Tag Archives: centre midfield

Premier League 2011-12: Position Analysis AM

The position reviewed in this post is defined by a player’s starting position in following formations as defined by Opta:

Even by defining such a narrow list of positions, there is doubtless still a very large variety in the role played by this position. In previous reviews I have re-grouped players by my own considerations, eg. by grouping wingers with attacking forwards or defensive midfielders with certain central midfielders. In this case I haven’t, because the number of teams using this position was relatively small – and in many cases there would be overlap between central midfielders and attacking forwards on the outside of a front 3. Although attacking fields already dominated those analyses this will give a different view of the players who qualified with even more bias towards attacking qualities.

So, this time, I increased the playing limit to include the top 20 players by playing time. As I will comment later, narrowing the list can enable a slightly different perspective on a team’s tactics and even perhaps transfer strategy.

A review of correlations to WDL for these players strongly biased attacking and incisive passing qualities. As a result my rating biases players based on these fields. I ranked the players using the ratios below:

I then weighted these according to the strength of their correlations to team points in order to award points to each player:

The pool of players was relatively small, and included a range of player types – from Sergio Agüero (who often played just behind the central striker in a 4-4-1-1 last season) to David Edwards (who more likely played in flat midfield 5). The winner was the incredibly prolific Rafael van der Vaart who led the way in chances created (including through balls) per minute played. He combined an excellent ratio of goals from open play to shots on target from inside the box with a strong ratio of 3:1 shots in the box on target to shots off target. This was the key to his placing almost 10pts ahead of Gylfi Sigurdsson in second place, whose ratio of shots on target in the box was 1:1. By finishing ahead of Agüero, Hoilett’s statistics also show why he was so highly rated last season.

At the other end of the table are rather indifferent statistics from Everton’s 3 players in the table: Cahill, Fellaini and Osman. Having been so prolific in previous seasons, from this position Cahill didn’t manage to score in open play despite 21 shots inside the box and neither did he fare much better in chances created. Cahill’s decline in form probably helped to encourage David Moyes to re-sign the influential Steven Pienaar in January. Furthermore, since Cahill’s departure over the summer the resurgence of Fellaini as an advanced player coupled with additional support from Mirallas has clearly bolstered Everton’s attack, helping them to 2nd place in the league after 6 games.

Spurs also had significant summer transfer activity involving 5 players in this list, with van der Vaart and Modric replaced by Sigurdsson, Dembele and Dempsey. Although it’s a crude comparison at best, VDV and Modric had an average pts score in this position of 58.8 vs 55.1 for their replacements indicating a possible weakening in terms of ability – but a strengthening in terms of total squad quality.

In leaving Swansea, Sigurdsson has had a relatively quiet start to life at Spurs whilst his replacement, Michu, had an immediate impact. In 5th place on the list, Joe Allen reflects versatility perhaps justifying his cost to Liverpool as he has already finished in the top 5 of my DM position rating.

Arsenal’s entrants Rosicky and Ramsey finished 10th and 11th. Wenger would surely hope for a more significant goals contribution from these two (each scored 1 from this position in open play) – however this was compensated for by a reliance on the goals of van Persie and Arteta’s aptitude for joining the central attack from a deeper lying position. In any case, Wenger will hope that the return of Wilshere and Diaby, plus the attacking signings of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud should soften the impact of the losses of van Persie and Song.

Premier League 2011-12: Position Analysis DM

Having completed analysis on centre midfielders, I discovered that by grouping all central midfielders together the defensive midfielders were unfairly compared to their more offensive partners.

As a result, my previous standards/classifications needed adjustment to obtain a reasonable range of data with which I could review defensive midfielders. This is for 2 reasons: primarily, the playing time of players in the position of DM (as considered below) was insufficient – only Arsenal and Swansea had players who played in this position for more than 1000mins; secondly, I wanted to include additional data from the defensive midfielders that I had previously categorised in the CM analysis.

Whether or not a midfielder is defensive or not is arguable in some cases, and you may disagree with some of the names I have included here. But this is my analysis, so I added the CM statistics for the following 17 midfielders to the DM stats:

Alejandro Faurlin Karl Henry
Cheik Tioté Lee Cattermole
Craig Gardner Lucas Leiva
David Fox Mohamed Diamé
Fabrice Muamba Scott Parker
Gareth Barry Shaun Derry
Jack Colback Steven N’Zonzi
Jay Spearing Youssuf Mulumbu
John Obi Mikel

Nigel de Jong failed to make the 1000mins cut as he only played a combined total of 885mins in the DM or CM position (not including substitute apps). In total, 5 premier league teams did not have a player who qualified for this list: Aston Villa, Everton, Fulham, Man Utd and Stoke City. These teams generally seemed to fill the centre of the park with midfielders who do a bit of everything.

To redress the balance from the CM analysis, I focused on DM actions that correlated negatively with goals conceded first – then appraised the effect on W/D/L and goals for in order to come up with my shortlist of statistics. As a result defensive attributes dominate this particular review, with only ‘goals from open play’ (which are infrequent for DMs so do not have much significance) and ‘passes forward’ (as a proportion of all passes) the 2 offensive fields that contribute to the DM analysis. It could be argued that even these offensive stats are dependent on the quality of the attacking players ahead of the DM.

‘Touches’, ‘short pass success’ and ‘lay-offs’ are the neutral fields considered – since being comfortable in possession, or at least in distributing it to the next player (or to safety) is a important part of the DM’s game.

