By The Numbers – Midfield Transfer Targets

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Updated: July 13, 2014

Over the past few days, we’ve been seeing more and more fans call for the signing of Paul Pogba by Chelsea. Certainly, with the departures of David Luiz and Frank Lampard, there’s a strong sense that Chelsea need one more complete center midfielder in the squad, despite the arrival of Fabregas from Barcelona. Fabregas brings a lot of really good things to the table, including what will probably be the best incisive passing in the EPL next season, but his defensive contributions leave something to be desired. Take 2 + 2 from all of the above, and you get people begging for Pogba. Well, I thought I’d bust out the old By The Numbers series and take a look at what’s what with some of the big CM names allegedly on the market this summer: Pogba, Vidal, and Khedira.

As usual, the numbers are per 90 minutes of league play from last season, and only goals from open play are counted.

Individual Stats

Click to enlarge. All data from Squawka.

Click to enlarge. All data from Squawka.

As we can see above, it’s a very tight race in key categories between these three guys. Pogba wins the fewest categories, which makes sense given that he’s still very young, although his 6 wins comes very close to Vidal and Khedira’s 7 wins. Vidal not only tied Khedira for the most wins, but also had the highest numbers on average (Khedira came in second in terms of average numbers). Broadly speaking, from the above, we can say that Pogba is the most dangerous shooter, especially from distance, while Vidal gets forward the most and scores the most goals, and Khedira offers relatively a lot less in these categories. Khedira, however, is probably the best defensively, although Vidal is by far the best at getting the ball back (tackling and interceptions), while Pogba is solid if not spectacular (and his numbers in these categories again indicate that he tends to sit back while Vidal likes to push up). Finally, from the last set of categories, we see that it’s pretty tight between Khedira and Vidal as for who is the best passer, while the numbers again indicate that Pogba tends to sit deeper and dictate the play from there (although his win in the successful take-ons category suggests that he bypasses the first line of defense before doing so). Ultimately, it looks like all three would be excellent pickups, depending on price, and what Chelsea want to achieve with the purchase.

But no player lives in isolation, right? Ideally, we want to figure out how all three of these guys would fit in at Chelsea, and how that would compare to the midfield performance levels of the other elite teams.

On Yaya, Matic, and Fernandinho

Before we bring the transfer target guys’ stats to the team, let’s take a quick detour to seeing where Chelsea is at already. Ideally, any one of these guys we would be bringing in would be to partner Matic in the pivot for big games, the way Mourinho used Luiz to great effect in the biggest matches of last season.  I’m of the opinion, and that’s probably not a controversial one, that Man City had the best midfield of any EPL team besides Chelsea last season, so using them as a reference point makes sense. Let’s set a baseline then:

Click to enlarge. All data from Squawka.

Click to enlarge. All data from Squawka.

As we can see above, Yaya Toure was by far the best midfielder last season. He sweeps the shooting / goals category, and even ignoring that, had six category wins to his name. If we ignore goals, then Matic actually beat out Yaya in terms of category wins, but that’s like saying if we ignore points scored then Michael Jordan was just slightly above average at basketball.  Fernandinho doesn’t win very many categories on his own, but he does pair up with Yaya really well, and the numbers indicate that he has the discipline to sit deep and shoulder the defensive duties alone when Yaya gets forward to attack.  Matic, meanwhile, was the best defensively of the three, and also a very good passer from deep, although lacked the ability to get forward that makes Yaya such a lethal threat. Still though, for only his first half a season in the EPL, Matic was spectacular, and I’m incredibly excited to have him available not only for a full season but also in all competitions next year.

Pairing Up The Transfer Targets With Matic

Click to enlarge. All data from Squawka.

Click to enlarge. All data from Squawka.

This is where answering the question of who would be the best pickup becomes a little trickier. From the looks of it, nothing will be enough to match the output of Yaya + Fernandinho. That being said, with the way Matic had Yaya in his pocket last season, that basically negates Yaya’s effectiveness, so I am not overly worried about the head-to-head battles against our biggest title rivals. It’s more the performance in other games that we should worry about.

