I’m sure there’s some hardcore English football fan sitting in a pub somewhere swearing that the Championship is a top five league on earth. As someone who personally follows Bristol City on a weekly basis... it’s just not. So, as Villarreal sign Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld (I include his last name because you need it to look him up on fbref), the question is: How do 15 goals and 7 assists in the Championship translate to La Liga numbers?
I’ve personally got a stack of analytics based football sites that I like to go visit (to the three of you who just eyerolled, you stop that!) but there’s one in particular that is perfect for this job. Smarterscout.com allows you to set a ‘benchmark league’ which lets his algorithm rate how well a player does certain things compared to the level of another league. It won’t give you anything as clear as ‘15 goals in the championship equals 6 in La Liga’ but it does grade player skills.
Naturally, La Liga is my benchmark league in my settings on the site. That means that every single player I look at gets graded by the quality that exists in La Liga, the best league in the world. One of the other things I like about this site is that it rates players in certain areas out of 100, and also that it divides their performances by position. So, if you’ve made it this far without saying ‘oh, Zach’s doing another stupid stats article’ then know that Danjuma dropped 389 minutes as a central striker last season, and that on a short sample size actually looked pretty good! That’s relevant for us as a team that plays a lot of two striker sets while currently only having three true strikers on the roster. Don’t surprised if at some point this season you see a front two with Danjuma involved.
His main position though, is of course as a left wing. 1943 minutes there last season. Every football person (whether they track stats or not) has certain traits they particularly value, and for me the number one overall trait is ball retention. If a player constantly gives the ball away I just can’t stand it and I want him off the pitch as soon as possible. This is part of why I like Vincente Iborra so much, because he plays the DM role in a way that he’s just not going to give the ball away no matter what else he has to do.
For Danjuma’s part, his ball retention numbers at a La Liga level are actually pretty good for someone who dribbles so much. He gets a 63/100, and coincidentally that’s exactly what Samu Chukwueze had last season from the right midfield slot. Yes, Samu gives the ball away a good bit but he’s a good enough dribbler and shot creator that the tradeoff is worth it, and I expect similar from Danjuma.
From a defensive standpoint, I’ll probably make you nervous, here. Per smarterscout’s metrics, Danjuma is equally as active as Samu is on the defensive end, but he’s less effective as a defender by a decently wide margin (Samu gets a 63/100 for defending quality, Danjuma gets a 44). Part of this is probably explained by his role in Bournemouth’s setup, where he was the central cog of their whole offense and probably not asked to defend all that much (he was involved in 63% of Bournemouth’s team xG while on the pitch last year). In an Unai Emery system, that will have to change. We saw Samu struggle to get minutes for much of last year until he learned how to work within Emery’s team shape. Don’t be surprised if you see a similar bedding in period for Danjuma.
In terms of how he plays, there’s going to be a tradeoff between Danjuma and Moi Gomez as options on the left (one that I don’t think Emery minds at all). Moi, much like Santi in the role before him, would come inside and help with buildup and possession in central areas, giving the entire formation an asymmetrical feel when someone like Samu was over on the right. Not so with Danjuma. As you can see in the activity map above, he’s going to hug the sideline like a traditional winger which should, in theory, give Parejo and Capoue more room to work as a double pivot.
I think we have ourselves an extremely talented player here. By the end of the season, if he buys into Emery’s system, we should be extremely dangerous on both flanks in attack and overall be much more direct than we were last season. The biggest question marks will be how long it takes him to figure out what Emery expects of him positionally and whether a lineup with both him and Samu on the pitch together is defensively functional. If it is, we could see a Villarreal side that is a lot better than last year’s Europa League Champions.