Archive | July, 2012

Player Comparison: Thierry Henry vs Robin van Persie

29 Jul

Not a full blown player comparison as Henry has already featured (and come out on top) against van Nistelrooy here, but a quick look at the two Arsenal strikers that hit 30 league goals – who they did it against, and how important they were

With it looking increasingly likely that van Persie has played his last game for the club, now seemed as good a time as any to compare the two prolific strikers on their most prolific seasons. Each had a massive impact on the team and essentially where they finished, and below i’ll try and illustrate who was most important, and who was the better man for the big occasion.

The seasons in question are 2011-12 for Robin van Persie and 2003-04 for Thierry Henry. Whilst Henry’s Arsenal famously went the season unbeaten in 2003-04, van Persie’s Arsenal looked like relegation contenders at times, before steadying the ship and finishing a very respectable 3rd.

Before each season started, Henry had 82 league goals in 136 games for the club, whilst van Persie had 66 goals in 156 games. these were the Arsenal league stats for each by career and previous season. And so onto the stats:

Goals

So moving onto the numbers, at first glance it’s pretty even. Both started 37 games, with van Persie also making a substitute appearance to make the whole 38 game season. That he appeared in every game is borderline miraculous given his past. Both hit 30 goals at a rate of 0.81 goals per game for the Frenchman and 0.79 for the Dutchey – we’ll call that a draw. Similarly, both scored in 20 games.

Where the differences start to show is in the range of opponents scored against. Whilst van Persie had a very decent 7 goals in 10 games against the Top 6, Henry had an even better 10 in 10. Nice. More on that later.

Aside from the big games, van Persie specialised in punishing the mid table teams resulting in an averaged rank opponent per goal of 11.77 compared to his former captain’s 11.93 – driven by 14 goals against the Bottom 6. Once again, based on the average, they’re pretty much neck and neck.

Assists

Moving onto assists, there’s not much difference there either, with both setting up 9 goals for their team mates. Van Persie mainly did this against the teams at the bottom end of the table, though he did pop up with assists in wins against London rivals Chelsea and Spurs.

Henry on the other hand only managed the one assist against the Top 6 teams, a decisive one too, in the 2-1 win over a Chelsea team that would go on to finish second in Abramovich’s first season in charge. Most of Henry’s assists came against the teams in mid table, leading to his better average of 10.77 compared to van Persie’s 12.89.

Big Game Player? Records vs Top 6:

The main measure I use to single out who the big game players are on this site is looking at how they do against the best opposition. When looking at league performances only, that’s the Top 6 teams who are generally that bit better than the rest. So how did each do against them? Both played in the maximum 10 games against the other teams alongside Arsenal at the top end of the table:

Last season saw a very impressive 7 league goals against the top teams for van Persie, including that memorable hat trick in the 5-3 win at Chelsea, a game that also saw him provide and assist, in what turned out to be a season changing performance for the 2011-12 Gunners. Those seven goals were second only to Wayne Rooney’s eight strikes against the Top 6, although based on position at the time of play, van Persie was top.

As good as 7 goals in 10 games against the league’s best opposition, it’s here where Henry really shines through. He had a goal per game record versus the Top 6, also scoring a memorable hat trick – at home to Liverpool in a 4-2 win that Jamie Carragher still has nightmares about. It wasn’t just Liverpool that suffered though, Henry scored against every team in 2nd to 5th place, showing a consistancy that drove the team on to the unbeaten season. Both manage plenty of shots against the decent opposition, although the Home and Away split predictably shows a significant difference.

Importance to team

Okay, they’ve both scored 30 goals and set up nine others for their team mates, but what about their importance in terms of the over team stats.

Firstly is the percentage of team goals that each scored. To my surprise, I recently discovered that the great Invincibles team of 2003-04 only scored 73 league goals. Also surprising is that van Persie’s Arsenal team actually outscored them (albeit by one goal) despite winning 20 less points and finishing 19 points behind the teams in first and second.

Of the team goals, it’s pretty even – Henry scored 41% of the team’s goals in 2003-04, whilst van Persie also achieved this, with a bit of rounding involved. Once again, the two are incredibly equal.

Where van Persie outshines Henry though is the points won from his goals. It’s not a perfect science but if you take away each players goals from the final scoreline then you’re left with the difference they make. Henry has a very decent 20 points from his 30 league goals, which worked out to be 22% of Arsenal’s 90 points that season, whereas van Persie’s 24 point haul is not only better, but it’s more crucial to the team, being worth a massive 34% of 2011-12 Arsenal’s points tally. It’s fair to say that both made a massive contribution, Henry in winning the title, and van Persie in keeping the team in the coveted Champions League places.

Other Considerations

Obviously Henry did it in a better team, not only were they champions, but they went the season unbeaten in the league. He had the likes of Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Reyes and others around him, helping him score, and also scoring the chances he created. That’s not to say that it was an unfair advantage on van Persie though. The Dutchman got to play as the lone striker, or the central point of a 4-3-3 depending on your interpretation of Arsenal’s line up. As a result, most of the play and chances went through him, making it appear as though Arsenal were a one man team for large parts of the season.

In terms of the opponents, Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, yet only finished 6th in the Premier League, whilst Manchester United and Manchester City both went out in the group stages. Henry’s Arsenal face a Man Utd that reached the last 16, and a Chelsea that beat them on the way to the Semi Final. The difference between 1st and 6th in 2003-04 was 34 points, compared to just 25 points in 2011-12. In short, the van Persie season was more competitive.

