Twenty3 FC. Never heard of it? Well, you wouldn’t have because it doesn’t exist… yet. We have created this brand new club (Est. 2022) for this feature because talking about a nameless, fictitious club just wouldn’t be as fun.
So, we have a team name. After a rigorous selection process (I promise), I have been hired as the Director of Football in charge of recruitment and playing style.
In this piece, we’re going to be looking to fill three roles and we’ll use the Twenty3 Toolbox in all its glory to help make the decisions. We’re also going to be using SkillCorner metrics to add further depth to the considerations. Physical data is just as important as event data.
We want Twenty3 FC to be a controlled team on the pitch. We’re looking to dictate the tempo by owning the space and dominating the ball. The idea is to play an attractive brand of football in a 4-3-3 shape, pin the opposition in and create high volume for the goal threats. You could call it McGuire-ball if you wanted. Any similarities to Klopp-ball are a coincidence, honest.
For this to be implemented we need a specific profile of player across key positions.
The roles we’re looking to fill are as follows:
- A goal threat under the age of 24.
- A box-to-box midfielder under 25.
- A dominant centre-back who can also progress play under the age of 26.
To kick things off, let’s look for our goal threat.
Using the Twenty3 Event Lab, I can filter to my exact requirements. The competition filter was set to include Europe’s traditional top five leagues as well as the Portuguese Primeira Liga. For seasons, the last three have been selected and the players must have appeared in a minimum of 2,000 minutes. Ideally, this would be closer to 3,000 for the sample size though. Age is, of course, capped at 24.
I then added certain exclusions to this search, one of which was to not show those with an expected goals average exceeding 0.50 per 90. This is not the rule, but, usually, if a player has an xG average north of 0.5 over a large period of time, the system they are being used in is built around them. Unless you are looking to replicate that – which I am not – you might struggle to ensure they hit those heights for you.
I then need to see that they are a goal threat but be sure there is enough room for them to develop in our system. We need scalable output. After filtering via event data, I will have a look at total distance covered, per SkillCorner. This won’t be a deal-breaker, but those with 10km+ will be looked upon a little more favourably. My team can’t be carrying any passengers. Every player has to put in a shift.
The likes of Donyell Malen, Dušan Vlahović, Lautaro Martínez and Alexander Isak all showed up well but I excluded them for a number of reasons.
The former has only just moved to Borussia Dortmund, Vlahović was signed by Juventus in January, Martinez has just penned a new deal with Inter Milan while Isak might be a little too pricey. The higher the fee, the more pressure is placed on the player and the harder it is for them to meet those expectations. If possible, I want to strip that away.
The three I ended up settling on were Jonathan David, Darwin Núñez and Gianluca Scamacca.
Again, I have to reiterate that I’m playing with a sole No.9 in my system and none of the trio are used to that system. David plays in a two-man attack at Lille, Núñez has played on the left of a 3-4-3 and as part of a 4-4-2, while Scamacca plays as a centre-forward in a 4-2-3-1, but he is rarely isolated, with a lot of support from the No.10 in the Sassuolo system.
They will have to adapt but they are not going to be tasked with leading the line by themselves. The plan is to have team-mates around them and for attacks to be sustained.
Jonathan David, 22, Lille
We’ll start with David.
The 22-year-old Lille forward helped fire the club to the Ligue 1 title last season after a sluggish start, eventually finishing with 13 goals. He’s already on 12 this time around and we’re only in January.
During his time with Gent, he was often deployed as an attacking midfielder and you can see just how comfortable he is outside of the penalty area when looking at his heat map. He works the channels and generally drops in to link with the midfield – a valuable trait in a No.9.
As far as shot maps go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one from a player of his age. Aided by the counter-attacking system used by Lille, almost all of his shots are coming from inside the penalty area. David takes very few low-value efforts and this is one of the reasons he tends to land so many on target.
The heat map shows he can be a link man but the shot map suggests he can be, and is, a poacher. A superb combination, and one which would work wonderfully at the Toolbox Arena.
Darwin Núñez, 22, Benfica
Next up we have Núñez.
The 22-year-old impressed for Almeira in the Segunda Division in 2019/20, scoring 16 times in Spain’s second tier. Courted by many of Europe’s elite, Benfica paid a club record £21million to land the Uruguayan starlet.
Núñez’s debut campaign in Portugal was a slow burner and he finished with just six goals in the league. This time around, however, he leads the scoring charts with 13 in 13 matches while also chipping in with three in the Champions League – including two against Barcelona.
Through my video scouting, it’s notable that he shares a number of traits with compatriots Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani and his bullishness will stand him in good stead as a No.9 in the Twenty3 FC team.
It is worth noting that Núñez has played on the left for Benfica and this goes some way to explaining why there is a cluster of shots just outside the penalty area. He cuts inside from the left onto his stronger right foot and looks to get a shot off. These aren’t always the best choices but he is still learning. You can also remove this from his game by starting him centrally.
When leading the line, he gets into good areas on a regular basis, as evidenced by the number of goals scored within the six-yard box.
Gianluca Scamacca, 23, Sassuolo
Now our third candidate, Scamacca, is a little different.
He is more of a traditional No.9, but there’s so much more to his game. In many ways, he’s similar to Vlahović, just without the price tag.
The 6ft5ins centre-forward does his best work in the middle of the pitch. He tends to operate in the space between the penalty area and the halfway line, linking up with team-mates and creating space that can be exploited.
He is a bit of an enigma in the sense he gets into very good areas but also has the capacity to score goals from distance. That unpredictability gives him an edge, especially when he is so accurate from 18+ yards. In an era of high-value chances being the be-all and end-all, having the ability to strike one from distance can be what helps a player stand out.
