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Finding a replacement for Sonny Bradley

By Bradley Lovell - SS Analytics

As another January window full of rumours and speculation passed, one of those 'rumours' was Sonny Bradley being lined up by Preston as a potential replacement for Ben Davies who had been poached late on in January by Liverpool. Bradley whose contract is expiring in the summer at Kenilworth Road may well be tempted to head north.

Whether Bradley moves on or not in the summer is up for debate. However, for the purpose of this report I will be acting as if this is the case and will be looking at potential replacements for the Hatters using data analysis and video scouting to analyse some of the best candidates.

Parameters for the search:

- Left Footed

- Maximum Transfermarkt valuation of £1,300,000

- Maximum Age of 30

- EFL and Scotland

- Minimum 1000 minutes played

Sonny Bradley is left footed and operates on the left side of a centre-back pairing. This is important in the modern game as it brings balance to the team and defence particularly when playing out from the back when the opposition attack and midfield pushes up to press. Having a left footer on that side allows easier passing angles out the left side of defence and into midfield to beat a press so recruitment must be made with this in mind.

Maximum valuation of £1.3m comes from the Simon Sluga record transfer as a ballpark maximum fee Luton would be willing to pay. Also, a maximum age of 30 as an important consideration taken into the recruitment will be a potential re-sale price that is higher than the initial fee.

Bradley's Strengths:

Aerially Sonny provides a great strength, standing 6'5 tall and being a target for first contact at set pieces often at the back post to head back across goal providing a chance for teammates. His aerial duels per 90 of 5.62 and a percentage won of 61.89% over the last calendar year is the highest for both compared to the other CB's Pearson and Lockyer.

However, a particular strength in comparison is his passing from the back, although not aesthetically pleasing boasts an 83.4% pass accuracy which is again the highest compared to Pearson and Lockyer. Bradley also has the most ability in terms of accurate progressive passing from the back line compared to his colleagues.

Data Analysis

Due to the strengths of Bradley and this being a long-term replacement piece, it would be prudent to look for players with similar strengths in attributes compared to Sonny Bradley... but hopefully even better!!

First on the agenda is aerial ability due to Bradley's obvious height and his importance in both boxes not only defending crosses but also attacking set pieces he is a weapon and often the first contact at a set piece regularly at the back post before heading into a second dangerous area for Glen Rea, Pearson et al. to stick it in the onion bag.

The above scatter plot shows Aerial duels per 90 and Aerial duels won (%) from left footed centre backs in the EFL and Scottish Premiership. Highlighting Sonny Bradley's position in orange and other key CB's with a colour legend. Rob Atkinson involves himself in a large quantity of aerial duels yet manages an above average percentage won on that front. Cameron Burgess posting strong numbers with a good season at Accrington in League One so far.

Furthermore, J. McCart from St. Johnstone has positioned well along with Sweeney and Richards-Everton who although their position is good, they are positioned two leagues below Luton so that must be considered.

Progressive Passing

Above shows the progressive passes per90 as well as the success of those progressive passes, with accurate passes to the final third (%) being indicated by plot size.

Rob Atkinson again showing remarkable attributes, this time through his progressive passing and his passing into the final third being accurate with the largest plot size on the graph. Cameron Burgess again doing well from Accrington and post impressive numbers this season. Interestingly Cian Harries from Bristol Rovers showing a brilliant ability to progress the ball forward well with accurate passing despite poor aerial numbers suggesting a vulnerability in that department.

Defensive Actions

in the final scatter graph it shows Successful defensive actions per 90 and Defensive duels won (%) whilst showing PAdj Interceptions with the size of the plots.

Cameron Burgess posting a strong number of successful defensive actions per 90 as well as PAdj Interceptions and has had a good season so far combined with his decent aerial prowess.

Rob Atkinson and Cian Harries perform above average in this sense too with Atkinson's stats indicating a strong level of performance in all key areas. Whereas Cian Harries showing great ball playing abilities and defensive acumen, but lacks a certain aerial dominance.

Player Radars

Rob Atkinson Cameron Burgess Cian Harries

Noticeably in the player radars above of the respective candidates Rob Atkinson has brilliant numbers for passes into the final third as well as quite interestingly for those of you who have not seen Atkinson play a high dribbles success and progressive runs per 90 which is a more unusual statistic to see attached to a Oxford United centre-back signed from Eastleigh. But the former Fulham academy graduate has a trademark powerful dribble forward when in possession, he does this to great use with good pace and close control to breeze through the lines.

Following video scouting on all the proposed candidates I decided that Rob Atkinson is the best option as a long term left centre-back. This is due to his impressive aerial threat, good mobility, imposing ball progression mainly via powerful dribbles with close control. But also has a good range of passing, all of which will be a great addition to the Luton Town armoury. Rob would have great re-sale value and is someone who will only improve and will certainly have his sights a little higher than League One for his future.

Atkinson's contract is due to expire at the end of the 2022/23 season meaning that Luton would likely have to break their transfer record for the 22-year-old. However, due to COVID-19 and the financial impact of that Oxford may be slightly more inclined to accept a more reasonable bid for financial gains, particularly if they miss out on promotion via the play-offs.

Rob Atkinson

D.O.B: 13/7/1998 22 years old

Height: 6'4

Weight: 85kg

Foot: Left

Atkinson has a strong aerial presence and times his run and jump well to attack the ball. He prefers to stand back and gain an extra advantage with a big jump to beat attackers to the ball. However, he also has experience being a first contact at set-pieces much like Sonny Bradley and is more than comfortable and strong enough to act as a first contact before heading it into a second phase of the set-piece for teammates to attack as seen below.

Rob's ability in the air is important for set piece preparation in both boxes. But another weapon to his armoury that I noticed was his 1 v 1 defending as he is aggressive in terms of his positioning and will get tight to his attacker but remains very patient in the challenge to and waits for the opponent to make the first move before putting a foot in. In the image below you can see how he is quick and in position for the threat of an opponent moving behind the defence and is aggressive in his positioning yet remains patient to make the tackle and put the ball into touch. This indicates a composed nature to Rob's defending and a great intelligence to read the game.

In the data analysis it showed a high dribble success and a large quantity of progressive runs in comparison to other left footed centre-backs in the pool. Now below is a prime example of how he uses a remarkable skillset for a lower league centre-back and drives at the heart of the opposition defence with composure, close control and in this case drives a decent low shot at the keeper. This allows Oxford to create overloads with Rob able to drag defenders and midfielders out of their position before moving the ball to a more attacking threat.

Oxford United have played a 4-3-3 formation 40% of the time in the last calendar year which Nathan Jones will be interested by as he plays about with several formations since his return to the club including formations with wingers such as a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 but importantly sometimes a 3 at the back formation which I believe Atkinson could offer Luton a different dimension to their attacking play and balance.

Overall, Rob Atkinson is a very interesting left footed centre-back for a host of Championship teams soon. I would highly recommend Rob as a potential successor for Sonny Bradley at Luton either in years to come when Atkinson's contract nears an end and brings his value down, or if Sonny Bradley moves on at an earlier point, although this will likely mean loosening the purse strings.

Data from: Wyscout/Whoscored/Fbref

Player Radars from: cboutaud


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