In Conclusion

I honestly don’t write these pieces with the intention of declaring a draw everytime, but it’s very hard to avoid that conclusion when looking at the above data. I know stats only tell half of the story, but on this occasion, I think it’s a fitting result. Henry inspired his team to win the league title, whilst going the season unbeaten. That team has since been named the greatest in the history of the Premier League and it was very much Henry’s influence that was the biggest factor. Robin van Persie on the other hand dragged what has widely been described as the weakest team of Wenger’s era, into 3rd place and the all important automatic Champions League spot. Both proved essential in their teams outcome.

In terms of big game performances, Henry just about edges it, but will always have a slight cloud hanging over him for the biggest of games – the finals of major competitions, but in just comparing their league seasons, he comes out on top, only for van Persie to lead on the points won.

So all in all, whilst there’s no real comparison on their full Arsenal careers (especially with van Persie’s behaviour after the season), it’s fair to say that they were both instrumental in their teams fortunes. As van Persie has decided to leave, we’ll never know if he could have maintained that level for more than one year, but for one season only, he could live with the King.

Cheers,

Liam

Advertisements

Player Comparison: Carlos Tevez vs Sergio Aguero

22 Jul

Argentinian? Check. Prolific striker? Check. Skilful and small enough to be described as diminutive? Check. That’s basis enough to be the next in line for the player comparison series

Contenders

First up is keen golfer, Carlos ‘Carlitos’ Tevez. Born and raised in the tough Buenos Aries area of Fort Apache, Tevez has played for some of the biggest clubs in World football – Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Manchester United, Manchester City and of course, West Ham United. Tevez made the controversial move across Manchester in the summer of 2009, after winning two league titles and the Champions League with United. He was never prolific in his time with the Old Trafford club, often played out wide to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo, that would change though at City. When he signed, City had just finished 10th.

When Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero joined in the summer of 2011, City had finished 3rd and qualified for the Champions League, and had just won the FA Cup. Signed from Atletico Madrid (where he was Fernando Torres’ replacement), he joined City as a replacement for the wantaway Captain Tevez. A child prodigy, he made his professional debut at just 15 years of age for Independiente in the Argentina top flight, breaking the record of future father in law Diego Maradona, and made a big money move to Spain in 2006. After scoring 101 goals in 234 goals for the captial club, only a handful of teams could afford both his transfer fee and his wages, fortunately for City and the Premier League, his new club was one of them. Born just 13 miles from Tevez, Aguero is four years younger.

Rules

As usual, the statistical comparison will be based on their form in the league, comparing Aguero’s 2011-12 season with Tevez’s debut season with the club. I’ll be looking into the variables and will take a look at their international form as well. For queries on how the calculations are made, see the Rules and Workings page on the menu bar above.

Stats

First and foremost, the all important measure for a striker – goals scored. Tevez came into his debut City season on the back of a disappointing season fro Man Utd, scoring only 5 league goals (14 in all competitions) after the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov – his worst return since his debut season for Boca. Sergio Aguero was fresh from his best scoring season, hitting 20 La Liga goals (27 in all competitions). The starting point for both was very different, in terms of their own form and the team they were joining. But surprisingly, they had near identical scoring records, both scoring 23 league goals in their debut season’s for the club.

In terms of goals per game they both have around a goal every 1.5 games, which is prolific in anyone’s book (apart from whatever book Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi read). Looking a bit closer into the strike rates, and going down to minutes per goal, Tevez actually played almost 300 mintues more than his younger compatriot, or over three games. Advantage Kun.

Next up is the lifeblood of this site – looking at the standard of opposition that the players perform against. Those familiar with the rest of the site (are probably related to me), know that there are two main measures, firstly the average rank of the opposition per each of their goals, and the second is splitting the opponents into a ranges – Top 6, Middle 8, and Bottom 6. Basically, it’s a check to see if a player is a Big game player, Flat track bully or Big game bottler.

Once again, it’s pretty even on this front. Both players have pretty similar averages, with Tevez scoring against teams ranked on average of 11.52, to Aguero’s 11.13 – Tevez’s extra two goals against the bottom 6 means he has a slightly worse average. Advantage Aguero again. Both players scored four goals against the Top 6 – Aguero against 2nd to 6th, and Tevez against 1st to 4th and 6th. Looking a little closer though and Tevez regains a bit of ground, three of his four Top 6 goals were scored against eventual champions Chelsea, and each time they were decisive goals. In the 2-1 win at the City of Manchester Stadium, Tevez scored the winning goal, and in the 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge, Tevez scored a brace. Big game player? His other goal against Top 6 teams was in a 3-1 win over Villa. Aguero’s goals against the Top 6 were against Man Utd (2nd), Spurs (4th), Newcastle (5th) and Chelsea in 6th.

So far, pretty even – with Aguero just about ahead. They’re both goal scorers first and foremost, but how much did they do for their team? Well there’s few in the game that work as hard as Tevez, in terms of closing down opponents, but equally, anyone watching Aguero will notice just how good his movement off the ball is. However, that’s not something I can measure, so how about assists instead?

