Jordan Jones Among Good Company for SPFL Attacking Midfielders

written by: Matt Rhein/@thebackpassrule

A few weeks ago, I looked at the passing behavior of center backs in the SPFL, focusing on which were the best at playing the ball out from the back. I wanted to do something similar for other positions in Scottish football. When thinking about what metrics to use for midfielders in Scotland, I hit a bit of a statistical road block. Using stats like pass completion rate and the % of passes attempted leading to shots as I did for defenders did not seem appropriate, as different midfielders have different roles.

 Expected Assist per 90 Leaders through match 7 in the SPFL. (Minimum 180 minutes played)

Expected Assist per 90 Leaders through match 7 in the SPFL. (Minimum 180 minutes played)

If we are looking to categorize midfielders, the first split we can make are between attacking and holding midfielders. Most football fans could probably agree on characteristics of a successful midfielder playing both of these roles. An attacking midfielder already has metrics such as expected goals, expected assists, attempts, and key passes that can quantify their abilities, but there are some other metrics we would expect to see among good an attacking midfielder. Most fans’ ideal attacking midfielder would be a good dribbler, can string together passes, and can set up their teammates for chances.

Thanks to the good folks at InStat, we have metrics that can categorize these types of midfielders and then see who in the SPFL are top among these type of midfielders. When looking at attacking midfielders in the SPFL, we can get the average metrics in successful dribbles per 90, the percentage of passes attempted leading to a shot, and the pass completion percentage of a player and see which players are above average in all of these metrics. Similarly, we can look at who is above the league average in these numbers.

 Graph showing SPFL Midfielders Dribbles Successful per 90 & % of Passes Leading to a Shot in 2017/18. Size doesn’t always matter, but it does here as the size of icon based on the % of total passes completed by a player. Interactive version found  here .

Graph showing SPFL Midfielders Dribbles Successful per 90 & % of Passes Leading to a Shot in 2017/18. Size doesn’t always matter, but it does here as the size of icon based on the % of total passes completed by a player. Interactive version found here.

We are still only 8 matches into 2018/19 campaign, so looking at last season’s data would give us a better sample. Of the 64 midfielders who played at least 1,140 minutes last season and completed at least 4 passes per 90, there were eight midfielders who averaged above the league average in dribbles successful per 90, percentage of passes attempted leading to a shot, and total pass completion percentage. Those midfielders were Jamie Walker, James Forrest, Greg Stewart, Scott Sinclair, Jamie Murphy, Chris Erskine, Tom Rogic, and Jordan Jones.

As of writing, Kilmarnock are off to another fine start to their season. The Ayrshire club sits fourth in the SPFL Premiership after seven matches. This follows last season where the club finished fifth. Not only are Killie performing well in the table but their underlying metrics suggest they fully deserve their place. Looking at their xG difference, we see Kilmarnock is fourth in the SPFL with an xG difference of 2.15.

Killie have seen a turnaround at Rugby Park since Steve Clarke has taken over as manager. Before his arrival, the club was thinking about avoiding relegation but since Clarke has arrived they can instead dream fighting for a European spot instead. Clarke has been able to take a squad filled with younger players and start to mold them into effective players. A prime example of this is Jordan Jones.

 “He’s probably thinking about how he’s going to dive against Dundee.”-Yer Da

“He’s probably thinking about how he’s going to dive against Dundee.”-Yer Da

Right now, Jones is currently embroiled in a controversy about his seeming dive against Dundee that earned Killie a penalty. Despite that, as we see in the stats mentioned above Jones is a player that seems to have the technical ability to be one of the better attacking midfielder’s in the SPFL. Being in the same category as Rogic, Murphy, Forrest and Walker is quite the accomplishment for an attacking midfielder in the SPFL.

 Pass Map for Jordan Jones in SPFL Play for 2017-2018. Map contains Key Passes from Open Play Only.

Pass Map for Jordan Jones in SPFL Play for 2017-2018. Map contains Key Passes from Open Play Only.

Along with the numbers seen above, Jones excels in other stats we would typically look at for a midfielder. Last season, Jones was 13th in the SPFL in xA total at 5.31 and 25th in xA per 90 in the league at 0.18 He was also 14th in key passes completed at 59 and 23rd in Key Passes Completed per 90 at 1.31. The Northern Irish capped midfielder was a versatile part of the Kilmarnock midfield, seen in his impressive xSA numbers at 2.89 overall and 0.10 per 90 (9th and 16th in the SPFL respectively).

Along with his good chance creation stats, Jones is a potent goal threat as well. Last season he scored 4 goals and had an xG of 3.95, which was among the top 40 in the league. His 0.14 xG per 90 is slightly below what we’d expect an average SPFL striker to put forth. Given that he’s, you know, not a striker, which is not too shabby. Last season, he averaged 2 attempts per 90 minutes, meaning he gets a decent number of chances off when he’s on the pitch.

 Graph showing SPFL Midfielders Dribbles Successful per 90 & % of Passes Leading to a Shot in 2018/19. Interactive version can be found  here .

Graph showing SPFL Midfielders Dribbles Successful per 90 & % of Passes Leading to a Shot in 2018/19. Interactive version can be found here.

While it’s a bit early to make too many conclusions based on stats from this season, when we look at dribbling and passing stats for midfielders this season and where players fit based on the league average, we again see Jones with the crème de la crème of the SPFL (though David Wotherspoon, Kyle Magennis, and Ryan Flynn, how did you guys sneak in here?!). The Killie midfielder again is positioned in that quadrant of players who are above average in completed dribbles per 90, percentage of passes that lead to a shot, and total pass completion such as Tom Rogic, Ryan Kent, James Forrest and Scott Sinclair.

Jones has seen his numbers in categories such as xG and xA go down slightly, averaging 0.11 xG per 90 and 0.16 xA per 90. Yet, these numbers still compare well to the rest of the league. When combined with some other stats such as dribbles and passes completed from both this year and last, we see a profile of one of the better attacking midfielders in the league. The stature of the SPFL sadly means that if he continues this type of form, Jordan Jones will be destined for greener pastures. However, if he can continue these type of numbers, he could help lead Kilmarnock to places it has not been in a long time.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.