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Finding Atlético Madrid a replacement for Diego Costa - data analysis tactics

Uncovering 5 young Diego Costa replacements that could save Atlético Madrid millions

Just before the opening of the January transfer market, Atlético Madrid shockingly announced Diego Costa was leaving on a free due to personal reasons. The Brazilian/Spanish striker is a legend at the club and even if his recent form wasn0t the best, he still was an important player for Simeone.

Atlético Madrid will surely look to replace him in the squad as the only strikers at the moment are João Félix and Luis Suárez. Some of the rumoured targets are Willian José, Loren Morón and Arkadiusz Milik, but all of them would be quite expensive for Atlético Madrid. In this data analysis, we have used Total Football Analysis’ exclusive tool xGold to find similar players to Diego Costa who are under 23 years old and outside the top 5 leagues. Note all player profiles show how the player compares to the players in the same position and league in terms of percentiles (a score of 70 means the player is better than 70% of the strikers in his league in the respective metric).

João Pedro – 19, Watford

Finding Atlético Madrid a replacement for Diego Costa - data analysis tactics

João Pedro is a 19-year-old Brazilian forward. He started his career in Fluminense and after just one season in Brazil in which he played 28 games and scored 7 goals, Watford paid 4 million euros for him. Last season he made his Premier League debut and has become an important player for the Hornets in the current season, playing 1,173 minutes and scoring 5 goals so far in the Championship.

He has good physical conditions for a player of his age. Standing at 182 cm, he’s still developing his physicality but knows how to use his body to protect the ball. He’s athletic and a good runner. João Pedro has good hold-up play, usually coming to the left half-space to receive with his back to the goal and help his team establish in the opposition half. 

When it comes to his positioning in and around the goal, João Pedro prefers late runs or movements around the edge of the box so he creates space in front of him to shoot. This explains why his xG/shot ratio isn’t excellent as he doesn’t take a lot of shots from the six-yard box. But his finishing is excellent and he’s slightly overperforming his xG thanks to his very good conversion rate statistics (5 goals from 4.83 xG with a 20% conversion rate).

When on the ball, João Pedro is still inconsistent and his first touch still lets him down some times. Once he has controlled the ball, he’s skilled to turn and beat the defender and likes to attempt dribbles to take advantage of his pace (3.76 attempted dribbles per 90). However, he needs to be more consistent in his attempts to dribble past his marker as his dribble success is quite low (44.23%). His quick layoffs in and around the box create decent chances for the players around him and he has some vision to assist too (0.29 key passes and 0.05 xA per 90).

João Pedro is a player who’s on his way up but still has a lot of room to develop. He’s adapting well to Europe even in a difficult league as the English second tier. At the moment, he’s valued at 9 million euros by transfermarkt, but Atlético Madrid would probably need to pay more than that to get him out of Watford. He would be a good option to continue his development alongside Luis Suárez and João Félix.

Fyodor Chalov – 22, CSKA Moskva

Finding Atlético Madrid a replacement for Diego Costa - data analysis tactics

Fyodor Chalov is a 22-year-old Russian forward who has spent all his career at CSKA Moskva. Since making his debut aged 18, he has played 147 games for the Moscow side, scoring 44 goals and assist 28 times. He has also made his debut with the Russian national team but hasn’t established himself in the squad yet. 

Chalov is a medium-sized striker (180cm) who’s physically well-rounded but not imposing. His pace and strength are ok but not differential. He still has room to develop and would need to do it to adapt to tougher leagues.

His technique is very good and he’s capable of displaying excellent skills and quality details on the ball. He usually plays in central zones and doesn’t usually drift wide. His passing is excellent, he rarely loses the ball and can hold and protect the ball while he waits for his teammates to arrive with a rather good hold-up play.

Inside the box, Chalov shows his best version with his excellent first touch and a fantastic scoring ability. Even if he takes lots of shots from different positions, he still manages to reach a high goal conversion rate of 14.04%. Chalov can finish with both legs and is also dangerous with his movements inside the box, anticipating the defenders and getting into good positions. He’s underperforming his xG with 0.41 goals per 90 from 0.49 xG per 90.

He’s not a selfish striker and can assist when he has the ball in and around the box. His vision is great and he sets up lots of dangerous chances for his teammates with nice through passes or layoffs. This season, Chalov has 0.77 key passes and 0.17 xA per 90.

On the defensive side, Chalov is quite poor in the air and doesn’t need to work a lot as he plays in a dominant side. Anyway, his work rate is good and he’s not lazy in any way.

Chalov has already shown he should be playing at a higher level than the Russian Premier League. The jump to La Liga would be a big one and Russian players aren’t the ones who adapt the easiest historically, but he would have time to settle while Félix and Suárez take the responsibility and would be a very interesting addition for the near future. Having a look at CSKA’s selling history, a fee in the region of around 20 million euros should be enough to secure Chalov.

Vangelis Pavlidis – 22, Willem II

Finding Atlético Madrid a replacement for Diego Costa - data analysis tactics

Vangelis Pavlidis came through the academy at Bochum but only played 4 games with the first team. He had loan spells at Borussia Dortmund B and Willem II. It was in the Dutch team were the 22-year-old Greek striker started to show his potential. Since he arrived at the club, he has played 62 games and scored 26 goals, which is great for a club that’s not among the best in the Eredivisie.

