England’s Statistically Strongest XIPosted on: November 17, 2022
Gareth Southgate has confirmed his 26-man England World Cup squad, and talk has quickly turned towards what his best XI looks like – with opinions varying wildly on who should be given a starting spot.
As such, Football analysts at BetVictor want to try to settle the debate once and for all. Removing any bias of club prestige or previous England involvement, analysts selected Southgate’s best line-up impartially by using stats alone. The numbers were run through a supercomputer which has been designed to evaluate and rate players based on a unique algorithm.
Using data scouting methods, every player in the England squad has been rated based on their statistical performance this season, with the top-rated players selected for the XI. Players were sorted by position with performance metrics chosen by experts to be evaluated for comparison. These metrics are specific to positions. The data was then standardised and converted into Z-scores; these Z-scores were combined using a weighted scoring model, which considers the relative importance of each statistic dependent on position. For example, goals per 90 minutes are given greater weight than shots per 90 for strikers.
To select the formation, we constructed two line-ups using a 4-3-3 and 5-2-3, both of which were used by Southgate at previous tournaments. The formation with the highest average player rating was selected.
Goalkeeper – Nick Pope
Jordan Pickford will undoubtedly be Southgate’s first choice, and in his defence, he has never let England down. However, it is Newcastle’s Nick Pope that leads the pack when it comes to statistical performance. Pope has a goals-prevented rate of 1.29 per 90, meaning he is saving Newcastle over a goal per game. Pickford comes extremely close at 1.28, followed by Aaron Ramsdale at 1.04.
Pope also boasts the highest save percentage of the England keepers, with 81.5%, the second-best rate in the Premier League. Again, Pickford comes extremely close with 80.5%. When it comes to commanding the box, Pope measures significantly above his peers, successfully stopping 8.0% of crosses into the box compared to Pickford’s rate of 2.6% and Ramsdale’s 5.4%.
Right-Back – Kieran Trippier
The battle between Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold for right-back is close fought, but the Newcastle and former Atletico Madrid player has the edge. Trippier averages 4.35 shot-creating actions per 90, the highest return from any full-back in the Premier League this season.
Furthermore, Trippier’s 0.25 expected assisted goals (xAG) per 90 is the fourth-best total of any full-back in Europe’s top five leagues with 900mins+ played. However, there are several areas where Trent excels – his 8.27 loose ball recoveries per 90 is the second most by any Premier League defender (900mins+ played), coming second to only the in-form William Saliba.
Left-Back – Luke Shaw
As the only left-back in the squad, Shaw undoubtedly makes the team. However, among England full-backs, Shaw is the statistically weakest player, raising the question of whether Trippier could play left-back as he did against Croatia in Euro 2020 to fit TAA in the team.
However, Luke Shaw is not without his merits. His rate of 71.4% of dribblers tackled this season puts him ahead of Trippier (54.8%) and Trent (52.4%), indicating a superior performance in 1v1 defensive situations and his ability to contain skilful players.
Centre-Back – Ben White & John Stones
Whilst predominantly deployed as a right-back by Mikel Arteta, Ben White often occupies a right centre-back role in a three during play to allow the left-back to take up more advanced positions. His ability on the ball stands out statistically and could help England against a high press and build out from the back. He ranks fourth in the Premier League for progressive passes per 90 (4.69) among defenders with 900mins+ played.
Furthermore, White is averaging the most passes into the final third per 90 (7.81) of any centre-back or full-back in Europe’s top five leagues this season (900mins+ played). A truly impressive statistic and something which will not have gone unnoticed by Southgate.
Like White, John Stones has often played a similar role this season for Pep Guardiola. Equally as accomplished on the ball, Stones has the best pass completion rate (94.2%) of any English player in Europe’s top five leagues with 720mins+ played.
Defensive Midfield – Declan Rice
Declan Rice has established himself as a key man in the England midfield, which is supported by the data. The West Ham player ranks seventh among midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues (900mins+ played) for loose balls recovered with 9.27 per 90, illustrating his alertness and sharp reactions.
Rice also boasts a pass completion rate of 89.1%. The second-best rate of any Premier League midfielder (900mins+ played) after Man City’s Rodri and the best rate of any England midfielder in the squad, helping establish him as the ideal pivot.
Centre Midfield – James Maddison
Coming joint second in the Premier League alongside Bruno Fernandes for key passes (900mins+ played), with only Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium ahead of him is Leicester City player James Maddison, averaging 2.54 key passes per 90 minutes.
A new man in the England setup with only one cap prior, Maddison can offer the England midfield a different threat. He is certainly not afraid of having a shot, coming second only to Harry Kane for shots per 90 among England players with 3.20. Additionally, Maddison is overperforming his xG by +4.4 goals – the second-best rate in the Premier League after Erling Haaland.
Centre Midfield – Jude Bellingham
Surely one of the first names on the team sheet is Borussia Dortmund player Jude Bellingham. He ranks second among Bundesliga midfielders for possession-adjusted tackles plus interceptions with 5.31 per 90 (900mins+ played), with only Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich surpassing him (5.71).
Bellingham also makes the second most possession-adjusted tackles in the attacking third of any Bundesliga player (900mins+ played), after Dominik Szoboszlai (0.90) with 0.77 per 90 mins. His aggression and intensity are further demonstrated by his aerial duel success rate of 62.9%, the best rate of any midfielder in the England team.
Left Wing – Phil Foden
A player who has not yet been able to replicate his club form at the international level is Phil Foden. Still, Southgate will certainly hope Foden can bring his best to the World Cup with the Manchester City player in fine goal-scoring form this season.
Foden ranks second among Premier League players (900mins+ played) for shot-creating actions per 90 with 5.06. He also ranks 13th in Europe’s top five leagues for shot-creating actions among all players with 900mins+ played this season. For non-penalty goals per 90, he ranks 9th across Europe’s top five divisions and second in the Premier League (900mins+ played).
Right Wing – Bukayo Saka
A key man for current league leaders Arsenal, Bukayo Saka has made the fifth most chance-creating carries in the Premier League this season with 21. He ranks consistently well for stats relating to creative output, coming sixth in the league for shot-creating actions per 90 (4.38) and tenth for expected assisted goals per 90 (0.22) among players with 900mins+ played.
For actual assists per 90 minutes, Saka’s rate of 0.46 sees him rank tenth across Europe’s top five leagues (900mins+ played), putting him in a similar bracket to the likes of Neymar, Messi, and Kevin De Bruyne, who all make the top five.
Striker – Harry Kane
England’s talisman Harry Kane is the joint third highest-scoring player in Europe’s top five leagues in terms of domestic league goals. His 12 goals this season match Kylian Mbappe’s total and put him one goal behind Robert Lewandowski (13), with Erling Haaland leading the pack (18).
In terms of goalscoring statistics, Kane is comfortably the top-performing English player. His 0.81 goals (including penalties) per 90 mins put him second in the Premier League for this stat (900mins+ played). He also has the third-highest xG per 90 in the division, with 0.64.
Do you agree this is England’s strongest line-up?
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- Player stats were collected for the 2022-23 season from Europe’s top five domestic leagues: Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and Serie A
- Defensive statistics were possession adjusted
- Some findings are only true among players who meet certain criteria such as domestic league minutes played to improve the accuracy of the data sample, these have been flagged accordingly
- Positional profiles used: central defender, wide defender, deep midfielder, advanced midfielder, wide attacker, and central attacker
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