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  • Writer's pictureBilly Mulley

Luton Town full-back analysis and possible targets

The summer transfer window is well underway and our recruitment team are undoubtedly working incredibly hard to maintain their typically high standards.

The goalkeeping department is certainly a position that needs bolstering during this summer, with Will Norris, Matt Macey and Matt Ingram emerging as rumoured targets. It then becomes extremely difficult to determine what will be prioritised during these next couple of months.

The wing-back/full-back positions are certainly areas that will be taken into consideration. James Bree and Amari'i Bell both did great jobs at right-wing-back and left-wing-back during last season, with a switch to regularly deploying a back five allowing us to play to our squad's strengths.

Despite looking well-equipped on the right-hand-side, with Peter Kioso primarily needed as a deputy option to the 24-year-old, West Brom are currently interested in making a move for Bree. Should they strengthen their interest, then it would appear that a move for a right-wing-back could jump up the priority list. Kioso has shown in glimpses exactly what he is about, with his tough-tackling tendencies and athleticism offering a different kind of service to Bree's more precise and progressive game.

On the other flank, Bell does not really have an out-and-out left-wing-back to challenge him for regular contention, and whilst Dan Potts may be considered as an option, he has proven to be more comfortable when featuring as part of a back three and does not have the attacking qualities required to operate slightly higher up the pitch as a wing-back.

Before suggesting that wing-recruitment is needed, it is also important to consider that a five-at-the-back system is not set in stone. Last season, the amount of quality we possessed in central defensive positions played its part in a continuation of using three central defenders, with Kal Naismith's progressive abilities suited to this set up. Now that Naismith has headed for pastures new, it remains to be seen if we revert to a solid back four or not.

Assessing current options

James Bree

James Bree's percentile rank performance against Championship full-backs <1500 minutes

As expected, Bree is someone whose ability to progress the play is above average in the Championship. The 24-year-old ranks very highly when considering crosses per 90 minutes, something that is evident on the eye when watching the Hatters.

Perhaps a surprising find from all of this is his more defensive metrics, with Bree ranking particularly low in defensive duels during last season, whilst his percentile ranking for successful defensive actions is also well below average.

Amari'i Bell

Amari'i Bell's percentile rank performance against Championship full-backs <1500 minutes

Immediately standing out when looking at Bell is his above average defending stats, with the Jamaica international ranking particularly high with the number of aerial duels he wins, whilst his successful defensive actions figure is also impressive.

Combining that with a solid ranking in both his dribbles per 90 and progressive runs per 90, it is clear to see that Bell offers a different kind of service to Bree. Proving to be completely different options than each other, it is Bell's progressive numbers that ranks very low.

Scanning the markets

Right-wing-back/full-back option 1: Regan Poole

Our ability to use the Football League pyramid to our advantage, and to recruit some of the lower league's finest offerings has been a key development in our progression.

Looking at the current League One market, one player that could be assessed if Bree was to depart this summer is Lincoln City's Regan Poole, and as the graph below shows, he is an exciting option for us to consider

The 23-year-old featured 44 times in the league for the Imps last season, taking home the club's Player of the Season award in the process.

Regan Poole's percentile rank performance against wingers and wing-backs in League 1. <2000 mins

Sitting very close to the average mark when it comes to his defensive duels and the defensive duels that he has won, Poole's possession-adjusted interceptions shows he has a great ability to read the game and react accordingly.

Proving to possess quality with his delivery and to threaten with progressive runs, Poole is someone that has so far ticked a lot of boxes. It is also important to consider that the young defender played in a solid back four for the majority of the last campaign, naturally limiting his attacking capabilities.

Particularly shining when considering his passing numbers, Poole's number of passes and progressive passes per 90 are exceptionally high, whilst his accuracy passes per 90 is within the top 15% in the division.

All in all, the 23-year-old appears to be an excellent progressor, yet a defensively competent option for clubs to consider this summer.

Right-wing-back/full-back option 2: Ronan Boyce

Casting our eyes over the SSE Aitricity League Premier Division now for the third and final selection for the right side, Derry City's Ronan Boyce stands out as a player who has a very high ceiling.

Winning the club's Player of the Season award last time out, and backing it up with an excellent start to this campaign, the recently-turned 21-year-old has proven to be a real asset within Ruaidhri Higgins' side. Of course, it is always difficult to judge whether a Championship move would be justified, however, the recruitment risks we have taken in the past tend to pay off.

Ronan Boyce's percentile rank performance against wingers and wing-backs in Ireland's top-flight. <1000 mins

There can be some parallels drawn to Bree here, with Boyce displaying good progressive numbers, particularly when looking at his passes per 90, pass accuracy, progressive passes per 90 and crosses per 90.

Defensively speaking, there are certainly positive signs too, with the 21-year-old displaying an excellent understanding of the game with his extremely high possession-adjusted interceptions figure, whilst his aerials duels percentage is also at an impressive level.

All in all, Boyce looks like an exciting option in Ireland's top division but it remains difficult to determine whether our interest would be justified.

Right-wing-back/full-back option 3: Nathan Byrne

An already Championship (21/22) option that could be assessed if Bree was to depart this summer is Derby County's Nathan Byrne. The 30-year-old, who is coming to the end of his current contract with the Rams, proved to be a shining light under Wayne Rooney, taking home the club's Players' Player of the Season award.

