Names that fit the bill and why Javi Galan pops up repeatedly in search for Leeds United's potential transfer window left-back arrival

Javier Galan is already a household name in Leeds, such is the appetite for transfer news ahead of a busy Elland Road summer.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 4:45 am
GOOD FIT - Javi Galan of recently relegated Huesca is a player whose name pops up repeatedly in a search for a potential new Leeds United left-back. Pic: Getty

The Spanish left-back has been linked heavily with Leeds United, earning him a band of new admirers in West Yorkshire.

It’s with good reason that his name has cropped up, too. He’s likely to depart SD Huesca following relegation from La Liga, there’s a release clause in his contract and he’s a player the Whites like.

It’s not difficult to work out why he occupies a place high up on Victor Orta’s list. An exciting dribbler and a defender who presses the opposition, Galan ticks boxes.

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He’s far from alone in that regard, so The YEP asked football data firm Analytics FC to use their TransferLab platform to identify some others who could fill the vacancy that will exist regardless of whether Gjanni Alioski decides to stay.

Analytics FC’s head of content Jon Mackenzie used Alioski and his profile as a left-back to find some potential candidates through TransferLab and its algorithm, which determines the overall impact a player has for his team through all his actions.

“The base unit in TransferLab is the player profile,” Mackenzie told The YEP.

“Each profile is basically an aggregation of metrics that reflect the sort of player you might be looking for. You can either use the preset profiles – distinguished by position and then style within position – or you can build your own profile.”

Alioski is best represented by TransferLab’s ‘full-back – all round’ profile, in which he scores highly, albeit with a caveat.

“Because TransferLab compares players across its entire database and applies a ‘league tax’ for players outside the top five European leagues, Alioski’s data shows up very strongly,” said Mackenzie.

“If we compare him to Premier League full-backs his percentiles drop considerably.”

Alioski went on something of a journey this season, with dips in form and blips, like Brighton away, that are perhaps to be expected from players playing in the English top flight for the first time, in a newly-promoted side.

Marcelo Bielsa stressed that Alioski was facing difficulties born of Leeds’ organisation, rather than individual weakness and, by the end of the season, few could grumble about the 29-year-old’s contribution, particularly in a run of games against ‘big six’ sides.

A new left-back will have to fulfil the same duties, while bringing any improvement they can muster to help Leeds match or better their ninth-place finish.

“No doubt, Leeds will be looking for a player who can do what Alioski does but with more of a scope to excel in the build-up aspect of the game: retaining possession under pressure and helping to move the ball down the field to develop attacks,” said Mackenzie, who used TransferLab’s similarity search function to find comparable talents.

Galan popped up in the initial search, even before filters for age [26 set as an upper limit], value [£10m cap] and playing time [1,000 minutes minimum] were applied to narrow the field.

“There are players who you could discount immediately – Lucas Hernandez, Mitchell Bakker, James Justin,” said Mackenzie.

“Borna Sosa is another who has been linked but he’s more of a wing-back and perhaps doesn’t fit the left-back profile as well. Hertha Berlin’s Maxi Mittelstadt is someone who always shows up well in the data: 24 years old and with only a couple of seasons on his contract, he would probably represent a gettable target.

“He’s perhaps not as transitional as Leeds might like but his expected assists and crossing more than make up for the quality of his ball carrying.”

TransferLab also allows users to compare players against one another, to help draw up a long list.

“Georgios Kyriakopoulos [Sassuolo] comes out the best for pass accuracy and looks much more promising for carries and passes into the box than Alioski,” said Mackenzie.

“Galan seems like a much more attacking option than Alioski. It’s not clear how good he would be from a possession point of view – his short passing looks questionable – but his transitional qualities are obvious, with decent carries numbers, passess into the box and touches in the final third.

“Obviously, we should caveat that if a player isn’t showing up well in a metric, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are poor in that regard – it could simply reflect what is expected of that player in the team they are in.”

To really hone in on who Leeds might consider, Mackenzie built a profile to suit a Bielsaball left-back, adding some metrics and taking others out of the ‘full-back – all round’ profile.

Out went aerial play and in came the quality of a player’s dribbling, one-touch passing, touches in the box and cut backs.

A 25-strong list was produced, with Sosa now more prominent thanks to his attacking ability, alongside AZ Alkmaar’s Owen Wijndal. Galan popped up again.

“Comparing Galan with Alioski in our new profile is instructive,” said Mackenzie. “Galan’s profile is much more consistent across the board – particularly across the attacking metrics.

“However, when it comes to the passing metrics, Galan looks a little concerning.

“Ayrton Lucas is a player who would fit brilliantly into a Bielsa system, though he is playing for Spartak Moscow and the road from Russia to the Premier League isn’t particularly well-trodden for various reasons.”

When Mackenzie gave extra weight to passing metrics, it brought Romain Perraud into view, a Brest defender Leeds have considered. Top of the list however was another Sassuolo left-back, Rogerio.

“He is more of a transitional player,” said Mackenzie.

“He is a good ball carrier and dribbler and likes to get into the final third. However, his crossing is a little weak and his expected assist numbers might concern the Leeds staff.”

Finally he added an eligibility criteria to comply with EU work permit regulations and added a contract filter, including only players whose contracts expire within two years to rule out the prohibitively priced.

Once more, Galan appeared high up on a list that included Rennes’ Faitout Maouassa, Sevilla’s Guilherme Arana and the reportedly France-bound Kenneth Paal of PEC Zwolle.

Orta, his list compiled some time ago, is already entrenched in the other half of the battle to land one of his top targets, but whether it’s a known name or a complete surprise, the new left-back will undoubtedly fit a recognisable profile.

“This trawl should give a good sense of the sorts of rumours that might be considered sensible,” said Mackenzie.

“Players who have been linked with Leeds who have shown up like Sosa, Wijndal, Perraud, are clearly in the right sort of ball park.

“The recent rumours regarding Galan are also indicative that the Leeds recruitment department will also be following the same sorts of pathways of data scouting that we have, to arrive at a longlist.

“From here, they will probably look to arrive at some sort of consensus between the data analysts and scouting department to present a shortlist to Bielsa.

“Then the tricky work of negotiations begins.”