Bannan, Freeman and Grealish- Comparing three of the EFL Championship’s creative attacking midfielders.

Barry Bannan imageJack Grealish Imageluke-freeman-image.jpg

Recruitment in midfield

In the summer of this year it looked as though Jack Grealish would be on his way to North London to be part of Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pocchetino’s young squad. Aston Villa fans, myself included, feared the worst and come August the 9th our worst fears were realised and Spurs bid £25 million. With Villa under huge financial pressure it looked as though Grealish was off but Spurs were told in no uncertain terms that he was not for sale, at any price. Had Daniel Levy and Co acted earlier they would have got their man or so Steve Bruce had claimed however Grealish eventually signed a new five year deal effectively doubling his wages but of course the pessimist in me says it is more than possible this is to merely increase his value for next year, I hope i’m wrong.

So to the point of this article. I have heard whispers on social media and seen a few snippets in the written media around the possible return to Villa Park of Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan.

This made me wonder that if ever that rumor ever became a possible reality would Bannan add anything to the squad? I think the answer would be well probably not. Of course there are a few others i could have analyzed and stuck in this article Duffy at Sheffield United amongst others.

Another player I coveted in the summer, and who I put forward for a move to Aston Villa, and also who I have admired for a long time now is QPR’s Luke Freeman.  Third last season in overall assists with 12 and with an xA of 13.01 (Bannan and Grealish didn’t even make the top 30 in xA last season)

Luke freeman 2
QPR’s Luke Freeman

I have wrote about and analyzed Freeman for a few years now right back to his Stevenage days in 2011 and believe it or not he is still only 26.

Freeman, in the 17/18 season, produced his best numbers to date with 12 assists and 5 goals (16/17 season- 5 assist 4 goals and in 15/16 6 assists and 1 goal) so is Freeman getting better with age? Well, yeah. It still puzzles me as to why he doesn’t seem to get a better gig than QPR (no offence meant).

So lets compare the three players mentioned above and stick em all in a wonky table for ease of reading.

Numbers wise we can see for Jack Grealish the season of 2015-16 in the EPL and Villa’s first season in the Championship following their relegation doesnt make for great reading. Injuries played a part of course but as he reached the season of 17-18 Grealish picked up albeit gradually with 4 assists. His numbers still werent as we would have expected from a talent such as his though.

Bannan produced and followed a similar path to Grealish the past three seasons with some low numbers assist wise bar a half decent return in the 16/17 Championship season with 7 assists and beating an xA of 6.07 in which he played 44 games but his goal return has been consistently poor. The season of 15/16 saw Bannan give a return of 2 goals and 2 assists in 38 games backing up that point.

Former Bristol City man Luke Freeman had a good season last year with a huge return of 12 assists from an xA of 13.01 showing there was probabaly more to come from him especially given he also had an xG of 8.41 and scored just the 5 goals. Freeman played just the 26 games for QPR and Bristol City in the 16/17 season and still produced 5 assists again with an xA of 7.5 and scoring 8 goals exceeding his xG of 3.95 massively. The changing of clubs in the season shouldnt be underestimated of course if you think these numbers are a tad low.

The present day

Given some teams have only played 16 or 17 games in the Championship this season there is a relatively small sample size to go from but be that as it may it will give us a peak into a window of what these three attacking midfielders can offer longer term now we have looked a bit at a small part of some of the numbers they have produced in the past few seasons.

I feel, as im sure most scouts and recruitment analysts will do also, that being able to receive and carry the ball into the final third and the danger areas in and around the box is a vital asset for an attacking midfielder to have. Its a big part of their play especially when playing as part of an attacking midfield three in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 shape as we have seen with Dean Smith’s Aston Villa at points at the start of his tenure.

So i wanted to look at the successful dribble rates of the three players i talked about above and where they tend to pick the ball up from and their ability to create opportunities from these dribbles.

First up Luke Freeman.

Luke Freeman Successful Dribbles 18/19

QPR usually play in a familar 4-2-3-1 formation with Freeman operating on the left of the midfield three and looking at the graphic above that i have produced that seems pretty clear. A success rate of 81% is well up there that much is clear and with a Total Non Penalty xG of 1.76 (he’s scored 2 goals) and an Total xA of 1.95 and 1 assist Freeman is on the right path again in a performance wise mixed season under a Steve McClaren led QPR side.

In regards to a few other measures I use in a simple, straight up AM template I’ve stuck them in a radar with per 90 unit samples and it would be interesting to stick these numbers in a AM/Winger template to see how they stack up for variance.

Luke Freeman radar 18/19

Just to be clear I REALLY LIKE LUKE FREEMAN! And if he turned up at Aston Villa I wouldnt be disappointed as he can play anywhere across a midfield three and on the left or right of a front three cutting inside or taking defenders on down the flanks and he can take set pieces so whats not to like? The fact that he is a VERY similar player to Grealish is the only issue but good players can always be accommodated in a team no matter what anybody tells you.

Anyway enough of the Luke Freeman love in lets see how Barry Bannan stacks up.

