The role of a winger has changed significantly over the last few decades, or outside forwards as they were known in the era of Jimmy Johnstone, who played 308 matches for Celtic. Wingers of the past were tasked with hugging the touchline and providing crosses for their centre forwards to score from – creators with limited defensive responsibilities. In sharp contrast, the requirements for a modern-day winger are endless: Scoring goals, creating goals, the first line of defence, tracking back to help protect his full-back… The list could go on.
In this data analysis, we will delve into the statistics and study the data to find out who are the best wingers currently playing in the Scottish Premiership. All players in this analysis have played a minimum of 600 minutes as wingers in the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership season.
Goals, goals, goals
Quite possibly the most important statistic that we can judge any of the forward positions on is goals. In the graph below we analyse xG per 90 and shots per 90.
Celtic man Ryan Christie is the clear stand out here with 3.17 shots per 90 and 0.56 xG per 90. Teammates James Forrest (2.92 shots per 90 and 0.35 xG per 90) and Mohamed Elyounoussi (2.12 shots and 0.36 xG per 90) follow Christie.
Dutchman Sherwin Seedorf impresses with (3.14 shots per 90 and 0.2 xG per 90). Whilst Jamie Walker, Aymen Souda and recent Hull City signing James Scott, who played for Motherwell for the first half of the season, all score well in both areas.
A winger’s ability to beat a defender with a dribble is a key component of his armoury. The following graph will look at the data for dribbles per 90 and dribble success as a percentage.
Rangers pair Ryan Kent (8.4 dribbles per 90, 63.76%) and Sheyi Ojo (8.23, 67.39%) are both top of the class in terms of dribbling, and clearly their time coming through Liverpool’s academy has benefited their technical ability.
Matty Kennedy of Hamilton attempts the most dribbles per 90 with 10.55 although with a lower percentage than Kent or Ojo with 51.48%. Michael Gardyne has the highest dribble success percentage with 68.97% but makes fewer dribbles per 90, 4.77, than those previously mentioned.
James Scott and Seedorf both impress again both with 9+ dribbles per 90 around the 55% mark. Forrest is joined by İlkay Durmuş, Martin Boyle and Lewis Smith with 6-7 dribbles per 90 and 55%-60% success rate.
Creating goals and setting up teammates is the oldest of responsibilities for a winger. In the following statistic analysis, we will look at key passes per 90 and xA per 90.
Once again, Celtic duo of Christie (0.38 xA per 90 and 0.7 key passes per 90) and Forrest (0.25 xA and 1.25 key passes per 90) lead the way. These two are clear of any other players in alternating areas, Christie with xA and Forrest with key passes. The next player of note is Liverpool loanee Ojo (0.24 xA per 90, 0.81 key passes per 90).
Aberdeen winger Niall Mcginn scores similarly to Ojo in xA per 90, as does Chris Burke, and both Burke and Mcginn have an xA of 0.24 per 90. Whilst Kent, Smith, Kennedy and Steven Lawless all make between 0.68 – 0.78 key passes per 90.
In many tactical systems, the width is provided by the wingers. This makes the ability to cross a necessity for the best wingers. A good cross can carve open even the tightest of defences; to analyse the data for crosses we are going to look at crosses per 90 and crossing accuracy as a percentage.
Surprisingly no Celtic or Rangers players find themselves scoring highly here; a reason for this may be due to the tactics that they adopt where the width is provided by their full-backs.
Ryan Hedges is the most accurate crosser with an outstanding 46.30% of his crosses reaching their intended target with 3.83 crosses per 90. At the other end of the scale, Jake Mulraney makes the most crosses per 90 (6.6 and an impressive accuracy of 36.67%). Mulraney is closely followed by Josh Mullin with 6.48 although Mullin is slightly less accurate with only 27.97%.
Niall Mcginn, Matty Kennedy and Chris Burke are all clustered together with very balanced scores in the 5-6 crosses per 90 and 35-40% accuracy. Seedorf once again finds himself as a highlighted player due to good accuracy of 37.84%.
The last metric in possession area we are to analyse is that of progression, in both runs and passes. A winger’s ability to progress his team up the pitch whether it be via driving runs or clever passing is an important weapon in any football team’s armoury.
