Plymouth Argyle have made their seventh signing of the transfer window, and it’s in a position that had been previously untouched.
This summer, Argyle have strengthened their attack by bringing back Morgan Whittaker and Bali Mumba. They’ve also made numerous signings across the back line, and added depth in goal through the capture of Conor Hazard. But nobody had been brought in for the deeper central midfield positions. Until now.
Lewis Warrington has come in to bolster Argyle’s options. He joins on a season-long loan from Everton, and is another player who fits the profile Argyle have been targeting. The Greens have been pursuing signings from the north west for years, and we’re all familiar with Steven Schumacher’s ties to the Toffees. Warrington is the second Argyle signing this summer from Everton called Lewis alone, and this one shares a name with a Cheshire town. You can’t claim Argyle don’t have a type.
Warrington’s arrival is full of intrigue. It provides an insight to Argyle’s thinking with the new season a mere nine days away (I know! How are we in single figures already?). But it’s also surrounded by questions. Lining up in the Championship will unquestionably be the biggest test of the player’s career to date.
Suiting the style of play
Argyle’s manager spoke in the aftermath of the announcement about how well Warrington will fit his style of play. I agree. We know Schumacher likes his teams to play on the front foot, and it’s imperative that his players are comfortable on the ball in all areas of the field. Warrington fits the bill.
When I started taking Warrington’s stats, I was first taken aback by how regularly he dribbles. He completed 19 whilst on loan at Fleetwood Town last season. That was comfortably more than any of Argyle’s deep midfield players, and also compared well to Argyle’s squad as a whole. Those dribbles were intelligent too; of the four Argyle players to complete more than Warrington last season, none had a better success rate.
It paints a picture of someone who will pick the ball up in pockets of space in midfield. He’ll look to run with the ball, driving the team upfield on his own whenever he has the opportunity. He’s someone who could probably do a similar job on the ball to Danny Mayor, albeit from a deeper starting position. It possibly won’t be as graceful, but it’s unfair to compare anyone to the elegance and trickery of Mayor.
But when Warrington completes a run, does he have the talent to pick the correct pass? The short answer is yes.
Personally, I feel that’s the most exciting part of Warrington’s game. He will play those passes and they will be eye-catching. Warrington had a better long pass success rate than anybody else in Argyle’s side last season. When you consider the much smaller volumes from those just below him, you could make a justifiable case for calling him the best long passer in Argyle’s ranks. In many ways, it isn’t particularly close.
|Long Passes Completed
I’d imagine Argyle have been keen on Warrington for a while, and particularly since he appeared for Fleetwood at Home Park in February. That day he completed more long passes than any of his side’s outfield players, and only two Argyle players completed more that day. That was despite the Greens having 65% of the ball. Warrington’s ability to ping the ball across the field was a crucial factor in keeping Argyle away from Fleetwood’s goal, and helped his side secure a credible goalless draw against the eventual champions.
It must be conceded that Warrington is unlikely to be involved at the end of attacking moves. He only recorded one goal contribution in the league last season – an assist for Promise Omochere in a 3-0 win at ten-man Shrewsbury Town. I may be minded to suggest even that was a fluke, but judge for yourselves.
Nonetheless, Warrington will build attacks from his own half, and make runs to transition defence into attack. It adds a dimension Argyle perhaps lacked last season, at least in the deep midfield roles. And signing Warrington, along with securing a duo of ball-playing defenders in Julio Pleguezuelo and Lewis Gibson, indicates that Argyle won’t be changing their style in the Championship.
Defence the toughest challenge
Based on the numbers we’ve investigated thus far, I’m suitably convinced that Warrington will perform when going forward. He caught the eye in League One and, given that he’s only 20, it feels reasonable that his next move would be a shot at the Championship. It speaks volumes that Argyle were one of a few Championship clubs keen on snapping up the midfielder.
But his activity without the ball will be vital. We know Argyle will attempt to impose themselves on every game; it certainly worked on their way to the title last year. But it’s obvious that the Greens will have less possession this season, and their defensive setup will be increasingly crucial as a result. I must acknowledge that Warrington’s numbers in defence leave me somewhat anxious.
Warrington is tremendously active defensively. By that, I mean he’s regularly involved in defensive actions such as duels and tackles. He completed more blocks per 90 minutes than any of Argyle’s midfielders last season, and only Jay Matete made tackled more regularly. But Warrington’s active approach to defending means he’s beaten frequently, so his success rates become crucial. His key success rates last season were, to put it diplomatically, below average.
Take ground duels as an example. Warrington was involved in plenty of them last year, and won 91. Only two players in Argyle’s ranks, Mumba and Joe Edwards, won more. But Warrington’s success rate wouldn’t even make the top 20, and was substandard compared to the rest of Argyle’s midfield.
|Ground Duels Won
Then we’ve got his tackling. Again, he makes plenty. Whilst Matete may have made more per 90 minutes, the benefits of a full season meant Warrington completed a greater number overall. His figure of 61 was bettered by only three Argyle players last season, none of whom played in midfield. But he was also dribbled past more than anyone at Argyle, meaning only Matt Butcher had a lower tackle success rate amongst the club’s midfielders.
