UD Almeria is a Spanish professional football club based in Almeria, in the autonomous community of Andalusia. Founded in 1989, the club is currently owned by Turki Al-Sheikh, who acquired them in August 2019 with the objective of bringing them back to the elite of La Liga, after a long spell in Segunda Division.
With the arrival of the new owner, the club has been able to make a significant leap at a competitive level, thanks to the capital injection that allowed an investment in players of more than €27 million during each of the seasons 19/20 and 20/21, compensated by the departure of Darwin Nuñez to Benfica for a total of €34 million in August 2020.
Last season, the total player expenditure was reduced due to the financial restrictions of La Liga but despite this the club managed to win the league, beating off competition from the likes of Valladolid, Eibar, Las Palmas and Girona, achieving the goal of being promoted to the top tier.
This year, the reality for Almeria will be different, with a fierce competition from historical clubs with more financial power (currently the 14th club in terms of salary limit of La Liga). Will they be able to have a successful season and remain in Primera Division?
To answer that question we used some of the proprietary solutions developed at Four Nations Football Consulting to dive into Almeria's start to the 2022/23 season.
It is still very early in the La Liga season, but luckily our Team Strength Rating Solution takes into account all 50 games played and using a solver we can bypass a sample shortage problem. The model uses Expected Goals for & against to predict teams' strengths in attack and defence based on who they've played and those teams' relative strengths. Therefore, the classic saying of "they've had a difficult start to the campaign" used as a way of justifying bad performances of the teams isn't true because the model takes fixture difficulty into consideration. With that being said, let's have a look at each team's rating based on the 50 league games played this season:
Almeria currently have the 11th best attack but 5th worst defence in La Liga according to chance quality created & conceded.
Almeria's attack has been excellent for a newly-promoted team, sitting in 11th place in terms of chances created. However, they have slightly underperformed based on taking those chances, although it has only cost them one goal so far, with the league being in a very early stage. Superstar, Umar Sadiq (who scored 38 league goals in his last two seasons for Almeria in Segunda Division) has been at the heart of everything that is good for their attack again this season. He racked up a very impressive 0.64 expected goals + expected assists (xGi) per 90 minutes in the three games he played before being sold to Real Sociedad for €20m (as a replacement for Newcastle bound Alexander Isak).
El Bilal Toure has been signed (amongst others) but the 20-year old's xGi over 1,800 minutes for Stade Reims only equated to 0.23 per 90, which is roughly what Almeria can expect from him in La Liga, with the two leagues being very close in terms of quality in defence over the last two seasons (La Liga being 3% more difficult to score in during that period).
In defence, Almeria have had trouble preventing the opposition from creating meaningful chances and their defence is only better than Valencia, Cadiz, Sevilla and Elche. Goalkeeper, Fernando Martínez has prevented 1.8 goals more than would be expected from the average La Liga goalkeeper in five games (36% better than average!) - a very, very impressive start to his season. Fernando is a shot-stopper of note and he was worth 7.53 goals more than the average Segunda Division goalkeeper last season (17% better than average). Therefore, we would expect Fernando's shot-stopping heroics to regress to a mean probably lower than 17% over the course of a season given the higher quality of Primera Division strikers compared to Segunda Division. Therefore, Almeria, currently sitting in 14th position on the log, would need to improve their defence, otherwise they can in all likelihood expect to concede more goals than expected in the coming games.
To assess where Almeria's specific strength within their team lies, we've created a final score for each of the 11 players who have played most minutes (excluding the already sold Umar Sadiq). The final score compares each player's contribution to the team, in terms of Expected Goals scored and conceded, to the one of the players in the same position from other teams in La Liga Primera Division over the last two years. This allows us to assess which players are performing best in Almeria relative to a two-year average of players in their same position. For instance, we are able to compare Samu Costa's contribution to Fernando's (a midfielder with a goalkeeper) as they are being benchmarked against players in their positions. Here are the Almeria players, ranked from best to worst:
Note - although Pozo & Akieme play more as wingbacks, there wasn't sufficient La Liga data on wingbacks (since they aren't very common in Spanish football), so they've been compared to fullbacks in La Liga.
It comes as no surprise that Fernando ranks as Almeria's best player this season (and by some distance) and also the only player to have a rating that is higher than the La Liga average for their position. With our Team Strength Rating model ranking Almeria as La Liga's 16th best team this season, it is expected that most of their players would be below the league average, however the graphic above allows us to pinpoint which players are performing worse than their teammates, relative to others in their position in La Liga.
Four of the bottom five players in Almeria's starting XI (as shown above) are defensive positions, which is expected given their low defensive rating. Also in the bottom five there is Dyego Sousa, who has been playing with Ramazani in attack since the departure of Sadiq. However, as mentioned before, El Bilal Toure should take that spot soon and his xGi of 0.23 per 90 minutes should see his rank around the same level as Ramazani, so he will be a natural, significant upgrade on Sousa.
Almeria have naturally signed a lot of players in the summer transfer window, of which a lot still need to be integrated into the squad. However, with the team sitting in 14th position and performing at a level of 16th, they will need to up their game and blend their new signings pretty quickly if they are too avoid a relegation battle this season. The loss of Umar Sadiq will have to be made up for in other areas, as Toure can't replace Sadiq's contributions like-for-like, but there is hope for the club. There are nine other clubs performing worse than them in attack and four worse in defence, so they have made a start that is worth fighting for during the remaining games of the season.
This analysis is part of the process we follow when consulting for a football club, in order to identify strengths and weaknesses in the current squad, coupled with a further analysis of the financial impact of each of the players. In this case, this is just a first step to help the football departments to take the decisions on who to substitute or replace, prior to starting the data-driven search of potential targets to reinforce the squad using our recruitment model.