finding-a-replacement-for-jadon-sancho-at-dortmund-data-analysis-statistics

Few players come to mind when you think of a player that has taken the Bundesliga by storm in the last couple of years. Jadon Sancho is one such player, the 20-year-old English winger playing for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Sancho cemented his place in Dortmund’s starting eleven as early as the age of 19 and has been one of the key cogs of the side that has seen a complete revamp under manager Lucien Favre, ever since the Frenchman took charge of the German side in 2018. He has truly entered the world-class bracket among one of the best players in the world.

The 20-year old however has been subject to constant, and strong links with Manchester United in the last two years, which have particularly materialized this transfer window. With such massive boots to fill, it will be important for Borussia Dortmund to replace Sancho’s mind-blowing output of 31 goals and assists and a few other aspects of the game where he excels, in case the Englishman does move on back to the Premier League

This data analysis seeks to analyze Jadon Sancho’s player profile making use of various in-game data and statistics and to explore a few names that would potentially be worthy replacements at the club.

Player overview

Jadon Sancho has come a long way since he arrived from Manchester City’s academy as a 17-year-old back in 2017. He made his debut late in the season and there were some indications that he would go on to muster his 12 goal and 14 assists that he did the following season, which is an incredible output. He has grown into his role much more this past season, having a combined 31 G+A output to show for.

Sancho has displayed various levels of versatility all along the front line and his maturity at the age of 19 has been lauded by many. Right from an early age, his ability to create and finish chances laid out to him has been a remarkable trait and certainly something that allowed him to grow. He functions primarily as a right-winger but as pointed to earlier, has also been deployed on the left, through the middle and up front as well. He sits 2nd in the Bundesliga for assists with 16 with an xA of 0.35, 5th in the league this season, and 3rd for goals scored with 17 to his name. He is very active in front of the opposition penalty area- underscored by his 67 key passes ranked 7th in the league as well as his through balls completed at 9 – placing him 4th. He has also produced over 124 shot-creating actions including 32 goal creating actions – putting him 4th and 1st in the league respectively. Sancho is also a stellar dribbler of the ball – he boasts over 6.46 dribbles per 90 with a success rate of just over 56% and is ranked 1st in the Bundesliga for players dribbled past for two seasons in a row.

With such a solid mold of a winger, it will be difficult to scout a replacement that slots in like a glove. However, any potential player must, therefore, be able to play in these roles, offer creativity and numbers in terms of goals and assists to match his stellar output from last season. For this data analysis, some of the metrics chosen to scout prospective players are – A.) must be under the age of 24, having played over 600 minutes in their respective domestic leagues which must be in the European top 5, B.) have the ability to play on either wing, C.) be a fantastic dribbler, passer and ball progress among other specific qualities and finally, D.) be available to purchase in the transfer market for a suitable fee. Having filtered from a dataset that matches our criteria, 5-60 players were obtained. Traits such as creativity, output, activity near the penalty area, passing and dribbling statistics, and other finer parameters of the game will be put against one another in scatterplots.

Forward Instinct

A winger’s activity in and around the opposition area and how he chooses to operate in the said area can be a differentiating factor. Sides that play with a great deal of possession are bound to create a greater number of chances, and a winger’s involvement in this aspect is key. Stats like smart passes, key passes, through balls, passes into the penalty area and forward passes are great indicators to analyse how effective a winger’s involvement is in the final third and to what level his intentions lie to play the ball forward. With varying levels of difficulty posed by the opposition in the mid and deep blocks, we can measure how well the player is in breaking them from the scatter-plots below

Scatter-plot of Key Passes completed per 90 against % of Forward passes
Scatter plot that puts Smart passes per 90 against Through balls per 90

Leipzig starlet Christopher Nkunku stands out well against the rest. With close to 3.18 key passes per 90 and 68 key passes in total in the Bundesliga this season, the Frenchman is ranked 5th this season. Couple that with his devastating ability to dribble with the ball at his feet and maneuver the ball forward, he clearly makes for a solid profile of a winger we are looking for.