Barry Bannan Successful dribbles 18/19

To put it nicely, he doesnt. Stack up that is. Bannan, as i mentioned at the start of this article, has earned plaudits from some fans and EFL television pundits alike but I just dont see it personally. Admittedly Bannan’s Wednesday team are scoring goals with a current NPG total of 20 and an xG of 19.84 (my last count on xG and xGA is about a week out forgive me) it seems Bannan’slack of contribution may not be being missed after all but Wednesday have also conceded 26 goals and with an xGA of 22.6 (only Preston have a worse record) could this explain Bannan’s issues going forward as he is maybe having to fulfill a lot more defensive duties? Possibly but maybe we are clutching at straws on the Scotsmans behalf. His success rate when dribbling with the ball is low but as we can see he doesnt seem to attempt that many anyway. C’est la vie as they say.

Barry Bannan radar 18/19

When we compare Bannan’s stats on the radar with Freeman’s and Jack Grealish’s he is down on pretty much every measure. Although he is still a decent midfielder I think Bannan had his time at Villa Park and there is no need to go back from his or from Villa’s point of view if indeed, which I doubt, has ever been the case.

Super Jack Grealish

Maybe its age, maybe its just that he is that good but Grealish is starting to again find the form of last season playing in a struggling Steve Bruce side.

The sheer amount of dribbles attempted let alone the successful ones that are documented in the graphic above is enough to rival that of an above average Premier league AM let alone a fellow Championship one like Freeman or Bannan.

Unlike Freeman this season Grealish has usually been deployed in the Aston Villa team behind a central centre forward, usually Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, in a 4-4-1-1 formation and not on the left of a 4-3-3 however Grealish does tend to drift out more to the left hand side and cut back inside on to his favored right foot. He also has the highest success rate of all the three players mentioned with 84%.

Grealish’s assist numbers havent quite hit the numbers he or Villa would like as yet but as the season progresses they probably will and we can see from the first table that his numbers in the areas detailed have improved year on year and progression in a player is what drives recruitment.

Jack Grealish radar 18/19

I guess my overall point is that if Villa end

up losing Grealish and if they were to look

to recruit from the Championship and if

they dont get promoted and if… well

they could do a lot worse than taking

a good look at Luke Freeman.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Part 2: Using Expected Points & Goal Difference to predict a league table

In my previous post on Expected Points I discussed the differing metrics I can use in roughly trying to predict the outcome of a league season in the format of a final league table. Due to the length of part one on the EPL I decided it would be easier to do a second post rather than bore everyone to tears on the first post but thanks for a massive response all the same! For the explanations of the parameters and metrics used in compiling these tables I suggest you refer back to the first post which can be found here

EFL Championship and SkyBet Leagues 1 and 2

Having been involved in differing capacities with clubs below the EPL, alongside supporting the best team in the midlands, Aston Villa (don’t @ me!), I have not only a vested interest in the Championship and League’s 1 and 2 (I will leave the National League out of these posts for now for post length reasons) but I also compile and collect these 3 league’s data throughout the season and find that they are very interesting when it comes to using various measures when producing data work.

Although there is some work published I believe that there is nowhere near enough detailed data and stat work around given the availability of various data sources however publicly available data is few and far between in all fairness. These three leagues are all well supported of course and fans maybe don’t get enough stat work done, or publicly published anyway, on their clubs but especially fans from clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. I should say that the data I used is up until and including the 6th of October’s fixtures in all three leagues.

More on Leagues 1 and 2 later but I will start with the Championship and alongside the tables I will sum up little about what I found and then see what possibilities could end up taking place come the end of the season.

EFL Championship

Champ xGD
EFL Championship goal difference table

As I mentioned in the first post on this subject I had my doubts about using expected goal difference as a valid measure of a team’s final league position but in the process of exploring the data and using the metrics went along it kind of grew on me a little.

Dean smith
Will Dean Smith’s departure for Aston Villa radically effect Brentford’s promotion hopes?

Brentford fans will be pleased as punch to see their side at the top of the goal difference table but they might want to hold off due to the fact manager Dean Smith has now left the club to join Aston Villa and this of course will most probably have a huge impact on where their season goes from here. A +22 goal difference would have earned you a final league position of 5th or 6th position if we go, as we have done in our parameter, by last season’s final league table. Wolves won the league with a +43 GD with the nearest being another promoted club Cardiff City with +30 GD and of course it’s still possible to achieve Cardiff’s GD but unlikely anyone will touch Wolves’ 17/18 season total surely.

My doubts creep back in again when I see the high pressing Marco Bielsa’s Leeds team finishing the season with a GD of +14 when they already have a +13 GD at the time of writing but there is a long way to go of course and goal differences will sway, some considerably,  as the season progresses. Sheffield United have started very well but xG doesn’t always match up with the reality but in theory a playoff spot, if not more, is easily attainable for Chris Wilder’s men.