Once again it’s incredibly close in terms of numbers, Tevez got a credible 7 assists in his debut season, compared to Aguero’s 8. It should be remembered though, that Man City scored 73 goals in 2009-10 compared to the 93 last season. Tevez in general provided assists against the poorer teams, with five coming against the likes of Burnley, Hull, Wigan and Wolves. He did however almost embarrass old team Manchester United with two assists in the 4-3 defeat at Old Trafford – a game famous for Michael Owen’s late winner. Aguero on the other hand had a pretty good average ranked opponent per assist, with 9.75. Only one was against the bottom 6, with most against the mid table teams. Like Tevez, he also managed to get two assists against Top opposition, creating Balotelli’s early goal in the 2-1 defeat to 6th placed Chelsea, and then an assist in the 2-0 win over 5th placed Newcastle.

Whilst Aguero’s slightly ahead on points so far, it has to be remembered that whilst his City finished in 1st, Tevez finished in 5th. So how about their importance to the team? Well on the basis of points won from their goals (see Rules and Workings), it’s a pretty convincing win for Tevez.

That’s pretty comprehensive. Whilst Aguero’s debut season has been very impressive, in terms of their importance to the team, Tevez was miles ahead. He scored almost 32% of City’s goals in 2009-10 compared to Aguero’s 25%. And it’s a similar story in points won, with Tevez winning 22% of the team points, compared to just 8% for Aguero. So that’s another one back for Tevez, but at the end of the day, Aguero did score THAT goal (worth 2 points for those interested, and a Title).

So that’s the stats taken care of, anyone wanting to know a bit more? Well Tevez scored five penalties to Aguero’s three, Tevez scored his 23 goals with four shots less (126 to 130) whilst both average one shot on target in each of the games against the Top 6 teams. They’re pretty even, even to that level of detail.

Team mates

I’ll leave the commentary light on this one, just listing the usual line up for each season:

In the space of just two seasons, there’s been a pretty drastic change in line up, with just three players in the strongest XI for both seasons. Comparing the midfields in particular that each played with it’s all the more impressive that Tevez managed 23 league goals and seven assists. The two that stand out in particular are the attacking midfielders – City Youth Teamers Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips may have enjoyed some good times with the club, but those days had long passed by this point. Compare them to Silva and Nasri, and you’re an idiot. Each had multiple strike partners with Tevez partnering Adebayor, Santa Cruz and Bellamy at regular times each season, compared to Dzeko, Balotelli and Tevez for Aguero.

International

At the time of writing, it’s 15 goals in 36 caps for Aguero, and 13 in 59 for Tevez. That’s a pretty clear cut win for the younger striker right? Maybe not. Tevez has three World Cup goals to his name, and in the 2004 Olympic games (taken a lot more seriously in South America than here), he top scored with eight goals as Argentina won the Gold. As that was officially an Under 23 Tournament, those eight goals don’t count to his full tally. Both have three Copa America goals, and both scored in 2010’s 4-1 thrashing of Spain.

High Tens if you love Argentina

What Else?

Well the eagle eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve left out Tevez’s 2010-11 season stats, which were pretty important given that he was essentially the difference in qualifying for the Champions League and not. Why? Well I thought it was only fair to compare the debut season of each player, although Tevez did have an unfair advantage of 3 previous seasons in the Premier League.

When looking at his 2010-11 stats, he was once again responsible for 15 points, he scored 20 league goals in 31 games (which was enough to see him share the Golden Boot with Dimitar Berbatov), and he had an average opposition of 12.15 per goal, with a split of 6-11-3 for Bottom 6-Mid 8-Top 6 goals. Pretty consistent. He had six assists.

Conclusion
It’s fair to say that Manchester City’s recent past has been dominated by the two Argentinians. Tevez was key in changing both the mentality at the club and in qualifying for the Champions League. It was only once that qualification was complete that it was possible to attract players like Aguero. Robinho may have been been the marquis signing of City’s transformation into a superpower, but it was Tevez’s signing that signalled the intent. Not only were they signing a world class talent, but it’s who they were signing him from.

Of course moving from Top 4 to Champions is another thing altogether, and although he helped near the end of the season, Tevez’s contribution to City’s greatest triumph of modern times was pretty small compared to Aguero. Although he didn’t dominate the team like Tevez had previously, he was the top scorer and he scored the goal to win the title. That one moment is the biggest single contribution that any player made tonL City’s title win. All the work before hand, including Kompany’s winner against United would have counted for zero.

So in what is no way a cop out, it’s a draw!!

They should try and keep them both – they’re pretty handy together:

Team Comparison – The Invicibles: Arsenal 2003-04 vs Juventus 2011-12

17 Jul

Next up in the comparison series is a pair of teams rather than players. Both Arsenal in 2003-04 and more recently Juventus last season, managed the ultimate achievement – going the whole league season unbeaten. There’s no winner or loser in this comparison, more an appreciation of two of the great club teams of the modern era….

My Mum used to say that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It’s fair to say she’s more of a dog person, but that same sentiment is also applicable when comparing Arsenal’s Invicibles of 2003-04 with Juventus’s class of 2011-12 (I’m not sure if they have a nick name yet?). Both teams performed the remarkable by going the league season undefeated, but they did it in different ways. On the surface, their league records are pretty similar –

Arsenal had the most points – largely due to Juventus’ love for a draw in the first half of the season – but the goal differences are near identical. I’ll admit that I expected Arsenal to have a far superior ‘goals for’ column, and likewise for Juve on the ‘goals against’. Looking at the goals involved, it backs up the oft used phrase, that a title winning team is built from the back. For all of Henry’s va-va-voom, the team kept 15 clean sheets on the way to letting in only 0.68 goals per game.

