Losing Leiva: Using Statistical Science to find a Serie A Alternative.

At 33 years old, Lucas Leiva has become an integral part of Simone Inzaghi’s jigsaw at Lazio. The Brazilian who operates as a defensive midfielder still has two years left on his contract with the Biancocelesti, however now could be the time to integrate his replacement into the side. In this article I have used statistical science to analyse players who are currently in Serie A to see if they would be worth investing in to replace the Brazilian. This is the third and final article in my Lazio trilogy following on from the other posts Superseding Senad and Replacing Radu.

Radar from Organized Chaos

Leiva and Lazio

Lucas Leiva has secured 85 appearances in Serie A for the Biancocelesti since his move from the Premier League for a fee of £5.1 million, moving from Liverpool. During this period the Brazilian has been a key member in the Lazio side, winning over the fans with his competitiveness and discipline in playing in a role which often goes without plaudits and accolades.

ROME, ITALY – MAY 15: Lucas Leiva of SS Lazio celebrates victory after the TIM Cup Final match between Atalanta BC and SS Lazio at Stadio Olimpico on May 15, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

Lucas has secured three trophies during his spell with Lazio, lifting the Italian Cup (2018/19) and the Italian Super Cup on two occasions 2017/18 and 2019/20.

Lucas Leiva protects the Lazio defensive line operating as a defensive midfielder in Simone Inzaghi’s favoured 3-5-2 formation. The experienced Brazilian shields the back three and also provides a solid platform for the more technical players can thrive on.

During his short time at the club Lucas has seen Lazio bring in younger midfielders potentially with the view to replacing him. However with the Brazilian averaging over 2,100 Serie A minutes over the last three seasons, his valuable experience and game management has proven essential.

  • 2018/19 Valon Berisha £9m RB Salzburg
  • 2018/19 Milan Badelj Free Transfer Fiorentina
  • 2018/19 Danilo Cataldi End of loan
  • 2019/20 Patryk Dziczek £1.8m Piast Gliwice
  • 2019/20 Fabio Maistro £270k Rieti

Data

I have gathered data from whoscored.com which I have used to carry out the below analysis (created in scatterplot) to compare players who have played over nine appearances in Serie A. I have selected areas of the game which I feel are key for a player operating as a defensive midfielder and have only highlighted players who have achieved higher figures than the man who we are looking to replace.

Defensive Contribution – Tackles

The main job of the defensive midfielder is to break up the oppositions play. To be successful in this role individuals will need the ability to read the game as well as be good in the tackle.

As you can see from the above DataViz Lucas Leiva is fourth in relation to the amount of attempted tackles per game at 5.4 per 90 minutes. However when taking into his success rate which is 57%, the total number of tackles made is 3.1 per 90. A figure which is only beaten by two players Allan (3.7) of Napoli and Gastón Brugman (3.6) of Parma.

Dimitri Bisoli of Brescia should also be applauded for having the highest tackle success percentage for all central midfielders in Serie A, a figure which stands at 77% and out performers the closest individual Rômulo by 8%.

Daniele Baselli is a player worth noting, the Italian attempting 4.9 tackles per 90 and successful on 61% of those occasions, equating to 3 successful tackles per 90. He has been a real presence in the Torino midfield and is averaging a 6.86 performance rating which is higher than Allan (6.85), Gastón Brugman (6.69) and Dimitri Bisoli (6.73).

Midfield Contribution – Interceptions & Fouls

Positioning and the ability to read the game is essential when operating in the defensive midfield role, I have used interceptions per 90 to highlight this ability as I feel interceptions are often secured where individuals are occupying a space where a pass is likely to be played, highlighting awareness of the game.

The other variable I have opted to collect is fouls committed per 90, the professional foul is becoming increasingly prominent in the modern game and is often carried out by the defensive midfielder.