Sheff wed
Sheffield Wednesday bottom of a table? I have my doubts

So who should be worried? Well Hull and Ipswich (yes really) could be in trouble as most certainly will relegation favorites Rotherham United but the surprise (okay MASSIVE surprise!) is seeing Sheffield Wednesday at the bottom of this table. This is just not going to happen Wednesday are currently 6th in the table with a GD of +1 so how is it feasible they could finish bottom? They have conceded 15 goals with an xGA of 18.1 (9th highest in the Championship) so still conceding 3.1 less than predicted, a small margin granted. And they are exceeding there xG by 4.3 goals (xG is 11.7 and actual goals scored is 15) again this isn’t a great number but it is still 8th highest in the league, not bad (I am planning on publishing all leagues current xG numbers when I get a chance). The issue is essentially conceding 18 goals and scoring 19 isn’t sustainable over a 46 game season and if this continues they will find themselves slipping down the table somewhat however not to the extent that the table above shows. Wigan, Bristol City, Stoke, Villa in 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th respectively all have similar records so the although the final table is skewed somewhat it’s easy to see how, given the four teams positions noted above, Wednesday could end up much lower down the league come May next year.

Anyway let’s move on to the final expected points table to see if we can correlate anything the goal difference table tells us.

Champ xP
EFL Championship expected points table

Now this is more like it. For me this passes the eye test quite well. The top 6 sits quite well with me and the fight for the title, I expect, will be just as close as the table suggests although Sheffield United winning the title may be a stretch for me.

Sheff utd
Some numbers suggest otherwise but I think Sheffield United should be taken seriously this season



Brentford as we have discussed may have issues now Smith has departed. In general the top five are the same give or take (yes I know there are is no such thing as 77.04 points but you can see what we are trying to achieve here) 7th-18th is again very familiar and also the bottom 4. Sheffield Wednesday have managed to get out of the bottom four and finish 20th,  probably more believable but I still have my doubts they will finish that low we shall see.


The two tables do correlate in general but with complications for teams in regards to managerial changes, injuries and schedules etc there can always be a massive swing either way on how things can change especially with two or three big wins changing goal differences up and down the table. I like the expected points tables in general and although being massively swayed by the teams xG numbers these are consistently more reliable than using current points per game. I would expect Leeds and Middlesborough to better their positions in my table but I’m interested to see how Brentford, Sheffield United and Derby progress and also how the Dean Smith effect at Aston Villa pans out.

SkyBet League 1

SkyBet L1 xP
SkyBet League 1 goal difference and expected points tables

Four out of the last five seasons have seen the League 1 title won by a team with a points total of 90 or more and Barnsley look on course, even at this early stage, to achieve this, well maybe.

Image result for barnsley fc v luton town
Barnsley earned another 3 points against Luton on Saturday

With the lowest xGA conceded (12.5 actual conceded is 9) and the highest xG at 23.1 (they exceed this by 2.9 with 26 goals scored) and scoring at 2.1 goals per game the numbers are looking really good for the Oakwell outfit so far who are in 3rd.  Portsmouth and Peterborough lead the way currently and both of those sides are looking good and with the latter’s expected goal difference of -5 in my final table this again questions my thinking but 19 goals conceded with an xGA of 21.2 kind of skews the table given that Posh have currently scored 30 goals and exceed their xG by a whopping 8.8 this then answers the question of my table somewhat in terms of goal differences but again slightly questions the sustainability of Steve Evans’ teams goal scoring and goal conceding ratios over the course of a season.

Luton Town are another side that has real potential in at least achieving a playoff spot. In their first season back in League 1 and in both the goal difference tables and the expected points table the Hatters are predicted to end up in the higher echelons. With a predicted GD of +17 (last season this would get you 4th-5th position and the predicted 77 points would get you the same position wise) Nathan Jones has a real team spirit and huge work ethic ingrained into his side which I believe will all help in them in achieving a somewhat surprising top 5 finish.

Luton Town manager Nathan Jones

Sunderland,  Southend and a resurgent Blackpool all look to have decent chances of a playoff berth each come the end of the season. At the other end of the table Plymouth, who finished 7th last season but currently sit bottom of the table this season, already look worryingly frail at the back with a rather large 2.18 xGA per match (actually conceding 1.83) and with a huge total xGA of 26.3 after 12 games played they have been very lucky to concede just the 19 goals maybe they have a kind of alright defensive policy after all? Or does it say more about the shooting ability of the teams they have faced? You can decide (Hint: it’s not the first one) anyway it doesn’t make for optimistic reading and I predict them to finish bottom, and some way short of 23rd, in both of my predictive tables.

These results and metrics used are probably shoved to the back of any clubs data driven stat work at this level of football and is probably paid no attention to at all when in reality this could be massively important and relevant in a clubs performance now and in a predictive nature.

SkyBet League 2

SkyBet L2 xP
SkyBet League 2 goal difference and expected points tables

So to the last league being covered in this article SkyBet League 2 and one of the most competitive with a standard being very similar throughout the league. There are some interesting outcomes here but let’s start at the top as it stands.

cowley brothers
Nick (left) and Danny Cowley have got Lincoln firing again

One thing is for sure so far this season. The Cowley brothers and Lincoln City side have found their promotion winning form when winning the National League two years ago. Finishing 7th last season, The Imps already have just over half the points they achieved in the whole of last season. With an xG total of 14.3 this season Lincoln have scored 20 goals at the time of writing (games inc. 6th of October remember) a plus of 5.7 xG means they sit pretty at the top of League 2 and also predicted to keep that top spot come the end of the season with a points total of 83.68 (or 84 if you like your numbers rounded up) a points total that last year would have got your team a 4th place finish stretching to 3rd (Wycombe finished in 4th with 84 points last season).

