The hunt for the new Morelos

Published by HeartAndHand on

Alfredo Morelos has been leaving Rangers for the last 4 transfer windows, ever since the January 2018 Chinese bid fiasco. Where and when he will go has been a hot topic of debate but the general acknowledgement is that finally, this summer will be the window he moves on from Rangers. The Colombian has been in sensational form so far this season with 28 goals from 35 appearances, including 14 goals in 14 European games – a new record.

When Ally McCoist left Rangers in 1998 he was replaced by Rod Wallace, a much more mobile striker playing in a completely different tactical set up. Rangers played some of the most attractive attacking football in recent memory during the treble winning 2002/03 without playing a recognised striker. De Boer, Lovenkrands, Caniggia, Arveladze & Barry Ferguson all chipped in at vital moments as and when required. Next came Dado Prso, a different kind of player again playing in a different set up closely followed by Kris Boyd – the most natural comparison to Ally McCoist but completely different to Prso.

Different players with different playing styles necessitate a different tactical approach. Nikica Jelavic was different again – a Rolls Royce of a player capable of doing it all on the pitch.

The one thing that defines a truly great Rangers striker is how many goals they score. There’s no getting away from it, that’s what we value above all else from the Rangers No 9.

That brings us to the incumbent, Alfredo Morelos. Morelos is the undisputed star of the current Rangers tactical set up, his all action displays as a focal point in our 4-3-2-1 formation whilst retaining the ability to drift wide, link play and create chaos makes even attempting to replace him a huge – and possibly expensive – task.

But it is a task that Rangers will have to undertake sooner rather than later. Sporting Director Ross Wilson, will have a 6/12/24 month recruitment plan in place and high on that agenda will be a new striker.

Added to that, there is a very real possibility that Morelos & Jermaine Defoe could move on in the summer, so whilst a striker is not urgently required in the January transfer window, it will be high on the summer agenda.

But do we need to replace like for like?

To the naked eye, Morelos & Defoe are very different strikers. Each has that burning desire to score goals but most would say that’s where the similarities begin and end.

In 2363 minutes for Rangers this season, Morelos has plundered 28 goals from an xG of 21.08. Defoe has played 1118 minutes and scored 14 from an xG of 9.11.

If we break that down into Goals per 90 (which removes the bias of Morelos having played over double the minutes Defoe has) we see that Morelos scores 1.07 goals per 90 from an xG per 90 of 0.80 and Jermain Defoe just manages to beat that with 1.13 p90 from an xG per 90 of 0.73. There are other factors here such as level of opposition but it’s a nice easy metric for balance.

So, they both score at a terrifically high yet consistently rate based on their time spent on the pitch. When you start to dig into the underlying numbers a little more you start to see just how effective both players are.

Morelos has 0.23 Assists per 90 mins from an xA of 0.13. Defoe has 0 assists per 90 mins from an xA of 0.10. Key Passes – the pass which leads to a shot on target – shows that Morelos makes 0.53 Key Passes per 90 whereas Defoe leads the way here with 0.89 Key Passes per 90 minutes. This suggests that Defoe having 0 assists is an anomaly as his work in the build up is very good.

The elephant in the room with Jermain Defoe is his age. He is expected to sign on again in the summer for a 12 month deal yet he will be 38 years old in October. He will be a key figure to have around the team, but Rangers will want to replace Morelos in the starting line up with another striker of a similar quality and age profile.

So how do we find one?

I’ve analysed data taken from Wyscout using the following search parameters:

  • League – players who have played Europa League this season and/or players who currently play in Scandinavia or the Balkans. This ensures a realistic pool of players who will have a decent level of experience and should provide some value for money.target Rangers markets/high value low cost.
  • Minutes – 1000 minutes played
  • Age – Under the age of 24
  • Goals – Scored 10 or more goals so far this season

These parameters threw up a sizeable list of players – too big to analyse one by one. There are a number of key metrics which can give you a lower level view of the best performing players in your search parameter.

For a striker, the primary factor is obviously goals. We can compare actual goal output (Goals per 90) versus expected goals (xG per 90) output to see if there are any outliers. The players who are nearest to the top right of the graph have the highest output on both metrics.

No surprise, but number one on the list is Alfredo Morelos. I’ve included him in this as a way of comparison with the other players but digging into the detail like this, it really becomes obvious just how well he has been performing this season.

