Thursday, 4 December 2014

Sanchez vs Costa: who has settled better?

Following another Alexis Sanchez goal to rescue Arsenal, Arsene Wenger  was prompted to say that no player had adapted quicker to the Premier League. Sanchez has nine goals in thirteen Premier League appearances so far for the Gunners, he works out at scoring every 117 minutes on average. He also has three goals in the Champions League so far and Arsenal fans will be hoping he can keep up that rate too.

Of his nine Premier League goals, 5 have come at the Emirates and 4 away from home. Without his goals Arsenal would be 7 points worse off, giving them a points total of 16, the same amount as Villa. Sanchez has scored 41% of Arsenal’s goals so far this season, that outlines how vital he has been to their side.

It’s undoubtedly true that Sanchez has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, but quicker than anyone else? That is a very bold claim. Let’s compare him to another big summer signing who has hit the ground running and see if Wenger’s claims check out.

The other exciting summer striker signing from La Liga was Diego Costa, the Spanish striker cost Chelsea a hefty £30 million but he is looking worth every penny of it so far.  Costa has eleven Premier League goals so far this season, two more than  Sanchez. That’s from 11 appearances to, meaning Costa has found the net on average every 83 minutes, an unbelievable conversion rate.

Arguably Sanchez plays a deeper role than Costa who is the focal point of Chelsea’s attacks so we’d maybe expect him to get fewer goals. Sanchez has two assists to his name so far this season, Costa has none. Costa creates fewer chances (1.6) than Sanchez (2.6).

Without Costa’s goals Chelsea would only be five points worse off, still top of the league, that probably says more about how good the rest of Chelsea’s team is though. Costa has scored in 8 separate games, bagging a hat trick against Swansea and a couple against Everton. Sanchez too has scored in 8 separate games. There is little difference in the number of shots the two players have per game, Costa with 3.1 and Sanchez with 3.0.

Both players have been praised for their work rate, that has been identified as one of the reasons that they have settled so well in England. Defending from the front has become an important part of the modern striker’s game. Costa averages 0.7 tackles and 0.4 interceptions, Sanchez is yet to make an interception and averages 0.4 tackles per game. Clearly, they are both doing more off the ball than those statistics suggest, it’s more about closing players and putting them under pressure.

Both sides would undoubtedly be worse off without their new talismanic forwards, I think Sanchez is more important to Arsenal right now but that is arguably because they’ve been without Giroud and lack the strength in depth Chelsea have. You still get the feeling Costa isn’t 100% fit.

It’ll be interesting to see how both players fare over Christmas, with both used to having a winter break. Who has settled better? I think Costa settled faster, he grabbed 7 goals in his first four games but Sanchez has certainly caught him up and he is vital to Arsenal right now. That said both have adapted extremely well to the Premier League, they’ve lived up to the hype and their respective price tags.

 Statistics courtesy of

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Blind leading the blind

With all the talent to come through the door at Old Trafford this season the least exciting was probably Daley Blind. This is not a criticism, I’m a huge fan of the Dutchman but he’s not going to light up Old Trafford in the same way that Di Maria or Falcao might, his job however, is probably the most important in this United team.

Against Everton Van Gaal lined up with a midfield of Di Maria, Blind and Valencia, with Mata deployed further forward. That’s leaving a lot of work for Daley Blind, whilst Di Maria and Valencia are industrious and will certainly put in a shift, they are at heart attack minded wide players. Blind is essentially tasked with the job that most teams entrust at least two if not three men to do.

In his 4 Premier League appearances Blind has made an average of 3 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per game. Only Phil Jones and Rafael have made more interceptions and only Jones and Herrera have made more tackles. His importance to the midfield is apparent from that alone. When you add in an average of 3.8 clearances per game, his defensive contributions are added to.

In comparison Di Maria offers little defensively, he’s made just 4 tackles and 7 interceptions in his 5 games at Old Trafford, Valencia fares a little better, with an average of 2.8 tackles and 2.2 interceptions. This shows how much work Blind has to get through, if United wish to control games in the manner they’ve become accustomed to and to stop leaking so many goals they will need more cover in midfield.

There’s no doubt that Blind’s versatility is in part why he was signed, he’s at comfortable at centre back as he is at left back or in the role he currently occupies. Given his versatility it’s not surprising he’s such a well-rounded player.

His work is as much off the ball as it is on the ball, breaking up play is as important as starting attacks. His average pass accuracy is 88.9% and Blind plays an average of 67.8 passes, the 10th highest of all players in the league. His passing range is varied, he has played 3.3 long balls per game so far, so he can release United on the counter or switch the play if needed. Unsurprisingly, Blind hasn’t created many chances for his team mates, his role is that of the middle man, by occupying space he can receive the ball and feed those who supply the goals.

