Data analysis: identification of 5 central midfield targets for Aston Villa


We are now days away from the end of the winter transfer window and some teams are still actively looking for opportunities to strengthen their squad. One of the most active sides in English football’s top flight over the next few days is Aston Villa who are looking to strengthen their central midfield squad before looking to move up the Premier League table. The winter transfer window is usually a tough market to sign as teams don’t want to lose their best players when there is so much left to play, this is of course combined with the fact that signing a replacement player once selling a first-team player is difficult at the moment.

Generally, clubs will want to focus their activities in the summer when there is more time for squad building and assimilating players into your squad. There are, however, specific exceptions to this general rule and one of the main exceptions occurs when a club has changed manager and therefore needs to alter its squad structure in order to add players better suited to the new player’s preferred style of play. man. At this stage, it should be added that this difficulty of having to change direction in terms of recruitment can be avoided by clubs having a clear succession plan in terms of appointing managers who correspond to a specific model in terms of style. controlled game. at board (or sporting director) level. That’s not quite the case for Aston Villa, as they’ve gone from Dean Smith to Steven Gerrard. This, of course, partly explains why the club have already added Lucas Digne and Phillipe Coutinho in this window.


The other issue surrounding recruitment in the January transfer window is, of course, value. The general belief is that it’s hard to find value in the market at this time of year, but in truth that’s not entirely true. Value within football tends to be based on valuations transfer market and I’d bet a lot of people reading this don’t quite understand how much trust is placed in these ratings by clubs and agents around the world. In truth, the concept of market value is more nuanced than this single number. Value is very much based on the economic principle of supply and demand and with the short time frame of the January transfer window these principles are reinforced and the focus is on the buying club must pay a premium to get a player who has been playing football regularly so far this season. The selling club, on the other hand, must consider whether they can replace these minutes within their squad or if they would then have to enter the market themselves. This process alone drives up the price of a player.

CM options for Aston Villa

Moving on to the crux of this article, we will now look at the central midfield options for Villa with a number of criteria in place to filter our data set. We are considering players from the top 5 European leagues as well as the top flights from Austria, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands. We focus on younger players with a maximum age of 24 and players who have played at least 600 minutes so far this season. All data comes from Wyscout.

Signing a central midfielder is actually one of the hardest things to do in football because there are so many different roles in that area of ​​the pitch. As such, we will take a balanced approach and recommend a set of players who could fulfill different roles for the club.

First, we will look at the goal threat of midfielders using a combined metric of goal contributions per 90 vs expected goal contributions per 90. This is a metric that is simply created by the combination of goals per 90 and assists per 90 (for goal contributions per 90) and goals expected per 90 and assists expected per 90 (for goal contributions expected per 90).

This allows us to build a picture in terms of the most effective players in the final third and when we look at the dataset we are using we can see that players like Lovro Majer, who impressed in his first season at Rennes, stands out in this respect.

One of the first choices we have for Aston Villa, if they are looking for a central midfielder who will provide goal threat, is the 21-year-old Turkey international. Orkun Kocku, a. player about which I have already written for this site. The young midfielder is currently under contract with Feyenoord in the Eredivisie and he has established himself as a regular at club and international level. His 90-per-goal contributions of 0.40 are obviously very strong and the fact that his 90-per-90 expected goal contributions are just over 0.48 suggests there’s still room for these metrics to meet in the middle. .

Next, we’ll take a closer look at the central midfielders who create a threat when they enter the opposition’s penalty area. While we look at another combination metric in penalty area entries, created by combining crosses per 90 and passes to the opponents’ penalty area per 90, then expected assists per 90. By the way, it’s best , in my opinion to use expected assists as opposed to assists as it removes the variable of which player was ‘assisted’ being able to complete the chance.

This time we’re luring three of our five midfield options with Orkun Kokcu once again performing with 3.82 penalty box entries per 90 and 0.29 xA per 90. Then we have the 20-year-old Austrian central midfielder Nicholas Seiwald of Red Bull Salzburg. It has been the Austrian’s breakout season in Salzburg midfield after Enock Mwepu left to join Brighton in the summer. So far this season, Seiwald is averaging 5.79 box entries with an xA for 90 of 0.13. Finally, we have 23-year-old Swedish international midfielder Matthias Svandberg from Bologna who averages 3.70 penalty box entries per 90 with an xA per 90 of 0.10.

We will now look at midfielders who are progressive with their passing styles by comparing the bread and butter of a midfielder’s game with passes per 90 and then consider the % of passes played that are labeled as progressive. Obviously, we are looking here to identify midfielders who move the ball into dangerous areas of the pitch for their team.

Once again we have Orkun Kokcu featured with the Turkish midfielder averaging 68.89 assists per 90, with 15.07% of those qualifying as progressive. Then we move to the bottom right of the graph to look Matthias Svandberg. His passes per 90 are below average, but Bologna aren’t a very possession-heavy team, with 30.78 per 90, but their progressive passing percentage of 16.93 percent is still strong. Then we see another midfielder entering the shortlist with the 24-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder Ibrahim Sangare with. Sangare is a fit for the Premier League midfielder with an exceptional physical profile although his ability on the ball and intelligence of the game are often underestimated. He is averaging a high passing level on 73.38 passes per 90, with 14.24% of those qualifying as progressive.

Now let’s look at which midfield players are effective in both phases of the game by comparing defensive duels per 90 with progressive actions per 90, a combination metric that takes into account progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90 , to show which midfielders are box-to-box type.

Ibrahim Sangare is the standout player in this group on our shortlist with 7.99 defensive duels per 90 and 12.40 progressive actions per 90 showing he is effective in and out of possession for PSV. We can also see that Orkun Kokcu is in the bottom right of our chart with 5.22 defensive duels per 90 but 12.32 progressive actions per 90. He is much more comfortable in possession than against the ball. Finally, we have the fifth player on our shortlist is the 21-year-old French midfielder Maxime Caqueret who has 9.05 defensive duels per 90 and 7.83 progressive actions per 90.

Finally, we will, again, look at which midfielders are working hard against the ball while advancing the ball into the thirds for their team as we look at possession-adjusted interceptions and forward vs progressive passing ratio for our data set. Ibrahim Sangare is on our chart again with 8.26 possession-adjusted interceptions per game and a 48.33% forward-to-progressive passing ratio. This means that 48.33% of his forward passes are considered progressive. Then, we have Nicholas Seiwald with 11.36 possession-adjusted interceptions per game and a 52.46% forward-to-progressive passing ratio.


Of the five players we have shortlisted in this article, I would be more attracted to a direct choice between Ibrahim Sangare and Orkun Kokcu as the central midfield option for Aston Villa. If Gerrard wants to add another attacking option from midfield then Kokcu would have the advantage, but for a more comprehensive option Sangare is ready to step in and lead the midfield for a Premier League top 6 side now.


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