Welcome back to the next part of my series, ‘Searching for Pablo’s Successor’. If this is the first article you’ve read in the series, I’d encourage you to read the introduction to see the premise of what I’m trying to do here.
If you’ve not got time for that, I’m working on the premise that, if Leeds are promoted to the Premier League, they may want to utilise Pablo in midfield for one more season. If that is the case, now is the time to bring somebody in to learn from him, stepping up into his shoes to take the majority of the minutes in the future.
This time we’re in Argentina, the homeland of Marcelo Bielsa, looking at a player who plays in a Bielsa-like team, in Velez Sarsfield.
Lucas Gaston Robertone
Date of birth: 23/06/1995 (24 years old)
Current club: Velez Sarsfield
Career History: Velez Sarsfield
Estimated transfer value according to Transfermarkt: £5.85m
Estimated wages according to Football Manager 20: £5k p/w
Lucas Gaston Robertone appeared on my radar because he showed up as a player statistically similar to Pablo Hernandez according to SmarterScout.
As you can see, their profiles’ match closely for ‘Pass towards Goal’, ‘Receive in Box’ and ‘Shoot’ on the spider graphic, each of which is used to depict style of play. Robertone’s attacking output is not so good but his defending quantity is high which suggests he might be a natural fit in a pressing system. Considering Gabriel Heinze is manager of Velez and he is coaching them with principles closely aligned to Bielsa, this isn’t surprising.
Another thing that stands out here is that Robertone and Hernandez both have very low marks for ‘Ball Retention’. This may look poor but creative midfielders often have low passing accuracy as they attempt difficult passes to unlock defences. These have low completion rates and skew their statistics. It isn’t that they’re bad passers, it’s simply that they’re trying things others aren’t.
Comparing their heat maps, we can see that, although SmarterScout’s algorithms peg the two as similar players in style, there is a clear difference in how they are utilised for their teams. Hernandez favours the inside right position and takes lots of his actions in the opposition third whilst the vast majority of Robertone’s actions take place in central areas in the midfield third.
Looking closely at the colours of the blocks we can also observe a difference in style of play that we haven’t been able to see thus far — namely that Robertone plays a much higher proportion of longer passes, which are shown by the yellow blocks.
When I looked into this a little, I discovered that Velez often use a 3-4-3 formation which has meant there are only two players in central midfield and Robertone has needed to sit deeper. When Hernandez has been in central midfield for Leeds he has always been playing in a three in which he’s invariably the most advanced. This could go some way towards explaining the differences we see here.
Throughout this series, there are a few stats that I’m looking at which I think are central to what Hernandez brings to Leeds. As I’m looking for a player who will closely match him in style, I want to see all the candidates match closely or at least show potential to match closely with the Spaniard in order to consider them Pablo’s ‘successor’.
The first of these is ‘progressive passes’. These are passes which move the player’s team at least 10m closer to the opponent’s goal when made in the attacking half of the field or 30m long when made in the player’s own half.
As I have outlined in the introductory piece, Hernandez stands alone as a midfielder in the Championship for this metric, making far more than any of his peers. However, he also makes the second most passes per 90 of any midfielder in the league (second only to Fulham’s Harry Arter).
Because of this, I wanted to show how he stands out as a progressive passer without the figures being skewed purely by virtue of him making more passes in the first place. As a result, I created this graph which shows passes per 90 vs percentage of total passes which are progressive.
As you can see, Hernandez is an outlier. He vastly outperforms Arter (the only marker further along the x-axis than him) when it comes to progressing the ball.
How does Robertone compare to other midfielders in the Superliga when conducting the same test?
Interestingly, the Argentine ranks below average for passes per 90 and so appears in the side of the graph labelled ‘less involved’. He does, however, progress the ball forwards at an above-average rate. When conducting this same test with the previous candidates I’ve looked at in this series, they have both appeared in the bottom-right quadrant.
It’s also worth noting that Robertone only just missed out on being included in the top right quadrant, as he makes around 2 passes fewer per 90 than the average. This would be highly likely to change if Robertone was in Pablo’s role because Velez average 58.25% possession whilst Leeds average 61.93. He’d likely see more of the ball.
The other stat I’ve been using in each of these articles is ‘expected assists’. These give a better measure of a player’s creativity than actual assists as those rely on the creators’ teammates to finish the chances created in order to be counted.
Hernandez ranks as the second-highest in the Championship for expected assists per 90 with 0.31. Opta define all shots over 0.3 xG as ‘Big Chances’ so Hernandez is effectively creating a Big Chance-worth of value every game.
Robertone doesn’t quite match up to Hernandez. He averages 0.18 xA per 90. However, that figure ranks him fourth for all players under the age of 25 in the Superliga:
His figure of 0.18 xA per 90 is enough to rank him 10th in the league as a whole as well. This is very encouraging and would suggest that he’d have the potential to step up to another level creatively.
He also ranks in the top 20 for through balls attempted, key passes per 90 and foul suffered (suggesting his close control is good to draw fouls).
All in all, Robertone shows up very well statistically and he’s clearly not only one of the best young players in the league but one of the best players in the league full stop.
The Eye Test
Now that we’ve established that he’s posting excellent numbers, it’s very important to use the eye test to see how much he actually plays like Pablo. In order to do this, I watched lots of clips as well as a full match.
The first thing I noticed is that, unlike Oblyakov and Swift, he’s got a very different build to Hernandez. He’s tall and slim: much more in the mould of Mateusz Klich.
In the game I watched, Velez played in their 3-4-3. Robertone spent the majority of the game in the midfield third where he came from deep to score this long-range strike.
His first touch and awareness of his surroundings were excellent. The clip below reminded me of Pablo; Leeds fans have come to expect regular nutmegs from him.
I also observed that he has an excellent ability in long-range passing which would fit well in Leeds’ strategy to overload one flank before switching the play:
As well as reminding me of Klich in physical stature, he also reminded me of him in the way that he played, at least on the ball.
In the example above, Robertone showed good strength and pace to hold off his marker before playing a superb through ball through to Maximilliano Romero.
It’s obviously excellent individual play and I’m not counting this against him but it wasn’t what I expected to see and, in the context of Leeds, I associate carrying the ball through the midfield much more closely with Klich.
Out of possession, Robertone lacked the intensity of Klich and I didn’t feel that he demanded the ball in the way that Hernandez does or how I saw Oblyakov and Swift do.
In fact, in the second half of the game when Velez were 2-0 up, he wasn’t heavily involved in the game. He seemed to be coasting. This might be understandable given the game-state but I’m not sure it would wash in a Bielsa team.
Is he Pablo’s Successor?
Looking at the statistical profile of the Robertone compared to Hernandez, I would have thought that he would be one of the closest matches I might find in this search. However, after watching him play, I think he’s less what I’m looking for here than the previous two players I’ve featured.
He’s clearly a very good player but I wanted to find someone that I felt had very similar attributes to Hernandez and I’m not sure he is that player. I’d like to see a lot more intensity in his game both in and out of possession. I think that’s something he’d probably need to improve on in general if he ever wants to move to European football.
The other thing that I haven’t accounted for here is how easy it would be to sign a player from Argentina who isn’t a full international at this stage. As it happens, he also has an Italian passport so, if a European club does want to sign him, it would be much easier than for most Argentinian youngsters. Whether that would be the case for British clubs with the new points system soon coming into place remains anybody’s guess.
So Robertone isn’t what I’m looking for as Pablo’s successor, but he is a player I’ll be keeping my eye on for the future.
You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.
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