Who Is Alexandre Lacazette And Should Arsenal Spend £40m On Him?

Since his 27 goal explosion in 2014-15, Alexandre Lacazette has been linked with numerous big clubs over a move from Olympique Lyonnais, with the latest being Arsenal. Similar to Thierry Henry insofar as he started as a winger and later transitioned into a striker role, with the alleged dearth of top class strikers seemingly available he's been on the high on the list for big name clubs who need goal scoring reinforcements.  Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored more goals over the past three seasons in Ligue 1 than Lacazette, and he's been one of the starring members of Lyon's rise back to being a force in French football. It's been a quick ascension for the Lyon man and before Lacazette and Ibrahimovic, the last player to score 27 or more goals in a Ligue 1 season was Jean-Pierre Papin in 1991-92.

Scoring Data

Of course what will stand out with Lacazette's resume over the past three seasons was 2014-15. The general football media tends to judge strikers on their goal output and a 0.9 goals per 90 minutes rate is a fantastic return in a top 5 league, especially playing on a team that isn't full of star players. The problem though with judging strikers on goals even when standardized to a per 90 rate, is that penalties can inflate the total and Lacazette in 14-15 was a prime example. 27 goals look super impressive, but 8 of them were penalties which carry a near 80% conversion rate. Focusing only on his non penalty goals and his goal scoring rate drops to 0.6, which is still good and Ted Knutson a couple of years ago made a scale on where strikers were bracketed in terms of their NPG rate during the season. It's still a nice little reminder to this day when looking at a striker's production:

A fairly simple guideline for non-penalty scoring rates as a Forward is as follows:
.40 to .49 non-penalty goals per 90: Good.
.50 to .59 non-penalty goals per 90: Very good.
.60 to .79 non-penalty goals per 90: Probable Top 20 in Europe
.80 or above non-penalty goals per 90: Probable Top 5 in Europe

By that simple criteria, Lacazette's goal scoring season was top 20 caliber.  Another thing to monitor is the quality of chances they're generating, which is why expected goals has had so much fanfare. Of course it isn't perfect as no single metric is, but by far it's the best way currently to examine shot quality on both a player and team level. Here are Lacazette's xG numbers along with his shot plot for all non penalty shots. (credit goes to @SteMc74 for the data and shot charts)

Laca 4

credit goes to @SteMc74 for the data and shot charts

Laca 2 A

Laca 3

You can see a clear change from where he was in 2014 to where he is now, a change that ties in nicely with how Arsenal play football. The volume of long range shots that carry low goal probabilities have been replaced with poacher like opportunities instead. It's also important to note that since becoming a central player he has over performed xG numbers every single season and has posted a non penalty conversion rate between 18-22%. The degree to which he beat them the first two seasons were never going to be replicated but there is enough evidence to present an argument that Lacazette is an above average finisher. In fairness he also has played in Ligue 1 which isn't renown for sturdy goalkeeping so perhaps that helps a bit too. Regardless, his finishing ability might bypass some concerns about his shot volume not being quite up to a stellar level.

13-14

This was Lacazette's first season playing mainly as a central player, often playing as a second striker of sorts next to Bafetimbi Gomis. Watching Lacazette at this time and you can see both the initial promise of what he would eventually become and the struggles of honing down a new position. There were games during the season where Lacazette played as an inside winger on either side of the flank, particularly when Lyon switched into a 4-3-3 shape whenever Jimmy Briand was on the pitch, but these instances were rather infrequent. Lyon even experimented with a 4-2-3-1 formation without Gomis versus Nice in the beginning games of the season where Lacazette a lot of times did play as the lone forward despite being listed as a RW.

Lyon weren't a particularly good offensive team in 2013-14. They only scored 56 goals on the season which while ranking 4th in Ligue 1 is still a pedestrian output. Despite taking the 5th most shots in the league, their xG numbers were pretty poor too at only 1.09 per game. Watching Lyon's buildup play and you can see why that's the case, especially when it came to Lacazette trying to navigate playing with a more traditional striker. There would be numerous times where Lacazette would call for the ball to be played to his feet so he could run at defenders with speed, only for that pass to not be selected and instead shifted out to the fullbacks.

The end result a lot of times would be a cross intended for someone like Gomis to get on the end of it,  a low percentage chance at best. Whenever Lacazette did get the ball, the quick hitting 1-2 combinations rarely materialized, often it'd just be a pass back to someone like Clement Grenier and the tempo would stall. It can be argued that the side was more tailored towards Gomis and Grenier while Lacazette was just there as a secondary figure. Lacazette had a tendency whenever Gomis was occupying the middle to shift out to a wide position and just stand there with little movement. On occasion Lacazette would gather the ball from the left wing on a fast moving attack and his first extinct would be to find Gomis with a cutback pass.

Having said all that, there were moments where you could see the type of close control and body shifting that would make him the key figure at Lyon in future years. The ability to shift and juke opponents in tight areas whether it be 45 yards from goal or just outside the penalty area were exquisite. Also for a guy who's listed at around 5'9, his lower body strength already was quite impressive as he could hold off defenders when receiving a ground pass with his back to goal.

