The January transfer window has arrived and while Chelsea may not be making too many waves, some reinforcements could be welcome. Attentions are focused on the left flank and at center forward, but we should not forget about the right flank either. Neither Victor Moses nor summer signing Davide Zappacosta have lived up to expectations this season so far. Given our regular scoring difficulties, five-spot against Stoke notwithstanding, having an underperforming player at the right wingback spot only magnifies the need for something better. Conte’s 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 both rely heavily on the wing-backs and while it’s always possible that one of the two will come good this year — after all Victor Moses had a fantastic season last year — the reality is we still need a bona fide top player as starter.
There are a few top talents out there, such as Dani Carvajal, or Nelson Semedo, or even Joshua Kimmich who has surprisingly not only embraced the role, but excelled at it so far. The challenge, though, is that we simply aren’t going to be able to pry those players away from Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, respectively. Similarly, we had our shot at Kyle Walker, and he chose instead to go play at the Emptihad for oodles of
noodles pounds up North instead of beautiful West London. His loss, although that might be his only loss so far this season. Given that all the good ones are relatively unobtainable, we have to look down a rung or two, and see what’s out there.
After looking through lists and lists of players and at a lot of metrics, one thing is for certain. There simply isn’t much in terms of top RWB-type talent in the Premier League. Bellerin, Clyne, Aurier, Danilo, Chambers, Trippier, Darmian, Cedric ... that’s about it for the Best League In The World™. And reading through that list involves a monotonic repetition of “don’t want”. So instead, I went looking across Europe. Now, I freely admit I don’t know the individual players of world soccer as well as some of the folks at WAGNH, although I work on that on a near daily basis. But I am confident I can do a good deep dive in terms of metrics. So that’s what I did.
What I came up with was a list of ten names. But first, a few notables that didn’t make the cut:
- Benjamin Henrichs, 20 (Bayer Leverkusen) — I’m really high on Henrichs. He’s going to be a gem, a fantastic player in my opinion. But he’s too young. We have our own stable of youngsters. We need a more established player at this position. Sadface.
- Bruno Peres, 27 (AS Roma) — Good dribbler, good shooter, but literally just transferred to Roma, so he’s not someone we are getting. I just don’t see it happening.
- Rick Karsdorp, 22 (AS Roma) — Just doesn’t seem experienced enough to be a guaranteed boost to our current pair. Maybe in a year or two, if he gets tired of playing behind Peres.
- Mattia De Sciglio, 25 (Juventus) — Besides being at Juve, and believe me they aren’t letting him AND Sandro go, he’s probably more of a Zappacosta clone than anything else, at least in terms of output. Able to play on both sides, fast runner, versatile, good technique, We are looking for improvement, not a third similar-quality player.
The Ten Good Options Out There
What I did find were ten good players that I think would absolutely improve our right wingback spot based on our current choices. Here are the ten, briefly:
The Mature Ones:
- Djibril Sidibe, 25 (AS Monaco)
- Thomas Meunier, 26 (PSG)
- Martin Montoya, 26 (Valencia)
- Mario, 27 (Villareal)
The Young Ones:
- Mitchell Weiser, 23 (Hertha BSC)
- Alvaro Odriozola, 22 (Real Sociedad)
- Elseid Hysaj, 23 (Napoli)
- Ricardo Pereira, 24 (FC Porto)
The Injured Ones:
- Joao Cancelo, 23 (Inter)
- Andrea Conti, 23 (AC Milan)
I believe all ten of these players not only would excel at the wingback role, but would also be quality upgrades on our current pair. I tried to gather up a bunch of useful information to try to best prioritize targets — because, you know, here at WAGNH we make the decisions for CFC, right? — and I gathered some contract and valuation info from Transfermarkt.com, some metric data from whoscored.com and because I just bought it a few days ago and thought “why not?” some attribute data from FM18 (ed. note: which often do get slightly randomized on first start, it should be added).
Now, on to the data!
Data, Data, Data, Can We Help Ya, Help Ya, Help Ya?
So, in my world, most things come down to data at the end of the day. Obviously there are other things in the world, too, especially when it comes to player transfers, like fit, and personality, and coach opinions, and languages, but we have access to none of that, so data is the toolset we can bring to the table for this discussion. I’ve tried to utilize what I think are the best sets of data, without access to something like Opta feeds or other crazy-expensive things. First, let’s look at what we can call “The Tale of the Tape”.
For the two injured players, I’m using their 2016 full season data. For everyone else, I’m using the 2017 season so far. And in all cases, I’m using domestic league data only. Obviously every league plays differently, so while it’s not an apples-to-oranges comparison, it is kind of like a Tangerines-to-Navels comparison a bit. It’s okay, though.
