Passing stats: Which players are having biggest impact on chance creation?

written by – Rangers Report   photo courtesy of – Willie Vass Ltd.

The stats used in this post come from a database of nearly 100 statistics that I’m collecting this season for the SPFL.   Access to updated stats will only be made available to people who contribute a one-time fee of £15.  If you are interested, read more here.  

We’ve all seen the statistic.  Such & such player complete 18 of 22 passes in his last match.  Without context, this doesn’t tell you much as a standalone stat.

Did the passing move the ball up the pitch?  Did the passing drive the ball into the final third or into the penalty area?  Did anything occur after the fact because of his completed pass?

One of my goals this season is to provide context to passing statistics by tying passing to the chances that are ultimately created because of a passing network that led to shooting opportunities.

The goal of this particular post is to share some of the stats that I’ve been collecting to see which players’ passing is having the biggest impact on teams’ attacks (& for fun…taking a stab at identifying players who aren’t really impacting his team’s offensive results at all).

Let’s begin with that passing network leading to shots.  Each week, I track the three passes that directly lead to every shot.  Those are labeled:

Key Passes:  the pass that sets up a shot (basically, a shot assist)

Secondary Shot Assists:  the pass to the player who gets the key pass to set up a shot

Establishing Passes:  the third shot assist.  The pass to the player who gets the Secondary Shot Assist

Each statistical category will be presented in per 90 averages.  Players need to have played at least 200 minutes to be considered

Key Passes

  • The next highest outputs from Rangers players are:  Alfredo Morelos 1.35, Josh Windass 1.34, Kenny Miller 1.18, James Tavernier 1.16, Graham Dorrans 0.83
  • Niko Kranjcar actually has the highest rate for any Rangers player with 3.48 Key Passes per 90 in 155 minutes
  • From a Rangers point of view, note that most of the Key Passes are coming from players who play out in the flanks or from the forwards.  Kranjcar’s contributions are coming from a more central location & there is a huge difference from his passing that sets up shots & any other central midfielder.  Dorrans has four Key Passes in 432 minutes, while Ryan Jack has zero in nearly 400 minutes.  Kranjcar?  Six in 155 minutes.
  • Daniel Candeias ability to create shots has been sensational this season but teams will begin to make it a priority to limit his ability to get balls into the box, which could restrict his impact to set pieces.  Fortunately, he has the support of James Tavernier on the right wing so even if Candeias is stymied….Rangers can still create threats from the right flank.
  • These stats can identify some trends in who are the focal points of team’s offensive attacks.  For example, look at Hibs…nearly everything runs through Anthony Stokes, Simon Murray, & John McGinn (53% of the team’s Key Passes have come from this triangle attack).
  • I noted on Twitter, that when Scott Allan was substituted against Rangers in the first half that Dundee would have real difficulty generating chances against a very good Rangers defense.  Allan has accounted for 27% of his team’s Key Passes, compare that to Candeias (28%), Graeme Shinnie (25%) or Ali Crawford (29%).  Teams are running through these players’ ability to create chances & when someone like Allan is taken off the pitch…the attack becomes directionless.  For example, Ronnie Deacon accounts for 20% of Dundee’s Key Passes, so without Allan on the pitch you can really hone your defensive efforts at keeping the ball away from Deacon.  Beyond Deacon, Sofien Moussa accounts for 15% of Dundee’s Key Passes.  Allan has been criticized for his defensive efforts & his mental preparation to play at Ibrox……but the benefits of what he provides a poor team should not outweigh his apparent liabilities.
Jamie Walker

Secondary Shot Assists

  • Back in 2016, I talked about Secondary Shot Assists & highlighted the value that Arsene Wenger put in the statistic.  Wenger pointed out that players with a lot of Secondary Shot Assists (he called them pre-assists) have a tendency to get the ball out of tight situations to create space for the player who makes the Key Pass leading to a shot.  Now, that’s clearly a generalization…but as the season goes on players with a lot of Secondary Shot Assists are clearly making plays that switches the build-up play from stagnant to potent.
  • Rangers next highest rates were from:  Ryan Jack 0.91, Josh Windass 0.67, Bruno Alves 0.60, Alfredo Morelos 0.57 & Lee Wallace 0.50.
  • In limited minutes, Eduardo Herrera averages 1.72 Secondary Shot Assists per 90, Carlos Pena averages 1.17 & Kranjcar gets 1.16.
  • If you look at these stats in relation to the Key Passes, you can see that the main central midfielders:  Dorrans & Jack are moving the ball to players out of the flanks to create chances.  When Pena plays the trend is the same.  Kranjcar is the outlier here given that he has high rates of Key Passes & Secondary Shot Assists.  His fitness is a real issue & his effectiveness is limited to about an hour…but when Kranjcar is on the pitch the build-up play is more varied.
  • It may surprise many that Jamie Walker leads the league in Secondary Shot Assists per 90 minutes, especially considering how poor Hearts have been this season.  Also note that there are no other Hearts players on this list.  Arnaud Sutchuin-Djoum & Don Cowie have the next best rates on Hearts, averaging 0.60 Secondary Shot Assists per 90.  Part of this is because only 60% of Hearts’ Key Passes had a pass that set it up beforehand.  For context, 78% of Celtic’s Key Passes have a Secondary Shot Assist & 71% of Hibs’ Key Passes include that build-up pass.
  • Dylan McGeouch has barely played more than half of the minutes this season, but when he does play…he’s combining with John McGinn to connect the build-up play that leads to shooting opportunities at a very good rate.
Dylan McGeouch, courtesy of News Group Newspapers Ltd.

