Grading centre backs will always be much more of a challenge than grading attackers. They…
Hearts are wasting no time at all in their quest to rebuild their entire squad ahead of the return of domestic football. On Wednesday we saw the Tynecastle club pick up Partick Thistle’s Ryan Edwards – their eighth signing of the summer.
However, Craig Levein hasn’t taken a scatter-gun approach to the transfer window, signing as many players as he can in the hope of some of them working out for the Edinburgh club. Each player joining Hearts will fill a hole left by someone else and in Edwards they have a really interesting prospect who should do well next season.
In 108 games for Partick Thistle, Edwards showed that he had the talents to thrive in the Scottish Premiership as a well-rounded, box-to-box midfielder and that’s exactly how he’ll most likely play under Levein next season. The 24-year-old Australian may not join Hearts as the best attacking or defensive midfielder, but his talents certainly lie somewhere in between.
One of the biggest issues that Hearts faced this season was in attack. Kyle Lafferty did a stellar job of leading the line up front, but the sale of Jamie Walker was never truly fixed at the heart of midfield. After Lafferty, Esmael Goncalves and David Milinkovic, Levein’s reliance on goalscorers was virtually nonexistent.
Edwards, despite playing in a completely dysfunctional Thistle side, still managed to pick up five goals for the season and would surely be hoping to add to that next season in Edinburgh. And when we look a little deeper at his stats from this current campaign we can probably assume as much.
The midfielder is by no means a no.10 or a clear-cut attacking midfielder, but he does have a good shot on him. As we can see in the graph above, Harry Cochrane, Ross Callachan and Arnaud Djoum tend to average more shots than Edwards, however only Callachan tends to get a higher percentage on target. Again, the fewer attempted shots could be down to the Australian midfielder playing for a team battling relegation but his stats do suggest that his accuracy is comparable, if not better, than what Levein already has to work with.
Where Edwards probably comes in to his own in an attacking sense is with his dribbling. The Thistle central midfielder averaged 2.4 dribbles per game last season – an identical number to Hearts’ top midfield dribbler Callachan – while his average amount of crosses per match stood at an impressive 1.17. Hearts’ Callachan was once again Edward’s closest competitor in this field but he could only muster 0.94 a match.
As we stated at the top of the article, Edwards is more than just an attacking midfielder and while the likes of Cochrane or Callachan may rival him in attacking stats they’ll also have to keep up with his defensive contributions too if they want to keep their spots in Levein’s side.
With 7.27 successful defensive duels per game, Edwards was undoubtedly putting out more fires in Thistle’s team than any one player at Hearts last season. As we can see from the graph above, the 24-year-old averaged more aerial duels than any Tynecastle player and although he didn’t attempt as many tackles per game as the likes of Djoum or Prince Buaben his success rate at winning the ball (42.86%) was joint-top among his new peers.
Indeed, Edwards will join Hearts as a battle-scarred midfielder used to tracking across the pitch and compensating for lesser players in his side. At Tynecastle, he should have one of the best defensive lines behind him to rely upon and impressive young midfielders that will only add to his game.
When he joined the club, Edwards told Hearts TV that his “ambition is there on a personal level to be in a team that’s going to challenge for cups, challenge at the top end of the table, try and get into Europe next season.” That may sounds like a cliched line, muttered out to put a smile on a few fans’ faces, but there is some truth to it.
Edwards was probably too good for Thistle and he’s certainly too good for the Scottish Championship. And in Hearts he’s found a team that he can not only help on the pitch but one that will almost certainly improve him as a player as well.