Tag Archives: Robin van Persie

Premier League Round 10

7 Nov

Well it didn’t take long for the inevitable to happen, van Persie was always gonna score against Arsenal. Not only was it playing against his former club, but he thrives against big game opponents. And whilst Arsenal are down to 7th now, they were in the magical Top 6 category going into the game. Last season van Persie scored 7 goals against the best the league had to offer and in the last two games, he’s scored against both Chelsea (then 1st) and now Arsenal. Add in the goal against Liverpool (not currently in the Top 6, but a big game for United), and he’s carrying on where he left off last season. Along with Demba Ba and Juan Mata, van Persie leads the way with goals against the Top 6, whilst the best average opposition per goal belongs to Mata (5.00), whilst midfielder and Soul man, Marouane Fellaini, has a decent average of 7.20 for his five goals this term, after his brace against Fulham (7th) at the weekend.

Leading the flat track bully stakes as per last week are Michu, who has 14.83 and no goals against the decent teams, Jelavic (16.00) and Carlos Tevez with 16.50. None scored this weekend, so they’ll no doubt be there or there abouts again next weekend.

Did someone say clean sheets? Well okay then. It’s not the glamorous glory of goalscoring, but it does guarantee at least a point, unlike those fancy Dans up front. It tells an interesting story in terms of how the teams are performing. For instance, if you were to take the three promoted teams from last season:

Whilst West Ham were keeping a clean sheet against Champions Man City at the weekend, Reading and Southampton find themselves stuck in the bottom three, despite both keeping more clean sheets than West Ham last season. And perhaps that’s the biggest difference between the leagues. Both Reading and Southampton are scoring regularly but a lack of clean sheets has meant just one win between them. And so on to the rest of the league:

West Ham actually lead the way with four clean sheets this season, the same as West Brom, Stoke, Chelsea and Arsenal, though they have the highest average opponent per clean sheet. Interstingly, Arsenal kept three of their four clean sheets in the opening three games when everyone decided they now had the best defence around due to Steve Bould’s arrival as assistant manager. Not quite going so well since. The other stand out stats are that United only have two clean sheets from ten games, even though they’re top, and neighbours and champions City, have three. Everton have the highest average from their two clean sheets (Man Utd and a high flying Swansea in round 5).

 

Premier League Round 9

28 Oct

Almost a quarter of the way through the season now, and the big game players are starting to establish themselves. Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez both scored in the weekend’s biggest games against Chelsea (1st) and Everton (5th), whilst Juan Mata’s free kick continues his good early season form and maintains his position as the league’s big game player – with an average ranked opponent of 5th, and 3 of his 4 goals coming against Top 6 teams. The other was against Arsenal – then in 8th.

Demba Ba has mirrored his form of last season, offering Robin van Persie some competition on the golden boot front. He was on fire (not literally Jamie) for the first half of the season, before scoring just once after the African cup of nations. Bizarrely, there’s another tournament this season, though fortunately for Newcastle, Senegal didn’t qualify.

Michu leads the charge from midfield with 6 goals. Interestingly, none have come against the Top 6 teams, leaving him with an average ranked opponent of 14.83 per goal – topped only by Tevez (16.50) and Jelavic (16.00). Last season, Michu scored 15 La Liga goals, with just two against Top 6 teams (a double in a 6-2 defeat to Real Madrid), and had an average ranked opponent of 11.53 per goal.

In terms of the value of goals, it’s no surprise to see last season’s leading points earner, Robin van Persie at the top of the charts. His seven league goals have been worth 9 points to his new club – and whilst Arsenal are doing okay this year, there’s a good change they’d be closer than 7 points behind at this stage with him. Demba Ba’s goals have been the most important to his team, at 61.54% whilst Juan Mata’s goals have been against good opposition, and have won Chelsea 4 points, although only 18.18% of their total. Steven Fletcher is the only player to have scored for Sunderland this season, but thanks to some particularly dull 0-0 draws and an own goal from Demba Ba in last week’s derby, his goals have only been worth 55.56% of Sunderlands points total.

That’s all for now, there’ll be a piece on Youth System’s shortly – looking at which academies have produced the most big game players.

Cheers,

Liam

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

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.

Premier League Review: 2011-2012 Part 1

4 Jun

Well that was quite the season. Regarded by many as the best in the Premier League’s 20 year history, we were treated to goals galore, last day drama, and a few surprise packages (Swansea, Norwich, Newcastle), whilst there was still plenty of familiarity with Scholes, and Henry’s names returning to the scoresheet, and Joey Barton acting like a prat.

Throughout the season I’ve been attempting to identify who are the big game players and flat track bullies based on the opponent that they’ve scored against, provided an assist against, or kept a clean sheet against. Whilst the season has been in play, I’ve based the stats on the position of the opponent at the time of play. So for example, when Edin Dzeko scored 4 goals away at Spurs, it was against a Bottom 6 team as they had a poor start to the season. Now that the season is over,  we can now look at the performances based on both the final league positions and the time of play. Edin will be pleased about that.

For queries on calculations, please see the “Rules and Workings” section at the top menu. This explains the averages, the ranges and points per goal workings. It’s not rocket science, but should answer any questions.

Premier League Season Review 2011-12 Part 1: Goalscoring

Goals versus Top 6 TeamsWayne Rooney 8 goals based on final rankings. Robin van Persie with 7 goals based on positions at the time of play.

Robin van Persie won the golden boot with an impressive 30 league goals, and based on the opposition at the time of play, he also had the most goals versus Top 6 teams – big game mentality from a player in an often struggling team. However, based on the Final League Standings, it’s England’s very own Wayne Rooney that scored the most against the Premier League’s elite.

