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Selling Toko Ekambi would be a mistake

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Whether he likes it or not we need him the rest of the season.

Real Sociedad v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

I want to begin by pointing out that Toko Ekambi’s contract with us runs until 2023, this gives Villarreal all the leverage in any transfer negotiations with any club, whether it be Lyon or anyone else. With no serious transfer links towards a replacement, there is absolutely no reason Villarreal to take seriously the idea of selling him during January.

I want to run through a few items from this season to show Toko E’s contributions to the team. A lot of this will be things you know already but I always find it helpful to have data to flesh out what our eye test is telling us. The stats you’ll see here will come from understat.com. Every website uses slightly different algorithms to calculate things like xG and xA, and while understat’s are fairly simple they also give an easy way to visualize the data all at once.

understat.com

The first thing that jumps out to me here is that Toko Ekambi is underperforming his xG pretty seriously. Out of 7.85 xG total for the season he’s only bagged six goals. That said, last season he basically leveled out on his xG by year’s end so I’m hopeful he will be able to catch back up the second half of the year this season. His per 90 xG number? That’s really really good. Of people with at least 500 minutes in La Liga this season that number is third behind only Alvaro Morata and Karim Benzema and it’s better than this fella in Catalonia named Lionel Messi.

Now, if your take on expected goals is that expectation that doesn’t actually happen does no one any good, I hear you, I do. That said, a forward that can consistently generate shots and get in good chances to score puts pressure on opposing defenses and draws attention that frees up other players. Specifically, Toko Ekambi is able to get this done because he takes really good shots. Here is a chart of all the shots he has attempted this season:

understat.com

Particularly in understat’s algorithm, shots closer to goal get big xG boosts, which is interesting to stat nerds like me but not the most relevant thing ever. In practical application, we have a solid goal poacher on our hands that is also pretty decent in buildup play (see the xGBuildup90 number above, not great but above average, and it measures the xG of possessions he is involved in not counting key passes or shots).

Now, there is a serious question to be asked as to how Toko Ekambi as a player fits in with the rest of the squad. Since he moved to a bench role the team has played much better and I am not making a case for him being the go to starter or anything. What I am suggesting is that as a bench player, he is too valuable to lose before the end of the season. He already has one match winning goal off the bench and I think he could continue to provide that kind of spark as the year goes on. We are three points off of European places, where we deserve to be. I wouldn’t support selling any valuable role players the loss of which could jeopardize us being in a European place at season’s end.

This summer, there’s a brand new wide open discussion to be had on this front, but I think the best thing for the club for now is that he stays.