The international break that followed deadline day is soon to be over, so I thought I´d take a more in depth look at a transfer that hasn´t really been paid that much attention given the size of the deal. The fact that rivals Manchester United went ahead and paid a gazillion pounds for a relatively unknown young French striker (feel free to read my thoughts on that transfer HERE) sort of took the spotlight away from the deal that took Kevin De Bruyne to Manchester City from Wolfsburg for a fee of 75M€ according to Transfermarkt.com.
The 24 year old Belgian who left Chelsea for Wolfsburg in January 2014 had an incredible 2014/2015 season in Wolfsburg, scoring 10 goals and providing no less than 20 assists from his preferred nr 10 role in which he started the vast majority of games for Wolfsburg last season.
The fact that City decided to spend that amount of money on an attacking central midfielder begs the question: What will happen to David Silva?
Silva was deployed as a winger with a lot of freedom to roam in Pellegrinis 4-4-2 for large parts of last season (23 out of his 32 starts saw him start to the left), but has excelled in a more central role in the beginning of the new season. Will the arrival of De Bruyne see Silva moved back out wide, or is it De Bruyne that will initially have to move out wide to make room for Silva? In this post I will be looking at some Opta passing data from the 2014/2015 season to see if we can spot any similarities and/or differences between the two potential Man City nr 10:s, and maybe even try and answer the question of who´s the better fit as a central or wide midfielder?
First of all, it should be noted that Silva and De Bruyne played for very different teams last season. In fact, they played in quite different leagues. The Bundesliga is a fair bit more open and action packed than the Premier League where more teams tend to sit back and defend. Manchester City, being one of the teams in the Premier League that control play in more or less all their games, play a style that is a lot more possession oriented than Wolfsburg, but how big is the difference in passing style between the two teams?
City attempts roughly 80 passes more per game whan Wolfsburg, completing 82.7% of their passes, compared to a 78.2% completion rate for Wolfsburg. As we can see from the bar chart, City succeed with more forward passes per game, but when you compare that number to the amount of succesful passes each team plays per game, Wolfsburg actually play their succesful passes forward a tiny bit more often than City does (60.1% vs 59.6%).
So what about the players in question? The bar chart below shows the raw numbers of passes, successful passes and successful forward passes per 90 for Silva and De Bruyne.
David Silva is clearly playing more passes than De Bruyne, and his passes are also more successful in reaching it´s target. Silva completes 84% of his passes, whereas De Bruyne completes only 71.3% of his passes, despite the fact that they both play an almost identical 53% of their successful passes in the forward direction. This could either mean that Silva is a much better passer than De Bruyne, or that the passes that De Bruyne attempt are much harder than the ones Silva attempt, or a combination of both.
So that´s the raw number of passes. When we look at each players numbers as a Usage Rate, that is, we divide the players number for each statistic by the teams number for the same statistic, we get the following chart:
The picture remains largely the same. David Silva is clearly more involved in Citys general passing game than De Bruyne was at Wolfsburg, regardless of whether we´re looking at all passes or successful forward passes.
So we know how many passes they both made per game last season. But where did they make them? Using R code from James Curley (Twitter: @jalapic) I´ve created density plots for all passes by Silva and De Bruyne respectively from the 2014/2015 season. The top one is Silva, and the bottom one De Bruyne. I´d say, they reveal some interesting patterns.
If we focus on David Silva (the top plot) first, what instantly sticks out is the fact that even though he started most games to the left, and when he didn´t start to the left he started centrally, the area where he played most of his passes is on the right hand side of the pitch. License to roam indeed, and potentially an orientation towards the right.
When we look at De Bruynes plot, we learn that, conversely, even though he started centrally for the most part, the area where he is most active with his passes is to the left. We can also see that the ”epicentre” of De Bruynes passing is farther from goal, actually closer to the half way line than the penalty area, whereas Silvas ”epicentre” is much closer to the box.
Obviously, this could be a result of tactical instructions on both ends, but it is quite interesting to see that De Bruyne is most active on the left side of the pitch, and Silva on the right side of the pitch. Is this a coincidence, or could this be something that the analytics team at City picked up as well?
