This will be the first of several posts looking at combing statistical analysis with video analysis. I am a firm believer in statistics and their use in football to not only look at potential signings, but to analyse how teams play. I also believe that watching the game is even more important and that the numbers should be a fair reflection of what is happening.
Starting by looking at defensive midfielders, I wanted to find someone who made interceptions and key passes with significant game time this season, at least 800 minutes. In the first of these will be looking at Sassuolo’s Stefano Sensi.
The bar graph is based on something I came up with before. If you want to read more about this, then read this.
From the stats, Sensi stands out in accurate passes, accurate passes made in the final third, expected assists, successful dribbles and defensive contribution (via successful tackles and interceptions). His accurate deep completions and dribbling success rate is about average for a central midfielder in the top 5 leagues. As far as tackle success rate, I’m assuming this is a data error from WyScout, as I’m positive Sensi hasn’t lost every single tackle he has made this season.
Dribbling & Ball Control
He doesn’t make many driving runs forward, his dribbling is mainly to escape pressure from opposition by twisting and turning, using his low centre of gravity to his advantage. Using his body extremely well to protect the ball and turn away from pressure has resulted in him advancing with the ball as well as drawing a lot of fouls. Similar to Mousa Dembele, albeit at less frequency, his ability to evade defenders and keep possession is top class.
Positioning & Receiving
Looking to collect the ball behind the opposition forward line to be able to play forward and dictate play. His positioning to be able to receive a direct pass from defenders or be ready to receive a second pass. Occasional rotation with Alfred Duncan also allows him to receive behind the opposition midfield and progress the ball deep into the final third of the field.
In the defensive phase, Sensi provides support for his defence by covering the space in front of them. Against Napoli, he was mainly trying to prevent forward passes into the feet of the striker and forced them to play into wider areas more often. His awareness of what is around him makes him able to cut passing options off for the opposition and his ability to recognise dangerous situations early had led to many interceptions and prevented potentially dangerous attacks. His tackling is good, but can be overly aggressive, which was exposed a couple of times against Napoli as their players were of a high quality to be able to quickly get past him. On occasion, he was more conservative and lead to him defending the space well or being physically beaten in a tackle. Still only 23 years old, he has lots of time to polish his decision making.
Awareness & Body Positioning
His constant scanning of the field, gives him a picture of the field. With these pictures in his head, he knows exactly what to do before receiving the ball and get himself in a good position with his body in a position to play the way he wants. This is how he has been able to play quickly with one or two touches and escape pressure. While it is most common for body positioning to “side-on” or “half-turn” to be able to play with one touch into a position you are facing. Sensi is able to have his back towards the direction he wants to play, with his awareness coupled with his quality ball control, he can handle press from behind and spin the defender if they get too close.