AC Le Havre – 2021-22 Season Review

HAC Foot – Safe Haven in Ligue 1

The winter break saw HAC Foot in 8th place and it is there that we finished in our first campaign in Ligue 1. Quite some effort for a team expecting to be relegated back from whence we came.

The second half of the season actually went better than our first. Picking up nine wins and four draws saw us achieve four more points we did before the Winter break. Notable performances included a 3-0 victory at home to Lyon, 1-0 win against Nice and a 3-3 draw versus Monaco where we raced into a 3-0 lead only to see Monaco rage back against us.

The results enabled us to finish just outside the European places – perhaps as well given the lack of depth we have in our squad. This is evidenced by the fact that eight players played in excess of 75% of the possible minutes in the league – six of which were new additions to the team. It’s great that the players we signed had the natural fitness and stamina to last the season. However, this will be taken into consideration when looking to utilise the £6.78m we’ve been allocated in transfer spending and nearly £100k p/w in wages.

Gibaud’s, Gorgelin’s and Club captain Fontaine’s contracts are all expiring and they will not be signed to new deals. This may be a little harsh on Fontaine who has been with HAC Foot throughout his career. When delving into his data for the 2021-22 season, his first ever in Ligue 1, it looks even more ruthless. Fontaine, despite playing as a deep-lying playmaker in the defensive midfield strata, produced some elite level metrics, delivering key passes, being efficient with his use of the ball and managed a goal involvement 0.41 per 90, almost a goal or an assist every other game. It is worth noting that this sample size isn’t huge with only 14.62 90s played, but he did play in a good number of the games in the second half of the season alongside our improvement in results.

However, at 33, his physical attributes are starting to wane. Whilst Ligue 1 isn’t the most physical of leagues, a two-year deal did not seem like a good use of the clubs finances, would block the player pathway of Briand, and could open wage budget for other recruits too to fill the gap between Fontaine and Briand, besides just Lekhal.

For Gorgelin, whose performances saw us keep eleven clean sheets – the decision could have also have been said to be heartless. Again, the contract that he was demanding was not acceptable to the Club in terms of how he was valued. That might seem strange given the number of clean sheets and the fact that we conceded just 42 goals as a club. However, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia‘, “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts”. So let’s take a much closer look at the data.

Further investigation into our metrics demonstrates a clear down turn in form in keeping out goals over the second half of the season compared to those the data tells us we should have conceded (GA-xGA). We conceded nearly four goals more than we ought to have done according to xG – not awful, but perhaps there’s room for an upgrade in this area. This would so easily be overlooked given the improvement in results from the pre-Winter break.

If we take a deeper dive still into the data, you’ll notice that over the course of the season the 10-game rolling average goals, xG, goals against and xGA drifted together. Once we are beyond the “noise” of the first ten games, we see that bar one small spell, there never was much gap between all statistical measures, both actual and theoretical. In other words, we were performing roughly as expected over a rolling ten game period and we were perhaps a little lucky to be ultimately as high as 8th. Therefore, if we can upgrade in the goalkeeping position, this could see us improve further still, should we bring the goals conceded back towards xGA and xGA remains low next season.

To an extent, this is backed up on the cumulative xPts data too. We broadly achieved the number of points we should have done, with us dropping only two points using the cumulative differences between G-xG and GA-xGA. Accordingly to the data, we statistically could have picked up two additional points to those we achieved.

Therefore, it could be said that although 8th place was something beyond our wildest dreams before first fixture kicked off, this is an indication that we actually underperformed in our first season in Ligue 1. This comes despite the bookmakers having us odds on to be in the bottom two and relegated. Definitely some to ponder on when deciding the balance of the squad over the Summer transfer window.

Stand out player

Before we progress onto the Summer dealings, it is worth highlighting the speed at which Ali Akman became an integral part of the squad. Eighteen goals on an xG tally of fifteen, and an xG per shot of 0.25, meaning one in every four of his shots would likely result in a goal. The latter statistic was the best in Ligue 1, and for a 20-year old that is seriously impressive. Especially so given he was playing as a withdrawn striker in the false nine role. His actual xG tally was fifth best of all strikers, behind Ligue 1 top goal scorer Harry Kane, and Akman ranked second by shot to goal conversion. So despite playing in a far deeper positions than any of his peers would likely been playing in, Akman looks to have made a fantastic start to his time on the French coast. If he can improve his interlinking to set up his teammates to up his assists, his time be at HAC Foot might be limited as bigger clubs start to take notice.

Transfer planning

With the aforementioned contracts expiring, deals needed to be done to replace these players and to deepen the player pool in terms of quality.

Before the transfer window opened, a deal was done to make Arnaud Nordin’s stay a permanent one, with him happy to stay on at HAC Foot after his deal with Saint-Étienne expired. Saint-Étienne coincidently were relegated. He signed a 3-year deal on a basic salary of £9,250/week with various bonuses and clauses attached. His hard work as part of the forward line to press and win the ball back with his tackles and interceptions (T&I/90) and the willingness shown to take on his opposite number with a dribble saw him create seven assists. These metrics are easily good enough for a Ligue 1 player, so to acquire him for no transfer fee is a big bonus.

Also prior to the transfer window re-opening, Manchester United were approached to extend Hannibal’s loan. Whilst he didn’t see much over 50% of the possible minutes, his importance to the system was growing, despite his inconsistencies in performances. Both the club and player accepted the offer, so Hannibal stays in his home country for another year and on a lower wage contribution to boot. It’s not hard to see why I was so keen either given his metrics. In the first year of his loan spell, he was elite at goal involvement and key passes per game when on form. Whilst his passing success rate is low, as an attacking playmaker, this is not that much of an issue if he is creating chances and assists for his team mates. He was second in the list of key passes played by either defensive or central midfielders with more than 1,000 minutes played in Ligue 1 – he will be welcomed with open arms upon his return from holiday.

It was adjudged that Yahia Fofana did not have the required skills and attributes to step up to the No. 1 jersey, and as such, scouts had been focussed on finding a new goalkeeper. Scouts had for a long time been keeping tabs on Spaniard Juan Soriano. He’d spent the 2020/21 season on loan at Malaga from his parent club, Sevilla. Over that season he kept seven clean sheets from 41 starts, conceding 50 goals, with four player of the match awards. However, over the 2021/22 season, he had returned to Sevilla and found himself a third wheel behind Tomas Vaclik and Yassine Bounou, who shared the goalkeeping duties. With the picture clear that he wasn’t going to receive first team action at Sevilla, when we approached the once U21-capped 24-year old with a contract and promise of being the first-choice goalkeeper, he didn’t hesitate in signing a three-year deal on £6,500/week. Although a tad eccentric for my liking (15), he is excellent at one-on-ones (16), has a high level of concentration, reflexes and agility (all 15),

To replace Fontaine, we looked for an experienced player to offer a mentality of leadership and positive attitude, alongside a considerable number of minutes in Ligue 1. Defensive midfielder Abdoulaye Touré became available on a free signing after being released by Nantes. He took some convincing to join, with negotiations being protracted over a number of weeks after the player initially turned us down on two occasions, but we eventually managed to come to an agreement with the Frenchman signing a 3-year deal on £17,000/week, making him our highest paid player. At 28-years of age, he has made 175 appearances in Ligue 1 and has a fairly determined mentality with strong attributes for determination, teamwork and work rate.

Mathieu Cafaro had also been impressing domestic scouts in the Stade de Reims team. Following his transfer listing, we saw an opportunity to sign a quality young French player who could rotate with Hannibal and had the versatility to play in a number of other roles if required. A fee of an initial £2.6m, climbing to £3.2m, was agreed with Stade de Reims, with Cafaro signing a deal worth £13,000/week. If we can flip the player for a profit, this could prove a shrewd deal.