Starting Point

The first difference was the starting point that each team began from. Arsenal came into the season from a pretty strong starting point. Champions in two of the previous six seasons, there’s was a well established and particularly strong squad. Arsene Wenger had been in charge since the 1996-97 season and had never finished below 3rd place. They were strong contenders after finishing the previous season in second place to rivals Manchester United (and actually had a superior goal difference). In terms of changes, David Seaman’s retirement saw Jens Lehman join from Borussia Dortmund, whilst Oleg Luzhny left the defence with a very young Gael Clichy coming in as back up to Ashley Cole. Jose Antonio Reyes later joined in January from Seville. Other than that, it was the squad that ended the previous season.

Juventus on the other hand were starting from quite a different spot. As is well documented, Juve had last “won” the league title in the 2005-06 season. That was immediately followed with relegation after the match fixing Calciopoli scandal. Although they achieved an immediate return to Serie A, the landscape had changed. Star players Vieira, Thuram, Ibrahimovic and Cannavaro all left the club, and in their absence, Inter had become the dominant team in the league – winning four successive titles from 2006-07 to 2009-10. Juventus finished 7th in both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons as they struggled to return to former glories. After spells in charge by Deschamps, Ranieri, Ferrara, Zaccheroni and Delneri, they appointed yet another new manager for the start of 2011-12, with former right winger Antonio Conte taking over the hotseat. Their highest attendance was a lowly 25,000. The club was not in good health. But there were reasons for optimism. They moved into a new stadium, and made some shrewd signings in the summer, most notably Andrea Pirlo who was deemed surplus to requirements at champions AC Milan. Joining him was Roma’s Mirko Vucinic, Chile International Arturo Vidal and Lazio’s attacking full back Stephan Lichsteiner. Winning the title was not expected, let alone going the league season unbeaten.

Squads

The squad policy was also quite different for each team. Juventus used 25 different players to Arsenal’s 22, with Juve players making 533 appearances between them, compared to Arsenal’s 499. Wenger relied very much on his First Choice eleven, whilst Juventus’ achievement has seen contributions from all around the squad (highlighted in the goals scored, shown later). There was also a difference in the reliance of home grown players. Arsenal used just six British players in the league season – Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole were the only regulars though, whilst Juventus used a massive 18 Italian players, with Vucinic (Montenegro), Vidal (Chile) and Lichtsteiner (Switzerland), the only non-Italian regulars in the team.

In terms of experience and quality, Arsenal’s first XI was surely the better team on paper. Henry was arguably the World’s greatest striker at the time – he finished second to Zidane in 2003 and behind only Ronaldinho in 2004 in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards. The Frenchman had won both the World Cup and Euros with France, and counted International team mates Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires among his club team mates. Adding to that, the brilliance of an aging Dennis Bergkamp, and England defenders Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, and it was a very stong team.

Juve on the other hand will be looked back on as a team of great players, but before the season started, there weren’t many that would have broken into the Arsenal team. Buffon and Pirlo were World Champions with Italy, whilst Chiellini would have a case to be in over Toure. The rest would realistically fall behind their Arsenal opposite numbers in terms of perceived quality with perhaps a close choice at right back. After all, this Juventus team had just finished 7th, letting in 47 goals in the process whilst only scoring 57. It’s only once the season ended that the players will have been lauded – many of the backline went on to be Italy’s defence in a relatively successful European Championships.

Invicible First XIs:

In reserve, Arsenal regularly used Brazilian midfielder Edu, Romford Pele – Ray Parlour, and Wiltord, Reyes, Clichy and Cygan all made over 10 league appearances. Youngsters David Bentley, Cesc Fabregas, Justin Hoyte and Jeremie Aliadiere were all in the squad at times, but were used sparingly, whilst established names Kanu and Keown were coming to the end of their Arsenal careers.

Juventus had their own Dennis Bergkamp figure in Alessandro Del Piero who would go on to score some important goals, whilst Italians Giaccherini, Quagliarella and De Cegile would all make over 20 appearances.

Goalscoring Stats

And so onto the meat of the piece. Firstly, a look at the player goal scoring stats for each team. The first thing that catches the eye is the length of each team’s list. Continuing on with the theme that Juventus’ triumph was much more a victory for the whole squad rather than relying on superstars, the evidence below would back that up. Arsenal have 13 different scorers including own goals (who got a decent four goals), compared to Juve’s incredible 21 different scorers. In my reviews of the Premier League, Serie A, Eredivisie, Bundesliga and La Liga this year, that’s the highest number of scorers for any team in those five leagues. Impressive stuff. But they needed it too, based on the total goals of their top scorer – just 10 for Matri.

Unsurprisingly, it was Henry that dominated scoring for Arsenal in their unbeaten season. The Frenchman did it against almost every opponent he faced, with just Spurs (14th), Birmingham (10th) and Bolton (8th) managing to keep him off the score sheet. His 10 goals against the teams in 2nd to 6th showed that he was a big game player in the league (though not in the biggest games in his Arsenal career). Perhaps the most impressive display was his hat trick against Liverpool in a 4-2 win at home, though the four goals against Leeds was also impressive, albeit against a team bound for relegation. Robert Pires was the other stand out performer in the goalscoring stakes, hitting a very impressive 14 goals from out wide (he managed that feat in three consecutive seasons as seen here). Other than that, there were pretty meagre totals from the likes of Ljungberg, Bergkamp and Wiltord, with all scoring under 5 goals. Edu only scored two goals in the league, but they were vital, coming in the two 2-1 victories against 2nd placed Chelsea. Considering all of the attacking talent they had that season, it’s surprising that Henry and Pires contributed 60% of Arsenal’s goals that season.

