Trying To Find Similar Players (Again)

N’Golo Kanté

Since it was the example that made me want to do something like this again, I thought I’d start with the Frenchman. The data is from 2018/19, where Kanté played under Maurizio Sarri and mostly seemed to occupy the right half-space area.

I feel like there’s going to be a lot of noise so my plan is to look at the data and a few clips to try and filter some of the suggestions, rather than just list the most similar players. What’s quite fun, given what I said before, is that Lucas Torreira is the 10th most similar to Kanté for those 23-years-old and younger though.

I’m also thinking about how Kanté played at Leicester, where it felt like he defended more on the front foot and could initiate counter-attacks, whether it’d be through carrying the ball or a quick, incisive pass.

Michal Sáček – Sparta Prague

23-year-old Sáček doesn’t actually jump off the page as a player with a similar output to Kanté. After some filtering though, he shows up a lot closer.

I filtered to find players who have around the same number of defensive duels per 90, defensive duel success and progressive runs per 90 as Kanté – to try and find someone defensively active but also capable of carrying the ball forward and starting counters. Of those 23-years-old or younger to match these conditions, Sáček’s numbers are the 2nd most similar to the Chelsea midfielder.

Looking through some of his numbers, you can see why he’s been thrown up as having a similar output to Kanté. Defensively, their numbers were pretty similar. (These are for 2018/19, where, according to WyScout, Sáček played mostly in midfield. This season he’s been playing right-back.)

Metric Kanté Sáček
Defensive duels per 907.067.02
Defensive duels success rate65.6468.71
Recoveries per 908.127.55
Opposition half recoveries per 904.723.75

Kanté’s attacking numbers are quite interesting. I’m looking at normalised numbers so I’m not sure how it translates to actual numbers, but he made (relative to the data) a lot more progressive runs per 90 than he did dribbles. Most players who make as many progressive runs as he did also made a lot more dribbles. It may not be significant, but there does seem a difference in how Kanté carries the ball in comparison to more dribble-y midfielders like Tanguy Ndombele or Frenkie de Jong, despite the Frenchman having respectable figures for progressive runs.

Sáček outperformed Kanté in both dribbling and progressive runs but fell slightly short for progressive passes per 90. Sáček was less involved than Kanté in general though, making ~36 passes per game compared to Kanté’s ~54. This may be down the system, particularly as Chelsea were managed by Sarri, so there’s a chance Sáček could be more progressive if he was played in a different system where he saw more of the ball.

I’m not going to watch anywhere close to enough video of these players to form a proper opinion, but there are some encouraging signs from Sáček. He seems like quite a strong runner from midfield (or right-back now) and generally seems fairly tidy on the ball. It’s nothing out of this world, but here he steps up to win the ball before driving forward and laying it off out wide for a cross.

Then, from right-back this time, he collects the ball and carries it before looking for a switch to a teammate in space, but it’s knocked out for a corner.

You can see some Kanté-ness in the above clips. It also feels like he’d be decent in Jordan Henderson’s role (when he plays at #8), supporting the right side of the attack and being able to plug defensive gaps.

He turns 24-years-old in Septemeber which means, while there’s still time to grow, a team would likely be buying him for an immediate impact rather than gambling on his potential.

I’m not sure how well the Czech league translates but, on clubelo, it has around the same Elo rating as the Scottish league or the French Ligue 2. This makes me think he may be useful for a lower top division side in the top five leagues or even a Championship side. With a TransferMarkt value of just £1.62m, he definitely seems a player worth looking into further.

Glen Kamara – Rangers

I wasn’t going to include Glen Kamara here but given he’s the player (23-years-old or younger) in the data to have most similar output to Kanté I felt I had to.

Talk of Scottish football on my Twitter timeline tends to come from @OwenJamesBrown or @PureFitbaw, so when I saw Kamara pop up in the data I searched to see if he’d been mentioned by these two. Encouragingly, @OwenJamesBrown likes him, but also likened him to Mousa Dembélé, which I feel like I can see a lot more than Kanté after watching some clips.

