Some things are just meant to go together. Scotland and rain, Killie and pies, and…
Is there a more frustrating player in the Scottish Premiership than Gary Mackay-Steven (GMS)? The Aberdeen winger has the ability to win a game single-handedly, yet as time goes on he rarely exhibits the full extent of his talents.
In fact, last time we wrote about GMS on the site was following his mercurial display against Hibs in December. He scored a hat-trick and provided one assist and was essentially unplayable. The familiar calls of “all he needs to find is consistency” followed and Aberdeen fans would have been hoping they’d finally see the GMS that impressed at Dundee United and, briefly, at Celtic.
Unfortunately for the Pittodrie faithful what has followed is anything but consistency. GMS has yet to score or provide an assist in the league since that day against Neil Lennon’s side. Knowing they have a player on their books who is able to have such a significant impression on a match, but continuously doesn’t, can only be wholly frustrating to Aberdeen supporters.
It’s getting to the stage where you have to wonder whether we’ll ever see the GMS who set the stage alight at Dundee United?
First thing’s first, the most obvious barometer to measure GMS’ effectiveness is by comparing his contribution at Aberdeen to that at Celtic and Dundee United. Many consider the winger’s best performances to be in a tangerine shirt during the first half of the 2014/15 season.
Indeed the numbers back up this notion. During his time at Dundee United GMS scored 5 goals and provided 8 assists. However, what’s perhaps more impressive is that he chipped in with a goal and/or assist every 107.8 minutes.
During the 2015/16 campaign with Celtic, the 27-year-old also had a decent return. It’s easy to forget given the diminished game time he received before eventually moving to the Granite City. Although he wasn’t as prolific in Glasgow, he was still scoring a goal or producing an assist every 160 minutes; which is not to be sniffed at.
Fast forward to GMS in the red of Aberdeen and the picture isn’t so rosy. Sure he’s got four goals, but three of them are from one match against Hibs. Simply put, GMS is not only producing fewer goals and assists but is taking a significantly longer time to do so. It now takes him double the amount of game time to provide a goal/assist for Aberdeen than it did during his time at Dundee United.
So case closed, right? GMS has been very disappointing for Aberdeen and that’s that. Well, how about we compare him to Aberdeen’s other wingers to gauge his effectiveness within Derek McInnes’ side?
We’re giving GMS another chance. After all, maybe his numbers for this season aren’t as bad as other wingers in the squad. Although with the likes of Ryan Christie and Niall McGinn you have to think that’s unlikely.
A deeper look confirms the expected. Yes, it takes GMS less time than Greg Stewart and Scott Wright to pop up with goals and assists. Conversely, the former Celtic man’s numbers pale in comparison to McGinn (60.7 minutes per G/A) and Christie (134 minutes per G/A).
McGinn has played fives games, but any concerns about him hitting the ground running have been duly silenced. In that time the Northern Irishman has matched both GMS’ goals and assists tally for the whole season. A damning indictment of GMS’ performance this season if there ever was one.
Moving away from purely goals and assists we take a look at 1v1 dribbling. After all, a winger’s bread and butter is taking on their man and trying to burst past them. GMS does come out looking a bit better here. He’s attempted 49 one-on-one dribbles which is the 2nd most of any Aberdeen player and 11th in the whole league. Although he still lags behind Ryan Christie (85) and, as previously mentioned, Niall McGinn (8) has only played five Premiership matches.
Perhaps one final deeper look might prove GMS is bringing something positive to this Aberdeen team. After all, goals and assists are just one metric when measuring the effectiveness of a player. Although, you’d want one of your attacking wingers to be at least chipping in with their fair share of goals and assists.
That said, there are other factors we can look at. One is key passes (KP). These are passes that lead to a shot on goal. Similarly, secondary shot assists (SSA) and establishing passes (EP) are just as important. An SSA is the pass before a key pass and an EP the pass before an SSA. If a player is involved in any of the build-up described they’re part of the xG Chain. So how did GMS fare compare to his Aberdeen teammates here?
The graph above shows more of the same. In terms of key passes per 90 minutes, GMS (0.90) falls behind not only Christie (1.67) and McGinn (2.72), but also Stewart (1.59) and Wright (1.95).
What about supporting passes in the xG Chain? GMS comes out bottom on SSA and only second bottom on EP. Therefore, it’s no surprise that his xG Chain/90 is a measly 0.26. Given Aberdeen’s reliance on wide-men, these numbers are a frustrating and also worrying read. Christie will undoubtedly return to Celtic next season and it only takes an injury or a ban for the Dons to be without McGinn. Unfortunately, as it stands it doesn’t look like Aberdeen can count on GMS to replace their creativity and attacking potency.
There’s been no pleasure taken in highlighting the poor performances of GMS this season. After all, this is a Scottish player who is a joy to watch when in full tilt. At 27-years-old he still has time and is at a club with a coach who has got the very best out of wingers such as Jonny Hayes, McGinn and Christie.
“Aquaman” can still flourish and fulfil his potential, and for Scotland’s sake, this writer hopes he does, but it’s getting to the stage where we may never see the mercurial winger of years gone by again.