Pavlidis is a big striker (186cm) who’s very physically imposing. He’s very strong in duels but also a powerful runner who’s difficult to stop once he accelerates. His main strength is his hold-up play. Pavlidis uses his body to hold the defenders and protect the ball, being capable of bringing down direct passes from the defensive line with an excellent aerial game but also receiving the ball to his feet and playing some nice first-touch layoffs. 

He moves all around the final third to help his team progress and establish in the final third playing with his back to the goal. He likes to pass the ball and attack the box, arriving into good positions and using his power to beat defenders. When it comes to creating for his teammates, the Greek striker chooses very good passing options, often reaching the touchline inside the box and putting the ball into very dangerous positions. Even if he doesn’t have too many key passes per 90 (0.26), those passes are usually very dangerous and amount to 0.2 xA per 90.

Pavlidis technique is good for a player of his size and he’s confident to dribble and try to progress by himself, but he relies more on his power than on quality and his dribbling completion rate is very low, especially in tight spaces. He attempts 5.44 dribbles per 90 but just completes 39.52% of them.

When it comes to scoring, Pavlidis is a quality finisher from difficult situations, placing his shots with quality from different positions. Again, he’s very confident and tries too many shots (2.41 shots per) but that also proves how much he trusts his shooting ability. With spaces, he plays off the shoulder of the centre-backs and has enough pace to reach passes over the defensive line. This season, Pavlidis is performing almost at the level predicted by data, with 7 goals from 7.17 xG so far.

With Pavlidis, Atlético would get a player capable of putting in play the players coming from the second line and a very physical option like Diego Costa. He could be a nice long term replacement of Suárez too and would have time to learn from him while adapting to La Liga. Willem II’s record departure was El Hamdaoui for 7 million euros, so Atlético Madrid could expect a fee below 10 million euros, which is a bargain in today’s market.

Jonas Wind – 21, Kobenhavn

Finding Atlético Madrid a replacement for Diego Costa - data analysis tactics

Jonas Wind is a 21-year-old Danish striker who has spent his whole career so far at Kobenhavn. He made his professional debut aged 19 and has played 67 matches since then, scoring 25 goals and assisting 12. He was also a regular scorer for Danish youth teams and is now part of the senior squad, having made four appearances and scoring two goals.

Wind is a very unusual striker. The Danish forward stands at 190 cm but he isn’t just a target man. Wind usually drops very deep, playing as a pivot between the lines and benefiting from having players around him.

He’s strong and well-coordinated, excellent in the air (involved in 10.6 aerial duels per 90, winning 50.9% of them) and also great at shielding the ball. But he’s also an excellent passer, being capable of progressing with quick combinations, assisting his teammates with excellent layoffs and creating chances with his vision and reading of the game. 

Once he has dropped deep and helped his team progress, Wind attacks the box from the second line and is an exceptional threat inside the box, combining good movements to find free spaces with his physicality to win duels and head crosses.

With his size, he finds it difficult to dribbles past players as he’s not quick enough. He could also have more presence in the box as sometimes he comes too deep and doesn’t reach the box in time to act as a pure striker, resulting in a low number of shots (2.09 per 90) and touches in the box (2.79 per 90).

Wind would add to Atlético Madrid physicality between the lines and a very good option to progress in a direct style. However, he would succeed playing both with Suárez and Félix around him and he could struggle to find his place in Simeone’s tactics. If they got him, Atlético Madrid would a very special player who could thrive in the correct system. 

Ezequiel Ponce – 23, Spartak Moskva

Finding Atlético Madrid a replacement for Diego Costa - data analysis tactics

Ezequiel Ponce is a 23-year-old Argentinian striker who has had a very intense career so far. He made his professional debut for Newell’s aged just 16 and his performances convinced Roma to buy him. He never made his debut for the Italian side and was loaned to Granada, Lille and AEK Athens, where he showed glimpses of his quality but never really excelled. In 2019 he signed for Spartak Moskva and he seems to have found some stability there, scoring 20 goals in 54 matches so far.

Ponce is an average-sized striker (181 cm) but physically strong and powerful in his runs and jumps. He’s very active with his off the ball movements, likes to run in behind and does it very intelligently to lose his marker and avoid being offside. He opens up spaces for his teammates with his runs and also creates passing lanes for him. Inside the box, Ponce shows determination when attacking spaces and also finds good positions between the centre-backs (4.69 touches in the box and 2.71 shots per 90).

His technique when playing in the second line is good, his first touch is solid with both feet and can play short passes accurately. He likes to come deep, play some passes and attack the box from the second line. He’s quite good in his hold-up play as he has the strength to protect the ball and quality in his layoffs. Ponce has nice details when dribbling and can use his pace to his benefit in difficult situations, but usually prefers to pass the ball rather than dribbling. He’s a good finisher with his head and his right foot (16.42% goal conversion).

Even if he’s not tall, his aerial game is decent and can be an option when his team wants to play long balls. He’s aggressive and works hard in every phase of the game.

Ponce seems like a player made for Simeone. He’s Argentinian, aggressive and can adapt to playing in a dominating or a counter-attacking side. He’s starting to fulfil his potential and has experience playing in Spain, so wouldn’t need a lot of adaptation. Spartak paid 3 million euros for him but would probably ask for a fee in the region of 10-15 million euros if we consider their selling history.

Conclusion

All the five options highlighted here would be interesting options for Atlético Madrid. Each one is different but they all have physical, tactical and technical qualities that can turn them into the replacement of Diego Costa.

Coming from leagues outside the top 5, their transfers should be quite realistic for a big club like Atlético Madrid and they could be much cheaper and long-term alternatives to the ones Atlético Madrid are considering.