Ages range from 22-27, heights range from 175cm-190cm, and weights range from 67kg to 82kg. Most of these players are locked down for several years on contract, although four of them are at two years or less come this summer. Also, most of them are comparably valuated, although a couple (Pereira and Meunier) are in my opinion underrated here. Notice that Zappacosta and Moses are not only included, but also similarly valuated. That’s just the way it is. Right backs (and especially those that would excel at wingback) simply aren’t a large group of players. I wanted to include our current two throughout the datasets to provide optimal comparison. I personally like taller players, but I also understand it’s simply not that common in football.
Let’s take a look at the next dataset, what I’ll call the “Video Game Attributes”.
This is the data that shows up in the “radar” type comparison chart in Football Manager 18 when you want to compare players. I know, I know, video games. But these folks at least try for accuracy, so I thought it might be helpful to have a little perspective that’s difficult to view otherwise. I plotted everyone together, but since that gets a bit jumbled, I also plotted them individually, too. I’ll leave the combined one out, it’s a mess. My radar plots kind of suck, just using Excel right now, but they still are more fun than a table. I think.
From this perspective, it’s easy to see that several of these players the lovely minds at whoever makes FM think are well-rounded, however some have a standout feature here and there.
- Cancelo and Moses, for example, are considered the worst defenders, followed by Pereira. Mario then Hysaj and Sidibe the best.
- Weiser and then Pereira are the least physical. Moses and Hysaj the most.
- Meunier, unsurprisingly is the slowest. Odriozola and Weiser, the fastest.
- Vision is pretty consistent, which I thought interesting.
- Hysaj is the least ‘attacking’ although it’s a tight +/- here. Conti and Mario a nose ahead of the rest.
- Hysaj is also considered the least technical, followed by Mario, Conti, Moses, and Montoya. Weiser, Odriozola and Cancelo the most.
- Aerially, these guys are across the board. Pereira and Weiser though by far the worst.
- Mentally, Cancelo followed by Weiser and Moses at the bottom.
- Really intriguing this: If you want balance, at least in terms of these metrics, stack them this way - Sidibe (13.13 avg, 4 var), Meunier & Conti (12.88 avg, 2 var), Zappa (12.63 avg, 4 var). None of these have 16s, but they also don’t have 10s.
All in all, without looking at metrics yet, I think it would be easy to lean towards either Sidibe or Meunier, and I have a feeling as a club we probably looked at both.
Wait, do I have anything remotely substantial?
Glad you asked. I’ve broken my data down into three tables:
- Attacking Data — Shots, Goals, Dribbles, Unsuccessful Touches, being Dispossessed, and being Fouled
- Passing Data — Passes, Long Balls, Short Passes, Crosses, Key Passes, Assists.
- Defensive Data — Tackles, Interceptions, Fouls, Aerials, Clearances, Blocks
This is the basic data buffet from Whoscored, and I’m providing it as season-to-date totals (and 2016 totals for Cancelo and Conti). Club, League and Minutes are included in each table, to help remember context for the first two, and for those that want to do the extra math for the third. I considered the following to be the metrics that “really” applied with respect to wingbacks:
- Crossing — I think this is truly important, especially with Morata using his head so much
- Key Passes — Obviously critical. If you aren’t doing this, what are you doing?
- Tackles — Gotta defend sometimes
- Interceptions — Positioning matters too
- Dribbling — If you can’t dribble, how can you beat your man?
- Unsuccessful Touches & Dispossessed — I know these are a bit sketchy in terms of good, accurate data, but still, I think they at least deserve a look
When I look through this dataset, here is what stands out to me:
- Weiser, Odriozola, and Cancelo dribble. A LOT. Weiser is quite good at it, too. It’s possible the Bundesliga is easier to dribble in, but I’m still impressed.
- None of them shoot all that much. And yes, Conti really did score 8 goals last season(o). Meunier somehow scored 3 goals with 3 shots on target. #BULLSEYE
- Weiser loses the ball a lot, and gets fouled a lot, which tends to happen when you dribble a lot. I’m also beginning to believe he simply HAS the ball a lot. But good to see someone comfortable on the ball.
- Moses has more dribbles than one would think this season, but he should be better at it, based on his peers’ performances. He’s comfortably in the middle of the pack, but that’s kind of the problem and thus point of this article, isn’t it?
Thoughts (in passing) on passing:
- Weiser is a pretty good crosser of the ball. And does it quite a bit, too. Pereira as well. Odriozola next down the list, but he also crosses a LOT.
