Yann M'Vila: The Engine of Olympiakos
If a player ever epitomised the trajectory of their club, it may be Yann M'Vila and his current employer, Olympiacos. Though the temporal context may not match up perfectly, Yann M'Vila's stock was at its highest in the late 2000s and early 2010s, much like Olympiacos's as during that era, they played their best and flirted with tangible European success. The two have also shared difficulty breaking the proverbial glass ceiling into the upper echelons of European football despite their impressive credentials and undeniable value. Even their low points somewhat match, albeit the lowest of lows two years apart, as the 2017/18 season saw Olympiacos lose their vice grip in Greece to rivals AEK, and a few years prior, M'Vila struggled during a tumultuous spell in England's northeast. However, once their paths crossed at the turn of the decade, they were both able to rekindle their past spark and recaptured form of old, developing into the epitome of a mutualistic relationship. Considering this, let's take an analytical and statistical approach to how M'Vila is faring in Greece and compare him to some of his excellent teammates.
Position and Role
There is no better place to start than look at M'Vila's positioning and the versatility and balance that he provides to the Olympiacos midfield. The graphic below provides us with some important context and detail for asserting where M'Vila plays and where he is found most often on the pitch. There is a genuine question regarding where M'Vila plays best and most often, as he has filled in all around the midfield throughout his career. WyScout proclaims that throughout their time tracking his career, most of his minutes have been whilst playing as a DM with a total of 43.4% of all minutes and 30.5% at LCM, 21.2% at RCM and a surprising 4.9% at CB. This is a valid indicator of the versatility and balance that M'Vila provides to a midfield rotation as he can and will play multiple positions and even multiple roles within each position. Looking slightly deeper and beyond just the listed position, we can see where M'Vila has been doing his work this season through his heatmap below. To no surprise, a majority of his work is done in his own half, with hot spots generally emerging between the edge of his own box to the halfway line. Beyond this, we can see that M'Vila has a slight proclivity for operating on the left side, which corroborates the position data which suggested that M'Vila has spent considerably more time at LCM than RCM.
Let's have a brief look at how M'Vila profiles statistically before delving into each section individually. The graphic below shows how M'Vila ranks with his peers in similar leagues in what I have deduced as 30 of the most relevant and essential statistical categories for DMs and CMs. Both the size of each bar and their consistent red tinge communicates the fact that M'Vila ranks high for almost all of the statistical categories, which is no mean feat. Some of these metrics deal with quality and others with quantity; regardless, M'Vila, across the board, puts up enviable numbers, not least within the passing section where he stands out like a sore thumb with genuinely elite numbers. When considering this general statistical summary, M'Vila's skill is undoubtedly important; however, we must assume that these will be somewhat naturally inflated as he plays for far and away the strongest team in Greece and enjoys possession and time on the ball seldom experienced by most professionals.
Though we can spend lots of time marvelling at the graphic above, it is essential that we take a look at M'Vila's statistical profile with a greater focus on the essentials of his game, as such let's move on to some more curated bee-swarm plots, which include only the most important stats for any prospective holding midfielder.
For a player like Yann M’Vila who throughout his career has been heralded for his disruptive and destructive qualities, there is no better palace to start a statistical analysis than with his defensive stats. As always defensive stats are not the complete article and often describe what a player is asked to do and the system that he plays within as opposed to their genuine skill and ability. Regardless, they still have merit and are a pivotal component to developing an accurate depiction of the player of choice. The swarm below shows M’Vila’s rank against his peers in four key metrics: Defensive Duel Success, Aerial Duel Success, PAdj Interceptions, and Shots Blocked. These four metrics are pivotal to asserting how effective a defender a player is, albeit p90 numbers of the first two metrics are more than welcome to provide even greater context.
In a purely qualitative sense, which the above graphic portrays, M'Vila is close to the top of his class and consistently ranks in the top third for all four metrics, breaking into the top quarter for three of the four. This is a challenging feat, and as such, M'Vila should be applauded as he can maintain influence in the air, on the ground, as well as when the ball is in the opposition’s control and unclaimed. Let's look back to the first overview graph. There we can see that M'Vila's raw p90 numbers are nothing crazy, with relatively low defensive duels p90 and aerial duels p90, which some may attribute to why his success is so high. However, it would be best to consider that his numbers are naturally deflated because Olympiacos are in possession for such long swathes of the game. As such, M'Vila spends a shorter time per game active defensively. It doesn't matter which way you slice it; M'Vila is a valuable asset out of possession and is worth his weight in gold during Olympiacos's European campaigns, as it is then, where both he and the team as a whole are pushed hardest and peppered greatest.