He started the season in blistering form as Man United won their first five games. In that five match run were big games against Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea, and Rooney thrived. A hat trick in the famous 8-2 win over The Gunners, and a goal against both Spurs (3-0 at home) and Chelsea (3-1 at Old Trafford) meant that he’d already passed last season’s total of just three goals against the Top 6 teams. And it was still September. As with his team, his form dipped in the mid season, though a couple in the 3-3 draw at Chelsea (pens) kept up his goal record against the best teams. The last of his goals came in the 3-1 win at 4th placed Spurs. Well played Rooney.

But, it could be argued that van Persie performed to a higher level against the top teams. Whilst he got one less than Rooney, he scored all of his goals for a weaker team (19 points weaker). The hat trick away at Chelsea in the 5-3 win was when Arsenal were in 7th. He also scored home and away against Man Utd, as well as goals against Spurs and Newcastle. At the time of play, all of these goals were against Top 6 teams, whilst the early season Arsenal and Spurs that Rooney scored against were very weakened versions of the teams that finished 3rd and 4th. On top of that, two of Rooney’s eight were from the penalty spot, whilst van Persie’s were all from open play. Both players also scored a brace against Liverpool (van Persie away).

Elsewhere, Dzeko’s four at White Hart Lane gives his number a kinder gloss. Spurs were bottom at the time of play. As a player, he swang from one extreme to the other – hitting two at Old Trafford in the 6-1 win, and then failing to bother any other Top 6 team from that point on – preferring the Bottom 6 opponents (although the goal against QPR did have a big game feel to it).

Nikica Jelavic proved to be a great January signing for Everton with 4 goals against the Top 6 teams, including a brace at Old Trafford that had a massive impact on the whereabouts of the title. In fact, he’s such a big game player, that the worst team he scored against was 12th. Similarly, Ashley Young just couldn’t be bothered against the smaller teams, with 4 of his 6 goals, coming against the Top 6.

Honourable Mentions to –Yakubu, who almost punched above his weight, Clint Dempsey with 6 from midfield, and Grant Holt with 5 against the best in his debut Premier League season. Even if he has turned into a bit of a diva since. And Steven Fletcher managed to notch away at Spurs, Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool, whilst also scoring against 5th placed Newcastle – despite being in the worst team in the league.

Highest Average Opponent per Goal Jermain Defoe 9.27 (Final Positions), and Mario Balotelli 8.77 at the time of play

Last year’s winner was Rafael van der Vaart with a very impressive average ranked opponent of 7.46 for each of his 13 league goals. All of this in a debut season as well. This year, for those players with 10 goals of more (Jelavic had 7.33 on 9 goals). This year, there was nothing even close to that this year. But there has to be a winner, and despite not playing as many games as he would have liked, once again, it’s an England striker who has the big game player tag, with the highest rank opponent per goal – Jermain Defoe with 9.27.

Although he only scored three against the Top 6 teams, only two were against the stragglers at the bottom (Wolves and Bolton), whilst the majority of his goals against Middle 8 teams were in the top half of the table – Liverpool (8th), Fulham (9th). The goals that pushed his average up though were against 1st place Man City (3-2 defeat) and 2nd placed Man Utd – Peter Crouch is the only other player in the league to have managed that this season.

The only other player in double figures with an average under 10 was the Yak. Blackburn must have fed the Yak a lot (Chicken?) becuase he scored 17 goals for them this season, despite being relegated. The big striker scored twice in the unlikely wins against 2nd placed Man Utd, and 3rd placed Arsenal, as well as scoring against eventual Champions League winners Chelsea on the final day.

Mad Mario Balotelli had the highest ranked opponent per goal at the time of play, and with goals against Man Utd (2), Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle, the only team he failed to score against in the Top 6 was Arsenal. His goals in the second half of the season slowed down (8/5 split) but he showed his big game temperement in the title decider against QPR, with an assist for Aguero. He’s been troublesome, audacious, hilarious and brilliant at times this season.

Honourable Mentions to – Jelavic just missed the cut with 9 goals, but his 7.33 was a great effort. That rating was matched by Ashley Young as well. Steven Gerrard only scored 5 league goals, but they were against an average of 6.80. Less goals but a better ranking were another Everton window signing – Steven Pienaar (6.50 – 4 Goals) and Wigan’s Shaun Maloney (5.0 – 3 goals) who specialised in the big games in that amazing escape from relegation.

Value of Goals – Robin van Persie, 30 goals – 24 Points

Last season saw West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie pick up this award with 17 points worth of goals. I can reveal that this season has seen a higher number of points won from a single player. And it’s really no surprise who.

Yep, van Persie wins another award, to go with the golden boot and the joint Top 6 Top Scorers. His 30 goals were worth a massive 24 points to Arsenal – 34.29% of their 70 points. That’s huge for a team in the Top 4 as you’d expect goals throughout the side as with United and City. It will be a real shame for the Premier League if he leaves England this summer, and it’ll be a complete kick in the nuts to Arsenal, for who he’s become so important. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re a one man team, but it’s hard to see anyone else in the four leagues I’ve covered this season get anywhere near that amount. 

But.

He’s not the most important player to team, as far as percentages anyway. Blackburn’s Yakubu’s 17 goals were worth a very decent 13 points, which was worth almost 42% of Blackburn’s points. They were relegated in the end, but he can lay claim to being more of a one man team than van Persie – albeit a far less successful team.

