Cardiff City strikers.
City strikers.

Painting by numbers: solving Cardiff’s striker dilemma with data

Cardiff City have the fewest goals in the Championship but an abundance of strikers vying for selection

WHEN Sabri Lamouchi took the reins in January, Cardiff City were the lowest-scoring side in the Championship and stuck in a rut near the bottom of the table.

After securing 10 points in the last six games, supporters are slightly less fearful of relegation, but the Bluebirds are still the lowest scorers.

Lamouchi has won three, drawn one and lost five in the dug-out, seeing his side score seven in the process.

Perry Ng, Callum Robinson, Romaine Sawyers and Jaden Philogene have scored one apiece.

January loan signing Sory Kaba has scored three goals in just five starts but is yet to convince fans – and seemingly the manager – in terms of his technique.

Lamouchi said he did not start Kaba against West Brom for tactical reasons, but the player headed in an equaliser less than 20 minutes after entering the action.

Isaak Davies also made his first start under the Frenchman but did not have much luck before being substituted at half-time.

Former Tottenham striker Kion Etete looks to have matured in recent weeks but has only one goal all season.

So what separates Cardiff’s strikers? Can the numbers paint a picture of what they do well and which stats might inform Lamouchi’s decisions?

Sory Kaba

Danish outfit FC Midtjylland agreed to loan the services of the 27-year-old Guinea international until the end of the season and he has proven a hit with match-going fans.

In five starts, Kaba has scored three goals – equalisers against Middlesbrough and West Brom and the opener against Bristol City in the Severnside Derby.

Two of the three have been headers.

Kaba seems to have a knack for grabbing a goal even when the side are not dominating the play. He averages two shots and four accurate passes per game – more shots and fewer passes than any other striker in the squad.

He wins over five duels per game and more aerial duels than any other striker. All these numbers suggest a player who is physical, good in the air and receives the ball in positions where he can shoot.

Kion Etete

The 21-year-old Englishman has scored one goal all season – but you would be a fool not to see the improvement in his game.

Etete used to struggle for involvement. Now he leads the press, defends in his own half and moves to wide areas or wherever he can receive the ball. His insistence on being involved all over the pitch may also be his weakness, because he spends a lot of his energy in unthreatening parts of the pitch.

He averages 1.2 shots per game – significantly less than Kaba, who averages two. This is a stat that should concern even the biggest data-sceptics: fewer shots means fewer chances to score.

Etete’s heat maps from the last three games illustrate a striker that is not spending his time where strikers want to be: near goal.

Connor Wickham

Every side battling relegation need a battle-hardened striker – so when former Premier League prodigy Connor Wickham became available in January, it made perfect sense for Cardiff to snap him up.

He made his Bluebirds debut as a late substitute at Birmingham and assisted Callum Robinson to seal an important 2-0 victory away from home.

Despite limited game time, his heat map shows a striker that receives the ball outside the box and tends to play the ball to other attackers who can advance the play.

He has only started two games since the move, but in that limited time may have already proven himself as the most rounded striker in the squad. An average of 8.8 accurate passes per game from just 18 touches quantifies how he is able to hold the ball and quickly bring his team mates into play.

Isaak Davies

The 21-year-old only started one league game this season prior to Lamouchi and got his second start against West Brom.

It was the Welshman’s half-time replacement, Sory Kaba, who netted the all-important equaliser – but fans could not help but feel that Davies did not show his true potential in the first 45.

“He was not the worst in the first half – he did well. He did exactly what I asked him,” Lamouchi said after the game.

It would be unfair to judge Davies from his bit-part role this season – and he did look mightily threatening when Premier League outfit Leeds visited the Cardiff City Stadium in the FA Cup – but his first start under Lamouchi might have revealed all we need to know about how the new manager wants to use him.

Lamouchi started Davies next to Kion Etete and was frank about his idea to counter attack West Brom with pace. Before long, though, Davies moved to the right wing – still playing on the last line and threatening to run in behind, but very obviously not as a centre forward.

Davies’ numbers show that he has not hit full flight this season but City can look forward to the return of a razor-sharp attacker that threatens the space behind the backline – wherever centrally or not.


The numbers match the eye test:

  • Kion Etete is a hard worker all over the pitch.
  • Connor Wickham brings other players into the game.
  • Isaak Davies’ main weapon is pace – and that does not require that he is a striker.
  • Sory Kaba is a threat in the box – especially with headers.

Lamouchi is unlikely to play more than two of these strikers at the same time – especially if he wants to fit other forwards like Callum Robinson, Sheyi Ojo or Rubin Colwill into the side.

As long as City are in the relegation dogfight, they must start a player who can nick a goal from moments – and at the moment, Sory Kaba seems to be that man.

The question then becomes: who complements Kaba? And the answer may depend on the opposition. Connor Wickham might work best against athletic defences for his ability to hold the ball and bring other attackers into play. Isaak Davies might threaten more against a sluggish defence. If the team needs a hard worker who insists on getting stuck in, Kion Etete might be the man.

Lamouchi will be grateful that he has the options – even if he doesn’t always get it right.