I can’t quite get my head around a +18 GD when winning a title in this league but this is what MK Dons are predicted to achieve in my goal difference table and its odd I agree especially given Lincoln already have +17 currently but in achieving fourth last season Wycombe did finish with the same goal difference so again although doubt creeps in it is still feasible, maybe. Speaking of MK Dons I have them coming very close in the expected points table with a predicted total of 78 points which last season would see you end up in either 5th or 4th position so comparing my table with last season’s it won’t be far off.

Looking up and down there isn’t much that sticks out between the two tables in terms of positioning and GD is pretty good as well with Grimsby predicting to have a -18 GD (23rd and 24th ended with -13 and -15 respectively last season) and could Mansfield end up with the same amount of points as last year (72) as predicted in my table? Can Notts County recover from a disastrous start to the season and end up escaping to 20th position with 51 points by the end of the season? in any instance it is more likely than them achieving 77 points as they did last year.

In the last two seasons 46 points or above would see you safe from relegation but using my measures 50-52 will be the probable cut off this year and the likes of Macclesfield (currently on 4 points), Cambridge (8), Cheltenham (9) and the aforementioned Notts County (12) will not be wanting to hear that I’m sure.

So there we have it I hope I have cleared up a few things and maybe reaffirmed some peoples thinking and hopes for the season ahead or maybe I have opened a few eyes to what is possible when using these metrics alongside the parameters I have used when compiling these tables.

Probably worth putting a few quid on anyway, maybe.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

If there are any queries or questions in regards to the past two articles on this subject or others involving xG, xA or any predictive measures you have seen and if you think they may help when scouting teams or players or even if you think I could help your club or department in any of these areas feel free to get in touch.


Aston Villa- How long can the current situation last?

Villa manager Steve Bruce

In recent weeks Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce has come under increasing pressure from the Villa fans especially given that his main critics may have thought, or had hoped, he be replaced by Brentfords Dean Smith or more optimisticly former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry to name but two names linked with Bruce’s job.

However new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens didnt see it that way and decided that Bruce was the man to try once more to get Villa back into the Premier League after last seasons last ditch failure against Fulham in the play off final at Wembley.

So he can do it again right?

Well for us Villa fans its not looked so likely this season, so far.

First things first it shouldn’t be underestimated the impact the loanees who have not returned to Villa Park have affected the squad and Bruce’s planning.

Snodgrass returned to West Ham and has been playing regularly for the Hammers this season. John Terry has not returned for a second year and no matter how hard the club have tried it has been made clear to the former Chelsea captain that should he sign a short term contract he would not be returning on the same wages and terms as he was the year before mainly due to Villa’s on going financial issues but also this being the last year Villa will receive any parachute payments. Sam Johnstone, much to the annoyance that he could easily have stayed with Villa for another year, went to a promotion rival in West Brom, Lewis Grabban went on to pastures new and Josh Onomah returned to Spurs.

So blaming a squad lacking the quality of last year from a squad that mainly Bruce himself has built since being appointed in October 2016 is not the kind of thing fans want to hear. Neither is ‘the results will come’ or ‘the players are working hard’ or even ‘we are a big club and know where we should be’ or the most presumtious of them all, ‘we will be there and there abouts at the end of the season’, how can he be so sure? See @Myoldmansaid on Twitter for his amusing quotes for ‘Brucie Bingo’.

But the main issue that seems to get the fans up in arms, including me, is the consistency in playing some players out of position.

The benefit of being involved in football on a daily basis, especially doing tactical analysis and data work is being able to see certain things that some others may not. Tactically speaking. On the other hand what we have seen this season its pretty clear to everyone what has been the issues with team selection.

We were all thinking to ourselves that after last year we should at least be challenging for the playoffs even should we lose Snodgrass and Terry. And now given that Villa have aquired the loan signings of Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham who scored 26 goals for Bristol City the last time he played in the Championship and Yannick Bolasie Evertons long term injury returnee, Villa really should be aiming for the play offs and maybe beyond.

Bruce has a 45% win at Villa, more than anywhere else in his managerial career it should be noted.

Players out of positions

We are all familiar with Mile Jedinak being played in the centre half position alongside the ridiculous decision to let an orthadox centre back Tommy Elphick go out on loan. But other shapes and systems have been employed over the previous weeks and I wrote a post detailing what should be done a while back regarding what would be best given the squad Bruce has.

Tuanzebe constantly out at right back (he is a centre half), El Mohamady is not a right back, Grealish isnt suited out on the left and when playing centrally he has had his best games for Villa. I could go on of course but I think we all get my drift. And this is what fans just dont get about team selection and if the average fan can see its not working why cant Bruce?


Villa in a 3-5-2
Villa in a 3-1-4-2

I have advocated both of the shapes above in the past as i truly believe this is the best Bruce can get out of what Villa have, yes i know its three at the back but Bruce used it in pre season and then totally abandoned it when the league campaign started without any real reason as it did seem to work ok. Granted Jedinak is still one of those three centre backs but…well it is what it is.