Honourable Mentions to – Grant Holt again, with a point per goal for his 15, in a debut top flight season. Papiss Cisse also won a point per goal, and his tally of 13 only began in January. Big things are expected of him next season. And once again, Steven Fletcher’s name pops up – his goals won almost 35% of Wolves points.

We’ve seen big game performances from Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Mario Balotelli and Jermain Defoe, but for every big game player, there’s a flat Track Bully or Big Game Bottler.

Premier League Bullies

Normally I’d only look at the players with a poor average opponent with 10 goals or more, and that’s to come shortly, but below is a list of players with 5+ goals, all of which have been against the lower tier of opponents:

Berbatov finished his Manchester United career with 7 league goals – only one of them was against a top half team (Fulham, won 5-0). This continues his knack of scoring against the lesser teams in the Premier League. Last year he was the joint top scorer, but the hat trick against Liverpool aside (they were outside the Top 6 at the time), he never bothered the Top 6. A hat trick against Wigan (15th), and further goals against Blackburn (2 goals – 19th) as well as a goal against Stoke (14th) meant that his average was also a very poor 15.14. Pavel Pogrebnyak somehow managed to get an even lower average with 17.33. Seen as being a good signing, his goals perhaps covered up that he only did it against poor teams. Sessegnon is the same, as is Adam Johnson – though at least he scored some goals (I’m looking at you Downing).

And so onto the Average Opposition Flat Track Bully award for 2011-12. Based on those players who broke into double figures:

What a difference a year makes. Rafael van der Vaart was last year’s big game player with an average opposition ranking of 7.46 and 8 goals against the Top 6 teams. Fast forward 12 months and he has the second worst average with 13.73, and just two goals against Top 6 opponents – Arsenal and Newcastle. Why? Well it was his second season in England, so his game and positioning was well known by opponents, he also played a few more games out wide, and perhaps most importantly, he lost Peter Crouch as a strike partner – several of his goals last year were from Crouch knock downs. Adebayor has replaced him as the lone striker in Spurs formation, and has undoubtedly had a better season, but it’s affected van der Vaart’s effectiveness. Still, hitting double figures in the league for a second successive season is not to be sniffed at.

And the same applies to our man with the lowest ranked opposition per goal – West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie. Last year, his 15 goals last year were against an average ranked team of 9.67, and also worth a league high 17 points. This year, like van der Vaart, he’s a known player for defences to watch out for. His one goal against Top 6 teams was against Newcastle (5th) in a 3-2 win. His average of 15.00 is predominantly down to the 4 goals he scored against bottom placed Wolves.

Pointless Goals

And as with every big game player, there’s flat track bully, the same can be said of the importance of goals – whilst van Persie’s goals have been worth 24 points to Arsenal, who’s goals have meant sod all, or very little?

Whilst Walcott had a pretty good season in front of goal with 8 from out wide, none of them mattered a great deal come the final scorelines of Arsenal matches. That is perhaps a little unfair on Theo as his goal against Chelsea was to put Arsenal ahead, whilst his brace against Spurs in the 5-2 win gave the Gunners a bit more breathing space, although it was already 3-2 by the time he scored. Berbatov’s inclusion is no real surprise – he tended to score in big wins, aside from the brace against Blackburn in a surprise defeat at Old Trafford.

Another big name is that of Fernando Torres, half of his goals came in 6-1 win over QPR, whilst he also got the consolation at 3-0 down against Man Utd (not gonna mention that miss). Even his goal against Barcelona in the Champions League semi final wasn’t really needed, they were already through on away goals – though it did give them breathing space.

And lastly in the goal scoring section, the men who make the goals.

Assists

David Silva was unsurprisingly the player with the most assists this season, creating a very impressive 15 goals. His split wasn’t too bad either, with three against the Top teams, and most importantly, assists in the crucials games – QPR and Man Utd, two games that decided the destination of the title.

Equally unsurprising were the players in second and third – Valencia and Mata. However, despite being regarded as one of the best right wingers in the league last season, Valencia was something of a Flat Track Bully with his assists. Of the 13, 10 of them were against the Bottom 6 teams, leading to a very high average ranked opponent of 15.85.  Also creating for Man Utd was Nani, with 10 assists. Despite spending far more minutes than he’d care for on the bench, he still managed a decent 10, but like Valencia, he only had one against Top 6 opponents.

Emmanuel Adebayor was the surprise big game creator, with 7 of his 11 assists coming against the best teams in the league. This is inflated by the 4 assists he was awarded against Newcastle in a 5-0 win, but he also created in both games against Arsenal. Elsewhere, despite being somewhat of a flat track bully with his goals, Stephane Sessengnon was happy to create against any team – and his three assists against Top 6 teams were all against Man City, as Sunderland took 4 points from the eventual champions.

That’s all for part 1, part 2 will contain the team stats, including defensive stats.

Cheers,

Liam

Premier League Round 38

13 May

Well that was a bit nuts wasn’t it? League leaders, battle for 3rd and the last relegation spot all changed hands on more than one occasion. So let’s start off in Manchester:

Manchester City became only the fifth different team to win the Premier League, in it’s 20 year history. For those that didn’t follow the final day and just saw the results, then there wasn’t really any big surprise. Man City with the best home record in the league beat QPR with the worst away record – they were always going to. But, what a way to do it.

