We’ve delved into the stats and the science behind Premier League forwards and Villa’s other targets to find out whether Wesley is a good purchase.

Words by Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon


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With Tammy Abraham’s return to Aston Villa looking less and less likely, the question of how to fill Tammy’s 26 goal, three assist gap for the club is probably giving Dean Smith restless nights.

As well as adding goals and assists to Villa’s promotional push in 2018/19, Abraham is regarded by many as one of the best young English strikers around. He’s tall, quick, skilful, and prolific, amongst other things.

So, how do you replace a 7.33 rated striker from the championship, with a completely different one who’s good enough for the Premier League? Well, Villa look to have signed Wesley from Club Brugge, who seems a good price for a very good player at first glance.

But how good is he compared to Tammy, Villa’s other reported targets, and the rest of the Premier League?

Whilst a striker’s goal contribution is important, this is difficult to compare across different teams, leagues and countries. Of course, what you can do in this case is look at a player’s fundamentals – things which create a pattern that says a player will likely do well in the Premier League, or a red flag that a player might not do very well in the Premier League.

We’ve taken 23 different stats (including goals, assists, appearances, minutes, offsides, fouls, key passes, dribbles, and more) to compare Villa’s rumoured transfer targets with seasoned Premier League strikers.

Then, we have created groups of players:

  1. Comparing all 23 different types of important in-game statistics
  2. On average, over the 2018/19 season
  3. For club and country, in all competitions

Combining all those things, these groups show players who are very statistically similar:

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Group One

  • Dwight Gayle – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Michy Batshuayi – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Kemar Roofe – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Stéphane Bahoken – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Mbwana Samatta – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Romelu Lukaku
  • Gonzalo Higuain
  • Jamie Vardy
  • Gabriel Jesus
  • Marko Arnautovic
  • Olivier Giroud
  • Callum Wilson
  • Danny Ings

Group Two

  • Ayoze Perez

Group Three

  • Christian Benteke – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Charlie Austin – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Daniel Sturridge – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Javier Hernandez
  • Dominic Calvert-Lewin
  • Stephen Mounie – Now Relegated
  • Glenn Murray
  • Ashley Barnes

Group Four

  • WesleyPart of the pride
  • Neal Maupay – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Moussa Marega – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Maxi Gomez – Reported Aston Villa target
  • Tammy Abraham
  • Alexandre Lacazette
  • Harry Kane
  • Marcus Rashford
  • Salomon Rondon
  • Raul Jimenez
  • Troy Deeney
  • Alexsandar Mitrovic

Group Five

  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
  • Sergio Aguero
  • Son Heung-min
  • Roberto Firmino
  • Mohammed Salah

You’re likely curious right now about why these players have been put into groups in this order – for example, it makes sense that one group (Group 5) would be full of similar, world class Premier League strikers. But, why is Ayoze Perez on his own in Group 2?

To explain, we’ve used some statistical elbow grease to automatically test every single one of these players’ 23 different in-game statistics, against the same statistics for the other 38 players, and we tested thousands of combinations in order to find the groupings which combine the most “statistically similar players”. This method is called clustering and it’s commonly used in city planning, marketing, insurance and more.

If you’re interested in how this works, there’s some information at the bottom of this article, but for now, what’s most important is that we explain which players look like the best bet for Aston Villa.

Weighing Up the Winners and The Losers

Group One:

These players tend to: make under 40 appearances a season, score a medium number of goals (16 on average), and provide around 3 assists. We should mention that some players in this group scored 20+ goals in the season – however the computer has factored this in, and those strikers generally made more appearances in order to get the extra goals.

However, the real weight in the argument comes when looking at the fundamentals, these players actually tend to keep possession fairly well. Some will say “But people have made actual videos of Lukaku’s bad touches for United!” – well this analysis takes on board all games for club and country, and that’s a helpful way of diversifying players’ statistics so that we can see their performance at different levels, in different teams.

However, the downside of Group 1 is that they don’t tackle or intercept very much on average, they don’t make as many key passes or clearances, they give away a large number of fouls without actually win many fouls in attacks and they have very few dribbles.

