Swansea are in a currently in a transitional phase, with Steve Cooper taking over the club in June 2019. The former under 17 England manager who won the U17 World Cup, has shown that he has kept his faith in young English talents as the Swansea manager has brought in Conor Gallagher and youngster Rhian Brewster. However, Brewster is only contracted with the club until May 31st before he goes back to Liverpool and Borja Bastón who was their former striker, completed a move to Aston Villa in the January window. There is clear intent by Cooper that he is trusting homegrown youth and clearing out anyone who doesn’t fit his playstyle, this will be pivotal in this recruitment analysis when we find possible signings.
This data analysis piece will be a two-part series using the combination of data from this season in the Premier League, Championship and League One, mixed with footage to analyse the players in-game situations, as statistics can only tell us so much. This article will solely focus on the Championship and the next one will look outside of the league. Before we get into the analysis, we will undertake the profiling which the player needs to meet.
Club profiling requirements
It is crucial to meet the manager’s needs and Swansea’s playstyle to get the best-suited player, as this season Cooper brought in ten players with an average age of 21.1. This is why one of the key requirements is that the player has to be under 24 years-old, as they need to be at a young age due this being part of the clubs philosophy. This fits Coopers model of bringing in youth and it allows the staff to develop the player before their peak age.
The loan system worked for his first season in charge, he highlighted that he would use it to set foundations in place and build on the squad. However, it is not a long term model so now he has implemented his tactics and approach to the club he can start adding additions on a permeant basis. I have given a limit of £15 million which allows the club to have a re-sell value. Recently they have sold Daniel James for £15.20m and Oliver McBurnie £17.43m, however, a lot of the options will be a lower value, this is just so there is the maximum price that Swansea can afford.
Player profiling requirements
For the striker’s qualities, they will need to be quick and agile allowing them to get in behind the opponent’s defence. They will also have to be technically good, Cooper’s side play progressive football and the striker will interlink the play, so they need to be able to link up play by dropping deeper and be adequate at passing to their teammates. However, it is important to also have someone who has a high number of touches in the box due to them ranking fifth highest in the Championship for this category (16.88).
Swansea under Cooper aren’t a high intensity pressing side. They only rank 16th for pressing intensity with 10.04 per 90 for PPDA and in the image below, they recover the ball in their defensive third more than any other third (49%). They will need to be used to getting back into shape and not leaving gaps for the opponents to exploit.
The player doesn’t need to be the completed version of themselves, they can have room for improvement where the staff can develop them.
Initial data check
Data will help solidify the players before I use footage to make judgements on their playstyles.
The first data set was to look at the player’s technical ability on the ball. As mentioned earlier their ability on the ball needs to be at a high standard, this is why I have selected their dribbles per 90 with their dribbles success rate per 90. This gives me an indication on their control of the ball in high pressured situations. In the image below, we can see the outcomes from the top performers in this part.
The next part was looking into their ability to link up in the final third. As well as being good on the ball, Cooper likes his striker to drop deeper at times and link the play together. This is why it is important to have a high passing completion in the final third. In the image below, we can see Brewster performing higher than the leagues average in both categories, which shows us the intent from Cooper to get his strikers involved.
Finally, I wanted to see the data for their attacking statistics. Even though they don’t need to be a readymade player it is still important that there is a contribution from them due to Swansea playing the lone striker 29 times in their go-to 4-2-3-1 formation. I combined goals with touches in the box due to Swansea ranking fifth for this category with 16.88 in the league this season, so it is another quality that the striker needs. In the image below, we can see the results from the data.
Across the data, it has helped reduce the players to a manageable size who fit the characteristics we are looking for. There are two players which stood out and I will use footage to look into them in finer detail. These players were Jonathan Leko and Adam Armstrong.
However, notable mentions go to Ollie Watkins who excelled in the data sets but due to Brentford being in a better position momentarily it is highly unlikely he will join. It would be good for his career as Cooper is trusting in young English talents but Watkins is looking to step up his career and Swansea can’t offer this at the moment. Karlan Grant who has played 15 times as the striker but 14 games on the left attacking wing for Huddersfield this season. For Swansea I aiming to sign an out and out striker so he did not match the criteria. Both players have a great future ahead and it would be unrealistic to sign them at this current time.
The first player we will look at is 21-year-old, Leko. At the height of five foot nine inches and weighing in at 75kg, he is a quick player who likes to get in behind and exploit the spaces. Leko was playing on loan at Charlton in a 4-1-2-1-2 system this season but with an injury, he has returned to West Brom due to him being scheduled out till August 8th. This may help get him for a reasonable price but there is a risk when signing injured players, his market valuation is set at £1,000,000.
Leko is a very fast player but his ability to drop in the lines goes unnoticed. This was highlighted as an essential part for the Swansea’s striker role, Leko will come and receive the ball to link the third from midfield into attack. In the image below, we can see Leko finding the space in between the two banks of four and he can drive at the opponents.
