Data-driven scouting for Newcastle
After the takeover from PIF, Newcastle United was set to become one of the main players in January’s transfer market. This has indeed been the case, with the Magpies already completing two important signings. In this piece, we use our extensive dataset to scout for interesting players in the positions where Newcastle seems to be looking for further signings. In this regard, we believe that a strong case could be made for both BMG’s Ginter and for Lyon’s Bruno Guimarães.
Newcastle’s new manager Eddie Howe has certainly had a very challenging start to his tenure, with the fixture calendar pitting the Magpies against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Nonetheless, we can infer some of his tactical indications and preferences in the players he has selected the most. One consistent trend seems to be a preference towards players who are more comfortable on the ball, which can be inferred from the increase in fraction of minutes played by the likes of Shelvey and Schar.
With this in mind, we have targeted our data-driven scouting towards a ball-playing centre-back and a midfield playmaker. We also added a left-back to this selection, following reports on the club’s movements in the transfer market. Finally, we provide a few ideas for goalkeepers, which may be more relevant in the future given that the current starter Dubravka is performing at acceptable levels. It is also worth noting that Howe has already worked with Ritchie, Fraser and Wilson at Bournemouth.
New manager Eddie Howe’s game plan appears to entail a higher quality in building up from the back, thus allowing his team to keep more possession of the ball and initiate attacking maneuvres in ways which could be considered more fitting to the usual long ball. According to our dataset, Newcastle’s defenders are almost all classic defenders, keen on stopping the opposition and usually not so confident with the ball. In this sense, the pursue of a central defender such as Sven Botman gives a clear indication towards which kind of profile the Magpies are after.
While it is clear that things cannot be turned around with a snap of the fingers, it is true that with accurate and thoughtful planning this could be achieved sooner rather than later. Therefore, we decided to filter our search following these parameters:
- Players under the age of 30 are largely preferable since they can be part of the club’s long-term plans.
- Defenders with an above average aerial-duel success rate (>60.5%)
- Defenders who are reliable in possession (passing accuracy in own half >90%, in the opposition half >70%)
- Defenders capable of playing incisive and threatening passes which help the team significantly progress the ball (xT pass P90 > 0.07)
Matthias Ginter (27 | B. Monchengladbach | Free agent in July)
The German central defender’s contract expires in June and since the chances of him renewing his contract appear to be rather slim he therefore represents a very interesting transfer opportunity in the current window as Borussia Monchengladbach will want to make some money rather than lose him for free. Since 2017/18, Ginter has attempted 66.8 passes P90, which he completes at a rate of 85.5% (92.2% in his own half, 73.2% in the opposition half). His passes are not only numerous but also valuable, generating 0.09 xT P90. Aerially, he wins on average 62.5% of his 4.58 aerial duels P90.
- Benoit Badiashile (20 | Monaco): Badiashile is one of the most sought-after ball-playing central defenders. A Monaco starter since the 2018/2019 season, he already has accumulated valuable experience and playing time in Ligue 1. He stands out for his distribution (68.3 passes P90, 87.6% accuracy), which is not only large in volume but also incisive (0.09 xT pass P90). On the defensive end, he doesn’t rush into tackles (1.14 tackles P90), but rather seeks to contain and then recover the ball (6.06 ball recoveries P90). He is also very solid in the air as his 69.0% success ratio confirms.
- N. Aguerd (25 | Rennes): The Moroccan central defender has quickly imposed himself as a regular starter at Rennes and is among the top passers in the league, he has a passing accuracy of 90.1% from an average of 73.3 passes P90 in this season. So far, he has averaged 0.07 xT P90 proving his ability in helping his team progress the ball. He also is a strong player in the air, displaying an aerial success rate of 65.2% as well as scoring 0.08 headed goals P90. Still only 25, Aguerd has proven to be a very underrated player who is helping Rennes contend UCL spots in Ligue 1. He also featured among our Hidden gems
In order to pursue a style of play more geared towards ball-possession, it is fundamental for the pivot of the midfield three (Newcastle has been adopting a 4-3-3 formation as of late) to guarantee good ball distribution and progression, while also providing cover to the defensive backline. To find the appropriate profile we searched players who met the following criteria:
- Players under the age of 30
- Passing accuracy in their own half: >90%
- Passing accuracy in the opposition half: >75%
- Progressive passes P90: >3
- Soccerment Passing Index: >50
- Soccerment Defending index: >30
Bruno Guimarães (24 | Lyon)
The Brazilian midfielder has quickly become a central part of Lyon‘s team ever since his arrival both under Rudi Garcia and Bosz. Confident in possession and capable of evading pressure (77.8% dribbling success rate out of 2.06 attempts P90), Guimarães is a precise passer (95% in his own half, an impressive 84.2% in the opposition half, 74.2% on long balls for an overall average of 89.5%). He is also incisive with his passes, averaging 0.15 opxA P90, 0.10 xT P90 and 0.4 through balls P90 (among the top 3 of his position in our database). Defensively, he is aggressive attempting 3.30 tackles P90 and recovering an impressive 7.35 balls P90. His extremely desirable profile coupled with a relatively young age has put him on the wishlist of numerous clubs and therefore he won’t be easy to acquire.
