Leicester City’s signing of Rachid Ghezzal came together in a matter of days and surprised many supporters. Ghezzal isn’t exactly a household name for most, so quick research of goal and assist totals was the likely next step for those looking to learn a little about the newest Fox. As Fosse Posse’s Jake Lawson noted, those totals don’t exactly scream “Mahrez replacement,” but Claude Puel seemed to value Ghezzal’s talent from their time together at Lyon, so I decided to do a little more research.
To echo Jake, the film shows something familiar to the Leicester faithful: a left-footed Algerian right winger who is particularly skilled with the ball at his feet. While this may not show in the end-product department, there are a few stats that paint a more promising picture.
To start, we can examine perhaps the weakest part of Ghezzal’s game: his goal-scoring. Over the course of his career he has averaged 0.24 goals per 90 minutes (understat.com). For comparison, Riyad Mahrez - the man he is tasked with replacing - has averaged 0.32 goals per 90 minutes in his career. The gap gets even smaller when using expected goals (xG). Expected goals is “a statistical model that aims to calculate the number of goals a team or, in this case, player would be expected to score based on the quality and quantity of shots taken” (definition via pinnacle.com). Ghezzal has averaged 0.23 xG per 90 which is just about average, while Mahrez has averaged 0.26.
Ghezzal has impressed more as a creator, where his numbers stack up even more favorably. He has averaged 0.31 assists per 90 minutes, while Mahrez has averaged 0.22. Their “expected assists” (xA - the same as xG, but measuring passes instead of shots) numbers, however, are closer with Ghezzal averaging 0.28 xA per 90 and Mahrez averaging 0.26. Ghezzal has even averaged more key passes per 90 with 1.89 to Mahrez’s 1.81.
Perhaps the most jarring numbers of the bunch are those reflecting Ghezzal’s influence on the build-up of play without contributing directly to the end-product. Building off of xG, one can calculate the total xG of every possession a player is involved in - this is called xGChain. Ghezzal’s xGChain per 90 minutes sits at 0.66, while Mahrez’s sits at 0.5. The last notable stat of the bunch is xGBuildup, which is the same as xGChain, but it excludes shots and key passes. This is a good indicator of a player’s involvement outside of the final third. Ghezzal has averaged an xGBuildup per 90 of 0.39 in his career, while Mahrez has averaged 0.18. These numbers not only surpass those of Mahrez, but even match those of Eden Hazard. For reference, Hazard has averaged 0.68 xGChain per 90 and 0.38 xGBuildup per 90.
All of these stats appear to show there is more to the Foxes’ newest recruit than some may believe, but there are some logical arguments to be made to the contrary. For example, Ghezzal has spent much of his career as a substitute, meaning his minutes have often come against tired legs. It is possible that play has run through him more as a result of his fresh legs rather than his ability. One could also argue that the level of competition and the player’s role in the team while on the pitch could skew the numbers. These factors undoubtedly affect the numbers, but to what degree is uncertain.
Ghezzal’s 2015/16 season, however, provides a decent counter to those arguments. During that season Ghezzal started more often than not. Here’s how his numbers compared to Mahrez’s during the title campaign:
Another counter to those points would be to see how his numbers compared to other players who have been used primarily as substitutes. For our purposes, it may be most useful to compare him to the other men he’s poised to compete with for a spot in Leicester’s XI. Let’s start with Fousseni Diabaté (though his is an exceptionally small sample):
Diabaté is a very young player with immense talent, but his contributions in limited minutes haven't matched those of the Algerian winger. As a result, the most meaningful comparison may be between Ghezzal and long-time (yet still uber-young) super sub Demarai Gray:
It’s important to remember that Gray is still just 22-years-old and has yet to reach his prime, while Ghezzal is 26-years-old and already entering his own, as well as the fact that these numbers don’t completely measure a player’s ability; they measure what a player has contributed to his team, and that can be affected by a number of mitigating factors, including those mentioned above. Still, to this point Ghezzal’s numbers seem to indicate that he is currently more fit to contribute than either of City’s younger options.
Is Rachid Ghezzal equipped to fill the void left behind by Mahrez? What do you think?
* All stats courtesy of understat.com