Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Stoke Continuing to Evolve under Hughes

Stoke’s signing of Ibrahim Afellay was their eighth of the summer and Afellay is now the fourth player to swap the Nou Camp for the Potteries. It is testament to how far Stoke have come in recent years, a few years ago Stoke and Barcelona represented to polar opposites in football aesthetics but under Mark Hughes the two are less removed from one another.

Under Tony Pulis Stoke where optimised by Rory Delap’s long throws, they were a physical side, difficult to break down, strong from set pieces and favoured long balls. That is a reputation that has been difficult for Stoke to shake and whilst elements of the identity under their former manager still exist Mark Hughes has added other dimensions to their play.

That is most clearly observed from looking at how Stoke’s possession has changed over the last six seasons. We can see that in the last two seasons Stoke’s share of the ball has increased and in fact last season they actually averaged more possession than their opponents (with 50.4% of the ball per game). What is interesting is that this increase had begun under Pulis’ reign and has continued to rise at roughly the same rate. It could be argued that it is harder to continue to increase the share of possession, ie it is harder to go from having 30% to 35% than 40% to 45%.

Stoke have continued  to be a physical side under Hughes, shown by the fact that they continue to win over 50% of their aerial duels, a trait they established under Pulis. The values are around a similar level to the last two seasons Pulis was in charge for, with averages of 59 and 58.5% under Pulis and Hughes respectively.




Interestingly though Stoke have scored fewer goals from set pieces and have become much less reliant on them under Mark Hughes. Stoke have also scored more goals in each of Mark Hughes’ seasons at the helm, despite getting fewer from set pieces. This indicates Stoke’s shift towards becoming a side that plays on the front foot and offers more attacking intent.

Stoke continue to be strong at home, in each of their seasons in the Premier League the majority of their points have come from their games at home. Last season despite winning fewer points at home Stoke managed to win more away, and so still improved on their total in Mark Hughes’ debut season. Given that Stoke have been consistently winning the majority of their points from home games if they are to improve their points tally and league position they need to try to get more from away games and there’s signs from last season that they’re trying to do that.

Whilst Stoke fans will be forever grateful to Tony Pulis for leading them to promotion and securing their status as a Premier League team in order for them to move forward a change was necessary and Mark Hughes has provided that. The future at Stoke looks bright, whilst we shouldn’t expect to see Leo Messi gracing the Britannia with his presence any time soon don’t be surprised if Stoke challenge strongly in both cups this year and push for a Europa League place.

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Friday, 24 July 2015

What should Liverpool expect from Milner?

Liverpool’s acquisition of James Milner on a free transfer is one that looks like a very good deal. Milner has vast experience, internationally, in the Premier League and also in Europe. His work rate is exemplary and throughout his career has shown he can play in almost any position.

For Milner the move makes sense, he wants to get more game time and specifically more time in the centre of the park. Milner is, at this time anyway, a shoe-in for the England squad for the Euros and he will be hoping he can show he deserves to be in the starting line-up.

It’s strange that City couldn’t make promises to give Milner more time, Fabian Delph has been signed as his replacement but whether he is an improvement is another question. Milner had his best goal scoring season since 2010/11 when he was at Aston Villa, as he scored five goals. He also provided seven assists, again his highest total since his move to City.  

Milner scored more goals than Nasri and Dzeko in the last season and provided as many assists as David Silva. Liverpool will be hoping he can replicate that kind of form at Anfield.  In fact Milner provided more assists than Lallana and Coutinho last season and with a consistent run in the side you’d expect Milner to surpass that total.

In many ways you know what you’ll get from James Milner, he’ll always put in the effort and he’s very consistent. He doesn’t catch the eye in the way that someone like Coutinho or Silva does but based on last season there’s evidence that Milner can provide Liverpool with much more that hard graft. Milner is someone who’s technical abilities are still underrated, I think there’s a tendency to overlook those qualities in his game.


A midfield of Jordan Henderson and James Milner will have plenty of energy and commitment but will be one that can also be a creative force and provide both chances and goals.   

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Can PSV regain their league title?

