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Scouting by the numbers-Bargain transfer picks from Europe’s Top Five

Transfer

The summer transfer window is in full swing and clubs have already picked up a few shrewd deals early on.

Teams across Europe’s Top Five have begun revamping their squads ahead of the 2021/22 season. In France, Rennes, Nice, and Marseille have been quite active in their recruitment. In Germany, Union Berlin have been busy stacking their squad ahead of a busy UEFA Europa Conference League campaign.

Over in England, Crystal Palace have gone about their rebuild in a shrewd way. Signing players that will serve them well in the present, as well as the long-term.

In Spain, Barcelona’s financial disarray has meant that they’ve been forced to lose Lionel Messi. Though, there is some cause for encouragement in the business that they’ve been able to do. Most importantly, signing Memphis Depay on a free transfer from Lyon.

There’s still enough time to do some very shrewd business for clubs in the transfer window.

We take a look at some potential picks worth investing in this summer.

Randal Kolo Muani – FC Nantes

The first player on our list is FC Nantes’ forward, Randal Kolo Muani. The 22-year-old Frenchman of Congolese descent had his breakout season with The Green and Yellows last season.

With nine non-penalty goals, Kolo Muani was the second-highest scorer in the team behind Ludovic Blas.

Standing at 6’2 ft. in height, Kolo Muani’s physical attributes are impressive. Last year, the Nantes forward was deployed as a lone striker for the first half of the season. In the latter half, alongside Kalifa Coulibaly, Kolo Muani was deployed in a front-two.

Kolo Muani’s strengths become immediately clear when you watch him. He’s very effective when driving at the opposition’s defence with the ball at his feet. His long-legged strides help him cover greater distances quickly. Kolo Muani’s movement is especially impressive given his size.

Although he isn’t the most agile of players, he is able to use his solid build and good turn of pace to get away from defenders during offensive transitions.

Inside the penalty box, Kolo Muani is quite active. Averaging 5.28 touches in the opposition penalty box per90 in 20/21. This suggests he tries to take up good positions in the box and is always an outlet for crosses or cutbacks from the wide players.

For this metric, according to data from Statsbomb via FBref, he is in the 53rd percentile as compared to forwards across the Top Five Leagues. This means that he is slightly better than the average Top Five Leagues forward in terms of his activity in the penalty box.

However, Kolo Muani’s decision-making has sometimes let him down in dangerous areas. Averaging 1.8 shots per90 in 20/21 is partly due to Nantes’ low-possession figures ( 43.7%, lowest in Ligue 1). Nonetheless, when given too much space and time to take the shot, Kolo Muani can be indecisive.

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Kolo Muani shot map for 2020-21 | Data courtesy of Understat

Though he is only 22, and given that this is his first full season in Ligue 1, his underlying numbers are highly encouraging. Another aspect of Kolo Muani’s skillset that has to be talked about is his ability to create chances for others.

In 20/21, Kolo Muani averaged 0.18 xA [Expected Assists] per90. This placed him in the top 11% of all Top Five Leagues forwards for this metric. This isn’t to say that Kolo Muani is a creative force. In fact, it is his awareness when driving down the channels and timing of crosses that has helped his team-mates.

Overall, he managed to assist four goals last year from an xA tally of 6.1. This is another key asset of his style of play and something extra that he brings to the table.

Defensively, Kolo Muani is no slouch either. Averaging 15.48 pressures per90 in 20/21 as well as 0.56 interceptions per90. These numbers place him well above the average forward across the Top Five Leagues.

AC Milan and Eintracht Frankfurt have been linked with the Frenchman. It would be very interesting to see where he ends up at the end of the transfer window. Nantes have already sold Imran Louza to Watford, Kolo Muani may just be the next to depart if Nantes don’t secure his extension soon.

Irvin Cardona – Brest

We stay in France for our next pick and head to the North-West of France in Brest. Les Pirates forward Irvin Cardona is our man.

Cardona is a youth graduate of AS Monaco, although he never quite had the opportunity to establish himself there. After two seasons on loan with Cercle Brugge, Cardona moved to Brest in the summer of 2019.

Since then, Cardona has had 17 goal contributions in 37 starts for the club across two seasons. Not the greatest of returns, however, he was Brest’s top-scorer in 2019. Following Steve Mounie’s arrival at the Stade Francis-Le Blé, the burden of scoring on Cardona reduced. The additions of Romain Faivre and Franck Honorat certainly helped as well.

Though Cardona is versatile enough to play in any role across the front-line, he is best when paired up with another striker in a 4-4-2 shape.

Mounié and he benefitted greatly from the ability of the likes of Romain Perraud, Faivre and Honorat to find them in the vicinity of the opposition goalmouth. Be it through crossing or passing from dangerous areas.