As expected, the Sassuolo man attempts more link-ups on a per 90 basis but completes the fewest number of sprints.
By no means is he static, he just isn’t as explosive as the other two players on the list. Nunez tops the charts for sprints, though that could be tied to him playing on the left and making those outside-to-inside runs while also having to track back and support his full-back.
David leads the way for distance covered. Again, this is a result of the system he’s deployed in. Lille sit deep and look to spring counters. He chases a lot of long balls forward and into wide areas.
Overall, David probably edges it and would be the top choice out of the three. We’ll be looking to make a bid soon.
We are after a unicorn.
A midfielder who can run for days but has the technical ability to get on the ball and help dictate proceedings. They need to be comfortable covering the width of the pitch as well as the length. It is rarer than you think to find a player like this, but they do exist and with the help of SkillCorner data, we’ve been able to find a number of them.
Again, we set the search filter up within the Twenty3 Event Lab to exclude players who haven’t appeared in at least 2,000 minutes over the last three seasons. We wanted a minimum of 50 passes per 90 and a passing accuracy of 85% or more.
Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Rodri and Nicolo Barella all showed up well on the list, but are they truly attainable without transfer records being broken? We’re not made of money here at Twenty3 FC.
After that quartet, the next standout names on the list were Liverpool’s Curtis Jones and Newcastle United’s new maestro Bruno Guimarães.
Curtis Jones, 20, Liverpool
Jones started life as a left-winger before being converted into a disciplined centre-midfielder capable of filling in for full-backs as well as supporting the attacking phase.
Per the radar above, the youngster can pretty much do everything. Tidy in possession, progressive on the ball and diligent without it, the Liverpool No.17 ticks all of the boxes for this midfield role for Twenty3 FC.
The Reds are famed for their physical style and Jones tops the list for total distance covered per 90 along with James Milner with an average of 11.2km when using the SkillCorner criteria previously mentioned.
Bruno Guimarães, 24, Newcastle United
Guimarães is more creative, no doubt down to him being the man tasked with (until very recently at least) progressing play in the Lyon middle third.
He covers a lot of ground but manages fewer sprints. This is likely a result of the Ligue 1 side having paired him alongside a destroyer who puts out those fires. His partner does more of the bursts while he just patrols the pitch.
Jones is a cog in the Liverpool team whereas Guimaraes (LCM in the above viz) was the tempo-setter for OL. He was heavily involved in the build-up for Peter Bosz’s side, combining well with team-mates down the left side.
The thought of the Brazilian pulling the strings for Twenty3 FC is an intriguing one, I think Jones’ physicality sees him come out on top in this battle to be our No.8. I’m not just saying that because Guimarães has recently moved to Newcastle United, honest.
For further context, over the past 18 months, Liverpool’s Passes Per Defensive Actions (PPDA) average has been around 9 whereas Lyon’s has been 11.5. Jones has played at an intense level, in a pressing team, and that is what I am after.
For this, we focused on Ligue 1, Bundesliga and Premier League. These leagues are of a high tempo and help develop press-resistant, progressive centre-backs. They are also fairly physical and this plays into the dominant trait we’re after.
We want them under the age of 26 so that there is room for them to develop still and they must have played a minimum of 2,000 minutes.
There’s been an extra focus on how composed centre-backs are these days, but to be the very best you have to be able to win those physical battles. The Twenty3 team previously covered why aerially dominant defenders are a must if you are looking to dictate how a game goes. The point still stands.
In the Event Lab, I’ve set it up so that we would only see defenders who compete for three or more aerial duels per 90, complete 80% or more of their passes and commit fewer than 1.2 fouls per 90.
Those who have recently moved or signed new deals were discounted – sorry, Mohamed Simikan, Dayot Upamecano, Ben White and Lucas Hernandez.
Despite these names being excluded, the list was still an impressive one. For this shortlist, I selected four players.
Ezri Konsa, 24, Aston Villa
Konsa isn’t necessarily great in the air but he is the sweeper at Aston Villa with Tyrone Mings being the aggressor.
The duels he goes in for might not be favourable with teams avoiding Mings. Something to ponder.
He does come out on top for passing accuracy and commits the fewest number of fouls, though. His dribble success rate of 61% isn’t bad either.
Felix Uduokhai, 24, Augsburg
Felix Uduokhai is an aerial juggernaut, winning 67% of his aerial battles.
The 24-year-old also ranks exceptionally well for everything else too. He also leads the way for distance covered per 90, per SkillCorner, and he covers the most distance in a match, per SkillCorner, averaging 9.4km.
Moussa Niakhaté, 25, Mainz 05
Moussa Niakhaté is an intriguing one.
Good in the air, decent on the ball and press resistant, the Mainz man commits the most number of fouls of the four players though.
Maxence Lacroix, 21, Wolfsburg
Maxence Lacroix wins just half of his aerial duels and commits over one per 90.
However, he excels in opponent evasion – completing 72% of his dribbles.
Plenty of Europe’s elite are after the Frenchman and his price tag reflects that.
The one I’m plumping for, perhaps surprisingly, is the Augsburg centre-back.
Uduokhai impresses across all four key metrics. On top of that, he’s the right age profile, he’s got height on his side (6ft4ins), he’s physical, used to covering a lot of ground and he has the potential to improve.
The bonus is he is not going to break the bank, so I’m getting exceptional value for money.
In the next edition of building Twenty3 FC, I’ll focus on my full-backs and defensive midfielder. This process will continue until we have a fully functional starting XI and we can unleash McGuire-ball onto the world.
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