
Krepin DiattaClub Brugge211778.280.402.080.17
Kylian MbappéParis Saint-Germain211620.900.221.440.48
Nikola ČumićRadnički Niš211825.200.351.580.25

That looks like a promising list. We’ve got Jadon Sancho and Kylian Mbappe, the two outstanding attacking talents in the age group. In January, Juventus paid €35 million for Dejan Kulusevski before loaning him back to Parma for the rest of the season. Dominik Szoboszlai is a part of the successful Red Bull ecosystem and there seems to be interest from Arsenal and Milan.

Running the same search for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons spits out names like Christopher Nkunku, João Félix, Martin Ødegaard, Malcom, Steven Bergwijn and Mbappe again, so it seems like we are on the right track.

Another player who appears in both this season and last season’s list is Calvin Stengs. He’s a player I’ve always liked the look of, so it’s nice to see him here. He was also featured in our Pro Scouting product.

Stengs is a throughball machine, and the majority of the chances he creates begin and end in central areas. Of the players on the list, only Mbappe and Nikola Čumić create a better average quality of chance.

He also appears to be improving season on season, suggesting he could be ready to make a step up.

Nikola Čumić looks a good all-round attacking talent, or at least he has in the fairly weak Serbian League.

While his aptitude for moving the ball into the penalty area and creating chances appears to partly be due to his ability to create space off the dribble, something that might not carry to a stronger league, there is a decent variety in his passing in advanced areas.

That kind of output from a young player rarely goes unnoticed. Olympiakos signed up Čumić in December before loaning him back to Radnički Niš until the end of the campaign. If he plays in European competition with the Greek champions next season, we might get a better idea of his level.

From the limited footage I’ve seen of him, Krepin Diatta looks an intriguing little player. At Club Brugge, he has played at right wing-back, with a few stints on the right and left flanks. But with Senegal he’s sometimes played in central midfield, where his incisive passing, dribbling and ball-carrying ability also look a good fit. There is a little bit of a lower-budget Tanguy Ndombele about him there, and it would be interesting to see him get a run in that role at club level.

Cody Gakpo became a regular starter for PSV Eindhoven following Bergwijn’s departure to Tottenham Hotspur in January. He has done a more than decent job of approximating his output.

There are things to like about all these players. Conor Gallagher, on loan at Swansea from Chelsea, and Dominik Fitz see more of the ball in deeper areas than the others and aren’t anywhere near as active on the dribble, but combine good creative numbers with solid defensive output.

Josip Brekalo is second in the Bundesliga in throughballs per 90, and seems to be pretty adept at working the ball into the penalty area when he cuts in off the left.

That is one of the interesting things about creating this kind of list: you find that players with similar output in one facet of play can have wildly differing overall profiles. That is one of the reasons why any competent club would carry out thorough qualitative scouting of these players before deciding whether to move for any of them. Data should play a key role in any modern recruitment process, but it is always just one element of many.

Article by Nick Dorrington