Finding the best wingers outside the “Big Six” in the Premier League – data analysis
The start of the 2020/21 English Premier League season has been nothing short of entertaining. In the 12 game weeks that we have had, there have been a whopping 315 goals scored at an average of 2.65 goals per game. You do need to score goals to win games and while defenders would not be too pleased by the above statistics, the attackers cannot seem to get enough. They are crucial to their side’s chances and the onus is on them to put the ball in the back of the net to seal the maximum points possible. Hence, it is important to have better frontmen in your side and it is also evident as to why the bigger clubs with better attackers are able to consistently finish higher up the league. In this data analysis, however, we will look at the data and statistics of wingers outside the “Big Six” in the Premier League and identify the standout performers so far this season. The “Big Six” would consist of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal and despite their varying degrees of performances so far this season, any winger from these sides would be omitted from our analysis.
As mentioned above, no player among the “Big Six” clubs would be considered in this analysis. Furthermore, only players that have played a minimum of 500 minutes for their respective clubs have been taken into account and these players should have played down the wing for the majority of their games as their statistics would not be comparable otherwise. For this reason, players who have operated at other positions primarily and only played as wingers in certain matches or phases have been omitted from our analysis as well. Our analysis will look at various data such as the goal involvements, passing and dribbling statistics of the eligible wingers in order to identify the key performers.
In the modern age of football, a winger’s role is no longer limited to picking out the centre-forward in the box. Wingers, with all their skill and agility, are now tasked with creating chances for themselves and their teammates almost out of nowhere and it is the best wingers that carry out this task consistently. In the above graph, we compare the assist statistics of the wingers to their expected assist data to identify the standout providers.
Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish is the outstanding performer in this metric, with the Englishman recording 0.51 assists per 90 or rather an assist nearly every two games. He also outperforms his expected assist statistic of 0.34 and is well ahead of James Rodríguez in second. The Columbian has had a good start to the season himself, recording 0.34 assists per 90 which is well ahead of his xA of 0.23. His teammate Richarlison has the third-highest assists with 0.31 per 90 and massively outperforming his xA per 90 of just 0.13. The Wolves duo of Daniel Podence (0.26 assists/90 and 0.11 xA/90) and Pedro Neto (0.23 assists/90 and 0.23 xA/90) follow, with the former having performed well above his expected statistic.
West Ham’s Pablo Fornals has also performed well in this initial phase, recording 0.21 assists per 90 despite an xA of just 0.04 per 90. Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp (0.17 assists/90 and 0.05 xA/90) and Eberechi Eze (0.16 assists/90 and 0.08 xA/90) have also performed above average with Fulham’s Ademola Lookman and Newcastle United’s Allan Saint-Maximin completing the list of players above average with their 0.15 assists/90 though the former has outperformed his xA per 90 of 0.09 while the latter has fallen below his xA/90 of 0.17.
Leeds United’s Jack Harrison, despite having the second-highest xA/90 of 0.32, has greatly underperformed having recorded just 0.11 assists per 90. Brighton’s Leandro Trossard (0.24 xA/90 and 0.13 assists/90) and Solly March (0.17 xA/90 and 0.11 assists/90) have also underperformed as have Aston Villa’s Mahmoud Trézéguet (0.19 xA/90 and 0.12 assists/90), West Brom’s Mattheus Pereira (0.19 xA/90 and 0.11 assists/90) and Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend (0.22 xA/90 and 0.10 assists/90). However, the biggest underperformer is perhaps Wolves’ Adama Traoré who has failed to record a single assist despite his xA per 90 of 0.18.
When we look at the shooting statistics of the wingers, we once again see a few of those that we mentioned earlier. In the above graph, the shots per 90 statistics of the wingers are compared to their shooting accuracy along with their goal conversion rate below their names. We see that Richarlison takes the most shots, 3.42 per 90, with an accuracy of 40.91%. His goal conversion rate, however, is a mere 4.55%. Grealish follows in terms of volume of shots, taking 2.87 shots per 90 with an accuracy of 42.86% with a goal conversion rate of 17.86%, one of the highest in the league. Lookman’s 2.68 shots per 90 put him ahead of Leicester City’s Harvey Barnes (2.60 shots per 90) although his accuracy of 38.89% and conversion rate of 11.11% is lesser than that of Barnes’ 54.55% and 13.64% respectively. Trézéguet (2.37 shots/90) and Trossard (2.17 shots/90) rank highly in terms of volume but with an accuracy of 35% and 35.29% along with conversion rates of 0% and 5.88% respectively, they have been poor in terms of quality. In fact, among those who have taken an above-average number of shots per 90, only West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen (2.33 shots per 90 and 22.73% on target) and Pereira (1.82 shots per 90 and 18.75% on target) have lower accuracies although the former boasts an impressive conversion rate of 18.18%.
