Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

The central midfielder position is often one of the most demanding positions on the pitch. Having to provide support for the forwards as well as cover for the defenders, central midfielders have to possess a vast skill set.

In this data analysis, we shall analyse the data and statistics of young central midfielders in the EFL League One. The players will be judged purely on data and statistics and our analysis will look at how they fare in terms of attacking, defending and passing.

The data analysis will take into account only players aged 25 and under and they must also have played a minimum of 1000 minutes in the 2019/20 EFL League One season. In the graphs below, different colours have been used to identify players who excel at attacking, defending and passing so as to keep a track of these players in the different statistics. The noteworthy players will be identified with annotations for easy identification on the graphs.

To make the data used more understandable, the colours used in the various statistics are defined as below:

  • Orange: Players ranking highly primarily in attacking statistics
  • Dark Green: Players ranking highly primarily in defensive statistics
  • Red: Players ranking highly primarily in passing statistics
  • Pink: Notable attacking statistics (not prominent/may not rank highly in all data)
  • Faded Green: Notable defensive statistics (not prominent/may not rank highly in all data)
  • Blue: Other players who do not feature unless stated otherwise

Our main focus is to look for trends in the data and statistics and hence, players who feature highly only in one or two statistics may be omitted from discussion. By the end of this data analysis, we hope to have a list of central midfielders who have been the best over the course of the EFL League One season. Let us begin our analysis by taking a look at the attacking statistics.

Assists

The first section of this data analysis will look into the attacking statistics of the players. We will be looking at data such as their assists, dribbles and of course, goals scored. Let us begin the analysis by looking at the assists.

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

When looking at the statistics for assists, we see that Scott Fraser (0.25 xA/90 and 0.29 assists/90) features very highly. The 25-year-old who plays for Burton Albion has registered eight assists this season so far. Jorge Grant (0.24 xA/90 and 0.26 assists/90) also features highly and has registered eight assists as well this season. However, it should be noted that he has also played as a left-winger this season, hence his higher assist statistics.

As per the data, Daniel Barlaser (0.29 xA/90 and 0.21 assists/90) has the highest expected assist but has seemingly underperformed this season. The Newcastle loanee has been used as a defensive midfielder at times for Rotherham and this could be a reason for his lower assists.  The data, however, shows interesting statistics for Ross McCrorie (0.11 xA/90 and 0.24 assists/90). On loan from Rangers, he has outperformed his expected assists and registered three assists this season for Portsmouth. The midfielder has shown his versatility and also played as a right-back as well.

Apart from these, a few other statistics to note from the data are Joe Ward (0.17 xA/90 and 0.20 assists/90) and Jordan Shipley (0.13 xA/90 and 0.20 assists/90). Ward has played at right-wing-back or down the wing as well for Peterborough this campaign and registered three assists. Shipley has played more of an attacking role, registering five assists.

Following this data analysis of assists, we will look at the goal scoring statistics for the midfielders throughout the EFL League One campaign.

Goals

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

The expected goals per 90 and goals per 90 statistics feature few of the earlier mentioned players as well. Fraser (0.21 xG/90 and 0.18 goals/90) once again features highly as does Shipley (0.16 xG/90 and 0.20 goals/90). Ward (0.05 xG/90 and 0.3 goals/90) has performed excellently this season and his usage on the wings could be a key factor to his performance.

Apart from these, we see Alex Gilbey (0.2 xG/90 and 0.18 goals/90) feature highly as well. The Milton Keynes Dons player has bagged five goals this season playing as an attacking midfielder. Coventry City’s Zain Westbrooke (0.12 xG/90 and 0.20 goals/90) has also had a good season, scoring four times and often playing as an attacking midfielder.

Dribbling

The next statistic that we would be using to judge the attacking quality of the players would be their dribbling. Apart from playing crucial passes to the forwards, central midfielders should be capable of dribbling towards the opposition box as well. Paul Pogba at Manchester United and Luka Modrić at Real Madrid are excellent examples of central midfielders who are skilled at dribbling.

However, it is logical that players who attempt lesser dribbles tend to have a higher success rate than others. Due to this, we will look at the data of those players who have attempted higher than the average number of dribbles along with a higher than average success rate.