Up to the 90th minute, it looked that for all of City’s millions and new players, their old characteristic of making a balls of promising situations, would shine through (much like Idiot Joey Barton’s inherent anger issues despite his reading of philosophy). In the end though, iIt’s fair to say that City’s two injury time goals to win 3-2 was very very Manchester United in nature. Think back to the game against Sheffield Wednesday back in the early days of the Premier League, and the 2-1 Champions League Final win over Munich in ’99. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

In terms of big game performances, Pablo Zabaleta picked a great game to score his first of the season, whilst Aguero (12.22) deserves the biggest credit after scoring his 23rd league goal in the dying seconds to bring City their first league title since 1968. Last minute of the final game of the season, about to lose the league – that’s big game temprement. Similarly, although I’ve criticised him for being a Flat Track Bully, Edin Dzeko (14.71) delivered when needed most. The reason I call him a flat track bully is that his average ranked opponent per goal of 14.71 is the lowest of any player with 10 goals or more. A player that cost over £30 million should be scoring more than 14 league goals in the best team, and 9 of those have been against teams in the Bottom 6 positions. All of that matters not a jot now though as he gave City hope.

One player who has also been criticised (albeit for different reasons) is Mario Balotelli. The complete opposite of Dzeko in terms of the opponents he’s scored against, Balotelli finished with the highest average opposition with 8.77. He usually delivers in the big games and normally against highly ranked opposition, but given the nature of this game, it was the biggest game of the season, especially at 2-1 down. Mad Mario got the assist for Aguero’s winner, and gained redemption at the same time.

It was City’s performances against the other Top 6 teams that effectively won them the title. Balotelli scored 5 of the 20 goals they hit against the best teams. Seven wins, just two defeats and one draw gave them 22 points from the 30 available against the elite, which not only helped their points haul, but also took the points from their opponents – with every win effectively being a 6 point swing in City’s favour.

Of course it’s easy to forget just how close United were to winning it – seconds. All of the plaudits to City are well deserved, but the same should be offered to United – to an extent. Whilst they matched City for wins and points, the way they earned the points was very different:

No clean sheets against Top 6 opponents, three wins against Top 6 opponents compared to 13 wins against Bottom 6 opponents. This is based on the league position at the time (meaning that due to timing and form, they played Bottom 6 teams on 15 occasions, rather than 12). Their haul of 11 points against Top 6 teams compared to City’s 22 would point to a deserved title for City. Wayne Rooney scored a career best 27th league goal against Sunderland (12.04), but on another day could have claimed the golden boot with an effort against the bar, one against the post and he also missed a sitter.

I’ll be putting together a season review in the coming weeks of each league, looking at the stats based on final position.

Arsenal managed to put behind them some recent shaky form (3 points from the last 12 available), to clinch 3rd spot, just ahead of North London Rivals Tottenham. Beating West Brom 3-2 away, they had to rely on goals from Benayoun, Santos and Koscielny to cement the win, as well as a helping hand (literally) from West Brom keeper Martin Fulop. And it’s a good thing, as Golden Boot winner Robin van Persie has only scored in 3 of their last 10 league games. Those who wrote off Arsene Wenger early on in the season will probably deny doing so, but the Frenchman has now taken Arsenal to Champions League qualification every single season he’s been in charge. He knows.

And in terms of relegation, despite losing to Man City, QPR managed to stay up due to Bolton’s failure to beat Stoke. The Trotters end an 11 year stay in the Premier League after going seven wins without a win. Strangely, their best run of the season was in the midst of their worst crisis – with Muamba’s collapse coinciding with a four game winning run. Unfortunately for Bolton fans, it wasn’t enough as both QPR and Wigan defied the odds to stay up.

In terms of the final Average Opposition scoring table (based on the time of play), Robin van Persie finished the season with most goals against the Top 6 teams with a decent 7 strikes. Mario Balotelli shares the Big Game Player tag with him with an average of 8.77, after Adebayor’s recent flirtation with mid to lower table teams. Nikica Jelavic deserves an honourable mention as his 9 goals have been against an average ranked opponent of 6.67 – by far the best of those players with 5 goals or more. Today’s strike against Newcastle was his fourth against Top 6 teams (two versus United and one versus Spurs), and he had none against Bottom 6 teams. Another player who can lay claim to being a big game player is West Brom’s Shane Long (8 goals – 9.12). His goal against Arsenal sits alongside strikes against Man Utd, Chelsea and Newcastle, not bad for a debut season in the Premier League.

The Flat Track Bully as mentioned earlier was Edin Dzeko. His goal against 17th placed QPR pushed him ahead of Rafael van der Vaart at the death. His average of 14.71 is considerably better when looking at the average based on Final League positions though. Yakubu (12.41), Grant Holt (10.33) and Danny Graham (12.42) all scored on the final day to cap impressive seasons – certainly against what was expected of them.

I’m hoping to get season review up in the next week or two (still getting to grips with fatherhood – even after 2 weeks of practice), and over the summer i’ll be comparing Tevez (2009-10) vs Aguero (2011-12) and Arsenal’s invincibles of 2003-04 versus Juventus 2011-12.

Cheers,

Liam

Premier League Round 37

9 May

Winning goal in the FA Cup Semi Final against best team in the country last year? Check.

Winning goal in the FA Cup Final after 35 years without a trophy? Check.

A brace to put your team top of the table going into the final day? Check.

Yep, it’s fair to say that Yaya Toure is a big game player. Although I don’t want to say that his goals against Newcastle (5th) have decided the whereabouts of this years Premier League, they’ve certainly been very important, and that was certainly in the high prerssure environment of a big game. I’ll admit that I had him down as a midfielder that scored a lot of goals (after his more defensive role in Barcelona), so it was surprising to see that his double at Newcastle were only his 5th and 6th (8.33) league goals of the season (matching last years 6). Either way, when the pressure was on, it was Toure Junior that stepped up. Though a nod must go to the defence who kept Cisse out, who had done this in last week’s game against Chelsea:

I know that was last week, but it was just awesome! And it’s worth noting that after 11 goals against average opposition (11.91), he’s now scored against a Top 6 team in Chelsea, taking his average up to 11.00. Add in his 9 goals (10.78) for Freiburg, and you have a very decent season.

