Thursday, 21 January 2016

An analysis of Blues' attacking midfielders - and Fabbrini

Reports today suggest that Diego Fabbrini may leave Middlesbrough this window, cutting his year long loan short, in order to rejoin Birmingham. Tom Ross suggested that Blues are looking to sign the creative midfielder and with rumours circulating that Rotherham are close to signing Andrew Shinnie, this one could have legs.

Fabbrini played just five times for Blues, but he made a big impression on the Blues faithful. His quick feet, delicate touch and his penchants for making defenders look silly made him a hit, and rumours of his re-signing have, unsurprisingly, got Blues fans drooling.

Fabbrini is an unusual player - one who looked so good as a youngster, even bagging an Italy cap, but his career seems to have petered out since then and has struggled to hold down a starting place at many different teams. However, Rowett seems to excel with players who have something to prove, and this is a case where the reward for finding the player who he threatened to be could be enormous.

However, after failing to sign Fabbrini in the summer, Rowett turned to Arsenal youngster Jon Toral, who has been nothing short of sensational in recent weeks. Unsurprisingly, Toral has posted really impressive chance creation and shot numbers. Creating 2.38 chances per 90 is nothing to be sniffed at, especially from a midfielder who shoots nearly three times per 90. This indicates a player who is capable of keeping up this level of output, and as Toral is only 20, a player who can go on to be a very useful attacking midfielder for any side in English football at current.

Diego Fabbrini has got less impressive numbers - 1.71 chances created and 2 shots per 90. However, Middlesbrough don't actually create too many chances. Stewart Downing, signed after an impressive season in the Premier League, has only created slightly more than that. Speaking to a Boro supporting friend of mine, it seems they are very conservative and these numbers reflect that.

The surprising stat here is that the most creative player was Andrew Shinnie, creating 2.44 chances a game. However, he gets into shooting positions less and is a less effective dribbler, which may be why he doesn't tactically fit into Rowett's system. We need somebody who can carry the ball on the counter and Shinnie has a chronic lack of speed and this can cause issues. It's fair to say that Shinnie is a talented footballer though, and might be missed more than people may think, should he leave.

Fabbrini has scored this season at a similar rate to Toral, and given the same amount of freedom you could see Fabbrini grabbing a few goals at Blues too. Fabbrini would have the benefit of playing with Clayton Donaldson too, who, though he directly creates fewer chances than Boro striker David Nugent, makes a lot of space and indirectly creates a lot more than raw numbers suggest. His presence, work rate and link-up play make him one of the best facilitators for creative players in the league.

Fabbrini can also play out wide - Will Buckley has come in on a short loan and his pace and dribbling are there to provide what Demarai Gray did in his spell at Blues, but Fabbrini is a very different prospect. Blues have struggled at times against sides who sit back, where the pace of Jacques Maghoma and Viv Solomon-Otabor are nullified. Having both Toral and Fabbrini on the pitch could make Blues a more creative side.

Fabbrini creates more than Jacques Maghoma per 90, which makes him a more reliable creative outlet against sides who sit deep. Surprisingly, however, young winger Viv Solomon-Otabor creates an impressive 1.93 chances per 90, with a 58.8% take-on success, the highest of Blues' attacking midfielders. Cotterill tops the chance creation charts with 2.5 per 90, however many of these come from set-pieces.

What I'm getting at is that Blues' most creative team would be Solomon - Toral - Cotterill, but we've yet to see Buckley in action. Also, Solomon's stats may be boosted by the fact he has often come on when Blues are winning and the game is more open. One could certainly argue that Fabbrini could improve Blues playing wide in certain games, and Toral has proved he can play out wide.

Looking purely from a footballing point of view, Fabbrini's signing can be seen as nothing but good. He offers something different and could make us a more multi-dimensional, unpredictable attacking outfit. What these attacking stats also don't show is his effect on games, especially when leading. Fabbrini was so good at helping Blues close out games due to his ability to win cheap free kicks and release pressure. He also can help Cotterill by winning free kicks in dangerous areas.

This is the area that stats sometimes fail to illustrate and must be taken into consideration. Fabbrini is a talented player and I'm sure Rowett can get the best out of him. His chance creation stats and shooting stats aren't as impressive as Jon Toral's, but he improves the side in other areas.

To conclude, Fabbrini would be a great signing. He adds another dimension tactically, allowing Blues to be more creative against sides who sit back, as well as being as good on the counter as we have been. Whether the deal can be completed remains to be seen, but I would welcome him in. His creative numbers could improve with regular football in a less conservative side, and if he can find the output to match the rest of his game, he would be one hell of a footballer.

Got something to add? Tweet me at @BCFC_RYB and let me know! Thanks to Squawka ( for the stats.

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