Tag Archives: Premier League

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

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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

Premier League Round 24

7 Feb

Another round passes and two more big games with it. One was a Premier League Classic at Stamford Bridge, whilst the other was a bit of a damp squib at Anfield, where the most interesting moment was when a Cat appeared on the pitch, which appeared to un nerve an otherwise flawless Brad Friedel. Although one talking point was when Gareth Bale was put clean through to win the game. Now you could argue that this would be a good time to prove he was a big game player – but he just kicked the ball straight at Pepe Reina (although he was positioned well). ***Flashback Alert*** The angle and position of the keeper reminded me of Steve McManaman’s goal in the Champions League Semi-Final against Barcelona back in 2002, but from the left side. McManaman showed his big game player status, away at a footballing Cathederal, by scoring from a one on one with a keeper off his line (1.30min on this clip) much like Bale faced. McManaman in fact was a big game player – this goal aside, he has a Champions League Final goal (2000) as well as two in the League Cup Final in 1995.

Bale on the other hand, hasn’t really stood up to be counted in the big games this season. As mentioned in the Round 23 post, he’s now scored 9 goals after his brace against lowly Wigan, but aside from his excellent goal to equalise away at Man City (and that was undoubtedly a big game moment), the rest of his goals have been against slightly more humble opposition – 3 vs Wigan, 2 vs Norwich, 2 vs QPR and 1 against Fulham. None were ranked above 10th at the time of scoring:

There’s no doubt that he’s a very very good player, and he’s very young, but talk of people comparing him to Messi and Ronaldo is a bit premature. Even his hat trick away at Inter Milan last year was a group game in which they were always losing. Personally, I love watching him play, but he needs to be counted in more of the bigger games to really be nominated as one of the best in the World.

Aside from Bale, things are pretty much as they were. Robin van Persie continues to lead the way in goals. His Average Opposition rating took a bit of a hit with a hat trick against 18th place Blackburn, but he still has 5 goals vs Top 6 opponents – which is still joint highest. Big Game Players are Adebayor and Balotelli with 7.22 and 6.11 respectively, but they’re not scoring many of late, with a mixture of form and suspensions leading to 1 goal in the last 7 games between them.

Dzeko retains the Flat Track Bully title with a goal against 13th placed Fulham – as predicted in the Round 23 post on Friday. Also on that post, Javier Hernandez was also picked out as a player to watch/bet on at the weekend, and he didn’t disappoint, with his 3rd goal vs Top 6 opposition – Man Utd’s highest.

And whilst on the subject of the Little Pea, just to clear up a stat some of you may have seen on Monday Night Football – points won by goals. The programme had Javier Hernandez down as winning 9 points from his 8 goals. That should be down as 7 points as per below:

The difference is just that they’ve given 3 points for the winners against Everton and Swansea, whereas if you took those goals away, they’d still have a point in each game – therefore, the winning goal is worth 2 points. I agree with the sentiment though, not only has he got most goals vs Top 6 opponents for United, but his goals are generally important. To gain 7 points from 8 goals is a great return.

And whilst on the subject of points per goals, here’s the top point scorers in the Premier League after 24 games:

So Robin van Persie’s  fantastic season continues, although his hat trick against Blackburn didn’t translate into any points. As mentioned in an earlier post, 17 points was the highest any player got for the whole of last season, so to have that many after 24 games shows his importance to Arsenal.

Petere Odemwingie was that player last season with 15 goals, though he’s certainly suffered from second season syndrome – with just 4 goals this time round. The good news for him though is that the goals he has scored have been worth 6 points. Elsewhere, Demba Ba’s triumphant return to Newcastle (after Senegal’s untriumphant Cup of Nations) means that he moves above Yakubu into second place.

At the other end of the scale, AOI favourite, Dimitar Berbatov has 7 goals that translate into nil points. This feat is matched by Bolton’s Klasnic. Of the top scorers, you’ll notice Rooney and Aguero are missing from the list above. Both have 15 goals each. The number of points lost if their goals were taken away? 3 each.

Cheers,

Liam

Premier League Round 22

23 Jan

Today’s games not only had a big impact on the Premier League table, but also on the Average Opposition Index. The last update we saw showed us that Mario Balotelli was the best big game player with an average opponent per goal of 6.50, and along with Robin van Persie and Clint Dempsey, has done it most against Top 6 Opposition.

Balotelli kept up his big game record, but should he have been on the pitch?

