With the January transfer window just around the corner, we at Football FanCast are running the rule over rumoured targets of the Premier League’s top clubs.
Some, such as seemingly Tottenham-Hotspur-bound West Brom striker Saido Berahino, are already well known to the Premier League audience.
Others, however, remain somewhat shrouded in mystery – names we’ve read in the newspapers and online plenty of times without being given much evidence of their actual ability.
Reported Arsenal and Liverpool target Granit Xhaka firmly falls into that category having often served under the moniker ‘Young Schweinsteiger’, given to him by former Switzerland and Bayern Munich boss Ottmar Hitzfield.
So, what’s all the fuss about, I hear you ask? Well, Football Fancast are hoping to shed some light on the Borussia Monchengladbach star with some assistance from our stats-mad mates at Whoscored.
With that in mind, here’s FIVE key stats every Arsenal and Liverpool fan needs to know about the 23-year-old.
Let’s address the elephant in the room – the comparison with Bastian Schweinsteiger. Granit Xhaka probably isn’t in the same calibre as the former Bayern Munich man was at 23 years of age, but there are some obvious similarities, particularly their shared blend of robustness, defensive contribution and technical skill – especially in terms of ball retention – in deep-lying midfield positions.
But does the Schweinsteiger comparison hold up under the light of statistical analysis? Well, judge for yourself with our graphic above. As you can see, there are a few differences – but the German World Cup winner’s statistics from his final campaign at the Allianz Arena and Xhaka’s from the current season are noticeably similar in some aspects.
Neither are prolific contributors going forward, but both control the flow of possession well and help protect their back four.
As already alluded to, Xhaka’s greatest strength as a football is his passing ability in deep midfield positions. Only Xabi Alonso and Ilkay Gundogan have averaged more passes per match than him in the Bundesliga this season, as shown above, which says much in itself considering Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are essentially in a league of their own at the moment, with a six-point gap between second and third place.
Likewise, and perhaps even more impressively, he’s averaged the most successful long passes per match of any midfielder in the Champions League this term – as shown below – but more on that later.
Despite rumoured interest from Arsenal and Liverpool, the stats suggest the Switzerland international was actually enjoying better form last season, both in the Bundesliga and the Europa League, as you can see above.
So why are the Premier League’s top clubs suddenly so keen on the midfielder now as oppose to last summer? Well, there’s a few reasons.
First of all, goals get attention and Xhaka is honing in on his best return to date, netting three times already this year. Secondly, the 23-year-old signed a new contract until 2019 in February, which essentially ruled him out of a summer move.
But thirdly and perhaps most importantly, there has been an obvious progression to Xhaka’s game since joining the Borussia Monchengladbach ranks in summer 2012 – as shown below – and the fact he’s almost maintained his form from last term is evidence enough that he will likely sustain it for a longer period.
Another significant factor behind Arsenal and Liverpool’s recent interest is Xhaka’s impressive form in the Champions League this season.
Despite Borussia Monchengladbach crashing out in the Group Stages with just one win to their name, the 23-year-old’s displays particularly stood out. As you can see above, he was statistically the German outfit’s joint-best player in the European tournament alongside Lars Stindl.
Likewise, Xhaka’s quality in possession was particularly evident – which says a lot considering the Champions League seems to centre more and more around technical quality and ball retention with every season. He averaged the ninth-most passes per match of any midfielder involved in the tournament, as shown below.
Despite the mild glorification of Xhaka throughout this article, his game does include some notable weaknesses that may turn off potential suitors. First and foremost, he’s committed the most fouls of any Bundesliga player this season – a whopping 3.1 per match – but to give the Swiss international some credit, he’s only picked up four yellow cards.
Perhaps more worryingly, he’s been dispossessed the fifth-most times of any Bundesliga midfielder this season whilst ranking joint-sixth in terms of unsuccessful touches, as shown below.