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

An analysis of the data once again shows us a similar set of players as the previous statistics. It is becoming clearer that Ward’s usage on the wing at times has seen him attempt about 3.6 dribbles/90 with a success rate of 59.46%. Fraser has a slightly lower success rate of 57.39% although having attempted 4.22 dribbles/90. It is possible that unlike Ward, who may be isolated with full-backs, Fraser has had to dribble through the centre and hence face a harder time beating players.

McCrorie also features highly with a success rate of about 57.35% having attempted 5.39 dribbles/90. As mentioned earlier, his usage at right-back could be a reason for his high value of attempted dribbles as he would have to get forward to provide crosses to the forwards. Gilbey also possesses a high value of dribbles/90 at 5.41 but with a lower success rate of 53.33%. Like Fraser, he also mostly plays through the centre and this is a possible reason for his lower success rate.

Other noteworthy players with good statistics are Portsmouth’s Andy Cannon (5.52 dribbles/90 and 58.33% success rate), Wycombe’s Nick Freeman (5.52 dribbles/90 and 55.36% success rate) and Brentford’s Shandon Baptiste (5.51 dribbles/90 and 53.73% success rate). However, as mentioned earlier, our focus is to find recurring trends in this data analysis and hence these players have not been highlighted.

With the attacking data analysed, we will now move on to an analysis of the defensive statistics. It should be noted that we cannot expect to see the same players feature highly as most of the above players tend to occupy more offensive positions on the pitch.

Defensive duels

For our defensive analysis, we will be looking at data and statistics of defensive duels, aerial duels and interceptions for these midfielders in the EFL League One. Let us begin with the defensive duels.

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statisticsAs we saw with dribbles, people with lesser number of defensive duels per 90 would probably have a higher success rate. Hence we once again focus on that statistics of players above the average lines.

Liverpool academy graduate Jordan Rossiter (8.56 def duels/90 and 67.77% won) catches the eye immediately, boasting the highest success rate among those who lie above average. The Fleetwood player on loan from Rangers has featured in only 15 matches this season but has certainly impressed. He is closely followed by Sunderland’s George Dobson (8.09 def duels/90 and 67.56% won) who has been a key player for the team this season. Dobson’s versatility has often seen him play even as a centre-back as well.

Next in terms of success rate comes Flynn Downes (9.59 def duels/90 and 65.85% won). The England Under-20 international has featured in a majority of the games for Ipswich and has impressed with his defensive capabilities. He is followed closely by Peterborough’s Louis Reed (7.44 def duels/90 and 65.17% won). Arsenal loanee Ben Sheaf (9.86 def duels/90 and 63.21% won) has also impressed for Doncaster this season, playing in 32 games through the campaign.

Other noteworthy names from this analysis include Aston Villa loanee and England Under-20 international Callum O’Hare (9.99 def duels/90 and 61.88% won) who has attempted the most defensive duels per 90. Wycombe’s Dominic Gape (9.82 def duels/90 and 64.18% won) also has impressive statistics and Barlaser (6.75 def duels/90 and 72.5% won), who was mentioned earlier, has the highest success rate albeit engaging in a slightly below-average number of duels per 90.

With the analysis of defensive duels completed, we shall move on to aerial duels.

Aerial duels

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

We have once again focussed on those players above the average lines and Leicester loanee Jason Knight (5.05 aerial duels/90 and 52.53% won) impresses with his statistics for Peterborough this season.

He is however beaten by Milton Keynes Dons player Jordan Houghton (6.30 aerial duels per 90 and 52.41% won). Everton loanee Callum Connolly (6.74 aerial duels/90 and 51.08% won) has been crucial for Fleetwood this season and has engaged in the most aerial duels. Apart from them, Kieran Wallace (5.68 aerial duels/90 and 47.20% won) has performed well for Burton Albion as a defensive midfielder.

We should also note from the data that Sheaf (4.75 aerial duels/90 and 47.22% won), Dobson (3.13 aerial duels/90 and 54.02% won), Rossiter (3.18 aerial duels/90 and 60% won) and Gape (3.27 aerial duels/90 and 59.57% won) have also had decent statistics although a few of them fall just outside the average line.