Well after the second half classic in the Man City vs Spurs game, Balotelli has done it again – his goal against 3rd placed Spurs not only opened up an 8 point gap over their title rivals, but also increased his AOI from 6.50 to 6.11. Spurs can feel rightly aggrieved that they lost this one. Not only did Defoe’s Gazza impression prevent them from going 3-2 up in the last minute, the winner for City was scored by a man who should have been sent off earlier, after a stamp on Scott Parker. Nonetheless, this site is about tracking who the big game players are. I jokingly sent a message to a Spurs supporting friend that they should be wary of Big Game Mario – and I now wish I’d put a bet on it. Stats are often criticised for not showing the full picture, but in this case, Balotelli’s big game performances have become a trend. Sure it was penalty, but he won it, and had a pretty good chance of scoring had Ledley King not fouled him.

In the other big game of the day, Man Utd continued their hoodoo over Arsenal, and in doing so also kept the pressure up on Man City. For Arsenal it was once again their main man Robin van Persie who scored their goal. On this occasion it was an equaliser, though ultimately didn’t lead to any points. Nonetheless, he’s now joint top of goals vs Top 6 opposition, with his 5th goal against the Premier League’s best. This also helped his AOI ranking to 10.37 – above the magical 10.5 mark.

Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale also scored in today’s big game, and in doing so have bettered their averages to 8.88 and 10.43 respectively. Defoe can now rightly be regarded as a big game player – he has 4 goals against Top 6 opponents, despite limited game time due to Adebayor’s lone/loan striker role.

Aside from the two showcase games on Sunday, there’s also been some other movement on the list in recent weeks. Wolves and Scotland striker Steve Fletcher continued his impressive goal scoring record with another against Top 6 opponents – this time away at Spurs (Round 21). Add to this the goals at away at Arsenal, away at United and away at Liverpool, and there’s once again a trend here. Fletcher is a big game player. Take into account his team ranking, and it’s an even more impressive season (AOI 9.89).

So the big game player continues to be Balotelli, but what of the flat track bully? That title is now held by his City team mate Edin Dzeko. He started the game today but did very little. Against Wigan (20th) last time out though, he scored the winner. That was a very important a strike as it was worth 3 points, but it’s lowered his AOI to 13.91 – saving the blushes of midfielders Lampard (13.56) and van der Vaart (13.86). Lampard’s goal against 10th ranked Sunderland won the 3 points and also improved his average.

The AOI leader from midfield

The other big winner in the list is Fulham’s Clint Dempsey who is now matching Lampard as the top scoring midfielder after his hat trick against 6th placed Newcastle. His average has now shot up to 9.33 and as mentioned above, he’s also sharing the top spot for goals versus Top 6 Opponents. Well played Clint. Apparently he’s also now the top scoring American in Premier League history, ahead of Brian McBride, and John Harkes….probably.

And so to close off this week’s update, a quick look at the points as goals table:

As per the last time out, RVP is the main man for points, whilst Yakubu is the most important to his team. That being said, Blackburn’s unlikely revival under managerial genius Steve Kean (I doubt he would have put on Arshavin for the Ox), has continued afoot without the suspended Yak. After his sending off last week, they went on to beat Fulham 3-1, and followed up with a well earned 1-1 draw at Everton. As a result, whilst he is still the leader on the importance measure, it’s fallen from over 75% to 61%. Surprisingly, Mario Balotelli’s winner today was his first goal that was decisive in terms of points this season.

Rest of the leagues to be updated this week, and I hope to have the Henry vs van Nistelrooy Player Comparison up within the next week.

Cheers,

Liam

Premier League Season Review: 2010-11 – Team Stats

22 Jan

Following on from the Goal Scorer stats for last season’s Premier League, this post is all about the Team stats.

Top Banana – Kompany and his City Team mates dominated the Clean Sheet League, but also were amongst the worst going forward.

Clean Sheets:

First and foremost, the Yin to the goalscorers Yang, it’s the defenders and keepers time to shine. In terms of the overall number of clean sheets, Man City with their ultra defensive approach were the run away leaders. It’s a far cry from their attacking play this season, but last year was all about qualifying for the Champions League. Unsurpringly, they kept the most clean sheets vs fellow Top 6 opponents, with shut outs against Spurs (twice), Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea. The anomoly here is that they actually kept more clean sheets against the top tier of Opposition than the bottom 6. There’s no real mystery behind this though, anyone who watched City against Top 4 rivals last season would know that against the best, they defended first and foremost, with De Jong and Barry acting as a shield in front of the back 4. Indeed the 0-0 game vs Man Utd was useful only for insomnia sufferers. Thankfully this season, they’ve been great going forward, and would be worthy champions if they do win the league.

So City have the crown for most clean sheets, and most against the Top 6, they also have the best average opposition per clean sheet with 9.94. Second place fell to to Sunderland (of all the teams with 10 clean sheets of more – highlighted in grey). They also kept clean sheets against Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City. It’s a far cry from the start that Steve Bruce’s side made to the start of the season, though the defence has improved considerably under new boss Martin O’Neill.