Cardona’s strengths come to the fore with his clever movement into pockets of space in and around the penalty area. With players like Faivre feeding passes through, he does well to receive in dangerous areas. This is indicated by his 9.19 progressive passes received per90, according to Statsbomb via football reference. The Frenchman is in the 75th percentile for this metric amongst Ligue 1 forwards.

Cardona shot-map for 2020-21 | Data courtesy of Understat

Though Cardona averages 2.48 shots per90, he is often let down by his decision-making. Though what’s also worth noting is the average location and distance of his shots. According to football reference, Cardona’s average shot distance from goal was 13 yards. This also means that his shots were, on average, much closer to the opposition goal than the average Ligue 1 forward.

Cardona is open to moving from Brest in this transfer window as well. Brest have already sold Romain Perraud to Southampton. With Danny Ings’ exit from the Saints, Southampton may be an interesting destination for Cardona. The Frenchman’s 21/22 season has started on a positive note with a well-taken goal against Peter Bosz’s Lyon in Brest’s first game of the season.

Lee Kangin – Valencia

The next potential transfer target who could be on the move this summer is Valencia’s Lee Kangin.

With just one year left on his contract and having expressed a desire to leave Valencia, Lee Kangin is on the lookout for a new club. However, he may not come at a bargain price.

Valencia are adamant to extract the maximum value they can, from the young attacker.

It’s easy to forget that Lee is only 20 years old and is still in the infancy of his career. Given Valencia’s tumultuous recent years, a future transfer has to be to a club where he can have a sense of stability.

That being said, there is no doubt that Lee is a player of great untapped potential.

In the 20/21 season, he was often played in a roaming second striker role, behind Maxi Gomez. In this role, he was able to enjoy the freedom of the pitch to drop deep and aid with ball progression when necessary.

Lee’s heatmap for Valencia in 20/21

Dropping deeper close to the halfway line and operating in the half-spaces, Lee is a creative force when in possession. The South Korean is a tenacious defender as well and presses with intent.

Lee’s numbers speak volumes of a player with great technical ability underlined by his excellent passing and dribbling metrics.

One thing that has still been a letdown for him, at least at club level, is the end-product. Lee’s 0.09 npxG per90 and 1.78 shots per90 is something he needs to work on, to take the step to that next level.

Favouring his left foot to pick out a pass or beat his marker, Lee’s skillset has great utility in a team that can allow him to see a lot of the ball.

It will be interesting to follow which club takes the gamble on signing Lee. However, it is a transfer gamble that may yet pay off in the long term.

Jeremie Boga – Sassuolo

Sassuolo’s Jeremie Boga is the next pick on our transfer target list. For a couple of seasons now, Boga has been one of the gems of Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo. However, as he now heads into the final year of his contract at the Mapei Stadium, things may change.

Boga has a reputation for being one of Serie A’s most supreme dribblers. Explosive on the ball with a great turn of pace, Boga is quite difficult to contain when in full swing.

Boga’s 20/21 season was one severely affected by injuries and COVID as well. This resulted in him starting only 20 games in the season, as opposed to 28 starts in 2019/20.

Though his numbers were somewhat affected by his string of injuries, Boga still excelled at the things you usually expected from him.

Dropping deeper into midfield, picking up the ball from his fullback or from either Maxime Lopez or Manuel Locatelli, Boga would pounce. Taking on multiple players and beating them with skill and balance. The Ivorian was a strong progressor of the ball with his mazy carries.

This is seen in his strong dribbling as well as carry numbers from the 202/21 season.

Boga’s 2021 heatmap | Source: Wyscout

Last season, Boga overperformed greatly on his xG(Expected Goals) tally of 4.8 by scoring 11. In 2020/21, he scored 4 goals from an xG of 3.6, which meant that he converted at the rate that was expected of him given the chances he had.

Any club that wishes to sign him up must act fast before Sassuolo are given the window to extend his contract. Napoli were close to signing him last summer, however, Sassuolo priced them out of the transfer.

This summer, a transfer may be more possible. Lyon are waiting in the wings, Atalanta have been linked and Napoli may come up with a bid again.

Boga’s performances in pre-season for Sassuolo have impressed new coach Alessio Dionisi. The Italian may prefer to keep the Ivorian’s talents after all.

Nahuel Estevez – Spezia

Next up is Estudiantes midfielder Nahuel Estevez, who spent the 20/21 season on loan at Spezia.

The Argentine midfielder was one of Vincenzo Italiano’s key cogs in midfield as Spezia secured their status for another season in Italy’s top-flight. Back-to-back promotions from the lower leagues and now staying up in the big-time, Spezia’s story has been fascinating.

During the 20/21 season, Italiano’s team finished 15th in the league table with 39 points. Which is a great return, considering the resources in hand at the club.

For Estevez, it was his very first opportunity to impress in Europe, having joined on loan from Estudiantes. He did not disappoint.

