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Scouting by the numbers – Finding bargains at relegated clubs

Transfer

As the summer transfer window looms in the shadows of Euro 2020, FTF takes a look at some standout performers at relegated clubs who will look to take the next step.

Emi Buendia had a standout year in the EFL Championship in the 2020-21 season and many felt that not picking him up in the summer of 2020 was a missed opportunity for a transfer.

Norwich City was one of three sides to go back down to the 2nd division of the English footballing pyramid last summer. Although Buendia was not without flaws, even at that time, he seemed like too good a bargain.

His chance-creation numbers were up with some of Europe’s best and aside from his goal-scoring end-product, Buendia seemed like a great value addition. Fast-forward twelve months into the future, Aston Villa have now secured his services after a stellar year with the Canaries.

Other clubs who picked up some of the relegated players from Europe’s top 5 included PSV who signed Ibrahim Sangare and Bayern Munich who signed Marc Roca from RCD Espanyol. Both transfers have yet to fully realize their potential at their respective clubs, however, these are low-risk long-term signings that will surely prove beneficial.

Therefore, FTF looks at the next set of players from relegated sides who could be set to take the next step.

Rafa Mir

Wolverhampton Wanderers-owned Rafa Mir had a great year on loan at SD Huesca in 2020/21. Notching 13 goals and one assist in the league and thereby becoming one of the standout players in La Liga overall. Unfortunately, all those goals couldn’t prevent his club’s relegation.

Currently, off to the Olympics with Spain, Rafa Mir’s future is very much up in the air.

Rafa Mir’s shot map excluding penalties for 20-21 | Source: Understat

One of the first things you notice with Rafa Mir as a player is that he loves to get shots away. It is no coincidence that he is one of the high-volume shot takers in La Liga. He averaged 3.57 shots per90 in the 20-21 season which put him in the top 4% of La Liga forwards last season for that metric.

Another aspect to note as well is that Huesca last season were largely dependent on Rafa Mir’s tendencies to shoot. In fact, his 114 shots overall in the season accounted for 28% of the team’s total shots, head and shoulders above everyone in the team.

Strengths

Standing at 6’2, Rafa Mir is quite literally head and shoulders above most Huesca players as well.

Rafa Mir operated as part of a two-man strike force for Huesca but was generally given license to roam. Alongside the more experienced Sandro Ramirez, it was his job to win aerial duels and link play in the final third.

He has already grown into a formidable physical specimen. With broad shoulders and a powerful stride when running towards the opposition’s penalty area, Rafa Mir can be difficult to contain at times.

His height makes him a useful option in the box when Huesca look to cross the ball. Additionally, he is also comfortable receiving the ball in his stride. Then opting to use his long-legged strides to reach the opposition penalty area and get shots away.

Data from Statsbomb via FBref

Room to grow

Despite all of his strengths, Rafa Mir still has quite a lot of room to grow. At Huesca, he was given license to take shots in high volume. How that translates to a team with greater possession would be interesting to see.

Another thing that he could certainly look to improve upon is his decision-making. As his shot map from above tells us, he has a tendency to take shots from low xG locations.

With an xG tally of 13.6 and an actual goal tally of 13, Rafa Mir has scored at his usual expected rate. Converting most of the good chances that came his way. His average shot quality of 0.10 is a bit of a concern as a striker. However, that is something that can be ironed out of his game once he takes shots from better locations.

Rafa Mir’s heatmap for Huesca | Source: Wyscout

Football Reference’s similarity algorithm tells us that the 2nd most similar player to him across Europe is Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Which makes sense in many ways. Rafa Mir’s style of play is quite similar to the Everton frontman.

Rafa Mir’s future looks set to be away from the Molineux. With the Spanish forward all but confirming that his agents are looking for a good transfer for him.

Now 24, the next transfer of Rafa Mir’s career may prove crucial for his evolution.

Zinedine Ferhat

Next up on our transfer bargain list is Nimes midfielder, Zinedine Ferhat. The Algerian international is out of contract in the summer of 2022 and is a target for Ligue 1 sides.

Last season, Ferhat was the creative hub of Nimes. Scoring 6 goals and assisting a further 10 for his teammates. Averaging 0.46 goal contributions per90 last season, which is the most of any Nimes player in 2021.

Ferhat’s creative numbers speak volumes of his importance to Nimes’ attack last season. Fortunately, he is just as exciting to watch on the pitch as well.

Ferhat’s technique is exquisite and he is always capable of something special. Whether it be carrying the ball with his dynamic runs or picking out a pass to unlock defenses, he seems to have it all in his locker.