At the other end of the Clean Sheet table, it’s not surprising to see relegated West Ham (5) and Blackpool (6) struggled to keep clean sheets – especially against fellow strugglers. Chelsea had the second most clean sheets, but the lowest average opposition, with the joint most shut outs against the Bottom 6 teams. Whilst Fulham were the surprise package with 14 cleans sheets – behind only City, United and Chelsea. It’ll be interesting to see if Mark Hughes can recreate this at QPR.

Failure to Score:

Offsetting the Clean Sheet league, there’s also the Failure to Score table – recording efficiency at the other end of the pitch. Once again, the top teams shine through – Man Utd lead the way, scoring in all but 5 games (Average Opposition 6.20) followed closely by Arsenal who failed to score in 6 (5.67). Perhaps more surprisingly although it’s the other two Champions League qualifiers Man City and Chelsea, failed to score in 9 league games – more than Blackpool and level with West Brom.

Further evidence of Man City’s defensive priorities last season can also be seen the FTS table – City failed to score against other Top 6 teams a massive 6 times, a record only worse than West Ham and Wigan. At the other end of that scale, Everton were the surprise big game players – they failed to score against Top 6 opposition on just one occasion – a 1-0 defeat away to Champions Manchester United, no disgrace there. Chelsea also matched this achievement with only Man City (no surprises there) keeping them out.

Worst teams to watch in terms of scoring? Relegated West Ham, almost relegated Wigan, and anti possestion team Stoke – all failing to score on 13 occasion, or a third of their matches. In fact, the average ranked team that Stoke failed to score against was 10.31, including games against Birmingham, West Ham, Blackpool and Wigan.

Arsenal had the highest average of opponents that kept them out with 5.67 – mainly due to Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City keeping them out.

Further Stats:

Team Goals:

 

Win/Lose/Draw:

Cheers,

Liam

 

Premier League Season Review: 2010-11

18 Jan

We’ve recently passed the halfway point in the Premier League season, and so far there’s been a few surprises in terms of the Average Opposition stats – Mario Balotelli is the best when it comes to scoring against decent opposition, but his goals are worth nothing if taken away from Man City; Robin van Persie’s goals are worth 17 points to Arsenal, whilst Yakubu’s goals have been worth 65% of Blackburn’s points.

So with that in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the Full Season stats for last season. First and foremost, as the bread and butter of this site let’s start with the glamorous goal scorers:

Golden Boot

The first thing to address is the outright top scorer. Berbatov and Tevez (BerbaTev? No? Ok) shared the golden boot with 20 league goals each. Neither had a great average opposition rating with Tevez leading Berbatov with 12.20 vs 13.05. Round one to the Argie. Secondly and perhaps the most telling statistic is that none of Berbatov’s goals were against Top 6 opposition at the time of playing – when he scored his hat trick against Liverpool they were ranked 13th. Based on final positions, he has 3. Tevez also didn’t fare that well, with just two against Top 6 Opposition – Chelsea (then 1st) and a high flying Bolton. Looking again at the final placings, leaves him with just one goal against the cream of the crop. I’d call that 1-1. The decider is down to how many points their goals were worth. In the blue corner, Carlos Tevez’s goals were worth 15 points to Man City’s total of 71 points (21.6%). In the red corner, Dimitar Berbatov’s were worth only 10 points to United – 12.5% of their total.

If it wasn’t for the 5 penalties that Tevez scored, he’d be more deserving of the Golden Boot.

Honourable mentions to van Persie who did scored 18 goals in just 25 games, Peter Odemwingie who was experiencing his first season in England (and with a slightly unfashionable club), and Blackpool’s DJ Campbell. From a midfielder point of view, Malouda, Nolan, Adam, Nasri and Dempsey all performed well in terms of goalscoring.

Average Opposition Index Awards: The Goal Scorers

Big Game Player Award 2010-11: Rafael van der Vaart – 7.46

What a fantastic debut season it was for the Dutch schemer. Although Spurs ultimately failed to get that Top 4 spot, he made a massive impact and perhaps has helped change the mentality at Spurs from almosts, to big club. As if to perfectly illustrate his big game status, none of his goals were against Bottom 6 opponents, whilst a massive 8 were against Top 6 clubs (at the time), including 3 against North London rivals, Arsenal. His overall average opponent per goal was a very high 7.46 – beating fellow Ducthy Dirk Kuyt (8.08) to the title. And all this as a midfielder. What is interesting, is that this season, he has one of the worst averages in the league. In the words of another Spurs goalscorer, it’s a funny old game.

It’s been pointed out many times before, but he cost around the same amount Man Utd paid for Bebe.

