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What does the data tell us about Sunderland’s central midfield last season?

After moving on a bunch of key players from the centre of midfield, Brandon Feeley takes a look at the data, and investigates what Sunderland were missing in the 2020/21 season.

Photo by Trevor Wilkinson/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Following on from my previous article about fullbacks, I look into Sunderland’s central midfielders from last season. Like many fans I have spoken to since we dropped in League One in 2018, I’ve always felt like we lacked variety in the type of players we’ve had in the centre of the park.

Sunderland made the decision to release Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and Josh Scowen in the summer, leaving Carl Winchester, Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton as our only three Central Midfielders.


Sorting out the Midfield

It’s clear we don’t have enough in terms of numbers currently. Winchester only signed in January, Dan Neil I believe might be suited to gaining experience out on loan, and Embleton in my opinion is suited to playing wide on the left.

So that would leave us with one central midfielder. It’s clear that, like at full back, this is going to be a significant rebuild in this area of the pitch.

The released players

Max Power, Josh Scowen and Grant Leadbitter were let go by the club. Below are the charts of their data from the 20/21 season. If you are unsure of what any of the data means, WyScout provide a Glossary.

Sunderland played a lot of possession-based football which is more evident on these charts. Scowen is more of an all-rounder. Max Power has extremely poor defensive numbers and was clearly suited to playing more attacking.

Carl Winchester

Winchester has the worst numbers of the four however - he only started 12 games and came off the bench 9 times. The Northern Irishman has been mainly used as an impact sub. He gets into the box more often than others, and I think he serves his purpose well when we need to change our playing style.


Types of Central Midfielders

Attacking

This is the number one area Sunderland must look to strengthen in the summer. We lacked goals and assists from the midfield. Other than Leadbitter (who scored penalties), our central midfielders lacked an attacking edge that was more evident in the players of our divisional rivals.

George Honeyman

A familiar name who I still can’t believe we sold in 2019. According to WhoScored, Honeyman played 57% of the season in central midfield, and boasts some of the best-attacking numbers in this position. Sunderland need a player like him.

Scott Fraser

And that player in my opinion should be Scott Fraser. With one year left on his contract, MK Dons may cash in. We have the added bonus of having Will Grigg, who the Dons are interested in signing, and they’ve also recently signed Scott Twine from Swindon, who is a similar player to Fraser.

Fraser offers a more attacking threat compared to Sunderland average from the 20/21 season

WhoScored data shows that Scott Fraser played only 43% of the season in central midfield, and played 48% as an attacking midfielder - so not only does Fraser have incredibly good numbers, but he’s very capable in two positions. I really hope we go after Fraser.

Here are some more attacking Central Midfielders to look at.


Box to Box

With Scowen leaving, Sunderland may choose to have to bring in a box to box midfielder.

Here are three League One player who performed well across key stats. Good box to box midfielders are hard to find across any level in the game, and Sunderland may not be able to find the correct player immediately.


Defensive

I’d like to think that Sunderland might not need too many defensive midfielders in this division, but it’s interesting to look at the numbers.

George Dobson features in here, but the latest rumours suggest Dobson will be moved on in the summer. Whether this is an indicator that Sunderland don’t require a defensive midfielder, or that Dobson just isn’t Lee Johnson’s cuo of tea will be interesting.

Ross McCrorie

Ross McCrorie has been linked with a move to the Stadium of Light but nothing has yet materialised.

I have looked into his numbers at Aberdeen, and produced a similar visual to the ones in this article. McCrorie’s attacking numbers aren’t so bad, but he doesn’t fit the criteria of a goalscoring midfielder, and his passing numbers are fairly weak.


Conclusions

I think we can expect to sign three central midfielders this summer.

I’d imagine Elliot Embleton will play on the wing, as he looked good there for Blackpool, and he may want assurances about his playing time and position.

Dan Neil might come into the first team next season and I think he would bring strong passing numbers to the midfield. Carl Winchester is a player that I don’t expect to be a starter, but I like his influence from the subs bench.

It will be an interesting summer - we’ll be sure to revisit this analysis once we actually sign some new players!

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