The Stats Factory: A Right Wing Riddle

George Singer 25th March 2018
Photo: Rex Features

There’s only one real selection conundrum for Slavisa these days – who plays on the right wing. Our resident numbers guru George Singer crunches the data to see who should be grabbing the shirt for the run-in.

Over Fulham’s record-breaking run, Slav has seemingly settled on a team he’s pretty happy with. Long gone are the days of ‘Magath Bingo’ at the Cottage, as the Whites’ side now pretty much picks itself.

Betts now firmly has his hands on the number 1 shirt, behind a settled back 4. The midfield 3 we know and love from last year are now all fighting fit, and have been the engine creating chances for Mitrovic and Sessegnon upfront.

However, Slav clearly hasn’t been able to settle on who should play in the final slot, out on the right wing. Even after dumping a couple of wingers in January, it seems there are 4 players all going for one slot.

The 4 players vying for the right wing spot: Neeskens Kebano, Floyd Ayité, Sheyi Ojo & Lucas Piazon

With no one player putting in performances to demand the final starting berth, the Fulham fanbase is rife with opinions as to who should get the nod out wide. I therefore wanted to take a statistical look at the 4 main players who could stake a claim for the position: Kebano, Ayité, Ojo and Piazon, to see who the data thinks should play.

I’ll take a look at the 3 following criteria to make my judgement:

  • Scoring – who’s putting the ball in the back of the net?
  • Creativity – who’s setting up chances for teammates?
  • Defensive contribution – who is (and isn’t!) pulling their weight in defence?

Who’s played where so far this season?

Before we get into the detail – it’s worth showing who’s played where so far this season:

Appearance stats for the 4 players in 2017/18 – % shows how many of their appearances have come from each position
  • Kebano has been limited to sub appearances, and has limited experience out on the right
  • Ayité is showing his versatility – playing across the wings and centrally
  • Ojo has been the most commonly fielded man at RW
  • Piazon has mostly played on the right, however injuries have limited him to mostly sub appearances

Category #1 – Scoring

So, to look at which players have contributed the most to scoring, I’ll look at 2 factors:

  1. Goals per 90 minutes
  2. xGoals (expected goals) per 90 minutes
Goals vs xG (per 90 mins) for Fulham this season

To me, the above graph shows a couple of things. Firstly, Ayité, Ojo and Kebano have relatively similar numbers – all scoring a similar amount of goals per 90 minutes. If anything, as Ayité has played a fair bit of time at striker, I’m surprised his numbers aren’t much higher.

Secondly, Lucas Piazon is in a bit of a strange place – scoring at a far higher rate than his expected values. Now, this can be interpreted in a couple of ways. Firstly, over a long period of time, he’s unlikely to keep scoring at this high rate as he’s not shooting at a high enough rate. On the other hand, he’s finding the back of the net with most of his shots, so his confidence is likely to be red-hot!

Outcome: I’d say that Piazon’s high scoring rate probably just wins him this category – however we should keep in mind he’s unlikely to keep scoring at this high rate in the long term.

Category #2 – Creativity

Here, similarly to above, i’ll look at looking at Assists and xAssists per 90 minutes.

Assists vs xAssists (per 90) for Fulham in 2017/18

Surprisingly, it seems that Ojo and Ayité are creating very little for their team-mates here. Both from an assists, and xAssists side, their numbers are pretty poor – especially as they spend a lot of their time far up the pitch.

On the other hand, Kebano and Piazon are creating far more chances for their teammates. Top of the class is Piazon, who is assisting at a rate of nearly 0.7 per 90 minutes.

Outcome: The clear winner here is Piazon. Even though he’s again performing better than his ‘expected’ values, his xAssists per 90 are still the best in the team.

Category #3 – Defensive contribution

Now, defensive stats are quite tricky in general to look at. A player’s output will vary wildly depending on the team he’s playing for, and it’s always hard to understand whether a stat’s value is relatively good or bad.

Therefore, what I’ve done below, is looked at 5 defensive stats (per 90 mins) for each player in the league. I’ve then adjusted for their team’s possession, and looked at where each players numbers rank compared to similar players in the Championship.

The result is each player will get a percentage mark for each of the stats, which links to how strong they are compared to the other players in the league. I.e if a player gets a value of 75% for tackles, they have a highers ‘tackles per 90 mins’ value than 75% of similar players in the league.

This then produces a bar plot for each player. Simply, the more green, and the less red, the better!

  

Outcome: This shows again that Neeskens and Piazon seem to be pulling their weight more than Ojo and Ayité. Neeskens probably just wins the category, however Piazon’s defensive stats are also pretty strong.

So… Piazon should get the nod?

Well, yes and no. Looking at the above 3 categories, the numbers are suggesting Piazon consistently performs well and should get the nod at right wing. However – this is a situation where stats can be useful, but we need to be careful about how we interpret them.

Piazon’s radar – showing a well balanced, but not spectacular, player

Lucas Piazon is clearly a talented player. He’s skillful on the ball, pulls his weight in defence, and knows how to find the back of the net.

However, I’ve always felt that he’s more of a natural number 10 – and pushing him out wide is a bit of a ‘Square peg  Round hole’ scenario. For instance, looking at his passes against QPR (below), you can see that he’s the kind of player that likes to cut inside, and influence the game from the centre of the pitch. This can often leave Fredericks exposed on the break, which happened time and time again against Rangers.

Piazon’s passes vs QPR – signs of a natural ‘Number 10’

Ok then… So who should play out on the wing?

As the data is liking Piazon, I’d be happy to treat him as the first choice right winger. However, there are probably games where we may want to change our plan slightly:

  1. If we’re playing against a team who aren’t particularly strong out wide, and won’t expose an unprotected Fredericks, Piazon probably should be the man to pick. He’s a well rounded player, and contributes well to the side.
  2. Against teams in the league that move down the wing and cross balls in (QPR, Cardiff, etc…) then we’d need to play a winger who will give Fredericks the protection he needs. A more natural winger who tracks back, like Kebano, would do well. As he’s barely played at RW, if I was him I’d be pushing hard in training to show that I’d be capable and happy to play on that side!

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

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