It’s only four numbers but, like Sáček above, they’re definitely in the right kind of region.

Metric KantéKamara
Defensive duels per 907.066.12
Defensive duels success rate65.6466.85
Recoveries per 908.128.80
Opposition half recoveries per 904.723.92

It’s mostly in the dribbling figures that Kamara starts to move more towards Dembélé than Kanté. Again I’m looking at normalised numbers so I don’t know the actual difference here, but Kamara made more dribbles than Kanté despite having less progressive runs per 90. On the other hand, Kamara made (slightly) more progressive passes per 90.

To put it technically, Kanté feels more run-y while Kamara feels more dribble-y. From the small amount I’ve seen of Kamara, his running with the ball seems to come from receiving the ball deeper and then looking to get a bit of space or evade pressure as he tries to move the ball upfield. Kanté feels like he’s more likely to win the ball back and then carry it to start the counter than drop back and look to bring the ball out of defence like a more typical #6.

The below clip against Porto feels very Dembélé. (Although it also isn’t that different from the 2nd Sáček clip, I don’t know)

I haven’t really got much to say on Kamara, but he has some impressive numbers and looks pretty good from the few clips I watched. His numbers suggest he’s active off the ball, while he seems as though he can be quite tidy and progressive on it. He’s been linked with Arsenal, where he spent some time as a youngster, but, given he turns 25-years-old this year, it’s another situation where a club will want to sign him for immediate impact as opposed to potential.

Orel Mangala – Stuttgart

Despite being just 21-years-old, it feels like Orel Mangala’s name has been floating around for a while. He came through at Anderlecht before heading to Germany, first with Dortmund and then Stuttgart. The numbers being used for him here though come from his loan spell with Hamburg in the 2.Bundesliga last season – where he’s now playing for Stuttgart.

His numbers have altered this season, which could be down to a different system/role, but there’s still lots of encouragement to be taken from his output. (I’m also not sure if there’s been some kind of change in the numbers because Kanté’s defensive duel success is completely different on the platform compared to my data but the per 90 he made is the same. In the data I downloaded Mangala has a slightly better duels won % but that’s reversed on the platform – which is what I’ve used below).

Metric KantéMangala
Defensive duels per 907.066.79
Defensive duels success rate65.6462.56
Recoveries per 908.129.33
Opposition half recoveries per 904.724.04

He made around the same number of progressive passes per 90 but bettered Kanté for progressive runs and dribbles per 90. Mangala’s another who seems like you could draw comparisons with Dembélé. It feels like you could place him at the base of the midfield and let him collect the ball from defence and move it upfield. While Kanté has played as the lone defensive midfielder for France, in England he’s always been part of a pair or as the #8 and, except for Conte’s 3-4-3, has been partnered with more of a distributor. Mangala almost feels like he could be either the distributor or the Kanté type player.

The below clip shows him collect the ball from the defence, have some nice footwork and move upfield – which makes you think he could be a good press resistant #6.

However, given his ability to carry the ball it feels like playing him as a #6 could be restricting him. He might be better being partnered with someone who can screen the defence so he can move forward with the ball more often.

The pass is a bit under-hit in this clip, but everything else about it is nice.

He’s highly rated by Stuttgart, with them reportedly wanting at least €30m for him after Arsenal were said to be interested. It feels like it could be a bit of a gamble to pay that much for a player who has only ever played regularly in the 2.Bundesliga.

Having said that, it’s not much more than Leicester paid for James Maddison who had only played in the lower leagues, so if Mangala can live up to his potential it may not be a bad move for someone.

As a fan of them, I can’t help but think he’d be pretty useful at Wolves. At the minute the only midfield back-up is pretty much the only cover for the defence. Then, with Romain Saiss 30-years-old next month and João Moutinho 33-years-old, a young midfielder to partner Rúben Neves could be a good move. Mangala’s activity off the ball will be useful to plug gaps when the wing-backs push forward, while, in possession, he can have some freedom to carry the ball knowing there are three defenders behind him.