By comparison, Juventus’ top two scorers combined to contribute 28% of the total team goals:

Matri was the only player to reach double figures with a lowly ten goals, which is pretty rare in a title winning team. The importance of doing well against your rivals is key to winning league titles, and although he only scored ten goals in total, four of them came in the matches against the other Top 6 opponents – most importantly in the game vs AC Milan to secure a 1-1 draw in the 83rd minute. A win at the time would have seen 1st placed Milan extend their lead at the top. Aside from Matri, Marchisio added in an impressive 9 goals from midfield. He was also the picture of consistancy with three strikes against all three ranges of opponent – resulting in an average ranked opposition of 10.22 per goal. Alessandro Del Piero didn’t play as much as he would have liked in his final season with the Old Lady, but when he did score, they were big goals – with one against Inter Milan (6th) in a 2-0 win, one against Lazio(4th) in a 2-1 win, and then a goal on the final day of the season against Atalanta, to help ensure they went the season unbeaten. He will be missed.

In terms of the importance of their goals as points (see rules and workings), it’s two familiar faces again that dominate this field:

Henry’s goals were worth a whopping 23 points, or 26% of Arsenal’s total, whilst Pires follows suit with a very decent point per goal for his 14 strikes. Patrick Vieira was the most efficient with his goals, collecting five points from his three hits – with decisive goals against Chelsea (2nd), Leicester (final day of the season) and one in the 2-2 draw against North London rivals, Spurs. Juventus once again have more of a spread across the team. The above only shows the players with 5 points or more earned, but the larger list shows several Juve men. The shared goalscoring responsibility is echoed in the points won.

Team Stats

Aside from the goalscoring stats on the players, the below tables, give a comparison against Clean Sheets, Wins/Draws/Losses goals conceded, and failure to score. Juventus trumped Arsenal in the clean sheets measurement, as if to live up to the Italian sterotype, with 21 to Arsenal’s 15, and carrying on that trend, they had the lower number of goals conceded with just 20 to Arsenal’s 26 – both fantastic records. Arsenal’s 26 in particular deserves praise. Although it could be argued that the shield of Vieira and Gilberto Silva largely contributed, this was not the back line of old. Keown started just 3 games, whilst Dixon, Winterburn, Adams and Bould were long gone. Ashley Cole and Lauren were attacking full backs, whilst both big Sol Campbell and big Kolo Toure would often venture into the opposition half, yet the 26 conceded was better than both the title wins in 1998 (33 goals) and the 2002 season (36 goals). Juve on the other hand ended up providing four of the back five for Italy’s run to the European Championships Final. That they kept so many clean sheets is only surprising comparing to the previous season, hindsight is not surprised one bit. Both teams kept a decent number of clean sheets against Top 6 rivals, whilst both conceded less than a goal a game against the Top teams. Juventus’ made up the extra clean sheets against the Bottom 6 teams, with Arsenal keeping a surprisingly low four clean sheets in the twelve games against them. They kept as many against Top 6 teams in just 10 games. Big game defenders? Yep.

Moving on to the goals scored, it’s the North London team that lead the way here. But not by much. I don’t know if it’s that we’ve been spoiled by Mourinho teams, but 73 goals seems like a pretty low total to win the league with (68 more so). Add in the fact that these teams went unbeaten and it’s even more surprising. Either way, the importance of results against your rivals is evident once again for both teams, with the both teams hitting 18 goals in the 10 games they played against the teams in 2nd to 6th. That’s a goal difference of plus 15 for the Italians and 14 for Arsenal in the Top 6 mini leagues. In fact when looking at the points taken from the Top 6, both teams took 24 points available from 30 available – giving up just three points to their rivals.

Not much to discuss on the defeats side of things, they were both pretty consistent on that front. The closest Arsenal came to defeat was in the 0-0 at Old Trafford when Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a very late penalty, and Martin Keown turned into the incredible hulk.

Juventus also narrowly missed defeat against title rivals. In the 1-1 draw at AC Milan, Matri’s equaliser was in the 83rd minute, but that only tells half the story, as there was widespread outrage when AC Milan had a seemingly good goal disallowed that would have put them 2-0 up. However good the teams may be, you’ll need a bit of luck to go a whole season unbeaten.

Apart from the league – Europe and Cups

Juventus had the added help of no European campaign which definitely helped them in the league, but it also helped them in the Coppa Italia as well – going unbeaten in that until the final, where they lost to Napoli in Del Piero’s last game for the club. Along the way they knocked out Roma, and AC Milan as well. They were 90 minutes from going the whole season undefeated in all competitions. The bottlers…..(just kidding).

