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Villarreal strongly linked with Amine Harit... again

Fabrizio Romano announced that Unai Emery’s side is interested.

FC Schalke 04 v TSG Hoffenheim - Bundesliga Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Well, I accidently said a false thing yesterday. I had said that we would get this review of Amine Harit up later on in the day yesterday, and then I ended up in the hospital for most of the day and football took a back seat for a bit (I’m fine, just gotta follow up with a specialist in a couple of weeks).

So ‘here we go’, here’s what you need to know about the attacker we are interested in.

The strength of the rumor

Fabrizio Romano, who is the Adrian Wojnarowski of footy transfers (sorry for non NBA fans, that’s a basketball reference), announced that Harit is one ‘main targets’ on Unai Emey’s list this summer.

When you combine that with the fact that the club was frantically trying to secure a move for the player at the January transfer deadline, this is about as strong a rumor link as you get in silly season. From my vantage point, if this move happens it kills the notion of a Paco for Guedes swap- though I think Bordalas getting hired at Valencia probably did that anyway (Bordalas presses maniacally, Paco doesn’t).

The player

So who is Amine Harit, and is he any good? Well, he spent last season on an absolutely doomed Schalke team that finished dead last in the Bundesliga with only 16 points. They only scored 25 goals in 34 games and conceded 86. To put this into perspective, a team of Schalke’s historic relevance finishing dead last, 17 points behind even making the relegation playoff in Germany, would probably be something akin to Atletico Madrid or Athletic Club getting relegated in La Liga. Only Bayern and Dortmund have more major honours.

One of the few bright spots in their season was the play of 23 year old (soon to be 24) Amine Harit. Harit finished with 2 goals and 5 assists in the Bundesliga this year, meaning he was involved in 28% of his teams league goals. He did this while only starting 25 of the 34 matches, (came off the bench for three, missed six- two of those missed matches he had COVID).

The year before on a better but still not great Schalke team he had six goals and four assists in 24 starts, missing several matches to an MCL tear.

The advanced stats

Anyone who has read the blog for any amount of time knows I’m hung up on advanced football stats, so if you got what you needed to know above, okay fine, but I’m going to break down style of play here.

It’s hard to evaluate an attacker when his team is SO very bad. You have to contextualize all his numbers with the idea that ‘even Gerard Moreno wouldn’t have a ton of goals and assists on this team’. One thing that is interesting to me, though, is that while he has hit his expected assists (xA) to assists almost dead on the money the last two seasons (a 0.1 difference both years), he has overperformed his expected goals (xG) fairly consistently both years as well.

If a player exceeds their xG one season, I tend to expect him to revert to the mean the next year. If he starts exceeding his xG multiple seasons, I start to see it as a sign of good finishing. To use extreme examples, Lionel Messi has exceeded his xG by at least six goals every season that we have data available. On the other end of the spectrum, Sandro Ramirez exceeded his xG by 7 goals his last year at Malaga and did not exceed his xG again until this past season. Looking at Harit’s still somewhat limited sample size, his work reads ‘good finisher’ to me so far because he overperformed his xG two seasons consecutively.

When I looked at his minutes this past season broken down by position, he actually played more Bundesliga minutes in central midfield than he did anywhere else. His ball retention was above average but a lot of his other metrics there weren’t outstanding. I think he played centrally because Schalke had no other options, not because it’s his best position. The same can be said, I think, for the 350 minutes or so he played as a central forward this year.

His numbers looked much better out on the left, especially when he was playing in a slightly deeper left midfield role, and even when was technically playing centrally he favored that left hand side in his positioning.

He completed just a shade under 30% of his pressure attempts this season and attempted about 15 a match which I think will bode well for his play in Unai Emery’s system. It’s not nearly as much as team leading Yeremi Pino’s 24 per match, but it’s more active pressing than we saw from Moi, Samu, Paco, or Gerard last season so I think he’ll fit in well with Emery’s team shape concepts.

A good buy?

I’ll need to see what the cost ends up being on this deal but I think the circumstances play in our favor. Schalke can’t offer Harit top flight football next year and at his age he really can’t afford to waste a season playing in 2.Bundesliga. Transfermarkt has him valued at around 12 milllion euros and if we could get him for around 10 I think we would have done very well for ourselves. I’m not certain he would start here right away but he’s a good young depth player as we try to challenge in three competitions next season. Overall, I’m very positive on the prospect of this deal.