Overall, given the circumstances both on the field and Lyon's financial difficulties in general, turning Lacazette into a striker was a victory for Lyon which would pay big dividends going forward.

14-15

The season that made Lacazette a household name featured a different cast of characters from the previous season. With Remi Garde departed, Hubert Fournier took over and Nabil Fekir and Clinton N'Jie became important members of the squad. Christophe Jallet was the everyday RB while Grenier and Gueida Fofana were injured for the majority of the season. Yoann Gourcuff was still there but in typical Gourcuff fashion, he played less than 1000 league minutes due to an assortment of injuries.

Perhaps the biggest change rebuilding the attack having seen Gomis move to Swansea. It allowed for Lyon to start playing Fekir in his spot instead which combined with Jallet's inclusion shifted the club to an even more ground based attack that incentivised cutbacks and discouraged long traditional crosses. This suited a striker like Lacazette and although the early results weren't quite there yet for Lyon it looked better than it did for major parts of the previous season.

There were games where Lacazette was held in check, notably in their matches against Olympique Marseille. The unorthodox man-to-man oriented press employed by Marcelo Bielsa disrupted Lyon's passing game, and thus made Lacazette more of a peripheral figure. While not employing the same pressing methods, similar results occurred versus PSG and Saint Etienne. The Marseille fixtures in particular were noteworthy because it forced Lyon to add a new wrinkle: to use fast moving counter attacks.

That new dedication to playing faster when the opportunities arose made Lacazette look like an irresistible force during numerous games. His hat-trick versus Lille, two goals against Caen and a host of other performances in the first half of the season profited from the added creativity around him paying huge dividends. This is the perfect illustration of how devastating Lyon were at time on the counter.

There were still lingering issues with Lacazette's play even with the gaudy goal totals. He struggled against teams with a low block defense in the 2nd half of the season and he was certainly running hot as evidenced by vastly outpacing xG numbers to that degree. Still, Lyon emerged as surprising contenders for the Ligue 1 title alongside Marseille, taking PSG to the final weeks of the season while getting themselves back into the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2011-12. Alongside Nabil Fekir, they emerged as the best forward duo in France that season and the future seemed bright. European football was on the horizon and a new stadium was to open in January 2016. Lyon could hope to rebuild back to their previous heights.

15-16

French football can take credit for the fact that they develop prospects relatively well. As a result their national team is stocked with future young talents for perhaps the next 10-12 years. One thing it isn't good with domestically is that as a result of finances, Ligue 1 clubs (bar PSG) have a pretty hard time keeping squads together for multiple seasons. One only has to look at what's happened to Marseille or Monaco over the past couple of summers and to see an illustration of that.

So it was a really big deal that Lyon kept the majority of their squad ahead of 2015-16. After the seasons they had, it would've been very easy for them to sell super high on Fekir and/ or Lacazette like they did with Clinton N'Jie. However Lyon inked numerous players to contract extensions, kept hold of the striker duo, and with their newfound finances they even added to the squad. Lyon bought Mathieu Valbuena, Sergi Darder, Claudio Beauvue in addition to other signings in an effort to have greater squad depth for juggling Ligue 1 and European Football. There were even hopes that Lyon could replicate their 2014-15 form and put another scare into PSG's domestic dominance.

However there were issues with that recruitment. Valbuena had been a good Ligue 1 player during his time at Marseille, but his fit at Lyon was at best questionable. His best gifts as a playmaker involved set piece deliveries and crosses from the halfspace towards a taller target, which didn't fit Lyon since Lacazette's transition to becoming the only traditional striker. In many ways he would have been a better fit on the Lyon sides of 2-3 years ago. Beauvue also had his issues trying to be the striking partner in the 4-4-2 diamond and settled so badly, he eventually ended up departing to Celta Vigo in January. You add those things together alongside the devastating knee injury to Fekir in early September, and you have a recipe for disaster which befell Lyon during the first half of the season. Lacazette suffered during this period too, most notably with back issues, and scored only 6 goals prior to the winter break including a hat-trick versus Saint Etienne.

Lyon made several changes during the winter break: they fired Fournier and hired Bruno Genesio as manager, switched to a 4-3-3 formation which allowed Rachid Ghezzal and Maxwel Cornet to emerge thus easing Valbuena off of the starting XI, and subsequently took off again: suring the second half of the season they were behind only PSG with the second most points and goal differential in Ligue 1. Fitness and form regained, it's here where we see the current and desirable version of Lacazette as a player:

  • Version 1.0: A young second striker learning the ropes with clear talents but settling for impatient shots
  • Version 2.0: A counter attacking machine with more nuance to his game but struggles still against certain defenses.
  • Version 3.0: A goal poacher with improved link up play + movements, less reliance on counter attacks to generate quality chances but still really good at it, and a much better sense of when and where to shoot.

