Bela of the ball

On Wednesday, Blues announced the signing of French attacker Jérémie Bela on a free transfer. The Frenchman signed a three year contract and could make his debut on Saturday at home to Fulham. Bela spent last season with Albacete in the Spanish second tier, but became a free agent after a contract dispute in the summer.

Bela was mostly deployed as a left winger for Albacete, cutting in on his favoured right foot, but he can also play wide right or through the middle. He possesses an abundance of pace, and had a decent scoring record in Spain, notching 0.31 non-penalty goals per 90 in 2800 minutes of action. However he vastly outperformed his expected goals of 0.15 NPxG per 90, so it is doubtful that he will duplicate such a fruitful goalscoring return. He has a stereotypical winger shot map, taking about 2 shots per 90, with most of them coming from distance or at a tight angle to the goal.

The pacey wide man is a good dribbler, but he is not as direct as someone like Jefferson Montero who looks to beat his man at every opportunity. Bela tends to use his speed as a counter attacking weapon, bursting upfield with the ball after a turnover. It was a clear plan of Albacete to look for Bela when they won the ball back and he would attack the open spaces left by the opposition, progressing his team into the final third.

Bela is not a creative threat from out wide, he only assisted 2 goals last season. He averaged 0.59 shot assists per 90 last season, with the majority being passes inside for teammates to shoot from distance, resulting in a very pedestrian 0.06 expected assists per 90. For comparison Fran Villalba is averaging 0.26 xA on 2.42 shot assists per 90 minutes this season.

It is not clear where Bela will fit into this Blues team which is functioning so well at the moment. In terms of style he is most similar to Fran Villalba, as a right footed left midfielder who looks to drift inside frequently, however Villalba offers a more well-rounded threat of goalscoring and creativity so it is difficult to see Bela ousting Villalba from the starting 11. Another role that Bela could fill is the second striker slot behind Juke, where Kerim Mrabti has been for the last few games. Mrabti is more creative and a better presser but Bela could offer more dynamism in this role and a superior goal threat. Pep Clotet also indicated that the signing of Bela gives him the option to play 433 so we could see Mrabti and Bela playing off Juke.

To conclude, Bela could be a useful addition to the squad as he brings a new skillset to the attack. He offers more pace in transition than Villalba or Maghoma and is more durable than Montero, while scoring at a higher rate than Mrabti. Given this is a free transfer and without knowing the wages, it is difficult to assess the value Blues are getting on this deal, but one could make the argument that these resources would be better placed elsewhere. At 26 years old, Bela is unlikely to improve as a player, and his stats show him to be a league-average attacker. Blues squad is already bloated, and this signing will push the likes of Odin Bailey further down the pecking order. With the financial situation Blues are in, and the club seeming intent on adding a striker in January, this signing seems a bit unnecessary.

Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC

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