Finding Brighton a Glenn Murray replacement
Glenn Murray is nothing short of a club legend at Brighton, scoring 111 and assisting 20 in 285 games for the club. Across Brighton’s first two Premier League seasons he netted 25 goals — 36% of Brighton’s total goals — from 4,721 minutes played, averaging a goal every 188 minutes. What makes this more impressive is that he did so in an incredibly low possession and considerably pragmatic Brighton side.
The Albion poached Neal Maupay from Brentford last summer for around £20m, with the West-London outfit renowned for their unorthodox, modern recruitment processes; Brentford ditched their academy a few years back and owner Matthew Benham has brought the Moneyball principle across from Norway and Baseball. This principle, at the most reductionist level, looks to make data-driven decisions.
With Glenn Murray firmly cemented into the twilight years of his career, Brighton are going to have to start looking for replacements to replenish not only his output, but more importantly the style of striker that he offers, as he is stylistically contrasting to Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly.
What then, is the Glenn Murray template?
Glenn Murray might just be the archetypal English striker; Murray is most active in the opposition box. 113 of his 124 Premier League shots at Brighton have been inside the area, which equates to well over 90%. The 36-year-old has never possessed speed like Maupay, coupling clever blindside movements off the back of defenders with, at times, moments of standing still or slow walking to attack the ball late. Of the 31 goals Murray has scored across all competitions in the last three seasons, 23 have been non-penalty goals — he’s a very good penalty taker, too — and a whopping 19 goals were converted using 1-touch finishes.
Comparatively, Neal Maupay’s average 18-yard-box xG/shot at Brighton is 0.13, with Murray’s sitting pretty at 0.2. Murray shoots relatively infrequently, averaging marginally over 2 shots per 90 minutes, suggesting he opts more for shot quality than quantity. Without delving too deep into underlying xG variables here, Murray is an incredibly central box shooter; just 1 of his 26 Premier League goals for Brighton has been scored outside the width of the 6-yard box — the exquisite opener he bagged at Selhurst Park in the 18/19 season, when Brighton famously won 2–1. What makes Murray’s almost exclusive opposition box operation more impressive is the comparative infrequency that he touches the ball in this zone at; in the 18/19 season he recorded 103 touches in the opposition box (3.69 per 90) and in the 17/18 season that figure was 107 (4.39 per 90), such outputs only ranked him 50th and 38th — among all Premier League players — respectively for total touches in that part of the pitch.
Murray is relatively uninvolved in most build-up phases, recording marginally over 1 shot-creating action per 90 minutes at Brighton, with his modest xGBuildup figures below 0.1 in all three seasons. Though, he does offer an essential out ball — Murray’s 47% aerial success rate last season ranked him just outside the top 20% of strikers in Europe’s top 5 leagues, with the Englishman winning 109 of the 233 aerial duels he competed in. This season, Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly won a combined 31 aerial duels, just one more than Murray, though the Frenchman and Irishman lost over 130 as a pairing. Individually, their success rates of 16% and 22.5% respectively were two of the worst at Brighton — only Leandro Trossard won a lower proportion of his aerial duels; given their height, it would be unjust to expect high success rates from either forward in such scenarios, which only enhances the requirement for a taller striker who is biologically predisposed to be more effective in these situations.
To summarise, Brighton are after a box striker, capable of finishing one touch with either foot or the head, able to do so with limited service and win a sufficient number of aerial duels per game.
The Data — who, what, where, when, why?
To find a Glenn Murray replacement, this article has utilised the incredibly clever Smarterscout search details, which use a collation of performance metrics to give an overall output to compare players by. The filters used were: players with a similar season to Glenn Murray’s 18/19 campaign, 1000+ minutes played across their season and aged 29 or younger. Firstly, though, it is important to consider the players Brighton have already been linked with, or rumoured as interested in:
As early as January, the Albion were being linked with potential ‘replacements’; Sehrou Guirassy was the primary link. The 24-year-old netted 9 times — marginally overachieving his 8.72xG in the process — and assisted 2 in a struggling Amiens side, whom finished second bottom and suffered relegation to Ligue 2.
Guirassy fits the Murray mould stylistically, though the French talisman has already been covered in a full thread, so for those desiring greater analysis on the forward, take a read below:
Sebastian Andersson was another name tossed into the pile; the Swedish striker impressed in Union Berlin’s debut Bundesliga season, with him and Union in many ways reflective of Murray and Brighton in the 2017/18 season; a low-possession side who defended deep, but frustrated teams and broke the 40 points mark, relying on their talisman for over 30% of their goals. Andersson scored 12, marginally below his xG of 13.03, though his aerial ability was unmatched, as he won 229 aerial duels across the season, the most of any Bundesliga player by a colossal 94.
