Ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals, OptaPro profiles some of the players who have the potential to make a significant impact on the tournament. This article focuses on Iran and AZ Alkmaar wide man, Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
21 goals, 12 assists, 78 key chances created and 111 successful dribbles in 33 games – not a bad season for 24-year-old Alireza Jahanbakhsh ahead of the biggest stage of all. If he was not already one of the first names on the team sheet for Iran, producing this level of output will certainly help him become one of Iran’s greatest ever players.
This is his third season playing for AZ Alkmaar, where he lines up on the right wing in a 4-3-3. He has played in the Netherlands for five seasons, having previously put on the NEC Nijmegen shirt for two seasons, in both the Eerste Divisie and the Eredivisie.
Variety is the spice of life
Comfortable with the ball at his feet and ranking third in the Eredivisie this season for take-ons, Alireza is a player who can isolate defenders into one-on-one situations, often leaving his markers flat footed behind him. Even with this ability, Jahanbakhsh is not one who’ll try to the same thing repeatedly, and can mix up his game accordingly.
The style of play seen across the Eredivisie can often lead to defences playing a high line, leaving space in behind. A great deal of the chances Jahanbakhsh has created this season came from defence-splitting through balls (his 20 through balls this season rank him second in the Eredivisie). Whether Iran and Jahanbakhsh are afforded this amount of space this summer in what will be a very challenging group remains to be seen, and Jahanbakhsh’s variety will undoubtedly be an asset as Iran come up against Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
In the football analytics world, there is often a suggestion that crossing may be an inefficient attacking tactic, and this was a topic explored in further detail by Garry Gelade at the 2017 OptaPro Analytics Forum, who was able to showcase the impact of crossing in further detail, exploring how location can play a role, and by looking beyond the subsequent event following the cross. Jahanbakhsh’s delivery from wide is certainly one of his strengths and is a high-volume crosser, attempting a high 5.1 per game and consistently putting defences on the back foot by swinging in low crosses into dangerous areas.
Despite the majority of his work taking place in the final third, Jahanbakhsh is not one to shy away from his defensive duties. He has won back possession 42 times this season in his defensive third (ranking him 12th of all Eredivisie wingers), highlighting his willingness to track back and help his team out when they are under pressure. Again, in a challenging World Cup group, this side to Jahanbakhsh’s will certainly be required.
More minutes, more confidence
The 2017/18 season saw a vast increase in Jahanbakhsh’s minutes on the field. Yes, he had an increase in his minutes, but his productivity also significantly increased. He finished as the top goalscorer in the Eredivisie with 21 goals, outperforming his xG of 13.4 by an additional eight goals. Previously he had scored a combined total of 19 goals spanning three Eredivisie seasons.
Shots scaled by expected goal value – larger circles indicate higher quality chances. Green = attempt scored.
Having also overperformed against his xG total in 2016/17 with 11 goals from an xG total of 5.97, Jahanbakhsh may be developing into a player who is often encouraged to shoot from areas where other players may be expected to pass.
This was not the only area in which Jahanbakhsh has progressed. He had a 31% increase in touches on the previous season, showcasing how key he has become to this AZ side. The winger was also involved in 1.2 goal-ending sequences per 90 minutes (the second highest in the league after Feyernoord’s Steven Berghuis). Across the year, if AZ had a dangerous attack, Jahanbakhsh was likely to be at the heart of it.
He has played a key role in helping AZ secure themselves a place in the preliminary rounds of the Europa League for the 2018/19 season. Can he help Carlos Queiroz’s team progress through a tricky World Cup group?