Of his 21 Ligue 1 goals in 2015-16, none of them came from outside the box and many of them came from making straightforward runs or even snatching up rebounds. The art of the striker: being at the right place at the right time. Lacazette came full circle as a player with his hat-trick versus Monaco in week 37. Billed as the game to decide which club qualifies straight into the Champions League group stage, his three goals capped Lyon's 6-1 thrashing and were brutally efficient, a contrast to previous hat-tricks where the aesthetics were considerably higher.

It wasn't quite the season he imagined, and despite his goal scoring streak in the 2nd half it wasn't enough for him to make it to the Euro 16 France roster, but Lacazette's stock has still never been higher, and nor has his price tag, now thought to be in the £40M range.

Conclusion

Alexandre Lacazette has become a very good goal scoring striker who year after year has improved in noticeable ways, whether it be his general link up play or his ability to shoot from better areas. It's also helped that this rise has coincided with Lyon's improvement as a club offensively over the same duration span and a growing diversity in their attack. As the team has got better around him, it's helped spur his evolution as a striker from a inefficient shot taker to a ruthless finisher. There are some questions surrounding the quality of fit that he'd be to Arsenal, given obvious differences in style to Olivier Giroud or similar types, but it also should be said that Lyon have evolved in a way that somewhat resembles what Arsenal, which can be seen both visually and the in the growing centrality of their shot selection in the 18 yard box.

If we highlight concerns with Lacazette, his shot numbers over the past two seasons have plateaued around 3 shots per 90 minutes, which is fine but a way off the rates of the truly elite strikers in Europe, though maybe that can be partly explained by Ligue 1's slower pace as a league. Size could be a bit of an issue if he does go to the Premier League next season, though judging by the success of very recent Ligue 1 imports to England maybe that's really nothing to worry about. The Premier League hosts perhaps the best stable of goalkeepers in the world and it'll be a better barometer as to how good of a finisher Lacazette truly is. If his finishing skill is genuinely in a higher echelon, then the shot generation concerns will subdue.

But will he move? It's entirely possible that he'll spend another season at Lyon, their financial crisis is a thing of the past and while no one would confuse them for PSG, they can go back to the smart player trading that made them 7 time league champions during the 2000's and a perennial Champions League knockout stage participant. Whatever the future holds, and whichever team ends up with Alexandre Lacazette, they are looking at a 25 year old striker landing in his peak who has shown a consistently high goal output over three years. Arsenal missed out on Jamie Vardy, but can they afford to ignore their pressing need for striking reinforcements? Reports today suggest Lacazette is keen to leave and he could well be the answer for Arsenal.

Someone tell Arsene.

StatsBomb at 3

What a difference three years makes.  Starting as a place to simply host good stats writing, the site still does that, but has become possibly the most respected place for football analytics on the internet. That’s not hype, it’s just truth. There isn’t anywhere else like StatsBomb. One of the things that makes the site different is we don’t publish data, we do analysis of the game. Often painstakingly detailed work that is unflinching in the level of reader it requires. It’s not Popalytics or bullshit infographics (okay, mostly not) - it’s always quality work. Articles published on the site are good enough to be used by professional clubs, while still hopefully being fun and readable enough for a widespread audience. If you had the real names of all the followers to our Twitter account, you’d find an awesome collection of smart people working in and around professional football who follow the site. Teams initially intrigued by many of the ideas published here have now copied them and made them their own. Professional football clubs have also hired a number of contributors for jobs over the last three years, which might be the thing I’m most proud of. Giving people a chance to live their dream of working in football is pretty special, as I know from personal experience. It’s not just football StatsBomb has affected, it’s also the media. Back when we started, non-penalty goals were not a thing. To my knowledge, Per 90s didn’t exist anywhere outside of a rare Opta piece. We wrote about better ways to analyse the game while learning to do so ourselves, the public responded, the data sites made changes, and the media ever-so-slowly followed suit. First a thank you to all the writers that have contributed over the years, without you the site obviously would not exist. We have never monetized the site because if we tried, our use of data would suddenly become very complicated, and honestly there are few effective ways of monetizing websites now that work . Guys who write here do it for free. They do it because they want to challenge themselves and ideas about football in ways almost no one else does in public. So many man hours have been spent gathering and studying data prior to writing anything on this site, it’s impossible to consider what is produced here as anything other than a labour of love. Except, very occasionally, when they are an equally motivated labour of hate. Also thank you to the fans that have helped us out, especially with technical insight and programming work over the years. A very special thank you to James Yorke, without whom the site probably would have died when Colin Trainor and I disappeared inside of clubs. James's work makes me very happy I left the site and all the work up when I was hired, which often didn't happen in other sports when people went professional. Finally, a thank you to all of you readers, whether you were there at the beginning, or have just become a fan of the site in recent times. There would be almost no point doing any of this without people who were excited to engage with the material. Further Thoughts The world is different now than when I started the site three years ago. I feel like we used to get a lot more social media shares from bigger accounts that would push us along. Those accounts were rewarding quality work with wider publicity. For some reason that seems to happen a lot less often now, and I don’t know how to change it. In terms of audience, our Twitter followings have grown immensely over the years, but the actual average readership for an article has not. Maybe that’s a problem with the choice of material – I was writing a lot about transfer prospects back in summer of 2014 before it became my actual job, and I’m a bit more reticent to give that away now, so that clearly has an effect. But maybe we just stopped growing at some point and neither James nor I am aware of what to do to plug us back into the machine while not sacrificing quality of content for hits. Some work on the site will always appeal to a niche audience, but it would be nice if our trending suggested we were consistently less niche than before. In most cases, the only thing anybody gets from publishing here are kudos and maybe a touch of popularity. If you like someone’s work, tell them, but also nudge it along to other interested parties if you can. Post A LINK to Reddit, or to the Football365 forum, or some other high traffic venue that brings people to the site. DO NOT, if you can help it, post whole swathes of articles to anywhere because that traffic never hits us. Less traffic = less impetus to write = less content = eventual death of the site because what’s the point? It costs you nothing to read us. If you like the content, please give back in whatever way you can. I was also entirely sincere in the podcast today about wanting to hear from people in what they'd like to see more of from the site. No ideas are bad ideas, and after 3 years, maybe some of your ideas will add a new impetus to material for the coming season. All the best, Ted Knutson Owner, StatsBomb.com July 15, 2016 mixedknuts@gmail.com @mixedknuts   Postscript - Honest Personal Stuff Working in football is an addictive drug. It’s especially so when you think that you have an edge, and believe you can dramatically improve whatever club you work for. Right or wrong, that’s where I am at right now. Those of you who follow me on Twitter can probably sense my frustration recently at the fact that I don’t have a club to work with this season. This is especially painful when I see mistake after mistake in the transfer market fly by on my Twitter feed. It sounds arrogant to put it in writing, but at this point it’s based on years of hard work and data: I am literally one of the world’s experts at using statistics in football, and especially in recruitment. With my skillset, I can