If you were to describe this group, you might say “Group 1 – talented and proficient, but not so good at the real team work”.

Group Two

Or should we say Ayoze Perez’s group, is quite similar to Group 1, but he has a better disciplinary record and brilliant tackling/intercepting, all the while with less aerials won.

If you were to describe this group, you might say “Even smart computer algorithms can’t tell how good (or bad) Perez is…”

Most of Villa’s summer targets seem to fall into Group 1 and it makes sense why – they have good goal scoring records and seem to be reasonably good in possession one way or another. However, they lack defensive (or pressing) qualities, and their passing and creativity doesn’t stand out.

Group Three

Before we look at the best of the bunch, it’s worth noting that Benteke and Austin fall into Group 3, which is the worst according to this analysis. They do tend to win aerials, have good touches, don’t get dispossessed often and also don’t often let players dribble past them. But their remaining stats in defence, attack, minutes and goal contributions are a solid level below the rest.

Group Four

This group iss particularly interesting. These players do lack good disciplinary records, but their dribbles, key passes, tackles, interceptions and pass % are all okay. And the big positives are appearances, minutes, goals, assists, aerials won, multiple Man of The Match awards, season ratings, defensive clearances, and fouls won. Now, looking at those players specifically, we can see that Maupay, Marega, Gomez and (thank goodness) Wesley are all the best fit. And, the algorithm as even placed them amongst Abraham himself, alongside Jimenez, Rondon, even Kane (based on this season, but he’d be in Group 5 for any other season), Lacazette, Mitrovic and Rashford. Sufficed to say, it looks like Aston Villa have made a good decision with Wesley, when comparing the stats.

This group is full of “Prolific team players, who run, tackle, win 50/50s and do it quite consistently”

Now consider that Wesley has also played in the Champions League and Europa League – scoring twice against Monaco. Yet, this signing looks set to be completed completely out of the blue, for a young, powerful, all-rounder, who’s scored in the Champions League – and no one really noticed him except Aston Villa and few others.

Group Five

Stands out as the best, and therefore those players sit outside of Villa’s budget and realistic sights. But it does, however, help to provide evidence that the computer is placing all of the season’s outstanding players correctly.

This group would be described as “The biggest and best players in the Premier League.”

Summary

This model has some clear limitations which we have to address before taking this any further. When you take a step back and think about these players, you can see that Maupay (for example) has similar fundamentals to the traits we described in player profile of Group 4. But, he doesn’t win a lot of aerial duals (something we mentioned about Group 4 players earlier). So, you could ask “What’s the point of comparing a header-winning player like Morega with a nippy poacher like Maupay? Well, of course you can’t compare every player like-for-like, but what we’re saying here is that their fundamentals and performances looking at a range of traits are, on average across a season for club and country, similar.

This is taking players from different leagues and putting them in buckets with established Premier League strikers, to show us where there’s potential and where there are red flags to consider. And it’s recognising patterns that, we as humans, could never spot. A lot of that is because no one has the time to track a player’s every touch, and key pass, across a whole season of games – even for their own team – unlike an unbiased test.

However, this is just the first step a football club might use to help them identify potential. But you can’t “Moneyball” football. In a game with so many uncontrollable variables, it inevitably comes down to one thing:

Can Dean Smith’s team, take a 20-something year old lad, and get the best results out of him in our system, in the most difficult league in the world?”

This is where the invaluable experience of scouts comes in, and make no mistake; none of us have the experience, built over thousands of hours of watching players, to finds those true markers of quality.

So, if you take anything away from this article; have an unbiased, factual opinion, and then have faith in Villa’s team of professionals to make the best decision they can.

(BRUNO FAHY/AFP/Getty Images)

The Best Realistic Options for Aston Villa:

  • Wesley
  • Neal Maupay
  • Moussa Marega
  • Maxi Gomez

Then:

  • Dwight Gayle
  • Michy Batshuayi
  • Kemar Roofe
  • Stephane Bahoken
  • Mbwana Samatta

Avoid:

  • Christian Benteke
  • Charlie Austin

You can find more information around clustering algorithms by clicking [here] and [here].

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