Analysis: How Will New Signing Nick Blackman Fit In At Derby County?

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Our Championship editor returns with a statistical analysis, to give his view on Nick Blackman’s transfer to Derby, and where he could fit in at his new club. 

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As most of you will be aware, Nick Blackman left Reading for Derby County earlier this week in a deal which could eventually be worth up to £4m to the Berkshire club. Blackman, whose contract with The Royals was set to expire this summer, signed a three-and-a-half year deal with the promotion hopefuls who have really set the tone in the January transfer window thus far. With Abdoul Camara having already joined from Angers for £1.25m this month, Derby have now splashed out somewhere in the region of £24m this season, making their intentions clear for all. Below, I take a look into what exactly Derby are getting with Nick Blackman, their 11th signing of the season.

Individual Brilliance

There is a reason why Derby have paid the best part of £4m for a player so close to the end of his contract, and the reason is Nick Blackman’s quality in the final third. Not only does the 26-year-old possess pace and trickery, he also has a confident head on his shoulders and it’s his attacking positivity that makes  him such an asset to the team. When at the helm of Reading, Steve Clarke was quoted saying “Nick Blackman does things in training that take your breath away,”  but for Blackman he is by no means limited to the training field, having netted 11 goals this season at a rate of 187 minutes per goal, ranking him 3rd in the Championship. Despite Derby having scored the 2nd highest number of goals this season (37) they will be keen to maintain their effectiveness in front of goal, and with Blackman currently boasting the most shots per game this season, he could prove to be a vital cog in the Derby attack. I’ve also highlighted Blackman’s successful dribbles and fouls won per game (both ranking in the top 10 in the league), to emphasise his potential to provide a sole outlet for his side when perhaps others around him aren’t having their best day at the office.

Passing Problems

On the other hand, whilst £4m is a healthy sum it won’t buy you perfection and Nick Blackman certainly still has areas for improvement. With all his individual brilliance and confidence, Blackman arguably lacks a fundamental element to his game, teamwork. Don’t get me wrong Nick Blackman is a talented individual, but do I think his individual quality is good enough to justify just 24.9 passes per game; absolutely not – especially when you take into account that Cristiano Ronaldo, one the greatest individuals in the game, averages 30.3 passes per game (5.4 per game more than Blackman). His selfishness is highlighted in his number of assists this season, with a disappointing 0.08 assists per game ranking him 109th in the Championship. Although Blackman’s average key passes and crosses per game may appear as slightly more encouraging, the finer details suggest not. Of his 23 starts this season, Blackman has started as a wide attacker in 65% of them and when taking into consideration his record of 0.9 key passes and 0.3 crosses per game, you’ve got to question his contribution to a team game from this role. In fact, there are 110 players with a better key pass average and 118 with more crosses per game than Nick Blackman in 2015/16.

Where Does He Fit In?

Playing for Reading this season, Blackman has started 57% of games as a right-sided attacker and 22% of games as a centre-forward, but at Derby I think this should be changed. After analysing Blackman’s season thus far, it appears as though he is far more suited to the centre-forward role, with a low chance creation rate and high efficiency in front of goal backing this up perfectly. Regardless of his impact at Reading, however, it’s the current players within Derby’s squad which will ultimately decide where Paul Clement wishes to deploy him. Using Squawka’s player comparison matrix, I’ve put Blackman up against Derby’s top performing right attacking midfielder and centre-forward to see where their new signing may fit in. Despite being shy of Blackman’s goals scored and total shots average, Tom Ince’s chance creation blows him out of the water, and as arguably Derby’s top performer this season, I can’t see Blackman displacing Ince anytime soon. As a centre-forward, however, it would appear he can stake a claim as he outscores the Rams skipper (Chris Martin) on goals and shots per game comfortably, but dropping the skipper would be a brave call. The only other option available to Paul Clement is to try Blackman in an unfamiliar left-sided position, but with his low chance creation and high dependency on cutting in from the right to shoot; this could be a risky move. Ultimately, if I was Paul Clement I would be inclined to utilise Nick Blackman’s end product in the centre-forward role, as I believe this would harness his true potential without affecting Derby’s current style of play.

Nick Blackman vs Tom Ince & Chris Martin.
Nick Blackman vs Tom Ince & Chris Martin.

I guess the two questions that need answering are: Can Clement drop the captain or in-form Ince to start Blackman? Or will he risk Blackman in an unfamiliar left-sided position? If the answer is no, then Derby’s newest forward may have to settle with a place on the bench for now.

*statistics sourced from whoscored.com