Is Pedri equal to Kante plus Jorginho? Or, measuring midfield pressure.

It is difficult not to love Chelsea and France player N’golo Kante. He is unassuming, hard working and modest: always looking to help the team rather than for himself. But because he works so hard, continually putting pressure on the opposition, it is also difficult to quantify his contribution using numbers. We can see it, but we can’t necessarily measure it. Until now that is…

As part of Twelve Football’s scouting tool for measuring off-ball contributions using tracking data, one of the metrics we have developed is pressure on passes and shots. To do this, we identify when the nearest player when an opposition pass fails to reach the target during open play. Provided the defending player is within 4.5m radius of the player who loses the ball, then we assign ‘points’ to that player. The better the outcome for his teammates, in terms of the value of where the ball is recovered, the more credit the player receives. Kante’s recoveries, measured in this way, for last season are shown below. The bigger the diamond, the more value the pressure had.

To measure how this stacks up in comparison to other players, we make a radar plot. The further out in the radar, the better the perfomance in that statistic.

Now we see Kante’s strengths. His pressure on shots and passes in the first two-thirds of the pitch are both top 20% for centre midfielders and his ball recoveries and blocked passes are top 5–10%. This is particularly impressive for the 2205 minutes played (all players with more than 400 minutes are included in this figure).

Then I asked the question, who is Kante’s equivalent or better in La Liga? When I made a ranking I got a surprise. I knew Pedri was good, but when I thought of him, I thought mainly of the passing skills and attacking movement we have seen throughout the Euros. But it turns out that, when it comes to putting pressure on opponents passes, he has the best off-ball defensive stats in La Liga. As the figure below shows, he even tops blocked passes,

Combine this with his amazing attacking statistics…

and it is very clear that Barcelona have a very exceptional player. (If you want to learn more about our attacking run stats have a look at this article). He is top 20% in space creation and runs and the top player for synchronised pressing and pressure in the final third. I don’t even need to mention his on-the-ball stats.

The title of my post was a bit cheeky, because there is no replicating Kante. But it is interesting to look at the attacking stats of Kante and Jorginho.

The Italian ticks all the boxes offensively, while the Frenchman is better defensively than he is in attack. Pedri manages to balance both skills.

There are several statistics in these radars which I haven’t talked about. I will come back to them in the next few posts. Broadcast tracking data is opening up a whole range of different ways of measuring the skills of different players, and our aim at Twelve is to provide customised metrics for different positions and different styles of play. If you are interested in trialing our tracking data scouting platform then pleae send us a message.

Professor of Applied Mathematics. Books: The Ten Equations (2020); Outnumbered (2018); Soccermatics (2016) and Collective Animal Behavior (2010).