Playing as an advanced midfielder in Spezia’s 4-3-3, Estevez brings several useful qualities to the table.

The most pertinent of which is his movement when his side is in possession and on the offensive.

Estevez is able to receive the ball often higher up the pitch and in good positions as well. This is underlined by his 3.41 progressive passes received, according to football reference. This places him in the top 17% of midfielders in his position from across the Top Five leagues.

Estevez shared set-piece duties along with fullback Simone Bastoni. The Argentine produce 2.39 Shot-Creating Actions per90, with strong numbers from open-play as well as dead-ball situations.

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Estevez’s heatmap for Spezia in 2021 | Source: Wyscout

Defensively, Estevez’ 1.63 interceptions per90 are solid, if not spectacular. Though it’s worth mentioning that Spezia’s average possession was 51% during the season. Therefore, that may have influenced the volume of defensive actions for their players.

Currently back in Argentina with Estudiantes, Estevez awaits a return to Europe and we may see him back sooner rather than later.

Obite N’Dicka – Eintracht Frankfurt

Eintracht Frankfurt’s Obite N’Dicka is the next transfer pick on our list. The 21-year-old Frenchman has been a vital part of the club’s defence since joining in 2018.

Linked with the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal, The 6’2 ft. tall Auxerre graduate has many excellent qualities. All of those make him a modern-day defender.

The very first thing to note about N’Dicka is his technical ability on the ball, for a player of his size, his touch is very assured. Able to comfortably receive the ball from his teammates and look up to assess his options.

Playing in a back three alongside Martin Hintereggerr and TUta, N’Dicka plays on the left of the defence. Ahead of him, he has Filip Kostic who plays as the all-action wingback and is one of Eintracht Frankfurt’s primary outlets.

Not only this, N’Dicka’s excellent physical attributes allow him to play as a left-back as well. However, as a left-back, he is at his best when allowed to utilize his passing range from deeper areas.

N’Dicka’s heatmap for Eintracht Frankfurt in 2021 | Source: Wyscout

Left-footed centre backs are a wanted commodity these days at the highest level. N’Dicka combines his wand of a left-foot with the ability to play out from the back.

With 13.52 pressures attempted per90, he is in the top 6% of all centre-backs across the Top Five Leagues for this metric.

Add to that his 3.74 Tackles and Interceptions per90, N’Dicka is a busy defender to say the least. Even the team is exposed in transition, N’Dicka recovery pace can allow him to be an asset in that situation. This is highlighted by his 11.32 ball recoveries per90.

As ball-progressor, N’Dicka is adept at carrying the ball and laying it off or finding runs with his long-range passing.

3.75 progressive passes per90 combined with 5.59 progressive carries per90, N’Dicka ranks very highly in both metrics.

For all the positives that N’Dicka brings, the challenge that remains for him is the transition from the Bundesliga to another. Adi Hütter’s side fielded in multiple variations of a back-three formation and the switch from a back-three to a back-two might be tricky.

Nonetheless, N’Dicks still has many years left in his legs and given time, his qualities will likely come through in a back-four as well.

With two years left on his contract with Eintracht Frankfurt, they may have to cash in on his transfer, soon.

Simone Bastoni – Spezia

The second Spezia player on our transfer list in the Aquilotti’s Simone Bastoni.

The 24-year-old has enjoyed a stellar first season in Sreie A, scoring one and assisting seven in 22 matches played.

Spezia’s mid-table finish was impressive as Vincenzo Italiano’s side won plaudits for their impressive displays against the big teams.

Of their nine wins in the season, three came against Sassuolo, Napoli and Milan. There were also important draws against Inter Milan, Roma and Atalanta.

Bastoni has been an important part of these results. Playing as the industrious full-back in this Spezia outfit.

In many ways, Bastoni feels like the embodiment of a modern-day fullback. He is no doubt competent defensively and going forward, his ability to progress the ball and be an effective outlet on the left makes him a dangerous proposition.

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Bastoni’s heatmap for Spezia in 2021 | Source: Wyscout

Bastoni is not limited to just that. However, he can also be an effective option in set-piece situations to use his bending crosses to find his targets in the box.

With 0.20 xA (Expected Assists) per90, Bastoni is in the top 8% of fullbacks across the Top Five Leagues for the metric.

3.25 attempted tackles per90 shows that defensively, Bastoni is pro-active and likes to take on his man. On top of that, he also averages 15.84 pressures per90. The defensive numbers are all the more interesting because Spezia’s average possession during the season was 52.2%, as per football reference.

With just one year left on his Spezia contract, the club may be forced to listen to offers for him if they are not able to negotiate an extension. In any case, Bastoni would fit any of the top teams in Serie A like a glove and would certainly prove to be a shrewd transfer.

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