Which Greg Stewart will turn up at Ibrox This season?
There’s is no doubt that Rangers have had a busy summer with 7 permanent arrivals already secured and even more rumoured to be arriving before the window closes.
One of those transfers that has somewhat gone under the radar is the arrival of Scottish journeyman Greg Stewart. A player who, despite leaving Dundee for Birmingham City 3 years ago, has spent 2 full seasons on loan to Scottish Premiership clubs.
The lack of fanfare isn’t surprising and could well be because nobody is sure which Greg Stewart is going to turn up.
It’s fair to say that the 29 year old attacker had something of a mixed year last season, having loan spells at two separate Scottish Premiership clubs. The fortunes of both loan spells have been viewed by most as being very different.
His spell at Kilmarnock was seen as a late turning point in Stewart’s career but he seemingly failed to maintain his sparkling form in his second loan spell at Aberdeen (a club he had previously been on loan to during the 17/18 season) but does the data back up such claims.
Before we delve into the stats behind each move lets build some context. At each loan move Stewart was almost certainly asked to perform different roles within wildly differing systems.
At Kilmarnock he was used as a Second Striker sitting just behind Eamon Brophy in a variant of 4-4-1-1 which more closely resembled a 4-2-3-1 in possession. More often than not he played slightly to the right, coming inside to use his favored left foot.
He was given almost a free role in a counter attacking side which allowed him to carry the ball into open spaces. Sometimes working in combination with Brophy, either as a target man holding the ball up and laying it off into space, or conversely making runs if Brophy had the ball.
Nothing truly encapsulates the freedom Stewart had at Kilmarnock than his goal against Aberdeen at Rugby Park, where we see him picking the ball up 8 yards into his own half with his back to goal.
The temptation for many players would be to hold the ball up and wait for support. Stewart scans around and sees that the defender has committed himself. Knowing that over 60 yards he is quicker than Considine, he takes his opportunity.
A look at his PassSonar shows that most of his passes came from the right hand side. This stems from the fact he would often drop to pick up the ball from O’Donnell and look to either combine with Burke who would be playing high and wide on the right or try to switch the play to Jones or Taylor who, in possession, would play high on the left.
At Aberdeen, Stewart played in a much more frenetic system and as such found himself having to do several different jobs.
Playing in a variant of 4-5-1, with Sam Cosgrove the designated Striker, Aberdeen usually had Wilson, May and Stewart all sitting behind him. Each player mixing their responsibilities as the game wares on. With Aberdeen being a more dominant side than Kilmarnock there are fewer opportunities to counter, Stewart et al instead had to bide their time in possession as they look to break teams down.
Stewart could find himself centrally or on either wing. Positions, in isolation, Stewart has and can play in, but the rotation of all three during matches meant that his output suffered.
Whilst the roles he played for both clubs are different there are similarities to roles within Rangers set up last season. At Kilmarnock Stewart was fulfilling a similar role to that of Scott Arfield, left footed and playing in an advanced midfield position yet favoring the right hand side, looking to combine with the striker.
Also Rangers have a similar problem to Aberdeen in that sides tended to sit deep against them. This means that the attackers are not running in to acres of space and there are elements of having to be flexible in your approach to break down stubborn defenses.
So now we’ve established what Stewart was asked to do lets look at the data to see how well he did it.
The length of each segment represents a player’s relative quality compared to other attacking players in the Scottish Premiership last season.
A look across the two graphs shows where the similarities in Stewart’s output begin and end. Whilst he was consistently a threat when it came to creating chances for his teammates, his ability to carve out chances of his own differs wildly.
A look at Stewart’s shot maps at both clubs shows exactly why his goals dried up at Aberdeen.
There is a similarity in shot locations for both clubs but a lot more of his shots were blocked at Aberdeen.
Hitting teams on break like Kilmarnock did under Steve Clarke meant that there were more opportunities to shoot from closer to goal, and invariably there will be fewer players between the attacker and goal. Whilst the packed defenses that Aberdeen faced put bodies between the ball and the goal to try to limit chances from within the box.
Something to take into consideration with our xG model is it doesn’t take into consideration the number of players between the ball and the goal, hence why the xG per 90 across both spells seems fairly consistent.
Stewart is clearly a very good player at this level and with his contract at Birmingham City coming to an end it was obvious he was going to be on the radar of many Scottish clubs.
It could be argued that he doesn’t offer anything that doesn’t already exist in the Rangers squad but he does add some much needed depth up front. Playing as a 10 or more advanced as a Second Striker is where Stewart’s strengths lie but he is a more than adequate temporary back up in the wide areas or even as a lone striker.
If there is a negative to this signing, although his ability to create chances is unparalleled, at the age of 29 he is reaching the point where the age curve takes an unwelcome and unrecoverable dip.
If the main strength in Stewart’s game is his pace and power, whilst hitting teams on the break, these are invariably the first things that start to go. It’s also hard to see how often he will get the chance to show those strengths with Rangers also coming up against teams who are more likely to park the bus.
Overall, signing Stewart is a good piece of business by Rangers. It’s low risk and his experience and versatility mean that he will be a good squad player but I wouldn’t expect to see the rate of goals that we saw last season with Kilmarnock.