The Mexican Premier League has provided Europe with an array of attacking talents over the last few decades. Mexico is a country with a population of 126 million, most of whom follow the fiercely competitive Liga MX week in, week out. Perhaps Liga MX is not too well known to the European or even the global football audience, but the importance it holds within Mexico and the US (where it is watched more than the MLS), means that no young player gets an easy path from first team football to an international move. It is a tough league, full of unpredictability, derbies and great history. If you then add the drama of the unique play-off matches to decide titles each year, then you begin to appreciate the weight of pressure and expectation that falls upon each player’s shoulders, especially the young ones. This is not for the faint-hearted.
This data analysis will evaluate whether there are any promising young wingers within the league, who are ready to emulate the ‘European dream’ of the likes of Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano and Diego Lainez, who play at Napoli in Serie A and Real Betis in La Liga respectively. To be scouted and picked-up out of Liga MX at such a young age like these two, you have to be a serious talent. This analysis will look at the data and compare Lozano and Lainez’s final seasons in Liga MX, with the performances of young wingers from last season, to determine if anyone is destined for a similar trajectory.
In order to ascertain a relevant pool of players to conduct this data analysis, the following criteria had to be met:
- Players currently aged under 23
- Players who completed at least 450 minutes in last season’s Liga MX
- Players who have at least played in the right wing or left wing position*
*Attacking midfielders who have made appearances out wide were also included.
These criteria left us with a relatively small sample of only 10 players. This is evidence to suggest how difficult it is for young, creative players to break into the first team in Liga MX and get a substantial amount of minute under their belt. Furthermore, it is likely that more players would have qualified for the sample had last season’s Clausura not been cut short due to the global pandemic.
First of all, let’s have a look at the level of performances that both Lozano and Lainez produced in their final seasons in Liga MX before making their big moves to Europe.
Some key metrics were established in order to assess the overall creativity and defensive contribution of the wingers which included: xG, Dribbles per 90, Progressive runs per 90, Recoveries per 90, Offensive duels per 90, Passes to penalty area per 90 and Through passes per 90. These metrics offered a holistic understanding of the overall ability of the wingers and will be used throughout to assess their effectiveness and potential.
As can be seen in the statistics, both Lozano and Lainez are strong and frequent dribblers, which is expected from the two wingers, who have a low centre of gravity and love to utilise their pace. They averaged just over eight and six dribbles per 90 respectively in their final seasons in Liga MX respectively.
What is perhaps the most interesting trend that can be seen across both data sets, is the high volume of offensive duels per 90 in the opposition half (defined on Wyscout as:
‘A player in controlled possession of the ball below elbow height, attempts to pass an opponent, who in turn, is trying to dispossess the player in possession’.
Lainez averages over 13 offensive duels per 90 and Lozano 60, with a success rate of 50.3% and 48.4% respectively, demonstrating their elite ability to maintain and progress the ball when under pressure. Lozano boasted an impressive xG of 14 and xA of seven in his final season at Pachuca, scoring 10 and assisting four, whilst Lainez outperformed his xG of 1.37, scoring five goals but did not manage an assist, with an xA of 0.28.
This is a fair reflection of the stages in the career at which both players left for Europe: Lozano was 22 when he was signed by PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch Eredivisie in 2017, whilst Lainez was at a far less mature stage of his career when poached by Real Betis of La Liga, aged just 18. This would explain Lozano’s more rounded level of performance as he had time to settle in Liga MX and establish himself as a regular starter. There is no doubt Lainez would have produced similar stats given more time in Liga MX but due to his enormous potential, he was snapped up before getting the chance to really excel in his home country.
Based on the set criteria and using Wyscout data, we were able to ascertain a list of young prospects with Liga MX who could emulate the success of the two Mexican wingers.
|U. Antuna||Guadalajara||RAMF, LW, RW||22||694|
|V. Dávila||Pachuca||LW, AMF, CF||22||981|
|A. Vega||Guadalajara||LAMF, CF, LW||22||1562|
|A. Lozano||Santos Laguna||RW, AMF, CF||21||994|
|J. Torres||Atlas||LW, LAMF, RW||20||1323|
|B. Mendoza||Pumas UNAM||RW, RAMF, RWF||22||484|
|L. Fernández||Tigres UANL||AMF, LWF||21||863|
|R. Alvarado||Cruz Azul||AMF, RW||21||2107|
|M. Ruiz||Club Tijuana||AMF, LCMF, RCMF||19||1627|
We will compare and contrast the pool of players using a variety of relevant metrics to evaluate who is the worthiest of the title: ‘The Next Lozano or Lainez’.
Wide players are an integral part of the team’s offensive output, the best are regular contributors in terms of both goals and assists. We will look at goals scored and assisted during the 2019/20 season, in comparison with the expected goals and expected assists of each player.
As we can see here, there is a cluster of four players who stand out based on the fact that they are outperforming their xG tally: Leonardo Fernández, Alexis Vega, Roberto Alvarado and Marcel Ruiz. Fernández, who has recently been signed by Tigres UANL, had an excellent return of eight goals for Toluca in Liga MX last season, superseding his xG of 3.81, demonstrating his clinical efficiency in front of goal. It remains to be seen whether this form could be continued this season, but it is very positive for a player aged just 21, who played just 863 minutes, the fourth lowest out of the shortlist of 10 players. He has the ability to produce special moments on his left foot and is an extremely clean striker of the ball, which could explain why his xG was far lower than his actual output, he is certainly not a stranger to a wonder goal.
