The first season of Steve Cooper with Swansea in the Championship went well after his boys finished sixth in the table and also claimed their ticket to play in the play-off semi-final after a dramatic last fixture. Despite the lack of experience from his young squad, no one can deny the fact that The Black Swans had a memorable campaign; they had been a united team for months, especially after the transfer window when they borrowed Cooper’s former U-17 student Rhian Brewster as a high-quality addition for the Welsh team’s frontline. However, after shining brightly in the second half of the season in Championship, it’s time for the 20-year-old striker to come back to the Premier League and get ready for the higher-level challenge.
Brewster grew rapidly under Cooper’s management; he came and immediately impacted the Liberty Stadion owner team. A striker with great pace, good spatial awareness, and clinical finishing ability – these traits are the reason why the former Chelsea player is the most notable striker in the Championship: He struck four goals in his first 11 matches before netting another seven goals in the last 11 matches. With a total of 11 goals after 22 matches, it will be a headache for Cooper to look for a worthy replacement.
We have filtered raw data and statistics of strikers with these criteria: The acquaintance to the Championship, age, and game time. For more details, our candidates all come from Championship teams, all are under 26 and have tallied more than 1500 minutes on the pitch. Besides, after focusing on the scoring ability – the prerequisite condition – we will export a final shortlist which contains three candidates, dig deeper into their radars, and compare it to Brewster’s to get the final decision.
We have Brewster as a benchmark: 20 years old, and 1983 minutes played.
Goals vs. xG
Expected Goals or xG is a better tool to evaluate a player’s striking capability than just counting his realistic goals. From the above chart, we can observe that good strikers usually outperform their xG, which means the dots that represent them lie under the yellow line. Dots lying under the line also point out the fact that those strikers can score goals from a much more difficult position, or rather, goals that have low xG.
The two rising stars of the Championship – Ollie Watkins and Karlan Grant – outstrip their colleagues in the top-right quadrant. Watkins impresses us with 26 goals when his xG is 22.8. Grant outperformed his xG by 2.52: 16.48 xG and 19 goals. Moreover, Adam Armstrong is another name that deserves our attention: He netted 16 times with only 9.99 xG.
Nevertheless, just examining total xG and goals is not enough to determine a forward’s ability. Theoretically, Brewster with 11 goals is just an ordinary player. Even in the Championship, the young players do not have many chances to play regularly; Watkins and Grant are the exceptions. They are players with massive potential, so there is nothing incomprehensive with their coaches giving them many chances to play; but with others who haven’t proven themself enough, it seems unfair if we conclude their capability with xG and goals over the season.
In Brewster’s case, he was a regular starter but just in the last half of last season because the arrived in the winter. Using xG per 90 (xGp90) and goals per 90 (Gp90) metrics, therefore, is the more suitable way to evaluate our candidates.
The players’ performances have changed after altering the metrics. We also put a bar chart of players’ game time. After 1983 minutes out on the field, Brewster had 0.34 xGp90 and 0.5 Gp90 – an outstanding index which puts him in the top-right corner, an improvement on his positioning in the previous graph.
Still, Watkins is the most impressive with 0.43 xGp90 and 0.49 Gp90. After every 90 minutes, Grant has 0.37 xG and 0.42 goals; both of them played above 4000 minutes the whole season. What stands out in the chart is that Grant’s teammate in Huddersfield Town, Steve Mounié, has an even better record: 0.41 xG per 90 and 0.46 goals.
Those three players all have better statistics than Brewster, and now we will analyse a player with similar numbers with to our man: Tyrese Campbell from Stoke City. After 1765 minutes of playing, the 20-year-old English striker got the xGp90 of 0.34 and the Gp90 of 0.46.
There are also two players whose dots do not lie under the line but stick closely to it: George Pușcaș from Reading and Barnsley’s Cauley Woodrow. Pușcaș underperformed his xGp90 by 0.02, and Woodrow by 0.01.
Expected Goals and raw goals are the general numbers; we need to dig deeper to verify our young striker’s skillset. What do people care about after a striker takes a shot? If that shot is off target, there’s nothing to care about. What if it goes in with accuracy? Where exactly – in the middle of the goal where any goalies can catch it easily? To the bottom corner with the ball sticking to the ground and making even the goalie with good height incapable of dropping and saving it? Or, what if it goes to the top corner, rendering the goalkeeper useless? It all depends on the shooter’s sharpness, or let us say, the ability to convert the chances into goals.
In this chart, we examine two metrics: Shots on target (%) and goal conversion (%). Brewster has an accuracy of 51.02% after 49 shots and he converted 22.45% of those shots on target into goals; the output was 11 goals as we mentioned above.
