How Should Wolfsburg Replace Ingrid Engen?

Abdullah Abdullah asks how Wolfsburg should go about replacing Ingrid Engen as they look to enter a rebuild phase.

When VfL Wolfsburg lost to Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it raised the important question: could this be an end of an era? 

The German club have had a difficult season all told. After losing Pernille Harder to Chelsea in the final few days of the summer transfer window, their troubles were compounded when their coach, Stephan Lerch, subsequently announced that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract at the end of the season.

And if that wasn’t enough, Wolfsburg’s Swedish winger Fridolina Rolfö and Norwegian midfielder Ingrid Engen have decided not to extend their contracts and leave on a free. All this, coupled with Wolfsburg trailing Bayern Munich in the league, means the rebuild must start now. 

Scouting for player replacements becomes a priority once a key player announces their departure and surely Wolfsburg will have already started their search for Engen and Rolfö’s successors. Engen is a key cog to Wolfsburg’s midfield engine and is integral to the way they operate. Using Analytics FC’s TransferLab tool, we can take a closer look at attainable players who are similar profiles to replace Engen this summer.

Ingrid Engen – Midfield Lynchpin

Before we begin comparing players, it’s important to understand the Engen’s style of play to be able to assess her replacements.

The Norwegian is a deep-lying defensive midfielder whose game revolves primarily around playmaking but also protecting the back four. She often plays as part of a two-man midfield alongside Leno Oberdorf and is able to operate as the sole deep-lying playmaker next to an anchoring player and aid in the press. 

Across the three defensive midfielder profiles available in TransferLab, Engen ranks highly in all three.

Defensive Midfielder – All Round: 93
Defensive Midfielder – Holding: 87
Defensive Midfielder – Deep Playmaker: 94 

Just from the data, we can see that Engen is someone who is in the upper echelon of creative, playmaking defensive midfielders in the league.

Engen’s all round profile clearly highlights her strongest attributes; she ranks in the 92nd percentile for short passes and 84th for through balls. This indicates her ability to dictate play from a deeper position but also contribute to ball progression is at an extremely high level for the Frauen-Bundesliga. She also excels in her one touch passing quality ranking in the 89th percentile. This also indicates that Engen is a very good option to pass into when building out from the back. 

Where she does suffer is in her defensive duties. Being paired with Oberdorf offset this as her partner will shoulder much of the defensive responsibilities. Taking the two-legged ties against Chelsea as an example, Engen and Oberdorf were instrumental in protecting Wolfsburg’s back four against Chelsea’s forwards, and although they conceded two goals, their intelligent movement and positioning made a big difference to Wolfsburg defensively. 

Lerch based his team’s attacking tactics on the protective and playmaking abilities of his two defensive midfielders which is why it’s imperative to replace a player like Engen very carefully. TransferLab’s Similar Players tool allows us to generate a list of players who would be the closest to the Norwegian’s statistical profile. Filtering by age to only include players under the age of 23 pulls up this list of potential replacements:

Obviously, Oberdorf plays for Wolfsburg so she can be dismissed. But let’s take a look at the next two players on the list.

Freja Sørensen Abildå – Brondby IF

22-year-old Freja Sørensen Abildå is the first player to make the cut from TransferLab’s similarity tool. The defensive midfielder plies her trade with Brondby IF in Denmark. Although she plays outside of the traditional top five leagues, her scores across the three defensive midfield roles are very high.

Defensive Midfielder – All Round: 91
Defensive Midfielder – Holding: 84
Defensive Midfielder – Deep Playmaker: 92 

As you can see from her profile, she possesses an excellent range of passing across the passing metrics. This is ideal for a player who needs to be able to control the tempo and be the fulcrum of attacks for her side. Although she drops a little when it comes to through balls, the other metrics more than make up for it.

If we look specifically at her diagonal passing quality, it ranks at a high 94th percentile which brings an alternative method of passing if she comes up against teams who press high. Putting dangerous wide players into space behind opposition lines could be an excellent way to counter-attack and bypass midfields. A team like Wolfsburg, who have some outstanding wingers, could benefit from this.

If we look at all of the deep-lying playmaker defensive midfielders under 23 in TransferLab’s database, Abildå ranks in the top five and is just behind some world-class players in their position, all of whom play for top European sides:

On that list, she is the first player playing outside of the top tier of European football and could be a bargain in plain sight. Given her passing abilities and Wolfsburg’s need in that position, she could be a great fit. The question will be if she can make the step up from Elitedivisionen. 

Patricia Guijarro – Barcelona

The second player TransferLab’s tool picked up was Barcelona’s midfield dynamo, Patricia Guijarro. The Spanish midfielder has been in scintillating form in her deep-lying playmaker role controlling the Catalan club’s build-up and tempo. Her scores across the defensive midfield types show a high degree of versatility in different roles.

Defensive midfielder – All Round: 95
Defensive midfielder – Holding: 91
Defensive midfielder – Deep playmaker: 95

At first glance, Guijarro is a brilliant ball player with exceptionally high percentile rankings in short passes, long passes, and passing accuracy. This comparison is made against all central and defensive midfielders in the Primera Division making it high praise for the Spaniard.

Her one touch pass and through ball qualities are high which makes her such a well-rounded passer and effective when it comes to interchanging passes in pressure situations. 

Comparing the three players together, Guijarro has the highest overall score but it is very close between them:

What stands out is each of them have their strengths in each metric but also stand out statistics. For example, Guijarro has the highest score in short passing quality, while Abildå excels in one touch passes and Engen looks most impressive when you look at through balls.

A common factor between all three players are their defensive contributions but it isn’t as important because of their role on the pitch. They are meant to be their team’s outlet not defensive screens. 

Replacing Engen is no easy task, especially with the external factors at play. However, using the TransferLab tool, finding a like-for-like replacement has been made much easier to narrow down a final list and conduct deeper visual analysis to identify if these players are true fits in Wolfsburg’s side. If Guijarro is a more high profile pick, Abildå represents a shrewd possibility coming from the Danish league and could be an underrated signing come the summer of 2021.

Analytics FC provides software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking. We provide cutting-edge software solutions such as TransferLab, which helps improve and simplify recruitment decisions. To find out more about TransferLab and our other data services, or to find out more about us, visit our website.

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