Kieran McKenna vs. Enzo Maresca: Data-driven comparison

Discover the data-driven comparison between Kieran McKenna and Enzo Maresca's football playstyles, revealing tactical insights.
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Chelsea's hunt for a successor following Mauricio Pochettino's unexpected departure continues. Despite differing reports on the leading candidate for the position, most sources agree that Kieran McKenna, Enzo Maresca, Thomas Frank, Roberto De Zerbi, and Rúben Amorim have made the shortlist, with the first two managers leading the race.

With Chelsea aiming to finalize a manager by the end of next week, The Pride of London will evaluate the two Championship managers in question using data.

Having competed against each other in the English second division last season, conducting a comparative analysis of their teams will showcase a fair analogy between the play style of the two managers. 

Before delving into the data, it is rational to set the scene both managers walked into. Leicester City was relegated from the Premier League, having finished the 2022/23 season in 18th place.

Key players like James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, and Timothy Castagne departed the club. However, the transfer income from those sales and the parachute payments helped fund a rebuild. Leicester focused on injecting the club with youth and spent €44 million in the transfer window - more than any other club in the Championship.

Contrastingly, Ipswich Town had far less financial backing. Having only been promoted to the Championship last season from League One, McKenna had a tight financial room to maneuver in during the transfer window - primarily operating in the loan market with Omari Hutchinson being the standout player. Ipswich also completed a few low-fee signings, but it was generally the players who had played in League One dominating the minutes.




Net Balance

Leicester City




Ipswich Town




Although there is a clear difference in the squad investment, both managers still relied on the core of their team from the previous season.

Now, onto the fun part - using data analytics to evaluate the different aspects of their play style.

General Overview

Leicester and Ipswich contrast in their approach, with Maresca preferring a possession-heavy system, similar to Pep Guardiola's side, and McKenna adopting a flexible strategy that can play vertically or ball-oriented, depending on the opponent.

Opta Analyst's playstyle comparison graph mirrors the distinction between the two systems.

Attacking Metrics

When it comes to the offensive numbers, there are many interesting observations.

Starting with the most basic stats - Ipswich scored more goals (92) than Leicester (89) - a narrow difference of only three goals. However, according to the expected goals (xG) metric, which measures the quality of chances created, Maresca's side is the clear leader.

This reveals a crucial point - the Ipswich attackers were significantly more efficient than Leicester's in converting their chances. The 'goals - xG' data reflects the same, with McKenna's team overperforming by a remarkable margin.

Whether that output is sustainable for multiple seasons is a huge doubt.

Moving onto the two managers' approach to their team creating chances.

Leicester's relatively more conservative approach to possession narrows the range of weapons in their arsenal - primarily relying on penetrative passes through opposition defensive blocks, creativity from their wingers, and cut-backs.

Therefore, the Foxes highly rank for Shot-Creating Actions (SCA) from open play (similar to Ipswich) and take-ons. McKenna's side are interestingly standout performers for SCA from dead-ball situations and rebounded shots - two areas where Leicester lack.

The table below shows the SCA from the different scenarios and the team's ranking in the metric.


Open Play



Rebounded Shots

Leicester City

911 (2nd)

74 (2nd)

79 (19th)

55 (20th)

Ipswich Town

909 (3rd)

55 (14th)

121 (1st)

94 (1st)

Ipswich's vertical style is indicated by their direct speed of 1.88 meters per second (m/s) - third in the league, compared to Leicester's 1.61 m/s - fifth-lowest.

Furthermore, the 'Zones of Control' data visualization juxtaposes the stylistic differences.

Therefore, the two managers pose a different style offensively. So, Chelsea's sporting directors must decide which brand of football they would prefer to watch at Stamford Bridge, as they are equally effective.

Defensive Metrics

Out-of-possession tactics are important to a team, as defensive stability is always the backbone of on-field success. Chelsea especially requires tightening up in the backline, having leaked 63 goals last season.

Leicester and Ipswich are expectedly similar with their defensive attitude as both sides press high and force turnovers in the opposition half.

The Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) numbers - opposition passes allowed by the team before committing a defensive action - and high turnovers figures provided by Opta Analyst corroborate the same observation.


PPDA (League Ranking)

High Turnovers (League Ranking)

Leicester City

10.3 (2nd) - more intense press

362 (7th)

Ipswich Town

11.1 (5th)

382 (2nd) - more effective press

When it comes to the respective team's defensive produce, Leicester performed far better than Ipswich, conceding 16 goals fewer (41 versus 57), which may deter Chelsea supporters from McKenna. However, the underlying data presents an accurate picture because the expected goals against (xGA) metric depicts that both teams roughly conceded the same volume of chances.

But why is there a significant variance, you may ask?

It is because Leicester's goalkeeper, Mads Hermansen, enjoyed an outstanding season between the sticks. This is not to say that Ipswich goalkeeper Václav Hladký endured a wretched campaign, as he performed decently. But the data suggests, and the eye test verifies, that Hermansen immensely outperformed his peers.


Goals Prevented (PsxG +/-)

League Ranking

Mads Hermansen



Václav Hladký



Moreover, inconsistencies in opposition finishing have also contributed to Leicester's impressive goals conceded numbers. When analyzing the finishing efficiency of the opposition against the two teams using the 'goals - xG' data, we can identify an evident disparity - suggesting that Leicester benefitted from the opposition attacker's misfiring, whereas Ipswich did not.

Therefore, although Maresca's team conceded far fewer goals than McKenna's, the assumption should not be that he is a better coach defensively. In reality, they are at par.

Drawing Conclusions

The objective of this article is not to prove that one manager is better than the other but an attempt to highlight the stylistic differences that separate them, chiefly in their attacking and possession principles.

Therefore, when Chelsea decides who they want to succeed in the prestigious managerial position, it will purely depend on the playstyle preference and if it aligns with the broader philosophy the Sporting Directors are attempting to implement.

Whether it will be McKenna, Maresca, or another candidate is yet to be seen.