Shallow Stats Scouting: Summer 2018 Part 2

Here’s a glimpse at some players from Spain and France who seem interesting based on some superficial statistical measures. (You can read Part 1 here):

La Liga:

Andone had such a peculiar season. Despite only playing around 1600 mins, he clocked up 11.26 xG and his xGper90 of 0.62 was the 5th best in the league. His case is perhaps the poster child for variance: in terms of the underlying numbers, his performance this season was virtually identical to his efforts last year (even though he played roughly 50% fewer minutes this season) and yet last season he scored 12 goals and managed only 6 in 2017/18.

His shot map is also largely quite good as well, although the cluster of red (missed shots) on the right side of the 6-yard box suggests that some wayward finishing is to blame for his underperformance, which is troubling:

Florin Andone isn’t the tallest striker in the world, but he puts his frame to good use, frequently using his strength and low centre of gravity to hold off defenders when he has his back to goal. It also makes him excellent in one-on-one situations which, coupled with his dribbling skill, grants him the ability to be an effective option in wide areas as well as through the middle. It helps that he’s deceptively quick.

He’s perhaps a bit technically unrefined but he seems like an enormous pain the arse to play against. As I was writing this, Brighton announced that they’d signed him for £5.2mil and it’s easy to see why — Andone offers a more mobile version of what Glenn Murray did for them this season. He’s also an absolute menace from set pieces which could help Brighton exploit Pascal Groß’s delivery in a way they didn’t quite manage last season — they only scored 5 times from set pieces, the 2nd worst record in the league.

Pablo Fornals, 22, Villarreal:

Pablo Fornals is one of the most unique and intriguing creative midfielders in Europe right now. In a world of wispy, impish number 10s who like to drift inside, Fornals’ slightly gangly physique sticks out like a sore thumb but it’s his biggest strength. He somehow manages to combine a robust physicality with the vision to spot passes in the final third and the delicate technique to execute those weighted passes perfectly. His xA of 9.29 (4th best) is the headline stat but he gets through a tremendous amount of defensive work off the ball, tracking back to help out his midfield in conjunction with applying pressure to opposition defenders from the front and it’s that work that doesn’t necessarily get picked up in the numbers.

Moving from Malaga to Villarreal, Fornals has done the reverse Pellegrini and he’s exactly the sort of player that the Chilean manager has favoured over the course of his career. Fornals is far too good to play for West Ham though and his combination of industry and imagination makes him pretty much the ideal Pochettino player. Watching him work in tandem with Christian Eriksen would be a joy.

Lucas Pérez, 29, Deportivo La Coruna (on loan from Arsenal):

Considering that they have two players on this list, you’d be forgiven for wondering how Depor managed to get themselves relegated. The short answer is that they conceded 76 goals, more than anyone else in the league, so despite the best efforts of their attacking players like Andone and Pérez, when you’re that leaky at the back, it’s difficult to stay afloat.

I’d honestly completely forgotten that Lucas Pérez was still contracted to Arsenal but he could prove to be a decent option for Unai Emery if he can work his compatriot back into the fold at the Emirates.

Pérez finished the season with the 3rd best xA in the league (9.9, 6 actual assists) and he provided 79 key passes, second only to Messi. Arsenal look a little short of genuine wide options at the minute and they could do a lot worse than giving Pérez another chance.

Álex Granell, 29, Girona:

Newly promoted Girona were the surprise package in La Liga this season and while they briefly aspired to qualify for the Europa League, their performances tailed off slightly and they finished in a comfortable 10th place.

Much was made of the goalscoring exploits of Cristhian Stuani and the workrate of Manchester City loanee Pablo Maffeo, but Álex Granell was a vital cog in the Girona machine who has perhaps been overlooked slightly.

The foundation for Girona’s success this season was their proficiency at set pieces. They scored 19 goals from dead balls, second only to Real Madrid who scored 20. Girona only scored 50 goals in total last season, so their ability to capitalise from free-kicks and corners was vital to their endeavours.

Granell is a set piece taker and a strong crosser of the ball in general, which explains his strong statistical performance. He had the 6th highest xA (7.58) and his 75 key passes (3rd best tally in the league) included 17 from corners and 26 from free-kicks, a ratio that is also evident in his 7 assists (1 from a corner, 3 from free-kicks).

Any Premier League club looking to add another dimension to their attack would do well to look at Granell. Neil Warnock’s Cardiff seems like an obvious fit — Granell’s delivery picking out Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba could give them the edge in a relegation battle.

Ligue 1:

At first glance, it seems like Mohammed wasn’t the only Sala(h) to have a good season. Unlike his near-namesake, Emiliano is a more typical centre forward who spearheaded Nantes’ attack under Ranieri this season. It turned out to be a a bit of a blunt spearhead however, as Nantes only managed to score 36 times in their 38 games. Sala scored exactly a third of those, although his 12 goals (4 pens) represented an underperformance compared to his xG of 15.75, the 5th best total in the league.

The breakdown of his shot numbers looks pretty good, too.

95 shots: 9 inside 6-yard box/74 inside the penalty area (joint-2nd highest)/12 outside the box. He also has the highest number of headed shots in the league with 35, so he provides a significant aerial threat. It all paints the picture of an intelligent, disciplined, productive shooter, a picture that is backed up by his shot map:

Red dot = missed shot

The problem is all that red. It’s not just speculative shots either, there are some presentable chances in there from the heart of the penalty area where Sala missed the target entirely. This becomes more evident in his shooting accuracy: Sala hit the target with only 27% of his shots this season (26/95). For context, Granit Xhaka, who took 58 of his 66 shots last season from outside the box and is generally a horrible shooter, had a shot accuracy of 26% in 2017/18.

