Bajrami, Man in the Middle?
As voted by you this week’s feature article will look at Geraldo Bajrami; we will compare him to the other midfield options, determine whether he is the long term midfield partner for Palmer and also look at whether he is better deployed in defence, or in the middle of the park.
I think all Notts fans will agree that Matty Palmer is the first name on the team sheet in midfield, so whoever is paired with Palmer should have complimentary attributes. Palmer plays 63.41 passes per 90, the 2nd highest in the division (Baldwin is 1st with 75.6 per 90), and Palmer plays a key role in ball retention, as well as often acting as a ‘shuttler’ in ball progression.
Palmer is also extremely safe in possession, completing 91.61% of his passes, so the player alongside him wouldn’t have to worry too much about being on the ball, but be more focused upon being combative. Similarly, with the way Luke Williams likes to play there is little to no responsibility placed upon the central midfielders to create, with the onus falling more upon the wing backs as well as the 3 forward players to create chances.
So how does Bajrami compare to the other options to partner Palmer?
Bajrami plays 42.89 passes per 90, a figure which is very similar to Jim O’Brien, who plays 41.02 passes per 90. The 3rd option in midfield is of course Ed Francis, who plays 52.65 passes per 90, a considerable amount more than his competition, and a figure which ranks him 5th in terms of passes per 90 in the National League. Context is important here though, as Francis was actually tasked with playing the Palmer role in his absence, and he actually only played alongside Palmer for around 90 minutes. As such, his passing stats may be slightly skewed. As the other midfielder will only play a supporting role in terms of passing, all 3 options look capable in this regard, and all 3 will undoubtedly be utilised at some point throughout the season.
On Saturday we saw how tidy Bajrami is in possession, with little touches here and there, as well as superb technique catching the eye. We also saw the rangy Albanian turn the ball over numerous times, battling just as adeptly in the right areas as he did the open space. So good was his overall performance that he was successful in 71% of his actions, a huge number underlining how well rounded his performance was. He also completed 93% of his passes, won 13 duels and turned the ball over 12 times, a really impressive array of stats. But how does he compare to the other options at our disposal?
Ed Francis had a superb game against Maidenhead, so his stats for that one are very impressive; however, you must consider the quality of opposition, and with all due respect to Maidenhead, they are likely to be in the bottom half come the end of the season.
A perhaps more comparable game is the one away to Boreham Wood, where Francis won 7 of his 15 duels; not a bad tally, but also not as impressive as Bajrami. Francis played over 100 minutes in this one, and yet only completed 9 recoveries, 3 less than Bajrami did against Solihull. Whilst there isn’t a great deal in it, Baj just has the edge, and when you consider the physical advantages he brings you would expect him to be higher in the pecking order.
Jim O’Brien played 96 minutes against Halifax in the 4-1 win, but he only managed to record a 49% success rate in all actions. This is considerably lower than Bajrami managed against Solihull, and once again with all due respect to Halifax, Solihull are a better side.
Of his 24 duels O’Brien only won 8, but he did slightly better in the air, winning 4 of 7. What the stats can’t tell us is how crucial Jim is to the press; he often acts as the trigger point, springing the press for the whole side. The highest number of recoveries O’Brien has recorded this season is 10, actually against Chesterfield, which may come as a surprise to some. O’Brien offers a completely different skill set to Bajrami; he is a relentless runner, one who will aim to get past the man, rather than sit and destroy like Bajrami. Therefore it is likely both options will be used throughout the season, depending on the type of opposition we face.
We’ve now seen Bajrami play in 3 different roles, leading us to question which position he is best in; we saw the Albanian play at the left of the back 3 against Gateshead, through the middle against Chesterfield and in midfield against Solihull.
The only other game Bajrami has played 90+ minutes was at LCB against Gateshead, a game he actually made more passes in; Bajrami completed 48 passes in the LCB role, 9 more than he made when playing in midfield. However, whilst Baj got less time on the ball in midfield, he was far busier in the middle, being involved in 9 more duels on the ground, and 5 more in the air. Clearly when played in the middle Bajrami is far more combative, something which he thrived on, getting him shouts for man of the match.
On the face of it, Bajrami is better off closer to the action, where he can get stuck in and complete ball recoveries, and in both he hit double figures for recoveries. Against Gateshead you could see that type of thinking was the motivation behind playing him on the left of the 3, as our central defender often drops deeper, allowing the other 2 centre backs to overlap.
Baj got forward well, but you could tell he was uncomfortable in his new role, something Luke Williams eluded to in his post match interview. Bajrami often had to try and shift the ball onto his right, rather than play the ball first time out to Chicksen, something which would be more natural to a left footer. Therefore, whilst Baj remains an option as LCB cover, I wouldn’t consider it his strongest position.
Bajrami did come on against Chesterfield for the injured Baldwin, occupying the central of the 3 defenders. He here didn't look out of his depth, and he adapted really quickly, especially considering the magnitude of the game, and the stage the game was at. However, in this role we lose much of Bajrami’s combative ability, simply down to the fact that he is further away from the action, and is instead tasked with dropping deep as a distributor.
In fact, across Bajrami’s 42 minutes playing as the central defender, he has only attempted 8 passes, completing 6 of them. He also attempted 2 long passes, and completed 0, showing he perhaps isn’t best suited to the deep creator role employed in Luke Williams’ system. Bajrami also only made 5 recoveries across the 42 minutes, so clearly we lose some of his destructive qualities when he is played in this role.
Clearly, in Bajrami we have a supremely talented player, who is also extremely versatile. One of Bajrami’s greatest strengths, his ability to play in 3 different roles, has perhaps worked against him so far, as Luke Williams may not have been sure as to what his best role actually is. However, after his performance against Solihull, Williams will be under little doubt as to where the Notts fans want to see Bajrami play; whilst he may not start in the ‘destroyer’ role every week, he really is the long term partner to Matty Palmer.
Geraldo Bajrami is the real deal.
As always, thanks for reading.
Your Notts County Stats Team:
Richard - @notts_stats
Tom - @tomhwilliams23
Colin - @Colin_Sisson