One the one hand, Pogba would offer the most in terms of physicality and sitting deep to provide service to the guys in front of him (while also offering a shooting threat from distance), which is basically exactly what David Luiz did in the pivot, and that worked wonders last season in the big games. On the other hand, if we’re trying to emulate the Man City style of pivot, then we already have a big, physical defensive guy who can play long passes from deep in Matic, and we need someone who offers a much greater attacking threat (while still being able to do the defensive work like tackling and intercepting), so Vidal would be the best fit. If we want something in between, with an emphasis on really solid defensive capability and safe reliable passing, then Khedira would be the way to go. For my two cents, I think Vidal’s ability to win the ball and put pressure on opposing players, paired with his goal threat and tireless running, is the best option of the three. That being said, this World Cup (I know, I know… sample size) has shown that both Khedira and Pogba have the ability to get forward when put in the right tactical system, so this is sort of shades of grey. And the thought of how physically intimidating a pivot of Matic and Pogba would be to opposing players makes me really happy inside. Like I said earlier, it’s basically a matter of preference here, and all three options would ultimately be really good. So perhaps the deciding factor should be financial:

Transfer fee value data from transfermarkt. Wage data from Google. Click to enlarge.

Transfer fee value data from transfermarkt. Wage data from Google. Click to enlarge.

If you don’t know how FFP accounting works, head over to WAGNH and read one of their many excellent explanations. For this particular table, I took the listed market value of the players from transfermarkt and their current annual wages according to Google, and assumed that they would be offered a five year contract**. Presumably, all of them would want to be on higher wages after making a transfer, and the Paul Pogba market value transfer fee seemed low to me (I’ve seen as high as 60M in some articles), but even so, it looks like Pogba would be the best option in terms of the combination of financial considerations and player skill (not to mention age and homegrown status), despite probably commanding the highest transfer fee. That said, Chelsea have a lot of money sitting around after the sales of KDB, Mata, and Luiz recently, so I think they could probably afford Vidal, and the way his skills complement Matic’s is almost irresistible if you ask me.

** Editor’s Note: when we originally published this article, we had amoritised Vidal and Khedira over shorter contracts (until they turned 30), but reader Nishant rightly pointed out that this is not the most likely scenario, as Fabregas was given a five-year deal despite that taking him past 30.

One way or another, you can’t really go wrong with any of these options, Chelsea. Just don’t let the summer pass by without doing something. Please.

This piece has been contributed by Oscar Puente, a Chelsea fan since Michael Ballack joined the club in 2006. Oscar hails from New York City, and is a mathematician and economist in his regular life. You can find him on Twitter @footiefromafar.

10 Comments

  1. msreya

    July 13, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Excellent piece!
    Comparing the pivots statistically gives a bird’s eye view! Pogba will be the best suit for Matic long term. Also, he wins quite a few battles, against two midfielders who are in their prime.

  2. Nishant

    July 13, 2014 at 11:53 PM

    Why is Vidal’s amortised fee 14.67 million? If we sign him on a 5 yr deal it should be around 9 right?

    This almost gives the impression of Vidal being twice as costly as Pogba, whereas the reverse may be true.

    • Oscar Puente

      July 14, 2014 at 6:53 AM

      Like I said above, I projected their contracts “for either five years or until they turn 30”

      Pogba got a five year, but he’s much younger. Vidal is 27 already, so I only spread his transfer fee over 3 years. Chelsea in general recently haven’t shown a propensity for offering players multi-year contracts after they hit their 30s. They prefer to negotiate year by year.

    • Oscar Puente

      July 14, 2014 at 6:56 AM

      That said, they could offer Vidal a 5 year contract, in which case his amoritised cost would indeed come down, as you pointed out. And Pogba could cost more than transfermarkt has him listed as.

      It’s hard really to know a priori.

      • Nishant

        July 14, 2014 at 7:42 AM

        Yes. It could be a 4+1 contract or a 5. Certainly not 3. We have problem with giving multi year contracts to those above 30. But we haven’t shown any problem with giving longer contracts to anyone below 30.

        The club has just drawn an imaginary line for those over 30. Case in point: Fabregas who is the same age and has reportedly signed a 5 year contract.

        • Oscar Puente

          July 14, 2014 at 1:11 PM

          Hmmm, I didn’t realize that. Is the Fabregas contract thing official. If you can get me a link to something official with that, I’d be happy to change the Vidal and Khedira projected numbers.

          • Nishant

            July 14, 2014 at 4:33 PM

            http://www.chelseafc.com/news/latest-news/2014/06/fabregas-signs-for-chelsea.html

            From the website:
            The 27-year-old has joined on a five-year contract and will wear the no. 4 shirt.

            So it makes sense to give Vidal, who is probably one of the best all round midfielders a 5yr contract as well. Would also make sense in an FFP era.

            • Oscar Puente

              July 14, 2014 at 7:59 PM

              Absolutely right. The article has been updated to reflect your suggested changes. Thanks!

  3. aliyu muhammed kabir

    July 16, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    Happy with the coaster in Chelsea

  4. hiten

    July 17, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Excellent

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