Leko is great in the hole due to his spatial awareness when receiving the ball. He will make sure he knows where the opponents are even with his back to goal. In the image below, we can see Leko checking over his shoulder when the pass gets played into him. This allows him to access the situation and make his next move, either passing to his teammate or driving with the ball.
By dropping deep it bridges a link between the thirds. On the ball, Leko is comfortable to get it directly into feet, in the hole it then creates space for his teammates who can exploit the gaps. Due to him playing in a system with two up front this allows them to still stretch the opponents with the other strike partner will stay high when Leko drops in.
However, if teams step up and press Leko he can use his immense pace to get in behind. In the image below, the opposition has vacated a huge amount of space behind themselves. Leko latches onto the ball and dribbles his way to goal and calmly slots it away.
His attacking runs are very clever, he will be on the shoulder of the last defender and curve them to stay onside. In the image below, Leko has noticed the defender out of position so he makes his run on the blind side of the other opponent to get in behind.
From another angle, we can see Leko making his move on the blindside of the centre-back and the full-back is too far away to contest him. Leko punishes them by going onto scoring from this play.
In the defensive phase, Leko would suit Swansea. Charlton’s PPDA this season was 10.31 per 90 (15th) which is the closest to Swansea’s 10.04 per 90 (14th) in the league. Out of possession, he will get into shape and rarely press, unless he knows he will win the ball. In the image below, we can see Leko dropping very deep. This was late in the game but it shows his willingness to get back and help his team, which was desirable to have.
To conclude, Leko would be an excellent potential candidate for the Swansea role. Out of the players, I feel Leko is capable of dropping in between the lines and his electric pace allows him to get in behind. As he is dropping in deep in a two striker pivot one key attribute that is lower than the other options are his touches in the box. Leko is tallying 2.11 per 90, whereas, Armstrong with 3.27 per 90. There has to be compromise if they want someone to drop deep and link the play but reduce their touches in the box. However, they won’t need the finished product and this is an area that they can look to improve. Brewster this season was averaging 2.47 touches in the area, which is similar to Leko.
The other option being 23-year-old, Armstrong. At only five foot six inches tall and he weighs the lightest at 69kg. Like Grant he is the top goalscorer for the club, this could increase his £4,000,000 market valuation. A big benefit is that Blackburn play the same formation as Swansea (4-2-3-1) so he is used to being the lone striker in this system.
By watching the footage on Armstrong he is remarkable with his back to goal. Blackburn link the play by looking for Armstrong and playing it into his feet, he is deadly in this area as he is great at bringing his teammates into the game. In the image below, Armstrong has dropped in the hole and attracted an opponent which frees up space in behind.
The play continues in the image below; Armstrong is able to thread the ball past the opposition to his teammate in behind the defence due to the centre-back getting attracted into him. Even though Armstrong had his back to goal, he was still effective and hurt the opposition.
Notably, he totalled 3.42 xA but he has six assists, this highlights his intricate passes that can unpin defences backline. In the image below, Armstrong gets the ball played into him and he lays it back off to his teammate who runs beyond him into space.
Armstrong has a variety of methods to get his goals, this season he has scored four of his goals outside the area and seven in the penalty box. As we know he can create in the final third, he is also accustomed to finishing in this area as well. In the image below, Armstrong picks to turn to goal and have a shot where space has opened up. He is successful as Armstrong finds the top corner.
When Armstrong picks up the ball in the hole he is now able to decide whether he will go alone or link up with his teammates and this causes uncertainty for the opponents.
However, he is a nippy player who can still get in behind the defensive line. If his teammate is in the creative hole, Armstrong will make sure he is an option in behind. In the image below, his teammate has got the ball in a deeper role and Armstrong makes a run behind the defence.
In the box, Armstrong is a clever player who will use double movements and zig-zag runs to find space and lose his marker. In the image below, Armstrong doesn’t receive the ball in this play but his movement in the area impressed as he was eager to get into the space highlighted.
To conclude, Armstrong may be the better all-round player that Swansea are looking for. He is competent when linking up play and his finishing ability is outstanding. Blackburn’s PPDA has been slightly higher this season but it is not significantly different with 9.51 per 90 which ranks them ninth, this wouldn’t cause any problems as Armstrong will keep his shape and cut off the passing lanes, just like the Swansea strikers.
Swansea have two great options but both are in slightly different stages of their career. Armstrong is more experienced with the majority of his seasons (seven) he has made ten or more appearances in five of them. Whereas, Leko has only played two seasons out five where he has totalled ten or more appearances. This is where Swansea decide if they want to develop Leko and play him consistently to improve him or if they want someone that is somewhat ready-made, then Armstrong would be the player to get. Ideally, Leko fits the module of what Cooper is doing at the club and this matches his style.