Stephen Glass made Celtic captain Scott Brown his first signing as Aberdeen boss – but does this mean the player-coach is likely to start every game next term?
Brown will arrive at Pittodrie on a two-year deal at the age of 36, having amassed 22 trophies in his time with the Hoops and after earning 55 Scotland caps before his international retirement in 2018.
Glass recently spoke to the Evening Express on the contribution he expects from his former team-mate off the pitch, saying Brown is a “very, very good coach” – but what about on the pitch, what does he expect there?
The Dons have central midfielders Lewis Ferguson, Ross McCrorie, Dylan McGeouch, Dean Campbell and Funso Ojo – currently on loan at Wigan – currently signed up for 2020/21.
Just two central midfielders in the Glass system?
In Glass’ two league games so far, he has twice used just two central midfielders, preferring to get more out-and-out attackers on the pitch.
McCrorie has been used at right-back, against Celtic – where he was injured – and was then unavailable against the Lions.
As a result, there are question marks about whether Glass thinks versatile Scotland Under-21 captain McCrorie is better utilised at full-back, given it’s where he’s played him so far, meaning Brown may mainly be battling with the more defensive-minded central midfielders, McGeouch and Campbell, for a starting berth.
Ferguson has been given clear licence by Glass to get forward and support Aberdeen’s attackers in the games so far and is arguably the Dons most-influential player, both in the middle of the park and helping the attack under his new gaffer, so his position looks to be safe, while the final midfielder – Ojo – has an unclear future.
Have the numbers from Brown’s performances this term – for a Celtic side who lost their league crown with a whimper – shown he should be alongside Ferguson in Glass’ first 11 if the manager opts to stick with just the two-man approach?
Despite being near the end of his playing career, Brown’s numbers are good – but questions remain
Here are each of the six (five Dons and Brown) players’ stats in the Premiership for the 2020/21 campaign:
Brown has managed 23 starts in the green and white of Celtic in the Premiership this term, less than the 33 and 28 starts of Reds Ferguson and McCrorie, respectively, who were former Dons boss Derek McInnes’ first-choice pairing.
However, the Hoops skipper has more starts than young Campbell, McGeouch – who has had fitness issues – and Ojo, who has been away since January.
He’s clearly still fit enough to rack up the minutes, although questions have been asked – by fans and pundits – on whether the veteran still has the legs to get about the pitch like he used to.
The differences between how Brown’s operated this season and how Ferguson has performed – and why they are probably not a threat to each other – are there in the stats.
Former Hamilton youngster Ferguson is clearly more attack-minded, with more touches in the opposition area, creating more chances and having more shots on goal.
Brown, meanwhile, like McGeouch and Campbell is more of a sitting midfielder – Winning the ball by intercepting opposition attacks, helping the defence, recycling play and getting his team moving in the other direction.
Here are the three players’ touchmaps for their last three league starts – Brown v Rangers, McGeouch v Livingston and Campbell v Celtic.:
They all had similar, defensively-focused games.
Three players who focus on winning the ball and not giving possession away
Of the five Dons players listed above, only McGeouch (whose single biggest problem since signing from Sunderland has been an inability to stay fit) has a better per-90-minutes average for winning possession, but bear in mind Brown has been turning out for a team which has most of the ball in almost every game they play.
That gives him less opportunity to force turnovers in possession.
While this could also be the explanation for Brown having a higher pass count – you can’t pass without the ball after all – it should be noted he also has the highest passing accuracy of all six of the players whose stats are listed.
One statistic where Brown – who has a surprisingly low tackle count for a player who wins the ball so often – also stands out is in retaining the ball for his team when he has it, which he has done this season better than any of the five Dons players.
Only Ferguson (2045) has had more league touches than the incoming Brown (1805), with 23% of the former’s touches giving the ball to the opposition compared to just 12% of Brown’s touches.
Dean Campbell has the lowest touches-to-possession-lost average of the Dons’ existing central midfield options – with 20% of his 785 touches resulting in the ball being lost.
So it seems, according to the stats, if Brown is to be gunning for one holding midfield position with McGeouch and Campbell, it’ll be a competitive fight, but both the incoming veteran and existing Dons pair look capable of making it a competitive one.
ICYMI – ⚽️ Could Dylan McGeouch keep the incoming Scott Brown out of the @AberdeenFC team?
🔴 Is Connor McLennan's future at right-back?
— EveningExpress Sport (@ee_sport) May 5, 2021