Honourable mentions to Kuyt, Odemwingie, Carroll and Charlie Adam. Kuyt aside, all playing their first full seasons in the Premier League

A clearly delighted van der Vaart after hearing about his Average Opposition Index Award

Most Goals vs Top 6 Opposition 2010-11: Andy Carroll – 9 goals

Andy Carroll? The same Andy Carroll that is left on the bench in favour of no goals in 19 games Dirk Kuyt? Yes, that Andy Carroll. In the first half of the season with Newcastle, he banged in a Hat Trick against Aston Villa (then 3rd), followed by strikes against Arsenal, Chelsea and more tellingly Liverpool. It may have been his performance against his future club that fooled persuaded Dalglish to part with £35m (or 5 van der Vaart’s) for his services, and the early signs were promising – he scored a brace against high flying Man City. No one is really sure what happened over the Summer, maybe it was that his landlord Kevin Nolan moved South, no one really knows. Credit where it’s due though, 9 goals against Top 6 opposition does offer some hope for Liverpool fans.

Andy Carroll in happier times

Honourable mentions to Kuyt, Odemwingie, van der Vaart and Javier Hernandez.

From the big game players onto the Flat Track Bullies. This is only looking at players with 10 goals or more.

Flat Track Bully Award 2010-11: Florent Malouda – 14.38

It’s perhaps a little harsh giving this to Malouda as he is a midfielder, and the fact that he has scored 13 goals, including 3 against Top 6 opposition, should be applauded. Where he fell down was the 9 goals vs the Bottom 6 team, including 4 against teams ranked in 19th, and one against the team then at the bottom. Even his Top 6 goals were against Blackpool (after their great start) and Bolton. Those teams went on to finish 19th and 14th. The big bully. This season, he has one goal which was against then 18th placed West Brom.

Unhonourable mentions to Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. Interesting that they’re all big name players.

 

Goals win Points Award 2010-11 – Peter Odemwingie – 17 Points

It just goes to show the importance of a goal scorer. That Odemwingie scored so many goals in his debut season is to be applauded, that they were so vital to West Brom’s final points tally is more than impressive, it’s the difference between staying up and going down. As per above, his 15 goals won 17 points – which was 36% of West Brom’s points.

Interestingly, at round 21 in the 2011-12 season, Robin van Persie’s goals have already matched the 17 point high from last season.

Honourable Mentions to – Carlos Tevez, Javier Hernandez, van der Vaart and Hugo Rodellega (more important than Nzogbia to Wigan last season) were all worth more than 10 points to their team. DJ Campbell, Rodellega and Odemwingie were the only players worth more than 25% of their teams points. Not many English players in these awards…..

Peter points to the above table to prove a point

Pointless goalscorers of the season – Solomon Kalou – 10 goals=3 points

This is for player scoring 10 goals or more. Kalou has been a consistently useful player for Chelsea over the years, but last season, his goals meant very little in the end. This is mainly because they’ve been scored when he comes of the bench and the game is won. His first 4 goals were against Wigan x2 (6-0), West Ham (3-1)  and Blackpool (4-0).

Unhonourable Mentions to – Asamoah Gyan (10 goals=5 points), Maxi Rodriguez (10 goal=4 points), Kevin Nolan and Didier Drogba (both 12 goals=4 points). Good seasons – but not particularly important.

Defensive Awards to follow…..

Player Comparison: Frank Lampard v Steven Gerrard

15 Jan

Post and open comments now appearing here: http://www.averageopposition.com/2012/01/player-comparison.html

2011-12 Stats: http://www.averageopposition.com/2012/12/goal-scoring-player-comparison-for-2011.html

This Season: http://www.averageopposition.com/p/premier-league_16.html

 

After starting the Player Comparison series with the two best players in the world, how do you follow that? In terms of quality of player, you can’t (unless I had the Pele/Maradonna stats handy). But the idea behind this series was to not only look at two comparable players based on stats, but also to help settle pub debates. And so with that in mind, and from a Premier League starting point the contenders choose themselves. Fewer players have been at the heart of debates and comparisons, both for rival club fans, but also for England fans.

Piggy back football never really took off

The Contenders:

In the Red corner, we have Liverpool’s home grown King of the Kop, Stevie G (whilst Luis Suarez is the heir apparent to the throne, I’m certainly not going to make a cheap joke about the court jester and Andy Carroll). Gerrard has been strutting his stuff at Anfield since 1998, and for the national team since 2000. In the Blue corner, we have his Southern counterpart, JT’s BFF, Frank Lampard. Whilst Gerrard has only known life at a big club, Lampard began his football education at West Ham’s prolific youth academy. Under the tutelage of Tony Carr and then Uncle Harry, young Frank made his debut in the 1995-96 season (first on loan at Swansea) before eventually moving on to current club Chelsea in the summer of 2001 for what at the time seemed an excessive £11m but in hindsight, was something of a bargain. He made his England debut in 1999.

