Pablo Fornals may have to up his game in order to provide Fantasy appeal in 2019/20.
The Spanish midfielder arrives at West Ham heralded as a promising creator with experience in his country’s top division with Villarreal.
However, with a total of just three La Liga assists last season, it would appear that he may not offer much more than either of his new colleagues Felipe Anderson or Robert Snodgrass.
On top of that, Fornals scored just two league goals in 2018/19 ahead of an inevitable increase in opposition difficulty when he starts life in the Premier League.
We’ve looked at his history and underlying data to see how he will fit in at the London Stadium this season.
The History and Statistics
Fornals arrives at West Ham as the second-most expensive signing in the history of the club, behind only new team-mate Anderson.
The Spaniard is considered one of La Liga’s highly promising young midfielders having impressed both at Malaga and Villarreal in the last four years.
After three years in the Malaga youth academy, Fornals’ league debut was something of a baptism of fire.
His first senior appearance in La Liga came at the age of 19 and took place away at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium.
During his time at Estadio La Rosaleda, Fornals worked with director of football Mario Husillos, who since June 2018, has fulfilled that role with West Ham.
The former Malaga coach referenced their time together as one of the influences on the Hammers signing the player this summer.
“He is a player we have monitored closely for some time, having seen him make excellent progress as a young midfielder in one of the best leagues in the world. I personally have followed his career since he was a youth player with me at Malaga, and I know we have signed an incredible professional and an incredible character. This is something that is very important for us at West Ham United now – not only a very good player but also a very good person with a good mentality. To represent Spain as a full international at the age of 20, and then to have made over 150 appearances in La Liga by the age of 23, is a sign of great quality and character. He joins us a young player still with many years ahead of him, yet with strong experience and already proven at the very highest level.” – Mario Husillos
“I have worked with Mario before – I know him from when I was in Malaga. With Manuel, only when I saw him and admired him on TV. Of course, Manuel was a big influence because in the end he is one of the best coaches in the world and who doesn’t want to work with people like that?!” – Pablo Fornals
Since 2016, Fornals has earned two call-ups for the senior international Spain team.
In 2017, Fornals moved to boyhood club Villarreal where his stock would only increase.
While not on the scoresheet too often, he continued to earn his reputation as a crafty number 10.
Over the last 12 months, he has had the opportunity to play alongside a resurgent Santi Cazorla, who he has often been compared with.
In total, he registered five goals and 15 assists in 70 La Liga appearances for Villarreal across two seasons.
However, it is worth pointing out that Fornals’ by-far best season with the Yellow Submarine was 2017/18, not the most recent one.
12 of his 15 league assists for Villarreal came in that campaign, and he provided just three this time around.
The underlying statistics showed that Fornals was perhaps a little unlucky not to register more goal involvements in 2018/19 but they by no means indicate he set the world on fire either.
In 2018/19, just two of Fornals’ Villarreal colleagues registered a better shots-per-game figure than his 1.7.
They were forward Gerard Moreno (2.0) and attacking midfielder Samuel Chukwueze (2.2).
It is worth pointing out that Fornals was one of the more speculative players in the Villarreal squad with just 44.8% of his efforts coming from inside the penalty box.
That said, just three of his colleagues registered more than his 0.7 shots in the box per La Liga game in 2018/19.
Two of those were centre-forwards Moreno (1.4) and Karl Toko Ekambi (1.1), while Chukwueze (1.3) was also ahead.
These same three players (all 0.9) were also the only ones ahead of Fornals for shots on target per game (0.5).
Despite his reputation as a creator, Fornals actually compared less favourably for assist potential than goal threat in 2018/19.
Ten Villarreal players managed more passes than his 32.3 per game in La Liga over the last 12 months.
Fornals ranked higher when it came to chance creation as he played 1.3 key passes per game.
Wing-back Miguel Layún and playmaker Cazorla were the only Villarreal players to create more chances per game in 2018/19 (1.5 and 2.1 respectively).
However, 40 La Liga players managed more than this per game in the whole season.
As already mentioned, it may be some time before we can fully tout Fornals as a Fantasy option.
When we compare what he achieved in 2018/19 against his new colleagues, it’s hard to see where he stands out.
|Player ⬇||Mins per shot||Mins per shot in the box||Mins per shot on target||Mins per chance created|
As you can see, both Anderson and Snodgrass averaged better minutes per chance created than Fornals in 2018/19.
The new signing was at least performing better than Michail Antonio, Jack Wilshere, Andriy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini in this area – although the latter was recovering after an extended period on the sidelines last season.
As for goal threat, only Antonio shot more often than Fornals in 2018/19, and he and Anderson were both ahead for shots on target.
However, we have to remember that Fornals still only managed two league goals.
“Pablo is a young, hungry and talented player who has already proven his ability at the highest level in Spain, and we believe he will bring a different dimension and a strong mentality to the team.” – Manuel Pellegrini
The local press predicts that Manuel Pellegrini will try to use him on the right of attacking midfield in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Anderson and Lanzini would most likely occupy the slots on the left and in the middle, but the Brazilian and Fornals himself are both capable of playing anywhere within the trio.
That could see Snodgrass and Yarmolenko struggle to get into the side, but referring back to the comparison we already undertook, it’s worth pointing out that the Scottish international arguably performed better as a creator than Fornals last season.
“He has made a big impact in his time with Villarreal and we look forward to seeing him continue his progress here. His signing means that we now have very good midfield options in the squad. With players coming back from injury and ready to begin pre-season training with the rest of the squad, we have a very good balance and mix of styles.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Either way, Pellegrini does now have quite a wealth of options available to him in attacking midfield, many of whom are particularly versatile.
That competition for places could push some West Ham midfielders on to higher levels in 2019/20, although at the beginning of the season, it might be hard to predict the starting XI.
Chances are, Fornals will come in priced closer to Snodgrass than Anderson, so if he does hit the ground running, he could potentially be a cheaper alternative into West Ham’s attacking midfield.
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