Wingers can be some of the most interesting players on a football pitch. They can come in a wide variety of moulds from the traditional lightening quick hit the byline and cross-type, to the modern-day inside forwards. Teams throughout history have relied upon their wide men such as, Manchester United’s treble winners with David Beckham and Ryan Giggs all the way to the modern-day with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Liverpool. The A-League is no different, many sides place a focus on the wide areas with players performing a variety of roles.
This analysis will use data from Wyscout to look at the players who have played on the wing and have played over 800 minutes of A-League football in the 2019/20 season. This leaves us with 14 players to look at who play in various roles and systems.
Goal scoring has become an increasingly important part of a winger’s game. As tactics have evolved away from the traditional two-man strike forces, goals must come from around the park. With that in mind, this is the first area I will investigate. The first test compares the player’s goals per90 with their xG (expected goals) per90. This will not only show us who the top goal-scoring winger are, but also show who are the most clinical.
In terms of goals, Adelaide United’s Ben Halloran has been the standout with 0.42 goals per90. This vastly outscores his xG per90 of 0.22. This shows that Halloran is a good finisher and scores from chances which don’t necessarily appear clear cut.
Sydney FC’s Serbian winger Milos Ninkovic is 2nd highest for goals per90 with 0.29. This is in line with his xG per90 of 0.26 which tells us he is a good finisher but not perhaps exceptional.
When it comes to xG, Newcastle Jets Nick Fitzgerald comes out on top with 0.43 per90. However, the Australian’s goals per90 comes in at just 0.09. This tells us that while he gets himself into good positions, he lacks the finishing ability of Halloran or Ninkovic.
While goals are obviously a good indication of how dangerous a player is, their shots can also tell us a lot. The next test will again look at xG per90, this time comparing it to their shots per90. This will allow us to see who is efficient with their shots and who is more wasteful.
At first glance, Fitzgerald is again a standout. He takes an average of 3.51 shots per90 which coupled with his xG shows that he is taking good shots despite not finding the back of the net.
Ninkovic and Halloran both appear efficient taking 1.39 and 2.04 shots per90 respectively. This pair’s xGs are solid showing that they take a decent quality of shots.
Another player who catches the eye is Andrew Nabbout of Melbourne Victory. He takes over 3 shots per90 with an xG of 0.36 per90. While his xG isn’t as good as Fitzgerald it’s still good showing the threat is there. This paired with his goals per90 of 0.36 show him as one of the more dangerous wingers.
While goals have become an increasingly important part of a winger’s game, the expectation to provide for teammates is still as important as ever. This test will look at the player’s passing and how many key passes they make per90. This will highlight those who have an eye for a pass and can unlock defences.
Of those mentioned previously, Ninkovic stands out as making the most passes with 45.96 per90 however, he only 0.52 key passes per90 is below the league average. This shows that he is involved a lot, however, isn’t necessarily the one to make the incisive pass.
Contrasting this, Robbie Kruse makes a below-average 28.18 passes per90 however, a well above average 0.93 key passes per90. This shows that while he may not be as involved in build-up play, he is often the one to make the difference.
Sydney FC’s Alexander Baumjohann also stands out. The former Bundesliga man is impressive on both fronts. He makes 43.48 passes per90 as well as 0.74 key passes per90. These statistics show he is a focal point of Sydney’s side while he also looks to split defences.
While these statistics give a good idea of who looks to make a difference, the next test will investigate who can produce the final ball. This time I’ll look at assists per90 and expected assists (xA) per90. This will show those who may be let down by teammates, or those who are fortunate in their attempts to supply others.
Baumjohann and Kruse once again stand out with above average numbers in both areas. Kruse matches his xA per90 of 0.21 while Baumjohann outperforms his 0.29 xA per90 with 0.34 assists per90.
The most outstanding player is a new name, Wellington Phoenix’s Reno Piscopo. The former Inter Milan youth player provides 0.41 assists per90 which outperforms his xA per90 of 0.28. This tells us he is perhaps fortunate with some of his passes receiving greater reward than they deserve. He does provide 0.81 key passes per90 so it’s clear he does provide a creative spark.
Former EFL winger Craig Noone also shows up well. His 0.27 assists per90 is the 3rd highest and slightly outperforms his xA per90 of 0.24. This shows the Englishman to also be a good creator getting the reward he deserves.
Crossing always has and remains to be a pivotal part of a winger’s game. Due o their position on the park they often receive the ball in wide areas and look to supply crosses to their attackers. This test will compare the player’s crosses per90 against their cross success. This will show those who excel at crossing and those who struggle.