Technical brilliance

It is therefore no wonder that he ranked very highly for multiple key possession and passing metrics for Nimes in 2021. According to Football Reference data via Statsbomb

  • 3nd for Key passes per90. (1.52)
  • 2nd for Expected Assists per90. (0.18)
  • 1st for passes completed into the penalty area per90. (1.43)
  • 3rd for Shot-creating actions per90. (3.44)
  • 2nd for progressive carries per90. (4.53)
  • 1st for carries into the penalty area per90. (0.91)

(All metrics in comparison with players who have played at least 10 matches.)

Transfer
Data from Statsbomb via FBref

Nimes’s general set-up saw Ferhat play either flank for most of the season. When playing off the left, he is able to drift to the byline or drift infield. His relationship with Birger Meling in attack is a particular highlight of Nimes’ game plan.

When playing off the right, he is more inclined to shoot with his left foot. He is able to feed in key passes from both flanks to a decent degree, which makes him such a threat in possession.

At 27, Ferhat represents great value for any club looking to plug creative gaps in their side, in the short term.

Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, RC Strasbourg, and Olympique Marseille have all been linked with the Algerian. It seems like a transfer away from Nimes is a question of when rather than if, for Ferhat.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa

Scott Parker’s Fulham may not have enjoyed a sweet return to the Premier League, however, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s reputation has enhanced.

The former Villarreal and Olympique Marseille midfielder was one of the Cottagers’ standout players in 2020-21.

It may be a surprise that no club has registered serious interest in the Cameroonian midfielder as of yet. However, that may change during the course of this summer transfer window.

Anguissa’s strengths are immediately evident from the moment he steps onto the pitch.

Playing as part of the double pivot at Fulham alongside Harrison Reed, Zambo Anguissa was usually the busier part of the pivot.

Tasked with disrupting opposition passes and movements in the middle and then progressing the ball with purpose. This is what Zambo-Anguissa is best at doing.

Not the flashiest of players around, Zambo-Anguissa’s dribbling prowess is driven towards helping his team progress. He possesses great technique and is comfortable when carrying the ball over longer distances as well.

The next step for Zambo-Anguissa is to join a team with bigger ambitions than staying up in the Premier League. His numbers over the past three years in France, Spain, and now England tell us that he’s ready for that next step.

To put Zambo-Anguissa’s excellent numbers into context, let’s take a look at his stats from Football Reference.

Transfer
Data from Statsbomb via FBref

Zambo-Anguissa is amongst the league’s best in terms of tackles and interceptions. His performances in 20-21 put him in the top 9% for Premier League midfielders for tackles and interceptions combined.

Numerical dominance

Passing is not Zambo-Anguissa’s greatest strength and his numbers reflect as much. His role in midfield is to win the ball back for his team and then progress it vertically up the pitch. Then, he leaves the more creative work in terms of passing to others in the team like Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Ademola Lookman.

In possession of the ball, there were few better in the Premier League last season than Zambo-Anguissa. He finds himself in the top 1% of midfielders across the top five leagues, for dribbles attempted and dribbles completed per90.

Not only that, given that he is a high-volume ball carrier, Anguissa’s numbers also stand out in carrying the ball into the final third and the penalty area.

Arsenal and Lazio are rumored to be interested in securing a transfer for Zambo-Anguissa. More recently, however, Liverpool have also emerged as one of the clubs keeping a close eye on him. A transfer for him seems to be imminent this summer.

Marco Friedl

Werder Bremen’s time in the Bundesliga ended in the 20-21 season. Having been a part of the founding teams since 1963, their relegation along with Schalke’s was a huge disappointment. This is, after all, a club that is third on the Bundesliga’s all-time points tally chart.

Current sporting director Frank Baumann has a huge rebuilding task on his hands. Milot Rashica has already left for Norwich City, others are expected to follow. Amongst the others, Austrian international Marco Friedl is one who could soon depart as well.

There is much to like about Marco Friedl. The 23-year-old is a left-footed center back which is a prized commodity these days amongst the top teams.

Left-footed and versatile

The former Bayern Munich academy graduate is also equally adept at playing left-back in a back-four. Normally at Werder Bremen, he was the left-sided center back of a back three and given license to progress the ball from the deep.

Though it is difficult to judge how a center-back’s strengths translate from playing in a back-three to back-four, fortunately, Friedl has done both.

Friedl’s heatmap for Werder Bremen in 20/21 | Source: Wyscout

As the heatmap suggests, Friedl is comfortable playing close to the halfway line and can play a bit further up as well.

