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 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Kane proving he is more than able

Whilst Tim Sherwood’s future as Tottenham hangs in the balance, one factor which is certainly is in his favour is his willingness to give youth a chance and also his decision to make team selections based on form rather than reputation. Something Sandro is probably feeling less than happy about right now.

Sherwood’s willingness to promote from within and give younger players a chance is certainly a result of his having being a coach at the club.  Promoting a manager from within the club then results in players being promoted from the youth set up to the first team.

Nabil Bentaleb, the Algerian 19 year old holding midfielder was the first to prosper from Sherwood’s youthful policy and has become a firm fixture in Sherwood’s Spurs side making 13 appearances so far this season. However, despite good performances he has not featured since the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool. 

Sherwood has turned to another youngster as he has returned to the 4-4-2, system, or variations of, which he used when he first began his tenure as manager at White Hart Lane. The first time around that system saw Emmanuel Adebayor prosper and look like the world class player he was once considered to be. In its second reincarnation it is Harry Kane, the 20 year old English striker who is taking the chance he has been afforded. The fact that a 20 year old is keeping out Soldado, a player Spurs signed for in excess of £20m in the summer, speaks volumes of the performances of the youngster, but also of the torrid performances of Soldado.

The Spanish striker has failed to find his feet in his first season at White Hart Lane, Soldado has managed just 6 goals in the Premier League so far this season, just two of which have been from open play, the other 4 have been penalties. Soldado has also provided 5 assists for his team mates and averaged 2.1 shots per game.

In contrast, Harry Kane has scored 3 Premier League goals so far this season, all of which have come in his last 3 starts. Given Kane’s performances and prolificacy, coupled with Sherwood’s penchant for selecting his team based on form, it looks as though Kane will continue to get chances as the season draws to a close.

Kane’s 3 goals make him Spurs’ 6th highest goal scorer this season, a total he’ll certainly be looking to add to in the remaining three fixtures. He also averages 2.6 shots per game, the highest in the squad, although the fact he has played fewer games is a factor in that, which speaks of the confidence he has in himself and his ability to take chances. From his 18 shots this season to have scored 3 goals shows he has a clinical edge in front of goal.

Two of Kane’s three goals have been headers, he wins 1.4 headers per game on average, and the other was a finish from close range. Although the goals have not been remarkable they demonstrate more, they show that he has the positional sense, which will always guarantee goals.

Undoubtedly, Kane has profited from the fact that Tottenham’s season has dwindled out to some extent. Where they more than outsiders in the race for fourth place Kane may not have been offered the chances that he has. However, he has more than justified his selection and he will continue to grow in stature and confidence in the coming weeks.


Should he continue to score at anywhere near the rate he is currently, Kane will certainly have a large number of suitors should Spurs wish to loan out the striker next season. That decision will rest with whoever the manager is next season, should it be Sherwood you imagine Kane would continue to be given chances, if not his performances at the back end of this season have shown he is certainly worth considering for a starting position. 

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Will someone take a chance on Hughes?

At the start of March, somewhat prematurely, the Football League decided to announce their players of the season. The best young player in the Championship, according to this panel, was Derby County’s Will Hughes. Past winners of the award have included Gareth Bale and Wilfried Zaha.

Derby currently sit in 4th place and will be hoping to ensure a playoff position in the coming weeks, with that comes the possibility of promotion and a chance for Steve McClaren to prove himself at the highest level once more. Understandably there’s been a lot of buzz around Will Hughes, especially when the transfer market rolls around, although at the minute Derby and the Championship seem to be the right place for Hughes to reach his utmost potential. At just 18 years of age he is certainly one of the brightest young English midfielders, having already made 7 appearances for the Under 21 side.

He looks to be mature beyond his age, with an aptitude for reading the game and being able to pick the perfect pass when the moment is right. This is shown by the fact that Hughes averages 42.3 passes per game, the highest of midfielders in the Derby squad and does with an accuracy of 86.8%, the highest of all of the Rams players. In fact his pass accuracy is the third highest of all players in the Championship and is marginally the highest amongst players to have played more than 20 games.

Hughes has been so important for Derby this season, starting 33 games and appearing as a substitute twice, although an injury has kept him out of late. For such trust to be placed in such a young player is something of a rarity and it speaks volumes of the way that Hughes conducts himself on the pitch, he plays with a level of responsibility shown by the fact he misplaces so few of his passes and is dispossessed just 1.7 times per game. Add to that the fact that he is making 2.9 tackles per game, the joint 7th highest in the division, and you begin to get a sense of the fact that Hughes is a complete midfielder and doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities. With that come the fact that he commits more fouls, an average of 1.5 per game, which is something he can look to improve on, although it does show his determination and passion, qualities that are often overlooked in footballers.

