Replacing Che

Che Adams has today completed his move to Southampton after Blues accepted a £15m bid (which may rise to £20m with add-ons) from Southampton for Che Adams. Whilst the fee may disappoint some fans, it seems that this is the going rate for high-end Championship strikers, as similar fees were paid for Britt Assombalonga and Chris Wood in recent seasons. While Che is younger than both of these players when they made their transfers, Blues financial woes mean they have little leverage to negotiate further.

Adams was Blues leading scorer with 22 goals last season, as well as chipping in with 4 assists. He formed an effective partnership with Lukasz Jutkiewicz, who provided 5 of the assists for his goals. Adams’ ball-carrying ability allowed Garry Monk’s team to move up the pitch, alleviating pressure on the defence. Balls were regularly knocked into the channels for Adams to chase, he would then occupy defenders, and either draw fouls or beat them with his combination of upper body strength and explosive pace. Che’s off-ball movement was also critical in allowing him to get into position for quality chances, as he is not a high-volume shooter.

In order to replicate Adams’ production next season, Blues will need to find a player with similar qualities. However, Adams possesses a rare combination of skills that will be difficult to replace. He was one of only 2 players (Bradley Dack being the other) in the Championship last season (more than 1000 minutes) who averaged 0.4 expected goals (xG) and 4.5 dribbles per 90 minutes. Che was also able to achieve this with only 2.5 shots per 90, so it would be ideal if the replacement has also shown a propensity to get on the end of high quality chances.

I have had a look at the options, in-house and in the transfer market, that Blues could explore in order to find an adequate replacement to play the “Che Adams role” in this Blues side.

Isaac Vassell

On the surface Vassell seems to be a very similar player to Che Adams, in that he is an accomplished dribbler, with even more raw pace and strength than Adams. In his time with Luton in League 2, Vassell played more than 2500 minutes and averaged 0.35 xG and 5.1 dribbles per 90. He only completed 56% of his dribbles in this time, which is worse than Adam’s 66% success rate, showing that while he is a similar type of player to Adams in terms of their direct style, he is not as effective at beating defenders. He is also not as proficient at getting on the end of chances so may struggle to fill the goalscoring void that Adams leaves. It should also be noted that it is a big step up from being on the best team in League 2, to playing for an average Championship team, so it would be a difficult task for Vassell to produce similarly for Blues.

Since his time at Luton, Vassell has struggled with knee injuries and has only been injury-free since February. In his time on the pitch since the return from injury, he has shown similar dribbling ability, putting up 4.4 dribbles per 90, but minimal shooting output, with only 1 shot in 368 minutes (0.24 per 90).

To conclude, it would be ideal for the club if Vassell could step up to fill Che Adams’ vacancy as he would be the cheapest option, and he certainly deserves a chance to prove himself in pre-season. But it would be irresponsible for Blues to solely rely on Vassell, without bringing in other competition as there are clear question marks over his suitability for the role.

Harry Cornick

Cornick is a 24 year old forward who plays for Luton. He is one of only 5 players who surpassed the 0.4 xG, 4.5 dribbles per 90 threshold in League 1 last season. While the others are either out of our price range (Karlan Grant), too old for our already aging squad (Lyle Taylor) or more suited to playing wide (Scott Kashket), Luton forwards Cornick and Elliott Lee look like interesting prospects. However Cornick should be easier to pry away from Luton, as he only played 1500 minutes for them last season, whereas Lee played a bigger role in their promotion, racking up 3000 minutes.

Cornick’s attacking output is similar to Adams’, he averaged 0.42 xG on 2.4 shots per 90 minutes last season. He averaged 6.71 dribbles per 90 last season, this is more than Adams’ 4.5 but he had a lower success rate, 61% compared to 66%. This could be attributed to Cornick’s slighter frame; he does not seem to possess the physical fortitude of Adams or Vassell but relies more on his pace and quick feet to elude defenders.