Norwich City’s stand out player this season, Emiliano Buendia has gained plaudits for his performances this season. He stands out well against the rest for smart passes and through balls as well just under 3 key passes per game with a forward passing accuracy of 75%. His numbers this season are staggering, given that he’s played in a team which got relegated; he sits 6th and 3rd respectively for both key passes and through balls completed this season in the premier league with 79 and 16 to his name.

Jacob Bruun Larsen, the Danish international playing for Hoffenheim completes just over 3 key passes per game and an 80% forward pass accuracy, it is apparent that the young winger is extremely potent going forward and offers heaps in creativity. He would, however, not fit our criteria as he only recently signed for Hoffenheim.

Swedish winger Dejan Kulusevski is fresh off a brilliant campaign with Parma this season in the Serie A, gaining links with the likes of Juventus and Inter. The 20-year old winger completes just under 1.75 smart passes and 1.5 Throughballs per 90.

Jonathan Ikone playing for Lille in the French Ligue 1 has been a constant threat for defenders this season. With around 0.26 through balls per 90 he is ranked 8th for through balls completed with 6 to his name. Ikone is regularly seen spraying the penalty area with his passes creating numerous goal-scoring chances and is ranked 6th with 38 to his name.

Dribbling and ball progression

Dribbling is the essence of creativity, and arguably the most important statistic to judge a winger on. Jadon Sancho offers this in heaps- like mentioned earlier he is has been ranked 1st in the league for players dribbled past two seasons in a row. To be creative a winger needs to possess the technical ability to move forward with the ball through running and keep the defender guessing by adding the dribble. Potential players must be able to match Sancho’s 6.56 dribble attempts per game, which we will explore next

Scatter plot showing Dribbling accuracy % vs dribbles completed per 90
Scatter-plot displaying progressive passes per 90 against progressive runs made per 90

Algerian winger-cum-wing-back Youcef Atal stands way clear of the rest in both the scatterplots. and attempts a staggering 12 dribbles per game, with an accuracy of just under 50%. He has been a mainstay in at French club OGC Nice and in the 18/19 season finished 6th in the number of players dribbled past at 119. His progressive runs and passing numbers are nothing short of remarkable as well. He has been excellent for the French side in both years at the club and is extremely versatile as both a wingback and a winger.

The 2018 Turkish footballer of the year, Cengiz Under also shows tidy numbers with his dribbling and ball progression. He attempts close to 8 dribbles per 90 with an accuracy of close to 60%, a percentage considered almost elite.

Kosovan international Milot Rashica has had a brilliant campaign for Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga. With around 4.21 dribbles attempted per 90 with an accuracy of 61%, it is evident that Rashica possesses the ability to beat his marker with ease and is comfortable as a ball progressor.

Emiliano Buendia as mentioned earlier for his attacking instinct going forward, makes another appearance, this time for his ball progression. The ability to make attack space and advance forward is vital for any winger and Buendia displays both to good measure. With just over 5 dribbles per game with a 76% accuracy, Buendia is ranked 3rd in the league for players dribbled past.

Creativity

A winger’s contribution in terms of chances created for their teammates is one of the most important aspects to judge their quality. Beyond merely goals and assists, there are a few finer parameters of the game that can be compared and put against one another in a scatter plot to explore creativity at a somewhat deeper level. Specifically, the ability to cross and pass the ball effectively into the opposition box allows for better goal-scoring opportunities and will be measured alongside a player’s expected assists rating per 90 minutes compared to key passes completed per game. On the scatterplot, the region more to the right-hand side indicates a better crosser and the same on the top side indicates a better passer. A key pass is defined as a pass that leads to a shot on goal by the receiver and is a great indicator of creativity.

Scatter plot showing crosses completed to the penalty area vs passes to the penalty area
Scatter-plot displaying xA (expected assists) per 90 against key passes per 90

AS Roma winger Cengiz Under makes another appearance in our analysis. Under completes 4.68 crosses per game in total and just about a cross into the penalty area, whilst his passes into the penalty area are numbered at around 5. The Turkish international is clearly a very creative individual having stood out in other aspects as well.

Yousef Atal, operating as a right wingback on most occasions is expected to have a larger output in terms of crosses and has just over 2.74 crosses per game to show for.

