The central midfield trio play different roles within the tactical set-up, with a single pivot as a deep-lying playmaker, and the other two as a box-to-box midfielder and a mezzala. As such, the player radars look very different to one another.
Sandro Tonali stepped up to the starting eleven at AC Milan when Bennacer was sold to Liverpool in the January window. The 21-year old demonstrated his playmaking intelligence, completing 89% of all passes attempted, with 2.30 key passes/90. Despite his deeper role, he still created above average chances amongst his peers and was prepared to do more of the dirty side of the pivot role by making 4.02 PAdj tackles per game. His PAdj interceptions per 90 were a concern, but perhaps the high pressing tactic of the players ahead of him meant that the ball was won higher up the pitch rather than Tonali picking up loose balls in the space between the midfield and defensive lines.
Giacomo Bonaventura is a chance-creating machine. His 2.85 key passes/90 and his 0.46 chances created per 90 stood him out from the crowd. His chance creation, attempting those risky through balls, did not negatively impact upon his pass completion statistics. This highlights that the chances he was creating ought to have been good quality chances since the opposition must not have been in position to regularly intercept these defence splitting passes. Where Bonaventura fell down was his defensive contributions – bottom five percentiles for PAdj tackles/90 and averse to a foul, highlights that he is not willing to engage in the necessary foiling of opposition attacks.
Domínguez was another new signing in January, picked up from Bologna. Not possessing the relevant attributes to play the box-to-box role, when he played, he became a deep-lying playmaker in the central midfield strata. This may explain in part his below average pass completion statistics and his key passes/90. Where he will need to improve is his PAdj Tackles/90 (2.40) and PAdj Interceptions/90 (1.18), but at the age of 22, he will be given the chance to work on these areas.
Guimarães was one of the first signings of the January transfer window. His versatility meant that he was able to play across all three of the midfield roles, highlighted by his generally above average metrics. It was this versatility that perhaps held back his first team action, only playing 13.52 90s after his arrival. Not necessarily extraordinary in any of these fields, the fact that he is able to play key passes, dribble the ball and create chances for team mates without giving away the ball, means that his contribution was valuable.
Initially, Paquetá found himself out of favour in the balance of the midfield three, with Kessié, Bennacer and Bonaventura the preferred three. Yet as the season progressed, Paquetá found himself receiving more minutes as his ability to contribute an attacking threat in the mezzala role. His four goals and three assists gave him 0.21 goal contributions per 90. Once more, the lack of defensive contribution from Paquetá was a concern, much like other AC Milan players, but this is not necessarily the role that is expected of him in this side.
Tonali’s and Bonaventura’s playmaking abilities are highlighted by the below graphic. They make excellent chances for their team mates without recklessly giving away the ball. Compare this to someone like Luis Alberto who has 78% pass completion yet created nearly 2.40 chances per 90 – clearly high risk, the same as Tonali, but Tonali had a pass completion some 11% better.
Further investigation into chance creation within the midfield strata demonstrates just how many chances Luis Alberto was creating for his Lazio team mates. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic also looks like a monster when it comes to goal-scoring opportunities that he was also laying on for I Biancocelesti. Little wonder that Lazio scored the third highest number of goals in Serie A (66).
The below graphic sorts the playmakers from the water carriers. Strangely, Paquetá rears his head in the poor creativity and low passing frequency, which shouldn’t really be the case with his attributes. Perhaps the play being focussed down the right when he played down the left counted against him, along with having a playmaker in behind him demanding the ball from team mates, but this was still disappointing and surprising for a team that dominated possession. Equally, the play-making abilities of Modric, Rabiot and Pjanic for Juventus stick out.
The below graphic highlights something similar – with Rabiot, Modric and Pjanic out on their own with Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto. Fellow Juventus player, Emre Can, is also an outlier, creating an assist to nearly ever chance created (13 assists from 16 chances created). This metric analysis graphic also demonstrates the quality of Bonaventura’s chances that he was creating for those around him, being well above the trend-line. Domínguez appears to have been unlucky not to have made an assist given his 0.3 chances created/90.
To look at the other side of the midfield part of the game, raw data on tackles/90 and interceptions/90 were compared to identify players that were good at breaking up play. This is where Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s importance to Lazio’s side becomes crystal clear. He breaks play up with regularity and then lays on chances for the likes of Immobile ahead of him. He’s a managers dream – no wonder that he is wanted by some of Europe’s elite sides with a hefty price tag attached to him. Once highly thought of, Alfred Duncan, looks to have had a season to forget, coming out average with tackles/90 but minimal interceptions/90 and poor passing creativity and low risk passing.
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