We also see Podence and Neto performing well once again, with the former taking 2.11 shots per 90 with an accuracy of 50% and conversion rate of 12.5% compared to the latter’s 2.15 shots per 90 with an accuracy of 42.11% and conversion rate of 15.79%. Rodríguez’s accuracy of 55.56% is the second-highest in the league from his 2.04 shots per 90 and his conversion rate of 16.67% is decent as well but considering his higher accuracy, it could be better as well. Fulham’s Bobby Decordova-Reid is lowest in terms of volume out of those who have taken an above-average number of shots with his 1.75 shots per 90 but his accuracy of 54.55% is the third highest in the league and his conversion rate of 27.27% is the highest as well.
As always, scoring goals is an important benchmark by which any attacker is rated and in the above graph, we compare the expected goals per 90 metrics with that of the actual goals scored by the wingers. Grealish impresses once again, massively outperforming his xG per 90 of 0.20 with his 0.51 goals per 90. This along with his impressive assists statistic shows just how influential the Englishman has been for his side in the early stages of this campaign. Decordova-Reid has performed well as well, with his 0.48 goals per 90 well above his 0.28 xG per 90. Neto (0.23 xG per 90 and 0.34 goals per 90) and Bowen (0.33 xG per 90 and 0.42 goals per 90) are the remaining two players with above-average xG and goals per 90 to outperform their expected metric.
The likes of Barnes, Lookman, Podence and Fornals have fallen below their expected goals metric and while this suggests that they have not been as clinical as they could be, it also does mean that they have a good scope for improvement as well. On the other hand, Rodríguez (0.16 xG per 90 and 0.34 goals per 90), Hélder Costa (0.16 xG per 90 and 0.27 goals per 90) and March (0.12 xG per 90 and 0.22 goals per 90) have all scored an above-average number of goals despite their below average xG. This could probably mean that their goals have come from long range or tighter angles but is still impressive that they have managed to outperform their expected metric to such an extent.
However, there are also players on the other end of the spectrum, with above-average xG but below-average goals scored. Richarlison is at the head of this list, having an xG of 0.50 per 90 but just 0.16 goals per 90. He is followed by Ivan Cavaleiro who has scored at 0.14 goals per 90 despite having an xG of 0.27 per 90. Trossard (0.2 xG per 90 and 0.13 goals per 90) is an underperformer here as well as is Trézéguet, who despite having an xG of 0.26 per 90 is yet to score this season. With the goal involvements covered, we now move onto the passing statistics.
For the passing statistics, we will look to cover mainly the attacking nature of passes. To begin, we will look at the passes to the final third of the wingers. Rodríguez shines in terms of volume, making 7.13 passes to the final third per 90 with an accuracy of 79.37%. The Columbian is well ahead of March in second with 5.28 passes per 90 albeit with much lower accuracy of 52.08%. His teammate Adam Lallana is close behind though, having made 5.04 passes to the penalty area per 90 with much better accuracy of 83.87%. Grealish (4.72 passes per 90 and 73.91% accuracy) features well once again and we also see Burnley’s Dwight McNeil (4.3 passes per 90 and 68.2% accuracy) perform well as well.
The Crystal Palace duo of Eze and Schlupp perform well decently as well though the latter’s accuracy of 66.67% falls below the average. The same goes for Decordova-Reid and Pereira as well, who despite having above-average passes to the final third per 90, find themselves below average in terms of accuracy. Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong, however, is above average with his accuracy of 73.33% from his 3.74 passes to the final third per 90. Following him, Fornals just about makes the average accuracy with his 70% from his 3.11 passes to the final third per 90. While the likes of Traoré, Neto and Saint-Maximin boast much higher accuracy than the above-mentioned players, they have made a below-average number of passes and hence we would not read too much into their accuracy.
Taking it a step further and looking at the passes to the penalty area per 90, we see a few changes. March tops this metric with his 4.95 passes to the penalty area per 90 although his accuracy of 48.89% is just below average. Rodríguez (4.53 passes per 90 and 57.5% accuracy) and Grealish (3.9 passes per 90 and 68.42% accuracy) feature highly here as well but it is Harrison who comes second with his 4.66 passes to the penalty area per 90 with an accuracy of 51.16%. Apart from them, McNeil (3.56 passes per 90 and 50% accuracy) and Townsend (3.69 passes per 90 and 59.46% accuracy) perform well as does Traoré although his accuracy of 39.13% falls well below the average.