  • Find a club better players.
  • Make a club money in the transfer market.
  • Create actual goals on the pitch via tactical improvements including something I have avoided talking about much at all, but had amazing success with at Midtjylland: SET PIECES.

How much is a single goal worth in the Premier League? In the right environment, my approach can generate lots of them. Sadly, I am once again on the outside looking in. The problem is that football is football, and it takes someone pretty special to trust the word of a relative outsider that things can be done better in almost every club in the world, across the board. You see, football is a traditional industry. The way things have been done is generally assumed to be the best way, often with little critical thought being given to WHY this belief exists or whether it is even correct. Knowledge is passed down from master to apprentice, again often without reflection on whether it’s the best way – it’s simply the way they know how. What we've learned about traditional industries over the last 30 years is that they are incredibly ripe for disruption. Add data and technology to traditional industry and BOOM, you suddenly have something much more efficient and effective than before. In certain cases, basic disruption creates wildly unexpected positive benefits the traditional approach never imagined. Football is in that spot right now. But in order for that to happen, people at the top have to first be convinced the problems exist. Then they have to realize traditional football gurus are unlikely to know how to solve these issues, and often don't notice the issues exist in the first place. And finally, people with solutions need to be empowered to make change. This isn't an "advisory capacity" approach. It requires decision making power and ability that is rarely seen on the football side of clubs. From my experience this summer, it still feels like the football world is a long way from being ready to do that, even with strong evidence backing up the arguments. The issue isn't isolated to football - we're still seeing it crop up constantly in hockey, and we saw it for ages in baseball until eventually everyone basically admitted the stats and technologists were right too damned often to ignore any more. NBA was probably the sport that modernized the fastest, but even there you still see media dinosaurs peddling the same old wrong information, week in and week out - information that is often directly refuted by the actual data and decision making from the front offices themselves. In modern media, the universal rule is: Talking heads gonna talk. TV requires content, and a bit like politics, you can lie all you want as long as you get a reaction. Combine all of this with the feeling I’ve had recently that any innovations you release to the public are simply going to be copied and iterated by others in no time at all, with little or no credit going back to the person who did the hard work, and it’s a bit of a downer. Original thinking and innovation take a tremendous amount of effort before you can achieve results. Seeing that immediately copied and spun into the ether makes me question what the fucking point of innovating is in the first place. I’m on holiday the next two weeks and will take some time away from the site and football and see if my mood lightens. Maybe a grumpy disposition is causing me to misread the signs, and that the football world is ready to evolve and improve. My worry - based on my own experience and that of plenty of others - is that even after three years of hard work and a lot of success both on and off the pitch, we’ve barely moved the needle at all. There are only so many times you can stubbornly bang your head against a wall before you start to ask yourself whether that’s a healthy thing to do in the first place.  

