Division 1 Feminine 2019/20: Scouting Paris Saint-Germain Feminine’s midfield options using data – data analysis
Paris Saint-Germain Feminine have been trying to close the gap with Olympique Lyon for several seasons but have fallen short for several seasons. After taking a quick review of the playing squad, one player and position stood out which required change. This analysis is a continuation of Gavin Robertson’s tactical analysis on Paris Saint-Germain Feminine’s playing style, detailing their areas of improvement. The areas he highlighted that needed some improvement was that of central midfield and left-wing. Midfield is an area that creates a base for any team to build off of for both defence and attack. Having a competent midfield double-pivot or trio allows a team to build their strategy and tactics and add focus to the way the manager wants them to play. Whether it be a counter-pressing, counter-attacking, possession-based or wide-based systems, having a midfield to facilitate this determines the success rate of these tactics working out. Their rivals Olympique Lyon are blessed with two of the best defensive midfielders in the world in Amandine Henry and Saki Kumagai. The double-pivot provides Lyon with a base on which they can build and allow the wealth of attacking talent to flourish. Similarly, PSG will need similar quality if they want to compete and close the gap between themselves and the French giants.
In this series, we are focusing on PSG Feminine’s issues in central midfield. Gavin specifically pinpointed Brazilian midfielder Formiga as the point of change. While she has been an outstanding performer for most of her career, she has entered the twilight stages of her career and will inevitably call time on her playing career given her age – 41 years of age to be exact. The squad already possesses a number of central midfielders of different profiles. Most notably Grace Geyoro and Sara Däbritz, however, neither player possesses the skillset Formiga brings to the team. The Brazilian is an all-action defensive-minded, passing midfielder who plays at the base of midfield. While the other central midfielders have these individual qualities, she collates these skills and gives PSG a different dynamic. Given how important the player has been to PSG and their need to find a suitable replacement as soon as possible.
In light of the above, we feel Paris Saint-Germain Feminine are in need of an explosive box-to-box midfielder who is equally proficient in transitions, defensive capacity, and offensive capacity. We will first perform data analysis to compare and filter out three potential transfer targets.
Firstly, it’s important to do a high-level comparison between Formiga and the current central midfielders in the squad to gauge the level of player in question. PSG currently have three other midfielders in their ranks that play in a central or defensive midfield role. Geyoro, Däbritz, and Aminata Diallo are the three other players, however, each have their own skillset. Geyoro usually slots in as a half-back and forms part of a back five. Most of her work remains in a defensive capacity rather than an attacking one. Däbritz is an efficient link player, taking in a number of passes and bringing other more attacking players into play. Diallo is a young, defensive midfielder but is still gathering experience and learning from the more experienced players in the squad.
For the internal squad comparison, I have used four metrics: forward passes, defensive duels, received passes, and recoveries. The reason for this is to show the players’ link up and defensive side to understand how well they’ve done across the same metrics. If we look at the statistics, Formiga has by far outperformed her teammates this season. She has averaged higher in all four metrics including forward passes, defensive duels, received passes, and recoveries. Being such an experienced player, Formiga has statistically outperformed her team, however, when you watch her play she lacks the mobility needed in a modern midfield. Against Lyon a few weeks ago, Henry and Dzsenifer Marozsán were able to bypass PSG’s midfield and go straight towards the defensive line. To accommodate such a player, PSG would need to play two explosive midfielders to compensate for her lack of pace. The team requires someone who can play a box-to-box midfield role to compliment the other PSG midfielders. Pairing someone alongside Geyoro or Däbritz and Nadia Nadim will give the team balance and give the team a bit more tactical flexibility.
Initial data validation
It’s difficult to find a player that can replicate all the metrics of a box-to-box midfielder that is equally proficient defensively as they offensively. The best player in the world in this regard would arguably be Henry, but playing for PSG’s rivals Lyon would make any transfer very very unlikely. For the initial data check, I have picked 14 of the best central and defensive midfielders and compared them against Formiga across a set range of metrics. For this comparison, I have used: defensive duels, recoveries, forward passes, and progressive runs. These four metrics are the closest data points that replicate the numbers of a box-to-box midfielder that can progress and transition possession from defence to attack through runs and passing.
The players used in this analysis include Allie Long, Andrine Hegerberg, Caroline Weir, Katie Zelem, Lia Walti, Morgan Brian, Maéva Clemaron, Sofie Junge-Pedersen, Sam Mewis, Sandie Toletti, Sophie Vaysse, Lindsay Horan, Kheira Hamraoui, and Veronica Boquete. Taking a wide range of players from across the top European and American leagues ensured I had a good mix of players to find the best fit.