Yannick Bolasie

Now i know that Bolasie and El Ghazi arent wing backs but if the team want to start going at their opponents from the off the 3-1-4-2 is probably the way to go. Whelan or Bjarnason will screen the back four and this shape also gets the best out of Grealish which is vital.

Of course Bruce has so many options and with Hourihane playing well he has another issue in selecting a competent but attacking midfield.

Villa in a midfield diamond

I feel like im starting to repeat myself. I would still like to see the diamond above against a lesser team (if their is such a thing) just to see how it could work. To be honest, its a stretch I know and the personnel have to be spot on but at least we have defenders in the corrct positions and two centre forwards plus a decent midfield with options to go to a 4-4-2 when defending.

Creating relationships

Villa pass map v Bristol City

Slow and sidways would be how I would describe the performance against Bristol City on Friday. As my pass map shows their was very little passing between players and the focus seemed to be get the ball up to Abraham and see what happens.

Grealish, Abraham and Kodija are shown as central here but this means the three players movement could have been across the front line especially Grealish and Kodija but overall it just didnt work did it?!

Tuanzebe isnt a ambitious full back at all and simply gave the ball to Hourihane in midfield. A full back should be an attacking option. Period.

Their was no width as Bruce abandoned the 4-1-4-1 that had seen Grealish produce his best form in previous games especially last season.

Villa in a 4-4-2 v Sheffield Wednesday

Against Sheffield Wednesday although ending up being beat 1-2 Bruce nearly got this right with one exception. Four at the back. Or the player selection of that back four (have a game of Brucie Bingo im not going there again)

At home Villa should be the dominant, attacking side and the 3-1-4-2 is the way to go given the players available for that game. This 4-4-2 is disjointed and looks nothing like a 4-4-2 should look like in any game let alone when playing at home. Fans want to see ambition and see their team put on an attacking performance especially at home but this doesnt seem to happening at the moment.

These pass maps are critical in showing the lack of tactical shape in a game and I wonder how or what some players are being told to play and what their specific roles are in a game.

Villa’s xG was 2.37 in the Wednesday game meaning they had chances that warranted at least 2 goals but again they fell short. Goals win games and Villa arent scoring enough.

The future

However long Steve Bruce remains in charge Villa fans can expect multiple shape changes and personnel in various positions and its such a shame that this is the case as their are at least 2 other set ups that would suit the squad Bruce has and thats apart from the ones mentioned above.

The indecisiveness of team selection and playing players out of position smacks of a little desperation and not knowing what is the best shape let alone the best starting eleven is worrying even at this early stage.

A new director of football has been appointed so we may see some changes now that the position has been filled and with Preston coming to Villa Park tonight I cant help but feel Bruce is on thin ice with the fans anyway so 3 points is more than a must.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Tammy Abraham: Can he reproduce his EFL Championship form of 16/17?

“Excited to start my new chapter this season with @AVFCOfficial lets get this season rocking” – Abraham on signing for Aston Villa

So Steve Bruce finally gets his man. After a waiting game and a fair few meetings with Abraham’s agent and with other parties more than interested in signing the England Under 21 international, Abraham decided on joining Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi on season long loans to Villa Park.

Being a Villa fan myself I was chuffed to see the likes of Bolasie and El Ghazi. With Abraham I have my reservations and I have made this clear on my social media channels. Of course I will be rooting for Abraham and by no means is this an article slating the clubs decision to sign him but I hope it gives a bit more of a fuller picture of what he may or may not bring to Aston Villa this coming season.


Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham to quote his full name joined the Chelsea academy at under 8 level and progressed up through the age groups winning consecutive UEFA Youth League titles and FA Youth Cups in 2015 and 2016 and in doing so scoring 8 goals in 9 matches.

Abraham has scored 74 goals in 98 games encompassing all the Chelsea youth sides he has played in at the time of writing. You would be hard pressed to find many young players with this record.

He made his debut for the Chelsea first team under Guus Hiddink in the 1-1 draw away at Liverpool and then making his home debut starting the game against the newly crowned EPL Champions Leicester City a week later.

Still finding himself down the pecking order at Chelsea meant getting into the starting eleven would be difficult and so at the start of the 2016-17 season Abraham was sent out in loan to Championship side Bristol City.

On fire in the Championship

Abraham came off the bench to score on his Bristol City debut (the goal was later wrongly credited to his City teammate Magnússon). In September he was named Championship Player of the Month (below) scoring 4 goals which also earned him the Young Player of the Month award.

By January Abraham had reached 16 goals and was unplayable at times and was catching the eye of many a Premier League club but interested parties were met with litlle acknowledgment due to the fact Chelsea made it clear there lanky centre forward wasnt for sale.

Abraham’s radar 16-17

Hitting an xG per 90 of 0.42 is not to sniffed at especially in the grind that is the Championship and he exceeded that by scoring at a rate of 0.6 per 90, an excellent return indeed. Abraham played 3425 minutes that season (38 90 minute brackets) and this seemed what helped him achieve such excellent consistency throughout the season.

Bristol City played to Abraham’s strengths something that the other teams he has been loaned out to have not. Dont be fooled by his height and think he needs shedloads of crosses to score goals he has more in his locker than that and it showed at his time at Ashton Gate.