Presumably Herrera will replace Valencia when fit and that will add some more solidity to the centre of the park. It’s clearly a problem of having such a plethora of attacking talent that fitting all those players in isn’t going to be easy and the solution seems to be removing a man from midfield. At the minute United aren’t a balanced side, there’s too much emphasis on attack and that isn’t sustainable, they’d benefit more from dropping one of the strikers for more midfield cover.

 Statistics courtesy of

Thursday, 2 October 2014

HIghlighting Manchester City's struggles in Europe

Tuesday’s draw with Roma was the fourth successive time that Manchester City have failed to win their opening home game in the Champions League, that’s surprising given how the Ethiad is a domestic fortress on which  City have built league success. It’s a result which points towards the larger trend of City failing to live up to their domestic prowess in Europe’s elite competition.

Last season was the first time that they managed to make it out of the group stage, it must be said that they have faced tough draws in each of their four seasons in the Champions League, they’ve been pitted against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to name but a few.

There has been talk since City reached the Champions League of a lack of experience in the competition letting the side down, and while that may be true of the team it is not true of the players that make it up. Yaya Toure has won the Champions League with Barcelona, Demichelis was part of the Malaga side that progressed so far under Pellegrini a few seasons ago and many of these City players are now entering their fourth year in the competition. These are world class players who have won countless domestic and international trophies, there should be no doubting their ability to produce on the biggest stage and yet doubts remain.

A quick look at the statistics is enough to highlight the disparity between City in the Champions League and Premier League, in all but their first season in the competition they boasted considerably higher possession and pass accuracy in the Premier League than in Europe. Perhaps not surprising given the calibre of opponents is higher in the Champions League and City’s game is not overly based on possession, like Barcelona’s is. Also the fact that this is a sample of 6 games in the Champions League and if two of those are against a Guardiola side it’s understandable that City would have less possession. What it does point to though is that City have to make a shift from being the side that dominates the game to one that is on the back foot when in Europe. Maybe they’re not used to being the underdogs and that change of expectations could cause problems but this also highlights the need to paly differently in Europe to in the Premier League, maybe throw in another midfielder and sacrifice a striker.

Defensively the statistics also point out to less impressive performances in the Champions League. Manchester City have conceded more shots in the Champions League than Premier League in each of their four seasons in the competition. On average there’s also a trend for less tackles in the Champions League, a bit surprising given that they’ve had less of the ball on the whole, suggesting they’re not doing enough without the ball. Although in the past few seasons they have made more interceptions in the Champions League, that hasn’t been the case so far this season, again this supports the call for a 5 man midfield I think.

Going forward there’s cause for concern too, City are having fewer shots in Europe than in the Premier League and also fewer shots on target. That’s disappointing given the amount of attacking talent they’ve amassed. Again, this could be a result of simply playing better opponents more frequently but if City want to be the best in Europe they need to beat the best and should be aiming to play with the attacking swagger we’ve become accustomed to in the Premier League. City are also completing fewer dribbles in the Champions League, they’re being afforded less time and space than they might be used to. Also City are caught offside considerably more when playing in the Champions League than when playing domestically, that ties in with them having less possession and at times playing on the counter, they’ll be looking for long balls in behind more frequently and that would lead to more offsides. More offsides means more attacks will be broken down and is a component in City having fewer shots.

Overall it seems that the grumblings about City’s performances in Europe are justified, whether or not it’s down to them being bad or their opponents being better is tough to say, I feel it’s a combination of the two. Watching City in Europe they look lethargic at times and don’t always look up to the game, almost in awe of their opponents. Whether or not there’s a quick fix is hard to say but it’s looking like it’ll be another tough European campaign ahead of them.

 Statistics courtesy of

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Newcastle shooting themselves in the foot

I was looking through some of the Premier League statistics (as you do) and something caught my eye, the team with the joint highest number of shots per game is Newcastle, only Chelsea and Liverpool have managed more. So why do Alan Pardew’s side find themselves lingering at the foot of the table?

First of all, on average, only 3.3 of those shots have been on target. That’s the fourth worst total in the league, so in fact only 21% of Newcastle’s shots are on target. So more interesting than shots or shots on target is this conversion figure, the number of shots a side is getting on target. When you look at that figure it makes a lot more sense as to why Newcastle sit second bottom and have scored just 5 goals this season.

