Inside League One: Using Data to Look At Players

By James Yorke | July 27, 2018

Inside League One: Using Data to Look At Players

One of the key benefits of forming a football data company is that you can choose which leagues to collect data for. As such, StatsBomb have added English League One to the roster and collected data for 2017-18, and will continue to do so going forward. Having high quality data for a league that has been under served in the past is a fascinating starting point for analysis, so let’s dive in, identify some players who performed well and discuss their game. This will be the first of two articles written discussing League One via data, so be sure to keep an eye out for the second one next week.

A relevant disclaimer: StatsBomb endorses data use as part of a fuller process that involves traditional scouting methods too. Data has an important role in refining ideas but cannot be the sole driver towards a complete analysis. The profiles here can act as a start off point and show how data can help refining multiple leagues worth of players towards a far more efficient process.

Jack Marriott (Peterborough)

Marriott’s 27 league goals led the division, and his move up a division to Derby appears well deserved. While the league’s top scorer might appear to be an obvious pick, when evaluating players, it’s important to understand the inputs that went into a performance to get an idea of whether or not it’s intrinsically likely to recur.

A look at his shot chart shows how the Peterborough man accrued his impressive total:



Chiefly impressive here is the sheer variety of his goals. He scores from set pieces, he scores from crosses, he scores from through balls. He scores headers, he scores from outside the box, from wide and from close in. He’s also matched expectation: 26 goals from an xG of 25.7. His rate of over four shots per game ranked second only to Wigan’s Nick Powell and his rate of shots related to all touches was over 7%, nearly 2% higher than anyone in the league; he’s a pure striker. Without even going any deeper we can see that his season has been an accurate reflection of the chances his teammates have created for him. If we are to be critical, the volume of wider shots he took, particularly from the right side, is probably too high, but he’s not intrinsically wasteful, and this is a good shot chart for a striker.

He did not manage to score after a dribble, but he showed an ability to carve out his own opportunities in that manner, ranking second in the league for shots inside the box after a dribble with ten. We can see here his next actions post-dribble, and those wide shots crop up. The ability to generate his own shot should not be undervalued though, as it’s likely that this type of chance allows his team to relieve pressure, and lightly implies a good workrate.



Something that more strongly implies workrate are pressure events, and Marriott scores fairly well here. His rate of around twelve opposition half pressure events per 90 puts him in the top 10% of players and fourth for those with over 3000 minutes registered. Like many pure strikers, he doesn’t possess the ball to any great volume, but he does put work in to retrieve it.

Callum Styles (Bury)

Sometimes a young player can raise interest from a brief first team spell and while you would like more minutes to evaluate, what they have done in a short period of time is enough to merit further investigation. Callum Styles to date is chiefly known as the first player born in the 21st century to play in the Football League, which he did for Bury back in 2016. Still just 18, Styles got 900 minutes for Bury in the back half of 2016-17 but then figured only sporadically for Bury during the majority of their dismal 2017-18 season that eventually saw them relegated after finishing rock bottom by nine points.

Styles' time in the team this time round started in March 2018, and from there on in he completed the full 90 minutes in Bury’s last eight games. Bury were all but doomed at this point, but given the chance to contribute, Styles certainly did just that:



Via the pressure data we record at StatsBomb we can see that in the ~850 minutes Styles played, he led the league for pressure events recorded, with 25.6 per 90. We can see from the chart here the areas that he covered (where grades of red equate to exceeding league average). Pretty much the whole midfield band.

Related to this, he also led the league for pressure regains--defined as occasions in which his team regained the ball within five seconds of the player’s pressure event--which suggests that he targeted his pressing effectively within the team. Beyond that, of the 25 players who recorded 20+ pressure events per game Styles ranked second to another young player who played limited minutes, Aidan O’Neill of Fleetwood, for the volume of which turned into pressure regains--around 19%.

The caution here is the small sample of games but this is a good example of where data use can point towards player performance, and start the process towards fuller evaluation.

Cheyenne Dunkley (Wigan)

In truth, this whole article could have been about Wigan players. They won the league and were never out of the top three from the end of September onwards and though Blackburn Rovers pushed them hard to secure the second automatic promotion slot, Wigan were top scorers and had the best defence too.

Nick Powell was a contender for the best player in the division and was joined by defenders Dan Burn and Nathan Byrne and forward Will Grigg in the PFA Team of the Year while Sam Morsy was a stalwart in midfield.

However in a post-World Cup environment where Harry Maguire is one of the most important attackers in world football, the performances of Cheyenne Dunkley were notable. Signed on a free transfer from Oxford United in the summer of 2017, last season was only Dunkley’s second in League One having battled his way up from non-league. He scored seven goals and it’s fair to say he had a method:



A striker would be proud of a shot chart like that. Dunkley’s success here once more represents the value in using set pieces as part of a mixed attacking strategy.

Jay Dasilva (Charlton)

League One is a division that is still used by top clubs as a breaking ground for their young talent, and one unarguable success story last season was Jay Dasilva during his time at Charlton. The young Chelsea prospect rejoined Charlton after a spell there during 2016-17 and after captaining England’s side that won the UEFA Under-19 European Championships during the following summer. He started 34 games for Charlton last season, won their Fans Player of the Year award and graduated to under-21 honours.

Out of possession, left back Dasilva did his job:



At the other end of the pitch, Dasilva showed signs of being well capable of playing within a possession-oriented team. He led his team for final third passes completed (17.2 per game, and ranked tenth within the division) of which 30% were forward, enough to rank second among the top twenty players for final third volume. And these number weren’t padded by crosses, he scarcely attempted them.

He was also able to contribute to chance creation; 1.3 key passes per game (with a value of 0.15xG Assisted) ranked third for Charlton, impressive from left back. He’s also a capable dribbler and ranked second in his team for the percentage of pressure events that led to a regain of possession (21%).

It appears likely that Dasilva will once more head out among Chelsea’s loan army this summer, and his general progress in League One implies that he will be capable of performing at a higher level. His time at Charlton is the ideal representation of how the selective loan of a young player can benefit the player’s owner and the loan club to an equal degree.

That's just a flavour of what you can pull from via StatsBomb's League One data.

Ahead of the new season starting next week, we will return with a further post, and as the season progresses keep checking our social media for updates.

Header image courtesy of the Press Association