Let's just be frank; Hibs have been excellent this season. Similarly, Hibs' midfield has been…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so you would have probably noticed the wave of pictures across social media depicting Cardiff City midfielder Callum Paterson celebrating promotion to the English Premier League with a bottle of MD 20/20.
It was a funny photo and perhaps goes some way to characterise the peculiar and certainly unique approach young Scots take to life, but it also stood as an appropriate metaphor for Paterson’s past season in Wales.
Swigging a somewhat frowned-upon drink, smile at the ready and with an all-around relaxed demeanour, the former Hearts full-back has taken to the English Championship like a duck to water. Actually, he’s done far better than that: he has completely walked the division. And has quickly shown why he’s a truly superb box-to-box midfielder in the making.
With 10 goals and four assists to his name in 32 games, Paterson was Cardiff’s top goalscorer in the second tier of English football and was unquestionably one of the most impressive, attacking midfielders throughout the entire division.
It’ll come as little surprise to Hearts fans to hear that the lad from South Queensferry has wasted little time getting stuck in amongst the Championship defences – he did score 39 goals in 162 games for the Tynecastle side after all – but few would have expected this degree of success so quickly.
Indeed, as we can see from the graph above Paterson has averaged 0.34 non-penalty goals in the Championship for Cardiff this season. And when we compare that to every other central midfielder in the division it puts the Scotland international joint second alongside Paddy McNair, while some distance behind Matej Vydra in first. A truly remarkable achievement for a converted defender.
We’ve also stuck each player’s average xG (Expected Goals) per 90 minutes alongside their goalscoring form to showcase how accurate each player has been this season. Paterson’s stands at 0.25 per 90 minutes – notably less than his 0.34 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes – which suggests the 23-year-old has made a habit of scoring half chances when they present themselves to him.
Although the midfielder’s ability to create goals isn’t nearly as potent as his eye for goal, it’s certainly worth mentioning that he has got four assists to his name and when it comes to assists per 90 minutes in the Championship this season he stands eleventh among his midfield peers.
Of course, that’s hardly much to write home about but it’s also nothing to scoff at either. Paterson may primarily be a goal-scoring midfielder but he has proved useful to Cardiff in his ability pick out teammates in the final third.
At the top of this article I called Paterson a box-to-box midfielder and when we look at where he’s scoring his goals that should become rather apparent. The graphic above labels both his goals (red) and assists (blue) for Cardiff this season and where they happened on the pitch.
As we can see, the former Hearts player has a notable ability to find space and time in the box when scoring his goals. However, unlike some strikers, Paterson’s goals largely come from the back post or edge of the six-yard box. A tell-tale sign of his preference to make late runs into the box and fire home a simple cut back from one of his teammates.
Aside from one assist on the half-way line (a knocked-on header from a goal kick that ended up setting up the striker) Paterson also tends to find his teammates with assists in and around the box too. Which is undoubtedly down to the player’s impressive fitness levels and acceleration to get up and down the pitch with relative ease.
Of course, Paterson’s ability to get into the opposing box and score or assist for his team doesn’t mean he has grown into a player that neglects his defensive duties. Like all great box-to-box midfielders, the 23-year-old also thrives at the defensive side of the game too.
When we once again take all of the Championship’s central midfielders and rank them based on successful defensive actions per 90 minutes we find that Paterson is once again near the top of the pack with 11.55.
As the graph above shows, only Sunderland’s on-loan midfielder Jonny Williams and Cheikh N’Doye of Birmingham City averaged a higher rate over the course of the season. And when we then look at aerial duels we find that Paterson is even more impressive compared to his peers.
The Scottish midfielder’s average of 17.25 aerial duels per 90 minutes was undoubtedly the very best in the English Championship last season. Which is impressive for a young player that stands at no more than six feet tall and was apparently going to need time to adjust to the physicality of the division.
Indeed, whether it be from his ability to win headers in the middle of the pitch or from set pieces or his successful defensive actions per game, it’s clear that Paterson is not only a goal threat for Cardiff but also one of their hardest-working defensive players too. And as his team takes the step up to the Premier League next season those qualities will undoubtedly serve him well.