But I digress (it was a good goal though). Man Utd made sure that the title goes down to the final day with their 2-0 win over Swansea, but it would take a brave man to bet a significant amount of money on them to win the title, given Man City’s home record, and QPR’s away form. But, QPR still aren’t mathematically safe, and Mark Hughes has the double aim of getting revenge on City for sacking him, and helping out his old team. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but he really has exceeded expectations at QPR. With the worst of the run ins, Hughes has managed to pick up 5 wins in the last nine games – with an average opponent per win of 8.40. Impressive stuff. Wigan’s six wins in the same period have been slightly better at 7.66. Both have proved a lot of people wrong, and that’s understandable given the previous average ranked opponent per win – Wigan had 4 wins at 15.25 and QPR had 5 wins against an average ranked opponent of 12.8. There were absolutely no indicators for the massive turn around in form.

Wigan’s latest win was not against good opposition. It was against fellow Bottom 6 teams Blackburn. And it was enought to gain survival whilst relegating Rovers. I bet those people calling for Steve Kean to be named manager of the year feel a little foolish now (one example here). So with Blackburn joining Wolves (Terry Connor for best new manager?) in the Championship next season, it comes down to the final day for one of Bolton and QPR. Aston Villa will be safe on goal difference, barring a massive swing.

With games in hand all being played now, there’s a been a good bit of movement on the Top Scorers list. Robin van Persie’s double against Norwich in the 3-3 draw sees him reach the magical 30 goal mark. It’s only the third time since 2000 that a player has reached this mark (Henry and Ronaldo), so it’s a great achievement. Before last season’s 18 goals, his highest league tally in his career was a paltry (for his talent) 11 goals. The last season and a half has crucially seen him stay fit, and it’s resulted in 48 strikes in 62 appearances in the Premier League. Quality. And although he has 10 goals against Bottom 6 opponents, he’s the leading scorer versus the Top 6 with 7 goals, meaning he’s a big game player.

However, the owner of that title based on the average opponent per goal is neither van Persie or last week’s leader Adebayor. He’s shown a complete lack of respect for my average opposition leader board by hitting 2 versus Bolton (18th) last week, and another against Villa (15th) this weekend. Manu you fool. That means, that despite all the flack he’s taken (some of it deservedly), Mario Balotelli looks set to win the Big Game Player tag for this year’s Premier League with an average ranked opponent per goal of 8.77. Think goals against Man Utd, Chelsea, Newcastle and Spurs, and he’s only missing Arsenal out of the other Top 6 teams. Not bad for someone who had supposedly ruined Man City’s season.

Strangely, Rafael van der Vaart looks like going from 2010-11’s big game player, to this years flat track bully. His latest strike (also in the win over Bolton) was his 11th of a disrupted season, taking his league tally to a very decent 24 in 60 games over two seasons as an advanced midfield role.

Just looking at the Bottom 6 and Top 6 goals season on season, it’s a quite stark difference, and begs an interesting question. What makes a big game player? Looking at van der Vaart as an example it’s pretty hard to tell why. Immediately I would have pointed to injuries but he’s actually played more games this season. Team mates? Well Spurs are looking likely to finish higher this season in 4th compared to last year’s 5th. There has been a change in personnel with Adebayor taking the lone striker role, but that doesn’t explain the disappearance in the big games? At 29, he’s in his prime, so it’s not age. You’d think that I’m building to a big conclusion now after ruling out other factors, but in all honesty, I don’t know what’s brought the change. Some may point to the difficult second season syndrome (dsss), but it’s spurious. Answers on a post card please.

Big weekend ahead, with several different outcomes. However, with Bolton on a run of 5 games without a win (after 4 wins in a row), it’s unlikely that they’ll win at Stoke (14th), although they have picked up 19 points away from home – albeit at an average of 17.83 ranked opposition. In terms of the race for 3rd (in case Chelsea win the Champions League),  Arsenal (3rd), Spurs (4th) and Newcastle (5th) are facing West Brom away (10th), Fulham at home (9th) and Everton away (7th) respectively. Due to the home venue, I’d say Spurs have the easiest game (just), but Arsenal have the points on the board.

Elsewhere, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Ramires backed up their big game player status’ with the goals in the FA Cup Final win over Liverpool. Both scored over the two legs against Barcelona in the Champions League Semi Final, and Drogba has now become the first player to score in a whopping four different finals. Andy Carroll has shown glimpses of hope for Liverpool fans, and his goal (almost a brace) in the final wasn’t completely unexpected. Like van der Vaart, Carroll had a Big Game Player tag from last season as he led the scoring against Top 6 teams with a decent 6 strikes (9 based on the time of playing). Last night, Liverpool got bittersweet revenge on Chelsea with a 4-1 home win – just their second win against Top 6 Opponents this season:

Wigan lead the way with the best teams beaten (on average), whilst Man City are deservedly top of the league and set to win it when you look at their 27 wins against United’s. There’s something of a big game team performance with 7 win against Top 6 opposition, and a Flat Track Bully air to United’s 13 wins against bottom 6 teams. This is all based on positions at the time of playing, i’ll be reviewing all the stats again based on final league rank at the end of the season. Aside from the teams at the top, Aston Villa fan will be glad to see the end of the season after just 7 league wins, against an average opponent of 13.57. Exciting.