The good news is that Sala’s accuracy in 2016/17 was 46% (32/69) and in 2015/16 it was 36% (22/61), so maybe he just had a poor year this season. You could even make the case that he’s due to revert back up to the mean and is likely to bounce back with more goals next season. Shot accuracy isn’t the be all and end all though and it’s often more important for forwards to consistently get themselves into goalscoring positions rather than simply being a “good finisher” and Sala evidently gets himself into good areas frequently.

It would require some more in-depth scouting to determine how much of a worry his shooting ability is, but regardless of that, he’s a great big lump and his high number of headed shots alone shows that he’s a viable target man. Although penalty goals get slightly discounted when looking at stats, it’s worth noting that Sala blasts the fucking skin off the ball from pens, so if you need someone to take spot-kicks, he’s your boy:

Benjamin Bourigeaud, 24, Rennes:

Bourigeaud has a similar sort of story toÁlex Granell: both are players who perform well when looking at xA and Key Passes primarily because they are set piece takers.

The Frenchman had the 10th best xA in Ligue 1 with 7.63 which was broadly in-line with his actual output of 7 assists, 3 of which came from corners. He ranked 2nd the league for key passes with 96, behind the inimitable Dimitri Payet in 1st. 38 of Bourigeaud’s key passes came from corners (13 more than Payet) and 20 key passes came from free-kicks. Rennes didn’t really make the most of Bourigeaud’s talent with the dead ball though — they had 2nd highest number of shots from set pieces (157) but only scored 10 goals from it (7th best record).

This guy is a younger, more high-spec version of Granell — although it’s worth mentioning that Bourigeaud usually operates from the right wing rather than as a CM — and he’s worth signing just for his ability from corners.

Karl Toko Ekambi, 25, Angers:

Ekambi has been the shining light in a poor Angers team over the last two seasons and he looks like a player who is capable of making the step up to a play at a higher level.

This season he ranked 4th for xG with a total of 16.10, just below his 17 goals (3 pens). Angers only scored 42 goals in total so he scored ~40% of his team’s goals by himself.

Ekambi is a technically adept, pacy, direct player who is equally comfortable playing as a central striker or as a wide forward on either wing. It’s easy to see what type of player he is from his numbers: he took 102 shots in 2017/18, 28 from outside the box, 61 inside the penalty area, and 13 inside the 6-yard box (joint-2nd highest behind Moussa Konaté with 14). He also had 10th highest total dribbles (131).

As you can see, he shoots from absolutely everywhere, which is a product of playing multiple positions, as well as being his side’s main attacking outlet. He gets on the end of a lot of chances inside, and on the edge of, the 6-yard box though which is hugely encouraging.

I’d really like West Ham to sign him but he’d be a great fit for Newcastle, Southampton, or Palace.


Defenders are difficult to assess purely through numbers because defending tends to be more systemic than attacking and therefore the number of tackles/interceptions/headers won/clearances is influenced by the defensive tactics utilised by the player’s club. A player taking a specific defensive action frequently isn’t always a positive either; someone who makes lots of tackles may be compensating for their own poor positioning or cleaning up after a sloppy team-mate. Even with that in mind, Frédéric Guilbert’s numbers do raise an eyebrow. He attempted 190 tackles and completed 130 of those successfully (both 2nd in Ligue 1)and he also made 90 interceptions, more than anyone else in the league. Caen’s xGAgainst was the 10th best in Ligue 1 which compares favourably to their actual league position of 16th, suggesting that they did a better job defensively than the goals against column might indicate. At the very least, Guilbert projects as a right-back who gets through an awful lots of defensive work down his side and, at a superficial level, he looks like he could be an intriguing option for a team who want to press aggressively.

Jonathan Bamba bears mention for his attacking exploits. He finished the season with an xA total of 8.14 (8 assists), ranking him in 7th place, just above Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay. Bamba is 22 so has plenty of room to grow and has already shown himself to be a productive winger who can create opportunities for his team-mates with his passing and dribbling. He’s supposedly available on a free transfer this summer and is surely worth a punt for any number of Premier League clubs.

Also, I’ve mentioned Brighton a few times already but they’re clearly a club with their head screwed on. I had a look at the tackling stats for the Premier League and was surprised to see that Dale Stephens attempted more tackles than N’Golo Kanté this season. Here’s the top five:

Wilfred Ndidi: 212 attempted/138 successful

Dale Stephens: 183 attempted/102 successful

N’Golo Kanté: 172 attempted/ 113 successful

Idrissa Gueye: 168 attempted/117 successful

Oriol Romeu: 161 attempted/ 93 successful

Kanté’s success rate is better and the reduction in his total tackles is in part due to the slightly different role he’s played for Chelsea this year, but it’s still impressive that Stephens finds himself wedged firmly in the mix with the more obvious names. Obviously this is influenced by Stephens playing almost every minute of available football and for the amount of defending Brighton have to do, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

With the transfer window now closing before the opening game of the 2018/19 season, and a World Cup to distract scouts and prolong negotiations, clubs need to be smarter and more efficient than ever to maximise their spending power. The transfer window has been open for a week and yet Leicester (signed Porto RB Ricardo Pereira) and Brighton (signed Mainz CB Leon Balogan and Deportivo CF Florin Andone), two of the more intelligently run clubs in the league, are the only sides to have made a signing so far. This summer, the added pressure of a time crunch could prove to be key in separating clubs who make smart, data-driven signings and those who rely on older, more outdated methods. There is plenty of value for money to be found out there, and midtable Premier League clubs could do a lot worse than picking up some of the names on this list if they’re looking for the next Pascal Groß.



I write long, boring, and increasingly deranged articles about football tactics and West Ham @CastIronTactics on Twitter

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Cast Iron Tactics

I write long, boring, and increasingly deranged articles about football tactics and West Ham @CastIronTactics on Twitter