2022-23:Consider Manchester United’s player role! [From The Athletic’s article]

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Hi I’m Masa United.

On August 10, The Athletic published a very interesting article classifying players into 18 role models. In football, various expressions have been used to define “what kind of player a player is”, but we have developed 18 role models by classifying what each player is good at and what role (mission) they play in the actual game based on data. A focus on “role” rather than “position” may change the way you look at football.

This article will be used as a reference to look at United’s player roll in the 22-23 season. It’s hard to say what method (algorithm) was actually used to classify them, so I’d like you to refer to The Athletic article (lol), but first I’d like to briefly introduce the 18 player roles, and then apply these 18 role models to each United player.

The following items are included.

(1) 18 player roles

The Athletic’s classification first divides the positions into six parts, and then further classifies each of them into ★ three roles. The position is not a so-called “centre-back” or “Defensive MF”, but it is easy to connect with conventional terms such as “central defender” or “deep midfielder”.

Central attackers

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Finisher: Concentrate on getting inside the box and scoring shots. He’s good at having the ball, but he doesn’t get involved much in possession. Ex.:Erling Haaland, Lautaro Martinez, Romelu Lukaku
Target : Participate in team build-up play, especially in the air or while descending and receiving the ball. They’re more likely to be goal-threatening than creative passers and dribblers. Patrik Schick, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Gianluca Scamacca
Roamer: When I’m not heading towards goal, I like to play for my teammates in deep or wide positions. Includes mobile striker, false nine (false nine) and hybrid winger. Harry Kane, Kai Havertz, Richarlison

Wide attackers

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Wide threat: Stretch the back line and enter the penalty area. Sometimes I raise crosses, but I just like to receive the last ball. Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Junior, Mohamed Salah
Unlocker: I prefer to direct attacks in the opposition. Good at crosses, switches and forward-looking passes. Rather than being an off-the-ball runner, he is the type to supply the ball. Mason Mount, Neymar, Lorenzo Pellegrini
Outlet: They react to dangerous passes, but tend to play safely when they have the ball. There are a lot of touches in the midfield or near the goal, and not much in between. Tendency to invite fouls.  Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Joao Felix

Advanced midfielders

Box crasher: I don’t touch the ball much except near the goal. He’s more of an off-the-ball runner than a passer, but he can also make passes inside the box. Tendency to prefer dribbling. Phil Foden, Florian Wirtz, Serge Gnabry
Creator: Aim for line breaks with aggressive passes. In the attacking third, he is often the centerpiece of the team’s play. Bruno Fernandes, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
Orchestrator: Attempts a circular pass in midfield rather than the last ball. He prefers short and high probability passes, and has no qualms about defending.  Bernardo Silva, Jude Bellingham, Nicolo Barella

Deep midfielders

Box to box: Defends from a low position, but can also go up high and receive vertical passes. They don’t get too involved in possession and are often cautious when they have the ball. Fabinho, Wilfred Ndidi, Eduardo Camavinga
Distributor: I prefer longer, more direct paths and switches. I tend to play inside the opposition box more often than in the defensive third. Joshua Kimmich, Fabian Ruiz, Youri Tielemans
Builder: It serves as a starting point for the build-up and as a stopper at the bottom of the midfield.  Declan Rice, Rodri, Aurelien Tchouameni

Wide defenders

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Overlapper: Break into the final third, dribble, and raise crosses. Rather than making a long pass yourself, you prefer to receive a long pass and try again. Includes a lot of wing-backs. Alphonso Davies, Achraf Hakimi, Reece James
Progressor: Attempts not only crosses, but also long balls and forward passes. We will actively possess on both sides. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Joao Cancelo
Safety : With or without the ball, play in a defensive third and don’t take too many risks. This includes hybrid center-backs and elbow backs (*SB variable to CB). Benjamin Pavard, Timothy Castagne, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Central defenders

Aggressor: Likes to tackle and dribble. I’m not very good at long passes and clearing. It includes a lot of outside centre-backs. Alessandro Bastoni, Lucas Hernandez, Ronald Araujo
Spreader: Makes longer, more direct paths. Sometimes I leave my position and go forward in possession or defense. Marquinhos, Eder Militao, Jules Kounde
Anchor: Makes safe passes and defends especially close to the goal, such as clearing or blocking.  Ruben Dias, Matthijs de Ligt, Milan Skriniar

*Quoted from The Atletic

More than 18 models are categorized. The players listed in each example are those who were extracted based on data from the 21-22 season. Which of these role models applies will change as the season and team change. According to The Athletic, “61% of people stay in the same role from season to season, and 46% if they move to another club.”