PSV won the Dutch league by seventeen points last season meaning they will feature in the Champions League this season. On their way to winning the league they managed 92 goals, 23 more than Ajax, the next highest scorers and conceded just 31, two more than Ajax. PSV’s attacking style won them countless admirers and was a large part in their success last season. However, winning the league in such style will draw the eyes of the top clubs in Europe and this transfer window has seen Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum depart for the Premier League.

Depay scored 22 of PSV’s goals last season, at just 21 years old the attacking midfielder is considered one of the young players in Europe and Manchester United fans will certainly be hoping that is the case. Depay is lightning quick, a strong dribbler and has a very good long shot on him, comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt be made and if Depay goes on to be half the player Ronaldo is United will be very pleased.  

Wijnaldum was PSV’s captain last term and the loss of their leader could hit them hard, the 24 year old managed 14 goals last season and featured in 33 of the 34 games in the last Eredivisie campaign. Newcastle fans will no doubt be excited by the signing of a top player and one they can look to provide some much needed creativity from.

Those two departures mean PSV have lost two of their starting eleven and thirty four league goals as well. Despite recouping around £45 m from the two transfers PSV haven’t made any moves for replacements, if they are to hold on to their league title that is something they will need to do. One thing PSV can be glad of is that Luuk de Jong looks as though he will remain with them for next season.

De Jong, who had an ill fated loan spell at Newcastle eighteen months ago, looked much more at home in his native country, scoring 20 goals in the last campaign. Without further additions the onus for goal scoring will fall very much on his shoulders and should he pick up an injury PSV could really struggle.

Ajax will certainly be keeping an eye on the goings on at PSV and will be feeling a lot more optimistic about their chances of winning another league title with Depay and Wijnaldum both departing.  The Eredivisie will be lacking a bit of star quality without two of its leading lights but the league should be more competitive without them.    

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com  

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Who is the better signing Cabaye or Wijnaldum?

Newcastle and Crystal Palace completed signings last week meaning that every club in the Premier League has now added to their squads. Newcastle and Palace will likely find themselves subject to comparisons throughout this coming season given that Alan Pardew left the former for the latter last season. Another reason is that Palace have now added former Newcastle fan favourite Yohan Cabaye from PSG for a fee of around £10m. I’m sure many Newcastle fans would have liked to see Cabaye rejoin them instead of their former manager, however the signing of Georginio Wijnaldum for £14.5m on Saturday is an excellent alternative, but who has got the better deal?

Cabaye is a real signal of intent for Palace and it’s surprising a bigger club didn’t move for him. It’s fair to say things didn’t work out for Cabaye in Paris, the 29 year old played just 967 minutes last season, scoring once and providing one assist. Cabaye’s move is likely fuelled by getting more game time ahead of the Euro’s next summer.

Wijnaldum on the other hand had no such problem, he captained title winning PSV last season and playing 2878 minutes, almost three times more than Cabaye. He provided 3 assists and scored 14 goals, all of which came from within the penalty area.

At 24, Wijnaldum is five years younger than Cabaye, so Newcastle will feel they have secured a player they can build a team around and one with his best years ahead of him. Palace fans will argue in favour of Cabaye’s experience and he is arguably at his peak. Experience, especially in the Premier League, is one thing that should count in favour of Cabaye, we have seen countless players take time to adjust to the Premier League but this should be no problem for Cabaye.

Both players can feature throughout midfield but are probably best deployed in the number ten role. In his time at Newcastle Cabaye proved adept at breaking up attacks, averaging 2.4 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game the season before he moved to France. Whether this is something Wijnaldum will be able to replicate remains to be seen, in the World Cup we he was deployed in a deeper midfield role, so it is possible he could.

Athletically Wijnaldum has the advantage, he is a strong runner on the ball and a very good dribbler. Technically Cabaye probably just has the edge, his set piece delivery and general creativity have been sorely missed at Newcastle. Cabaye has an excellent passing range and is likely to be involved in building attacks and creating chances rather than finishing them off. Of his 17 goals at Newcastle 10 were from outside the box, that’s a stark contrast to all of Wijnaldum’s goals coming from inside the box.

