Using xGold to find Real Sociedad a replacement for Alexander Isak – data analysis
Barring a last-minute change of heart from either club or player, it looks as though Newcastle United are set to complete the marquee signing of the Swedish international striker Alexander Isak from Real Sociedad. This is a move from Newcastle to finally flex their financial muscle in the market with the price thought to be in the region of £60M.
There is no doubt that, in Isak, we see Newcastle getting a modern and effective striker who is capable of adding value to Eddie Howe’s side in all phases of the game.
There are though, of course, two sides to this transfer and Real Sociedad are now faced with the prospect of losing their main striker and goal threat with just days left in the summer transfer window. They will have to assess the options around their squad and quickly make a decision as to whether they have to enter the market themselves to find a replacement.
Smart teams will have already built up succession plans for their players, especially for players that they perceive to be a ‘threat’ in terms of being targeted by other clubs. However, the reality is that not all clubs are smart in this sense. We should point out at this point, however, that we have no idea if Real Sociedad are smart or not, they just represent an interesting and current case study.
When it comes to making quick decisions in the market in terms of recruitment, the use of data is crucial. Data allows us to cut through a lot of the noise around football and to build bespoke profiles that allow us to target the right players at the right time. Here at Total Football Analysis, we use a tool that is custom-built for use with our clients called xGold to achieve this. This tool allows us to quickly filter through data to find players who are similar to others from a data perspective. This means that we can run a search on Alexander Isak with certain criteria in place and be presented in a matter of seconds with a list of players who profile in a similar way to the Swedish international. We would then, of course, always use a combination of video and live scouting in order to ensure the data is giving us the right players. The data is the starting point though.
In order to visualise the data of our players for this data analysis, we use statistics from Wyscout which will be run through Python in order to create pizza charts that then show a set of metrics we use to assess strikers. The data will also be converted into percentile rankings, with each player compared to strikers in their own leagues.
Firstly though, we should look at what Real Sociedad are losing in Alexander Isak based on data from the 2021/22 season.
Here is Alexander Isak’s data from the 2021/22 La Liga season where he played 3,661 minutes for Real Sociedad in the league.
Isak is a striker who is very modern in his approach to the game in that he has the ability to come deep and receive the ball either centrally or in the half-spaces. He has an excellent touch with the ability to receive and then hold up play or spin to release teammates into space. He can also, however, lead the line and play on the shoulder of the defender in order to threaten the space in behind the defensive line.
His data from the 2021/22 season shows this. While he was only in the 53rd percentile for goal contributions per 90 (goals and assists), he was in the 88th percentile for expected goal contributions. This suggests to us that his actual goal contribution input is likely to rise going forward. This is further supported by the underlying attacking data for Isak. He was in the 91st percentile for shots per 90, the 82nd percentile for shots on target % and the 91st percentile for touches in the opposition area.
While his attacking data last season was very strong, he was also balanced in terms of the fact that he had a positive output in terms of ball progression across the board but especially when it comes to carries where he was in the 91st percentile.
Now, let’s break down the three options that xGold thinks could make good replacements for Alexander Isak from a data perspective.
#1 Amine Gouiri, 22 years old, forward, Nice and France, 92% match
The first player that xGold has given us is the 22-year-old French forward Amine Gouiri of Nice. Now, Gouri is a player who has spent time throughout his career playing as the second striker with a clear tendency to drift deeper and into the half-spaces but we are of the opinion that he has the ability to play effectively through the middle as the main striker for a club like Real Sociedad. Gouiri is actually a product of the youth academy at Lyon although he moved across France in 2020 to sign for Nice for a fee reported to have been in the region of £6.3M.
He is listed at 180cm | 5’11” with an athletic build so he is a different player to Isak from a physical point of view but his tendencies would see him play in similar positions on the pitch to the Swedish stiker.
With that said, the signing of a player like Gouiri to play as their main striker would likely see a change in role for players around the ‘9’ at Real Sociedad given the fact that Gouiri is notably stronger than Isak from a chance creation and ball progression point of view.
Last season Gouiri was in the 79th percentile for goal contributions and the 82nd percentile for expected goal contributions His underlying data was not as strong as Isak’s but he is a different type of striker. He was in the 69th percentile for shots per 90, the 74th percentile for shots on target % and the 52nd percentile for touches in the opposition area. His output in terms of ball progression and chance creation was stronger all-round than Isak’s and he was in the 81st percentile for carries, the 77th percentile for dangerous passes and the 74th percentile for progressive actions.
xGold match to Alexander Isak – 92%
#2 Georges Mikautadze, 21 years old, forward, Metz and Georgia, 89% match
The next player on our list is the 21-year-old Georgian international forward Georges Mikautadze of Metz in the French second flight. The data for Mikautadze is actually taken from his loan spell last season in the Belgian top-flight with RFC Seraing.
Mikautadze had an extended loan spell in Belgium having helped Seraing gain promotion to the top-flight in the 20/21 season. This season, however, he is very much seen as an important first-team player with Metz looking to win promotion from the French second tier. There were reports recently linking the Georgian striker to a move to Burnley but the English side could not put together a package to tempt Metz to make the sale.
Mikautadze was born in France but to Georgian parents and he has chosen to represent Georgia at international level where he has 2 goals in 11 appearances at senior international level.
The Georgian forward is an interesting case study because his data has to be considered through the context of the club that he was playing at. Last season Seraing managed to avoid relegation but they were a small side that were trying to adjust to the pressures of playing against stronger sides with more financial backing.
We believe that when playing with better players Mikautadze has the potential to improve his outputs. Indeed, with Metz likely to be one of the strongest Ligue 2 sides this season his data profile will be much stronger at the end of this season. Identifying these types of players early is an important factor in recruitment.
Last season Mikautadze was in the 58th percentile for goal contributions and the 62nd percentile for expected goal contributions. he was in the 83rd percentile for shots per 90 and the 50th percentile for shots on target % and the 68th percentile for touches in the opposition area. He was also in the 82nd percentile for carries.
xGold match to Alexander Isak – 89%
#3 Jonathan Burkardt, 22 years old, forward, Mainz and Germany, 87% match
The last player on our list is the 22-year-old German forward Jonathan Burkardt of Mainz in the Bundesliga. He is actually a product of the youth system at Darmstadt although he moved at a young age to join the younger age groups at Mainz and he has played his way through the age groups to become an important first-team player for the German side. He has been a regular player, and goalscorer, for the German national setup, having played for them from U15 level all of the way through to U21 level. He has actually scored 10 goals in 20 caps at U21 level.
Burkardt is a modern forward who is comfortable in a variety of roles and positions on the field. He is physical enough to be comfortable playing and receiving the ball with his back to goal but he can also spin and run the channels in order to stretch the pitch and attack the space behind the opposition’s defensive line.
In terms of his data last season, Burkardt was in the 64th percentile for goal contributions, the 70th percentile for expected goal contributions, the 84th percentile for shots per 90, the 56th percentile for the % of shots on target and the 91st percentile for touches in the opposition area per 90. He is also, like the others on our list, a strong ball carrier as he was in the 72nd percentile for carries.
xGold match to Alexander Isak – 87%
So there we have it. Using our exclusive xGold tool we have identified three players in this analysis, all with slightly different profiles, who would represent good choices for Real Sociedad as they face the prospect of replacing a talismanic forward in Alexander Isak.