The Background:

Lampard is 2 years older than his Mersey rival and has been on fans radars that bit longer. Having always been an attacking central midfielder, he perhaps had a head start on Gerrard in terms of goals scoring. Those of you who can remember far enough, will recall that Gerrard initially broke into the England team as the deeper lying defensive midfielder next to the attacking Paul Scholes. It appeared as though Lampard was being groomed to play the attacking role from the middle, whilst Scholes was pushed out left. However, by this point Gerrard had started to display his attacking instincts, rather than being the holding player he first appeared. The result being a headache for their national coach for the best part of a decade. Gerrard’s been pushed forward, Lampard back, Gerrard wide, and Lampard as part of a diamond. Yet still, England have never really performed with the two players in tandem.
National team aside, there’s also been their club form, with both known throughout the World as two of the best goal scoring midfielders in football. Add to that a bit of bad blood between the clubs and Gerrard’s aborted move to Chelsea, and you have a debate on your hands. Who is or was better?

Rules:

As with the Messi vs Ronaldo comparison, I’ll be comparing their league form as there are no rankings applied to the Champions League. The comparison will begin from the 2001-02 season when Lampard began his Chelsea career. I’ll also review their international goals as well. Unlike the Ronaldo v Messi comparison, this will be based on final league positions.

Premier League:

And so onto the Stats. At first glance, and much to my surprise, there’s actually no comparison at all. In the ten and a half seasons since Lampard joined Chelsea, he’s scored 123 league goals in 362 games to Gerrard’s 78 in 320. That’s a rate of 0.34 per game compared to 0.24 or on the other hand, a goal every 3 games for Lampard aginst one every 4 games for Gerrard. Case closed.

All Hail Frank Lampard – king of the goalscoring midfielders. He’s got more goals, more assists, and more against the Top 6 with a very impressive 24 goals compared to Gerrard’s 14. And he can be relied on to play more games each season. Gerrard only comes out on top in terms of Average Opposition. On average, across the 10 and a half season, his goals are against 11.82 ranked opponents, compared to Lampards 12.39.

Well, that didn’t take long at all, I should probably start on the Henry vs van Nistelrooy comparison.

But wait. Scratch a little under the surface and things are indeed a little closer, and worth a comparison. Since Zola left Chelsea at the end of the 2002-03 season, Lampard has been taking his teams penalties, and he’s scored 33 of them. Take the penalties out and he’s on 90 goals. In that same time, Gerrard has scored 12 penalties, taking his goal tally down to 66. Now 90 vs 66 is still a decent gap, but if we took Gerrard’s goalscoring rate and applied it to 362 appearances, he’d be on for 75 goals.

Lampard is still on top, but once you take away the penalties, the goals per game is now just 0.25 to 0.21. Gerrard is still doing it against better opposition as well – his Average Opposition Index is 12.29 compared to Lampard’s 12.80. The most telling numbers though are in the goals against Top 6 Opposition. With penalties removed, Lampard loses almost half of his goals against the top ranked opponents. It’s now only 11 goals vs Gerrard’s 10 goals – and this is essentially in a season more of appearances – 42 extra.

So from a big game player point of view, the stats are now leaning towards Gerrard. What must also be taken into account is the teams that they play in. Since 2001, Chelsea have won the title 3 times and finished 2nd a further 4 times. Their average position over the 10 full seasons is 2nd. In the same period, Liverpool have finished 2nd twice, but more tellingly, have finished outside the Champions League Top 4 spots in four seasons. Their average position is 4th. Even the most die hard Liverpool fan would have to admit that Chelsea have consistently had better players. Goal scoring opportunities, and indeed assists are largely dependent on team mates.

Looking at the above graph, both players best goalscoring seasons have coincided with the team’s highest finish. In 2008-09, Gerrard scored 16 league goals (12 after penalties) in the season that they’ve come closest to winning the Premier League, finishing the season on 86 points. Lampard meanwhile scored an incredible 22 goals in 2009-10 (13 after penalties) to end Manchester United’s 3 year spell of dominance. This would suggest each player’s goals were significant to the club’s final positions.

It’s not an exact science, but if you take out the goals scored by each player, Chelsea would be worse of by an average of 3.5 points per season, whereas Gerrard’s equivalent contribution is 3.6. Nothing in it. But what about the percentage of the overall team points – to allow for the quality of the teams. Well once again, it’s very close. Lampard’s goals are directly responsible for 4.33% per season of Chelsea’s points over the last 10 seasons. Gerrard’s goals are worth 5.33% of Liverpool’s total points per season. On this measure, Gerrard is more important to his team. For the record, with penalties, Lampard’s percentage increases to 7.33% compared to Gerrard’s 6.02%.