Warrington will put himself about, and he’ll be heavily involved in Argyle’s defensive play. But will just being involved be enough? I’m not sure. Given the step up in quality, his success rates simply have to improve. If they do, his tenacity could suddenly become a huge weapon. Alas, that’s much easier said than done.
A clue to Argyle’s mindset
This is a safe space, right? You’ve got this far into the piece so I’m comfortable enough to share my deepest thoughts. Good, here goes. When Warrington was announced as an Argyle player yesterday afternoon, I instinctively felt completely underwhelmed.
I think that’s primarily because Argyle spent much of the summer linked with Terry Taylor. The 22-year-old played in League One last season for Burton Albion, and I took a preliminary glance at his numbers when the Pilgrims’ interest was first mooted. He appeared to have a bit of everything, and I suspect he’d have perfectly suited the team Argyle are looking to create. It’s therefore no fault of Warrington’s that my feelings when he was announced instead were fairly indifferent.
Taylor has just completed a move to Charlton Athletic. With respect to the Addicks, Argyle are surely a more attractive prospect currently. You suspect that if Argyle put everything on the line for Taylor, they’d have got their man. So why have they opted for Warrington instead? I can think of a couple of reasons.
The first is Warrington’s age. I’ll go into more detail on Argyle’s policy for signing young players shortly, but at 20 Warrington is around 15 months younger than Taylor. With that in mind, it’d be entirely sensible for Argyle to believe that Warrington has more potential. After all, he’ll still be younger in a year than Taylor is now. Give him a year in the Championship, and my mediocre initial feelings could suddenly look foolish.
But I suspect this is more to do with how Argyle’s transfer window has progressed. It’s only been a week since £2 million was spent on Whittaker and Mumba, and that’s bound to have a knock-on effect. As we discussed when analysing Mumba, his deal in particular seemed to have been made possible unexpectedly. It’s possible that Argyle were preparing a big-money move for Taylor before Mumba joined, and that was the catalyst for Warrington suddenly being deemed a safer option.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Warrington has joined on loan. He was linked with a permanent move, but now is now borrowed for a duration that will coincide nicely with the end of his contract at Everton. Could it be that Argyle are waiting to replenish the coffers before bringing in another permanent signing? Or do they intend to lengthen Warrington’s stay, and cover all of his wages and insurance at a later date? Only time will tell.
In any case, it’s a fascinating insight to how Argyle are now conducting their business. The club will make more signings this summer and, as this deal demonstrates, they’ll have to be intelligent moves.
As I mentioned, it’s feasible that Warrington being 20 was the main factor in Argyle’s pursuit. He joins a squad that is already frighteningly young and brings the average age down even further.
I’ve taken the liberty of scouring Transfermarkt to assess how Argyle’s squad compares to the rest of the Championship. There are caveats here – Transfermarkt can occasionally be slow to update, meaning the figures may not have factored in the most recent signings. The site can also be a little distorted; youth players are included for some squads and not others, and can skew any figures. Regardless, I’m presenting the numbers anyway, because even with those caveats they speak for themselves.
|Average Age of Squad
|Players Aged 30+
|West Bromwich Albion
|Queens Park Rangers
|Preston North End
Only Sunderland have a younger squad by average age than Argyle. And Argyle are, alongside Blackburn, the only team to have just one player aged 30 and above; Joe Edwards’ leadership skills will have to work double time. For many, that’s a blatant sign that Argyle’s squad is crying out for some more experience, particularly ahead of a first appearance in the second tier for 13 years. And looking at the data, that’s an entirely rational view.
But I’d be surprised if it comes to fruition; it certainly hasn’t been part of the club’s plan in the recent past. Think back to when Argyle were last promoted, and when they last tackled a higher level. In 2020/21, Argyle signed an abundance of young players ahead of their first year back in League One. That was a painful season to watch, for all sorts of reasons, but Argyle avoided relegation. That’s the ultimate goal for the season ahead, right?
I suspect we’re witnessing a repeat. Sure, I’d like to see a tad more experience in the team. If the squad remains as it is, I’d anticipate game management costing Argyle on a few occasions. And that’ll be disheartening. But if Argyle stay up, it’s mission accomplished. They’ll then have the capability to build on the squad, just as they did after 2020/21, to have a real push at the Championship next time around.
Warrington is part of that process. Granted, right now he’s at Argyle on loan, and has plenty left to prove. But if he delivers this season, Argyle will find themselves in pole position to sign a talented player with Championship experience. There’s a long way to go, and Warrington’s time at Home Park won’t be without its hitches. But eventually, should everything fall into place, this signing could prove to be a masterstroke. I for one am intrigued to discover how things unfold.