A forward adept in the air is desirable, since Neal Maupay recorded the fifth worst aerial duel win percentage in the league last season, losing over 83% of such duels. Both Guirassy and Andersson stand at well over 6 foot, a threshold which Murray slightly exceeds. Whilst there is no necessity for a target man to be exceed a certain height, Dan Burn has proved that the taller you are, the harder you are to outjump.
Most recently, Darwin Nuñez’s name has been added to the list, though he may be considered a more expensive option; aged just 21 Brighton would have to pay for his potential, as well as the hefty price tag Almeria have placed on him, given he only joined the club last August. It goes without saying that Brighton have an incredibly strong track record in poaching strikers from the Spanish side — Leo Ulloa and, more recently, Tomer Hemed both arrived from Almeria, both going on to record impressive goalscoring records at the club — Ulloa netted 28 and assisted 8 in 70 games, whilst Hemed scored on 33 occasions and set up a further 12 goals in 108 games.
Nuñez’s record from this season suggests nothing less than a continuation of the pattern, should he sign. Contextually, most of Ulloa and Hemed’s games and goals for Brighton were Championship ones, thus nobody would be expecting Nuñez to replicate his output from the season just gone in LaLiga 2. His 16 strikes and 2 assists make for pretty reading, whilst showcasing his ability to beat opponents in recording 1.3 successful dribbles per 90 (56% success rate). Whilst the internationally capped Uruguayan may not yet demonstrate the same level of aerial prowess as Andersson or Guirassy, his minutes per goal average of 152 this season is seriously impressive, especially for a player in their first full season in Spain.
Now then, onto the Smarterscout recommendations. These few are cherry picked from the list following playing observations, as alongside their strong statistical outputs, they all visually look capable of performing a Murray ‘role’ — passing the eye test is as important as passing the statistical one. Furthermore, none of the recommendations have recently transferred clubs, so hypothetically all these transfers could occur.
Option 1 — Sebastian Andersson
Already mentioned as a rumour, Andersson is the only one in this article to be both linked and filter down as a recommended target. His aerial ability has already been deservedly acknowledged from a duelling perspective, and such capabilities are consistent from a finishing perspective; the 7 headed goals the 6-foot-2 forward bagged was only bettered by Robert Lewandowski, showing that the Scandinavian talisman is equally aerially devastating when attacking crosses.
The Swede has shown similar goalscoring patterns to Murray; all 12 of his Bundesliga goals were finished inside the penalty area, as Andersson took just 7 shots outside the box all season, taking just 64 shots in total.
His ability to, alike Murray, find dangerous shooting positions inside the box is reflected by his average shot xG, which in the box stands at 0.18, with this figure becoming a whopping 0.43 inside the 6-yard box. All bar one of his finishes came outside the line of the goalposts this season, as he averaged marginally over 4.5 touches in the opposition box per game.
The expansive style of play that Potter has implemented at Brighton has naturally required players to be competent in playing under pressure, as short and low tempo play naturally draws a press. As of the end of June, Andersson was the most under-pressure passer in the Bundesliga:
One can safely assume that Andersson would not be coming in as a first-choice striker, but rather as an option for Potter in more pragmatic approaches or in periods of game management. That said, the 29-year-old showed good availability for Union last season, playing almost 90% of minutes. His age, too, could be beneficial for Brighton, as this eliminates any price premium that an U23 forward may carry.
Option 2 — Andreas Cornelius
The ex-Cardiff City striker spent last season on loan at Palma, displaying incredibly clinical finishing to score 12 goals from just 7.53xG. The 6-foot-3 forward boasts similar high-quality shot numbers to Andersson, with the Dane heading home four goals this season. Whilst clinical finishing is naturally desirable, the likelihood of a repeated output from such xG is low, so one would expect to see a goalscoring regression if his xG remained unchanged. Though, not to take away from his impressive finishing, only 5 players overachieved their xG by a greater value than Cornelius, whom, for what it’s worth, bettered Ronaldo’s xG overachievement of 2.1.
Another aerial powerhouse, the Scandinavian won the seventh-most aerial duels in Serie A last season — 93 in total. There are two departments where the Atalanta forward edges Andersson; firstly, he recorded more shot-creating actions (SCA) than him, in fewer minutes played. Cornelius recorded a notable 2.23 SCAs per 90 minutes, a total which marginally exceeds Maupay’s from the season just gone, pointing to the idea that Cornelius could almost be a hybrid between the Frenchman and Murray.