Let´s move into the final third. Once again, it needs to be pointed out just how differently City and Wolfsburg play. Take a look at the chart below. The leftmost bars shows the amount of successful passes into the penalty area per game, the bars in the middle shows the successful forward passes in the final third per game, and the rightmost bars shows the amount of forward passes in the final third. I think it´s fair to say that City spend a lot more time passing the ball in the final third.
So on to our players. Let´s have a look at the same stats, but on a player level. The first chart shows the raw number of passes in each category, and the second chart shows the Usage Rates for each player.
From the raw numbers we see that Silva plays a lot more passes in the final third, but when it comes to successfully getting the ball into the penalty area, De Bruyne actually beats Silva in raw numbers per game. Given that Wolfsburg succeed with only 9.7 passes into the penalty area per game compared to Citys 16.3 passes per game, that is pretty huge on De Bruynes part. As you can tell from the Usage chart, De Bruyne was pivotal (to say the least) in Wolfsburgs attack last season, with a Usage Rate of more than 45% as far as successful passes into the penalty area goes, compared to 22.9% for David Silva. Silva does still beat de Bruyne in Usage Rate for the passes in the final third, but only just.
Lets have a look at production. As I mentioned early on in the post, De Bruyne had a spectacular 2014/2015 season. In terms of actual output, De Bruyne beat Silva in NPG90+Ass90 (Scoring Contribution 90) comfortably (0,89 vs 0.65), but realistically, that was probably down to some positive variation in finishing from both De Bruyne himself and his team mates (I´m looking at you Bas Dost). When you stack up the Expected Goals and and Expected Assists per 90 minutes played, De Bruyne and Silva have totals that are very similar, with Silva posting a higher ExpG90 value and De Bruyne a higher ExpAss90.
Since this post is focusing on passes, and this is the production section, let´s look at something that can lead to production, Key passes. De Bruyne managed 3.3 Key Passes Per 90 minutes in 2014/2015, beating Silvas 3.1 KP90.
Using the excellent Tableau tutorials from Brian Prestidge (Twitter: @BrianPrestidge) I created two passing maps, showing the origin and end of all key passes that Silva and De Bruyne logged in 2014/2015. Light blue passes lead to shots that wasn´t converted into goals, whereas red passes lead to shots that was converted. Once again, Silvas map is the top one.
Silvas Key passes are mainly clustered centrally just outside of the penalty area and consisting of shorter passes, whereas De Bruynes passes are a bit more all over the place, they are generally longer, and quite a few of them are from corners. When stripping out Key passes from corners, Silvas KP90 turns out to be 2.94, beating De Bruynes 2.42 KP90.
Time to summarize. David Silva was more active in Citys overall passing game in 2014/2015 than De Bruyne was at Wolfsburg. As we moved into the final third though, De Bruyne was still making less passes than Silva in raw numbers, but when looking at the Usage Rates, dividing the individuals numbers with the numbers of his team, De Bruyne shone when it came to successfully passing the ball into the penalty area, and equalled Silva in final third passes.
Silva seems to be attracted to the right, and De Bruyne to the left.
Finally, one more graph. I´m not entirely sure if this graph shows a difference between the players in question or the leagues/teams that they played in/for last season (I would guess that it´s a combination), but I still found it noteworthy enough to include.
All in all, I feel like we have some evidence to suggest that David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are different player types that occupy slightly different areas of the pitch. Silva is a short passing wizard that thrives in small spaces, operating just outside the penalty area and drifting a little bit to the right. De Bruyne is less involved in build up-play but contributes a lot in the final third, seems to be a more direct player that plays more long passes and drifts to the left.
So who will play in what position, and where do you fit Raheem Sterling in? Those are some tricky questions, but at the same time the kind of questions any manager would love to have to try and answer. Personally I´d keep Silva centrally, as De Bruyne with his pace, strength and legs seems a better fit for a wing position in my book. Whether he plays to the left, as he might prefer judging from his passing density plot, or to the right to accomodate Raheem Sterling who seems to do a lot better as a left winger than a right winger, I´ll leave for Pellegrini to decide. Either way, Citys squad is looking awfully interesting right now.