Looking For Players In Different Leagues: Deeper Midfielders

Patryk Dziczek – 20 – Piast Gliwice

Dziczek hasn’t played a huge amount of senior football, with 2964 Ekstraklasa minutes under his belt, but he has put forward some strong numbers in that time.

What initially brought Dziczek to my attention was throwing central midfield players under 24-years-old from most leagues outside the top five into a big filter and looking at the dribbling success rate for those who complete more than one dribble p90. In that group, Dziczek had the second highest dribble completion rate with an impressive 92.11% from an attempted 1.7 dribbles p90 last season.

Looking at all his league minutes Dziczek has other strong numbers and having represented Poland U21 on seven occasions, he could be a player with decent potential. He averages 1.58 dribbles p90 with a 84.8% success rate, whilst attempting 8.2 passes to the final third p90 with a 74.4% success rate. Dziczek also has pretty strong numbers for defensive output with 11.3 recoveries p90 and 4.92 interceptions p90.

Looking at clips of his dribbling, he’s definitely capable of resisting pressure, however there are times when he gets himself a yard but then his pass puts his team-mate under pressure. I watched all of his dribbling clips available and it doesn’t happen a worrying amount, but it does happen.

The below shows an example of this, he’s forced wide but manages to keep the ball, then you’d like to see him try a pass in behind – relieving the pressure from his team and giving them a chance to get behind – but instead he knocks it wide and the player is then under immediate pressure.

More clips of his dribbling can be seen below.

Last season his pass completion for passes into the final third was the 8th highest in the league for those with more than 900 minutes, suggesting he can be pretty efficient at progressing the ball.

I’m always dubious when looking at deeper midfielders who progress the ball often, as there seems to be lots who appear impressive in the numbers, but then upon watching clips of them it’s because they send a lot of low probability long-balls over the top.

Alternatively, there seems to be lots of players who pull of long diagonal passes into the corners which don’t progress the play too much, but look good. These can be useful, Wolves used them well in the Championship last season, but sometimes a shorter forward pass may be more useful than a sweeping diagonal.

Looking at some clips of Dziczek, he definitely has the long diagonal in his locker, but he seems to have a decent passing range outside of that too. I didn’t bother putting in many of his long diagonal passes, but a few of his passes can be seen below.

Overall, I like the look of Dziczek, he seems fairly competent defensively, while also having the ability to resist pressure and progress the ball. I’m not sure just how good he is, or the level of club that should be looking at him, but when watching the clips I was thinking he may be a good fit for someone like Sampdoria. It’s a lazy suggestion given I mentioned them in the introduction, but I can kind of imagine him playing at the base of the midfield in the spot vacated by Lucas Torreira.

Dragos Nedelcu – 21 – Steaua Bucharest

The first of a Romanian double bill is Dragos Nedelcu from Steaua Bucharest.

What initially brought Nedelcu to my attention was the fact that he played the fourth highest progressive passes p90 in the Romanian League last season. While he did spend some time at centre-back, most leaders in progressive passes that I’ve seen are defenders, so being a midfielder and high up the rankings is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, I can’t view the clips of progressive passes like I can with the runs, so I don’t know how useful this metric is, but looking at it in the main leagues shows names you’d expect at the top which is encouraging.

Nedelcu also had pretty good efficiency on the ball too. He completed 83.47% of his progressive passes, which was the 25th highest in the division – though it’s likely a lot of names above him played much less of these passes. The midfielder also had the 4th highest number of attempted passes into the final third p90, with a pretty respectable 70.1% completion rate.

Off the ball he’s fairly active, with 8.85 defensive duels p90, 3.89 interceptions p90 and 11.28 recoveries p90, though it’s not surprising that these numbers don’t jump off the page with Steaua having the 2nd highest possession in the league last season. His defensive duel success rate of 29.88% may not sound like much, but it was the 26th highest in the league, with the player in first winning 37.41% of their duels.

There’s a good chance it’s just because I haven’t watched enough, but from the clips I have watched I don’t feel as big on Nedelcu as I was hoping. He’s still only 21-years-old and has potential, as well as already playing 5716 minutes of senior league football, but the clips just didn’t feel like what I was hoping for. Despite this, I think he’s still worth keeping an eye on and seeing how he does in his second season at Steaua Bucharest.