*NEW* Rumour Has It, StatsBomb Transfers Podcast 4

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/273794195" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /] In a regular new feature podcast James Yorke and Ted Knutson take a look at summer transfer stories with a statistical angle. Pelle, Tadic, Sane, Bacca,  Koulibaly, Andre Gomes, Middlesbrough and more! Downloadable on the soundcloud link and also available on iTunes, subscribe HERE And if you enjoy, we'd love it if you shared it. Thanks!

Player Aging: Attacking Players

SterlingYaya End of my Hiatus First things first.  Although I never publicly announced it at the time, I’ve spent the last 12 months consulting for a Premier League football team.  My engagement ended at the end of the 2015/16 season and so now I’m able to pick up my virtual pen and begin writing again.  It’s been about 18 months since I’ve done this so please be gentle...   Player Aging Player aging is a thing.  We know that people get physically stronger as they mature from a teenager into an adult and then some time later they begin to lose some of their physical edge.  That much is a fact, but what is open to some debate is when exactly those transitions happen, what is the extent of the improvement and subsequent decline and also whether players’ increasing tactical knowledge and “game sense” as they gain experience can help offset some of their loss in physical edge. There have been other pieces written on player aging.  Simon Gleave did a presentation at one of the OptaPro forums on this topic, and he wrote this follow up piece.  Michael Caley has also written about this, as he has done with just about everything else to do with football analytics, but while most of the current writings tend to focus on the share of player minutes at each age I wanted to have a more detailed look at how some individual components of players’ performances are impacted as they age.   Data Rules and Explanations As always, Opta is the source of the data that I’m using in this study and I’m looking at the Big 5 Leagues for the 6 seasons from 2010/11 to 2015/16.  I wanted to take a look at each position separately as the skills required for each position may be different. I used the Opta starting formational information and included players who started the games, dividing them into the following positions:

  • Full Backs
  • Centre Backs
  • Midfielders (Central: defensive or attacking)
  • Wingers
  • Forwards

