Süper Lig analysis: January update

By Cem Soylu | January 15, 2021

Süper Lig analysis: January update

Welcome back to the Wild East!

What's happened since the last Süper Lig update? We have a new top goalscorer in Aaron Boupendza having just scored 12 goals from 6 starts, a new leader in Beşiktaş who shot up the table from 9th at the time of my previous article, a title holder Başakşehir that, despite having the second best xG in the league, roams right above relegation spots, and more. Let’s take a look at the underlying numbers in the 9-match period since November 27.

Beşiktaş made amends for their terrible start by cruising through this period with 23 points from a possible 27 and found themselves top of the league, while Alanyaspor slipped from the top with 10 points out of possible 30. Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, meanwhile, kept their pace in around the top spot.

Beşiktaş – Sergen Yalçın’s Winning Formula

Let’s start with Rachid Ghezzal who is topping the assist charts in the league with eight to his name. Leicester City didn’t quite get what they were looking for from their Riyad Mahrez replacement and that should not come as a surprise looking at the radar below – not quite the all-rounder even at Süper Lig level.

However, he’s producing a staggering 0.28 open play xG assisted and 0.44 xG assisted per 90 for Beşiktaş so far. Those are elite numbers, and they’d be quite happy if he kept on doing just that. What sort of player you would want on the other flank of a 4-2-3-1 if Ghezzal on the right is creating chances at such rate while having close to no goal scoring potential?

A goal scoring wide forward with box presence and a nous for getting into high quality shot locations? Introducing Cyle Larin, second top goalscorer in the league with 11. Previously a striker, the Canadian reinvented himself this season as a wide forward under Yalçın and he’s finding himself on the end of a ton of chances so far, producing elite output both with his 0.64 xG per 90 and his xG/shot of 0.24.

Besides the perfect fit of these two players in the final third, the majority of the success is coming from Yalçın finding the right formula in buildup play and how his team positions themselves in the opposition half – in fact, Ghezzal and Larin could only start three of these nine games together.

Yalçın found box-to-box skills out of 37-year old veteran defensive midfielder Atiba Hutchinson who contributed with 3 goals and 4 assists, while Hutchinson’s defensive midfield partner Josef de Souza often drops between the centre-backs and has improved the build-up play.

Full-backs Valentin Rosier and Rıdvan Yılmaz have been playing very well in advanced roles to aide the aforementioned roles of Ghezzal and Larin, and striker Vincent Aboubakar has been excellent in link-up play. Players have been rotated in and out of the 11 through this period, but Yalçın deserves credit for fitting the rotation players into the same dynamics and getting results. That said, Beşiktaş have overperformed their underlying numbers by 6 goals in total, so the recent honeymoon might not last forever.

Galatasaray – Best In The League, Too Reliant On Their Positional Play?

Galatasaray boasts the best xG difference in the league by a margin, both in this 8-game period at +1.0 xG difference per 90, and with their season average of +0.87 per 90. Galatasaray fans would not have expected to be the best team in the league after not being able to sufficiently strengthen the squad in the summer, and doubts still remain, with the slightest hiccup leading to heavy criticism of the team by the fanbase.

Yet, Fatih Terim managed to put together a side that’s out to dominate games and definitely looking a strong contender for the title considering the output to date. However, as a symptom of the squad’s shortcomings, Galatasaray might be too reliant on their positional play. Terim is a manager that wants to dominate games, and the attacking options in the team are mostly technical but slow players that lack mobility and stamina, such as Sofiane Feghouli, Younes Belhanda, Arda Turan, Emre Akbaba, and Ryan Babel.

Add striker Mbaye Diagne to that equation, who barely does anything on the pitch besides poach goals, and the fact that Galatasaray is having a disastrous season in set-pieces, and what you end up having is a team that purely relies on positional play to score goals. The team can’t counter-attack, can’t press much, and can’t score from set pieces.

So far, by the underlying numbers, a combination of strength in positional play and a league-best defensive performance seems to be doing just fine and Galatasaray is on a good course if they keep this up, but diversifying would definitely help as they do struggle when the opposition has a good enough plan to stifle their positional play. If Monaco’s Henry Onyekuru comes back in January for a third spell on loan as rumored, he could provide some counter-attacking shots to the mix.