Neat and Tidy whilst Carrying a Creative Threat
We have already established that M'Vila's realised niche within Olympiacos's ecosystem is between his box and the halfway line; considering this, we need to temper our expectation of what to expect from M'Vila in a creative and passing capacity. We should expect reliable ball progression, accurate passing, and some sort of creativity/end product from a player in this role, albeit naturally limited by their position. Within this framework of expectation, M'Vila is an absolute beast and the ideal defensive-minded, reliable in possession, engine that any dominant team needs to maintain stability. First, lets look at his basic passing swarm, which is below, before moving onto a creative swarm.
It is difficult to underestimate the feat seen in the graphic above, as M'Vila finds himself in the 90th+ percentile for all four metrics, a testament to his influence and accuracy on the ball. Much of this has to do with the fact that Olympiacos are one of the most possession and generally dominant teams in the sample size. This does go a long way in explaining the three quantitative metrics above; however, on the other hand, it makes his incredibly high pass accuracy all the more impressive. When combined, the above graphic communicates one clear message, which should be no surprise to those who watch M'Vila and Olympiacos, which is that the Frenchman is indispensable in the engine room as he provides a reassuring presence and is highly active in the initial stages of build-up. With that dealt with, lets look at what role and the efficacy M'Vila delivers in a creative capacity. Harbouring back to the already established expectations, it is crucial that we consider both what is expected and feasible for a holding midfielder in a creative capacity and, as such, use this framework to evaluate the graphic below.
The general conclusion you can make is that M'Vila does play some part in Olympuacos's chance creation, as evidenced by his rate of passes to the final third p90. However, these are generally safer passes instead of searching final balls, evidenced by his placement in the bottom 50th percentile in xA p90, key passes p90, and smart passes 90. Despite being in the bottom half for those three metrics, he consistently finds himself in the 40th percentile, which suggests that he has a close to median creative influence, no doubt vital when Olympiacos try to pick the lock of stubborn low-blocks around Greece.
An Attacking Threat?
A rational expectation for a midfielder who contributes so much in a defensive capacity and build-up would be to struggle to find the time and effort to contribute in front of goal; Yann M'Vila has not got that memo. Despite being heavily influential in affairs throughout the midfield, M'Vila somehow finds time to be a genuine threat in front of goal, evidenced by his placement in the 60th+ percentile for the three goalscoring metrics below at 0.1 xG and 0.13 non-penalty goals p90, M'Vila provides a tangible stream of goals from midfield for Olympiacos and does it with excellent efficiency posting a goal conversion % in the 81st percentile. This is most likely an aspect that had little impact on his arrival in Greece, as he arrived on the pretence that he would marshall a midfield rife with creativity, whoever no one is complaining that M'Vila has chipped in with the goals.
The primary expression of attacking threat is with goals, however for a midfielder, the ability to progress the ball and navigate tight spaces is perhaps on par in terms of importance and effectiveness in an attacking capacity, as this benefits both the ball carrier and all around him. The graphic below gives us some insight regarding M'Vila, which, much like his defending, follows the trend of low p90 numbers and high success rates (%). In this example, M'Vila is in the bottom 10% for both p90 metrics but is located in the 90th percentile for dribble success and 72nd for foul differential.
The overall picture cultivated is that M'Vila does provide a tangible and practical attacking threat that is overwhelmingly efficient. Given his high success rates, one could say that he should increase his p90 numbers, which is reasonable; however, given what we have seen throughout this piece, there is not enough time in the 90 to allow M'Vila to spend more time in front of goal.
M'Vila's brilliance and Olympiacos being a dominant force have been key themes in this article; however, by comparing his output to that of his teammates, we can see the dynamics between individual skill and team style. Here we have two radar's that plot M'Vila against Mady Camara and Andreas Bouchalakis. What is abundantly clear is that the three are not the same, and in fact, in all honestly play different roles, and as such, the comparison has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Regardless it's easy to see that M'Vila truly is one of Olympiacos's best and most valuable contributors as he comes out better in both comparisons against two formidable members of the squad.
Yann M'Vila and Olympiacos find themselves at an interesting juncture as the Frenchman's contract has around 18 months to run, and is firmly into his early 30s. The idea of a contract renewal seems to be a no-brainer from the clubs perspective and would be logical for M'Vila as he would be guaranteed one last pay-day and a few more chances at competing with the best in the UCL. M'Vila's style is not totally dependent on his physical attributes; however, it will be interesting to monitor how he shapes his game as he begins the physical descent that comes with age. Regardless, for as long as he remains in Piraeus, M'Vila will remain a key figure and one of the most polished and classy players in both Olympiacos's ranks and Greece as a whole.