Swansea City 17-18

Abraham playing for Swansea in 17-18

In the July of 2017 Abraham signed a new 5 year contract at Stamford Bridge and then immediately signed on a season long loan to fellow Premier League side Swansea City.

But the move didn’t turn out as well as both parties had hoped with Swansea getting relegated and Abraham having a frustrating season scoring just 5 goals in 21 games.

Abraham’s radar 17-18

Its clear that when we compare the two radars from Abrahams last two seasons we can see how he struggled in a Swansea team that liked to play a possesion based passing game but created very little in terms of goal scoring chances for him and the South Wales outfit ended up pretty much reliant on him.

His goal return for Swansea was poor but more noticeable was his decline in the total number of aerial wins across that season. A big, but not inconceivable, 44 separate aerial duels were lost over the course of the two seasons. Now we know Swansea werent a big crossing of the ball side but this also shows that when it came to the EPL defenders had the better of him the majority of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Abraham is a threat in the air but equally as good with both feet. With a hold up-turn and shoot style of centre forward play Abraham is able to roll his man on the turn in a Lukaku type movement. With that being said Abraham is often left isolated in games if the style of play isnt suited to his game and being able to adapt to those different styles hasnt always been fruitful.

England’s tall goal threat

I just want to briefly touch on Abraham’s time with the England youth sides of which he has been reasonably successful.

18 goals in 39 games for England youth sides from 2014 up until now is a fairly good return at international level. Abraham will be hoping for more after making his senior debut against Germany in the 0-0 draw last November.

England havent had a tall centre forward since the days of Peter Crouch so Abraham is still a viable option going forward but will he be able to be consistent enough and find some form with a club that suits him?

In summary

Tammy Abraham is still very hit and miss in a lot of people’s eyes.

Whether its been the clubs he has played at or whether certain managers play a style of football that suits him, its not certain what is the best set up and style to get the best out of him but Aidy Boothroyd seems to have got the best out him with the England Under 21’s so maybe Steve Bruce can take some pointers from Boothroyd?

Judging by the 4-1 drubbing away at Sheffield United today Villa need all the help they can get and with Bolasie and El Ghazi providing the anmunition Abraham may have half a chance of replicating that brilliant Championship form from his Bristol City days.

The season ahead at Villa

In my opinion he is best suited in a centre forward pairing (no false nines please) where he can be a target man with flick ons and holding the ball up for lay offs and his ability to pass well for a quicker strike partner.

In terms of formations, and considering the squad Steve Bruce has at his disposal, Abraham could play in a 3-5-2, shown below, (although three centre halves could be a problem now that Tommy Elphick has joined Hull City), or in a 4-4-2. Abraham is not effective as a lone frontman with no coach to my knowledge using him in this way. Can he play with Jonathan Kodija in a two?

Villa in a 3-5-2

Away from home Villa cannot be playing with just Kodija up front on his own, it simply doesnt work anymore maybe this is why Abraham has been brought in?Jedinak will continue at centre back whether we like it or not so now the two wingers have been brought in i believe 3-5-2 or even a variation in a 3-1-4-2 (shown below) is in Bruce’s thinking.

Villa in a 3-1-4-2 formation

The only real other option is one I personally would like to see possibly in the next home game against Rotherham. The 4-4-2 diamond with Grealish at the tip is something I have pushed for for a while now. Its a tad risky with Bree in terms of game time and also Whelan could be left exposed from a Bolasie point of view but McGinn is more than capable of performing defensive duties. One positive is that this shape at least gets the error prone Jedinak out of the back four.

Villa in the 4-4-2 (diamond) shape

Whatever Bruce decides going forward I for one really hope Abraham has a good season and finds his scoring touch so Villa can mount that promotion push once again.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Aston Villa v Brentford: 70 minutes of pressure 20 minutes of madness

“The first half was as good as we’ve played in the two years I have been here”- Steve Bruce after the 2-2 draw with Brentford

I would have to agree with Steve Bruce for the most part. Villa looked up for it from the off with a high pressing game and regaining possession in good areas in the Brentford final third. For the best part of 70 minutes, and although conceding the opening goal, there wasnt a moment went by that i didnt think Villa wouldnt come away with the 3 points.

A sloppy goal from Brentford’s Maupay didn’t stem the flow of wave after wave of Aston Villa attacks and Jonathan Kodija levelled the game just before half time. So what went so wrong that Villa ended up having to fight for a point in a game that they were on top of for the majority?

Team selection and formation

Aston Villa v Brentford starting lineups

Bruce knew that Dean Smith’s team like to keep hold of the ball and use quick, intricate one touch passing in the final third and the selection of the solid Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield was more than justified but also Whelan was the perfect foil for John McGinn, when in an attacking phase, alongside him.

Jack Grealish again playing in the no. 10 position behind a rejuvenated Jonathan Kodija.

A recent backlash against the choice of Mile Jedinak at centre back hadn’t deterred Steve Bruce again selecting the Australian ahead of Tommy Elphick, more on that later.

Aston Villa v Brentford Highlights

Pressure from the off

It was good to finally see Villa really put pressure on the opposition from the very start of the game with Adomah, Grealish, Kodija and El Mohamady pressing in unison across the front line but noticeably Villa pressed aggressively in wide areas backed up by Hutton and Tuanzebe at full back. McGinn stayed within 5 yards of Brentford’s McEacharan just in front of Whelan in the central areas.

