When you look down the ‘games played’ column this season, you’ll have to get down to the very bottom to find the name Max Sanders.
He’s one appearance ahead of Joe Walsh, but well adrift of Remy Longdon, another fringe player. Indeed, Max Melbourne and Tayo Edun both have more minutes than the former Brighton man, which is baffling.
I know we have a decent selection of midfielders, but when Max arrived it was a transfer that looked utter genius. He was being widely tipped to break into Brighton’s side, and here he was, on a train to join Lincoln. We didn’t realise he only twigged how far from home Lincoln was when he was on his way up here, but that shouldn’t be a major issue. Trains to London are frequent and even if he struggled to settle in a successful side, surely this season we’d see more of him?
As it happens, no. Even with Liam Bridcutt injured, Max hasn’t had much of a chance. In his brief cameos, he’s looked decent, but after the Sunderland Papa john’s game, Michael suggested none of the fringe players had staked a claim for a first-team spot. That’s tough on young Max, who did alright, but he’s still out in the cold. He’s been in every squad since the 1-0 defeat against Ipswich, but is rarely called upon to get involved.
I’ve seen enough in Max to think there’s a talent in there, and I wanted to see if the stats backed that up.
Before that, I wanted to give my impressions of Max. Whenever I’ve seen him, I’ve always thought he was a tidy player, clever on the ball but lacking the senior football which builds upon the PL Academy upbringing. He’s been unlucky with injuries, he’s had a couple of short spells out, and when he has been handed a chance it hasn’t always gone according to plan; his only league start came in the 2-2 draw with Blackpool, where they ripped us apart for 45 minutes. Max was taken off at half time, and we rallied. It wasn’t his fault, but it reflects worse on him than those on the field who turned it around. He also came on as we lost 3-1 at Charlton in the game that some were asked to stake a play-off claim.
I thought he showed decent ability in the 2-2 draw with this weekend’s opponents, Shrewsbury, in the League Cup, and he bagged a penalty which shows some nerve. He was injured not long after and I feel now he’s fighting for a spot in a congested midfield area. Sorensen is certainly looking better each week, McGrandles is fit and Lewis Fiorini has bagged a few goals from the middle. Even with Liam Bridcutt out and Ted Bishop on the wing, Max can’t get a kick, and when they’re back, it doesn’t bode well.
That said, I think there’s a player in there just waiting to burst out, and the numbers back me up. Whilst stats do only give an indication, Max Sanders doesn’t score badly in a range of metrics featuring our other five midfielders. I’ve put them all together and looked at the average actions per 90 minutes. Max has only played 250 minutes of football for us, far fewer minutes than the next highest, Liam Bridcutt on 958. Also, Ted Bishop hasn’t played all of his minutes in central midfield, so the number are a guide, nothing more and nothing less.
I see Max as a natural successor to Liam Bridcutt, a more natural six than anything, so his defensive actions are important. There’s a metric which is ‘successful defensive actions per 90’, which is a defensive duel, interception or a sliding tackle made by the player. This season, Max averages 8.64 per 90 minutes, which is fourth-best from the six players, and very close to Lasse Sorensen (8.69) in third. He wins 62.5% of his defensive duels, which is a good outcome (Sorensen is top with 64.76%). There are some numbers he doesn’t excel in, but that could be down to minutes as much as anything; his interception per 90 is sixth-best (2.88), although only Liam Bridcutt averages more than 3.48, so Max is in the ball park. I’d be interested to see where his numbers came out after a run of games, if that’s something he does eventually get.
I know Max got most of his minutes in the EFL Trophy, and he hasn’t played in some of the bigger games in which we’ve struggled, but his passing numbers are impressive. He plays the second-most passes per 90 minutes, 49.68, only behind Liam Bridcutt on 54.11. His accuracy is better than all the other players too; it’s 91.3%, with the other ranging from 74.74% to 87.88%. That could be because he’s in the Under 23 mindset, right? Playing sideways and backwards passes? He’s played fewer backward passes per 90 than Ted Bishop, and only marginally more than Conor McGrandles, the three players who pass back the most out of the six. Lateral passes, which are sideways, Max does indeed come in the top two, again, but behind Liam Bridcutt. I’d expect that from the holding player, the sideways passing, and it would only be a serious problem if he wasn’t up there for forward passes, or key passes.
The thing is, he is up there for those. He has, thus far, played the second-highest amount of forward passes per 90 of the six players, 13.68, behind Bridcutt (18.88), and ahead of Sorensen (12.74). His accuracy for forward passes is 76.32%, behind only Bridcutt and Bishop. In terms of passes to the final third, he tops the charts, with 9, ahead of Bridcutt (8.64). The others are spread between 7.17 and 4.14 per 90. His accuracy is great too; 80% compared to the next highest at 66.67%, Conor McGrandles.
In his short stint, he’s also averaging more passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes, 2.88, than any of the other players, although his accuracy is lower than all but one of the other players there. He also averages the second-highest for progressive passes, only behind Bridcutt.
It’s hard to assess much more for Max, as he hasn’t been on the field long enough to get shots away, but in his short stint he does seem to have good numbers for passing and defensive actions. You wouldn’t expect him to top the tables, if he did, he’d be playing more, but there’s surely enough there to show that he has something to offer. I guess with our injury record, he might get a run in the team by necessity soon! Joking aside, if he does get a run, he’s clearly got the ability to stake a claim for a starting spot. As one or two others last season showed though, if the chance passes you by, second and third chances are few and far between.