The final defensive statistic of this data analysis will be the interceptions.

Interceptions

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

We see most of the earlier mentioned players feature highly in this as well. Reed tops the list with 6.1 interceptions per 90 and with 8.94 position adjusted interceptions. Rossiter (5.11 interceptions/90 and 7.84 PAdj interceptions) follows him along with Wallace (6.04 interceptions/90 and 8.24 PAdj interceptions) and Sheaf (6.1 interceptions/90 and 8.26 PAdj interceptions) having very similar statistics.

Dobson (5.0 interceptions/90 and 7.72 PAdj interceptions) also performs well as does Ward (5.11 interceptions/90 and 7.84 PAdj interceptions) who had featured highly in the attacking statistics. Rotherham’s Jamie Lindsay (5.57 interceptions/90 and 8.94 PAdj interceptions) also ranks highly but this being the only statistic where he has done so, his name has not been highlighted.

Moving on, we will look into the passing statistics of the midfielders in League One.

Passing

Passing is a key part of a midfielder’s game. It is the duty of the midfielder to connect the defence to the attack with accurate passes capable of splitting the opposition defence. In this section of the data analysis, we will look at various statistics such as progressive passes and key passes along with progressive runs as well.

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

We see Gilbey (4.62 progressive passes/90 and 2.89 progressive runs/90) top the list in terms of progressive runs. His position as an attacking midfielder has seen him drive into the box often and this could be the reason for his high statistic. McCrorie (7.05 progressive passes/90 and 2.69 progressive runs/90) and Ward (8.09 progressive passes/90 and 1.79 progressive runs/90) also feature highly on the list.

Bristol City loanee Liam Walsh (11.45 progressive passes/90 and 1.37 progressive runs/90) has one of the highest passing statistics along with an above-average progressive runs statistic as well. Doncaster midfielder Benjamin Whiteman (12.03 progressive passes/90 and 0.36 progressive runs /90) shows an impressive passing statistic but ranks lowly in terms of runs. His position as a deep-lying defensive midfielder has seen him play passes out to the attackers and sitting deep with the defence. Sheaf (10.98 progressive passes/90 and 0.66 progressive runs/90) also shows a similar statistic with a large number of progressive passes but a lesser urge to get forward.

Next, we see their passes and key passes for the 2019/20 EFL League One season.

Finding the best young central midfielders in the EFL League One - data analysis statistics

We see Fraser (0.7 key passes/90 and 39.45 passes/90) boast an impressive passing statistic. With a lower number of passes per 90, he has provided the most number of key passes per 90 when compared to the other midfielders. On the other hand, deep-lying midfielders like Sheaf (0.16 key passes/90 and 57.88 passes/90) and Whiteman (0.22 key passes/90 and 59.7 passes /90) have a large number of passes and fewer key passes. With the majority of their passes being in interactions with the defence, it is understandable as to why they rank lower in terms of key passes.

Walsh (0.38 key passes/90 and 53.15 passes/90) has a good mix of passes and key passes which is very impressive. It can also be noted that Ward (0.64 key passes/90 and 33.69 passes/90) also has a high number of key passes to his name albeit and with a lower number of passes made as well.

With these statistics, we can see how each of them fared in terms of quality of passes and also the nature of passes along with their intent to join the attack.

Final Shortlist

At the end of this data analysis, we have a final shortlist of players. It should be noted that it would not be fair to compare an attacking midfielder to a defensive one and hence we have split our shortlist to accommodate the standout players in both these areas. The players are listed in no specific order.

For the attacking midfielders we have:

Scott Fraser – The 25-year-old has been a crucial part of Burton Albion’s campaign and is their second-highest goalscorer this season. He has also chipped in with eight assists in the league this season. Fraser was also a crucial part of Burton’s monumental victory against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup, playing almost the entire game. With one of the highest assists and goals scored compared to the other midfielders, Fraser has definitely been strong in attack. With Burton stuck in a mid-table position, Fraser may be interested in an offer from teams in leagues above.

