Why Pep can put his trust in Zinchenko

A fresh face in the Manchester City starting XI for last weekend’s win over Newcastle United was that of 21-year- old Ukrainian, and product of Shakhtar Donetsk’s academy, Oleksandr Zinchenko. Bought in the summer 2016 from FC Ufa in the Russian Premier League, Zinchenko’s main position was as an attacking midfielder who could play anywhere across the frontline. His talent was already established: at the age of 19 years and 214 days he broke a 20-year- old record held by Andriy Shevchenko as he became Ukraine’s youngest goalscorer for the national team.

In the game against Newcastle, he was given his first league start by Guardiola in a relatively new role for him as the team’s left-back, providing cover for the injured Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph. Zinchenko was not fazed, looking at home on the left-hand side of the pitch at the Etihad Stadium. He had more touches than any other player on the field and completed 94% of his passes.

He was caught out on a couple of occasions defensively in the match, and he could be considered to blame for the goal conceded in the 67 th minute. A diagonal pass played in behind him caught him flat-footed and the wrong side of Newcastle’s Jacob Murphy who had a clear run towards a one on one against Ederson. Murphy put it away to make it 2-1.

Full-backs are a vital part of City’s exciting play and style, and there Zinchenko definitely did not disappoint. It was the Ukrainian international’s attacking ability going forward that really caught the eye and left little doubt regarding his talent. Below we show all of his passes, shading them according to their importance to City’s attack.

He was arguably City’s best player in the first half, with a memorable long pass around the 20-minute mark that just about found Sane in the box. Zinchenko was generally pushing high up the pitch, overlapping constantly providing treacherous cut-backs and crosses. Six crosses were put into the box by him from the left, and even though none found a City head they were dangerous – driven in with pace and beautiful shape. Another notable contribution came in the second half as his one- touch pass to De Bruyne in the 72 nd minute opened-up Newcastle’s defence and allowed the Belgian to square the ball to Sterling who was unlucky to hit the woodwork.

It was Zinchenko who ultimately came out on top in Twelve’s Attack Performance Rankings. We look forward to seeing more of him in the future, as he matures and develops.

David Sumpter is the author of Soccermatics.
Emri Dolev is a data scientist at twelve.football