Cheers,

Liam

Premier League Round 35

23 Apr

It’s on. And much like the Bundesliga and La Liga, an April match up between the top two teams in the league is going to decide the fate of the 2011-12 season. With the pressure off, Man City turned the clock back to Autumn with two great attacking displays against West Brom and Norwich. However, going into the game against relegation doomed Wolves, City knew that a win would put them back in the title race that only a few weeks ago was over. A slightly cagier performance saw them get the vital 3 points to give them a shot at the League Title. It’s not going to be easy, Man Utd have already beaten them at Eastlands this year and they also have Newcastle to face. But for the neutrals, it’s a great end to the season. And it’s been mentioned several times already, but Carlos Tevez effectively coming in for Mario Balotelli has been the spur they needed. Since his return, he’s scored four goals and created a further two.

And Everton did their part in the lunchtime kick off with an unprobable 4-4 draw at Old Trafford. Unprobable in the sense that the last time Everton scored 4 goals away was at the start of David Moyes reign, that it was at Old Trafford and that they were 3-1 and 4-2 down. However, they are a team in form in the Premier League, with just the top four teams in the table above them over the last 8 games (just 1 defeat). In fact, they’re joint third in the number of wins against the Top 6 teams:

Wins against Man City, Spurs and Chelsea since Christmas in their usual strong finish to the season means that a draw at Old Trafford wasn’t a complete shock – albeit in different circumstances. And that’s not all, their 13 wins have been against the 3rd highest average ranked opponent in the league, behind QPR and Wigan, who have recently been surprising everyone with the big scalps they’ve taken.

And as with every table, there’s two ends – unless of course, it’s a Round Table (or any non rectangular shaped table come to think of it). When looking at the lowest average opponents per win, there’s some surprising and some not so surprising teams. Wolves have beaten an average team ranked 17th – and there’s no surprise to see them relegated. The only other team with no wins against Top 6 opposition is second bottom Bolton Wanderers. Their 9 wins have been against an average ranked opponent of 15.89. But they’re to be expected. The 5 teams with the lowest ranked team per win:

It’s Chelsea and Newcastle that jump out on this list. Chelsea have at least had the decency to beat two Top 6 teams (Man City and Newcastle), but they as a team have been the Flat Track Bullies of the Premier League this season, with 11 wins against teams in the Bottom 6 at the start of play, and an average ranked opponent per win of a lowly 14.63. It’s the equivalent of beating Aston Villa 16 times. Not a massive achievement. Newcastle’s amazing 6 game winning run has been impressive, but an average opponent of 11.83 in that time actually improves their opponent average per win. Not that it’ll bother them one little bit. Their only Top 6 win was a 3-0 demolition of Man Utd (then 2nd), and whilst they’ve also beaten a 7th placed Liverpool and drawn against Chelsea, Spurs and Man Utd, their route to the Champions League spot that they currently occupy has been by beating the teams that they’re expected to beat.

And so on to the Top Scorers:

Wayne Rooney’s double against boyhood team Everton not only increased his average from 12.50 to 12.08, it also takes him within one goal of the previously untouchable Robin van Persie – The Players Player of the Year. Although van Persie still leads the way on goals against the Top 6 with 7 (ahead of Dempsey), he’s now scored just one goal in Arsenal’s last seven games. The 0-0 against Chelsea was only their second clean sheet against Top 6 opponents (from 13) and was useful in keeping the Blues at bay, and thanks to Spurs terrible run, they’re still favourites for that 3rd spot.

Sergio Aguero’s goal against Wolves sees him reach 22 league goals – one short of Carlos Tevez’ haul in his debut season for City. Aguero has done it in 31 games, compared to Tevez’ 35 games. I’ll be comparing the two of them at the end of the season. Emmanuel Adebayor continues to have the highest ranked opponent per goal with 8.15. The Flat Track Bully is still Frank Lampard with 14.55. Last season’s most prolific point scorer, Peter Odemwingie, hit double figures in the ‘difficult second season’ with the winner at Anfield as Liverpool’s disappointing league campaign continued. The Merseyside giants are now only 3 points ahead of 13th placed Norwich – although with two cup finals (one already won), they’re in a better position than most teams.

Elsewhere, it turns out that Wigan’s kryptonite is kept somewhere in West London, as they lost only their second game in eight – this time at Fulham after a recent defeat at Chelsea. QPR took up where Wigan left off with a win against Top 6 Spurs. Between them, Wigan and QPR have beaten six teams in the top seven in the last seven games – Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, and Man Utd have all been victims to the sudden and unlikely turn around in form.

With Robin van Persie winning the Player of the Year award, the points won table perhaps tells part of the reason why – no one has won more points this season:

A massive 22 points have been won from his 27 goals – compare that to Rooney’s 11 from 26 of Aguero’s 5 points from 22 goals, and you’ll see just how important he’s been. Yakubu continues to be the most important to his team in terms of percentages. His 13 points won are 42% of Blackburn’s total of 31 points. If they do stay up, then they’ll owe the big man a slap up meal or two.

Papiss Cisse’s fairytale start to his Newcastle career has seen his first 11 goals gain 11 points for the team – although his latest in a 3-0 win over Stoke wasn’t worth any. Lampard may be the Flat Track Bully, but his goals have been the most important to Chelsea than any other player this season – with 9 points.

I’ll try to get the La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A stats up this week, but there may be a slight delay due to an expected addition to the Average Opposition family.