What this parameter doesn’t take into account is the order of the goal. As mentioned in the last Premier League update, “you could for example take Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Norwich earlier in the season. As Chelsea won by two goals and had three different goal scorers, take one of Bosingwa’s, Lampard’s or Mata’s goals away and the result would still be 2-1 to Chelsea – meaning that there is no direct impact to the result and number of points. In reality – the opening goal of a game is always important (Bosingwa), and Frank Lampard’s goal in that match was in the 84th minute, which put Chelsea back ahead. Both were important goals, but due to Mata’s injury time goal – the importance in this formula lessens.”

With this in mind, what’s the average order of their goals? We know that the first goal is always the most important for a team, whilst the second can often prove decisive. For Chelsea, for both his 123 league goals, and the 90 from open play, Lampard on average, scores Chelsea’s 2.1 goal. In the same period, Gerrard’s 78 league goals have come as Liverpool’s 1.9 goal, compared to 1.8 after penalties are removed.

So all in all, looking at all of the stats based on their goalscoring, the average and range of the opponent, and the importance to their teams, there’s very little to choose between them. Lampard has more goals, Gerrard has a better opponent per goal. Lampard has more assists, but Gerrard is more important to his team. I hate to sit on the fence, and generally dislike to do so, but there’s nothing in it.

Internationals:

The lads enjoying another high point with England

But what of their contributions to the national team. After all, the biggest talking point around the players is why can’t they play together? Well as we’ve seen above, they’re just too similar. Sir Alf Ramsey famously didn’t choose the best players in every position to win the World Cup back in 66. He played the players that gave the best balance – a balance that’s missing when they’ve played together in the middle. We know that Gerrard is likely to be pushed further forward or even out wide if both players make the starting line up in the upcoming European Championships, but who deserves the attacking central midfield slot?

I’m afraid it’s not much clearer at International level either. They’ve both played pretty much the same amount of games for England, and in that time, Lampard leads the goal count with 23 to 19. However, once penalties are removed, Gerrard has actually scored 19 to Lampard’s 16.

Both have scored against good opposition – Gerrard’s first goal was in the 5-1 win away at Germany in the 2002 World Cup qualifying game. Lampard can count goals against number 1 ranked France (Euro 2004) and Spain in his tally. Of their goals, 7 of Lampard’s have been in friendlies, compared to Gerrard’s 5. The average opposition index leans in Lampard’s favour by 14 places, which would suggest he is the bigger game player for England. Indeed, he was voted England’s player of the year after his 3 goal haul in Euro 2004. The Elephant in the room though is the World Cup. Gerrard has scored 3 goals in the two World Cup’s he’s played in whereas Lampard has received criticism (particularly in 2006) for failing to do so, despite many many shots. He can count himself unlucky that his excellent chip against Germany in the last World Cup was incorrectly disallowed.

So looking at the Internationl records, we’re still in the dark. Lampard has the better Average Opposition, but more goals are in Friendlies, and he takes the penalties. He did have a great European Championships, but Gerrard has scored in 2 World Cups, and has more goals in open play – despite starting off in the holding role.

In Conclusion:

In terms of who’s the better player for the big games, I’m afraid it’s just too close to call. Both players have scored in Champions League finals. Both have scored decisive goals in FA Cup finals. Gerrard has also scored in the League Final and the UEFA Cup Final, whilst Lampard has scored the goals to win Chelsea the title. Both have scored 4 league goals vs perennial title winners Manchester United. Both are big game players. Lampard has 22 European Goals in 89 games (including 4 with West Ham), Gerrard has 38 in 116. Gerrard is more important to his team, whereas Lampard does it more consistantly, albeit against slightly lower opposition.

Looking strictly at the stats, it’s impossible to call this one, and despite hating sitting on the fence, this one will have to be left up to each reader’s interpretation. What can be agreed on by all, is that they are both outstanding players, and will go down as two of the Premier League and indeed European Football’s best goalscoring midfielders.

Any comparisons you’d like to see, please let me know.

Cheers,

Liam

Note: Stats were correct up to January 13th. Typically, Lampard has just scored again today.

Premier League – Round 20

7 Jan

And so another round of Premier League games have come and gone, and we’re now past the half way mark and into the Business Half of the season. Round 20 saw some significant movement at both ends of the table, Man City managed to put their recent poor form behind them and moved 3 points clear of their (equally noisy?) neighbours after dispatching 6th placed Liverpool at home with a comfortable 3-0 win. Man Utd continued to falter with a second consecutive defeat, this time to Newcastle, and as with the Blackburn defeat, they conceded 3 goals again. Spurs continued their impressive form with a hard fought victory against West Brom – courtesy of Jermain Defoe and his odd hair.

