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 whoscored.com

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 whoscored.com

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Premier League Review: Opening Weekend

After a summer in which English football only succeeded in disappointing us all on an international level this weekend saw the return of English top flight football and how we’ve missed it.

A lot has changed since Manchester City lifted the trophy in May, Liverpool have lost Suarez but replaced him with some quality signings, Louis van Gaal has taken charge at Manchester United and Southampton have lost almost half their team.  However, the opening weekend of the Premier League provided us with the drama we’ve come to expect it, and if the rest of the season continues in this vein we’re in for a treat.

A lot of that drama is attributable to late goals, I’ve heard the Premier League called the league of late goals and this weekend saw 5 goals scored after the 85th minute, that’s 19.2% of the 26 goals this weekend. But how does that compare to other leagues across Europe, only the French Ligue 1 and Dutch Eredivisie have kicked off so far, with La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga not starting until the coming weeks, but we can still compare the Premier League with those two.
 
Time of Premier League goals
In Ligue 1 there were just 2 goals after the 85th minute last weekend but the Eredivisie boasted 6, more than the Premier League but a smaller percentage (16.7%) of the 36 goals they had last weekend. So in terms of late goals the Premier League does eclipse it’s European neighbours, especially when you consider that 4 of those goals changed the outcome of games, compared to 1 in Ligue 1 and 5 in the Eredivisie.

The Eredivisie had more goals, more late goals and more decisive late goals than the Premier League and both teams scored in every match, whereas both teams failed to score in 4 of the Premier League games. However, the biggest defeat in the Premier League was by 2 goals, compared to 5 in the Eredivisie and 4 in Ligue 1, suggesting the teams in the Premier League are more closely matched. That’s more interesting considering you had a title favourite (Chelsea) playing a team tipped to be relegated (Burnley), perhaps it’ll just take the teams some time to find their rhythm, especially as not everyone was up to full strength. 


Time of Eredivise and Ligue 1 goals

The biggest shock of the weekend was Swansea winning away at Manchester United in Louis van Gaal’s first home game. Whilst United were understrength and still need to bring in a few 
new faces, the 3-4-3 system doesn’t seem to have worked to the extent it did for the Netherlands in Manchester.

Last season Swansea were criticised for having the majority of the ball but not doing enough with it. At Old Trafford, they surrendered the ball having just 40.8%, but still managed pass accuracy of 80.2%, so it wasn’t a complete change of philosophy from Gary Monk. Swansea also used the width well, playing just 22% of the game through the middle of the pitch. An astute tactic against a United side which had players playing wing back (or full back in the second half) who are more accustomed to attacking than defending.


Here's hoping for more of the same this weekend.

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Player Profile: Jeremy Mathieu

By bringing in the high profile signings of Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona looked to be once again papering over the cracks and ignoring what is arguably their biggest weakness: their defence.

One transfer which has slipped under the radar a little and probably has a few Barca fans scratching their heads is the £15.8m capture of Valencia centre back Jeremy Mathieu. At 30 the Frenchman isn’t getting any younger, he is relatively unproven in the Champions League and doesn’t seem to fit into the Barca style.

Last season Mathieu featured 32 times for Valencia in La Liga, playing predominantly at centre back but with the ability to also play on the left of the defence. If  his signing is to add depth to a thinly stocked back line you have to think the price is too high. The transfer fee alone suggests he is to play as a regular in the first team, presumably as the replacement to Carlos Puyol, with Mascherano perhaps moving into his more natural midfield role.

His passing accuracy is one thing that immediately stands out, at just 83% in last year’s La Liga, considerably lower than any of the other defenders in the Barcelona squad. In a Barcelona side with  more of the ball and playing more shorter passes, I think it’s reasonable that his pass accuracy can increase, perhaps not to the 90.2% level of Gerrard Pique, but to a become more in line with his teammates.

If that’s not the case and he ends up panicking on the ball you could see oppositions beginning to target him and trying to force mistakes. A lack of pace could be another weakness that teams look to expose, especially if teams employ quick counter attacks .

That said, Mathieu has a lot of experience, especially in La Liga, and that is something which Barca may have lacked at times since injuries began to plague Puyol’s career. Mathieu made 2.5 interceptions per game last season (more than Pique (2.0)), suggesting good positional awareness. For me, this is an advantage he holds over Mascherano, who is naturally a midfielder.

He is strong, both physically and in the air, winning 1.9 aerial duels per game, these are certainly characteristics that will stand him in good stead, especially considering how teams often opt for a more direct approach against Barca. Mathieu is also strong at attacking set pieces, scoring 3 goals last season.