Hughes’ influence on the game is shown by the fact that he has provided 5 assists so far this season and scored 3 goals himself. His goal return is impressive given that he averages just 1.1 shots per game, whilst he is creating 1.6 chances for his teammates per game. There’s so much potential in his game, you can imagine how those figures might grow exponentially if he was playing at a top club.

The fact that he plays a lot of passes and that many of them are short, indicates that even when he is not directly influencing the game he is helping Derby keep the ball and contributing to the fact that Derby have the third highest average possession in the Championship, similarly they have the third best passing accuracy. There’s no doubt that those figures have been heavily impacted on by Hughes’ performances but also they show why he’s been judged to be the best young player in the Championship: Derby play in a manner which suits the way that Hughes play.

Whilst Hughes’ statistics are impressive, and there’s no doubt in the fact that they are, what they represent is far more the potential that he has as a player. It’s also worth noting that he’s playing with, and more importantly against, players who have much more experience than him. To be doing so well, especially in such a competitive and important part of the pitch shows just how good he can become. That said, a big money move would place a lot of pressure and expectation on him, for Hughes the best scenario is probably promotion with Derby and a chance to acclimatise to the Premier League. If not, he needs to ensure he will be given ample chance to progress and impress in the top division, here’s hoping that he does so.


Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Champions League Review: Possession Isn't Everything

If Tuesday’s Champions League games revealed anything it’s that there is more to the game of football than possession. Both games ended in 1-1 draws but the parallels don’t stop there, Bayern had 74% possession and pass accuracy of 91% against Manchester United, whilst Barcelona had 71% possession and 90% pass accuracy against Atletico Madrid.

Despite Ryan Giggs’ protestations Manchester United were clearly underdogs ahead of the tie with the newly crowned German champions. Such has been Bayern’s dominance this season that many claimed it’d be a question of how many rather than what the result itself would be. Given the injuries that United faced it’s hardly surprising that this was the view that many took, but perhaps more surprising that it wasn’t the outcome.    

Although United looked particularly vulnerable out wide early on they grew into the game and should have gone in to the lead when Danny Welbeck was presented with a one on one but opted to chip Neuer when a less cultured finish might have beaten the German keeper. It was United who took the lead, with a Vidic header from a Rooney corner, it showcased Bayern’s vulnerability and their use of zonal could be a weakness Moyes looks to exploit in the second leg.

The lead only lasted 8 minutes when substitute Mandzukic knocked down a Robben cross for Schweingsteiger to rifle the ball past De Gea. The scorer’s impact on the game did not finish there, he received a second yellow card, meaning he will miss the second leg and while Bayern have a multitude of talented midfielders to call on his experience will be missed.  It was nice to see Rooney not react to Schewiengsteiger’s claims he dived, the England man just shrugged nonchalantly, Rooney is beginning to show the experience he has.

Bayern had 16 shots, but just 3 of them were on target whilst the United defence managed to get in the way of half their attempts, blocking 8 shots. Despite having almost 3 times less possession United had more shots on target (4) from their considerably fewer (6) attempts. United also restricted Bayern to shots from long range, half their shots came from outside the area, compared to just 17% of United’s ( although that is skewed by the small sample size of 6).

It’s interesting that Bayern opted for Guardiola as a coach, given how last year Bayern tore what was essentially his Barca team apart, 7-0 on aggregate. The result signified a shift in power, an indicator that possession may not be the best way to win games and that a quick counter pressing game was more effective. However, Bayern seem to have taken a step back, their game is now heavily reliant on possession and although Guardiola claimed they were to be a plan A-Z team and not just a plan A team like his Barca were, last night didn’t show that. He has removed the fluidity and pace which made last season’s Bayern so ominous.

Against possession based play teams will park the bus and play on the counter and last night illustrated that it was just as effective a way to play. Bayern played 701 short passes, at times in places it wasn’t necessary, United were happy to let them have the ball in their own half and only really became concerned when they neared the final third. But when they presses Bayern they didn’t look comfortable on the ball, particularly not Neuer who skewed a few clearances whilst being closed down.

Guardiola’s former club Barcelona could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to La Liga leaders Atletico and their away goal will have Simeone’s men believing they can reach the semi-finals. Especially as Pique is now out for 4 weeks added to the lengthy lay-off facing Valdes. Earlier in the season Simeone said he doesn’t care about possession and last night illustrated that. Atletico are very effective at what they do, their defence is one of the best in the world right now and going forward they have the players capable of doing damage. Whislt a lot of the goal scoring onus has fallen on Diego Costa this season, his hamstring injury last night could be bad news for Atletico’s title and Champions league dreams.


Barca managed 19 shots but just 6 on target, whereas Atletico had 2 of their 6 attempts on target. The statistics are remarkably similar to the United Bayern game, but whereas Atletico will fancy their chances going in to the second leg it’s take a brave man to back United to go through against Bayern.

Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com