Jon Mackenzie uses TransferLab to build a potential starting XI for England’s Round of 16 match against Germany.
Perhaps this is the case whenever football fans are involved, but for England, the story of the European Championship so far has been selection issues. And it’s not hard to see why. With the crop of players that Gareth Southgate has to hand, the ensuing headaches are inevitable.
In this year’s iteration of the competition, England have an embarrassment of riches which sees fans tearing their hair out over Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling or Jadon Sancho. Who should start? Could you fit in a combination of these players? All four at once?
Of course, selection issues are all part of the fun for fans. But how should Gareth Southgate approach the problem? Fortunately for him, Analytics FC have developed a tool which could help him. By extending our Best XI functionality to include national teams, we can take a player’s data from last season to help the England manager in his decision.
TransferLab’s Best XI Tool
TransferLab is a scouting platform developed by Analytics FC in conjunction with financial and business analysts LCP to help football clubs improve and simplify their recruitment decisions.
The basic unit of TransferLab is the player profile. In each profile, we build a recipe of different metrics in order to emphasise the various skills needed to play in a certain position within a team. For example, this is what Jack Grealish looks like in the “Winger – Wide Playmaker” pre-set profile in the platform:
As you can see, the profile is made up of various metrics against which the percentile of Grealish’s performance last season is shown against other forwards in the Premier League.
To arrive at the overall profile score for a player in a profile, you simply take the average of these percentiles: in this case 96. (NB. that the Overall Score on this graphic comes from comparing Grealish against all the forwards in our database not just in the Premier League).
Do this for all the players in the TransferLab database and we can build a Best XI for both leagues and now, with the advent of the National Best XI, countries.
Building a Team
Before we get to the England XI for Tuesday, we need to decide which profiles we’re going to use in TransferLab to select out Best England XI.
In the Best XI tool in TransferLab, you get a set of drop-down menus where you can select which profiles you want to use in your Best XI:
The profiles selected here are all pre-sets in TransferLab but you can build your own profiles by selecting recipes of metrics and use those in your Best XI.
You also get a selection of filters to use on your Best XI:
As you can see, you can select formation, period from which you want the data to be selected, players (up to three) per position and then a number of other filters.
When it comes to selecting a Best England XI, we need to think a little bit about what Gareth Southgate will be looking to do tactically against Germany. Up to this point, Southgate has gone with a back four, a midfield three and a front two. He has been flexible with the midfield three at times, shifting between a double pivot with a 10 in front and a single pivot with two 8s in front as well.
Given that he has been criticised for playing a too-defensive style of play, it seems unlikely that Southgate will forego the double pivot against Germany. We’ll go for the 4-2-3-1 formation to reflect this. However, with the proviso that the second midfielder in the pivot has been Kalvin Phillips who has been utilised as more of a ball winner, we’ll use the “Centre Midfielder – Ball Winner” profile there.
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Beyond this, we’ll filter for players with more than 1,500 minutes last season to give us a decent sample size for the data and make sure we’re selecting data from the 2020-21 season.
With all these parameters in place, here’s the Best England XI that TransferLab produces:
At face value, this Best England XI looks broadly convincing. With Jordan Pickford in goal and a back four of Reece James, John Stones, Harry Maguire (TransferLab doesn’t distinguish between left- and right-sided centre backs), and Luke Shaw, we’re seeing a defensive unit that looks plausible enough.
As we know, Southgate has shown a preference for Kieran Trippier during his tenure as England manager, largely because of his set-piece prowess. Interestingly, however, when you sort English players from last season by their value added last season on TransferLab, Trippier shows up in 25th spot, well behind a number of other players who show up in our Best XI:
When we get to the double pivot, as well, there is another deviation from the norm. Where we included the “Ball Winner” profile to accommodate both Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, TransferLab prefers Phillips in the deeper role and Jude Bellingham in the more advanced position.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Phillips plays as a defensive midfielder for his club, Leeds United, and so it is obvious that his data will reflect this. Jude Bellingham as well has been putting up impressive numbers as an outside midfielder in a three for Borussia Dortmund this season too:
Within the “Ball Winner” profile, you can see that his defensive numbers are good with both his tackles (quality) and 1v1 defending (quality) coming in the 90th percentile. On top of this, though, and where Phillips is a little more lacking, he is also a strong creative presence in the midfield. Contrast the profile above with the “Box to Box” profile below:
At the remarkable age of 17, Bellingham offers you a central midfielder who can do both: cover the defence and help the attack. As we know, Southgate clearly errs on the side of the former which is why he favours Phillips. TransferLab, on the other hand, offers a double pivot with a bit more licence.
We arrive at the part of the pitch where our biggest selection headache emerged: the front three. In terms of the Grealish/Foden/Sterling/Sancho axis, TransferLab plumps for Grealish as the starter but there is a hair’s breadth between all of them. If you select three players per position, Grealish is trailed by Sancho, Sterling then Foden with all four on profile scores of 99 in the “Winger – All Around” profiles.
Using TransferLab’s Compare functionality, we can easily contrast all four players within this profile:
As you can see, all four players show up strongly in most metrics with the exception of Sterling and Foden on touches in the final third (quality) and passes into the box (quality). Grealish is a little weak on expected goals from shots in open play but this should be balanced against the fact he’s playing for Aston Villa where the others are at Champions League sides. Jadon Sancho looks strong across the board but with the caveat that he’s being compared with players from the Bundesliga where the other three play in the Premier League.
Presented in this way, all four are clearly strong but Grealish and Sancho are probably the most well-rounded at this point in time. That said, Southgate could be happy playing any one of them in the left wing slot and knowing he was fielding a very strong side either way.
As for the right wing berth, Bukaya Sako shows up top because he is listed as a right-sided winger as his primary position. You could easily play one of the other wingers on the opposite side.
Finally, in the 10 spot, TransferLab likes Mason Mount as much as Gareth Southgate does. Although he’s listed as a central midfielder primarily, his secondary position is attacking midfielder and he scores highly in the “Attacking Midfield – Attacking Playmaker” profile, coming in ahead of the unselected James Maddison with an overall score of 100:
Even compared against central midfielders in the Premier League, his profile is clearly exceptional and there should be no doubting Southgate persisting with him as an option wherever he can.
Find Out More
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.