(2) United player roll

Next, let’s apply the United players to these 18 models (only the main players). However, I personally cannot derive it using data algorithms, so it will be completely subjective (lol). At the same time, I applied the main players of City subjectively. That is the table below.

Central attackersFinisherロナウドハーランド
Wide attackersWide threatラッシュフォード
Advanced midfieldersBox crasherフォーデン
Deep midfieldersBox to boxカゼミーロ
Wide defendersOverlapper
Central defendersAggressorアカンジ

As for United players, some were difficult to classify. For example, Rashford, Elanga, and Garnacho were classified in the same category, but if you look at them in detail, I feel that they do not reflect the differences in personality. Well, I think that the original classification only applies to the algorithm, so there is no hesitation, but if it is a judgment based only on subjectivity, there will be players who say “none of them fit …”

*Click here for the United roster for the 22-23 season!

(3) What can be understood by classifying

What we found when we classified it was that United’s Scud still has some poor balance. You can see that the four roles of Wide Threat , Box to box, Progressor and Anchor overlap players who are good at the same role. On the other hand, the absence of Target, Box crasher, Builder, etc. exposes the lack of centerline options. However, it is not enough to have all 18 roles, so I will explain that part later, but it can be said that compatibility with the style that the director is looking for is more important.

Also among the players who have lost their way into the classification are Dalot and Eriksen. The two are classified as Progressor and Distributor, respectively, but Darot also contains elements of an Overlapper, and Eriksen is a Creator. It is both an orchestrator and a builder. Also, the categorization has been done well, but I think Martinez also includes Aggressor-like and Builder-like elements. And what these three guys have in common is that they’ve performed well this season. I mean, I think these three guys play multiple roles in the game. In addition to the characteristics that you have innately, you are buying up the “role” that you are lacking in the team (although there is also an instruction from the coach). I think that’s why the performances of these three people leave an impression on me.

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On the other hand, we can see the deficiencies in Coach Ten Hague’s tactics and the style of play he is aiming for. For example, the current squad is without Target, but manager Ten Hague is trying to instill a sense of post play in Rashford and Ronaldo, who are at the top. United have a striker as a reinforcement, but in that sense, they are likely to aim to acquire a target type. Also, as mentioned above, there is no builder (builder) that is the key to the build-up. As you know, we have a history of relentlessly seeking Frenkie de Jong on a summer transfer but not getting one. It’s an important role part in Ten Hague’s style, but it can be said that Eriksen and Martinez make up for the Builder’s absence.

In addition, the fact that non-Martinez are the anchor type in the central defender field also affects the way United plays. United had data showing that their backline was the worst in the Premier League this season, but it was clear from the looks of it, especially the low line between Maguire and Lindelof against EL Sociedad. I think that there are also parts of this area that are affected by the imbalance of the roll type. If Ten Hag makes a solid build-up and top players who can get the ball in a high backline a key component of his team’s tactics, he will probably be looking to get someone who can do the role.

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City, on the other hand, are almost complete with a team style that they have built up over the years under Pep. There was almost no trouble with classification, and the role of each player was clear. Only Walker and Gündogan struggled with the classification, but I think it’s because these two players also play multiple roles. Well, I’m not really watching City’s game, so maybe the categorization is wrong… Tell me about it at that time (lol).

👿 Conclusion

How was it? This time, we used the athletic article as a reference to look at United’s player roll. Thinking about what kind of role they play in the game, not just fitting players into positions, is a new way of looking at football now. I think it is. Until now, there have been ways of looking at matches that focused on roles, but since each role did not have a name, I think there were many cases where vague expressions were used that mixed up playing style and role. This attempt at athletics is also innovative in the sense that it verbalizes such vague concepts. In addition, as we did in this article, you can unravel the team’s playing style around the role, and you will also be able to see the parts that are missing as the team’s pieces, so it will be useful for narrowing down the reinforcement target.

As I was at a loss at the time of classification, there is a debate about whether these 18 ways are enough, and there is also a debate about whether there is a difference in the role of the keeper, so it may not be a perfect classification, but it is not just an evaluation of “That player scored and performed well” or “That player was not good because there was a mistake”. In the future, it may become important to evaluate how you were treated to the roles (duties and tasks) you were responsible for.

Thank you for reading until the end!