Establishing Passes

  • Seriously, the data suggests McGeouch deserves more minutes for Hibs, right?
  • Rangers next highest rates are from Morelos 0.54, Jack 0.45, Alves 0.40 & in limited minutes: Pena 1.17, Kranjcar 0.58 & Herrera 0.57.
  • It’s interesting that Lee Wallace & Josh Windass have two of the five highest rates in the league & both have been playing predominantly on the left wing.  I mentioned a triangular build-up that featured Stokes, Murray & McGinn for Hibs when looking at only Key Passes.  If you combine all three build-up passes, the triangle for Rangers covers the whole width of the pitch from the left (Wallace & Windass) to a central position (Dorrans & Kranjcar) & then out to Candeias on the right.  Again, a generalized pattern but interesting nonetheless.  It’s also surprising to see that Fabio Cardosa is averaging more Establishing Passes than Graham Dorrans or Ryan Jack.  It’s not a huge difference but it’s a real positive to see Cardoso getting involved in the build-up play.
  • Notice there’s no Aberdeen players on this list.  Only 30% of their Key Passes included an Establishing Pass, compared to Celtic (57%) or Rangers (50%).  That’s a sign of a team that is more direct & opportunistic.

Expected Assists (measures the quality of chances that a player creates based on the xG of the shots that they set-up.  Read more here)

  • The next highest rates for Rangers came from Morelos 0.13, Kenny Miller 0.12, Tavernier 0.09 & Dorrans 0.05
  • Daniel Candeias has had an elite impact on Rangers attack this season & his two actual assists don’t really highlight that as much as the fact that he has 15 Key Passes.  Rangers’ finishing has been poor this season (for the most part), which shouldn’t take away from players’ passing abilities to create chances.  Candeias’ Key Passes have an average of 0.20 Expected Assists….which means his passing is setting up quality chances from the heart of the box (on average).  Someone like Kranjcar has an average of 0.10 Expected Assists per Key Pass….so basically half of his Key Passes are creating good chances, while the others may be setting up shots from outside the box.
courtesy of Keith Campbell (The Sun)

xG Chain (Credits each player who had a Key Pass, Secondary Shot Assist, or Establishing Pass as part of the build up to a shot.  The value is based on the xG of the shot created.  Read more here.  This only includes the passes leading up to the shot.  The shooter does not receive credit as part of the xG Chain, given the goal is to credit players for their build up play.)

  • The next best rates for Rangers players include:  Morelos 0.299, Miller 0.295, Alves 0.191, Tavernier 0.161, & Jack 0.124.  Kranjcar averages an xG Chain of 0.545 (again in limited minutes).
  • More validation for Josh Windass’ impact on the team’s attack but also a surprise to see James Tavernier so low.  Does this mean that Candeias’ impact on the right wing has allowed Tavernier to stay back more & be more defensive, or does it mean Tavernier has struggled to have an impact on Rangers’ build-up play?
  • Stefan Scougall may be one of the most underrated players in the league, especially considering he is surrounded by Celtic & Rangers players on this list & is having a bigger impact than top youngsters like Ryan Christie & Chris Cadden.
courtesy of Kenny Ramsay (The Sun)

Using xG Chain to highlight who is NOT having an impact on chance creation

Includes lowest xG Chain of midfielders & forwards who have played at least 200 minutes.

This is only one stat, but should serve as an entry point to further analysis for clubs.  Some players are asked to play more defensive roles (like Ryan Jack who has the lowest rate for a Rangers player), but then again others are expected to be much more active in the build-up play for teams.

Someone like Dougie Imrie is a 34-year old winger who is doing almost nothing in creating plays that lead to shots, or someone like Murray Davidson is expected to drive offensive possession from a central midfield role & it just isn’t happening (of course, he’s also potentially playing through concussion symptoms).

Then there’s a Kyle Lafferty who has the fourth lowest OSCR rating of any forward who has played at least 100 minutes this season.  He’s been among the worst strikers in the league & part of that is the fact that he isn’t connecting play from a forward position (on the opposite end of effectiveness has been Leigh Griffiths, Anthony Stokes, Stevie May, & Alfredo Morelos – the top four forwards in xG Chain per 90).

The bottom line is that only five matches have been played, & this analysis is meant to highlight trends rather than final conclusions.  It’s also an example of if teams aren’t doing this kind of statistical analysis then they may be missing performances that are either helping or hindering their team’s offensive output.



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