The next best performer is AC Wolfsberger forward Shon WeissmanPedro Mendes from Sporting club de Portugal pops out too, as do three players we will immediately discount. Odsonne Eduoard (for obvious reasons), Aberdeen forward Sam Cosgrove and Umar Sadiq. I’m not sure I need to elaborate on these any further!

The third player who is intriguing here is LASK Linz’s Austrian centre forward Marko Raguz. He has exactly the same xG per 90 as goals per 90 (0.56) which suggests he’s quite clinical in front of goal.

Goals are one thing, but they do not tell the full story – hence why we wouldn’t look to replace Alfredo Morelos with Sam Cosgrove.

Another key measure for strikers is number of shots per game (shots per 90) and the efficiency of the striker (% of shots which hit the target)

As with the first graph, you want to be as close to the top right as possible. Once again, a certain Colombian is out in front (maybe we should just keep him and I could shut up here? Don’t answer that)

Weissman pops up again here with 3 shots on target per 90 which is the lower end of good but he also has the highest shots on target % of all players in this list. When Weissman hits the target he scores 51% of the time (24 goals from just 47 shots on target). Morelos, by comparison, is less efficient with his finishing, he has 28 goals from 76 shots on target a scoring rate of 37%.

Odsonne Eduoard again features highly here as does new Celtic signing Patryk Klimala with 3.07 shots per 90 and 54.9% shots on target.

The two players of interest here are Florinel Coman from FC Steaua Bucharesti, Robert Bozenik who currently plays for MSK Zilina in Slovakia. Not outstanding numbers in both metrics but high enough to warrant some further analysis.

Stats are a great tool to filter out low performers but to get a real feel for a player they need to pass the eye test. I spent some time trawling through Wyscout video for the high performing players and arrived at a list of 5 players.

Alfredo Morelos

By way of comparison, I’ve listed Alfredo Morelo’s stats this season across 8 key metrics for a forward playing in Rangers current tactical set up.

No major surprises for anyone who watches him regularly. Averaging 1 goal per game, over 5 shots per game, a high number of dribbles and  7.4 of touches in the box per game. A huge threat both in the penalty box and in Rangers build up play, Morelos’ ability to drift into channels and drag defenders with him creates so much space for the other attackers. This correlates pretty well with the eye test.

Shon Weissmann – AC Wolfsberger

First up is 23 year old Israeli striker Shon Weissmann. After Erling Braut Hauland’s move to Dortmund, Weissman now the hottest goalscorer in the Austrian Bundesliga this season. 17 goals in 17 league games for AC Wolfsberger, he also has Europa League experience this season starting every game of their group stage campaign. Wolfsberger finished bottom of their group and Weissmann only managed one goal but it was an excellent diving header after a very clever run across the box.     

That’s a big feature of his game but from watching him closely, he’s less involved in build up play than Morelos is currently (who isn’t?!) despite posting similar numbers for expected assists – 0.13 per 90. His movement inside the box is one of his biggest assets, coupled with his lethal finishing mentioned above.

He’s right footed, and his average position heat map suggests that like Morelos, he likes to drop into that right side channel to create spaces for others to exploit.

Weissman has only recently been capped by Israel so a work permit for Scotland may be an issue, but it would certainly be more than worth asking the question.

Florinel Coman  – FC Steaua Bucuresti

Long term Heart & Hand listeners will of course hear the words Steaua Bucharest and immediately think Gigi Becali – still there, still the owner, still a unique character – but a name that won’t be as familiar will be 21 year old Romanian forward Florinel Coman.

Coman is an explosive right footed forward who plays predominantly on the left of the Steaua attack. He has progressed steadily since signing from Viitorul for 2m euros in 2017, scoring 12 goals and 5 assists last season for FSCB in 2560 minutes which is very encouraging for a then 20 year old. That combined total of 17 goals & assists has already been equalled this season (11 goals & 6 assists) in just 2292 minutes which shows significant year on year progression.

FC Steaua Bucuresti tend to favour a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 and Coman primarily plays on the left of this. He has played as the focal point at times this season, but left side of the Rangers front 3 seems an obvious fit due to his dribbling ability. Obviously this is Ryan Kent territory, but as discussed above an option could be to tweak the front 3 into a more fluid interchangeable trio that have licence to roam and find space all across the attacking third.

With an xG per 90 of 0.37, Coman has a very keen eye for goal for someone so young and would provide an additional cutting edge to the Rangers front 3. He certainly has more of a goal threat than Ryan Kent, for example who currently has 0.13 xG per 90. The two together as a pair behind a striker – or as part of a front 3 – could be an intriguing prospect.