Secondly, Cornelius is left-footed. On paper, this may be seemingly irrelevant. Having a striker who plays on the opposite foot to someone like Maupay means that Cornelius’ natural way of playing opens up the other side of the pitch, which may further compliment him to the Frenchman. Potter has shown clear affiliation to versatile players in capturing Adam Lallana and Joël Veltman, whom can both play in multiple positions. Whilst he may not be as positionally versatile, having a forward so different from Maupay and Connolly in most departments certainly provides Potter with balance and options.
His balanced style as a creator and finisher was surely shown best in Palma’s 4–1 humbling of Genoa; Cornelius netted a hat-trick from just 5 shots and 0.91xG, whilst simultaneously creating 3 chances and assisting the only goal he didn’t score — no player on the pitch better him for any of those metrics, and unsurprisingly his performance was given a perfect ten by SofaScore.
Option 3 — Ante Budimir
Relegated RCD Mallora’s talisman ranked among the top 20 players in La Liga for xG overachievement, netting 13 times from 10.3xG. True to the Murray pattern, all thirteen were scored from inside the box, three of which were headed finishes.
Not only is he similar to Cornelius in their shared xG overachievement, but both are left-footed. Budimir ranks beyond the 80th percentile for conversion rate, xG/shot and aerial duel success rate, ranked against all other La Liga forwards; for a bottom 2 club striker to be in the top 20% of league forwards, in particular for shot quality metrics, it shows he more than has the necessary ability.
Budimir, standing at just over 6-foot-2, ranks 5th in La Liga for total aerial duels won last season, succeeding on 141 occasions. Post-lockdown, he netted four times, a total which bettered Andersson (1 goal) and could only be matched by Cornelius — whom scored 75% of his post-lockdown goals in 35 match minutes against Palma.
An underrated element of Murray’s game is his penalty taking; excluding shoot-outs, he’s scored 12/14 penalties — 86% conversion rate — taken in his second spell at Brighton, though the two he missed were both in the Premier League. Even so, the 8/10 penalties he put away in the Premier League is above the expected conversion rate of around 75%. Budimir has a scarily identical record to Murray, though this is providing you compare Murray’s second Brighton spell to the Croatian’s career record; the 29-year-old has scored 12 of the 14 he’s taken across his career, including all three for Mallorca.
Whilst Nuñez would follow the Hemed and Ulloa pattern, Budimir’s career path would likewise look similar to the Israeli if he joined the Albion, as Hemed played for Mallorca before joining Almeria. Aged 29, Budimir could well be peaking, alike the two other Smarterscout recommendations.
Some systematic context — what’s the Murray role in Potterball?
One common denominator across the three is their role as typically isolated forwards this season; Andersson played the lone striker role for Union, whom ideally set up with a Potter approved-and-used back three, though there were times he played with a strike partner. Cornelius’ Palma opted mainly for a 4–3–3, whilst Budimir was incredibly reflective of Murray in a Mallorca set-up which was incredibly reflective of Brighton 17–18 to 18/19 — the Croatian led the line as Mallorca rotated between a 4–4–1–1, 4–1–4–1 and 4–2–3–1.
Whilst Potter has used lone strikers and strike partnerships rotationally this season, it is impressive to see the three spotlighted strikers all achieve this output in relative isolation. The likelihood would be that any target man that Potter uses would play alongside Maupay or Connolly, just like when Potter used Murray and Maupay together at Sheffield United.
Though it is evident that Potter does not centralise his system(s) around strikers of Murray’s style, it is clear that they have their place; 16 of his Premier League appearances this season were as a substitute, the most of any Brighton player by 6. Nine of those cameos from the bench were in games where Brighton were losing at the point of Murray being substituted on, so Potter must see him, or another striker of his type, as a plan B option.
Following his equaliser against West Ham, Murray signed a new 1-year contract, which runs until the end of next season (2020/21). It appears increasingly likely that this will be his final playing year at the club, but with Steve Sidwell, Bruno and Liam Rosenior — before he left to Derby — all undertaking roles at the club following their retirement, it would certainly be desirable to see Murray remain connected to the club in some capacity. One would imagine as a striker coach. Regardless, Murray’s output for Brighton, over the years and across the divisions, has been consistent and crucial, meaning whoever does end up being his replacement has considerable shoes to try and fill.