David Wotherspoon makes the most progressive passes out of our data set. The St. Johnstone man makes 8.28 progressive passes per 90 along with a modest 1.58 progressive runs per 90. Liam Millar is the most progressive when it comes to runs – the Liverpool youngster on loan at Kilmarnock makes 4.35 progressive runs, although he is one of the lowest in terms of progressive passes with only 2.32 per 90. It may just be a coincidence that another Liverpool loanee in Ojo (4.28 prog. Runs per 90, 2.33 prog. Passes per 90) posts similar numbers to Millar.
Ryan Kent, James Forrest and veteran Michael Gardyne are the most balanced with close to an equal number of progressive passes and runs per 90 with all three making between 2.88 – 3.67 progressive runs per 90 and 5 – 6.83 progressive passes per 90.
We are all aware of how important wingers are in the attacking phase of play. However, wingers are being tasked with increasingly more defensive duties than in previous years. To analyse defensive contributions, we are going to look at possession adjusted interceptions (padj) and successful defensive actions per 90.
The first thing of note here is that Ryan Christie is a clear stand out if we compare him to three other Celtic and Rangers players, Forrest, Ojo and Kent. Christie makes the highest amount of interceptions at 6.83 along with 8.06 successful defensive actions per 90.
Christie is joined by Ross County man Blair Spittal (6.35 interceptions and 9.07 successful defensive actions per 90) and David Wotherspoon (6.02 interceptions and 9.99 successful defensive actions per 90).
A whole raft of players follows with Seedorf (5.07 interceptions and 7.33 successful defensive actions per 90) amongst them once again. The Dutchman may not have led any of the areas we have analysed but he is an ever-present in the upper echelon.
Ryan Christie – The 27-year-old impresses immensely in several areas of our analysis, whilst Celtic’s style of play does limit the number of crosses he makes and the data suggesting that his only weak point is his dribbling. His xA per 90 of 0.38 is well clear of all other players in this analysis. Not only being a stand-out in xA, his xG and shots per 90 were bettered by no other player. His solid defensive statistics only strengthen his position as the stand-out player of this analysis. An integral cog of Neil Lennon’s relentless machine, the data behind Christie indicate he is one of the best wingers in the Scottish Premiership.
Sheyi Ojo – The Liverpool loanee has had an up and down 2019/20. There is no doubting his ability but perhaps his consistency has let him down a little. His statistics this season read one goal and three assists. However, the data strongly suggests that Ojo has been unlucky in some respects. He placed fourth for shots per 90 (2.82) and his xG suggests that the chances Ojo was in have a low chance of resulting in a goal. With an xG of 0.2 per 90, he sits 0.23 off Christie’s xG. Ojo’s ability shone through when we analysed dribbling. He attempts 8.23 dribbles per 90, and his dribble success of 67.39% is only bettered by Gardyne, who attempts nearly half as many dribbles. The data also suggests that Ojo is a creative influence. Whilst Celtic duo Christie – xA – and Forrest – key passes – exceed Ojo in alternating areas his stats (0.24 xA per 90, 0.81 key passes per 90) are still mightily impressive.
Sherwin Seedorf – A distant relative of the great Clarence, the flair clearly runs in the family genes. Seedorf surprised me with how consistently he was among the top 10 players. Only Christie makes more shots per 90 than Seedorf, and the difference is minimal (0.03 difference). The Dutchman cropped up again as the player to attempt the second most dribbles per 90 (9.43). The only area that the data suggests Seedorf may struggle in is his creativity, as he ranks in the bottom 10 for both xA per 90 and key passes per 90. To finish, Seedorf posts good defensive numbers and was firmly in the top 10 for interceptions (padj) and successful defensive actions per 90.
The Scottish Premiership is packed full of talented wingers and in this data analysis, we have identified three players of interest. Ryan Christie is a clear stand-out, although an aspect of his dominance may be in turn due to Celtic’s dominance. Sherwin Seedorf and Sheyi Ojo both fly the flag for the younger generation, although both players have aspects of their game that need improvements.
Looking ahead, I will be writing a scout report on Sherwin Seedorf, as I believe he is a name not many of us will have heard too much about and if he ends up being anywhere near as good as Clarence, Motherwell have a real promising talent on their hands.