Written by Arab Analytics
New Dundee United manager Micky Mellon has largely the same squad of players to work with which Robbie Neilson achieved promotion and that means that Nicky Clark could be pivotal at the start of this Premiership season.
Lawrence Shankland got all the plaudits last season, with considerable justification given that he scored 28 goals in 33 games in all competitions, but behind the headlines there was a lot to be said for Clark and the notable difference in performance of both Shankland and United as a whole when he was out of the side.
At a very basic level there was a notable difference between the games in which Clark played (for more than the 60 minutes or more benchmark which I’ve set for this piece) and those that he didn’t. United’s points per game dropped from 2.85 when Clark was in the side to 1.57 when he wasn’t and the goals scored per game dropped from 2.23 to 1.64. Expected Goals (xG) per 90 increased slightly from 1.38 to 1.48 when Clark played, and
the xG per shot figure went from 0.09 to 0.12 – a 30% difference.
But it was in the performances of Shankland that we saw the biggest change. The Scotland international’s goals per 90 dipped from 1.19 to 0.65 and xG per 90 went from 0.67 to 0.53 in fixtures where Clark played compared with those that he didn’t feature in at all or played less than 60 minutes.
Shankland’s numbers improved on almost every metric shown above
when Clark was in the side. The only decreases that we see are minimal reductions in terms of Assists per 90 and Touches in the penalty area per 90 and a notable change in the number of Team Crosses. Neilson had no like-for like replacement when Clark was forced to undergo surgery on a broken bone in his ankle that ruled him out for the season and the stats help show the tactical and stylistic impact this had.
The stats suggest that when Shankland plays without Clark United were more likely to resort to crossing the ball into the box but when Clark
and Shankland line up together there was a more patient, centralised approach to the Terrors’ play.
The player radar below offers another visualisation of how Shankland’s outputs changed last season when Clark was and wasn’t involved in the starting XI.
All of the above is based on data from a Championship winning season, with the team playing under a different manager and for that reason we have to be cautious about any conclusions drawn from them an applied to the new Premiership season. However, it does seem clear that, although Lawrence Shankland is certainly the most important component of this Dundee United side, Nicky Clark is in turn a significant factor in getting the best out of the sought-after striker.
Whatever United manage do in the transfer window over the coming weeks under Mellon having a fully-fit Clark back available for the start of the season isa big plus.