Closer to the average in terms of volume, we find Trossard and Lookman featuring above the average in terms of accuracy with their respective values of 61.9% and 57.89%. Conversely, Neto and Cavaleiro fall below the average line in terms of accuracy with their respective values of 45.83% and 38.1%. Once again, while the likes of Hendrick, Fornals and Barnes show high accuracy in terms of their passes to the final third, we omit them owing to their below-average number of passes.
Finally, looking at the crosses per 90 we see Traoré top the list with his 5.11 crosses per 90 and accuracy of 36.36%. Harrison is second once again, with his 4.55 crosses per 90 and accuracy of 38.1%. McNeil, Neto and March are all very close in terms of volume but it is the Burnley man who finds himself higher up with an accuracy of 41.03% compared to 27.78% and 23.68% for the other two respectively. Townsend turns up decent statistics as well with his 3.19 crosses per 90 and 37.5% accuracy and we once again see the duo of Rodríguez and Grealish performing above average as well. Apart from them, Trossard is the only other player to have statistics higher than average for both metric with his 2.43 crosses per 90 and accuracy of 31.58%. Trézéguet (2.61 crosses per 90 and 27.27% accuracy), Schlupp (2.48 crosses per 90 and 20% accuracy) and Cavaleiro (2.47 crosses per 90 and 16.67% accuracy) round up the list of wingers with an above-average number of crosses although their accuracy falls below the average.
With the passing statistics covered, we will now move on to the dribbling statistics.
Traoré tops the dribbles per 90 metric as well with his 14.1 dribbles per 90 and a success rate of 69.23%. The next best is Grealish who is well behind with 10.05 dribbles per 90 although his accuracy of 71.43% is slightly better than that of Traoré. Saint-Maximin (9.12 dribbles per 90) and Neto (8.7 dribbles per 90) follow with nearly similar success rates of 53.23% and 53.25% respectively. Lookman (7.59 dribbles per 90) and Richarlison (7.62 dribbles per 90) have similar statistics in terms of volume although the Brazilian has the higher success rate of 67.35% compared to Lookman’s 62.75%.
Eze and West Brom’s Grady Diangana have a similar number of dribbles per 90 as well although the former has a much higher success rate of 63.64%. Apart from them, Pereira has the lowest success rate among those with an above-average number having only succeeded in 32.69% of his 5.9 dribbles per 90. Harrison, Schlupp, Costa and Barnes have a similar number of dribbles as Pereira but fare much better in terms of accuracy with Barnes the only one above-average out of the four.
Looking at the offensive duels per 90, Traoré tops this as well with 22.15 duels per 90 and a success rate of 56.64%. Following him, Richarlison (18.03 duels per 90), Grealish (17.94 duels per 90) and Eze (17.77 duels per 90) engage in a similar amount of duels per 90 with the Aston Villa man having the highest success rate not just among them but in the whole data set as well with his value of 61.14%. Saint-Maximin is next with his 17.06 duels per 90 and his success rate of 42.24% is very close to that of Lookman after him who engages in 16.21 duels per 90.
Diangana performs decently in this metric in terms of volume with his 15.57 duels per 90 but his accuracy of 39.83% is below the average. Neto follows him and with an accuracy of 46.72% from his 15.47 duels per 90, he is the last player to fall above average for both statistics. Cavaleiro (13.99 duels per 90) and Schlupp (12.9 duels per 90) have an above-average number of duels but unfortunately, they have the second and third lowest success rate among the data set. Pereira follows with his 12.37 duels per 90 and 39.45% success rate while Rodríguez just about makes it to over the average line with his 11.55 duels per 90.
Having compared the wingers with the different data and statistics, we will now proceed to identify the standout performer among the wingers outside the “Big Six”.
While the top clubs have the financial backing and pull to lure the bigger names to their clubs, the clubs outside of the “Big Six” are no short on talent themselves. Through our data analysis, we have seen a range of players that have performed exceptionally in the opening stages of the 2020/21 Premier League season and interestingly, many of these players would cost a fraction of that of the players in the bigger sides. However, the clear standout performer is one that Aston Villa have recently slapped a 100 million pound price tag on and that is their captain Jack Grealish.
Despite being tipped to move away from Villa Park at the end of last season, Grealish helped his side stay in the top flight and signed a new contract heading into the current season as well. The Englishman has only gone on to fully establish himself as one of the best wingers in the league, having scored four and assisted a further four goals in the opening 10 games. Grealish was crucial to Villa’s stunning start to the campaign that saw them thrash the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal and if the 80 million pound valuation at the end of last season seemed too high for the bigger clubs, it has only gone up and yet with the winger just turning 25, it could still turn out to be a bargain. Aston Villa still have 28 games left in the season and with the start they have, they would be looking to battle for a top-half finish if not for a Europa League spot and with Grealish at the fore and in his current form, it could very well be termed possible.