Studying the above data Leiva completes the third highest interceptions in Serie A with 2.4 per game. This figure is only beaten by Amadou Diawara (2.5) and Milan Badelj (2.5). The Brazilian also accumulates 2.3 fouls per game.

Hernani of Parma could be considered a credible alternative in relation to the above data, with the likes of Diawara, Bentancur, Bennacer all holding a significant market value. The Brazilian has a market value of £3.6 million and is currently on a season long loan from Zenit St. Petersburg.

Attacking Contribution – Passes into final third

As stated earlier Lucas Leiva doesn’t just act as a shield to Lazio’s back three, he also provides a solid platform for the more advanced players to build on, this is highlighted in the Brazilian’s high number pass completion. This figure sits in the high eighties which emphasises his ability to keep the ball moving, helping to either play out through an oppositions press or simply move the ball to create space for one of the Biancocelesti’s more technical players.

Lucas also contributes to 4.97 passes in the final third per 90, a trait which you would expect to see higher figures for the more advanced midfielder such as Piotr Zieliński of Napoli who leads the way with 8.95 per 90 minutes.

The first player who I have identified of interest is Francesco Magnanelli of Sasuollo. The Italian has a pass completion figure of 88.7%, which is not surprising seeing as his side under Roberto De Zerbi has the third best possession and pass completion in Serie A. Magnanelli also boasts 6.4 passes in the final third which is above the line of best fit and could be associated with Sasuollo’s high possession figure allowing him to play in a more advanced position.

The second player is Andrea Poli of Bologna, the thirty year old midfielder has completed 89.1% of his passes in the league and is averaging 5.4 passes in the final third per 90. The Italian is outperforming Leiva statistically in both data sets, his contract expires in 2021, making him a viable choice.

Attacking Contribution – Long Balls

Defensive midfielders are not usually credited for their ability to pick out a long pass, this is usually a trait which operates in the Regista role. Leiva despite operating as a defensive midfielder has a high long pass success rate which is at 70%, making him complete 3.3 long balls per game.

Taking into consideration the current Lazio midfield, Leiva’s replacement would be likely to partner Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, both of whom are allowed more creative freedom in the attacking phase. Therefore the ideal replacement for Leiva would be of a similar mould, this leaves just one player of interest.

Jacopo Petriccione of Lecce, the twenty -five year old Italian operates best as a defensive midfielder and has a long ball success rate of 80% which equates to 4.9 per game. The Lecce man also boasts a pass completion rate of 88.9% which is slightly better than Leiva’s of 88.5%, highlighting his ability to complete the vast majority of his passes.

Conclusion

I have concluded that there are two viable replacements within Serie A taking into consideration the above analysis and the context that Igli Tare would not look to spend a significant amount of monies on the replacement considering Danilo Cataldi is expected to sign a new deal with the Biancocelesti immanently.

Daniele Baselli

Daniele Baselli has a market value of £8.5 million, a fee which shouldn’t be an issue for Lazio, especially if Champions League football is awarded to the Biancocelesti for 2020/21.

Baselli has 203 appearances across seven seasons in Serie A, proving his ability to play at this standard and showing that he is used to the tactical element of calcio. Baselli is of a similar mould to Leiva, sporting good numbers in relation to tackles and interceptions per 90.

There are only two years left on his contract at Torino, which could be a good time for them to sell up to maximise their return on investment.

Jacopo Petriccione

Jacopo Petriccione has a market value of £2.7 million and is under contract with Serie A side Lecce until 2023. This season has been Petriccion’s first in the Italian top division and he has been a stand out performer in the heart of their midfield.

I have highlighted Petriccione as a potential replacement as the midfielder would provide something different to the Lazio midfield. The Italian operates in a slightly different role to Lucas for the Giallorossi, Fabio Liverani playing him in the Regista role.

Jacopo has completed a significant amount of long balls this season, he also boasts a high pass completion percentage 88.9%, taking into consideration this is his first season at the top level and his age (25) one would only presume that Petriccione could develop into a midfield maestro over the next few years.

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