While there are similar question marks to Vassell in terms of his ability to step up to the Championship, Cornick has performed at a higher level than Vassell already, and is at a younger age so is more likely to develop futher. He is entering his peak years and should be available for a reasonable fee and moderate wages so would be an astute transfer for Blues. If Luton’s reported interest in Isaac Vassell materialises, Blues should definitely enquire about the availability of Cornick or Elliott Lee in exchange.

Moussa Kone

Blues have shown an ability to identify talents in lesser known European leagues recently with the signings of Krystian Pedersen and Kerim Mrabti. An enhanced recruitment and scouting strategy was also mentioned in the statement announcing the sacking of Garry Monk, so we can expect more of this type of signing in the coming seasons.

Moussa Kone is a 22 year old Senegalese striker who plays for Dynamo Dresden in the Bundesliga 2, the league where Pedersen was previously plying his trade. In limited minutes last season, Kone scored 9 goals and assisted 3 more. He averaged 0.4 expected goals on 2.1 shots per 90 minutes and attempted 4.2 dribbles with a 60% success rate.

Dynamo Dresden averaged 47.8% possession last season, looking to hit teams on the counter attack. Kone’s searing pace was used to get in behind the opposition back line and he showed an ability to quickly shift the ball away from defenders to get a clear sight of goal; this was a quality that Che Adams used to great effect last season.

In summary, Kone is a young prospect who would require a larger fee than Cornick, as Dynamo Dresden bought him from FC Zurich for €2 million in January 2018 and they would be looking to make a profit on him. This transfer may be seen as higher risk due to Kone not having played in British football before, however the fact that his profile is so similar to Adams’ and the team he played on had a similar approach to Blues, should ease the transition process. He is younger than the other options at 22 years of age, and has performed in a stronger league than Cornick or Vassell, so he represents the highest potential upside out of the players. If Blues are willing to re-invest some of the Che Adams transfer money, Kone would be an exciting purchase.

George Puşcaş

The Birmingham Mail have reported today that Blues are interested in signing Puşcaş; who played for Palermo in the Italian second tier last season.

The striker has returned to Inter Milan after Palermo defaulted on their transfer payment for the player and Inter are keen to sell. However there is expected to be a lot of competition for the player’s signature after he starred for the Romanian team who reached the semi finals of the under 21 European Championships this summer, including beating England en route. Puşcaş scored 4 goals in the tournament, but 3 came from the penalty spot.

Puşcaş scored 9 goals and assisted 3 for Palermo last season, playing just under 2000 minutes. He averaged 0.48 expected goals on 2.97 shots per 90 minutes, so seems able to shoulder the goalscoring burden that fell upon Che Adams last season. He only attempts 2.97 dribbles per 90, showing that this is not so much part of his game but is effective when he does so, completing 60% of his dribbles. In terms of playing style, Puşcaş is similar to Sam Gallagher: he has a lean, 6″2 frame but is not as much of a physical presence as Lukasz Jutkiewicz, winning only 38% of his aerial duels, compared to Juke’s 48%, and is a competent dribbler but is not gifted with the explosive acceleration of Adams to create separation from defenders.

In conclusion, Puşcaş looks like a very dangerous striker, who has proven pedigree of scoring goals in a second tier league. At 23 years of age, he will just be entering his prime and is the type of player that Blues should be targeting, so this reported interest is promising. He is a slightly different profile of player to Che Adams, so should not be viewed as a direct replacement, but offers a more well-rounded skillset than any other striker that Blues possess.

Other options

Nahki Wells was on loan to QPR from Burnley last season and averaged 0.34 expected goals on 2.9 shots per 90 minutes, and 3.3 dribbles with a 67% success rate. He played a similar role to Che Adams but not to as high a level. He may be a shrewd signing on loan, but a permanent deal would not be smart as he is 29 years old and his game is reliant on his pace.

Rhys Healey is a 24 year old striker who was on loan to MK Dons in League 2 for the first half of the 2018/19 season. In this time he averaged 0.44 xG on 3.95 shots and attempted 5.22 dribbles, completing 78%. Early indications are that Cardiff plan to use Healey in the first team squad this season, but he may be available for a reasonable price if Blues were to test their resolve.

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