Cheers,

Liam 

Premier League Round 34

16 Apr

It’s far from over in the race of the Title, with 5 points between United and City. If City win the Manchester Derby, they’ll have to win every game and hope that United draw one – and it’s down to goal difference. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility – Man City have only dropped 2 points at home all season, then United could be held to a draw by Everton or Sunderland. But you have to wonder what position City would have been in if Tevez had played the whole season, or rather from Christmas.

His time off wasn’t completely wasted, just look at that swing

Carlitos’ 4 goals in the last week have reminded City just what a good player he is, and also a prolific scorer with 43 league goals in the previous two seasons – more than any other player. And it’s been the goals that have been City’s problem of late. Their defence has actually improved – 15 goals were conceded in the first 17 games compared to just 11 in the last 16 – whilst the goals before the last two games have slowed considerably – as shown here in the Round 31 update. The defeats to Sunderland (9th), Everton (7th) and Swansea (14th) could have been avoided with Tevez in the team. Last season he scored 45% of his goals against Middle 8 teams.

Man Utd did of course shake off their surprise defeat (not so much given tonight’s score) defeat to Wigan with a 4-0 stroll against Aston Villa. Wayne Rooney had a pretty poor game, but still scored a double to take his tally to 24 for the season. As Villa were ranked 15th before the round kicked off, that’s another 2 for Rooney against the Bottom 6 teams – which means he’s now the most prolific player in the league against them. His average of 12.50 shows this. Danny Welbeck scored his 8th league goal of a promising season, though like Rooney he has specialised against weaker opponents – with an average of 14.5.

The surprise scoreline of the weekend came at the Emirates. Arsenal had the chance to cement 3rd place with a win over 17th placed Wigan to extend the lead over Spurs and Newcastle to 8 points, but Wigan are a different animal lately. Fresh from recent wins against Liverpool, Man Utd, and an unlucky defeat to Chelsea (assists for the linesman there), Wigan made an impressive trio of big scalps with a deserved win away at Arsenal. They’re last 4 wins have been against an average ranked opponent of 5.75 which is impressive for any team, let alone a team facing relegation. After many suggested Martinez would regret turning down Aston Villa last season, his Wigan team are now just a point behind the Midlanders, and more importantly, 4 points clear of the relegation zone. It’s hard to know what’s changed to bring around such a change in fortune. Certainly the 3-4-3 formation has played it’s part, but I’m certainly left baffled. Franco di Santo and Jordi Gomez scored within a minute of each other to leave Arsenal 2-0 down after 10 minutes. At that point, I decided a bet on Arsenal to win at an uncharitable 15-8 was worth a tenner. Oh well. Thomas Vermaelen got one back to score his 6th of the season (more than any Wigan player), but it was too little too late.

Aguero’s brace against 10th placed Norwich bettered his average opposition ranking to 11.67 – similar to Rooney, but with a greater focus on lower mid table teams rather than the Bottom 6 opponents. He’s still some way off the Flat Track Bully(s) of Frank Lampard’s 14.55 and Edin Dzeko’s 14.54. Papiss Cisse and Peter Odemwingie are the only two players on the Top Scorers list without a goal against Top 6 opponents.

From the other end of the scale, it’s Adebayor who remains the big game player with an average of 8.15, whilst Robin van Persie still has the lead in the goals against the Top 6 with a decent seven, ahead of Clint Dempsey’s 6.

Elsewhere, in a depleted fixture list, the main focus was on the bottom. Wolves ended their seven game losing streak with a decent point away at 11th placed Sunderland in what has been described as the worst game in the history of football. The point won’t keep them up, but at least it stops the rot. One win in twenty games explains why they’re going down. Sunderland are now well and truly out of the Honeymoon period with new manager Martin O’Neill. Under Steve Bruce they managed 11 points from 14 games, which was followed up with 26 points from the next 14 at a rate of 1.85 points per game. However, they’ve now taken just 6 from 6. They have nothing to play for this season, but O’Neill normally has no problem motivating players.

With one pretty much gone, it was an opportunity for Blackburn and QPR to move further away from QPR (not playing) and Wigan. Both failed. After many were suggesting Steve Kean for manager of the year, Blackburn have now lost five games in a row – with the latest a 3-0 defeat to 14th placed Swansea. These are no doubt the same people that were calling for Wenger’s head back in Autumn. QPR are a strange team, after beating Liverpool and Arsenal, they’ve lost in recent weeks to Bolton, and now 13th placed West Brom.

Just a quick mention on the FA Cup Semi Finals – Andy Carroll may well have had a season to forget for Liverpool, but he’s certainly not a stranger to scoring on the big occasion. Last season he was the leading scorer against the Top 6 teams. With two winning goals in a week, perhaps there’s more to come from the big Geordie.

I’m currently working on a feature looking at the best Premier League Partnerships. This should be up by the weekend, depending on when my wife goes into labour!

La Liga to follow.

Thanks,

Liam

Premier League Round 33

11 Apr

It feels like only yesterday we were discussing the Round 32 action, and having to put up another update, I can almost feel some sympathy for Premier League footballers who have to play two games in such a short space of time. Well, not really, most of them get my annual salary in a weekly wage – so **** ’em. Anyway, the big news is that after the race for the title ended with Man City’s defeat to a very impressive Arsenal, it’s now back on after Man Utd’s defeat to a very impressive Wigan. Wigan fans must feel bitter sweet about their recent form. They beat Liverpool at Anfield, were robbed by two offside goals against Chelsea, and have just beaten Man Utd – but what on Earth have they been doing for the rest of the season? Shaun Maloney’s second goal in four games (vs Liverpool and Man Utd) was enough to win the match for Wigan, who also should have scored through Victor Moses’ header which was harshly disallowed. So United’s 8 point lead is now just 5 points because of Man City’s impressive win against 13th placed West Brom.

