After losing 7 of the 8 league games between December 10th and the 19th of January Luton’s did not look like they could find a win from anywhere with goalkeeping calamities and defensive fragilities piling. However, over three games at the end of January/ start of February, three players entered the team.
Firstly, Isaiah Brown who after going down injured away at Brentford in November, returned to the team against Derby on the 28th of January. Secondly, Glen Rea featured in his first 90 minutes of the season also against Derby. Thirdly, Cameron Carter-Vickers coming in on loan against West Brom on February 1st. This came together with a refocused, rejuvenated Simon Sluga who after being dropped after a horrific display away at Derby in October had returned late December looking more confident and with some tweaks to his game no doubt identified by the management team. I am going to show the impact each of these players had on the team.
With Luton setting up in a 4-1-2-1-2 or a 4-3-1-2 for several seasons now the CDM role has always been filled with either Glen Rea or Alan McCormack when both were fit. This season had started with Rea injured and Alan McCormack released. However, since Glen's return he posted exceptional defensive figures since his return to fitness. He has been a much-needed man to do the dirty work, break up play and help out the two CB's.
Rea's Stats 2019/20
Apps - 11
Tackles Won - 14
Percentage Tackles Won - 63.63%
Interceptions - 80
Loose balls Won - 40
Defensive Duels Won - 79
Fouls - 19
Blocks - 18
Clearances - 32
Aerials Won - 69
Percentage Aerials Won - 52.2%
Pass Accuracy - 72.2%
Back Passes Accurate - 44
Percentage Back Passes Accurate - 97.7%
Yellow Cards - 5
MOTM - 1
Rea's defensive statistics above prove just what an addition to the team he has been and his record for interceptions show that he reads the game as well as anyone in the league right now as he boasts 8.59 Interceptions per game which is 2nd in the whole Championship across any position. Judging the data, it is plain to see the impact Rea has defensively on the team reading the game well and getting stuck in.
However, if his game is to improve his distribution of forward passes in particular will need work if he is to improve. It is also interesting to note his high yellow card and foul count, which could be seen as a negative but after claims that Luton had no backbone early in the season he has added much more grit and will break up play with a foul if necessary. Below are some highlights I picked out on some of the best actions in his game so far.
With Luton having the worst defensive record in the league in the first half of the season it was plain for all to see that there was going to be recruitment in defence. Bradley and Pearson whilst shining on occasion looked vulnerable at the back but mainly lacked composure on the ball to implement a passing out the back philosophy from Graeme Jones. Cameron carter-Vickers (CCV) added this and more to the back line with a series of impressive performances almost immediately.
Below is CCV compared to Bradley and Pearson overall this season:
Defensive Duels Success % x Aerial Duels Won %
As you can see above, CCV showing that he comes out on top in a huge amount of defensive duels, this comes down to his athleticism compared to Bradley and Pearson as when drawn into 1 on 1 situations he has the best defensive duels percentage in the Championship this season.
However, this does show through the size of the circle plots the amount of interceptions per game. Bradley and Pearson are higher on this due to their tendency to step out of defence attempting to nip and get possession slightly ahead of the defensive line. Carter-Vickers always suiting more of a cover role that compliments his pace and power, and since coming into the team his ability to cover Pearson/Bradley in behind has been of great help to the team.
Furthermore, his ability to pass the ball has been of great help to Graeme Jones as his overall pass accuracy this season is 86.5% which is higher than Pearson and Bradley's which was 78.3% and 84.3% respectively. Below are several key actions I picked out in his time so far with the Hatters.
In the 2018/19 season Luton's main creations came either from the overlapping fullbacks in the diamond, or through Andrew Shinnie who had a terrific campaign. However, with the fullback money not being reinvested into that area, and Shinnie not having the same impact as the season previous it meant that a loan deal was struck with Chelsea for highly rated Izzy Brown who when fit this season has added that cutting edge and panache in the final third for Luton.
Izzy is the top creator in the squad with 6 assists and 1 goal, despite being injured for a big chunk of the season.
Izzy Brown Stats 2019/20
Key Passes - 49
Assists - 6
Successful Dribbles - 43
Cross Accuracy - 40%
xAPG - 0.32
Passes to penalty area per90 - 4.18
Long Passes per90 - 2.45
Below shows the creative output of the top performing creators in the Championship:
Key Passes per90 x Assists per 90 (minimum 15 apps)
Izzy Brown showing an immense creative output here when compared up against players who are playing for teams right at the top of the table such as Matheus Perriera, Pablo Hernandez and Niclas Eliasson. His ability to unpick a defence is without question top quality, Cornick who must relish playing with Brown as his pace in behind can be exploited with a genuine ability to pick a pass. As seen below some of his quality on show this season:
Simon Sluga had a very tough initiation at Luton with a catalogue of errors in the first 12 games until being dropped after a dreadful game against Derby. The only way to look at the newfound confidence from him is to compare his 12 games prior to being dropped and the 12 games after coming back for the injured James Shea.
It is evident when looking at the data that there were changes made to his game by Graeme Jones and his coaching staff as they looked to rejuvenate the record signing whose confidence could not look lower. I believe there were two adaptations made to his game:
Firstly, after a few situations emerged where Sluga who was comfortable on the ball looked to distribute the ball short and fast to the defenders in a bid to launch a fluid-counter upfield. This was the attractive expansive style that Jones wanted to execute, but with defenders not comfortable on the ball with the high press many Championship teams adopt there was an alarming amount of chances being conceded out of trying to play this way. Prior to his relegation to the bench Sluga was playing 16.17 short passes per game. However, after the period out the team his short passes attempted after his comeback was down 7.83 passes per game to 8.33 with the management team keen to cut out those needless errors.
Secondly, Sluga had a huge number of high-profile errors from crosses and a huge proportion of goals were amassing from looping crosses as opposition teams identified this as a weakness. Simon was only leaving his line to claim the ball 1.67 times per game and many of those were being fumbled as seen below in a few moments of his difficult start to the season.
But during his break out the team it is obvious that there was work on his confidence to exit the line and claim crosses as this rose to 2.17 times per game which may not seem much but is important as it shows the confidence he is trying to install into his command of the area and take pressure off his defence. I believe these two key factors lead to an overall confidence boost which saw all his statistics play out much better in the 'second half' of his season. Seen below is visual data on how the two halves of Simon's season compared:
In the graphics you will notice a rise in:
- Exits per game
- Reflex saves per game
- Saves per game
- Shots Faced per game
- Expected Goals Conceded per game
- Goals Conceded per game
Sluga went from being expected to concede 14.31 goals in his opening 12 games and conceding 21. To expected to concede 15.1 and conceding 15 goals. These changes cannot be understated in his game which saw him perform slightly above average in terms of xGCpg to GCpg. Below are a few moments in the second half of the season which showed his confidence claiming crosses, his ability to distribute the ball well, but being instructed to use this to get higher up the pitch. But finally, how his overall confidence boost lead to him finally being able to show off some real shot stopping ability.
With these four things combined through the spine of Luton,s team GK, CB. CDM, CAM it looked to be better on the ball, but most importantly became harder to breakdown and less naive in the goals they were giving away as at points before Christmas they looked as if they'd be pushed over for the rest of the season. But just before the break for COVID-19 Luton managed to get all these players in the team for the first time together and managed to lose just 3 from 9 games which as a team wanting to survive in the Championship is a good ratio. However, this form may have come slightly too late with just 9 games to go to try and gain immunity from the drop zone, whilst being 6 points from safety.
One thing is for sure, they will put up a fight.
(Data via Wyscout and Whoscored)
(Videos via Wyscout)