I undertook the analysis at a game by game level, so in the games where, for example, Christian Eriksen started centrally his numbers went into the Midfielder grouping, whereas when he played on the left side of midfield his numbers went into the Wingers grouping.  There may be an amount of arbitrary decision making around the position assigned to the players by Opta, but I think my method should ensure that players are broadly assigned to the correct positional grouping. I then excluded any players that didn’t play at least 540 minutes in a given position and analysed the remaining players through the use of a few summary season metrics.  The hope is that we get an idea of how the individual components of a player’s game are impacted by their aging. I grouped all players together who were younger than 20 (identified in the “Teen” group in the charts below) and at the other end of the scale I grouped all players that were older than 32 in the “Old” group.  At my stage in life, 32 actually seems quite young, but that’s probably a discussion for another day! The player’s age for each season is taken as his age as at the 31st December in the season, and the individual metric value generated for each age group is the median value of its population. As there will likely be some variation across leagues I initially analysed each of the five leagues separately, but there was quite a bit of noise as some of the bins were too small so I decided to combine all the leagues to maximise my data size as I want to be able to identify the general trends. In this first part of my look at Player Aging I will concentrate on the attacking positions, Wingers and Forwards.  Other positions should / may follow this article. OK, so now on to the good stuff………   Wingers – Key Metrics Let’s go straight in and look at the key attacking output of wingers; namely Open Play Shots, Open Play Key Passes (regardless of whether those KPs were converted or not) and Scoring Contribution.  Scoring Contribution is defined as Non-Penalty Goals and Assists, and as you are reading this on StatsBomb all three metrics are shown on a Per90 basis. WingerOutput The secondary axis (the one on the right side of the chart) is the axis for Scoring Contribution, whilst the main axis displays the Shot and Key Pass numbers. Open Play Shots The red line represents Open Play Shots per 90 minutes and there is a very tiny increase in this level until players reach the age of 26 (1.95 at 26yo vs 1.85 at 22yo).  After the age of 26 there is a very clear drop off in shot volume for wingers and by the time they reach 29 years old their shot volume has dropped to about 1.6.  There is then a small uptick at 30, but the pattern is clear; Shot volume for wingers reduces after they reach 26 years old. Open Play Key Passes Immediately we can see that for the blue line (Open Play Key Passes) the change in output for wingers as they age is not as severe as that observed in their change in shooting volumes.  There is a slight increase from teenage years until players reach the age of 23, and then it flattens until 28 when it begins it’s very slow decline. One hypothesis for this almost (but not quite) horizontal line is that there are many different ways to play a Key Pass, for example, they can be created through a burst of speed or through the playing of a well-timed, accurate pass.  The former of these methods is more likely to happen with younger players, whereas the latter may be suited to a more experienced player and so we don’t really see age having much of an impact on how creative wingers are. Scoring Contribution The green line, which represents Scoring Contribution, is the absolute key one in terms of final output for attacking players as it represents how many Non-Penalty goals they either score or directly assist.  The pattern here for wingers is very clear as it steadily increases from their teenage years until they reach 26, at which point it begins its steady decline. In absolute terms, the median Scoring Contribution value for 21 year old wingers is 0.29 Per90, and this increases to 0.34 by the time they reach 26 years old, and then decreases to 0.28 by the time they reach 30.  Those differences may sound small, but over a 38 game season the difference in the output between one 26 year old and one 30 year old winger comes to almost 2.30 goals.   Forwards – Key Metrics We’ll now run the same analysis for Forwards as we did for Wingers. ForwardsOutput It’s probably no great surprise to see that the lines on the Forwards key output charts following similar patterns as those seen in the Wingers’ chart.  Shot volume increases until it peaks at 27 while Key Pass volume broadly remains fairly flat throughout the career of a forward. In terms of the composite metric, the green Scoring Contribution one, there is an anomaly with 32 years and older forwards performing very well (notably in Italy). I assume there will be a large element of survivor bias in this number as any 32 year old (or older) that is playing is more likely be doing so because they are performing whereas the same probably can’t be said for the average 30 year old forward.  However, leaving this wrinkle aside we can see a general increase in Scoring Contribution for forwards until they reach 28 years of age, at which point their numbers can expect to decline. The extent of the decrease in Scoring Contribution between a 28 year old forward and a 24 or a 30 year old forward is similar to what we seen when looking at wingers.  The median 28 year old clocks up 0.43 Scoring Contribution Per90, compared to 0.37 for both a 24 year old and a 30 year old.  This lack of a peak age forward leading the line for a team again equates to an expected shortfall of 2.30 goals over a full season.   Wingers - Other Metrics Apart from the key output metrics I wanted to look at how a few other metrics reacted, across the population as a whole, depending on the age of the winger. WingerOthers Dribbling Two of the metrics on the above chart relate to dribbling.  The yellow line is the traditional Successful Dribbles stat as provided by Opta while the orange line is one of my processed metrics.  The orange line represents the number of metres that the player dribbles the ball closer to the goal than from where they picked it up; so this shows how much progress towards the goal the player makes when carrying the ball. These two dribble metrics follow a very clear and similar pattern, albeit a somewhat surprising one.  On the whole, wingers will dribble the ball less with each passing year.  Unlike the shooting and Key Pass metrics that we read about earlier in this piece, players do not carry the ball further or more often in their mid to late twenties than they do in their younger years. To me, this is really interesting.  We have seen that wingers’ attacking output (as defined by shots and assists) increase from their early twenties until they reach 26 years old yet we see that they are carrying the ball less often and over shorter distances.  The median winger will have 1.1 successful dribbles when they are 26 years old compared to 1.6 when they are 20 or 21 but their decreased ball carrying does not seem to have an adverse impact on ultimately how creative they are. One hypothesis for this is that they simply become smarter footballers as they mature.  They make better choices as perhaps they no longer feel that they have to prove themselves by beating their man like they did when they first broke into the team.  Perhaps they learn to lift their head and look for better options instead of simply carrying the ball for its own sake. The takeaway from this discovery: So while we look at (for example) a 19 year old Raheem Sterling and marvel at his numbers we should bear in mind that, whilst his end product should increase until he reaches his mid-twenties, we should expect his ball carrying numbers to reduce.   Fouls Won The purple line displays the number of fouls won or drawn by the median winger at each age of his professional life.  Although the line looks fairly flat on this chart there is a slight consistent reduction in fouls won from 22 years old (from 1.8 to 1.45 by the time the winger reaches 30).  Despite the existence of this slight decrease in fouls won as the winger ages it’s clear that the pace of decline is nowhere near as sharp as that shown in the main dribble metrics.  Once again, that’s an interesting result. Does this suggest that it demonstrates players becoming cuter or more “game smart” as they develop in years because they can draw a foul comparatively easier (when controlling for how much they carry the ball) than when they were younger?  Or does it mean that fast players can’t or don’t win free kicks as often as we think they should?   Non-Corner Crosses The last remaining line on the chart, the black one, shows us how many non-corner crosses the median winger plays.  There is a blip at 25 that otherwise distorts a fairly clear increase in the number of crosses wingers play until they reach 27 to 29 years old, after which point the output sharply decreases.  As the value of a cross is pretty marginal I’ll not spend any more time on this one but just wanted to mention it as I pulled the data to get to this point.   Forwards – Other Metrics ForwardsOthers No comment required here as the lines for the dribbling metrics and fouls won for forwards are almost a carbon copy of the wingers’ numbers produced earlier.  This in itself is encouraging as the emergence of similar patterns across two totally distinct data sets gives us confidence that there is signal in what we are looking at.   Conclusion For most readers, this won’t be the first time they have read about Player Aging in football, and as a concept it is quite straightforward.  However, the reason that I undertook this research was that I was unable to quantify the impact that playing a 24 year old or a 30 year old player instead of a player at peak age (assuming both have achieved similar percentile achievements in their age bracket) for its position would have on a team’s expected output. Balancing a squad from an age perspective is difficult; buying to improve your chances of immediate success will have a negative impact on your future chances and buying young talent to maximise resale value means that the team won’t be at their absolute peak for the forthcoming challenges.  It’s undoubtedly a tough line to walk successfully but now when teams make decisions around the age structure of their squad (here’s looking at you, Man City) we can be a little more knowledgeable around quantifying the potential impact of the decisions that are made. Although the charts contained in this piece relate to the median number posted by each each group for each metric I also looked at the 80th percentile and, while the curves were obviously higher than the median ones, the drop off from the peak was roughly a similar amount to those displayed here. Based on the data that I have analysed it looks like the peak age for a winger is 26, whereas a forward peaks a year or two later when they reach 27 or 28 and the expected impact of playing the 24 or 30 year old instead of your peak age player on an ongoing basis will shave approximately 2.30 goals from your attacking output over the course of a season.