When analysing the number of assists against expected assists, to assess how well the young wingers create goals for their teammates, we see a repeat of two of the best scorers in Leonardo Fernández and Roberto Alvarado. The Tigres UANL and Cruz Azul attackers are showcasing remarkable goalscoring and goal-creating abilities, with both outperforming their expected assists total last season. It is worth nothing that Alvarado has contributed to a lot of goals from central positions, this is a result of the impetus that Cruz Azul boss Robert Siboldi puts on playing centrally through a compact midfield in a 4-1-3-2 formation. He certainly has the ability on the ball to create opportunities from a wide area too, however a different system may see his goal output decrease slightly.
Creativity – passing
Next, we will assess the ability of the players in the shortlist to create opportunities when on the ball via their passing ability. This will be measured by the number of through passes per 90 and passes into the penalty area per 90. Chance creation is an integral part of a winger’s game. With so many playing on the opposite flank to their strong foot (so called ‘inverted wingers’), it provides a great opportunity to cut in and progress the play into the forwards and midfield runners.
Wyscout defines a through pass as ‘a pass played into the space behind the defensive line for a teammate to contest’. A pass into the opposition penalty area is self-explanatory, but the pass has to originate from outside the penalty area.
Again, Leonardo Fernández excels in this department and makes the most through passes per 90 at 1.88, as well as the most passes into the opposition penalty area per 90 at 3.75. He is actively looking to progress the play and these numbers reflect that, highlighting his all-round game.
Roberto Alvarado and Alexis Vega, who were both solid goal scorers, along with Marcel Ruiz, all fall into the lower quartile of the shortlist in this metric. However, when put into context and compared to Lozano and Lainez’ numbers in this metric during their final seasons in Liga MX, there is not too much cause for concern. All three players outperformed Lainez in terms of through passes per 90 (0.28) and Alvarado beat Lozano’s average of 1.08. Only Alexis Vega could match Lainez’s passes into the penalty area per 90 of two and none could compete with Lozano’s impressive 3.4. His direct play and ability to break lines through both passing and dribbling (as we will see in the next section) is why PSV and now Napoli have both desired his services.
Creativity – ball carrying
In addition to creating chances for their teammates through clever passes, wingers need to be able to break lines, get their team up the pitch and beat their man 1v1 by dribbling with the ball in order to make it at the highest level. This is a skill that the two Mexican starlets Lozano and Lainez excel at, gifting them the opportunity to test their talents over the seas in Europe. A successful dribbler excites fans and can torment opposition defenders, creating numerous goalscoring opportunities for his side and relieving pressure. Both Lozano and Lainez over eight and six dribbles per 90 respectively before being poached by European scouts, taking advantage of their electric pace, low centre of gravity, exquisite balance and elite technical ability. Lozano averaged just under two progressive runs per 90, with Lainez slightly ahead at just under three.
As we can see, Jairo Torres of Atlas and Alexis Vega of Guadalajara keep pace with the Napoli and Betis wingers, averaging around six dribbles per 90 each. Leonardo Fernández again ranks strongly amongst the other young wingers, producing over 5.5 dribbles per 90 as well as nearly three progressive runs, mirroring Lainez’s numbers. Guadalajara winger Uriel Antuna also is an effective ball carrier with over three progressive runs per 90, as well as five dribbles.
Keeping the ball
As already highlighted, Lozano and Lainez both excelled at fending off pressure from opponents and maintaining possession, thus winning high quantities of offensive duels. This gives a good indication of the wingers’ ability to manipulate his body and physical attributes to protect the ball in 1v1 situations. This is essential to secure possession for his team and also proceed to then create chances.
As we can see from the graph, it is Leonardo Fernández who can be found in the top corner, representing the best all round score when combining offensive duels and offensive duels success rate. He averages just over 12 duels per 90 minutes with a success rate of just under 50%. Alexis Vega averages the most offensive duels at just shy of 16 but only has a success rate of around 40%. Chilean Víctor Dávila has the highest success rate of offensive duels at 57%, but he only averages around eight per game. For context, Lainez’s 13 offensive duels come at a success rate of just over 50%, whilst 48.4% of Lozano’s average of 16 offensive duels per 90 are successful.
Having evaluated the data on all U23 wingers that played at least 450 minutes in the Liga MX last season, it is apparent that there is a clear standout prospect: Leonardo Fernández. The 21-year-old Uruguayan shone for a struggling Toluca side last season and has deservedly earned a move to Liga MX big boys Tigres UANL. His numbers have consistently stood out amongst the shortlist of other young wingers in Liga MX and he is the closest to being worth of the title of ‘The next Lozano or Lainez’.
The following graphics highlight (in green) his numbers in comparison with all wingers in Liga MX last season. He is ranking above average in terms of goal contribution, passing creativity, dribbling creativity and keeping the ball.
This is extremely positive for someone of his age, who has only played 10 matches in Liga MX, however, given his relative inexperience, it would be wise to allow at least another season to evaluate whether his level of performances continue in this vein. We can’t quite call him the next Lozano or Lainez yet…but he’s showing all the right signs. Mexico fans would just wish he wasn’t Uruguayan!