With Umut Meraş not receiving many minutes because of his consistently poor performances, another back up to Carole was required. Carole’s age of 31 meant that the Club were in a position to sign a young player with Carole passing on his experience to him on the training pitch. Guilherme Montóia was available to be able to discuss a pre-contract as S.L. Benfica had neglected to renew his contract. A considerable number of top clubs were after his signing – yet because we were in a position to offer a clear pathway for him to be a key first team player within the next two years Montóia looked favourably upon our contact offer. He did seek a reassurance that we were going to be an established Ligue 1 side over the next few years, but having achieved 8th in our first year, we felt confident we could match that promise.

Scott Fraser’s first season at the club was less than successful. It became apparent that he did not play well alongside Hannibal. Both players weren’t significant contributors to defensive actions (tackles and interceptions), and Hannibal outperformed Fraser when it came to goals and assists over the season. Whether this was due to a language barrier, the jump from League One’s MK Dons being too great or finding himself playing in a slower, a less direct and slower playing style than he was used to, it’s hard to determine, but it was clear that a replacement option was required.

Diogo Nascimento was identified as the player to come in and take Fraser’s place in the starting eleven. Available on a pre-contract agreement after running down his contract with S.L. Benfica, much like Montóia, the young Portuguese starlet was similarly wanted by a host of top European sides from most of the Big Five leagues. We moved quickly to secure his signature on a five year deal. The left footed midfielder will hopefully adapt to life quickly in Le Havre so he does not have the same fate as Fraser. The Scot will be offered out on loan to try to drum up some transfer interest with the aim of recouping a transfer profit from the sale.

If Fraser was a failure, then Boulaye Dia couldn’t have been anything more different. Dia had a fantastic campaign – his superb metrics show how important he made himself to our HAC Foot side. His twenty four goal involvements saw him in the top 90% of all wide attacking players with more than 1,000 minutes. His attacking nature saw him drive at defences, and have a better shot to goal conversion rate than players like Mbappe and Neymar. Yet when Dia wasn’t available, the drop off to players like Pité was notable. Therefore, a second option to add depth to the playing squad was required.

Scouts had spotted Ivan Šaranić playing in the UEFA-21 qualifiers, alongside fellow Croatian Tomislav Duvnjak and came back raving about both. Šaranić possesses the attributes that mark him out as an ideal initial back-up to Dia, but he was keen to impress upon us that if he was to move to France at such a young age, then he would want to do so with a fellow Croat to help him settle. Duvnjak, who was playing alongside Šaranić at GNK Dinamo Zagreb also looked like someone that we could sign to develop and then sell on, hitting the Club vision of signing players under-23 who we could flip for a profit. A bid was then tabled for him to, and whilst Duvnjak had his own reservations, his wages demands were reasonable. Both players signed for a combined £5.3m split across four years payments, rising to £7.2m after various criteria are met, largely player performance-related.

In analysing the performances of our three main centre backs, whilst Mesonero is showing the possible ability to make the step up, with the Swiss defender making the most interceptions per nine across all central defenders, Jemelka and Mayembo look to have struggled. Their tackles per ninety and tackle success rates are very poor, with Mayembo’s seeing him in the bottom five percent. I haven’t included heading data within the below player data profiles, largely because it’s not possible to discern between an attacking heading attempt and a defensive effort, but all of the HAC Foot defenders struggled to win the ball in the air. With only three defenders as an option, more depth was required, but if we could improve the quality of defenders then this would be beneficial too, especially with the metrics making it clear that Mayembo has been ground to be lacking at this level.

Scouting reports had highlighted the availability of David Costas who had not accepted contract offers with Celta Vigo. Costas likely won’t necessarily improve us in the air at only 6’0″ tall, but he will add to our ball-playing ability as he is a natural passer. Given our desire to play passing, controlled football, this should allow us to build up from the back. To add greater depth in the left centre back position, Christian Dalle Mura was signed on loan from Fiorentina as a squad option, with the intention that he goes in behind Jemelka to rotate in and out of the squad when the fixture list piles up, with nine games inside January alone after the Winter World Cup.

With these new additions to the squad, we’ve hopefully achieved our objectives in the transfer market to both strengthen and deepen the team to help prepare for the fixture madness of January and February to catch up from the games that have been moved from November and December. This was despite having only been issued a transfer budget of £6.78m – spreading payments out over four years with the use of installments helped us meet our objectives. With an overall spend in the region of £8m with regards to transfer fees, with further in add-ons if certain targets are met, were should find ourselves better resourced to avoid the so-called difficult second season.

As to how we’ve progressed against the Club objectives of signing under-23 players to sell on and from domestic lower leagues, well five out of eleven players were under the imposed age bracket. Where we missed the prescribed goals was not signing anyone from Ligue 2 or below bar technically Nordin from Saint Étienne. It’s not for the lack of player search, there just wasn’t the talent there, or if there was in the relegated teams, they wanted wages well above what we could reasonably offer with our wage structure. We’d already stretched that with some of the above signings. Hopefully this won’t be too much of an issue for the Board. To address the problem head on, two scouts were immediately assigned to Ligue 2, National leagues and the junior age group leagues for a better overview.


The next post in the series will go onto look at the 2022-23 campaign, as well as highlight some youth prospects starting to emerge from the academy, skipping the usual half season analysis. I hope you’ll return for that post. Until then, au revoir et bonne santé.

AC Le Havre 2021-22 Mid-Season Update

HAC Foot Steps

Having been promoted to Ligue 1 ahead of schedule, and having spent only around £4m in improving the squad, the bookmakers had us in the bottom five of the league after we made our additions to the squad. The Board and the players weren’t holding out too much hope when it came to avoiding the drop either, with the expectations largely to fight bravely against relegation. Understandable when our wage expenditure was a Ligue 1 low of £9.63m (see later graphic for more on this).

Being overpowered by our fellow competitors in the Ligue 1 labour market is all well and good, but with an encouraging pre-season behind us, spirits are high. If we can remain tactically solid, then we stand half-a-chance against some of our opponents.

Tactical analysis

The defensive set-up is the most obvious place to start in analysing how HAC Foot are going to go about trying to survive in Ligue 1.

A traditional back five, sees a sweeper ‘keeper with clear guidance to distributor the ball out to those directly in front of him in order to maintain possession, with our aim for purposeful and considered build up. With a more aggressive left wing back and a right back playing as a full back on support provides width in attack but also tactical solidity out of possession because of the instinct of the right back to return back to his defensive position as possession is lost.

Since none of the options at centre back are especially gifted with the ball at their feet, they’re told to play it simple when passing. If they can reduce the risk of turning the ball over to the opposition, they cut the likelihood of the opponent being able to score should they win the possession with only a solitary defender or two between them and the goal. José Mourinho riled against possession statistics after defeat to Liverpool, “It is a little bit like the efficiency of players and sometimes you say: ‘The stats say Player B had 92% of efficiency in his passing.’ But the stats don’t say that player only made passes of two metres, they don’t say that the player was a centre-back who only passed to the other centre-back”. Whilst he has a point, I am still more comfortable with a centre back who can repeatedly make that pass, potentially away from the press, than one who is like a panicked chicken with a fox bearing down on him. This approach has seen us average 57% possession in our games up to the half way point – second only to PSG.

To provide some defensive rigidity, a defensive midfielder operates as a single pivot. However, the role varies depending upon those entrusted with their name in the playing eleven. If either of the HAC Foot stalwarts, Lekhal or Fontaine play, then they act as a deep lying playmaker, looking to recycle possession and keep the ball moving as we methodically look to pick our way through an opponent’s defence. Should we pick youth team graduate, Sébastien Briand, then he plays in his more natural role of a ball-winning midfielder, acting as a combatant, utilising his bravery, teamwork and aggression.

The remaining central midfielders are more set in their roles, a mezalla on the left and an advanced playmaker on the right. The latter has been rotated between another youth graduate, Abdelli, and loanee Hannibal, whilst Scott Fraser has been assigned the mezalla role he was signed for. When on song, Hannibal can take a game by the scruff of the neck and dictate play, looking head and shoulders over anyone else on the pitch. He is only young, but if he can improve his consistency, Manchester United could have a world beater on their books.