- The same names are coming up in terms of Key Passes as well, along with Sidibe. But Weiser with 32? That’s fantastic for a wingback. And yes, I just went and checked, and of his Buli and EL starts, 12 of the 20 were at wingback, with 5 as an AMR and 2 as an MR (1 as AML). So it’s possible he’s padding these a little, but that’s ok in my book. Versatility and attacking play. If you are going to cheat, at least cheat well.
- Weiser also seems the worst general passer of the bunch. Mid 80s seems to be the general sweet spot with wingback passing, at least in this group.
- Odriozola is the early leader when it comes to assists: 4 at the halfway point is quite good indeed.
I might get a bit defensive about this data (dad-joke inserted successfully):
- Weiser, Montoya, Pereira, and Mario are all high volume tacklers. Cancelo and Conti too. Meunier, Zappa and Moses have the least volume, but also the least minutes. Bit of a wash.
- Weiser and then Montoya high with the Interceptions.
- Mario and Weiser the biggest foulers, follwed by Sidibe and Montoya.
- Winning aerials seems really hit or miss, and I would bet good money this is a height thing. Either they have it or they don’t.
- Weiser, Mario and Montoya have good pass block numbers. Nice to see. Means good positioning, along wit the interceptions. I’ve got clearances and the other kinds of blocks in there too, because technically these are defensive positions (sort of), but nothing I’m sweating over.
Good Analysts Copy, Great Analysts Steal
The last data I’m going to include are some “Characteristics” that Whoscored put together based on their data. Each image will have their name in it, so I figured that’s easier than simply trying to re-purpose it into my own table and act like I did the leg work. Call this a nod to their work, in an attempt to help us get a better look. All credit, seriously, to them here, and whatever their data algorithm is to populate this.
Get To Da Choppa!
So, who do we want to hop on board the Big Blue Bus? Who’s our pick of this litter? Which Wingback Would We Want if We Wanted A Wonderful Wingback? Here’s how I’d rack and stack them, with a brief reason why.
- Weiser - He’s young, but not too young. He’s a good crosser, a good tackler, he’s fast, his biggest weakness is aerials, and that’s ok with me. He might struggle with the physicality of the PL, but he’s a great dribbler, and gets the ball in the right place a lot. He’s at a smaller club, so if we wanted him we should have no problem getting him.
- Pereira - He’s at a good age, would blend in well. He’s got one year left on his current deal. He’s pretty quick. Great passer of the ball. Good tackler.
- Sidibe - Prime age, good experience with Monaco. He’s not short. He’s very balanced, and quick. And a good defender. Could be a better dribbler though. A decent crosser of the ball.
- Meunier - Big, strong, Belgian. Am I talking about a footballer or an ale? He’s a great passer, good with the ball at his feet, but hardly ever dribbles. an okay crosser, but doesn’t cross much. He’s well rounded. Basically your ‘safe’ bet. I’d definitely consider him better than either Moses or Zappacosta, but he doesn’t excite me. He’s the wingback you feel safe bringing home to mom and dad, if you get my drift.
- Montoya - Really good defensively, but not offering a lot going forward compared to the others. Just not enough bang for the buck where we need it. We already have trouble with the ‘going forward’ part, so more of the same won’t cut it.
- Mario - Longest deal of the bunch. Oldest too. All around good player, but not the fastest, and doesn’t dribble that much, or that well. Crossing isn’t really his forte, either.
- Odriozola - Good balanced player, likes to dribble, even though he’s not great at it. Good passer. Not very good defensively. He’s an active passer, as well. That’s about all he’s got going for him though. Fast. But doesn’t tick enough boxes.
- Hysaj - Balanced, strong player. Playing for the #1 Serie A team right now, with three more years left on his deal, so even if we did want him, would be a very hard sell. And he’s not worth it IMO. Doesn’t lose the ball, good passer, solid defensively but not much else.
- Cancelo - The first of the injured pair. Good balanced player. Would be maybe a bit higher if not for the injury. Good tackler, not a very good passer. Decent dribbler, but nothing special, beyond dribbling a LOT. Fast. At least before the injury. No idea until we see how he recovers.
- Conti - The second injured one. Simply not someone we could buy right now. Balanced player, but not exciting enough, beyond his goal scoring. He’s kind of tall, too. Not a great passer of the ball. Definitely not a good crosser. Really good defensively, but that’s pretty much the opposite of what we are prioritizing.
In the end, what’s probably going to happen is, well, nothing. We will continue with Moses and Zappacosta, and not spend any money on this position in a January window. At least that’s what the safe, sweater-vest-wearing version of me believes. That part of me that wants to dye my hair blue and run through the streets with excitement, well he hopes we buy someone off the list. I’ll gladly take any of the first three.
What say the rest of you? Any other names to throw in the ring? Did I get my list entirely wrong? Are the guys I want really horrible? Let’s discuss below!