Arsenal domestically put up a pretty good fight. Aside from the league, they got to the Semi Finals of both the FA Cup and the League Cup. In the FA Cup, they’d knocked out Leeds and 2nd Placed Chelsea along the way, only to come unstuck against Manchester United after a Paul Scholes strike. In the League Cup, they played a weakened team, and were knocked out in the two legged semi final against Middlesbrough. In Europe, they had a mixed performance. Outclassed by Inter Milan 3-0 at home, they then went on to draw 0-0 away at Lokomotiv Moscow, before another defeat away at Dynamo Kiev. They won each of the return fixtures though, to gain the 10 points needed – including a stunning 5-1 win in the San Siro. In the last 16, they beat Celta Vigo 5-2 on aggregate before being paired with Chelsea in the Quarters. After a 1-1 draw at Stemford Bridge, Arsenal took a 1-0 lead through Reyes by half time and looked in control. Unfortunately for them, Frank Lampard and then footballer Wayne Bridge (in the 87th minute) turned the tie on it’s head and knocked the Gunners out. That season will always be looked on as a missed chance for Arsenal, who would have faced Monaco in the Semi Finals and Porto in the Final. That’s not to say they were bad teams, just that it was a chance missed for the finest Arsenal team of Wenger’s reign.

Strength of the League

Using European performance to judge the standard of the league, England only had one Quarter Finalist in 2002-03 season (Man United), and two quarter finalists and one Semi Finalist in the 2003-04 season.

Italian teams in 2010-11 had one quarter finalist (Inter), whilst the 2011-12 season saw the same, with AC Milan reaching the quarters before bowing out to Barcelona.

What does this tell us? Well, there’s a case to be argued that the strength of the league opposition wasn’t as hard as in previous years when both the Premier League and Serie A have provided more teams at the later stages of Europe’s top club competition. It’s not a perfect measurement, but I’m nothing if not thorough.

Precedent

Of course the achievements weren’t completely undprecedented. Serie A has seen two teams go a league season unbeaten previously – Perugia managed it in 1978-79 (though didn’t win the league), whilst more recently AC Milan managed it in 1991-92. However, they were both 34 game seasons – with Juventus being the first to do it in a full 38 game season.

Similarly, In England, the term Invincibles was initially used for the great Preston North End team of 1888-89 who went undefeated over a 22 game season on the way to winning the league title. Once again, Arsenal are the first team to do it in 38 games.

It’s an incredible achievement and judging by the history, it’s near impossible to do, so hats off to them.

After

For Juventus, they certainly can’t be accused of resting on their laurels. At the time of writing (just 2 months after the season ended – finger, pulse etc), the Turin giants have signed promising youngster Pogba from Man Utd, Brazilian legend Lucio from rivals Inter Milan, re-signed Italy international Sebastian Giovinco and are currently sniffing round Robin van Persie.

Why would van Persie consider leaving Arsenal for Juventus? Well unfortunately for Arsenal fans, and indeed many neutrals, that 2003-04 team was the last to win the title for Arsenal. The team was eventually broken up with captain Vieira leaving the following year after scoring the winning penalty in the 2005 FA Cup final (their last trophy). Despite a Champions League final appearance in 2006, it’s fair to say the team has struggled since 2003-04, and despite having a lovely new stadium, I’m sure most fans would rather be watching league titles being won at Highbury. They came close in the 2007-08 season, but a broken leg to Eduardo and a serious strop from captain Gallas, saw them drop to 3rd, just 4 points off the title. Every year since 2005 has seen an established member of the squad leave, Vieira in 2005, Campbell, Pires and Reyes in 2006, Ashley Cole, Ljungberg and Henry in 2007, and you get the idea. Fabregas, Nasri and most likely van Persie in the last year or so have all looked for pastures greener and accusations of Arsenal being a selling club. Summer signings of Giroud and Podolski are at least a signal of intent as Wenger signs established players, and the run of form in the second half of the season suggest that Arsenal’s glory days aren’t quite behind them, but it’s a far cry from the Invincible team.

So there you have it, that’s how two teams defied all of the odds and went on to a stunning achievement. Whilst both teams relied heavily on a solid defensive basis, Arsenal often looked to Henry and Pires to provide a spark going forward, and Juve shared the goalscoring responsibilities across the squad. And it was a squad, they had more performers, more scorers and more players making 20 appearances or more. Arsenal looked to overseas players in the main, whilst there was a very Italian core to Juve’s 2011-12 champions. What they did have in common was a steely desire to win, a great quality on the ball, and domination against their rivals.

Arsenal of 2003-04 and Juve of 2011-12 embraced a bit of luck along the way, but both will go down in the history of foootball as legendary teams. The stats can only tell half the story of two great teams.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Season Review: 2011-2012

9 Jul

Next up in the season reviews is the Spanish League. More specifically, Real Madrid, Messi, Ronaldo and a few others. Okay, maybe not as blatant as that, but with the season’s that they’ve had, it’s going to be hard to look past them on all of the calculations. But I’ll give it a shot…

It was of course a record breaking season in Spain’s top flight, Barcelona beat the previous record of 107 goals with some breath taking attacking play, unfortunately for them, Real Madrid scored more than them with a jaw dropping 121. Madrid also beat Barca’s 99 point haul with 100, and Messi scored 50 league goals on his own – more than 13 of the teams in the League. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was a very weak league, but with the showings of Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, and with Barca and Real in touching distance of an El Classico Champions League final, the standrad is still sky high. But I’m here to look at the stats from how players and teams did based on their opposition. If you want a very good season review by a proper journalist then click here. So without further ado – the statistics.