Defoe praying that he doesn’t pick up the wrong bottle again

At the other end of the table, Fulham moved out of the Bottom 6 after the late late show against Arsenal. The other winners in the relegation scrap were Bolton, who despite conceding to a Goalkeeper (and a modest one at that – well played Tim Howard), went on to a surprise victory away at Goodison Park. Everton’s goalscoring has been a problem this season and it was good of Howard to contribute, but they need their strikers and the likes of Cahill to take the pressure off of their free scoring keeper. Blackburn, Wigan, Wolves and QPR all lost. Hats of to Sunderland, who followed their win against Man City with a massive 4-1 win away at Wigan.

So how does this affect the AOI for goalscorers?Robin van Persie continues to lead, but Demba Ba has closed the gap to just two goals. Newcastle will be hoping he doesn’t perform similarly in the African Cup of Nations, or else they could be without him longer than they can afford. His Average has jumped from 11.57 per opponent per goal, to a much more balanced 10.93. Remember that the all round regular scorer should be around 10.5 across a season. How West Ham must be cursing their luck that they didn’t recoup any transfer fee for the prolific marksman. Sergio Aguero also increased his tally and indeed his average with a Pepe Reina assisted strike against Liverpool. Not only does this increase his average opponent per goal to 10.93 (the same as Demba Ba), but it also increases his number of strikes against Top 6 opposition. He’s now scored against Man Utd, Liverpool, Newcastle and Spurs in this impressive debut season.

Mario Balotelli continues to hold the Big Game Player tag, though hasn’t moved for a while due to injuries. The worst average per goal belongs to midfielder Rafael van der Vaart of Tottenham. Spurs manager Harry Redknapp certainly won’t mind this, as they’ve now matched Man City as the only teams with 3 players in the Top Scorers lists.

New Stat Alert – Goals as Points!

After adding some Average Opposition stats on the Nationalities and Clean Sheets last time 0ut, I’ve been looking into  another barometer for the importance of goals. This isn’t necessarily linked to their average opponent, but it is a measure of importance to the result – albeit heavily weighted towards Forwards/Goalscorers. The below table is a formula driven stat which is far from an exact science, but is interesting none the less. The below stats shows the number of points that the team would lose if you took out the players goals.

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t strictly the importance of goals – you could for example Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Norwich earlier in the season. As Chelsea won by two goals and had three different goal scorers, you could take one of Bosingwa’s, Lampard’s or Mata’s goals away and the result would still be 2-1 to Chelsea – meaning that there is no direct impact to the result and number of points. In reality – the opening goal of a game is always important (Bosingwa), and Frank Lampard’s goal in that match was in the 84th minute, which put Chelsea back ahead. Both were important goals, but due to Mata’s injury time goal – the importance in this formula lessens.

So with that in mind – what of the above table? Well it’s no surprise that Robin van Persie is responsible for the most points for his team – with massive 17 (47.22% of Arsenal’s total points). If you took van Persie’s goals away, then Arsenal would be in 15th Place – though of course the player replacing him may well have scored elsewhere.

But van Persie is not the most important player for his team – that honour falls to the Yak, who’s goals equate to a massive 78.57% of Blackburn’s points. Admittedly, they are bottom of the table, but it still shows a) what a great signing he’s been and b) they rely far too much on him. Without him, they’d be even further adrift instead of the 3 points off 17th they are. The syrup loving Demba Ba is the second top scorer in the league, and is 3rd in points gained – however, when taking into account the team’s position and points, his 15 goals at 30.3% are worth less to his team than Jordi Gomez’s 4 goals for Wigan – which are worth 40% of the team’s points.

The current Big Game Player holder is Man City’s Balotelli, but based on the above calculation, his 8 goals, against good teams have resulted in no points. How so? Well every game he’s scored in which has resulted in points for his team (all aside from the defeat to Chelsea), has been won by more than one goal. Even when he scored a brace against Man Utd, the team won by 5 goals – meaning his goals did not directly contribute to the final result.

Does this statistic prove anything? Not definitively – but it does show the importance of certain players to their teams.

Cheers,

Liam

Premier League Round 19

2 Jan

With the exception of Spurs and Everton, all the teams have played half their games in the 2011/12 Premier League season. With that in mind, this post will look beyond just the Top Scorers Average Opposition Index (though fear not, it’s also included further below).