Friedl is in some ways similar to his former Bayern team-mate, David Alaba. Both Austrians joined Bayern’s academy around the same time and the senior Alaba took Friedl under his wing at the time.

There are interesting similarities in what they bring to the table as well.

Transfer
Data from Statsbomb via FBref

Friedl’s ball-progression numbers are impressive. He is well above average in terms of progressive passes and progressive carries as well. What’s even more impressive is that he’s only played four games this season at LB.

This is why his numbers in terms of the advanced metrics, make for good reading.

At Bremen, he played the third most progressive passes in the Bundesliga last year (106).

He was also the outfield player with the most amount of progressive distance covered with his passing(361 yards per90).

Further, he ranks no.1 in the team for passes completed in the final third per90(4.08).

The Austrian international has great range in his passing, which is reflected in his numbers for ball switches per90(3.9). He is in the top 1% of all center-backs across the Top Five leagues for this metric.

Friedl’s defensive numbers are solid as well. A front-footed defender by nature, Friedl wins most of his tackles and also presses to a decent degree.

Transfermarkt currently values him at £6.75m, which is a bargain transfer, to say the least. It will be interesting to see where he moves next. Remaining in Germany with the Bundesliga seems to be the most natural fit for him.

Sacha Boey

Sacha Boey spent most of the 20/21 season out on loan at Dijon, who were relegated at the end of the season. Now back at Rennes, it seems as though a transfer is on the horizon for the 20-year old.

Boey’s contract expires in the summer of 2022 and Rennes are looking for a swift solution to confirm his exit.

Born in 2000, Boey came through the academy at Rennes and made his first-team debut in 2019. However, first-team opportunities were limited for him behind Hamari Traore. Rennes then decided to loan him out to fellow Ligue 1 outfit Dijon, where he made 20 appearances in 20/21.

Although Boey did relatively well in his time there, Dijon as a whole struggled. In fact, they had the lowest expected goals in the league(31.5) overall. To put that into context, Dijon had the fifth-worst xG tally across the Top Five Leagues.

Therefore, you’ll have to forgive Boey if his offensive numbers are not up to the mark. More often than not, players struggle to deliver in teams that struggle. However, Boey’s defensive numbers have not suffered and are worth talking about.

Data from Statsbomb via FBref

His defensive numbers are up there amongst the best in Europe. Ranking in the top 10% for both pressures and tackles with interceptions per90.

Boey is a solid presence on the right 1v1 and is able to win most of his tackles as the numbers suggest. On the rare occasion that Dijon attacked last season, Boey was able to showcase his crossing ability to direct crosses from closer to the touchline. He has a trademark style of pinging balls in with whip and accuracy.

In a team enjoying better possession of the ball and greater quality of players, Boey will excel. A transfer to one of the mid-table sides in Ligue 1 could be the ideal next step for him. There has been significant interest in him from Germany before, so that is an option for him to potentially explore as well.

Celtic are reportedly the latest club to register a serious interest in Boey. Scottish Premiership football may be an interesting avenue for Boey’s growth in the following seasons.

Antonee Robinson

Fulham’s Antonee Robinson has built quite the reputation for himself in the past few years.

So much so that he was very close to joining AC Milan from Wigan Athletic in January 2020. The move fell through after an irregularity was discovered with his heart. This required further medical procedures and hence the move was delayed.

He then moved to Fulham at the start of the 20-21 season and has been one of the club’s most standout players. In a season that ended in disappointment for the Cottagers as they failed to escape relegation, Robinson’s consistency on the left flank was one of the bright sparks.

Robinson heatmap for Fulham 20-21 | Source: Wyscout

It is perhaps because of those performances that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are interested in bringing him in. Bruno Lage’s Wolves have also enquired about a possible transfer for the 23-year-old.

Data from Statsbomb via FBref

Robinson is very much the definition of the modern-day fullback who would suit most of the top sides across Europe. He is a highly dynamic presence on the left, who enjoys progressing the ball with energetic ball carries up the pitch.

The former Everton man is very effective at penetrating the opposition penalty area with his ability to cross or pass the ball onto his targets in the box.

Averaging 3.2 carries into the final third, Robinson is in the top 1% for this metric as compared to all fullbacks across the Top Five leagues. He’s also in the top 10% for dribbles attempted and dribbles completed per90.

Stylistically, Robinson would be a great fit for both Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. It will be interesting to see if he can grab a starting XI spot at either club, though. Wolves signed Rayan Ait-Nouri from Angers last summer and Manchester City rotated frequently between their options. A transfer abroad could be an interesting option as well, if the opportunity arises.

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