Tudor Baluta – 19 – FC Viitorul

The second Romanian player here is the player who seems to have stepped up to take Nedelcu’s place at Viitorul, while also earning his first caps for his country before Nedelcu.

Baluta has played a lot less minutes than Nedelcu, with 2707 in the league, but he had some impressive numbers last season – even more so when considering he only turned 19-years-old in March.

Baluta played 13.65 progressive passes p90 last season, the most in the division, although his accuracy for these passes didn’t feature in the top thirty. Then, despite the strong numbers for progressive passes, his numbers for long balls and passes into the final third aren’t huge. His 9.18 passes into the final third was the 22nd highest in the division and his 8.94 long balls p90 the 11th highest in the division, but his accuracy of 62.8% for the former and 56.6% for the latter are fairly average.

Baluta’s defensive numbers are a lot higher than Nedelcu’s however, despite being involved in less defensive duels p90. Last season Baluta was involved in 6.88 defensive duels p90, winning 29.9% of them. However, he managed to average a massive 10 interceptions p90 as well as 13.56 recoveries p90. He also had the 24th highest aerial duel success rate, winning 62.6% of his 7.19 attempted p90. Viitorul also had the 3rd highest possession last season, which makes the interceptions and recovery numbers even crazier.

As a benchmark, N’Golo Kante in Leicester’s title winning 2015/16 side had 12.5 defensive duels p90, 8.25 interceptions p90 and 14.33 recoveries p90 – but Leicester also had the 3rd lowest possession in the division, making Baluta’s numbers look pretty impressive.

A bonus for Baluta is that he also completed 90.4% of his 1.25 attempted dribbles p90. A few of his dribbles can be seen below.

I quite like the look of Baluta from the clips I’ve seen, more so than Nedelcu I’d say. Judging by his defensive numbers, numbers on the ball and physique, it feels as though he has the ability to really dominate the midfield area. However, given his age, the fact he hasn’t really played too many minutes and how little I’ve seen of him, it’s hard to make any kind of bold statement about him, but I think he’s definitely a player worth keeping an eye on over the next season or two.

Amadou Haidara – 20 – RB Salzburg

After playing a big part in Salburg’s Europa League run last season, Amadou Haidara isn’t a particularly under the radar pick, but he pops up with good numbers in so many categories that it’d feel stupid to not mention him. I also wasn’t sure whether he should be in the deeper midfielers or the more advanced, but I opted for this section (mostly as I was struggling for other names though).

Haidara played the 13th most progressive passes in the Austrian Bundesliga last season with 11.55 p90, although this was the 2nd most for midfielders. He attempted the 2nd most through balls p90, but the player in first only played 467 minutes compared to Haidara’s 1933. He also played the 6th most key passes p90, though with just 0.61 p90 I’m not sure what the exact definition for a key pass is with this data. Combining this with the fact he also attempted the most passes into the box and completed the most deep completions p90 and you get a hugely impressive passing profile.

The Malian midfielder even had the 4th highest dribbling success rate in the league, as he completed 79.81% of his 4.84 dribbles p90.

But it doesn’t end there. His defensive numbers are also pretty solid too. His 7.87 defensive duels p90 isn’t huge, but his 30.1% success rate was the 22nd highest in the division, while he also completed 4.75 interceptions and 12.29 recoveries p90. His goal contribution numbers are solid for a midfield player too, with his xG being 0.14 p90 and his xA 0.20 p90.

Haidara seems to be a player with huge potential and is already putting forward great numbers despite being just 20-years-old. It’s not an original suggestion, but with 6 of Salzburg’s 20 record sales being to RB Leipzig, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Haidara follow that path should he repeat his strong numbers this season.

Conclusion

I found it really difficult to find deeper lying midfield players, with a lot of players who had good numbers for getting the ball into the final third not looking particularly great when looking at clips of them.

There’s some honorable mentions for the likes of Lucas Paqueta of Flamengo, who I left out because I feel like I’ve been seeing him everywhere lately, and Nikola Moro from Dinamo Zagreb who had some great numbers but recently had a long-term injury, so it’ll be worth seeing how he recovers from that before mentioning him.

While not all at the same level, I feel as though the four names above all have potential. Haidara doesn’t seem far away from a move to a top club, while the other three seem like they could be decent gambles for more mid-table clubs, with the ability to grow and be moved on for a profit.

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