Whether you’re a fan of ‘expected goals’ or not, statistical analysis in football is here to stay. I for one think that’s a good thing, especially when it comes to recruitment.
So, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the players we’re currently being linked with and see how they compare to the players we currently have, who are either in that position or offer very similar attributes.
In this article I will be looking at two players that have recently been linked - George Dobson of Walsall, who I will be comparing against Grant Leadbitter; and Marcus Maddison of Peterborough, who I will be comparing against George Honeyman.
George Dobson v Grant Leadbitter
A somewhat out of the blue link who has reportedly been the subject of a rejected bid - George Dobson is a 21 year old English midfielder who currently plays for Walsall, who were relegated last season to League 2 with a final points tally of 47. Admittedly, not the most appealing of starts.
He’s more of a deeper lying midfielder, as his heat map of last season shows;
And because of that it would be harsh to judge him on his attacking output. He scored 0 goals and got 5 assists, so instead it makes more sense to analyse his passing and defensive capabilities.
Therefore, I will be comparing him to Grant Leadbitter on a stat by stat basis, to see if he would be an upgrade on who we already have playing the role of transition between our defenders and our more attack minded players. Grant also has a very similar heat map to George’s.
With passing there are obviously a number of stats available and I of course could go through every one and analyse how many sideways and backwards passes each player did or didn’t make but let’s be honest, that would be really dull and kind of irrelevant. Instead we will start this one with the stat for what Wyscout counts as a ‘Smart Pass’, which is defined as:
There has to be some idea in the pass, something creative, when the player is cutting the lines and winning some advantage for his teammates.
Essentially the type of pass that would be played through the lines to feed an intelligent forward run.
George Dobson’s stat for this makes interesting reading; he averaged 0.97 smart passes per 90 minutes with an accuracy of 27.5%.
Grant Leadbitter, on the other hand, averaged 0.04 smart passes per 90 and because that number is so low it doesn’t have an official accuracy, but essentially there was only one and it was in our 2-0 victory over Bristol Rovers and well, it didn’t reach it’s target. So a 0% accuracy there.
Personally, I think there’s a lot to take from this one, while admittedly George’s accuracy isn’t anything to write home about, it’s more the regular intention to get the team forward with an inventive pass that attracts my attention. I think a lot of the frustration with our midfield in the previous season was the amount of times it seemed to slow our play or choose what was perhaps seen as the ‘easy’ pass.
Verdict: This suggests that introducing Dobson to our midfield could change the dynamism in the middle of the park. A good start for the 21 year old.
Analysing defending is slightly different to analysing passing. It’s very important to cover a number of different stats, and because of that in this section we will look at;
· Defensive duels per 90/Defensive duels won
· Sliding tackles per 90/Sliding tackle success rate
· Interceptions per 90
Straight away the stat that jumps out is the difference in the number of defensive duels (or again in layman’s terms, standing tackles). If you were to roughly work out the numbers of how many each would win per game it would come out to George winning around 2 or 3 per game and Grant winning one per game.
Doesn’t sound like much of a difference but in the grand scheme of things it really is.
Both however are very similar in the number of sliding tackles per game and I’m definitely of the opinion that the fewer the better, because the better players rarely need to slide to win a ball, and both are similar in their reading of the game when it comes to their number of interceptions.
Verdict: This is definitely closer, but for me George still wins this one.
Both players seem to be their sides’ corner takers, and while there are no official stats of how many corners reached their intended targets, from the deliveries I’ve seen, George looks like a solid option for a corner kick taker, which is arguably Leadbitter’s greatest strength.
At just 21 years old, George is 12 years younger than Grant.
Transfermarkt currently value George Dobson at only £100,000, so a fee or around £150,000 to £200,000 may be enough to force a sale.
George Dobson stands at 6’1”, Grant Leadbitter stands at 5’10”.
For me, not only is George the better performer at the moment, he is also much younger with room to grow. He adds a little bit of height in the midfield which we’ve been needing for a while, his passing is far more progressive and inventive, which I think our midfield needed at times last year, and he’d probably be available for quite a small fee.
I would like to clarify I have nothing against Leadbitter as a player as such, but he is 33 years old now and at times that showed. Arguably we have to get rid of any sentimentality when it comes to players on the pitch, but having said that I think he’s great to have in the changing room and I hope he takes up some form of coaching or ambassadorial role at the club upon his retirement.
Signing George Dobson would be a smart move.
Marcus Maddison v George Honeyman
Now the fun stuff - attacking midfielders! Whether George Honeyman is an attacking midfielder or not has been a debate for what feels like about 5 years, so given our constant links to Marcus Maddison and the clamour of every Sunderland fan for us to sign him, I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two.
Also, as can be seen below both players tend to gravitate towards the right hand side of the pitch despite being seen as ‘Number 10’s’ so for example if Maddison was to replace Honeyman, Maddison could fit the system quite comfortably.
In relative terms, it makes sense to just look at purely attacking returns.
However, I will also be looking at certain defensive duties, because I believe it gives a good idea of work rate and attitude when it comes to working for the team.
I remember not too long ago a graphic that showed how far ahead Marcus Maddison was in terms of his through balls in the league, and it got a lot of people excited about our potential signing of him. So, let’s start with that.
Marcus Maddison comes out on top early on, with a through pass per 90 of 2.32 with an accuracy of 25.93%, to George Honeyman’s 0.57 through passes per 90, with an accuracy of 28.57%.
Similar to when we looked at George Dobson’s ‘Smart Pass’ stat, this shows a clear difference in attacking intent of both players. Simply put, there are some games where George Honeyman does not attempt a single through ball. Admittedly this makes sense when Charlie Wyke was the starting striker as that is not his game, but even so the through ball offers a way to stretch and get in behind defenders, and is possibly one of the reasons for Maddison’s much higher assist return.
Dribbles next! It’s always good to see players driving at a defence and actually, both players perform quite well in this instance. There is still a bit of a gap, with Marcus Maddison attempting 7.12 dribbles per 90 (Success rate of 72.29%) and George Honeyman attempting 3.1 dribbles per 90 (Success rate of 68.42%), but arguably this just highlights how incredibly direct Maddison is, as opposed to making George Honeyman look bad. I actually think Honeyman’s dribbling is one of his strengths, using his energy and low centre of gravity to get past players and get us up the pitch.
Having said that, when you take both stats into account you can kind of get an idea of the types of player they are, for example it’s a safe presumption that after a Maddison dribble he will get his head up and look to play a through ball to a forward player, whereas Honeyman may look at a back pass (of which he attempts 7.69 per game to Maddison’s 4.35).
Finally, we will look at both players’ shooting stats. The comparison of total shots over last season again makes for interesting reading. George Honeyman attempted 31 shots over his 38 games (0.84 per 90), whereas Marcus Maddison attempted 93 shots over his 40 games (2.66 per 90). Now when taking number of goals scored into account, this can be taken one of two ways. Clearly Maddison had more shots on target over the season, but he only scored 2 more goals than Honeyman. Then when you add that four of Maddison’s goals were from set pieces (2 penalties and 2 free kicks) there isn’t really any difference in their goal threat from open play. That said, Maddison’s free kicks and penalties were very well taken and that offers us something Honeyman does not.
Verdict: If expectations on a number 10 are higher on attacking returns such as goals and assists, which in my opinion they should be, Maddison proves to be more effective in that number 10 role.
It’s cliché but in modern football attackers are the first line of defence, so I think it important to compare what both players offer in how they work for the team and in getting the ball back higher up the pitch.
First off let’s look at both standing and sliding tackles, and the number of interceptions both players made.
Not too dissimilar when it comes to regular standing tackles or interceptions, but the real difference comes when you compare their stats for sliding tackles.
Honeyman almost attempts one sliding tackle per game while winning 1 in 4; whereas in the whole of last season Maddison only attempted two sliding tackles, neither of which he won, and both were quite rash and dangerous. A defender he is not.
What it does show is Honeyman’s willingness to ‘get stuck in’ and is the better player when it comes to winning the ball back. But you’re probably wondering how relevant this is exactly for attacking midfielders, and honestly, I’d agree with you to a point.
I think attacking midfielders need to show a desire to work for the team and to try to win the ball back high up the pitch, but it does lead me on nicely to my final point…
For me, George Honeyman is not a number 10. That said, I absolutely think there is a space for him in the side, but I think it’s deeper in midfield, where we can really use his energy, his tackling and his dribbling to get us further up the pitch before he passes it on to the more attack minded players.
When it comes to Marcus Maddison, he is clearly a very exciting player in his directness and dynamism. I also think his addition would get the best out of someone like Will Grigg, playing more to his strengths by taking advantage of Grigg’s intelligent forward runs with his willingness to play through balls behind a defence.
Having said that, the issue with Marcus Maddison is the fee that it would take to sign him. Despite an apparent market value of £675,000 according to Transfermarkt, there has been talk of an apparent £2.5 million release clause which, if true, is probably what it would take for Peterborough to sell.
With that in mind, and recent news of Elliot Embleton signing a new deal, I would suggest that if Maddison was only available at say over £2,000,000, saving that money and giving Embleton a chance in the first team to improve on his impressive season at Grimsby last year might be the shrewdest option.
While Embleton’s stats from last season are not as strong as Maddison’s, he’s five years younger with plenty room to improve and I think as a club we should be giving our young, exciting players more of a chance to prove themselves, providing we can still find balance within the team.