20- year old English winger Dwight McNeil, playing for Burnley in the premier league is a fresh name. Burnley’s system allows Mcneil to exploit advanced spaces and provide the occasional cross or the pass. He makes just over 0.8 crosses along with 3.5 passes into the opposition penalty area. McNeil sits 3rd in crosses into the penalty box and 5th in total crosses attempted this season in the premier league.

Cristopher Nkunku and Jacob Bruun-Larsen make another appearance, this time for their creativity. Both, as shown in the scatterplot are head and shoulders away from others with an xA per game numbered close to 0.7 along with more than 3 key passes per game. Emiliano Buendia is another familiar name from previous analyses. Bruun-Larsen, again, would not fit our criteria mentioned and will be omitted.

French international Moussa Diaby is another new name that is fresh off a brilliant campaign with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. The 21-year old is clearly very active in the final third given by his 0.9 crosses and 4.5 passes into the penalty box. Couple that with his sublime dribbling ability – 5.54 dribbles per 90 with a 61% accuracy makes him 4th in the Bundesliga for players dribbled past. Diaby provides for a very solid profile of a winger.

Output

What a winger at the end of the day is judged on solely, boils down to his offensive output in-game. To measure this, expected goals and assists per 90 were selected because they are fair indicators for how a player would perform in the future in terms of their attacking numbers. As a note, a combined xG+A of around 0.5 would mean great numbers for a winger, to be able to match Sancho’s.

Scatterplot putting xG (expected goals) per 90 vs xA (expected assists) per 90

Christopher Nkunku as mentioned in previous occasions has a combined xG+A greater than 0.5, which makes him an ideal candidate. 23- year old Marcus Thuram playing for Borussia Monchengladbach also shines with a staggering 0.67 xG+A after a brilliant season in the Bundesliga.

Final Shortlist

The results of this data analysis will now be presented, with 3 clear names that might well prove to be worthy replacements for Jadon Sancho and need to be scouted further to explore the tactical nuances of their game. One must remember that the results of this analysis focus on data and statistics more than a tactical view and was therefore kept aside for the moment.

  1. Christopher Nkunku –                                                                                            The Frenchman has been a major cog in a Leipzig side that reached the semi-finals of the UEFA champions league this season. His tally of 5 goals and 13 assists highlight his creative side more than anything else – he sits 3rd in the Bundesliga for assists and assists per game with an xA at 8.8, placing him 6th in the league this season. Nkunku’s shot-creating actions per game and goal creating chances per game are numbered at 4.91 and 21 both 3rd in the league. Nkunku shined in a number of different areas of this analysis and if he is able to elevate his output in terms of his goals, he can without a doubt be scouted as a worthy Jadon Sancho replacement at Dortmund.

2.  Emiliano Buendia –                                                                                                        The 23-year old Argentinian has been the spark of an otherwise passive Norwich city side that was relegated back to the championship. Buendia however has emerged as one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Although not having much to show as output – with a mere 1 goal and 7 assists, his movement off the ball and creativity evidently standout from this data analysis. His stellar dribbling ability allows him to break opposition lines rather effortlessly and glide past opponents, underscored by the number players he has dribbled past –111 placing him 3rd in the league. The young winger also possesses an arsenal of passes that stimulate real goal scoring opportunities. Buendia sits 7th in the premier league for shot-creating actions this season. Blessed with such a high ceiling it would be interesting to see how Buendia decides his career path from Norwich.

3.  Youcef Atal –                                                                                                            The young Algerian international’s technical ability and creativity are his greatest strengths and when you look at his versatility as a Right back and both as a left and right-winger, it makes even more sense to scout the 24-year-old. Atal has regularly topped the charts for dribbles in the top 5 leagues. He completes almost 8 dribbles per match with an accuracy of just under 50%. Atal is also able to traverse large spaces on the pitch and is great as a ball progressor.

Conclusion

In this data analysis, we used data to produce scatter-plots to explore how Jadon Sancho’s player profile is extremely unique to Borussia Dortmund and the club would initially struggle to replace him in case he does move away to the Premier League. We honed into 3 such players as a result of putting various statistics on a scatter plot and getting the required results. It is clear, a certain class of young wingers do fit Sancho’s mold of a player and should be scouted further to know where their strengths and weaknesses lie and the tactical breakdown for the same.