The full list of all fields shortlisted, including those used, is shown below:

And the results are here:

So, Lucas Leiva, who actually had the lowest playing time in this list (1135mins) is rated #1. Had he not sustained a serious injury in November 2011, it is likely that Liverpool’s fortunes in the league would have been significantly improved. He topped the charts for total tackles (with 59 tackles won he was also 6th in that list despite playing fewer games than anyone else), duel success ratio of 1.86 (Derry was second with a ratio of 1.50) and passes forward. There is a clear link between pass success and passes forward, for example Joe Allen and Leon Britten top the charts in pass success but are bottom of the table in passes forward – indicating that the difficulty of their passes was generally probably not that high – however Lucas has above average short passing success despite playing 42% of his passes forward.

Second in the list is Gareth Barry, meaning that in every position analysis I have written so far (5), Man City have managed a player in the top 2 every time. He is also the highest placed English player, ahead of the widely praised Scott Parker. They are, however, within 5pts of one another for every field except headed clearances and passes forward – in which Barry is much stronger than Parker.

Brendan Rodgers’ signing for Liverpool of Joe Allen is rather significant because if he can develop a strong partnership with Lucas this season (assuming Lucas can stay injury-free), on the basis of their form last season they would be a formidable pairing (both scored higher than Arsenal’s pairing of Arteta and Song).

Finally, as a Newcastle fan my hopes that Cheick Tioté would prove his class amongst his peers was a little disappointing. On the plus side, 2 Sunderland players were in the bottom 4! Rumours abound over the summer that Chelsea/Man Utd/Man City/Arsenal were interested in Tioté in a £20m+ deal do not really stand up to the stats. If he is sold, and I know that Mike Ashley likes a good deal, WBA’s Youssuf Mulumbu would appear to be a good contender as a cost effective replacement.

Premier League 2011-12: Position Analysis CM

Reviewing Opta statistics for goalkeepers, central defenders and full backs was easier in terms of how to classify each position because as I explained in my first post on formations, almost every team lined up with a back four last season (on only 21 occasions out of 760 did a team not start with a back four).

Now that we are looking at midfielders, although four ‘flat’ midfielders was also the most common line-up, in general there was a lot more variety. A defensive midfielder should not really be compared with a winger, so I have had to be more careful when it comes to classifying the position that a midfielder plays depending on his position in the team’s formation. As we will see later, by pigeon-holing players in this way the review may be flawed for some players who qualify for the CM category but in reality are more defensive than average.

For transparency, I have listed my classifications below:

As we can see from the above list of CMs, which is fragmented by the formations, it was more of a challenge to remove the players who did not play in this position from the initial correlation review – due to the less consistent position ids. I also removed players with fewer than 1000mins in the position of CM in order to maintain consistency with my previous reviews .

I found that offensive statistics for CMs dominate defensive statistics. For example, goals, assists, through balls and big chances were all slightly more important to picking up points than the most significant defensive fields such as headed clearances and ground duels. This seems to suggest that the all-action central midfielder is more important in attack than defence. As a result my rating has 5 offensive statistics which rate the 48 midfielders with points from 1-6 (worst to best), 1 neutral field (pass success rate, middle third), and 3 key defensive statistics each with a maximum of 6pts on offer for the best 8 midfielders in each category. Errors leading to goals and red cards were so infrequent that it seemed unfair to apportion too much significance to them to I simply deducted a point per occurance for each player.

The final table is below. Note the absence of any Swansea or Arsenal players from the list: this is because neither team set up with a formation including a CM as per my definition – both Rodgers and Wenger prefer to employ the 4-2-3-1 formation.

The winner is another Manchester City player: Yaya Touré. Touré was without doubt instrumental to City’s success last season and as we can see from the rating he was excellent in all the categories that matter in my chart. I am starting to wonder if there is an inherent bias in the data MCFC have made available to the public considering how many categories City are dominating! The reality however is that the best players in the best teams should generally stand out in this type of analysis. Arguably Touré’s best statistic is middle third passing success, in which he was 2nd best overall. On average he completed 17.1 passes in the middle third before one was misplaced which compares to an overall average of 7.5 (successful passes:unsuccessful passes). However the winner in that category was the influential Paul Scholes, who on average completed a colossal 23.3 passes before one was misplaced!

Notable players in the top 10 include Stiliyan Petrov (whose season was sadly cut short due to his diagnosis with leukaemia) and Wes Hoolahan, both of whom were key midfielders who played for bottom half teams. Petrov was strong in most fields, but had a particularly low rate of being dispossessed, whilst Hoolahan was very strong in offensive categories – with similar attacking qualities to Frank Lampard.

Steven N’Zonzi, who was the player from a relegated club with the highest position, rated =14th in the list despite being considered by many to be a defensive midfielder – a significant result considering the general lack of more defensive-oriented CMs in the top half of the list.

For the second post running a Newcastle player finished last – surely not?! Rated by many to be one of Newcastle’s outstanding players, Cheick Tioté’s qualities are clearly not suited to this system. As we might expect, Tioté’s offensive statistics were poor: he didn’t score, he made one assist and played one through ball all season. What is perhaps more surprising is his below average middle third passing success ratio (6.5), the fact that he lost more ground duels than he won (169 to 122) and he was dispossessed more times than any other CM (69 in total).

And another surprise in the form of Luka Modric, who might be assumed to perform well in this model but only rated 33rd. These players deserve better, and so at a later date I will look to ascertain the qualities that set them apart from the crowd.