Goalscoring

Big Game Players – Messi, 17 goals versus Top 6 opponents, and Da Costa, Average Oppostion 8.40

Despite what you may think, this is actually a surprise win for Messi. Throughout the season, based on opposition based on the time of play, Cristiano Ronaldo has led the scoring vs Top 6 from almost start to finish. However, this review is based on the final positions, meaning that hat tricks against Atleti and Malaga (both ranked 8th at the time of play) translate into 6 more goals against Top 6 teams based on final positions:

That’s 17 goals in 10 games against the other Top 6 teams. That’s ridiculous. But, and it’s a big but (not in the Jennifer Lopez way), he didn’t score against Real Madrid. And for those that incorrectly think there’s only two decent teams in Spain, it’s a glaring ommision for Messi. No surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo was in second with an almost as brilliant 13 goals against the big teams. The Madeira born winger scored against all of the teams in the Top 6, including crucially, the winner against Barcelona in the Nou Camp – which ultimately settled the whereabouts of the League Title. Big Game performances for a man often accused of not doing it. Add to that the brace he scored in the Champions League semi final, and a further brace against Holland in the Euros, and all of a sudden, it’s clear that he’s not just a flat track bully that some would have you believe.

Real Betis’s Castro Martin (left) is the best of the rest with a very decent 6 goals – impressive considering that Betis finished in 13th position. He scored three goals against Barcelona, two against Valencia and one against Malaga.

In terms of those with the highest average ranked opponent per goal, that honour (and it is an honour), goes to Rayo Vallecano’s Diego Da Silva Costa with 8.40. Although only 23, the Brazilian forward is somewhat of a journeyman, with 7 clubs under his belt so far. On loan from Atletico Madrid, he managed a very impressive 10 goals from 15 starts, including strikes against Top Sixers, Valencia, Malaga and Levante. Such was his dislike of the small occasions, he only scored once against the teams at the bottom of the table. Three strikes against Osasuna and Sevilla just outside the Top 6, helped his average up.

Castro Martin’s average was also suitably impressive with 8.81 – bouyed by the 6 goals mentioned above, against the elite teams, whilst Alexis Sanchez was the only other player with 10 goals or more to have an average under 10.00

Of course, for every player that thrives in the big games, there’s another who bottles it.

Flat Track Bullies/Big Game Bottlers

Below is a list of the players with the most goals against the Bottom 6 teams. I’ve taken out Messi (15) and Ronaldo (14) as they scored just as many against the Top teams. Looking at the below, it’s reasonable to suggest a couple of them are Flat Track Bullies, or just Big Game Bottlers:

My old pal Falcao is present in the final table, as he was throughout the season. He undoubtedly had a great debut season with 24league goals, but for me, he just didn’t do it enough against the best teams. A split 11-11-2 suggests there’s a tendency to go missing against the better opposition, and although he did score goals against Real and Barca, that’s just two goals from 10 games against the other teams in the Top 6. He can of course point to another goal in the Europa League final, but is that perhaps the right level for his talents? Time will tell.

Valencia’s Jonas and Agirretxe of Sociedad both had near identical records, with 60% of their league goals scored against the poorer teams. Both scored just one goal against the Top 6 teams. Flat Track Bullies? Indeed. Benzema and Kone can be excused for their large haul against the Bottom 6 teams as they at least had the good grace to score a respectable amount against the good teams as well.

Unlike del Moral of Sevilla.

And as if to prove his status as the ultimate Flat Track Bully, here’s handy table showing the players with the worst Average ranked opponent per goal scored (10 goals or more).

An average that low doesn’t really need any extra commentary, but I’ll just point out that four of his 10 goals came against bottom team Racing Santander. The big bully.

So that’s the deal from a Big Game Player/Bully/Bottler situation. But there is another parameter. The importance of the goals – both to the result, and to the team.

Points won and Importance to the Team – Lionel Messi, 23 points earned, and Castro Martin, 34% of his team’s points

And it’s another nod to Messi. It’s no real surprise given he scored 50 league goals last season, but he was the player that won themost points for his team last season. Of the 25 games he scored in, his goals were decisive to the result in 11 of them. The 23 points won by Messi’s goals are second only to Robin van Persie’s 24 for Arsenal (from 30 goals).

The table below shows both the number of points won (see rules and workings link above for calculations), and the percentage of the team’s points.

Once again Castro Martin’s name pops up, and he managed a very decent point per goal with 16. And due to Betis’ relatively modest points haul, that 16 was 34% of their total amount, meaning that he is the most important player to his team – in terms of goals as points.

And the goalscoring review wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the guys creating the goals.

Assists – Mesut Ozil, 17 Assists, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Average Opp of 9.08

There’s a pretty clear winner there, with Mesut Ozil of Germany and Madrid, leading the way with 17. He didn’t bother the scoresheet as much as a player with his ability should, with just 4 league goals, but at just 23, 17 assists in the league is a great return. However, there is an element of the flat track bully about his creations, with 9 assists against the Bottom 6 teams and just two against the Top 6. It is worth pointing out though, that if the goal is not scored due to poor finishing, that’s not the fault of the bloke that set it up.

It’s a Real Madrid heavy table, which is no real surprise given that they scored 400,000 goals last season. Argentine’s Di Maria and Barca’s Messi, followed in second with a decent 15 assists each. Like Ozil, Di Maria’s assists were weighted towards the lower opposition with an 11.47 average rank, and just two recorded against the big boys. Messi managed a decent four against the Top 6 teams, which is impressive given that he was normally on the end of chances.

Like Messi, Ronaldo also managed four assists against Top 6 opposition, but none against the Bottom teams. As a result, his 9.08 average ranked opponent per assist, is the highest in the Top 10 assisters.

