Shaun Williams: The Experienced Playmaking Midfielder who adds indispensable creativity to Portsmouth’s midfield

By Freddie Webb

Signing Shaun Williams harkens back to when Paul Cook brought in Michael Doyle at the start of his major squad overhaul.

The similarities are obvious; both players are ex-Ireland internationals with vast experience at a higher level than Pompey currently.

Williams arrives from Millwall with six years’ worth of Championship experience, and like Doyle, is considered an immaculate professional by his peers.

In any rebuild, strong characters have to come in to create positive habits, and make the squad as cohesive as possible before the new season. Teams with lots of changes often take too long time to gel for a promotion campaign.

Similar to Doyle’s arrival in 2015, Williams comes in – alongside Ryan Tunnicliffe – to lead by example and improve the standards in training and on matchday.

But that is where the similarities end between the Irishmen. Williams is a highly-intelligent deep-lying playmaker, focused on controlling the midfield and keeping the play moving at all times.

The left-footer can contribute higher up the pitch, but he’ll be the deeper out-ball in Danny Cowley’s wide-triangle method, which looks to retain possession and create chances from the flanks.

Alongside this much needed creativity, Williams’ defensive ability means he won’t leave gaps in the centre.

The most obvious comparison is Ben Close, the technical Pompey academy product who left for Doncaster Rovers on a free.

Close was a victim of Kenny Jackett’s system at times, but he was prone to drifting in and out of form despite his noticeable talent.

Even with this inconsistency, Close is hard to replace, and the analytics support this notion.

Williams is a great alternative though, and despite only playing 1307 minutes in the Championship last season (27 league appearances), his flair is noticeable.

Both players make a similar number of passes, but the ex-Millwall midfielder averages slightly more progressive passes and passes to the final-third.

Cowley loves his midfielders to make these forward balls as he wants his teams to attack quickly to create chances.

The difference between both players is small, but Williams has a slight edge for what Cowley wants.

The 34-year-olds stats are among the top centre-midfielders in the Championship who have made 10 appearances or more.

He made the ninth highest number of passes to the final third per 90 (9.64), the 12th most forward passes per 90 (17.97), and is in the top 25 for progressive passes per 90 (7.71).

Although, there is a stark difference Williams and Close regarding pass accuracy. Aside from progressive passes, the Southsea midfielder makes more successful balls across the board while having similar passing rates.

Williams’ league stats also align with that trend, being average or below at forward pass accuracy (63.6%) and passes to the final third accuracy (62.14%), but being the 12th most accurate for progressive passes (80.36%).

Of course, accurate passes rely on a number of factors, not just the individuals talent.

Williams also would have been playing against stronger opposition, but his creativity looks like a slight downgrade from Close.

Williams also can’t carry the ball as effectively, averaging only 0.75 dribbles per 90 in all competitions (58.33% success), compared to Close’s 1.87 dribbles per 90 (78.57% success).

This limits the types of chances the Irishman creates, but he makes up for that with defensive ability. Contrary to the belief of some fans, Close did get stuck into tackles and didn’t hide away from this responsibility, but Williams suits that deeper all-round role better.

Both players made similar rates of duels in and out of possession, but the clear difference is with aerial challenges.

Williams contests long balls more often and more effectively, filling the void left by Tom Naylor.

Pompey’s new signing wins the ball back more often in several scenarios, which is integral as the Blues necessity to control the midfield to generate scoring chances.

The new midfield will also be more balanced, as Williams and Tunnicliffe can both win back possession, and that job isn’t solely on one players shows like in the past.

Close retains possession better when challenged, and gets involved enough in challenges, but the difference is obvious.

Overall, this transfer is as near to a no-lose situation that Pompey can get.

Williams is on a one-year deal having rejected Championship moves to fully be a part of Cowley’s project.

His age is less of a factor given his professionalism, and even if time catches up with him, his contract won’t be a hindrance long term.

Despite making less accurate passes than Close, he is more than a viable alternative in Portsmouth’s engine room.

He fully fits the tactical philosophy of winning the ball back quickly, controlling possession and making transitional passes to create opportunities.

And off the pitch, Williams seems to be the stabilising figure needed to settle Pompey’s rebuild.

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Header Photo: Portsmouth FC

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