July Mailbag - Gotze and Nolito Analysis plus Discount Center Forward Shopping

            Gotze Some football experiments do not work out. The Mario Gotze/Pep Guardiola experiment is definitely one of those failures. It reminds me a bit of the feedback from fans when Pep bought Cesc Fabregas and then tried to shoehorn him into the false 9 role at Barcelona. Fabregas actually did admirably in a completely new role for him, but no one is Lionel Messi, and that was a perception problem more than a performance one. Gotze is probably at his best as a pressing 10 who can occasionally fill in as a creative wide forward when needed. What he is not is a center forward, and at this point it’s probably fair to say that trying to make him one has made Mario miserable, and given him perhaps the worst two seasons of his career. I don’t think he was bad last season – 3 goals and 4 assists in about 1000 minutes is a solid return, and he’s still an outstanding passer and dribbler. On the other hand, everyone at Munich seems to want him to go, and he’s allegedly pissed off and being stubborn about leaving. It’s clear to me he needs to get the fuck out of Dodge. My only concern is that he needs to go somewhere he wants to be, with a team and a head coach that will support him. Klopp might be the best option, but at a club level Liverpool is certainly a step down from mighty Bayern (don't @ me). From the perspective of a buying club, you know he’ll be on big wages and has been a disappointment this move, so you’d negotiate aggressively for a lower fee while telling the player how much you want him. I think he’s a good buy if you can get the fee down to say £20-25M, provided he’s excited to come to your club. If he ends up at a port of last resort… bargain_transfer Probably £10 million, but it still depends on club. Arsenal could make a lot of £10M gambles and only wince a little when none of them pay off. A club like Burnley can only make maybe one before it really starts to create problems if they bust. I was talking to another analyst recently, and we theorized that it might be impossible for Premier League clubs to get player deals with any "value" in them any more, strictly due to the fact that selling teams will hold out for much larger fees since they know everyone has money. Thus an objective value deal in real world terms becomes hard to find, but you can still find heavy "value" relative to the rest of the league, especially if you sell them to bigger PL teams down the road. Nolito With that squad, I would probably not sign Nolito. People forget that money (in terms of fees and wages) is not the only scarce resource at a football club, so are minutes. I quite liked Nolito for the past couple of seasons at Celta, but City are O-L-D. Aguero? 28. Bony? 27. Navas? 31 in November. Nasri? 29. Silva is 30.  That’s just in attack and most of those guys have had injury issues in recent years. Kelechi, Sterling are young, KDB is peak, but as it’s composed right now, the majority of team minutes will come from players who are 28 or older. It’s tough to do that in the Premier League with CL and Cup commitments and succeed. On the other hand, City just don’t care about the funds spent and if Pep wanted him, the price is low enough to just splash the cash and assume he’ll deal with any other issues. Nolito is a clever player and should end up as an outstanding super sub for the next couple of years, regardless of whether he’s good enough/young enough to spend a lot of time in a starting role. I expect to see a staggering amount of money spent by the time City are done buying this summer. Pep’s worth it, but this would have been a lot easier if more forethought and planning had gone into squad composition in the previous 3 seasons. PL_quality_striker Andre Gray was bought last season for a base of £6.25M (with good add-ons) and he’s probably PL quality. The new TV deal will inflate prices paid, but up until last summer, you could probably find players dotted around Europe who could play striker for you at £5-6M and expect reasonable success. Now that figure £8-10M, and there will be fewer undiscovered gems. Recruitment is hard. Every team has similar needs and a lot of money now. This is why it pays to invest in being smarter about it instead of simply throwing more money at the problem and hoping you succeed. tactical_system_players This is quite difficult, and most clubs are naturally risk averse in this situation. If you don’t see the player play in a similar system to the one your club plays, the natural instinct is to assume they can’t do it, especially at the back. It’s a safe assumption, and I completely understand the choice, but it’s not always the best one. Some clubs will break this assumption for special players or when their options are dwindling and they are forced to make sub-optimal choices. The point here - like I mentioned above - is that this is hard, and it actually makes sense to be cautious because if certain players fail tactically, the whole system can fly apart. managerial_prediction I started doing this work back in summer of 2013 with Manager Fingerprints because I wanted to start profiling managers in a similar way to what I was working on for players. Since then, the process and KPIs have been improved dramatically, to the point that we can identify tactical style, strengths, and weaknesses in the data for each manager/head coach and give some advice on whether they will succeed. Manager failures are EXPENSIVE. Not only do you need to worry about paying out the rest of their contract, you also have to pay off all the staff that each new manager brings with them. Doing as much objective due diligence as possible before each hire just makes sense. At the very least, this information highlights some very interesting interview questions you would want to ask every coach as part of your hiring process. swansea_strikers I asked a couple of follow-up questions to Bobby to give me more information on this one.  