Defensive transitions through progressive passing
First, we will compare forward passes per 90 minutes and recoveries per 90 minutes. This comparison will essentially give us a statistical indication of the players being able to win back possession in the defensive third and progress play forward. Keeping Formiga as the benchmark, we can see a clearer picture of the results and players who are able to transition from defence to attack through progressive forward passing. The first name to stand out is Mewis of North Carolina Courage in the NWSL who sits above average in both metrics. Junge-Pedersen of Juventus Women is another name who catches the eye. The Dane is considered here because of her impressive defensive ability and adequate passing ability. At 27 years of age, she is in her prime and could provide PSG with a more defensive presence. Next, I have picked out Horan who has been a consistent performer for club and country. Averaging over 12 recoveries and forward passes per 90 minutes, she represents a solid option. Lastly, Toletti has stood out in terms of her average forward passes per 90 minutes producing the highest number this season. While her recoveries per 90 minutes are also above average.
Defensive transitions through driving runs
The next check was cross-checking progressive runs and defensive duels per 90 minutes. These are vital statistics that will give us a clear indication of the players’ ability to win back possession and progress possession from defence to attack through driving runs. We can see Formiga ranks as one the highest in defensive duels won per 90 minutes but rarely makes any progressive runs relying on others to do it for her. Keeping that in mind, it makes sense to look at players who are good at both metrics. But there aren’t any obvious candidates. Players such as Mewis ranks high when it comes to progressive runs per 90 minutes but remains in the average cluster for defensive duels won per 90 minutes. Junge-Pedersen is the opposite where she ranks highly in defensive duels won per 90 minutes and not progressive runs. Horan and Toletti can be considered because they produce high enough figures in both metrics.
Lastly, we will examine the players’ overall defensive ability. It is important to understand their defensive capacity to ensure PSG can be tactically flexible and provide support in a defensive capacity as well as an offensive one. Once again, we see that Formiga stands out and has performed admirably in this position. Surprisingly, Junge-Pedersen once again stands out in terms of her defensive duels and recoveries per 90 minutes. Horan too makes the list and is just under Formiga in terms of defensive duels per 90 minutes but performs well in recoveries per 90 minutes. Another name worth a mention is Vaysse who has a high volume of defensive duels per 90 minutes and just around the average mark in terms of recoveries per 90 minutes.
Junge-Pedersen has featured prominently in all three metric comparisons. The Juventus midfielder maybe a very defensive player for Paris-Saint Germain Feminine. Averaging 9.6 defensive duels per 90 minutes and 6.2 interceptions per 90 minutes. Her 14.2 average recoveries per 90 minutes makes her even more useful in a defensive capacity. PSG rely on defensive solidarity to keep opposition players out and their powerful front line to score goals. With the central defenders stepping up into midfield positions or playing long diagonal passes into the wide players, central midfield is often bypassed. Bringing in the Danish midfielder, however, could change these tactics. She receives close to 29 passes per 90 minutes and 9 passes into the final third.
Another standout performer across the three metrics has been Horan. The American midfielder has been regularly hailed as one of the best central midfielders in the NWSL. PSG will be familiar with the midfielder having played at the club for four seasons before moving on to the Portland Thorns. She averages 18.36 forward passes per 90 minutes (12.07 are accurate) and receives an average of 32.14 per 90 minutes. Horan’s defensive work is notable too with 7.86 defensive duels and 11.5 offensive duels per 90 minutes making her an excellent option to press more aggressively. However, whether a transfer back to Division 1 Féminine will be one Horan seems unlikely.
Our final pick would be Toletti who is another name many wouldn’t recognise. The French midfielder plies her trade at Montpellier but has proven to be an excellent midfielder based on the results we extracted from the data above. A playmaking midfielder, Toletti is more effective in her passing than defensive work, however, with an average of 10.53 recoveries and 5.8 defensive duels per 90 minutes, Toletti could prove to be a shrewd, yet, viable option. Playing in the French league makes her experience vital and could slot in next to PSG’s current crop of midfielders.
Having assessed a number of different options through our initial data analysis, it is clear to see that while there are a number of players who excel at one trait or another, there are very few midfielders who can do it all. The results gave us some big-name players but it was two relatively unknown entities that have proven to be extremely useful. Junge-Pedersen seems the most logical choice for Olivier Echouafni’s side as she brings a balance of defensive stability and offensive capabilities. Next, I will look to analyse her traits in matches and see how her strengths translate onto the pitch.