Available for a free transfer, Millwall, Preston North End and Stoke City are reportedly considering the experienced full-back, with the Lions seeing Mahlon Romeo depart for pastures new yesterday, which could perhaps accelerate their interest in Byrne.

Amari'i Bell's percentile rank performance against Championship full-backs <2000 minutes

The first thing to note when considering Byrne's data is that we are now talking about the Championship, with the competitive nature, and the increased standards of the division, making it more difficult to spot options that will be realistic. However, Byrne is certainly one that impresses via the stats and one who would seemingly be attainable.

Particularly shining when looking at his progressive abilities, it is his successful dribbles % that immediately stands out, whilst his smart passes per 90 and progressive passes per 90 further back up this point. Once again, parallels can be drawn to Bree, which is certainly a good thing for balancing reasons if he is to depart and Kioso is to remain at the club.

Possessing below average defensive numbers, it would appear that Byrne would be better suited for a wing-back role, as opposed to a full-back one, although, he has impressed on the eye in both positions over the years.

Left-wing-back/full-back option 1: Alex Cochrane

The first left-wing-back option has not been identified by me, instead, it was a report from The Sun that linked us with Brighton & Hove Albion left-back Alex Cochrane.

The 22-year-old, who spent last season on loan with Hearts, predominantly featured as a left-wing-back for the Edinburgh-based club, however, he was also deployed as a left-sided centre-back, and as a full-back in a solid four. Also crediting QPR and Coventry City with an interest, the report states that the Premier League club could cash in considering he has just a year left on his current contract.

Alex Cochrane's percentile rank performance against full-backs and wingers in 21/22 SPL. <2000 mins

Defensively possessing some very strong numbers, the 22-year-old particularly ranks very high when it came to his percentage of defensive duels won and successful defensive actions, with his possession-adjusted interceptions also impressing. Proving to be dominant in the air too, Cochrane stood within the top 36% when it came to aerial duels last season.

He has also proven to be an accurate and confident passer of the ball, with his passes per 90 and smart passes per 90 sitting high, whilst his progressive passes per 90 is just as impressive.

Sitting below average for the majority of attack-related stats, it is particularly the accuracy of his crosses and dribbles per 90 that are considerably lower than the 50% mark. However, it is understandable that his attacking numbers are comparatively low when considering that he has played within a back three on several occasions this season.

In fact, his ball-playing abilities and dominating defensive statistics suggest that he could be seen as somewhat of a Kal Naismith replacement, whilst there is also an argument that he would be better suited to a full-back position within a four.

Left-wing-back/full-back option 2: George Cox

Another player with a Brighton connection, George Cox is the second consideration when looking at a potential option to provide Bell with cover and competition. Progressing through the Seagulls academy, the 24-year-old embarked on a permanent move to Fortuna Sittard back in the summer of 2020.

Cox is currently a target at QPR, with the London club reigniting last year's interest.

Primarily playing as a left-back in a back four, Cox displayed that he was more than comfortable with switching to a wing-back role when required. The defender played 28 times in all competitions for the Dutch club last season, scoring four times and providing a further two assists.

George Cox's percentile rank performance against full-backs and wingers in 21/22 Eredivisie. <2000 mins

Sitting above average in every defensive stat, Cox particularly shone when it came to his aerial duels that he won and total successful defensive actions. It is important to consider that 21 of his 28 appearances did come whilst playing as a left-back, as opposed to a left-wing-back, which naturally will bolster his defensive output and restrict his offensive output.

His possession-adjusted interception figure is also at a high-level, with the 24-year-old proving to read the game well, something that bodes well with us if there is still an emphasis on quick build-up play next season.

Despite showing good numbers for crosses per 90 and accurate smart passes, the data points towards Cox not being the most progressive full-back, however, this might again be impacted by the fact he played the vast majority of his minutes in a solid back four.

Left-wing-back/full-back option 3: Ali Koiki

Representing the first and only left-sided option who played his football within the EFL during the 2021/22 season, Northampton's Town Ali Koiki is certainly destined for an excellent future. Featuring mostly within a back four, the 22-year-old also starred when deployed slightly advanced as a wing-back.

Appearing 41 times in the fourth-tier last season, Koiki assisted three goals for the Cobblers, as his side narrowly missed out on automatic promotion to League Two.

Progressing through the youth systems of Crystal Palace, Burnley and the Kinetic Academy, the young left-back saw regular football for the first time in his career last season.

Ali Koiki's percentile rank performance against League 2 wingers/full-backs. <2000 mins

A very well-rounded wing-back/full-back, Koiki is someone that will surely be playing his football in a higher division or two next year. Ranking extremely high in defensive duels won, accelerations per 90 and successful dribbles, the Northampton left-sided player only ranks low on two stats: Accurate progressive passes and smart passes per 90.

A player that causes chaos when driving at opposing defences, he provides a different kind of threat to Bell, and a different kind of threat to the aforementioned left-sided targets.

Key takeaways

  • Romeo and Poole seem like excellent players to consider if need be, however, if we do manage to keep hold of Bree this summer, then him and Peter Kioso are excellent right-wing-back/right-back options to take us into the new campaign, as both offer differing attributes.

  • Formational changes may also hinder how we recruit this summer, as it remains to be seen if Kal Naismith's departure could pave the way for a return of operating within a back four.

  • Transfer fees, wage demands and interest from elsewhere will always play its part in changing the scenarios as the window progresses, meaning it is difficult to determine how realistic the suggested targets may be.

  • Ali Koiki appears to be an extremely exciting talent!

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