For my money Cabaye’s capture is the better one, mainly because he has proven he can do it in the Premier League, and is one of the best signings of the transfer window so far. That’s not to say Wijnaldum is a poor acquisition, but a lot will depend on how he settles in England and whether or not Newcastle can add another striker and keep hold of their best players. Despite many similarities these are quite different players, both managers and sets of fans will be hoping they can add a creative force to take their side to the next level and there is certainly cause for hope in both cases.

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com


Monday, 13 July 2015

Five players who will be like new signings

When your club hasn’t been particularly active in the transfer window in order to drum up a bit of optimism it isn’t unusual to hear your manager talking about players being “like new signings”. This is reserved for players who have faced a long spell on the sidelines or some time away on loan. It might be a bit early in the day for managers to start trotting this line out yet but I’m expecting to hear quite a bit of it come the opening week of the season.

This is a list of five players that you can expect to be referred to as like new signings and their managers will be hoping that they are.


I think every football fan really felt for Jay Rodgriguez when he was stretchered off with a knee injury prior to the World Cup, the Southampton man was considered a shoe in by many for Roy Hodgson’s squad but it was not meant to be. After over a year on the sidelines we should be seeing a lot more of Rodgriguez this season.

Prior to that injury Rodriguez had fifteen goals in thirty starts in the 2013/14 season. Whilst he will by no means be a shoe in for a starting place given how far Southampton have come in the past 12 months, Rodriguez will provide another attacking option and if he finds his goal scoring form once more he will be very hard to leave out.


Siem de Jong was meant to be Newcastle’s marquee signing last season, however he only managed a handful of appearances, although he did grab a goal in those 147 minutes. De Jong was ravaged by injury but Steve McClaren will be hoping the former Ajax captain spends more time on the pitch than treatment table this time around. In his last season in the Netherlands de Jong scored seven goals in sixteen appearances, not a 
bad return but one Newcastle fans will be hoping he can surpass this season.


Sturridge and Suarez came so close to helping Liverpool to the title the season before last and their struggles last year are reflected in the lack of game time Sturridge managed, the England striker played just 750 minutes for Liverpool last campaign.
You feel if they are to mount any real title challenge this season Sturridge must remain fit and score at least the 21 goals he managed when partnered with Luiz Suarez. There’s no doubting Sturridge is a real talent, with the likes of Roberto Firmino and Phillipe Coutinho creating the chances you’d like to think a fit Sturridge would be near the top of the scoring charts come the end of the season.


If ever there was a player to signify the transition of Stoke’s footballing identity it would be Bojan. The young Spaniard, tipped earlier in his career to be the next Messi, traded the Nou Camp for the Brittannia last summer in a move that raised more than a few eyebrows.

Before suffering an ACL injury in an FA cup tie against Rochdale Bojan managed four goals and an assist in 14 Premier League games. He certainly added another dimension to Stoke’s attacks and there were glimpses of the talent that saw him posited as Mesi’s heir, Mark Hughes will be keen to have him fighting fit as soon as possible. Stoke have strengthened well this season as they look to build on a top half finish, if they are to push for European qualification you can’t help but feel Bojan will be central to that.


Signed from Newcastle last summer Mathieu Debuchy was regarded as a solid replacement for the departing Bacary Sagna. Things didn’t work out as planned, with Debuchy featuring just ten times in the Premier League thanks to a series of injuries. Debuchy will be keen to regain a place in the Gunners side and will be hoping to be part of the French set up comenext summer’s Euros.


Hector Bellerin and Callum Chambers provided ample cover for Debuchy but Wenger will be pleased to have someone more experienced to call on in big games. He was regularly one of Newcaslte’s best players in his time on Tyneside and Arsenal fans will be hoping he can recapture that form and remain injury free for the upcoming season. 

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Southampton's Keeping Troubles

There can be no doubts that Southampton competed far above everyone’s expectations last season, they were tipped for relegation but were unlucky to miss out on a Europa League spot by the end of the season. That failure (although it seems harsh to label it as that) to reach European football is reflected in the way Saints ended the season, losing four of their last six games and other than Manchester City and Spurs those games, on paper anyway, certainly looked winnable.

One possible cause for this downturn in form is the absence of Fraser Forster from the side for the last eight games of the season, through injury. In those eight games, Southampton conceded twelve game, an average of 2.5 per game. In the 30 games in which Fraser Forster competed Southampton conceded 21 goals, an average of 0.7 goals per game, that difference is fairly astounding.