Ross McCrorie – The 22-year-old Rangers player has impressed in his loan spell at Portsmouth so far. Although featuring on our attacking list, his versatility across the backline has seen him slot into various positions throughout the season. Playing at right-back at times, he has registered impressive attacking statistics this campaign. The Scotland Under-21 captain has certainly shown that he could fight for a place at his parent club and can be expected to play more than just 17 games next season.

Joe Ward – The 24-year-old has been a crucial part of Peterborough’s push for promotion this season. Not only playing as a central midfielder but also on the wing at times has seen him show some impressive statistics. His versatility could be well used in a wide midfield trio where he could be allowed to play closer to the flanks. The impressive performances have also been rewarded with a one-year extension of his contract which was set to run out towards the end of June. With the midfielder reaching his peak, it would be interesting to see his performances in the EFL Championship should Peterborough make it through.

Jordan Shipley – The Irish Under-21 international has impressed for Coventry City with his five goals and five assists in the EFL League One this season. The 22-year-old has been a crucial member of the team, featuring in 31 games this campaign. With Coventry being promoted to the Championship on points per game, it would no doubt be an even better platform for Shipley to impress himself and we can expect more from him in the years to come.   

Alex Gilbey – The 25-year-old has not performed as well overall as the others but does possess some impressive statistics. Scoring five times this season for Milton Keynes Dons, the attacking midfielder has shown his excellence in dribbling and in going forward. With the MK Dons sitting lowly in the table, there is no doubt that a player of Gilbey’s standard could do better elsewhere.

With the more attacking midfielders done, we will move on to the defensive midfielders:

Jordan Rossiter – The Liverpool academy graduate was once compared to club legend Steven Gerrard and even played a few games at Anfield. However, he later moved to Rangers and has impressed on loan at Fleetwood this season. Still only 23, he has performed well defensively, ranking highly in terms of aerial and defensive duels as well as interceptions. Yet to reach his peak, it will be interesting to see how he fares should he be called back by Gerrard to Rangers or in the Championship should Fleetwood get promoted.

Louis Reed – Aged 22, the midfielder has played 24 games for Peterborough this season. His defensive capabilities have meant that his teammates, like Ward mentioned earlier, have had more freedom to move up the pitch. His ability to read the game has seen him top the list in terms of interceptions made. The Englishman has not hesitated to engage an attacker as well, showing an impressive statistic in terms of defensive duels. Signed from Sheffield United two years ago, Reed still has one year left on his contract and with his impressive performances this campaign, it would be no surprise to see Peterborough offer him an extension.

George Dobson – Having been part of Arsenal’s youth set-up, the Englishman has been a crucial part of Sunderland’s team this season. With his impressive defensive capabilities, he has been a factor in Sunderland having conceded one of the fewest numbers of goals all season. The 22-year-old can also fit in at central-back if need be, although he has not played there this season. He has shown a good success rate in defensive duels and his prowess in the air is also something to be noted. Having missed just seven games this season, we can expect him to form a key part of the Sunderland team for the years to come.

Ben Sheaf – The 22-year-old has missed just two games for Doncaster all season. On loan from Arsenal, he has put in consistently good performances all season. Not only does he rank highly in terms of his defensive capabilities, but the Englishman has also shown his passing attributes as well. He has made one of the highest numbers of progressive passes this campaign and his high number of passes has shown that he has been a focal point of Doncaster’s play this season. The midfielder’s loan expires at the end of the season and it would be interesting to see if Mikel Arteta gives him a few games in the Premier League.

Conclusion

The EFL League One has definitely seen some promising young central midfielders in the 2019/20 season. Through this data analysis, we have gone through the various data and statistics to conduct a thorough analysis of the attacking, defending and passing qualities of these midfielders. We have also, based on these data and statistics, come up with a shortlist of about four to five players for both the attacking and defensive midfielders. It would be interesting to see how these players fare, seeing that a few of them could possibly play in different leagues for the next season.

Following this, I also hope to do further analysis of Fraser and Sheaf. The analysis would look at their playing style and how they have fit into their teams during the current season of the EFL League One. It would be presented as a scout report and dive into their data and statistics for the current season as well as show their tactics and gameplay. Based on this data analysis, they show a good amount of promise and it would be interesting to see how they have fared individually.