Is Paul Cook’s widely reported rejection of the majority of the Ipswich Town squad justified? After this most dismal of seasons, where the team somehow managed worsen after he replaced the hapless Paul Lambert – it’s easy to sympathise. Things haven’t been working effectively at Town for years. But is wholesale change the right strategy for a smart team that’s desperate to escape from League 1? I’ve tried to use underlying data to assess who’s worth salvaging from this wreck of a season.
I use (subjective) weightings across a range of attacking and defensive actions to rank players and assess their strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the Ipswich Town squad (who have started 10 or more matches, excluding goalkeepers) for the 2020/21 season.
Unsurprisingly, given Town’s penchant for a goalless draw, the centre backs come out on top. But, perhaps unexpectedly, Mark McGuinness scores highest. One that maybe doesn’t pass the eye-test. That misappropriated pass in the vague direction of Andre Dozzell against Northampton will be difficult to ever forget. But his stats are pretty good. Excelling in all defensive areas, especially in the air and interceptions.
McGuinness isn’t an Ipswich player, so he isn’t one Cook had to make a decision about. But he did for the other centre backs (and Luke Chambers, playing out of position at full-back). To be fair, all four of the main centre backs were OK, and had very similar profiles – although maybe the data flatters them, with pass accuracy buoyed by countless passes between each other. Neither player of the season James Wilson, nor long-serving captain Luke Chambers had their contracts extended. But there is a strong case for retaining Nsiala and especially Woolfenden – despite not having his best season, his stats were reasonable and there is good potential for improvement.
It’s not difficult to identify Town’s main problem last season. They couldn’t score goals. They lack goal scoring and goal creating ability. Just one player has a strong attacking profile – James Norwood, who is head and shoulders above the rest. He’s the only player that shoots, averaging 1.29 shots per 90 minutes. No other player, including the forwards, manage anywhere near one shot a match. Norwood has a good attacking profile and he’s strong in the air – and these are stats from a season plagued by injury and a dysfunctional team. Norwood should be a key focus for next season, a fit James Norwood would be difficult (and expensive) to replace.
What about creativity? This is where Town were truly terrible, constantly finding it difficult to create chances. Most of the creative stats were below average – even for the attacking players. Gwion Edwards was good at the start of the season, and stands out for crosses and dribbles. He’s inconsistent, but it’s understandable that Town have offered him another contract. Alan Judge deserves a mention, he was probably Ipswich’s strongest creative player. Teddy Bishop (my vote for player of the season) was OK too, but again, lacking consistency. Jon Nolan has possibly benefited from being injured during Paul Cook’s tenure, but his stats don’t stand out – a bit worse than Teddy Bishop.
What to make of Andre Dozzell? His underling figures aren’t good. He has the profile of a defensive midfielder, but he doesn’t appear that kind of player. When he plays a swift pass at a jaunty angle, or injects midfield momentum that leads to a goal in a tight match at Gillingham – you feel he should be excelling at League 1 level and higher. But in close to 4000 minutes in the 2020/21 season this has hardly happened. In this time, he’s managed no goals and one assist. He might benefit from a move.
The record of the remaining attacking players is shocking – the data ranks Bennetts, Jackson, Parrott and Sears as the four worst Town players this season.
What of potential replacements? Town Twitter has be awash with rumours of potential signings, many of whom played in League 1 this season. So I’ve had a look at how their record compares with selected Ipswich players over the last season.
Charlie Wyke and Max Power would be massive improvements to the current town squad (although Wyke has benefited from Aiden McGeady’s delivery – where would the assists come from in the current Town squad?). Colby Bishop would be a good signing too. I’m not sure about Richard Smallwood or Mark Sykes. Flynn Downes could potentially do a better job.