Using xGold to identify four potential replacements for Chelsea-bound Marc Cucurella – data analysis
At the time of writing, the 25-year-old Spanish international left-back, Marc Cucurella has left Brighton and agreed to move to fellow Premier League side, Chelsea. The Spaniard moves having spent a single season at the South Coast club, having joined from the La Liga side Getafe in August of last year. Indeed, this follows a pattern of sorts as Cucurella had only spent a single season at Getafe having previously played for Barcelona.
When he moved to Brighton there was some surprise from those who did not quite see the stylistic fit given that Cucurella had spent the 2020/21 season playing for a Getafe side that were extremely effective but also very difficult to watch given their defensive outlook on the game.
Brighton, however, have developed one of the most effective and interesting recruitment networks within football with extensive use of data and the ability to adjust their views on players by taking into account the style of play of their current team. This allowed Brighton to look beyond the skewed defensive overview on Cucurella as his data showed a player with relatively low volume and performance in the attacking and ball progression phases and a large output in the defensive phases.
With the benefit of hindsight, which is always interesting in recruitment, we now know that Brighton made the right call in believing that Cucurella’s attacking and ball progression numbers would improve when playing in a side that were more open and attacking in their approach to the game. Now, after initial interest from Manchester City, Cucurella will be playing his football at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea next season. How the Spaniard fits into a squad that already has the England international Ben Chilwell remains to be seen, however.
Brighton will now turn their attention to finding a suitable option to replace the output of Cucurella. To be clear at this point though, we do not doubt that Brighton already have a short list of alternatives to the Spaniard that would have been worked on for some period of time. They are, after all, a team that believes in succession planning.
In this data analysis piece, we will use our exclusive xGold tool to identify four potential replacements for Cucurella at Brighton. XGold is a custom-build tool that allows us to find players who perform in a similar manner, from a data perspective, to any player in the world. In order to visualise the data of our players for this 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 fullbacks. The data will also be converted into percentile rankings, with each player compared to fullbacks in their own leagues.
Firstly though, we will need to understand how Marc Cucurella played last season for Brighton
Marc Cucurella, 24 years old, Brighton and Spain
We should start by understanding how Brighton tend to play. The favoured system of play from their coach, Graham Potter, is a 3-5-2 and as such Cucurella tended to be used as a left-sided wingback in that system. Brighton are possession-orientated and ended the 2021/22 Premier League season ranked fourth in the league for possession with an average of 54.8%.
They are also a team who like to play progressively through the thirds of the pitch and, although the central defenders in Brighton’s system tend to be volume passers in this regard, we also saw Cucurella contribute. Brighton ended the season with an average of 63 progressive passes per 90, which ranked 8th in the Premier League, and 50.16 passes to the final third per 90, which ranked 6th in the Premier League.
Cucurella impressed for Brighton in all phases of the game. He was in the 95th percentile for goal contributions and the 97th for expected goal contributions. In terms of passing and ball progression, he was an important player for Brighton as he finished in the 96th percentile for passes per 90, the 86th percentile for dangerous passes, the 85th percentile for progressive actions and the 96th percentile for area entries.
In short, it is clear that Cucurella is far more than the defensive fullback we saw at Getafe and it is easy to see why he has attracted significant interest from Manchester City and Chelsea this summer.
#1 Antonee Robinson, 24 years old, Fulham and the United States, 92% match
Antonee Robinson is no stranger to transfer links. In 2020, the US international left-back was extremely close to an incredible move from Fulham to Serie A as he was set to join AC Milan. In the end, the move collapsed because of a heart issue that was picked up in the medical. It is thought that having undergone a medical procedure to correct this issue that there are no long-term implications for the player. Indeed, the 24-year-old fullback played 3,264 league minutes as Fulham ran away with the Championship title in the 2021/22 campaign and won promotion back to the Premier League.
Last season saw Fulham average 59.2% possession, second only to the possession-hungry Swansea City, as well as 75.84 progressive passes per 90, the 2nd highest in the Championship. They also ranked 2nd for passes into the final third with 55.22 per 90. Fulham also played in a 4-2-3-1 shape for the most part though and, as such, Robinson would have to adapt to playing as a wingback.