It’ll be interesting to see how Mathieu adapts to life at Barcelona, given the price they paid for him his performances are likely to come under a lot of scrutiny, he’ll be hoping he can prove the doubters wrong. 

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Friday, 13 June 2014

Brazil vs. Croatia: A Statistical Review

It’s back. Despite having to endure the shambolic ITV commentary of the opening ceremony (which felt longer than the 4 years since the curtain fell on the last World Cup) last night was probably everything we could have hoped for in an opening day. Brazil won, Neymar scored and the game was far more competitive than most people expected.

The 3-1 scoreline certainly flatters Brazil, Croatia are rightly angry that they left empty handed. Lovren’s challenge on Fred certainly didn’t look enough to make the forward go down, especially in the manner he did and they were unlucky to have a goal disallowed following what looked a routine challenge from Olic.

The hosts will be happy to have got off to a perfect start, the pressure will be somewhat eased from their shoulders, especially for Neymar, his 2 goals seem to have justified his poster boy status. However, the result does paper over the cracks, defensively Brazil looked a bit of a shambles and Julio Cesar looks shaky.

Whilst Neymar undoubtedly stole the show, it was Chelsea’s Oscar who shone the brightest. The midfielder who has been in and out of the Chelsea since February looked well rested as a result, his goal in the 90th minute capped a perfect performance. He set up Neymar’s first, a mishit shot that rolled into the corner and played the ball into Fred when Lovren was adjudged to have fouled him.

His tireless running up and down the right, a position not many Chelsea fans have seen him occupy. He covered well for the overly adventurous Dani Alves, making 4 tackles, the second highest of any player. He completed 7 dribbles successfully, one more than Neymar and the most on the pitch.

He created 3 chances, including the equaliser, and had a pass accuracy of 83%. He had a 100% shot accuracy with both of his shots being on target. All in all it was a complete midfield performance, if Brazil are to go far Oscar will be key to that.

From Croatia’s point of view, they were at times overrun in midfield, shown by the fact they had just 39% possession. Their game plan was clearly to try and hit Brazil on the counter attack, but what they lacked was more discipline in the centre of park.

Modric, Rakitic and Kovavic all wanted to go forward, they weren’t strong enough in the tackle and lacked the positional awareness Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho had for Brazil. Modric made no tackles, he needs to be playing further forward if Croatia are to get the most out of him. Similarly, for Barcelona target Rakitic.

Wolfsburg’s Ivan Perisic looked dangerous on the ball, he delivered an early cross that Olic should have done better with. His 5 crosses was the highest of any player, more than the entire Brazil team. With Mandzukic to return from suspension for the remaining group games, Perisic will be a real threat for the Bayern striker.

I saw enough of Croatia to think they’ll be able to progress from the group. They were unlucky not to be able to get something from the game and they enough quality in their ranks to beat both Cameroon and Mexico.


Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ricardo Rodriguez: a cheaper alternative to Luke Shaw?

Luke Shaw is quite possibly the most wanted player in England right now, he’d easily fit into any Premier League club and looks set to join one of the big clubs, with Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all reportedly interested in signing the left back.  That he is so wanted is testament to Shaw’s performances this season and given the demand for their player Southampton may be tempted to instigate a bidding war. As it stands United seem to be leading the way with a reported fee of £20m being the price to prise him away from the South coast.

Given his age and the affinity to which he has taken to the top level of English football it’s hardly surprising that the clamour for his signature is so great. Another left back who’s had a fine season is Ricardo Rodriguez and it’s likely he’d be available at a fraction of the price being mooted for Shaw.

Switzerland’s left back, Ricardo Rodriguez has had a stunning season at Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg. At 21 years old he is 3 years older than Shaw, but is still young and has a promising career ahead of him. He was ever-present for Wolfsburg, appearing in all of their 34 Bundesliga fixtures, so clearly he is not injury prone and his fitness is not in question. It also highlights what a good season he had and that he is reliable and dependable.

Arguably Rodriguez’s biggest strength is his ability going forward; he provides an extra dimension to attacks, he is good on the ball, managing 2.6 successful dribbles per game, and has excellent delivery, he provides 2.1 successful crosses per game, the second highest in the Bundesliga. He managed 9 assists and 5 goals last season, particularly high figures for a defender, his total of 9 assists is unsurpassed by a teammate and is the 8th highest in the league.