Average Opposition by Nationality:

Unurprisingly, goals scored by English players are miles ahead (171 goals), although given the doom and gloom about foreigners apparently harming the chances of local talent maybe it isn’t expected by all. Second place is filled by our Friends across the water in Ireland (Republic) with 33 goals. You’d expect the rest of the home nations to follow immediately but at the halfway point in the season, Wales are joint 4th, Scotland are 7th and Northern Ireland are a lowly 31st with only 2 goals scored (Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt of West Brom).

Holland are perched in 3rd place thanks largely to Robin van Persie but perhaps surprisingly, joint 4th place is occupied by Spain. It shows the strength in the Premier League that it can attract some of the top talent from Spain (a competitor for the World’s best league TM) with Torres, Mata, Silva and Reina all part of the national set up. On the flip side, the lack of English players in Spain could be put down to the lesser quality and cultural differences – the English are notoriously bad at moving abroad.

Of the selected countries outside the Top 10, this illustrates the changing face of the Premier League – especially when looking at the lowly totals of the Scandinavian countries and Northern Ireland, whereas Argentina, Bulgaria and the previously mentioned Spain are in the top 10.

In terms of Average Opposition per goal, it’s the Scots that lead the way with 10.95. They’re making up for their lack of numbers by performing in the big games. A lot of this can be attributed to Steven Fletcher, though Darren Fletcher and Grant Hanley’s solitary goals were against 1st and 2nd place respectively.

Behind the Scots, one of England’s other traditional rivals, Argentina have the joint second best average – 11.13, alongside a Gareth Bale inspired Wales

Dimitar Berbatov’s turnaround in form has been impressive with six goals in his last three games. However, in terms of Average Opposition per goal, he has the lowest number of those with 5+ goals – his Average Opponent per each goal is 17.17. Stilyan Petrov is responsible for lifting the Bulgaria average after a recent goal against Chelsea. Interestingly (depending on the definition of the word), no team with 10 goals or more have an average of below the expected 10.5.

The nation with the highest percentage of goals vs Top 6 is Bosnia & Herzegovina, though this is solely down to Edin Dzeko who has notched 3 times against Top 6 Opponents, although he also has 4 goals against a then under strength and lowly ranked Spurs.

Average Opponent per Clean Sheet:

After scoring goals, the second most important factor in picking up wins is keeping it tight at the back. With that in mind, the Average Opposition Index can also be applied to see which defences/defenders really step it up. Although the results should differ, the same formula’s can be applied (see the Rules and Workings section).

Whilst Man Utd lead the way in Clean Sheets, the stand out performers in terms of the Average Opposition are Swansea’s back 5. Inspired by Michael Vorm’s performances, the Swansea team have kept 8 clean sheets, with none against the bottom 6 ranked teams. The Average Opposition of 9.38 per Clean Sheet is also one of the best in the league, and are second only to Stoke for those teams with 5 Clean Sheets or more.

Arsenal’s revival has been built on a remodelled defence, with Mertesacker, Andre Santos, and a fit again Vermaelen strengthening after a shocking start to the season. Although they’ve had problems at full back of late, they’ve only let in 5 goals in the last 9 league games. Their Average Oppostion is a lowly 15.00 but they’ve made the most of these whilst relying heavily on Robin van Persie at the other end.

Blackburn and Norwich are yet to keep a Clean Sheet so far this season, whereas Bolton and Wolves have only had 2 shut outs. In terms of form, Newcastle had 3 in their first 4 games, but only 3 in the following 15 as a result of injuries to the back four.

A further standout statistic is that not one team have managed to keep a Clean Sheet in more than 2 games against Top 6 Opposition. Man Utd have scored in every match this season, Spurs have been stopped just once (against United) whereas Man City have only been kept out twice – the last two games against West Brom and Sunderland.

Goal Scorers:

And so to the Bread and Butter of the site, the Premier League leading scorers by Average Opposition. The big mover (not a comment on his size) is once again Yakubu. Up until this weekend, he was in and around the Top Scorers list, but had the worst Average Opponent per goal, and none scored against the Top 6. After the eye opening Blackburn Win away at Man Utd, Yakubu’s double helped his Average jump from 14.80 to 12.67. Rafael van der Vaart is now the holder of the Flat Track Bully tag, although as with Frank Lampard earlier in the season, it must be pointed out that he’s a midfielder (albeit very attacking). And so to the stats:

Balotelli once again holds onto the Big Game Player crown, and there’s still no player that’s scored more than 4 goals vs Top 6 Opposition. Worryingly for Roberto Mancini, his Forwards are in poor form. After the first 10 games of the season, Dzeko, Aguero and Balotelli had 9, 9 and 5 goals respectively. The following 9 games have seen Dzeko score 1, Aguero score 4 and Balotelli scoring 3.

Serie A and La Liga goal scoring Average Opposition Index have now been completed up until the Christmas break and will be posted this week.

Cheers,

Liam