It’s a pretty good list to be part of, with inclusions for Jesus and an Angel. Holy Creators!

For those that are interested, I’ve put up the full scoring stats of any one with double figures, and i’ll be adding the Team Stats shortly (ish).

So well done to the Big Game Players – Ronaldo, Messi, Ozil, Castro, and Da Costa. Shame on you Falcao and del Moral. And in the words of Forest Gump, that’s just about all I have to say on that.

Cheers,

Liam

Euro 2012 – The Findings

1 Jul

First and Foremost – Spain = All Big Game Players. That’s right, www.averageopposition.com for cutting edge analysis.

In particular, a few words about Cesc Fabregas. He must surely be considered a Big Game Player. I put forward the evidence:

  • Euro 2008 Quarter Final – Winning Penalty against Italy
  • Euro 2008 Semi Final – Two assists against Russia
  • World Cup 2010 Final – Assist for the only goal against Holland
  • Euro 2012 Semi Final – Winning penalty against Portugal
  • Euro 2012 Final – Assist for the opening goal against Italy

He may not have scored in open play in these games, but he’s had a major influence on each game, as Spain went on to win an unprecedented three successive tournaments. And the difference between winning tournaments and not is down to having players like Fabregas that can make a difference in the highest pressure atmosphere. Almost all of the above were coming on as a substitute as well. He also scored the equaliser in the opening game against eventual finalists Italy.

Looking at his club form this season, there was a hint at his big game tendencies. Although his output dropped significantly in the second half of the season (9 league goals by game 17, none after), he scored against Real Madrid, Valencia (in the league and cup), City Rivals Espanyol, and then there’s the small matter of goals in the World Club Cup final against Santos, and the European Super Cup Final against Porto. Chuck in a few more goals against Top 6 teams Atletico Madrid and Levante, and it all points to a Big Game player.

Xavi Hernandez, Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos are also particularly worthy of an extra mention. Xavi grabbed two assists in the 2012 Final as well as one in the 2008 Final. Torres of course became the first player to score in two European Championships Final, and Sergio Ramos is the only defender who played in the final of all three Tournaments – and along with Casillas, conceded no goals in the last 10 knock out games.

And just to provide further evidence (if it was needed) why Spain are the best team in the World – here’s an eleven made up of players not in the squad, whether that be injury, international retirement of just not capped yet:

Spanish players not in the Euro 2012 squad

Apart from Spain

There were of course some other teams playing, and this being a site that concetrates on the Big Game Player, here’s a quick look at some of the names that entered the tournament with big expectations (as originally previewed here).

Mario Gomez – Okay, he got the joint Golden Boot with three goals, but as predicted on this very site, he did nothing in the knock out stages. Sure, I predicted him to go missing against Holland, but that was on the basis that Holland were gonna be good. His lack of impact on the knock out stages was in fitting with his performances in both the Champions League Final, the German Cup Final, and in general, against any Top 6 team in the Bundesliga.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Massive expectations were on his shoulders, and it showed in the first two group games, where he was shown up by the likes of Niklas Bendtner. However, his double against Holland for me was more impressive than Gomez’s as the game was effectively a knock out game – a Holland win saw them through and Portugal out. He delivered arguably the performance of the Tournament. He then went on to score the winner in the Quarter Finals against the Czech’s and was a constant threat against Spain in the Semi-Final. He didn’t get to take a penalty in the shoot out due to his want to be the 5th and possibly final taker.

Robin van Persie – He scored in his biggest game and against the best opponents, with a very well taken goal against Germany. However, after the season he had in the Premier League, his European Championships, like the 2010 World Cup, must go down as a failure. He was better than Klaas Jan Huntelaar though. He is another who had a Flat Track Bully season in the league for Schalke.

Mario Balotelli – He went into the tournament unsure of a starting place and with just one international goal to his name. It’s fair to say that he came out with an enhanced reputation. A goal against Ireland in a must win game, followed by an impressive albeit goal less, performance against England. Then in the the Big Game environment of a Semi Final against Germany, he scored two quality goals. He didn’t have a lot to shout about in the Final, but aged only 21, and on the back of a season where he scored two at Old Trafford and a last minute winner over Spurs, he has already showed signs of being a Big Game Player. We shouldn’t forget his penalty against England either. Team mate Di Natale had his best moment in the opening group game against Spain, but was often left out for Cassano, who notched against Ireland but no one else.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – To an extent, he laid to rest his Big Game Bottler tag. Goals in the opening game against Ukraine and and the final game against France saw him meet most people’s expectations (maybe not his own of three hat tricks in the group stages). However, Ukraine were one of the weaker teams at the tournament, and when Sweden beat France 2-0, they were already out, so the pressure was off. The most important game was that against England. He didn’t score, so the jury is still out on his big game credentials. He probably doesn’t even know who won last night.

Wayne Rooney – Unfortunately continued his World Cup form. He did at least score one goal (from 1 yard), which unfortunately fooled people (Roy included) that he should stay in the team. He did, at least score more than Karim Benzema who seemed to play wide or deep, but not really in the area.

All in all, there weren’t really many surprises from a Big Game Player perspective. None of the leading names really performed differently to their League seasons – with the exception of Wayne Rooney. In the league, he scored 8 goals against Top 6 opponents, and in 2011 he scored in the Champions League Final. Everyone else reverted to form.