In the summer of 2019, Tottenham Hotspur agreed to sign Giovani Lo Celso on loan for a fee of €16m. They took up the purchase option in January for an additional €32m. Therefore, he will officially sign for the club on a permanent basis this summer. But what is he?
At the time he was signed, the Argentine was seen as an attacking and goal-scoring midfielder for Real Betis. They even used him as a forward on occasion. Given how much Christian Eriksen‘s star had dimmed in recent times, not to mention rumours he was searching for the exit door from Tottenham, it was expected that Lo Celso would replace the Danish international as the playmaker in midfield.
Giovani Lo Celso vs Christian Eriksen
The twenty-four year old central midfielder’s numbers don’t stack up too well against Eriksen. And this is only looking at 2018/19, Eriksen’s last full season at Spurs. His two prior seasons were even more impressive.
So Giovani Lo Celso doesn’t appear to be Christian Eriksen 2.0. Was the media narrative wrong? Were wrong to expect an attacking midfielder heavily involved in-and-around the box?
Giovani Lo Celso: The last three years
Looking at Lo Celso’s numbers from his last three season’s in France, Spain and England, we can see that last season at Spurs appears to be the outlier.
Giovani is creating more chances per 90 in open play than in previous years. However, those chances are of a much lower quality, with just an average goalscoring probability from them of 5% per chance. This compared to the 13% and 16% per chance at PSG and Betis respectively.
His shots per 90 has also seen a dramatic fall, from 2.4 to 1.1. This is likely the largest contributing factor to his failure to score a single Premier League goal last season. Quite the downturn for a guy with sixteen in forty-five Betis appearances last season.
These two things combined though seems to suggest he is playing further away from the opponent’s penalty area at Spurs. Chances he creates are further from goal, therefore a lower xA per chance. Likewise, the further you play from goal, the fewer shots players tend to have.
We have seen a similar evolution of the number of Fernandinho and Georginho Wijnaldum when they signed for Manchester City and Liverpool respectively.
Premier League’s Combative and Press Resistant Midfielders
Now we are starting to see where Giovani Lo Celso is aiming to excel. At Betis he was an advanced controller. Responsible for connecting the midfield and attack and therefore commanded a higher zone on the pitch. This saw his role being measured more in terms of attacking metrics.
Tottenham’s Lo Celso looks more like a deep controller. A midfielder aiming to connect things between the defence and more attacking players.
His ability in small spaces is now more about maintaining possession in the build-up phase rather than creating space in the penetration phase. We also see him being far more combative in midfield than Spurs’ other available options. Lo Celso is weighing in with almost double the number of defensive ground duels per 90 as Winks, Sissoko and Ndombélé.
Betis’ Lo Celso vs Spurs’ Lo Celso
This all comes together when you look at his polar bar chart for each of his last two seasons side-by-side. 2018/19 Lo Celso is highly involved in the finishing phase (red). Whereas, his 2019/20 numbers show a guy with elite pressing numbers. He maintains his excellent dribbling and progression numbers. However, by doing so deeper on the pitch, he is being dispossessed less and getting the ball into the box less. As well as being in the box less himself.
The error often made when looking at data is in believing higher volumes equals better. When often it simply highlights what a player’s role is. The further a player is from the goal, the harder it can become to quantify with numbers what they are doing.
What is clear from watching Lo Celso for a few years now, he is an immensely talented footballer. Whether Spurs decide to use him to buildup play or offer penetration in the final third, he is equally capable of filling either role.
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All data used in our articles is sourced from Understat, FBRef, Sofascore, Transfermarkt and 538.