Coman is at his best when he is able to pick the ball up from deep, commit defenders and finish across the keeper. Like Kent, he is a very proficient dribbler as mentioned above with over 8 dribbles per 90 minutes. He completes nearly 65% of them, too. Ryan Kent – Rangers best dribbler attempts 8.25 dribbles per 90 with a 51% success ratio.

Transfrmarkt has Coman’s value at 5m Euros making him the highest valued of the players listed here but at best their valuations are a guess. Coman would be pricey and there may be bigger clubs at play than Rangers, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.

Pedro Mendes – Sporting CP

Unfortunately no, not that one (and not his son either). 20 year old Pedro Mendes is a product of the Sporting Lisbon academy and features on this list primarily because he has scored 14 league goals already this season. The issue once you drill down into the data, is that all of these goals have been for Sporting U23’s. Weirdly, he has featured 4 times in the Europa League group stages for Sporting this season, including scoring an outstanding debut goal in their 3-2 loss to PSV.

After doing some more digging, it seems that Sporting were too late to register Mendes for their domestic squad and as such, he had to play U23 football for the first half of the year. Their first match back after the break was last weekend – a 3-1 win away at Vitoria Setubal – and yep, you guessed it Mendes featured from the bench.

A powerfully built traditional number 9, Mendes would certainly add a physical dimension to the Rangers forward line. He scores a number of goals from outside the penalty area and is certainly very clinical on his right foot.

His lack of mobilty may be an issue and 0 assists for the season from an xA of 0.050 tells it’s story about how involved outside of goal scoring. Mendes may be one that would not suit Rangers current style of play.

There are also a number of factors at play here. Mendes has scored 15 goals this season but all bar 1 is at u23 level. He is largely untested at senior level and may still even be out of our price range given the league he plays in and Sporting’s successful history of developing young players. They do have well documented financial struggles at the moment so it may not be completely outlandish.

Marko Raguž – LASK Linz

Another player from the Austrian Bundesliga makes it into the list. The 21 year old Austrian of Croatian descent currently plays for LASK Linz who are second in the league, desperately hanging onto Red Bull Salzburg’s coat tails.

With 6 appearances in this seasons Europa League resulting in 2 goals (including one against Pedro Mendes’ Sporting club de Portugal) and regular starts for Austria’s u21 team, Raguz is certainly gaining a good level of experience.

As mentioned above, his goalscoring vs expected goals is a positive sign but he’s not particularly creative currently, with only 0.39 key passes and 1.95 dribbles so these numbers would need to improve.

Róbert Boženík – MSK Zilina

MSK Zilinia are a club with a recent track record of developing young players and Bozenik is another big prospect. Feyenoord & Brentford – one of the best recruiters in the UK – have been registered with an interest for a while and could be ready to make a move in this window for Bozenik.  He made his Slovakia debut in September and has bagged 4 goals in his first 8 international appearances so you would expect that interest to ramp up

Despite being the youngest player on the list at 20 years old, Bozenik is already 6”2. He hasn’t exactly been prolific this season but his goal output doesn’t match his xG or his shot volume. Once  he learns to be more clinical, the goals will come.

 He finished last season with 13 league goals so whilst there is a drop off on the key metric, his underlying numbers are increasing year on year. He has a decent turn of pace for someone his size, but is less involved in the build up than say a Morelos or Coman. With 4.72 touches in the box per 90 minutes and 3.75 shots per 90 however, he certainly provides an attacking threat in the penalty area.

 Conclusion – who to pick?

The main conclusion I take from this is that it will be near on impossible to replace Morelos like for like. From the parameters I used – Europa League appearances this season plus players playing in the Balkan & Scandinavian leagues – Morelos is far and away the highest performing player this season.

For me, there are two stand outs which would warrant closer inspection and they are both very different players – and also very different to Alfredo Morelos. Shon Weissman is the closest to Morelos in terms of pure goalscoring and also delivers some promising numbers for touches in the box & key passes for someone so clinical. From watching him play, he is also one of the more mobile forwards on the list – indicating that he should have no problems dealing with the requirement to press from the front – a key part of Rangers tactical set up.

Florinel Coman would be my second choice provided he’s not already out of our league financially. As mentioned, this may necessitate a tactical tweak to the front 3 but with an already more than acceptable goals & assist output coupled with searing pace & impressive dribbling skills, he looks a real talent and one that should go on to have a very successful career.


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