Ronald Koeman’s Southampton have an impressive conversion rate of 45.5%, the highest in the league, closely followed by Swansea’s of around 41%. Not that surprising given the stellar starts to the season these two sides have made. The side with the lowest conversion is Aston Villa, just 20% of their shots are on target, despite their bright start to the season Villa have scored just 4 goals, their success has been based more on a solid defence, so this shouldn’t be too surprising either.

A further look at Newcastle’s shooting reveals something else interesting and another reason for their lack of goals. Just under half (43%) of their shots have come from outside the area, with 11% of shots coming from within the 6 yard box. It suggests Newcastle are panicking when they get near the box and shooting instead of trying to build up play patiently and work a better opening. This theory is backed up by the fact that just 29% of touches by Newcastle players are in the final third.

Admittedly, this would be okay if Newcastle were playing fast, incisive counter attacking football but this isn’t the case, the build up is laboured but also lacks the patience to work the ball into good positions. They might have themselves caught in a bit of a vicious circle here, especially at home, the fans are rightly upset at the level of performance this season and a backwards pass is more likely to be met with groans than at times when results are going well.

If you compare similar statistics to Southampton the differences are clear. Under Koeman Saints have had 35% of their shots from outside of the box, more shots from inside the box has given them more shots on target and that has led to a greater number of goals. Interestingly, Southampton have the same percentage (29) of touches in the final third. It’s clear that they’re making those touches count more than Newcastle.

Another statistic which highlights Newcastle’s lack of forward creativity is their lack of offsides so far this season, they’ve had just 1 in 6 games. To offer a comparison, Southampton have had 2.3 offsides per game, the second highest in the division. Obviously, you don’t want your players to be offside constantly but a higher number of offsides would suggest players making runs in behind. That rings true with Newcastle, from watching them this season they’ve looked very static going forward, lacking movement or runners from deep, and have also seen their main striker isolated a lot of the time.

Whether or not Pardew can doing anything about this remains to be seen, maybe he should encourage his players to work the ball in to the box and be more patient. To be honest this only half the problem, Newcastle’s defensive concerns are probably more cause for concern.

Statistics courtesy of

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yanga-Mbwia shows Newcastle what they're missing

Newcastle have been defensively shoddy so far this season and that’s almost definitely putting it kindly. So far Alan Pardew’s side have shipped 11 goals in 5 games, an average of over 2. Whilst Pardew was widely praised pre-season for the business he carried out, he failed to strengthen defensively, Janmaat was the only defender brought in and that was as a direct replacement for the departing Debuchy.

It was perhaps somewhat surprising then that French defender Mapou Yanga-Mbwia was allowed to leave on transfer deadline day to Roma on a season long loan. Yanga-Mbwia who joined in January 2013 had failed to make an impact at Newcastle, mainly because his first team chances had been limited and when he has been given chances it’s been due to injuries or suspensions and he’s often had to fill in at full back. His versatility is another great trait and another reason why it’s surprising Newcastle let him go on loan, given their lack of options defensively. That said, it’s certainly the best move for the player, he will be hoping for regular football under Rudi Garcia at Roma and could get experience of Champions League football.  

Yanga-Mbwia has made 3 starts since his deadline day move to Italy and Roma have conceded just once in those three games, perhaps it’s worth noting that’s the only goal they’ve let in this season.  His place in the team is currently because of the injury to Davide Astori, however, you feel if his level of performance continues Yanga-Mbwia may be able to cement his place in the starting line up.

In a recent interview Yanga-Mbwia claimed his move to Newcastle had been a mistake and he had struggled to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League, I imagine that wasn’t helped by him playing out of position. He added that the style of football in Italy is more similar to that of France, highlighting the way “They play more football”, presumably that is in reference to a more passing game.

That makes sense given his pass accuracy of 92.3% for Roma and he is making 56 passes per game, he is clearly very comfortable on the ball. However, he is as composed as he is on the ball defensively, making an average of 2 tackles and 2.7 interception per game, figures which are considerably higher than Astori’s (although he has only played one full league game this season).  He has only committed 2 fouls in his 3 games for Roma, that too speaks of the composure and leadership which was a times lacking at Newcastle.
His statistics are considerably higher than at Newcastle last year where he managed 17 starts. His pass accuracy was just 82% last season, so perhaps he is better suited to a more continental style of football than Newcastle are playing at the minute. He also averaged 1.7 tackles and 1 interceptions per game in his time at St James’ Park last year. His statistics are much more comparable to his time at Montpellier (2.2 tackles, 2.8 interceptions in 2011/12) now he’s at Roma, it seems he’s much more at home on the continent.