Down the left flank, on loan Nordin plays as a winger, utilising his pace and dribbling ability to stretch opposition defences. Dia has taken well to the inside forward role on the right, cutting inside with regularity, either to meet a cross or with the ball at his feet driving at the defence.

This leaves lone front man, Ali Akman, playing almost as a hybrid false nine. His desire to push the boundaries with offside sees him more advanced than a typical false nine, but he will still often drop back into the hole between the defence and midfield of the other side to link up play with, Hannibal, Nordin or Dia. Constantly busy, his off the ball movement and anticipation has aided our style of play.

So far, by and large, it’s a system that it seems is working.

Half-season break results

As you can see from the results and our current League position, things have been going much better than anyone outside and even inside the Club would have initially expected. With the defeats, all but three (Angers, Dijon & Lens) were anticipated and of those, all of those losses were away. Further still, bar the Monaco loss, in none of the matches were we trounced. Not even away against PSG – though admittedly we were playing for the 0-0 and hardly registered a shot, never mind one on target. We were undefeated at home until Lille turned up in November, something I don’t think anyone could have dreamed about.

It’s worth revisiting the start of this review post at this point. Our wage expenditure is just £9.63m for the entire squad, yet we find ourselves 8th.

Having a strong start to the opening fixtures certainly helped bring a feeling of belonging in the top tier of French football. The new signings were clicking well. Hannibal had a goal contribution of five – or one every 198.8 minutes if you prefer; Ali Akman was performing well in the false nine role, with seven goals from fifteen appearances, and Boulaye Dia had also made fast start to life a HAC Foot, with a goal contribution of eleven (six goals and five assists) – registering a goal or an assist every 110 minutes.

This gave the recruitment team the confidence in their talent spotting abilities, with so many of the Summer transfers having seen substantial first team action and doing well. Six of those signed in the Summer had been involved in at least 80% of potential minutes thus far.

Window shopping

Their talents were to be put into action again in the January window. Prior to the closing of the Summer transfer window, Ertuğrul Ersoy demanded to leave because he felt that there was too much competition for places at centre back, presumably threatened by Vaclav Jemelka’s arrival and starting berth. He left for Kasımpaşa for £925k. Without the necessary time to replace him, the decision was made to wait until January and spend the first few months of the season identifying a series of potential candidates within the allotted wage and transfer budget. The situation was exacerbated further still when Yanga-Mbiwa was unsettled by his lack of first team action after his physical attributes taking a downturn after his lengthy last off in the previous season. He asked to be sold – with his contract expiring at the end of the season, an offer of £205k from Auxerre was gladly accepted.

Since the Board were keen to sign and develop youngsters, a number of scouts were given the remit of finding central defenders who were at most 23 years old, not paid in excess of £12k/week and valued at no more than £2m. Below are the profiles that made the final shortlist:

Elias Mesonero: Pros – Top-ranked by averaged percentiles across defensive metrics for those of whom the club had knowledge and who were interested in signing for the club, considered a leader, driven in pursuit of goals, high level of determination, anticipates situations well, likely to be a good fit with the squad, fluent French speaker, 4 U21 caps. Cons – none.


Emin Bayram: Pros – Impressive jumping reach, balanced/normal personality, fairly consistent performer, good in the air, 9 U21 caps. Cons – needs to work on first touch, won’t fit in easily to any social group, would need to learn French and Galatasaray aren’t willing to listen to any offers, whilst he wins a lot of tackles and interceptions, his tackle success rate is <80% and a good deal lower than other potential signings.


Dimitris Nikolaou: Pros – No problems adapting to another country, very brave, balanced/normal personality, enjoys big matches, fairly consistent performer, good in the air, 1 senior cap (20 U21 caps). Cons – high agent fee, poor first touch, won’t fit in easily to social group, would need to learn French, appears to give the ball away too frequently judging by passing efficiency.


Kamil Piątkowski: Pros – Strong player, fairly determined attitude, good stamina, 17 U21 caps. Cons – peripheral figure in social group, would need to learn French, looks pretty solid statistically but falls outside our transfer budget with Raków demanding his minimum release fee be paid up front for permission to speak with him.


Jan Sobociński: Pros – Model citizen, adaptable to living in new country, enjoys big matches, good in the air, good at marking, 12 U21 caps for Poland. Cons – demonstrates a lack of composure, has a competitive streak, would need to learn French and likely a peripheral figure in social group, makes almost as many fouls as he does tackles – likely to be booked frequently and be suspended/cost the team goals from free kicks when matched with his competitive streak.


As you can see, detailed player profiled were put together for each potential signing. Everything from their personality, recurring injuries, likely wage demands to details on their existing contract were assessed, beyond simply their player data – both attributes and metrics.

The stand out from the above and primary target was Elias Mesonero. Mesonero’s metrics shone – with the highest average percentile across all the key defensive statistics considered of not just the shortlisted players but of all players aged 23 or less with 250+ minutes. Other things that were looked upon favourably when evaluating Mesonero was that he had the second best average rating in the Swiss Challenge League and led the league for blocks, indicating his eye for reading the development of play. A bid was tabled, structuring the deal over three seasons to alleviate any cash flow concerns that were brewing, with Grasshoppers Zurich for £1.1m. rising to £1.4m. He joined after agreeing a contract over four and a half year for £5,750/week.

The second part of the process was to agree never to face a situation where a first team squad member was to leave and not have an identified target – either a youth team player to promote or a new player to come in from outside the club. This led to the establishment of a shortlist of players who were added to the ‘back up squad’ list. Players added to this list were deemed of sufficient quality to at least match the existing first eleven, or could have the potential to do so in the very near future. Scouts who were not assigned the duty of finding a replacement centre back were asked to monitor Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Scandinavia and Africa for information gathering with a broad net. Anyone who was highly thought of would then be monitored by the Director of Football, Jean-Michel Vandamme. His overview would help to determine whether or not they were the kind of player HAC Foot would possibly look to potentially sign.

Whilst the Club laid out their desire for young signings, older players weren’t ruled out of being shortlisted, but they had to come in under budget and be a clear and obvious improvement in the current player in possession of the shirt. It was also agreed that the shortlist was to be reviews on a six monthly basis, prior to the opening of both transfer windows so that those deemed not to be of a good fit for HAC Foot would be delisted and new additions brought on following recommendations from the scouting reports.


The next blog post will be the end of 2021-22 season. Will HAC Foot’s season continue on the right path and will Mesonero settle in to life on the French coast? Time will tell.

AC Le Havre 2020-21 – La joie de vivre

Ligue 2 – Fais toujours de ton mieux même si personne ne regarde

After the change in formation to the 433DM Wide, rolling goals against, i.e. average goals conceded over a rolling period of 10 games, plummeted to well below 0.5 goals per game. In part, it was this up-tick in the number of clean sheets which went a long way towards HAC Foot’s rise in the table from a low of 12th to the summit of Ligue 2. It is there that we stayed for a total of eight game weeks, winning Ligue 2.

It’s true that the increased frequency of goals scored meant that we were winning games relatively comfortably, but it’s clean sheets that helped deliver the wins too. In truth, as you can see from the comparison between the rolling G v xG, we considerably overachieved against the number of goals that we should have scored. This overperformance isn’t particularly concerning now. After all, promotion to Ligue 1 when we were only meant to finish 5th is fantastic. HAC Foot’s Board duly offering me a new contract, which I gratefully accept, even putting in a relegation clause that lowers my salary should we be relegated, to ensure the financial security of the club.

The most pleasing aspect of the below radar is oddly probably the pass completion. Setting the team up to retain control of the ball so that we could facilitate chance creation has yielded winning results, off the back of a high shot frequency and positive gap between xG and xGA.

