Preston North End did not progress from the 2020–21 season, finishing in the exact same position in the 2021–22 EFL Championship points table in 13th place. Their record stood at 16 wins & draws each, with 14 losses and a goal difference of -4. Last season, one of the reasons why the Lilywhites struggled to register a positive goal difference was the lack of creativity. To address this problem, they have brought in the Welsh attacking midfielder, Ben Woodburn, from Liverpool on a free transfer.
Woodburn played 30 games last season for Heart of Midlothian FC (Hearts) whilst on loan from Liverpool. These included 28 in the Scottish Premiership, where the team finished third behind only the big two of Celtic and Rangers. He scored three goals during his playing time of over 1,300 minutes. He hit 30% of his shot attempts on target out of the 1.92 he took every game. The Welshman attempted more than 4.2 dribbles per 90, comfortably putting him in the upper quartile. He competed in 9.8 offensive duels per 90 and 9.3 attacking actions per 90, both of which ranked him in the uppermost quartile.
In addition to his three goals, Woodburn provided one assist, though he slightly underachieved compared to xA. He was infrequently involved in build-up play, averaging only 32.5 passes per 90 attempted, and his pass accuracy was less than three quarters. He made 1.73 progressive runs per 90 and 2.05 crosses per 90, which was good enough for the top quartile in both categories. The Welshman generated 1.15 smart passes per 90 and 1.28 through balls per 90, ranking him in the 94th and 90th percentiles, respectively.
Even though Woodburn’s natural position is attacking midfielder, he played more as a winger for Hearts in the last season. He featured on the left wing more (12 matches) frequently than on the right wing (eight matches). This versatility was one possible reason why the team finished as the best of the rest in their last campaign.
Two of Woodburn’s three strikes came from inside the box. He may have overperformed on his xG per 90 of 0.1 by scoring at nearly double the rate of 0.19, but he missed at least five chances that had a much higher xG than the goals he scored from. Had he taken those chances, he could have finished with eight goals rather than just three. The 22-year-old also took the majority of his shots from outside the box.
Ben Woodburn enjoyed a somewhat productive campaign at Hearts last season, but it could have been better. If he improves on his finishing, then he could possibly propel Preston North End to the top half of the table finish or maybe even challenge for a spot in the promotion playoffs.