Admittedly three games is a very small sample size and it’ll be interesting to see how he does over the course of the season but I can imagine Alan Pardew may be regretting letting him go on loan at the moment. Let’s not forget that this is a player who captained his Montpellier side to the Ligue 1 title and while the player himself has spoken about how he struggled in England who knows how he would have fared given more games at centre back and a regular spell in the team.

Last season Roma finished runners up in Italy and will be hoping to go one better this time. Next up for Yanga-Mbwia and Roma: a trip to the Ethiad, he’ll be hoping they fare much better than Newcastle did when they faced the champions on the opening day of the season.

Statistics courtesy of

Monday, 1 September 2014

Roy's New Lions: Ready to Roar?

The latest set of internationals sees England face Norway in a friendly and Switzerland in a qualifier for euro 2016. With Gerrard and Lampard now retired from international football there are certainly holes to be plugged in the centre if the park and that's where the most surprising inclusions in the latest England squad lie. 

Aston Villa's Fabian Delph and Newcastle's Jack Colback have both earnt their first international call ups. This early international squad often leads to a few surprise inclusions based on so little domestic football having been played. Last year andros Townsend's early form got him selected and a good performance against Poland probably would have for him in the plane to Brazil, had he not been injured, and that's despite him failing to score or register an assist or scoring in the premier league. So there's definitely hope Colback and Delph can establish themselves as regulars.

Colback's move from Sunderland to the team he has always supported, Newcastle, raised a few eyebrows, but he has handled the move with a great level if maturity and has been one of the Magpie's top performers in this embryonic season.

Colback's role is more to dictate play from deep, whereas Delph is more adept at breaking up play, apparently dubbed by some as the 'ginger Pirlo'. Colback's pass accuracy of 90.1% is the highest of all Newcastle players, he has made 53.7 passes per game, the highest of all Newcastle's midfielders. He also plays an average of 5 long balls per game, so his passing is not just short balls in his own half but helps the game ticking over and can launch attacks or switch the play.

Despite playing from a deeper position Colback still contributes to the attack, creating an average of 1.7 chances per game, to put that in context Steven Gerrard has average 2 per game so far this season. 

Delph has been one of Villa's more consistent performers in recent years. The 24 year old has made an average of 1.7 tackles and 1 interceptions per game this season, the 5th highest for both in the Villa side. He has committed just 1 foul so far this season and his discipline shows his maturity, that's an impressive total given him main role in the side is breaking up play.

He does need to add more to the attacking side of his game, having scored just 3 goals last season, although that was an improvement on his total of 0 for the previous 3 seasons, he only managed 2 assists as well. Given that he's playing deeper attacking influence isn't as important as his defensive work which is ultimately what he's been picked for, but it would make him a more complete midfielder.

Hopefully both players will actually get a chance to represent their country and you feel it would be a big moment for both players which could be the moment that accelerates their careers and allows them to become a part of the England set up on a more regular basis.

Statistics courtesy of

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Where does Di Maria fit in at Old Trafford?

The signing of Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid is considered by many to be a coup for Manchester United, they paid a record breaking British transfer fee of almost £60m for the Argentinian international. Such a transfer fee is bound to draw much speculation and put pressure on the player to perform.

Di Maria’s pedigree is not in question, he made 17 assists in La Liga for Real last season, the most in the Spanish top flight and also the most in Europe’s top 5 leagues, with Rooney and van Persie In the side United have the players who can finish off those chances. He did only manage 4 goals last season, a tally he’ll be expected to improve on if he is to justify his price tag. A lack of goals is also an issue considering how reliant United were on Rooney and van persie last season, the pair scoring 29 (17 and 12 respectively) of United’s 64 goals, they lacked goals from other sources and Di Maria will surely have to become a source of goals.

The real issue is where Di Maria will fit into Van Gaal’s United side, so far the Dutchman has persisted with a 3-4-3 system, which hasn’t really worked out.  United lack natural wing backs, Luke Shaw is predicted to fill the void on the left when he returns from injury, but the right side is a position yet to be filled. I’m not sure Di Maria is the man to fill it either, despite being a right sided player.

He made just 1.3 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per game last season. A lot more is needed if he is to play as a wing back, in a role where defending is just as important as the attacking work.

Di Maria’s natural position is on the right, he predominantly played on the right of a midfield 3 whilst at Real Madrid last season, should United use that system he could prosper once more. That would almost certainly involve playing a back 4, which United’s defenders would be more comfortable with but may not be the direction Van Gaal wants to go in. 

Statistics courtesy of