On a game-by-game basis, the difference between cumulative G-xG rose to the extent that the goals we were scored at the back end of the season overcame the deficit that had been created at the half-way stage. This big upswing over and above goals we were expected to score evidentially helped our rise in fortunes. When you combine this with keeping GA under control, then this highlights the secret to success for the side.

The self-calculated xPts rose to over four points above what we should otherwise expected to have achieved. The in-game analysts agreed that we overperformed but their xPts still had us top (72.1 xPts – +4). We were truly the best team in Ligue 2 and deserved winners of the title.

Squad analysis

Taking a look at the squad profile using the number of minutes played gives the chance to review progress in utilising the club’s academy prospects.

The opportunity to blood more home grown youngsters increased as the season went on and rotation options were needed. The change in formation suited one in particular – Himad Abdelli. He became the first choice in the advanced playmaker role on the right hand side of the central midfield pairing. He was on the pitch for a total of 1,621 minutes, and contributed six goals and five assists. Given that HAC Foot have a history of naming youth academy graduates in their captaincy roles, with Fontaine currently the captain and Lekhal the vice-captain, perhaps Abdelli is future captain material?

Planning for Ligue 1

Promotion secured, and news of an £11.53m share of TV revenue from Ligue 1 to come our way over the course of the next season, the Board made a £3m transfer budget available.

With numerous first team contracts expiring on players who weren’t going to make the grade at the higher level (shaded light blue in the above graphic), this was an opportunity to free up the wage budget. This included players like Bonnet who had had his testimonial at the start of the season after 12 years of service. The alleviated expenditure on wages could then be reallocated towards new recruits to come in who would improve the quality and possibly depth of the squad. With Ba and Meddah seeing some minutes as indicated above, but far from ready for Ligue 1 football, they too were placed on the loan list. After assessing the situation with the squad and discussing about the future and the quality of the squad, it was clear recruitment was needed.

Under Chief Scout, Bernard Pascual, the recruitment team have been out looking for possible player acquisition targets and these missions yielded some recommendations that were favourably looked upon.

Four deals had already been agreed prior to the transfer window opening and before it became clear that we were to be promoted – those shaded in purple. Two of the three signings were from Africa, in particular Côte d’Ivoire – Jean N’Guessan and Ibrahima Ouattara – both prospects signed for their release fees of £275k each from RC Abidjan. Both will be added to the development list with the newly hired Loan Manager tasked to find them appropriate playing time at another club to aid their development. The third deal was one that was probably actioned too soon. Matthieu Saunier was signed to provide depth at centre back but does not look good enough to be back up at a Ligue 1 side. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The remaining deals were going to have to be both shrewd and more considered.

The other pre-agreed deals that comes under that category was for Lionel Carole, who joined from Strasbourg. He came in to provide competition in the left back role for Meraş, who was largely unimpressive following an injury hit year. The 30-year old French former youth international signed a two-year deal after his contract expired. A well-rounded player with no real weakness to his technical, mental or physical attributes, Carole adds experience to the youth that’s already been added to the side.

A deal was struck with Manchester United to bring in 18-year old French midfielder, Hannibal. The French U20 player will slot straight into the advanced playmaker role as an upgrade on Abdelli, with ratings of 15 for a lot important attributes. Paying only £5k of his wages seems like a bargain for a player of his talents. His technical attributes make him stand out from the rest of the squad – his ambitious mentality and consistency should hopefully provide him with the drive to succeed at HAC Foot.

With Romain Basque the main option in the mezzala role, Scott Fraser was brought in on another free transfer to step into the starting eleven. Being post-Brexit, Fraser counts as a non-EU player (something that’s quite that’s difficult to achieve when you look at the list of countries that are treated as EU citizens by the French). The left-footed Scot offers flexibility in playing positions given his versatility, but it’s hoped he will form a good relationship with Hannibal and either Lekhal or Fontaine in behind. Whilst not blessed with acceleration, his willingness to try high risk/reward passes and penchant for arriving late into the opponents box mark him out as a good fit for a mezzala.

Ali Akman is another teenager brought in to strengthen the first team. As previously stated, the Club is seeking to exploit transfer markets where there are ‘wrinkles’, and Turkish scout, Burul, highlighted Ali. Goals from the front man during the previous season were hard earned, and even when they did come, they came from on-loan striker Simon Banza (whose loan was renegotiated for another year as a precaution, after some initial reflectance from his parent club). Therefore, a player with not only a higher ceiling but also an improved ability in front of goal was sought. Signing on a free transfer, after being not agreeing a contract renewal with Buraspor, 19-year old Ali has the ability to play as a false nine, which could be a pivotal change in HAC’s approach play, enabling Ali to drop into space in front of the opposition back line whilst the two attacking wide players push on beyond him. Despite his young age, he looks a talent destined for bigger things than here at HAC Foot.

Speaking of wide players, new recruits were added here too. On the left, Arnaud Nordin was signed on season-long loan from Saint Étienne to provide competition for Pité who may be moved across to cater for the other attacking acquisition – more on him soon. Nordin is relatively quick and a good dribbler and although he will start out in the winger role, he will look to cut inside towards goal. Given the switch to a false nine, this should increase the threat upon goal beyond the traditional wide man. His fear of big matches is a concern, but overall consistency and relatively low cost of only £6k/week mean that he will be a valuable acquisition for the team.

The other attacking player signed is none other than Boulaye Dia. Signed from Reims for a bargain fee of just £900k, Dia hits the club’s ambition to sign players under the age of 23. Heavily backed to do well in real life, Dia looks like a good player in the making. Rather than playing up front through the middle, he will be trained to play as a right-sided inside forward. His pace, strength and finishing ability should enable him to score goals at this level.

At right back, improving the quality of options was more important. With transfer fees limited as previously stated, the search turned to more unfancied markets, in this case, Scandinavia. BK Häcken’s Nigerian defender, Godswill Ekpolo had caught the eye of scouts with his solid defending ability, work rate and physicality. The most expensive deal done over the summer window, Ekpolo arrived on a 5-year deal for £1.5m, rising to £1.7m after appearances, broken up in a series of payments over the next four years.

A left-footed centre back was missing from the first team squad and a player search using attributes for a central defender. One of the players who cropped up within budget was 26-year old Vaclav Jemelka. A naturally fit and physically strong player, with good positional sense and tackling, the Czechian was signed for £975k, rising to £1.2m, from SK Sigma Olomouc. He is somewhat limited with regards to his mental attributes, fingers crossed he won’t be exposed too often due to his poor decision-making and anticipation of what is going on around him.

After a busy transfer window with no fewer than eight additions to the first team, and more to the wider squad/HAC 2s, the squad looked like this as the season began.

Using some relatively basic accounting principles, using amortisation to divide the cost of the transfer over the duration of the contract, the total basic expenditure, before player agent fees, loyalty bonuses and player performance/appearance bonuses, all of the players brought in cost in the region of £4.6m for the first (or only) year of their contract. Less than £5m spent on, hopefully, improving the team for Ligue 1. Thanks to spreading the payments over several years, this still left some funds in the transfer budget of the original £3m for the January window, should we need it. Think on this when PSG have signed Harry Kane.


The next blog will review the half-way point of the Ligue 1 2021-22 season – time will only tell if HAC Foot have managed to get themselves in through the door of the top league in France.

AC Le Havre 2020-21 Mid-Season Update

This mid-season update sees a review of the transfers that were made in the opening transfer window and how the season has progressed thus far at HAC Foot. There’s also a sneak peak at the youth intake.

Transfer Methodology & Practice

With a limited budget and no room in the wage budget, the available transfer funds were reallocated towards wage spending. A clear focus on transfer dealings was needed – no spare cash means next to no mistakes can afford to be made. As such, free transfers and loans would be the chosen methods of bringing players in and bids would be considered for players who were considered surplus to requirements.