Noone is the most frequent crosses with 6.11 crosses per90 while he also has an above-average success rate of 38.24%. Maintaining this success rate with his high volume of crosses shows this to be a strength in his game.
Kruse, Nabbout and Halloran also make a good number of crosses per90 however, Halloran is the only with an above-average success rate of 33.33%. This shows Halloran to be a good crosser while the other two may make their high volume of crosses thanks to their sides systems. Melbourne Victory make 17.92 crosses per90 which is 4th highest in the league.
Ninkovic is the 2nd most successful crosses completing 50% of his crosses. However, the Serbian only makes 0.7 crosses per90. This shows him to be more selective and look for opportunities to get a quality ball into the box.
The only more successful crosser is Elvis Kamsoba of Melbourne Victory. The Burundian has a success rate of 51.52% however, similarly to Ninkovic, only completes 1.7 crosses per90 which is well below the average of 2.62.
Dribbling is another key part of a winger’s game. They are often tasked with driving the team forward in wide areas. This test will follow the same process as the last, this time comparing dribbles per90 with dribbling success.
Ninkovic is once again very successful despite a small volume of dribbles. He completes 70.97% of his 3.6 dribbles per game again showing that he opts for quality over quantity.
Baumjohann and Halloran also have impressive success rates despite low volume of dribbles. The former completing 65.71% of his 4.72 dribbles per90 while the latter has a success rate of 59.62% from his 3.12 dribbles per90.
Nabbout, Kruse and Noone all have above-average success rates while completing a high volume of dribbles. This shows them to be strong in this area since they can maintain a good success rate. This strengthens their case to be the best in the league as they continue to excel.
A new name to note is Sydney FC’s Anthony Caceres. The former Manchester City man completes over six dribbles per90 with a success rate of 58.9%. These statistics have him in the top bracket for each showing him to be one of the top dribblers in the list.
While the attacking aspects of a winger’s game are very important, their defensive contribution can also be valuable. This test compares the player’s defensive duels per90 with their success rate.
Caceres is again towards the top of the list. He completes 58.16% of his 8.17 duels per90, which is the highest volume amongst the layers. This shows him to be a tenacious player not afraid to get involved defensively.
Noone, Kamsoba and Kruse also find themselves in this bracket of completing a high volume of duels at a strong success rate. Piscopo and Halloran complete a high volume of duels, 6.08 and 6.61 per90 respectively, however, have below-average success rates. This shows that while they try to help defensively it’s an area they could look to improve.
The outstanding defensive winger is Callum McCowatt of Wellington Phoenix. The 21-year-old completes 64.47% of his 6.63 defensive duels per90. These statistics have him well ahead of the pack for success rate while also having a good volume. While he hasn’t impressed in the attacking areas, this contribution could make him useful in a side which prefers to focus on defensive organisation than attacking prowess.
While there are players who have excelled in individual areas, these are the three I have chosen as the most outstanding throughout:
Noone appears towards the top of each test with above-average statistics in every metric tested. The Englishman could easily be considered the single best winger currently playing in the A-League. His 10 goal contributions is also the joint highest in the test. He is capable of playing on both flanks despite being predominantly left footed. When playing on the right he is adept at cutting in onto his stronger foot to deliver in-swinging crosses. Despite being 32 he still has a decent turn of pace which is also a desirable attributre for a whinger.
Halloran is joint with Noone for goal contributions and is above average in most metrics tested. He has been one of the standout players for Adelaide United and has certainly been one of the best wingers in the league. Standing at 180cm the 28-year-old is one of the tallest wingers in the league. Despite not having the typical diminutive winger build he is quick and adept at using this pace.
Kruse stands out in the majority of attacking metrics, most notably crossing and dribbling. He is very much a traditional winger due to this. While his defensive contributions are minimal he compensates with his attacking threat. At 179cm Kruse isn’t as small as many wingers either. He is capable of playing on both flanks or through the centre which adds to his game.
The A-League is clearly a league with plenty of talent in wide areas. Many of these players who have moved down under from Europe towards the end of their careers. This often sees players adapt their game which can see more interesting roles develop. These players still put up impressive statistics despite their advanced years.
While I have selected three standouts there are other players involved in this test who are just as impressive. Honourable mentions should also go to Milos Ninkovic, Alexander Baumjohann and Andrew Nabbout. These players also showed up well in the tests, however, weren’t quite as outstanding as the final trio.