He says we’re probably looking at a possession-based 4-2-3-1 with Gylfi playing behind the striker, so ideally you want someone with some pace, who can hold up the ball and pass reasonably well, and who won’t get destroyed by PL centerbacks. Tricky stuff, especially trying to fill two positions for only £25M, but we’ll see what we can come up with. Two guys that I would have included, but whose price tags skyrocketed recently are Vincent Janssen (off to Spurs for 22M Euros) and Manolo Gabbiadini (West Ham allegedly in for him at £20M). Money still matters for at least part of the Premier League. Most of the ones that I propose below are low risk type buys. There are others that are higher risk, but a) they are less known and b) your scouting department would have to be really happy with them before you make the leap. Option 1 – Borja Baston Current Owner: Atletico Madrid Age: 23 Estimated Price: £12-15M Borja_Baston_2015-16 I spotted him in Segunda last summer, but the price tag was north of 5M Euros, which was not a fee my previous employer was willing to pay, and he wanted to play in a top league anyway. He did that last season on loan at Eibar in La Liga, banging home goals exactly like he did a league below. La Liga is the toughest league in the world right now - if you score there, you are definitely talented. Age is right, production is right, body style is right. I suspect the only real question is whether Atletico want to keep him in the fold for next season. Option 2 – Sebastien Haller Current Owner: Utrecht Age: Just Turned 22 Estimated Price: £8-10M A bit less heralded than Vincent Janssen, he played on a slower-paced team than AZ, but still put up impressive goal and assist numbers the last two seasons in the Eredivisie. Pace is solid for a big man, and I love his ability to pass around the box. He had two assists late in 14-15 that were jawdropping. The usual stats might not look amazing this year, but I have pretty strong reasons I can't explain for why I am still high on the player. His highlight reel is exceptional. Option 3 – Andrej Kramaric Current Owner: Leicester City Age: 25 Estimated Price: £12M? An elite scorer in Croatia, Leicester snapped him up for somewhere around £7.5M in January 2015. Kramaric did quite well at Hoffenheim on loan last season after struggling a bit at Leicester. I think they pulled the trigger on him too quickly though and… What do you mean already Leicester SOLD him to Hoffenheim for a tiny profit on what they paid? Goooooddammit. NEXT! Option 3.1 - Luuk de Jong Current Owner: PSV Eindhoven Age: 25 Estimated Price: ??? “Didn’t he fail at Newcastle and Gladbach?” Sort of… hear me out. Newcastle have been highly dysfunctional behind the scenes for years. They seem to destroy good forwards on a yearly basis, meaning they either have huge flaws in their recruitment process OR the club itself has systemic issues. Seeing as how they have been relegated again this past season, I’m going to go with the theory that it’s more Newcastle and less Luuk. Meanwhile he has been fucking great at PSV, winning back to back titles and making the knockout rounds of the Champions League. He’s averaged 23 goals and 9 assists the last two years and totally deserves another shot if you can negotiate a reasonable price for him. Maybe he’s happy in Holland, but I think he’s good enough to play in a better league, on a stable, more supportive team. Luuk_de Jong_2014-15 (1) Wissam Ben Yedder Current Owner: Toulouse Age: 25 Estimated Price: ?? Figuring out what Toulouse will sell anyone at is difficult and I have zero guidance on this aside from saying he only has 1 year left on his contract. Definitely less than £10M. Ben Yedder was on the original list of attackers I reviewed way back in summer of 2013 and he’s been a great little value forward ever since. Goal scoring is consistently decent to good in a team that has been almost relegated two seasons in a row. One of the things I love is that he averages about .2 expected assists a season, which means he probably won’t screw up a possession game around the box. If you are looking for a solid performer, especially as a PL backup, I think you could do a lot worse than Ben Yedder.  

Rumour Has It, StatsBomb Transfers Podcast 3

  [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/272571628" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /] In a regular new feature podcast James Yorke and Ted Knutson take a look at summer transfer stories with a statistical angle. Downloadable on the soundcloud link and also available on iTunes, subscribe HERE And if you enjoy, we'd love it if you shared it. Thanks!

Rumour Has It, StatsBomb Transfers Podcast 2

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/271700217" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /] StatsBomb: Transfers Podcast Week 2 In a regular new feature podcast James Yorke and Ted Knutson take a look at summer transfer stories with a statistical angle. Downloadable on the soundcloud link and also available on iTunes, subscribe HERE And if you enjoy, we'd love it if you shared it. Thanks!