As shown on the previous blog, HAC’s squad is a relatively young one, with players who have come up through their youth academy being given the chance to play first team football. The identified youth prospects that are in the wider squad don’t yet look ready for first team minutes. Only Meddah and Fofana have played any minutes this far, with Fofana seeing action in an opening day 3-1 defeat to Châteauroux. The youth prospects will be kept in the reserves to play together or given the chance out on loan to learn from first team action where possible.

With some hope that these players will be ready to represent HAC in the future, the best option is to bring in players on relatively short-term contracts, which have the added bonus of protecting the club if the recruitment were to fail. Accordingly, where possible, incoming players will be given a two year deal maximum. With gaps in terms of the level of experience in the side, older players are not automatically ruled out given the increased likelihood of these players being without a club.

Some additions have been made to the squad in line with the above restrictions that were self-imposed. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Dorian Dervite were both added to the squad to provide a challenge to Mayembo and Ersoy. As the only two centre backs in the squad and with no youth prospects to promote in this position, depth was required. Neither player wanted eye watering contracts and appeared better than other options available after Simunovic turned the club down. Fans of Newcastle United, Roma or Lyon should recognise Yanga-Mbiwa’s name – sadly, he broke a leg during one of his first games for the club and is yet to regain his fitness. Dorian Dervite’s name may be familiar to Tottenham supporters as he came up through their youth team and earned caps for France’s youth teams. However, it’s likely that Bolton Wanderers fans will be more familiar the Frenchman. Dervite’s time thus far at HAC has proved to be less than successful as the centre half has made a number of mistakes and has found himself on the bench more often than in the starting eleven as a result. As stated earlier, mistakes cannot afford to be made with transfers so time will only tell how costly these ‘misses’ will be.

The best ‘hit’ signing in terms of output would have to go to Pité. Picked up on a free, the Portuguese player wanted £11k/week, which is more than any other HAC player. However, his qualities have shone through and are seemingly more than justifying this outlay. With six goals and four assists, he has been a big upgrade on any wide player already at the club. As his minutes played demonstrate, he’s already become one of the first names on the team sheet. A versatile player, he has been playing as an inside forward on the right wing, cutting in on his favoured left foot and appearing at the back post to finish crosses from the left. His conversion rate of 12% is pretty good, and bested only by two of the other forward players in the squad.

Yannis N’Gakoutou is the other permanent addition to the side, again being picked up on a free transfer. Whilst initially unfancied by the coaching staff, his attributes appear well suited to the wing back role on attack, at least if you ignore his lack of natural fitness. He’s so far contributed a number of useful crosses, taking advantage of the space in front of him created by Pité cutting inside and dragging the opposing defender with him.

Goals were seemingly impossible to come by for HAC in the early part of the season for striker Thiaré. With an xG of only 2.68 in 901 minutes and no goals scored, Simon Banza was brought in on loan from RC Lens after impressing off the bench with three goals in three substitute appearances. Banza has added more dynamism to the front line with more movement off the ball and has been instrumental to a change in fortunes at HAC since his arrival (more on this later). Within 487 Ligue 2 minutes, he’s already scored five goals, with an xG of 3.31 – 0.78 goals/90. His goal conversion rate of 30% is exceptional – scoring his goals from just fourteen shots. Fingers crossed Banza’s performance can be maintained over the rest of the season.

£215k was raised from player sales, the bulk of which came from Khalid Boutaïb (£95k – KV Oostende) Ayman Ben Mohamed (£76k – AC Ajaccio) and Abdelwahed Wahib (30k – Châteauroux). All of these players were adjudged to be surplus to requirements due to better players being available in their respective positions.

League Table – on the right track?

As you can see from the graphic below, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for HAC over the first half of the season. With intermittent form, a loss against Guingamp saw HAC slip to 12th in Ligue 2 – well off the target of play-offs.

The gap between the rolling number of goals for and against, both in terms of actual and xG/xGA, was narrowing quickly and so a tactical switch was implemented. Shifting away from the 4-2-3-1 to a slightly more considered 4-1-2-2-1/4-3-3 DM Wide saw a rise in the number of chances being created. With the ball being retained more easily, with wide and advanced players having the safe go to option to play back to the defensive midfielder to re-establish an attack, fewer balls were being forced and lost, leading to fewer turnovers and counter-attacks from opposition sides. If you take a look at the below graphic, the 4-2-3-1 was actually hurting the side, with opponents creating more clear cut chances per 90 than we were creating for ourselves. The bottom right part of the graphic shows the last five games under the 4-3-3 DM Wide – only one goal conceded in the last five games with an xG of just 2.55 – a significant improvement in both the quality and quantity of chances being created against us has improved our standing in Ligue 2 no end.

This adjustment might look defensive, taking a player out of the attacking central strata, but it actually added to the attacking fluidity of the team because there was now more space ahead of them to run into and meant that the opposition defenders now had to mark players that were running at them rather than those trying to find pockets of space. Given that many teams were sitting catenaccio-type approach against HAC, space within this area was at a premium. This also helps to explain why Thiaré has such a low xG, the players around him were struggling to progress the ball through to him to take advantage of his elite speed and put him through on goal. The under performance against xG is also explained in the below radar graphic demonstrating our performance against the Ligue 2 average. Clearly we’re above average (in a good way), which of course is explained through our league position. Our xG/Game to Goals/Goals drop off is a concern though.

Indeed, using the in-game graphics, our analysts have us down as being shot happy but wasteful, which is curious given our tactical instruction to work the ball into the box. Perhaps our players grow frustrated by the defensive low block in front of them and then shoot front distance. Yet when we do score, it’s from within the box, with just two exceptions (see the bottom right of the graphic). You can also see how important the right hand side and central parts of the pitch are to our build up with the frequency of assists from these areas (see top left of the graphic).

As part of the move to 4-1-2-2-3/4-3-3 DM Wide, some player roles were also changed, with the deep-lying playmaker who previous sat on the right side of central midfield switching to an attacking playmaker on attack, and the advanced forward changing to a pressing forward to reduce the gap between attack and midfield. This helped to avoid the forward becoming isolated in the build-up play, linking up a little more with those around him, as well as pressing opposition defenders to stop them lumping long balls for their attackers to run onto over our high defensive line.

Whether playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 DM Wide, we haven’t faced many shots per game, but have seen opposition forwards score at a rate of just shy of 14 shots per 100 taken. This may not sound bad, but that’s the second worst in Ligue 2. The fact that we don’t face many shots is therefore a blessing. Our mantra of keeping hold of the ball in possession is clearly a necessity to reducing the frequency of shots faced. Through balls and set pieces account for 63% of the goals conceded – fingers crossed the changes made to the tactic help minimise the regularity of both, with an extra player in the defensive midfield pivot.

Despite this, the gap between the xG and the actual number of goals scored is somewhat of a concern. Hopefully, as players adjust to this tweak to the system and adapt to their new roles, the frequency of goals will rise and the under performance against the xG will disappear.

You would also think that having seen fortunes seemingly improve following the change in tactic that the expected points (xPts) would be broadly in line with actual points, and to a degree, you’d be right. Mikel Arteta would be relatively pleased. Yet according to some calculations taking from here, using both xG and xGA then looking at the difference between the two across each game, there is still some improvement to be had from this HAC side. The change in tactic does appear to have steadied things from the precipice that they were headed down following the defeat to Guingamp, but the side are still light around three points from where xPts has them at the half way point in the season. Only an over-performance against both xG and xGA will see that gap disappear. With both on the ‘wrong side’ thus far on a cumulative basis, this does not look likely to be eradicated any time soon.

Indeed if we take things a step further and look at cumulative G-xG and GA-xGA then we see a chronic under-performance in terms of goals scored against what the metrics tell us that HAC should have scored. Around six goals more should have been scored. Additionally, the team has conceded two extra goals than they ought to have done given the probabilities. A swing of eight goals over a nineteen game period could have had a dramatic impact upon HAC’s fortunes over the season so far. If they are to reach their goals of teaching the play-offs, it’s likely that they will need to rectify their relative waywardness in front of goal and look to be more clinical.

Youth intake – first glance

Looks promising given that this is rather the point of the save. Let’s hope it’s as good when it comes to March.


The next blog post will focus on the above youth intake.

AC Milan – Season Preview 2022-23

Before the new transfer window opened, AC Milan owner, Paul Singer announced his retirement, triggering a sale of the Club. This news was somewhat of a surprise in terms of his retirement but it was not a total shock as takeover rumours had been doing the rounds for some time. Indeed if you have read the preamble on this series, a takeover was very much expected early on in this save, as it was anticipated that Singer would likely want to divest AC Milan from his investment portfolio.

Two rival consortia vied for ownership of the Milanese Club, with an Italian-led group winning out backed by the existing chairman, Paolo Scaroni. Upon news of ownership switching to Scaroni being released, he vowed to invest into the Club, putting forward an additional £42m into funds and investing into the youth training facilities. Disconcertingly, in taking over control the Club, Scaroni also stripped out all of the directors who were AC Milan through and through, including Zvonomir Boban and Franco Baresi, leaving only Paolo Maldini behind as Technical Director. This is particularly curious given Scaroni has been the chairman of the Club since 2018.

Additional to the successful takeover, bids were also made for Declan Rice and Dayot Upamecano. These were done without any involvement of the AC Milan manager or the transfer committee that had previously signed off on deals, with the new board seemingly keen to please I Rossoneri’s tifosi with some headline signatures.

The announcement of these transfer bids and subsequent negotiations were met with a degree of incredulity by AC Milan’s manager. Declan Rice was not a player he felt the side needed, with Sandro Tonali the go-to-guy for the central pivot in midfield and throughout the last season. Additionally, AC Milan had not played with a player in the defensive midfield strata, the only area where Rice is a natural. As such, this signing could risk squad imbalance and upset squad harmony as Rice could very well not play the amount of minutes he might expect according to what is promised in his contract negotiations. Combine this with a British/Irish player coming into a league where he does not speak the language nor understand the culture, this could represent a very poor investment, particularly given the size of the fees involved.

His metrics, set against players aged 27 or younger, with 1,000+ minutes across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, are relatively underwhelming, bar his pressure adjusted tackles and interceptions – his raw figures (pre-possession adjusted) are actually very impressive, but West Ham’s 46% average possession impacted them heavily. This perhaps goes some way to explaining his passing and key passes numbers, which were well below Tonali’s, although Rice’s chances created were vastly higher. So if AC Milan are to look for someone to break play up, perhaps against stronger opposition, he could be the pick, albeit a reluctant one.

To an extent, there was more understanding toward the bid for Upamecano. The metric analysis of the squad’s performance had highlighted a potential for improvement within the central defensive partnership, with Romagnoli having to do the bulk of the work. However, at £54.75m for the overall transfer, plus signing on fee and wages, there was some doubt as to whether this is a signing that represents good value for money. When comparing Upamecano’s defensive metrics against other central defenders in the top five leagues who played more than 1,000 minutes, he comes out well in his ball playing abilities and in winning the ball in the air, at least in terms of aerial duals as a percentage. Yet his heading data also highlights that he was somewhat below average for central defenders in frequency of aerial duals. After further inspection, to rule out styles of play in the Bundesliga, Upamecano’s aerial challenges are sitting at edge of the bottom 20% – evidence he could look to compete more in the air, utilising his not insignificant strength. Nonetheless, he does look something of an upgrade on both Caldara and Mussachio.

Both deals were confirmed by the new board without any oversight from the transfer team, complete with a 5% transfer fee sell on clause to each player. Only time will tell if these new signings can mesh into the AC Milan system or whether tactical adaptations will need to be made to fit them into the starting eleven.

No high potential youth prospects had come through the AC Milan Academy over the last three years, with no youth recruits deemed anything like good enough for first team minutes, as indicated by the below graphic of player ages and minutes played across the 2021-22 season. As a consequence, the transfer committee recognised the need to focus on young players with room for growth when bringing in players to provide depth to the squad. This will help support those players who are in their peak years, giving them a rest, whilst developing new talent for the future.

Further strengthening of the central midfield was identified as a priority to provide greater squad depth in the box-to-box role, behind Bruno Guimarães. Sassuolo’s Ivorian international, Hamed Junior Traoré was the main focus. The 22-year old played 36.98 90s for relegated for I Neroverdi, and showed some reasonable promise. His total potential transfer fee of £54.75m was probably too much, especially given Sassuolo’s relegation, but for such a well-rounded young player with potential to develop his game yet further. This could be a good deal for the Club if his game was to kick on when surrounded by better quality players in a more aggressive side/system than Sassuolo – a team which managed only 29 goals (2nd lowest) from 474 shots (by comparison, AC Milan managed 69 goals from 811) and conceded 55.

The next transfer business was to sell both Rodrigo De Paul and Mateo Mussachio. With Upamecano coming in, Mussachio was now surplus to requirements, especially with twelve months left on his contract. He went to Valencia for £7.5m. Rodrigo De Paul had proved over the last two seasons that he was out of his depth at AC Milan, with a poor statistical performance. He was moved onto Napoli for £15.5m.

With just one year left on his contract, and staunchly unwilling to sign fresh deal whilst wanted by PSG, Suso, AC Milan’s Player of the Year in 2021-22, would either have to be sold to raise funds for reinvestment into the squad or leave on a free at the end of the season. Given his transfer value, it was decided it was best to cash in on his value, despite his importance to the squad. A deal was struck with PSG which netted the Club £55m upfront with a further £15m in possible bonuses.

In order to replace Suso, rather than opt for an out-and-out replacement, it was decided that Chiesa should be given the chance to switch flanks and play as a winger out on the right. As such, another left-sided player should be brought into play back-up to last year’s emerging break through talent, Adam Hložek. After some extensive scouting, with impressive reports, and with a free non-EU player slot at start of the new season, Gabriel Veron was signed on a four-year deal for his release fee of £18.5m. The 19-year old had been impressing in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A for Pamerias, with 0.5 non-penalty goals per game in the 23.59 90s played so far in the 2022 season. These metrics stack up well against all players in the same position from the aforementioned top five leagues and also the Brazilian Série A. With an outstanding 0.29 assists per 90, it is hoped that he can push Hložek for his place and make the step up to a tougher European league. If he can quickly adapt to the Italian style of living like so many Brazilian’s before him – with many having played for AC Milan including Cafu, Kaká, Ronaldinho, Dida, Robinho and the Ronaldo – he could be a star there for the next decade. Fellow countrymen, Paquetá and Guimarães should help him to adjust to life playing at the San Siro.

With a dearth of potential back-up left back options available which would allow Wöber to slot in behind Romagnoli as back up left-sided centre back, it was thought best to bring in a young central defender who could develop at the Club under the guidance and mentorship of club captain, Romagnoli. 22-year old Gabriele Corbo had long been impressing the Club scouts and analysts with his performances in the Serie A, despite his relatively young age for a centre back. His ability to read the game is reflected in the PAdj interceptions and dominance in the air is shown by his headers won per 90. His key tackle metric was similarly impressive, leading the Serie A table for this statistic, and will likely have gone some way to Bologna keeping twelve clean sheets over the previous season. If he can improve his ball retention and look to be more comfortable on the ball, there’s no reason why the Italian youth international cannot be a long-term success at the Club. He joined for a £33.5m transfer fee on a five-year deal and concluded the transfer dealings.

This final transfer tipped AC Milan’s spending, including the deals done by the directors, to £196m – the second most in Europe’s top five leagues, behind only PSG. With Serie A spending totalling £630m, AC Milan’s was 31.11% of all spending – the new directors were putting their money on the line. Time will only tell to see if these new signings deliver after the team has lost its main creative talisman in Suso.


The next blog post will reflect upon the 2022-23 season. Will AC Milan achieve a third scudetto in a row? And will a deeper squad enable the team to go further in the Champions League? More on that soon…

AC Milan 2021-22 Summer Transfer Window Update

At start of the Summer of 2021, the squad performance was evaluated both holistically and individually. Personnel within the squad were identified as requiring an upgrade in the positional sense, most notably in the left-sided attacking midfield slot. Following a relatively poor showing for both Rebić, whose loan period ended, and for De Paul, whose signing in the last summer window could be placed in the “could have gone better” box, scouts were tasked with finding recruitment targets who could provide improvement and for the criteria desired by the Board. This is namely sign under-23 players for the first-team with a view to developing them and selling them on.

Other areas that were identified as areas for possible strengthening were at centre back to replace Mussachio given his aerial failings and at centre midfield to provide more depth. Beyond that, the squad looked initially well-balanced, bar any incoming bids for our players. Given the reputation bump the Club received for winning Serie A and regaining Champions League football again, bids would be easier to reject with less pressure from the players to demand any offers were accepted and the market value of players had risen considerably following our success.

With these targets areas picked out, time was invested into looking at the players already scouted by the recruitment team led by Chief Scout Geoffrey Moncada.

The start of the transfer window saw Czech youngster, Adam Hložek, join the Club after he had agreed terms during the 2020-21 season but outside of the transfer window. The hot prospect was signed for his minimum release fee of £12.75m to develop in the B-team initially with his performances monitored both on the pitch and on the training ground before evaluating when/if the step up to the Senior side is the right one for him or if he needed to be loaned out to gain more first-team experience first. The right-sided, right footed winger will be trained to develop his positional and tactical understanding of the AML inside forward role to better fit the current tactics employed.

With Hložek signed, this meant that Samu Castillejo could be moved on after being surplus to requirements over the previous season. He was only on the field for 534 minutes, making just six starts and nine appearances off the bench. He was sold to Lazio for £14.5m.

The first Senior team target put forward to bring to the Club was Fiorentina defender, Nikola Milenković. The Serb could provide depth at both centre and right back and would cost the Club £31m in transfer fee. A bid was put forward to La Viola by Director of Football, Fredric Massara, which was accepted by their board. Negotiations with Milenković were well under way when an alert came through that fellow Florentine, Federico Chiesa had put in a transfer request. Given the available transfer funds, it quickly became clear that only one of these two deals could go ahead. Personal terms with Milenković and his representatives had been agreed whilst the two boards came to an agreement over the Chiesa price, so this first deal had to be placed on hold given the greater priority for the Club to recruit a top quality player for the attacking left midfield slot. The Chiesa transfer also gave the Club a chance to recruit an Italian home-based player who could be at the Club for a long time given his relative youth at 23 years of age. The added benefits of signing a player familiar to the League and obviously already being fluent in Italian should help his transition into life at AC, whilst also weakening a domestic rival.

Chiesa quickly agreed terms with the AC Milan board and signed a five-year deal, stating he was pleased to be joining a club in the Champions League.

Chiesa may not have created the same level of NPGs as Milan pair Buendi and Suso, but his passing and creativity for his team mates means that he could be a creative force when deployed down the left-side of the attacking trident for AC Milan. With 1.64 KP/90 and a percentage of pass completion of 85%, ranking him in the top 7%, this indicates that he is a high quality creator of chances for those around him. His 0.25 assists per ninety could well improve with a top-level striker such as Piątek on the end of his passes. Accordingly, the Milenković deal was cancelled due to a lack of immediate cash with the existing structure of the transfer.

Yet there were still some available funds left in the coffers and further deals were sought to strengthen the central midfield unit. With metrics beast Sergej Milinković-Savić well out of the Club’s price range, the Club identified other targets within its means. Dani Olmo had had a solid season at Dinamo Zagreb, scoring nine goals and created seven assists, yet his minimum fee release clause of £18.25m had not as yet been triggered. His combined goals and assists/90 saw him in the top 11% of any other central midfielder aged 23 or less. His attacking runs from a wide central midfield berth in the mezzala role could add more attacking threat to the side. Whilst Olmo was more accustomed to playing in the advanced attacking centre midfield slot, a position left vacant in the preferred tactical set-up at I Rossoneri, it was felt by the recruitment team that he could build upon his existing tactical understanding and adapt further to a deeper position to influence the game. A deal for his release clause was struck and a 5-year contract signed. The layout on Olmo’s wages was something of an initial concern, especially given his agents insistence upon a clause pushing his wage up to £200k/week, which activated after five international cap. Yet, there was a reminder that expenditure towards player wages strongly correlated with success on the field.

When Freiburg came in for Bonaventura, the Club were at first reticent to allow the most creative midfield playmaker go following his output over the previous two seasons. However, the playmaker only had one more year left on his contract and at the age of 30(??) he wanted a significant pay rise, given this would be the last chance he would have to cash in on his not inconsiderable talents. Everyone understood that he was most likely at his peak and they could reasonably expect to see a dramatic drop off of his playmaking abilities so it was better to cash in now rather than look over the edge of a cliff that could arrive at any time. He was sold for £15.75m.

With one in and one out in the midfield area and more depth still the order of the window, the recruitment team met once more to put forward another bold suggestion for the centre midfield berth, that of Calvin Stengs. The 22-year old had had a somewhat unremarkable season at AZ Alkmaar playing in the right-hand side of their midfield in the AMR slot, predominately as an inside forward. Yet the scouting team were confident that with his technical, mental and physical skills sets, alongside his player traits, he was equally well-suited to playing on the left-hand side of the central three midfielders given his stronger left foot. There was only a hint from his key passes (top 12%) that he could adapt, but in a stronger side, it was generally felt that he could thrive. A deal for £39.5m was struck with AZ Alkmaar and terms swiftly agreed with Stengs and his representatives, making him the third signing of the window.

This gave AC Milan six quality players across the three midfield roles: Tonali, Domínguez, Paquetá, and Guimarães alongside new boys Olmo and Stengs.

It was hoped that deals were to be rapped up as the season began but in the first few games Conti had a serious calf strain and would miss the first month of the season. Leaving just Calabria as the only right back in the squad and with no hot young prospect to promote, another option was required. Scouts were quickly assigned to a number of initial targets on a relatively small budget. With Milenković now well out of the Club’s price range after the deals already done, Fiorentina were demanding north of £32m for their Serbian asset, Sergi Palencia was selected as the best option by value and relative attributes. The La Masia graduate joined fellow Barcelona youth players Olmo and Cucarella in the AC Milan squad. Palencia did not meet the criteria of signing players under 23, but there were deemed to be no outstanding options with the given confines of both player age and transfer budget. The Spaniard became the Club’s fifth and final signing of the window for £10.75m, happy to be a rotation option, and one that it was felt could contribute when required as much in an offensive sense as well as defensive. His pass completion and dribbles per ninety highlighted that he was a good technical player and well-versed in attacking down the right flank to provide width as the inside forward cuts in towards the 18 yard box.

That concluded the deals done during the transfer window, with a net spend of around £80m. The deals done largely added to the quality of the squad and brought in youthful players who should only progress, both in their own attributes, but also in value. With the majority of the key areas addressed which were outlined at the start of the window, the Club could now set about defending its League title and look to impress in the Champions League once more.

Join us next time when we review the 2021-22 season!

AC Milan Squad Analysis & Summer Transfers

The previous post explained the reasoning for the choice of AC Milan. This post will look at the approach to squad analysis alongside player recruitment and retention.

With a desire to use data to evaluate squad performance and inform player trading decisions, the game has been holidayed for a full year to 1st June 2020. It’s worth noting that upon creating the save, the first transfer window was disabled and no transfer activity took place over the Winter transfer window, so as such, the squad remains the same as it was in 2019.

AC Milan finished 7th, landing them Europa League football for 2020-21, but in part thanks to the poor UEFA Club Coefficient discussed in the last post, AC were going to have to undergo three qualifying rounds before the Group Stage. Juventus achieved their 9th consecutive scudetto. This will be some mountain to climb to overtake them.

Serie A 19-20

Scoring only 43 goals in 38 games tells a sorry picture of low-scoring football games, especially given that they finished the season with a goal difference of +7. Thirteen draws, some 34%, represents some 26 points dropped on its own, before even touching upon the ten losses. Where do the issues lie – is it with uncreative players, or with the forwards not being efficient in their finishing of the chances that were made for them?

In order to dive into the squad analysis, a squad view was set up to show all the metrics available within FM20 using the chalkboard statistics available in the ‘Customise Current View‘ drop down. Then, using the print screen facility within FM20 (Ctrl + P) and saving as a web page, an Excel file was created.

Squad analysis spreadsheet

Using this information, the squad was assessed on their ability to create goals, shooting efficiency and tackle efficiencies.

Given the clear issue over goal-scoring, the priority went towards looking at chance creation and shooting efficiency. When looking at the creativity of the AC Milan squad during the 2019/20 season, Bonaventura and Bennacer are the stand out players, consistently creating chances and one that are (presumably) of reasonably high quality given that they’ve led to the most Assists/90. Both clearly played in playmaker roles looking at these metrics and so should be placed into these roles in any tactic adopted for the 2020-21 season. These figures are clearly low, and this is not surprising given the lack of goals that the team have scored. This is perhaps an indication that the team were playing low-paced football against defensively organised teams? Further investigation is needed on this.

Using a slight variation of metrics, this time Passes Completed/90 against Chances Created/90, a familiar pattern emerged. Bonaventura and Bennacer were again stand out in turning more of their passes into chances for the rest of the team to score. Biglia on the other hand, who has a broken ankle and is set to be out for a further two months, is far less efficient in turning his passes into chances for other players. Given his injury and the fact that he is on a substantial contract, over £105k/week, which is expiring at the end of the season, it looks wise to let him go, as Kessié can be used to more effectively make runs for either or both Bonaventura and Bennacer. Rade Krunic is also a concern – he may have played far fewer minutes (529) compared to Bennacer (2,986) and Bonaventura (2,178), but his play does not look to be adding much to the team. What is also of note in these metrics is that Piatek does not look to be involving himself in play that much, with just over 15 passes/90, pointing towards his role being more advanced (and perhaps isolated?), whilst the full backs are creating around a half chance per game each – Conti (0.49), Calabria (0.61), Rodriguez (0.72) and Hernandez (0.32). More clearly need to be done to convert passes into chances – and crucially good quality chances.

Passes Completed/90 against Chances Created/90

So if, at least some, chances are being created – how efficient are the forwards at finishing these chances? Are there further problems here too?

Piatek’s stands out from the crowd with his 3.92 Shots/90 and 1.66 Shots on Target/90. Pioli clearly preferred a single striker formation, most likely with Suso and Rebic playing out wide. Both Suso and Rebic actually outperform Piatek’s shot efficiency, with 47% and 57% respectively, to Piatek’s 42%. Yet as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of shots you don’t take”. At least Piatek is buying a ticket to the lottery. However, averaging below than 0.35 Goals per 90 is less than impressive. Whether the quality of the shots he was taking were low, we’ll never know, but this needs to improve if the team is to improve. 13 goals in 39 games is certainly not going to cut it. Pioili clearly also didn’t have much faith in Piatek’s back-up, Rafael Leão, with Leão only playing 182 minutes over the season – ten substitute appearances and no starts. This at least indicates that Piatek should be fit to start most games in a season and appears to avoid suspensions. Qualifying for the Europa League for 2020-21 will only increase the workload – Leão should therefore reasonably expect more game time going forward.

The above evidence points towards the fact that the team did not appear to take many shots during the season, and when they did, they were largely funnelled through Piatek. If the opposition could shut Piatek down, they drastically reduce the chance of AC Milan scoring against them. With Serie A typically having deep set defences, with at least one, if not two pivots in the defensive midfield slot, more creative players and players who are willing to find their way into the box will need to be recruited. To improve his shot accuracy and efficiency, Piatek will be put onto a personalised training plan to give him the places shots trait.

Tackle success rates against Tackles/90

Investigation into the defence is worthwhile on the back of their somewhat stellar performance of allowing less than a goal a game – 36 goals in 38 games. It’s worth noting that at this point, none of these stats are possession adjusted, so these are the raw figures. With regards to the centre backs, Romagnoli has the most appearances, unsurprising given he’s club captain, and Musacchio and Caldara have 17 a piece. Léo Duarte should be ignored – he only made six starts and ten substitute appearances. His average rating of 6.56 also indicates that when he did play, he did not play well.

It’s remarkable how similar both left backs are with their tackle percentages and the frequency of their Tackles/90. This could be an area to improve upon but may also highlight that opposition teams looked to exploit the gap in behind Suso and target either Calabria or Conti in the right back position. This will need to be assessed as the season goes on. Given the well-established defence, there does not seem to be an imminent need to address any areas in this department. AC Milan have well-balanced squad when it comes to the defensive set-up, with four quality central defenders, all possessing solid attributes for positioning, heading, marking and tackling and two good left and right backs for each position. Transfer spending allocation can be better utilised elsewhere.

AC Milan 2020 finances

Looking at the initial finances available to spend, this is clearly going to need to be controlled wisely and wait for sponsorship deals to come in so as not to plunge the club further into debt. Fortunately, despite the clubs recent downturn in European standing, the sponsorship deals do come flooding in. When combined with TV revenue and season ticket sales, the club goes from red to black – pun intended. There is some concern that some of these deals only last for one year, but hopefully, if the club is able to return to the Champions League as per the ambition, then these deals could be improved upon.

AC Milan 2020-21 sponsorship deals

With creativity an absolute priority, the Club move quickly to add depth and quality to the side. The Directors, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Zvonimir Boban, head East to Brescia to bring Sandro Tonali back with them, the natural successor to former AC Milan great, Andrea Pirlo, whose career also began at ‘Le Rondinelle’ (the little swallows). His pass completion statistics are well above average, but it’s the frequency of chances created that sticks out – 0.16 more chances than the average.

Further funds were raised from player sales, including Diego Laxalt (£4.4m) and Alen Halilovic (£4.7m). Manchester United had interest in Hakan Çalhanoglu, so he left for £17.5m – not a disappointing sum given he had only one year left on his deal with the Rossoneri and had an underwhelming season with only five goal involvements in seventeen starts and eleven substitute appearances. The further sale of Fabio Borini to Frankfurt for an initial £3.9m (with potential uplift to £4.8m depending upon appearances) led to on-loan Ante Rebic being the first-choice option for the left-hand side of the attacking trident, with winger, Samu Castillejo, a back-up option. Further depth was required so Rodrigo De Paul was signed from relegated Udinese.

Profile – Rodrigo De Paul

With Suso’s contract containing a £31.5m release clause and the player having a market value of £35m, Tottenham were sniffing around. Suso was unwilling to renegotiate his contract in light of this interest from a Champions League club, so to provide further depth and prepare for the scenario of Suso being taken from us, scouts were sent out to look for someone to play in the AMR slot. These players needed to be adept at playing in similar roles to the Spanish wide man and aged 23 or under to fit with the Club Philosophy. They came back with Emi Buendia as the top prospect, above the likes of Victor Tsygankov, David Neres, Jacob Bruun Larsen and Artur.

Profile – Emi Buendia

It is hoped that these three players will add quality to the squad, as well as depth, ready for Europa League football. These signings will be analysed at the end of the 2020-21 season to check their metrics against how they performed the previous season to see how well, or otherwise, they have adapted to life at Milan.

Taking into consideration the paucity of quality youth prospects and the Club Vision, the Chief Scout, Geoffrey Moncada, has been provided with the following brief:

Scouting Focus

At the start of the season, the media and bookmakers have AC Milan down to finish 4th behind Juventus, Napoli and city rivals, Inter Milan. The next blog will be an update following the closure of the January transfer window.

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* Player radars have been created using the website http://cboutaud.github.io/radar/radar.html