Another chart which helps us is the number of shots. Since many players are given the chance to play more regularly, they feel free to take riskier shots; a missed shot doesn’t matter, as long as they continue their scoring efficiency.
By observing both charts, you can understand the previous paragraph. Watkins and Grant do not have good percentages of accurate shots (39.67 and 45.22) but both of them undertook over 110 shots this season (121 and 115). More shots were taken so more shots were missed, but the efficiency is still assured with them netting 26 and 19 goals respectively.
Mounié’s accuracy stands at 52.78 while Campbell’s is at 55.77; those are the highest numbers horizontally in our graph. However, only Mounié has the conversion rate similar to Brewster’s: 22.22% vs. 22.45% while Campbell recorded only 17.3%.
Adam Armstrong had plenty of time to play as a striker, he’s quite accurate with 47.96% of his 98 shots going on target, but not so sharp: the index shows us that he just converted 16.32% of them into goals. The highest conversion rate belongs to Jonathan Leko, but Leko only had 20 shots and 5 goals this season after 1600 minutes. Brewster is very confident in shooting and he has 2.22 shots per 90, unlike him, Leko just had half of that number per 90.
Brewster himself is a modern striker; he possesses clinical finishing techniques, also can operate wide and usually swaps his position with the right-winger (e.g. André Ayew) to find and exploit more spaces and often drops deep to help his teammates to progress the ball forward. We’ll see if our candidates can satisfy those requirements by using radars, but first, let us introduce you to the final shortlist.
The shortlist contains three names: Tyrese Campbell, George Pușcaș, and Steve Mounié. Ollie Watkins and Karlan Grant are the most talented strikers in the Championship, but their performances last season are the reason why a team like Swansea cannot afford to sign them; since there are many teams in the higher tier in the queue for their signature, we removed them from the list.
First, let’s check out Brewster’s radar.
Brewster’s strength is to score goals with a high rate of Gp90, xGp90, accuracy, and goal conversion. With 2.8 offensive duels won and 0.95 successful attempts of dribbling in every 90 minutes, we can say that Liverpool’s youngster is quite good at possessing the ball and operating independently. Every 90 minutes, Brewster performed 1.63 forward passes and 1.13 final 3rd passes successfully – those are acceptable figures.
If we observe him on the field with enough attention, we can realise most of his goals are scored with only one touch. The 2018/19 Champions League winner usually starts moving outside the box, then accelerates, touches the ball for the first and also the last time, then scores. This explains why he does not touch the ball much inside the box with the average number of 2.18 per 90 minutes.
Campbell spends a bit more time than Brewster operating in the flanks then cutting inside, so, understandably, he has better offensive duels won and successful dribbles than Brewster: 3.57 and 2.3. He works well with his teammates: 74.87% passing accuracy is better than Brewster’s and also almost 2 successful forward passes per 90 minutes. But with the habit of dribbling deep by himself, he usually gives the ball to another teammate to finish the attack.
This may also help him fit into Cooper’s system by constantly swapping position with Ayew. Plus, the 20-year-old striker must find a way to improve his efficiency, because his goal conversion is not so high with the percentage of 17.3%.
Pușcaș might not be a good option for Cooper. The Romanian scored 12 goals after 2695 minutes of playing, but he is not the man who enjoys teamwork. By just only possessing 0.67 successful passes in the final third, 2.94 successful defensive action, and 1.3 successful forward passes in every 90 minutes, Pușcaș is not the man who can fulfil the striker position in Cooper’s philosophy.
His big frame and the height of 188 centimetres may help the former Inter Milan player to play best in the role of a target man.
Mounié’s radar indicates a skill set that is quite suitable for the team: He overperformed his xG by 0.05, accuracy and sharpness are also similar to Brewster’s: 52.78 vs. 51.02 and 22.22 vs. 22.45. However, Mounié is not as good when it comes to playing independently when on the ball – only 1.72 offensive duels won and 0.52 successful dribbles per 90.
However, in the same amount of time, Mounié has 3.5 successful defensive actions, 2.99 touches in the box, and 1.95 successful forward passes – not too far from the 2017 U-17 World Cup Golden Boot winner.
This analysis has shown us some useful metrics to measure Swansea’s striker. To fulfil the role of Rhian Brewster, the striker must have both the ability to score and combine with others. This is also what makes a player modern. This analysis also gave us three players which could be viable potential replacements for Brewster.
It is clear that Brewster has contributed much to the Welsh team, but it’s time for Cooper to cover that position with another good signing, and Tyrese Campbell or Steve Mounié can be the perfect choices.