However, it is worth noting that Rodriguez is his club’s free kick, penalty and corner taker, which accounts for the majority of his goals and a number of his assists. That’s not to discount from him in anyway though, it shows his ability at dead ball situations, whilst being a penalty taker shows he has confidence in his own ability. 

Rodriguez creates an average of 2.3 chances per game for his teammates, only de Bruyne has a higher average in the squad, in fact it is the 9th highest in the Bundesliga, considering that the other talented more attacking players on show in German football at the minute that shows how good he has been. Rodriguez plays 5.3 long balls per game and has a pass accuracy of 80.5%; he doesn’t give the ball away often.

Defensively, Rodriguez is very strong too. Rodriguez is good in the air, winning 3.1 headers per game, he’s 5ft 10, so is tall for a full back and is also physically strong, an attribute that has won Luke Shaw admirers. He completes 3.1 tackles and makes 1.9 interceptions per game on average, only Luis Gustavo has more in the Wolfsburg squad. He is only dribbled past 0.8 times in each match, an impressive figure for someone so young.

If one of the top Premier League clubs were to sign Rodriquez they’d probably secure a real coup and someone who is one of the best young left backs in the world.


Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Have Bayern improved this season?

When Bayern Munich successfully defended their Bundesliga title with a record breaking 7 games left plaudits were rightly so rained down upon the German champions and their new manager Pep Guardiola. To emulate last season’s success was never going to be easy, Bayern would have to be the first team to retain the Champions League, the fact that that hasn’t happened is no reason to say that Bayern have gone backwards, but the manner in which that happened should to lead some questions being asked.

Last season when Bayern dismantled Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final they were a joy to watch, it was counter attacking football at its best, a 7-0 aggregate victory seemed to signal beginning of the end of possession based football. Given that, Guardiola’s appointment seems a little odd, especially because it was the team that he had helped build who were beaten so emphatically.

Fast forward to this year and the 5-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Real Madrid certainly seems to agree with that. Real who are so adept at playing against a Barca-esque team, they’ve been doing it for years were hardly troubled by a Bayern side that has been recast in their new manager’s image.

From looking at Bayern’s Bunesliga performances there’s certainly a difference between this year and last. Before securing the Bundesliga title Bayern went undefeated; a particularly impressive feat.



In terms of games won the record is identical, the only difference in results is that Bayern drew one more game last year than this, but then they won the title won game earlier this season.

The real difference is in terms of possession, hardly surprising when you consider the brand of football Guardiola is renowned for playing.  Bayern’s average possession per game increased from 63.6% to 71.1% from last season. However, with that possession Bayern had only 1.5 shots per game but more importantly, only 0.1 more shots on target, an increase from 7.5 to 7.6. So despite having more of the ball and controlling the game more Bayern are doing less with their possession. In fact, they had more shots per possession (0.270) in 2012/13 than this season (0.263).

This highlights the problem Bayern now face, in dominating possession in the manner which they have this season they have become more predictable and so become easier to play against. Perhaps this was not so evident in the Bundesliga, where Bayern still had the wherewithal to break down their opponents, but it becomes more apparent when you consider their Champions League record. Especially the game against Real Madrid who have so much experience of playing against such a possession based approach. Even Manchester United, who had a woeful year by their standards, came close to putting Bayern out.


Breaking down their passes per game makes this predictability more apparent. Bayern played more passes, with a higher pass accuracy this season. Interestingly, they also played more long balls this season than last, but as a percentage of their total passes it is lower (12% last season, compared to 10% this season).

Given the ability of their wide men, Robben and Ribery, and Mandzukic’s aerial prowess it’s surprising they didn’t play more crosses. Although that may be in part due to the lack of game time both Ribery and Robben had this season, much to the grievance of the former. It’ll be interesting to see how Lewandowski fits in with this style of play, given Dortmund’s approach is less possession based and he too is very strong in the air.

Less crosses suggests Bayern played through the middle more, and that’s certainly the case, last season Bayern played an average of 26% through the middle, compared to 29% this season.

Bayern were offside fewer times 1.9 compared to 3.4 last season, whilst that is a positive and corresponds to Bayern’s greater control of the game, what it also illustrates is a team playing less direct football, maybe taking less risks in order to keep the ball. That’s also shown by fewer through balls per game this season.

All this leads to an increasing sense of one dimensionality about their play, if they continue in this fashion teams will soon get wise to it, as they have done to Barca’s style of play in Spain. As long as they continue to win matches and trophies it’s unlikely anything will change, but on the evidence of this season that might be sooner than we think.  

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com