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EFL Transfer Targets: January Sales

 

With the January transfer window open, many of the talented players that have impressed in the first half of the Football League season are linked to clubs higher up the English league pyramid. We assess the credentials of five players that have been standouts for their current EFL clubs so far in 2020-21.

By: Arash Rezai

Ben Whiteman – Doncaster Rovers

 

Ben Whiteman has been a stalwart in the Doncaster Rovers team since originally signing on loan from Sheffield United in June 2017, before making that move permanent in the following January. With 135 league appearances at the club, he’s been involved more often than any other player since the start of 2017-18.

Ahead of 2019-20, Whiteman was given the captain’s armband for his standout performances and his great form has carried on in to 2020-21. The Doncaster number eight has made 1020 successful passes in League One this season, with only one midfielder making more (Ryan Wintle, 1031). However, what will really interest visiting scouts is how important these passes have been.

He ranks top in League One this season for his number of unique involvements in shot ending sequences (110), showing how vital he is to the contribution in the creation of shots in open play. This is further displayed by his 12 multi-chance involvements in this campaign; a metric which shows the number of unique sequences in which a player has provided the final pass to assist a shot and been involved in the build-up to the move at some point.

Whiteman is not just a pass master; he is adept at winning possession back and starting attacks for his team – his 41 interceptions are more than any other player in the third tier of English league football. Adding to this key attribute is his ability to regain the ball and initiate open play possessions and sequences that end in a shot. Looking specifically at his 11 shot-ending possession starts, this shows how he is the key player at winning the ball back from opponents and starting Doncaster attacks – no player has done this more often in League One in 2020-21.

He’s been heavily linked to some Championship clubs in the January transfer window already, but with two and a half years left on his contract at Doncaster Rovers it will mean a club will have to part with their cash if they want to invest in what looks like a ready-made midfielder at that level.

 

 


Adam Armstrong – Blackburn Rovers

 

The last Blackburn Rovers player to score 30+ league goals in a single season was Alan Shearer in three successive Premier League campaigns between 1993-94 and 1995-96, but that barren run could end this term with hotshot forward Adam Armstrong.

Armstrong has already scored 16 goals in 22 Championship appearances this season, equalling his goal tally from 2019-20. If he were to continue at his rate of a goal every 118 minutes, then it’s likely that he’ll surpass the 30-goal mark if Blackburn can hold off interest from Premier League clubs in January.

 

 

No player has had better goalscoring chances from non-penalty shots within the top four tiers of English football this season than Armstrong, with the 23-year-old posting an xG total of 13.7. Not only is he getting in brilliant positions to score, he’s scoring at around the expected rate for these chances, with 13 coming from open play in 2020-21.

His xG tally is unsurprising when seeing that he’s the most prolific shooter in the top four tiers of English league football, attempting a shot every 18 minutes and a shot on target every 38 minutes on average, but if you don’t shoot then you don’t score.

 

 


Siriki Dembélé – Peterborough United

 

Peterborough are a club that have one of the most interesting transfer strategies in the English football pyramid. The Posh are currently in their eighth successive campaign in League One and have finished just one place below the play-off positions (7th) in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.

They often scoop up the best talent from the lower EFL leagues and further down the non-league pyramid to develop them – however, without promotion it has seen many of their assets wanting to progress up the leagues. Recent cases like Britt Assombalonga, Conor Washington, Jack Marriott and Ivan Toney have all left for seven-figure sums and it looks like the next player on the Peterborough conveyor belt is Siriki Dembélé.

 

 

Dembélé’s key attribute is undoubtedly his dribbling ability, with the Posh star being successful with 56 take-ons in League One during 2020-21 – 23 more than any other player in the division. When expanding this out to the English top four tiers this term, only Wolves’ speedster Adama Traoré has embarked on more (62).

 

 

The winger’s talents are made even more impressive when looking at Opta’s ball carry metric, which look at when a player travels 5+ meters with the ball at his feet. Of regular attacking players in League One this season, Dembélé ranks top for ball carries per 90 (20), ball carry distance per 90 (237m) and progressive ball carries per 90 (11).

 

 


Max Watters – Crawley Town

 

After a non-league career as a teenager, Max Watters moved to the professional game when signing for Doncaster Rovers in 2018-19. However, game time was limited during his time at the club and following more spells at non-league on loan from Rovers, he was released in the summer before a move to Crawley Town in October 2020.

Crawley certainly made a wise decision to recruit Watters, as in 18 competitive games since signing he has scored 16 competitive goals for the club – six more than any other player in 2020-21. However, his time at the Reds looks set to be short-lived, as a plethora of Championship clubs are closely linked to the striker.

 

 

Across the top four tiers of English league football, Watters has the best minutes per goal ratio of any player to have played more than 1000 minutes, scoring his 13 League Two goals at a frequency of once every 79 minutes.

 

 

His underlying attacking numbers also show how lethal he’s been in League Two this season. No player in the competition to have scored more than three goals has a shot conversion rate as high as Watters (38.2%), while he’s posted the highest non-penalty xG per 90 figure of 0.67 across the top four tiers of the English league of all players to have spent 1000+ minutes on the pitch.

 

 


David Brooks – AFC Bournemouth

 

David Brooks made headlines in May 2017 after he was called up to the Wales U20 squad for the Toulon tournament but withdrew to play for home nations rivals England. The Three Lions went on to win the tournament, with Brooks scoring in the final as well as being named Best Player.

He broke into the Sheffield United first team in the 2017-18 campaign following on from his exceptional performance at the 2017 Toulon tournament. At just 20 years-old and in his debut Football League campaign, Brooks scored three goals and provided four assists. On the back of this Bournemouth swooped in and brought the youngster down to the South Coast.

 

 

After a 2019-20 season that was blighted by injuries, Brooks is now fit and back to his best. The Welsh international has been directly involved in eight goals in his 16 league appearances this season (three goals, five assists), eclipsing his total from his last spell in the Championship in 2017-18.

His average of 0.27 Expected Assists per 90 in the Championship in 2020-21, which is only bettered by three regular players in the competition – former teammate Harry Wilson (0.29), Jamie Paterson (0.29) and Emiliano Buendía (0.28).

 

 


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