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Scouting by Statistics: Can Bayern Munich get a João Palhinha-type player for under €10 million?

Will Tuchel get his “proper” No. 6?

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v 1. FC Köln - Bundesliga Photo by Jörg Schüler/Bayer 04 Leverkusen via Getty Images

Bayern Munich went into the 2023/24 Bundesliga season lacking squad depth.

One of the positions where Bayern could do with another player is in central midfield. Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Konrad Laimer, and the recently emerging Aleksandr Pavlović are the current crop of midfielders at the club, although Raphaël Guerreiro has proven himself capable in the center of the park and Jamal Musiala has played there as well.

On paper six players for two positions seems more than enough, although Guerreiro and Musiala’s primary roles are in different positions, which takes the tally down to four. Noussair Mazraoui being Bayern’s only right-back has meant that Laimer has played a significant number of minutes as a part of the backline and center-back injuries have seen Goretzka drop further back on occasion. Pavlović is beginning to prove himself, but wasn’t seen as a reliable option at the start of the season, which combined with head coach Thomas Tuchel’s desire for a “proper” No. 6, prompted Bayern to pursue the transfer of Fulham’s João Palhinha. The Palhinha move collapsed on deadline day, leaving Bayern with fewer players than Tuchel would’ve liked.

Going into the January transfer window, it’s unclear if Bayern will continue their pursuit of the Portuguese international. If Bayern still feels a player of his qualities is necessary, there are multiple younger and cheaper options than the 28-year-old who are statistically similar to Palhinha.

This article will focus on two players who compare well to Palhinha in Köln’s 21-year-old defensive midfielder Eric Martel, and 23-year-old Samú Costa of Mallorca.

Metrics that matter

Tuchel reportedly wants a traditional No. 6, a role he doesn’t consider Joshua Kimmich to be capable of playing. This style of defensive midfielder shields the backline and isn’t afraid to go in for a tackle and handle the dirty work.

The metrics that denote how defensively active a player is that will be examined here are tackles, interceptions, blocks, clearances, and aerial duels won. Each statistic is based on the number of these actions per ninety minutes.

Additionally, pass completion percentage will be included as it is crucial that a Bayern midfielder be able to pass well and maintain possession.

Statistical analysis

The table below compares the previously identified metrics for each of João Palhinha, Eric Martel, and Samú Costa, in addition to Martín Zubimendi who has been rumored as a Bayern target. Both Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are included to examine the source of the defensive capabilities of Bayern’s midfield.

The metrics are presented as percentiles that rank the standing of a player in a particular area compared to every player of a similar position in the top five European leagues this season. The numbers for each specific metric, such as the number of tackles per ninety minutes, are included beside the percentile in brackets. Statistics are taken from FBREF.

Player Comparison

Player Tackles Interceptions Blocks Clearances Aerial duels won Pass completion %
Player Tackles Interceptions Blocks Clearances Aerial duels won Pass completion %
João Palhinha 99 (4.53) 90 (1.65) 92 (1.74) 85 (1.83) 84 (1.74) 50 (82.9%)
Eric Martel 95 (3.19) 83 (1.48) 97 (1.98) 98 (2.66) 92 (2.17) 32 (79.2%)
Samú Costa 95 (3.20) 91 (1.69) 68 (1.38) 99 (2.93) 96 (2.62) 23 (77.6%)
Martín Zubimendi 39 (1.82) 67 (1.19) 35 (1.08) 77 (1.63) 77 (1.41) 73 (86.2%)
Joshua Kimmich 71 (2.35) 71 (1.26) 73 (1.42) 32 (0.88) 15 (0.41) 67 (85.5%)
Leon Goretzka 33 (1.74) 94 (1.74) 97 (2.01) 71 (1.53) 88 (1.91) 78 (86.9%)

Final verdict

An important consideration to be made is how a team's playstyle affects the defensive statistics and passing completion of a player. Each of Palhinha, Martel, and Costa play for less dominant teams in their respective leagues than Zubimendi, Kimmich, and Goretzka. For this reason, it can be expected that the former group of players will have more opportunities to display their defensive qualities, and a harder time keeping a high pass completion percentage due to their teams seeing less of the ball and the players likely being under more pressure when they are in possession. This makes it easier to compare Palhinha, Martel, and Costa than it is to compare any of these players with Zubimendi, Kimmich, or Goretzka.

The emergence of Pavlović and the assumed signing of defensive reinforcements means that Bayern shouldn’t need more midfielders for depth reasons. If Bayern are serious about signing a “proper” destroyer for tactical purposes and are only looking at the statistical side of things, Palhinha looks like the best choice. Palhinha excels at tackling and is the best tackler in his position in the top five leagues in Europe, his 4.53 tackles per ninety is over a tackle more than either Martel or Costa who are both in the top five percent in this area. However, it should be noted that Martel and Costa are less experienced and have more potential to improve than Palhinha does.

Palhinha’s price tag, however, makes the decision more difficult as he would likely set Der Rekordmeister back around 70 million Euros, whereas Martel and Costa have market values of 9 and 8 million Euros respectively, as per Transfermarkt.

Unless it is certain that the addition of Palhinha will transform the team and greatly increase Bayern’s chances of winning the Champions League (which is impossible to know for sure), they should look elsewhere. Signing a younger, cheaper player who is statistically similar to Palhinha to play the “destroyer” role in matches where a player of those qualities is deemed necessary.

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