Robinson’s performances last season were very strong, although we have to keep in mind the fact that Fulham were generally dominant. He ended in the 80th percentile for goal contributions, the 89th percentile for carries and the 99th percentile for accelerations. In the passing phase of the game, he was extremely important for Fulham. He was in the 97th percentile for passes per 90, the 96th percentile for dangerous passes, the 99th percentile for progressive actions as well as the 92nd percentile for area entries.
xGold match to Marc Cucurella – 92%
#2 Adrien Truffert, 20 years old, Rennes and France, 88% match
Next up we have the 20-year-old French U21 international Adrien Truffert of Rennes. The young left-back is a product of the youth academy at Rennes and in the 2021/22 season, he played 3049 minutes in Ligue 1 for the French side. Truffert is an extremely modern fullback who is capable of contributing in a significant manner in all phases of the game.
Last season, we saw Rennes mainly line up in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-4-1 shape so, once again, he would have to adapt to playing as a wingback for Brighton. Rennes finished the 2021/22 season with an average of 55.7% possession which saw them rank 4th for possession in Ligue 1, They were similar to Brighton in their approach to moving the ball through the thirds as they averaged 67.75 progressive passes per 90 (5th in the Premier League) and 50.05 passes to the final third per 90 which was 7th highest in the league.
Truffert returned excellent attacking numbers. He was in the 91st percentile for goal contributions and the 80th percentile for expected goal contributions. Interestingly, he was also in the 91st percentile for shots and the 93rd percentile for accelerations. He was less impressive, however, in the passing and progression phase as he was in the 80th percentile for passes, the 60th percentile for dangerous passes, the 65th percentile for progressive actions and the 55th percentile for area entires.
We also have to keep in mind, however, that Truffert is only 20 years old and he will continue to develop.
xGold match to Marc Cucurella – 88%
#3 Sergio Gomez, 21 years old, Anderlecht and Spain, 87% match
The next player on our list is one that has actually already been linked to Manchester City as a potential alternative to Cucurella in the 21-year-old Spanish fullback Sergio Gomez of Anderlecht. Gomez is, like Cucurella, a former Barcelona player although he left the club while still in the U19s squad to move to Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
Despite having obvious potential, he never really made an impact in Germany before moving to Belgium to join Anderlecht on a permanent deal in July of 2021. Gomez was actually initially a winger although he has now been converted to a fullback/wingback.
Last season, while under the new Burnley coach Vincent Kompany, we saw Anderlecht play mostly in a 4-4-2 shape. They were possession focused with an average of 55.4% possession which was the 3rd highest in the Belgian Pro League. They averaged 73.54 progressive passes per 90, the 7th highest in the league, and 57.7 passes to the final third per 90, the 2nd highest in the Pro League.
Last season, we saw Gomez finish in the 95th percentile for goal contributions and the 97th percentile for expected goal contributions. He was also in the 84th percentile for shots per 90. The Spaniard was also important in terms of ball progression as he finished in the 96th percentile for passes, the 86th percentile for dangerous passes, the 85th percentile for progressive actions and the 96th percentile for area entires.
xGold match to Marc Cucurella – 87%
#4 Quentin Merlin, 20 years old, Nantes and France, 86% match
Quentin Merlin is perhaps the biggest outlier in terms of coming from a team that are not a stylistic fit for this Brighton side. He has spent more time than the others playing as a wingback as Nantes, last season, shifted between back four and back three systems of play throughout the season.
They were not, however, overly possession-heavy as they finished the 2021/22 Ligue 1 season with an average possession of 44.1%, a total that saw them rank 17th for possession in the French top-flight. They averaged 60.43 progressive passes per 90, which ranked them 16th in the league and 47.82 passes to the final third per 90, leaving the side 10th in Ligue 1.
If we look beyond those metrics though, in the same way that Brighton had to when initially signing Cucurella from Getafe, we start to see a player with the potential to adapt his game to a more possession-dominant style of play.
In the attacking phase, Merlin ended with decent output as he was in the 82nd percentile for goal contributions and the 83rd percentile for expected goal contributions. Despite playing for a team who did not see a lot of the ball, Merlin was also in the 73rd percentile for passes per 90. He was, however, effective with those passes as he finished in the 94th percentile for dangerous passes, the 98th percentile for progressive actions and the 88th percentile for area entries.
xGold match to Marc Cucurella – 86%
Now that the deal taking Cucurella to Chelsea is complete, we are likely to see Brighton assessing their options, although they are extremely unlikely to take long to make a move for a potential replacement in the left wingback position. By using xGold, we cut through a lot of the noise in terms of football recruitment to ensure that we are longlisting the right players to then move on to the next step of the recruitment process.