This positioning shown in the graphic below also allowed….

…what is shown in the next graphic to happen in the attacking transitions.

Winning the ball as high as possible allowed the likes of Adomah, Grealish and, in part, McGinn to play in dangerous areas around the box. Balls out to Adomah and El Mohamady out wide, whos delivery is getting better, ended with some good crosses into the box (Villa are the highest crosses of the ball in the Championship with 113). Grealish also tried to dribble his way through various avenues in what was basically a free role for him.

The main issue i noticed was that although Villa got in to some excellent positions overall the ball wasnt moved on quick enough and attacks broke down when gaps to exploit were there.

Exploiting the overload

A fair bit of Villa’s attacking play came down the left hand side with Hutton and Adomah combining well especially when Grealish helped to create an overload and the three were able to combine and get Adomah into the box and into some good chance creating positions.

The importance of Grealish & McGinn

Whelan & McGinn in a double pivot

It proably went unnoticed that John McGinn and Glenn Whelan had a very good understanding in the centre of midfield. Both played in a double pivot set up with McGinn doing most, if not all , the creative work and in doing so he was able to find Grealish and Adomah in areas between the lines on the left hand side (he needs to do this for the right hand side as much as the left but will have incentive to do this when Bolasie comes into the team) whilst Whelan was happy to sit and screen Chester and Jedinak even when Villa were attacking, Whelan isnt getting any younger but some fans massively underestimate his contribution in the team and his experience will be needed against teams like Leeds United for example who are playing their football on the edge of their opponents 18 yard box.

The importance of the final third

Both Grealish and Kodija had decent games for Villa in the final third and to an extent as did Adomah and El Mohamady but in the graphic below McGinn was on the periphery and id like to see him push up that bit further to influence the game even more.

Jonathan Kodija

“Im fully fit, confident and the team is confident with me”- Kodija post Brentford

Having started the season well Jonathan Kodija again played a pivotal role in the draw against Brentford by scoring a brace.

Kodija had a slow start to the game but grew into it as it wore on scoring a wonderful self made goal riffling home a powerful shot after wriggling free of his marker just before half time and then heading past Brentford keeper Bentley deep into added time in the second half to secure a point.

Kodija had done his upmost to hold the ball up dropping deep to make himself available as shown below. A criticism of Kodija is that he doesnt always release the ball when he should do and lay it off to team mates who could progress a move further and then getting into the box himself, evident in patches in this game as well. But in scoring two goals he can be forgiven of course.

The centre back conundrum

Like many i cannot get my head round why Bruce persists with Mile Jedinak at centre back when Tommy Elphick did his chances no harm in the opening game win at Hull City.

Against Brentford Jedinak continually stepped up to engage Brentford striker Maupay just short of the halfway line as shown below. This shouldn’t have been an issue but Brentford have the players in Canos and Watkins either side of Maupay to punish defences and so it proved with Chester having to try to cover his defensive partner on numerous occasions after Jedinak mistimes or misjudges a tackle. This was a concern due to Villa pressing high up the pitch including the full backs and so leaving Chester and Jedinak without cover where Watkins and Canos were operating.

In my opinion Jedinak is the weak link in the starting eleven and needs to be addressed if Villa are to challenge once again for promotion.

In summary

I often worry my articles drag on a bit but their was plenty to get stuck into post Brentford and i hope i have answered some of the questions some of you might have had, its food for thought if nothing else.

Thanks for reading!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

What can we expect from Aston Villa this season: Tactical preview 18-19

With the EFL Championship season nearly upon us I thought I would take a look at what Steve Bruce may have in his mind, formation and tactics wise, going into the season opener away at Hull City on Monday.

Starting with a diamond shape and some quick fire notes on some of the players, I wanted to see how some of these Aston Villa players could affect the structure and tactics of the starting eleven.

Preseason and the Jack Grealish conundrum

4-4-2 (Diamond)

4-4-2 (diamond)
Aston Villa in a 4-4-2 diamond formation

At the time of writing Aston Villa fans are still unsure whether Jack Grealish will be staying especially with the news Spurs are looking to make a bid for Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook. Jack Grealish has been heavily involved in pre season and has looked sharp and raring to go but whether that will be at Villa Park remains to be seen.

The Scottish Cafu

Alan Hutton, especially at left back, would still be a safer option over Taylor as I believe his contribution in the playoff semi final games against Middlesbrough alone showed exactly the qualities and toughness needed in the Championship. A new contract shows the faith Bruce has in the Scotsman and his aggression and tough tackling and the balance he brings to the back four seems to work. But with the news Joe Bryan of Bristol City maybe a transfer target this could be even better attacking wise.

Two up top

Now is the time I feel to play two up front. Jonathan Kodija struggles when being a lone front man as does Scott Hogan and the two would work well together with Jonathan Kodija preferring to drop deeper and Scott Hogan loving the timed runs in behind. I would hope for a 20-25 goal haul between these two at least especially with Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah supplying good service.

