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Examining Sunderland’s Strikers: What does the data tell us about how suitable our forwards are?

Guest Blogger Matt Anderson looks at the data for each of Sunderland’s strikers in a bid to work out why we couldn’t get them performing at their best last season.

Sunderland v Carlisle : Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

After looking at the Expected Goals data for us a team it was very clear to see that we were defensively as good as anyone in the league, but we really struggled to be a force that creates chances.

I wanted to investigate deeper as to why we really struggled in this area. I decided that I would begin by examining our strikers first to see how well they did in different facets of the game. We will do this by using Radar Charts that uses the maximum values of the top strikers in League One. The areas that we will look at are xG (Expected Goals), Shots, Assists, Chances Created, Key Passes, Interceptions, Ball Recoveries, Fouls Suffered, Successful Dribbles, and Aerial Challenges Won. All the values that you will see are the average over a 90-minute game.

First off, let us look at strikers that we had last season.

Will Grigg v Charlie Wyke

A lot of people questioned why Charlie Wyke was still playing, but it’s clear to see that his overall influence on games was far greater than Will Grigg’s.

Obviously, they are considered different types of strikers and Phil Parkinson’s style of play may not suit Grigg so let us compare players that maybe considered a similar style.

We will dig deeper into players that compliment Phil Parkinson’s playing style with Charlie Wyke and Kyle Lafferty, who are more of the target man type of player.

Charlie Wyke v Kyle Lafferty

Kyle Lafferty certainly worked hard at Sunderland, brought others in to play well and that can be seen in his Ball Recoveries, Interceptions and Assists.

As big target men you would think they would suffer more fouls on a similar level to Jonson Clarke-Harris (2.9) but that has proven not to be the case.

Unfortunately, Lafferty is just not a goal scorer and at the age of nearly 33 it was a wise decision not to offer him a new contract.

It is clear though that when fit last season, Charlie Wyke was our best goal scoring threat. Looking ahead to this season what will happen with Will Grigg, is he going to start?

Could it be the new boy Aiden O’Brien? So, let us delve into it and compare O’Brien with our current strikers. There is no clear and obvious way to compare O’Brien’s data because he has played the last 3 seasons in The Championship, although I decided it would be best to use his data from the last time when he was in League One in 2016/17.

Will Grigg v Aiden O’Brien

When looking at this graph at this graph I had two thoughts: excited and worried.

We should all look at this and think we might have a good League One striker on our hands in Aiden O’Brien. On the other hand, this was 3 years ago, and we previously signed another striker based off his goal scoring record.

Maybe things will change for Will Grigg but based on what we have all saw on the pitch and his data, he should barely be featuring at all. With Will Grigg out of the picture, let us look at who should be fighting for the strikers starting position.

Charlie Wyke v Aiden O’Brien

Now we are down to the final two for the starting spot - there can only be one winner.

Charlie Wyke is clearly one of the best in League One, with Ivan Toney (6.15) and Jonson Clarke-Harris (7.5), at winning aerial challenges but is not quite good enough in other areas to be starting for us.

Aiden O’Brien will bring a different kind of threat with the ball at his feet and defensively, whilst also being a similar level of goal threat.

O’Brien is statistically, hands down, our best striker - but is he at the level of Ivan Toney?

Ivan Toney v Aiden O’Brien

It is the hope that kills Sunderland fans, and looking at this we should be very hopeful that we have a striker that will contribute 10-15 more goals for us this season. We can see his xG is not on the level of Ivan Toney, but NOBODY was anywhere near that.

Most strikers in League One last season averaged between 0.3-0.5 xG per 90 minutes. O’Brien’s in 2016/17 was 0.28, and if he can perform to the level shown in the Radar Chart then we may just have a new fan favourite.

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