City walked into the last chance saloon with Carlos Tevez the first through the swinging doors. The tricky Argentinian was back in the starting line up for the first time since his 5 month intensive golf training. Man City were desperate and with Mental Mario unlikely to play for the club again, and Dzeko being pants since the Autumn, it was down to their former captain and last years top scorer to inspire them. And inspire them he did. Forming an all Argentinian front line with fellow trickster Sergio Aguero, they carved the midlanders open – playing with the freedom of a team no longer feeling the pressure of a title race. Encouragingly, David Silva also looked refreshed. With the surprising score from Wigan (they’d never even picked up a point from Man Utd in the Premier League), the gap is now 5 points, but crucially, City have to host United in what could turn out to be a massive game. Win that and it’s 2 points, and with City having a better goal difference thanks to this 4-0 win, a single draw by United will be enough for City to get back on top. There’s a lot of ifs, and as the saying goes, if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle, but it’s still good for the neutral. Tevez has generally done well against United for both City and previously West Ham, so don’t be surprised if he still has a big say in the title race.

Just behind the top two sit Arsenal with a 5 point cushion over 4th place. Their 9th win in 10 games saw Wolves pretty much relegated (9 points adrift), and also showed what a waste their first half of the season was. Those who dounted Wenger are idiots (I know I certainly didn’t – honest), and it’s not as if they’ve just been steam rolling poor teams like Wolves. The recent run has seen wins against Liverpool (then 7th), Spurs (then 3rd), Newcastle (then 6th) and Man City (2nd). Add to those wins, other victories against resurgent Everton and Sunderland teams, and throw in a 3-0 win over AC Milan, and all of a sudden, Arsenal are showing the mental strength that Wenger has been referring to for so long. The turning point in the season was recovering from 2-0 down to beat rivals Spurs 5-2. That stopped a 13 point lead opening, and it became 7 points, also leading to Spurs poor run of form. Robin van Persie scored his first goal in 4 games, with midfielders Walcott and Benayoun completed the scoring versus 10 man Wolves. Interestingly, with the Euro’s approaching, Walcott (9.50) now has as many Premier League Goals as the greediest player in the league (TM) Daniel Sturridge (12.50) with eight each. Walcott has 4 against Top 6 opponents, compared to Sturridge’s 5 against Bottom 6. Read from that what you will.

Other love should also be dished out to Newcastle. All of a sudden they’ve somehow won 5 games in a row whilst everyone has been looking at Chelsea and Spurs. This leaves Newcastle level on points with Spurs (one win in eight) with 59 points, and they remain two ahead of Chelsea who were Dempsey’d against Fulham in a 1-1 draw. Papiss Cisse (12.0) and Ben Arfa (13.4) have been the catalysts for the winning run, and both were on the scoresheet against 16th place Bolton.

RvP’s cheeky penalty against Wolves takes him 5 goals clear at the top of the scoring charts, with 5 games left for him to hit the magical 30 mark. He’s now scored against 17 of the 19 teams he’s faced this season. He still leads the way with goals against the Top 6, and it’s ex-Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor that leads the way from an average opposition point of view with 8.15. He’s still yet to score against bottom 6 opposition this season.

Frank Lampard Junior looks likely to keep the Flat Track bully tag for the season with an average ranked opponent of 14.55 per goal. His penalty against 10th placed Fulham was his first goal since Round 26. His average opponent per goal is ranked 3 places lower than Super Clint Dempsey’s 11.38. The Texan midfielder has had an awesome season and has eclipsed his previous best of 12 last season. He’s one short of 50 Premier League goals. He’s surely above Cobi Jones as the best American to have played in England?

Cisse’s meteoric rise continues for Newcastle. His 10th goal in 9 games since joining has put him level with Premier League hot shots Jermain Defoe (9.50) and Javier Hernandez (11.60). You have to wonder if he’s somehow nicked Demba Ba’s shooting boots as he’s done sod all since his countryman joined. But these three are in the shadow of big Yakubu (12.81). His brace against Liverpool took his league tally to 16. This equals his best tally in England which he achieved with Portsmouth back in 2003-04. In that season he managed it in 37 games, this season has taken just 23 games. He had just 10 goals in his previous 53 Premier League games. Unfortuantely for Blackburn, his goals weren’t enough as big Andy Carroll made things interesting in his competition with Fernando Torres. Carroll’s winner was his 4th league goal of the season to Torres’ five. Also, why doesn’t Maxi play more? He always seems to score when he plays. I admittedly haven’t watched every Liverpool game, but i’m pretty sure he’s better than Downing/Henderson? I suggested Liverpool would have a big say in the relegation fight after defeats to Wigan and QPR and this win over Blackburn will have as big an effect.

FA Cup this weekend, and Everton go in on the back of their best form of the season with just two defeats in thirteen. Their 4-0 win over Sunderland was especially impressive after they fielded a weakened team. As shown in the last post, they always finish the season strongly, and although I had no answer for it then (yesterday), perhaps it’s down to each summer selling a key member of the squad (Rooney, Lescott, Arteta, etc….) taking a while to recover, and then getting a shot in the arm in the January window – Donavon, Jelavic, Gibson? Who knows.

That’s all for now, Spanish and Italian leagues to follow. The next feature is looking like a big one, so may take a little while longer.

Cheers,

Liam