- Florian Grillitsch (27 | Hoffenheim | Free agent in July): The Austrian midfielder joined Hoffenheim in 2017 and since has been an important part of their midfield sporadically slotting in defense. He is very useful on both sides of the pitch: Defensively, he completes 7.42 ball recoveries P90, 2.14 interceptions P90 (more than twice as Shelvey) and attempts 2.54 tackles P90. In possession, he records a passing accuracy of 86.1% out of 60.6 passes P90. He often goes for long passes (7.14 P90) which he completes at a rate of 65.7%. He thus averages 0.09 xT P90 and 0.08 opxA P90. His contract expires in June making him a very interesting transfer opportunity.
- Leandro Paredes (27 | PSG): The Argentine midfielder joined PSG from Zenit in 2019. He is an elegant passer which averages 98.1 passes P90 completed at a rate of 92.1% (95.4% in his own half, 87.8% in the opposition half). He is capable of completing incisive passes (0.11 xA P90, 0.08 opxA P90, 0.13 xT P90 [of which 0.11 xT pass P90] and also from long range (67.5% out of 7.79 attempts P90) taking advantage of PSG’s world-class forwards. He also has a thunderous shot which enables him to attempt from long-range or in set-piece situations. Defensively, he recovers 7.43 balls P90 and attempts 2.26 tackles P90.
- Harry Winks (25 | Tottenham): The English midfielder is a confident passer, he attempts an average of 72.2 passes P90 completed at a rate of 89.6% (93.1% in his own half, 86% in the opposition half). He averages 0.08 xT P90 and 0.07 xA P90. Defensively, he averages 6.76 ball recoveries P90, 1.37 interceptions P90 and 1.55 attempted tackles P90 (completed at a rate of 62.2%). A move to Newcastle could give the talented midfielder valuable playing time.
For this position we decided to look for profiles which could be accustomed to a possession-based style. Therefore we applied the following criteria:
- Players under the age of 30
- Passing accuracy: >80%
- opxA P90: >0.12
- xT pass P90: >0.05
- Ball recoveries P90: >5.5
Caio Henrique (24 | Monaco)
Caio Henrique is a Brazilian left-back who after developing in Brazil and with Atletico Madrid’s academy was signed by Monaco and soon became a regular starter. The Brazilian is a capable passer (83.4% accuracy), who thrives in creating chances for his teammates (0.16 xA, all from open play). Defensively, he recovers an average of 5.58 balls P90. He is more keen on tackling (1.72 attempted tackles P90, 68.6% success rate) rather than intercepting (0.66 P90).
Owen Wijndal (22 | AZ Alkmaar)
Owen Wijndal is a product of AZ’s renowned academy, after making his debut with the first team in 2017 he soon became a regular starter on the left flank. He is equipped with good technique which aids him in his passing (86.6% accuracy, 0.15 opxA) and dribbling (65.2% success ratio). Defensively, he displays slightly above average interceptions (1.49 P90) and ball recoveries (5.87 P90) while his tackling his comparable to average (60.5% success rate).
Current starter Martin Dubravka does not stand out as an evident weak link in Newcastle’s lineup, with an SPR of 52 and 0.04 goals prevented per xGoT faced this season. Aged 32, the Slovakian certainly has several seasons left in his career, but should the Magpies decide to acquire a goalkeeper to secure the role for the next decade, the market offers several options.
The best one in terms of age, shot-stopping ability, and affordability of the transfer appears to be Granada’s Luis Maximiano. At 22, the Portuguese is in his first season as regular starter in a top European league, and ranks first for goals prevented per xGoT faced among goalkeepers born after 01-01-1997 with at least 900 minutes played.
Possible alternatives may be Manchester United’s Dean Henderson, who should be keen on a move to become a regular starter and finally get out of David de Gea’s shadow, and Feyenoord’s Justin Bijlow, with the two goalkeepers showing similar shot-stopping stats as Maximiano.
|Player||Goals prevented per xGoT||SPR||Age||Nationality||Current team|
|Luís Maximiano||0.22||51||22||Portugal||Granada C.F.|
|Dean Henderson||0.21||50||24||England||Manchester Utd|
Kieran Trippier (31 | RB/RWB)
Kieran Trippier was announced on the 7th of January as Newcastle’s first signing of the winter transfer window for a reported fee of €15m. Arriving from Atletico Madrid, Trippier is confident on the ball and stands out for his passing abilities, both in open play and set-piece situations. His ability in striking the ball and well-timed delivery enables him to average 0.15 xA P90 and 0.12 xT P90. In possession, he should prove an upgrade on Manquillo allowing the team to be more fluid and having a player who can help progress the ball. Furthermore, he should be entasked with taking set-pieces.
Chris Wood (30 | FW)
The striker from New Zealand has just been signed by the Magpies from Burnley, following the trigger of his release clause reported to be in the region of £30m. His profile resembles that of a typical target man: In this season, he contests 12.0 aerial duels per 90 minutes, coming out on top 6.04 times per 90 minutes (0.17 headed goals P90). Since the 2017/18 season he has scored 0.39 opxG P90 performing in line with his 0.40 opxG P90. While Wood may be functional for the team, it is yet to be seen if it can justify the fact that he was the 3rd highest paid striker above the age of 30 of all time.
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