Forster was replaced by Kelvin Davis and Paulo Gazziniga for the eight games he missed. Neither goalkeeper covered themselves in glory during that period of time, according to whoscored.com, Davis caused an error that led to a goal against Stoke and in my opinion could have done better with Chadli’s header against Spurs, whilst Gazziniga was at fault for one of the goals against Leicester.

If those errors hadn’t occurred, but everything else had remained the same, Southampton would have beaten Spurs and drawn with Stoke. That would have given them an extra three points and would mean they’d have qualified for European football.

It’s worth noting that for these eight games Southampton had a pretty settled back four and it wasn’t particularly different from the rest of the season, mainly consisting of Clyne at right back, two from Yoshida, Fonte and Alderweireld at centre back and Bertrand at left back. So changes in defence aren’t 
to blame for the extra goals shipped.

Nor is the opposition, over those eight games Southampton faced Everton (A),Hull (H), Stoke (A), Spurs (H), Sunderland (A), Leicester (A), Villa (H) and City (A). Admittedly there’s a lot of away games in there  but in the reverse fixtures they conceded just five goals and three of those were against City.

It’s impossible to say whether Southampton would have done better with Forster in their side but it would make sense, knowing you have a solid goalkeeper can inspire the rest of the side to play with confidence and it can demoralise opposition when he makes a string of top saves. Add to that the fact defenders will build up a relationship and understanding with their goalkeeper which is important for keeping a clean sheet.

This is not to disparage the two deputies, Davis has been a loyal servant to Southampton and was club captain last season and Gazziniga is just 23, Forster is an excellent goalkeeper and it's understandable for any replacement to be at a lower level. That said, if I was Ronald Koeman I’d certainly be considering bringing in another keeper for back up this season.

Southampton ended up with the second meanest defence in the league, only Chelsea conceded fewer goals than them (32 compared to 33), I think it’s fair to say with Forster in goal Saints might have ended with up the best defence in the league and maybe even European football.

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com


Monday, 6 July 2015

Swansea Continuing Top Transfer Dealings

Much has been made of how successful Swansea where last season, but one aspect of that success which seems to have been overlooked is their transfer dealings. Many people expected Swansea to flounder once they sold Wilfried Bony to Manchester City but they completed the rest of the season admirably and their forays into the transfer market this summer look promising.

Given that Swansea have such a strong style of play it is perhaps easier to identify, or at least exclude certain transfer targets. The capture of Jack Cork in Januray looks a great bit of business, Gylfi Sigurdsson showed what he can achieve when deployed in his best position and Fabianski was also a top signing last summer.

Another of last summer’s recruits, Bafetimbi Gomis, was the most natural replacement for Bony in the Swansea squad last January, from that point to the end of the season he managed six of his seven league goals and five of those came in a spell of five games towards the end of the campaign. It’s fair to say he didn’t quite reach the same levels as Bony, but will be looking to continue in same manner he ended last term.

Other than Gomis and the on loan Nelson Oliveria, Swansea didn’t really have any striking options so it’s understandable that that’s an area they’ve looked to strengthen. They’ve brought in Eder from Braga for around £5m, the Portugal international hit ten goals last season in his home country. At over 6ft Eder will be seen as a similar type of player to both Bony and Gomis, giving Swansea a focal point for their attacks.

In addition to Eder, Swansea have also added the highly coveted Andre Ayew. Ayew joined on a free transfer from Marseille and is predominantly a left sided attacking midfielder. That said he also played centrally for Marseille and even featured at left back once last season so is certainly very versatile. He too managed ten goals last time out and also registered three assists. Ayew’s signing will have been as something of a coup for a player who was linked with Liverpool and other clubs this summer.


Whilst it remains to be seen whether the new signings Garry Monk has made will have the desired impact there’s certainly cause to be optimistic. One really impressive part of the deal is the way Swansea managed to get them done early and for minimal transfer fees, securing two experienced internationals for £5m is a great bit of business in anyone’s book. Based on last seasons signings you wouldn’t bet against them slotting right in.