Fenerbahçe – Bulut Flying The Mourinho Flag

One of the biggest talking points within this nine match period was the war of words between Fenerbahçe manager Erol Bulut and Alanyaspor manager Çağdaş Atan after Fenerbahçe’s 2-1 win at home. Fenerbahçe ended the game with 30% possession, which led Atan to moan about the Istanbul giant not making a proper game out of it with their approach and that no title winner in top 5 leagues plays like that anymore.

Bulut replied in a Mourinho-esque way, saying it was the right strategy to beat Alanyaspor and only the win matters. Fenerbahçe looks like the opposite of Galatasaray in attacking terms – open play issues continue with a mediocre open play xG of 1.0 per 90 that is only slightly above league average, but is compensated for by a best-in-class 0.46 xG per 90 from set plays.

On the defensive side, although things were looking really drab in two bruising losses in a row versus Yeni Malatyaspor and Gaziantep containing some alarming centre-back performances, Fenerbahçe is a good defensive unit as a team with second best underlying numbers and an increasingly healthy pressure in the opposition half, as shown below. It’s fair to say the Süper Lig underdogs struggle to create in the positional play they find themselves handed against Fenerbahçe, as they are mostly hardwired to counterattack against these sides.

Averaging only 52% possession to date, Erol Bulut is clearly showing much less interest in dominating games compared to his title rivals, flying the “Mourinho” flag in Süper Lig. Their main source of creativity in open play is crosses from left-back Caner Erkin who’s at 98th percentile of the full-backs in the world with 0.21 open play xG assisted per 90. That’s double that of Trent Alexander-Arnold this season. He’s also responsible for creating the lion’s share of the set-piece xG.

Looking at the above trendline with a 5-game rolling average, we can see that Fenerbahçe’s performance has been on the decline but they still managed to get four wins on the bounce in their last four, two of them against strong sides in Başakşehir and Alanyaspor. A good chunk of the decline can be attributed to the set-piece xG that crashed back down to Earth, with 0.30 per 90 in last 9 games after an incredible 0.60 in the first 8 games. How can they improve in open play to compensate for that? The rumoured transfer of Mesut Özil could certainly help, but there are deeper tactical issues with Bulut’s approach to be confident of sustainably being able to unlock deep defensive lines for the remainder of the season. We will see whether Bulut or Atan proves right, but Atan has a point in questioning the footballing identity of choice.

Başakşehir – A Classic Case Of Variance In Football Stats

To say holders Başakşehir are struggling with their title defence would be an understatement. They find themselves 12th in the table after 17 games played, just six points above safety. They are indeed unlucky this season – they are underperforming their xG difference by 10 goals, but last year’s title win saw them have a goal difference of +31, overperforming their xG difference by 15 goals. Başakşehir actually has almost identical xG difference per 90 with last season, with a very healthy xG right below Galatasaray, but a league average defensive performance is the main problem.

One bright spot for them is their star midfielder Irfan Can Kahveci, who first made the headlines after a Champions League hat-trick against RB Leipzig, and now with Fatih Terim publicly declaring Galatasaray’s interest in him. The transfer looks unlikely due to the gap between Galatasaray’s budget and Başakşehir’s asking price, but let’s take a look at how he compares to Galatasaray’s Younes Belhanda, who he would likely replace as the playmaker in the midfield trio. Neither player seems that interested in the defensive side of things, but Irfan Can grabs the attention as an elite dribbler compared to Belhanda and progresses the ball to final third significantly more than his Moroccan counterpart.

Alanyaspor In Freefall

Alanyaspor’s fall from grace is not like Başakşehir – their initial excellent start was entirely deserved, but so is their demise since late November. Their offensive output has fallen off a cliff, as seen below in their attacking radar. What happened? Teams started treating them like a big club in their tactical preparation, to the extent that even Fenerbahçe did, and they are so far finding it hard to break those defences down. It’s also telling that two of their wins through this terrible period came against Beşiktaş and Başakşehir - teams that were willing to play open.

Aaron Boupendza

Finally, since we mentioned him at the start, here’s Aaron Boupendza’s radar. More of a goal-every-other-game type of underlying performance rather than 1.50 goals per 90 as you can see, but that’s not to take away from the start to his Süper Lig career.

Let’s see if he ends up as one of those that graduate to the big three of Istanbul.

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