Last year, although getting to the playoffs, going forward wasn’t much of a problem but in key games the finishing let Villa down with games at Derby County, Millwall and Middlesbrough all getting away from Villa with them failing to score a goal in two of those games all toward the business end of the season and in all three games they played with a sole central striker in Lewis Grabban.

Back to the diamond shape above and in my opinion this is Jack Grealish’s most suited role. His dribbling ability in these areas means in attacking phases he can play between the lines but also be able to do his defensive work as well.

This shape can also be easily tweaked slightly to make the flat 4-4-2 with Jack on the left hand side of midfield but this is not ideal of course.

To Thor or not to Thor?

Birkir Bjarnason, affectionately know as Thor to some fans,  has possibly shown enough in pre season to be in the starting eleven ahead of Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan although either of the three have the defensive ability but can be limiting forward thinking wise but overall Birkir Bjarnason is the more mobile of the three. The only issue with this set up is that it could leave Ahmed El Mohamady and Alan Hutton exposed at full back but there should be enough defensive know how in this 11 to cope with that.

Hit the road Jack

It is clear Jack Grealish is the most vital cog in the Aston Villa’s  mechanism and is somewhat of a talisman but can Villa still function without him? The simple answer is of course is that they will have to and there are alternatives.

Aston Villa in a flat 4-4-2 formation
Aston Villa attacking shape in the 4-4-2

4-4-2 (flat)

This flat 4-4-2, omitting Jack Grealish in the starting eleven, could well be a good option for Villa should he leave the club.

The full backs can still get forward knowing Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury are able to cover the respective defensive third areas on either flank should there be a turnover in possession by the opposition. The former still has the role of backing up the left hand side with the pace of Andre Green who often opts to dart inside the opposition midfield and defensive line.

Jonathan Kodija, as mentioned before, likes to drop deeper to receive the ball which means runs from Albert Adomah and Andre Green can be found by balls laid off to Conor Hourihane or Henri Lansbury.

The favored shape of last season, the 4-1-4-1

Within this system Aston Villa found there niche and it brought them relative success given that when Steve Bruce switched to this shape in early November the charge for the playoffs really began and his team picked up momentum bar a few stumbling blocks.

Glenn Whelan was usually deployed as the holding midfielder along with Mile Jedinak on occasion and it worked well.

Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury will have more freedom to go forward meaning Aston Villa will have a type of front five but with added pace in Andre Green instead of the more reserved earlier crosser and West Ham loanee Robert Snodgrass.

Full backs will still have a license to support Green and Albert Adomah down the flanks and overall this is a more solid, albeit defensively, formation.

One issue is that Aston Villa would have that lone front man but this time it will be a more mobile center forward in Jonathan Kodija who does have the ability to hold the ball up and has pace unlike Lewis Grabban who was on loan from Bournemouth last season.

Aston Villa in the popular 4-1-4-1 shape from last season
Aston Villa in an attacking shape in a 4-1-4-1 shape


The typical 4-2-3-1 was only employed on a handful of occasions last season by Steve Bruce possibly due to Robert Snodgrass and his defensive limitations in covering his full back but this shouldn’t be a problem in Andre Green who being young and hungry has the energy to do what Snodgrass wouldn’t always do.

Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane again will be allowed to support Jonathan Kodija or Scott Hogan whichever would be selected as either in this shape could do the job given that they would be guaranteed support from the attacking central midfield position which could be filled by  Henri Lansbury or better still, but whisper it, Jack Grealish.

Service and support would be plentiful to the striker from Andre Green and Albert Adomah both not only having  pace and crossing ability but also both can play on either flank for differing deliveries in to the box. When attacking, the pair can afford to be much more direct and cut in field more to open up shooting opportunities for themselves.

Two of Conor Hourihane, Birkir Bjarnason, Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak will be deployed in the two holding midfield positions and if the mixture of the two is right and the double pivot (one defensively minded) is used in the attacking phase this shape could prove fruitful.


Aston Villa in a 4-2-3-1 shape
Aston Villa in the 4-2-3-1 shape with wide and direct attacking options

4-3-3? probably not

This brings me on to the shape Steve Bruce favored against Dynamo Dresden in the last pre season game and one I haven’t covered yet, the 4-3-3 (apart from the awful 3-5-2, Bruce doesn’t yet have three center backs in his squad). For this I have used some positional data to show the average positions taken up by Aston Villa players during the game.

In the first image we have the first half which was the majority of the game where the eleven on the pitch stayed the same and in the following two images show some positions after some of the changes but throughout the game the same 4-3-3 shape remained. Bruce didn’t play this shape bar on two occasions last year so it was refreshing to see this happen.



I know, it’s a pre season game and I could have picked from a few but I chose the Dynamo Dresden game because of the shape Aston Villa set up in and although it being obvious from these graphics Aston Villa took advantage of Dynamo Dresden’s weaker left hand side the numbers were better pass wise than we have seen last year especially from Glenn Whelan who made 64 passes in the game (he made an average of 43 per game last year) this meant Whelan was much more of an outlet. Jack Grealish received 16 passes off Whelan and Hutton 14 so could this mean Steve Bruce sees Whelan as the first choice CDM? Has he got the energy that Bjarnason possesses? Only time will tell.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics