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England's Perennial Number 10 Problem

With the storm now calming on England’s busy and hectic international schedule, attention now turns to the discussion around inclusion for Gareth Southgate’s squad for the European Championships. England’s arguably most impressive display was a comfortable 2-0 win over Albania following up their 5-0 demolition of minnows San Marino. After a fortunate result against the most likely team to compete with England in the form of a Lewandowski less Poland, the Three Lions ended their start to the qualification campaign with 3 wins out of 3 with a large number of squad players impressing and solidifying their places. However nowadays as is the case, the discussion is predominantly not who has made the squad, but who hasn’t. With a large part of Southgate’s squad relatively settled, spaces are still up for grabs in a variety of areas. As a result of these fixtures, there has been a lot of discussion over right back options due to the omission of Trent Alexander Arnold. Furthermore, the role of the number 10 role has been debated in great detail with many names being thrown into the mix to play in a midfield likely to be made of West Ham’s Declan Rice and Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips. A preferred front 3 of Southgate is made up of Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, leaving a place in between the lines to be decided. Here I’ll be looking at 5 possible options for this role and how the data can have an influence of the likelihood of their inclusion. The players in question are as follows;

- Phil Foden (Manchester City)

- Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)

- Jesse Lingard (West Ham United)

- James Maddison (Leicester City)

- Mason Mount (Chelsea)

In order to understand the possibility of their inclusion, many factors need to be taken into their consideration. Therefore, they shall be analyzed across 5 key metrics which can be measured to enable us to gain a better understanding of why Southgate might choose to pick one over another. The player with the highest score per factor will be given a total of 5 points and the last place player will be given a total of 1 point. A total score of the 5 factors will be awarded to each player which will enable them to be ranked accordingly. The factors that we will be using include:

- Goal Involvements

- Goals per 90 minutes

- Assists per 90 minutes

- Expected Goals

- Big Chances created

Leading the way in our 1st factor of Goal Involvements is Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. Grealish has amounted a total of 16 Goal Involvements across 22 matches this season and has been a pivotal part to a rejuvenated Villa side this season currently in 11th position. Grealish’s guile and ball manoeuvrability has made him a key component to Villa’s success this season. Of these 16 goal involvements, 5 of these have been setting up or being set up by Ollie Watkins who has enjoyed a breakthrough season worthy of being called up to the England, and ultimately completing the rout with the 5th goal against San Marino. Grealish has prided himself on his license to roam within the final third and look to drag defenders out of shape to enable Watkins to exploit the space. This can be done by looking to receive the ball between the lines or drifting wide to cross into Watkins to attack aerially. This has also allowed players like Anwar El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore to flourish by creating overloads to encourage them to beat their markers and be creative in the final third.

Player Goal Involvements Points

Foden 12 3

Grealish 16 5

Lingard 12 3

Maddison 13 4

Mount 10 2

Our next factor to be considered is goal per 90 minutes with West Ham United’s Jesse Lingard winning this particular metric. Lingard records a staggering score of 0.89 goals per 90 minutes after scoring 9 times in 11 games since arriving on loan from Manchester United. This total is already his best scoring season after scoring 8 times in 33 games for Manchester United in the 17/18 season. Lingard’s impact on West Ham has been crucial to their top 4 ambitions and has added to an effective and dangerous front line featuring the likes of the menacing Michail Antonio and aerially threatening Czech international, Tomas Soucek. Lingard’s ability to ghost into space whilst weaving past opposition has made him a defenders’ nightmare. The timing of his runs, his quick and nimble feet combined with a lethal understanding in front of goal have developed him from M16 rotation player to E20 hotshot. His goal and assist vs Wolves on Matchweek 30 emphasise his tenacity carrying the ball whilst driving inside to enable him to get a shot away or find the key pass at the right time.

Moving onto our third factor where we take assists per 90 into consideration. This is important for a number 10 being able to create and combine in the final third for forward minded players to take chances. For this factor, Jack Grealish comes out on top with a score 0.46, with Man City’s Phil Foden coming second with 0.31. This has been a large part of Grealish’s game as alluded to earlier, with his ability to get into attacking positions to then set up his teammates for chances on goal. Grealish is only second in this category in the league to Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne, who records 0.52 assists per 90, and is ahead of Harry Kane in third place with 0.44 assists per 90. This makes him the highest in this category for any English player in the league at the minute. Grealish has contributed 10 assists this season which is 3 more than his previous best of 7. This total came in the 13/14 whilst on loan at then League One outfit Notts County.

Chelsea’s Mason Mount wins our 4th factor by topping the chart for expected goals. Mount has accumulated 5.8 xG this season as part of a resurgent Chelsea side as a result of the dismissal of Frank Lampard. Mount’s xG of 5.8 corresponds with his tally of 6 goals so far this season, essentially meaning he scores high quality chances when the opportunities present themselves. He was also on the scoresheet in England’s most recent qualifiers, scoring in the Three Lions’ 2-0 win away to Albania. His tally of 6 goals so far this season is just 2 short of his best goalscoring seasons. His best season of 14 goals occurred whilst gaining experience in the Eredivisie at Vitesse Arnhem. He has largely influential for Chelsea this season adapting to a variety of roles. These have been as an attacking midfielder as part of a midfield 3 and playing wide left as part of a front 3. This enables him to pick up and drift into dangerous positions in the final third which enable him to combine and create with strikers. Recently, a 3-4-3 under Tuchel has enable Mount to be more expressive and fluid in the final third, with Ngolo Kante and Jorginho proving central midfield cover. The overlapping tendencies of international teammate Ben Chilwell encourage Mount to drift inside either looking to shoot himself or play through leading man Timo Werner. The average position map below highlights his ability to dictate the play in half spaces whilst having a license to combine and create. This is from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in the Champions League:

Our final factor to be considered is big chances created of which Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish wins. Grealish has amassed a total of 14 big chances created this season making him 3rd on the list. Leading this factor is Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes creating a total of 19 big chances. This total of 14 is significantly better than last year where he ranked joint 25th with a total of 8 big chances created, with Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne ranking 1st with a staggering 33 big chances created. International teammate Ollie Watkins is second on the list of Aston Villa players creating 7 big chances this season. The threat and combination of these 2 really came into fruition after the 7-2 demolition of Liverpool in Matchweek 4. Grealish scored 2 and assisted 3 with Watkins assisting 1 and scoring 2. This performance enabled Grealish to flourish in the final third exploiting Liverpool’s high line whilst recognizing transition moments to Watkins in beyond.

The table below will show the total scores as a result of the 5 factors. Some things need to be taken into consideration such as total minutes played and injuries which have impacted some players more than others. For example, Lingard has only played 11 games as a result of his loan move in January. Furthermore, Maddison has had injured in spells this year with Foden’s minutes being sporadic as a result of Pep Guardiola’s recurring rotation policy.

This article was written by Tom Carter

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