Different types of Attacking-Midfielders; a thought starter

Disclaimer; this post isn’t about Ozil. Much.

Mesut Ozil is killing it this season.

With over 15 assists already, the German international is on course to hit and surpass Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists in a Premier League season (anyone else unsurprised that this is another Arsenal player under Wenger who holds this accolade?) – But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the stick that Arsenal’s record signing got in the first season and a half he spent in North London. As the narrative goes, Mesut was not a big game player nor was he the type to be prolific in front of goal.


This tweet by Simon Brundish got me thinking; how long should different types of players be given to make an ‘impact’?

Let’s examine another player alongside Ozil; Alexis Sanchez. Arguably, he also counts as an attacking-midfielder and I’m sure it cannot be argued that his debut Premier League season was better than Ozil’s.

Where Ozil played 2150 minutes in the Premier League, scored 5 goals and registered 9 assists (a scoring contribution of 0.586 per 90) in his first season, Sanchez played 2953 minutes, scoring 16 goals and 8 assists (a scoring contribution of 0.732 per 90)

So Alexis had a higher impact; but ultimately, they are two very different attacking midfielders. Where Ozil is a ‘creator’ and a orchastrator, Alexis is perhaps more direct. Let’s see if this hypothesis holds.

Alexis took 3.5 shots per game, made 2.3 key passes and attempted 3.3 dribbles per game. Conversely, Mesut’s first season yielded 1.2 shots per game, 2.9 key passes and 1.7 dribbles.

Already we can see Ozil’s emphasis on creating chances than attacking a full back, and perhaps this is why he tended to play narrow for Arsenal even when placed on the wing.

But the secondary factor is this; where Alexis’ game relies upon getting the ball, attacking individually, receiving and letting shots fly, Ozil needs to have the movement, space and time to pick out the passes he wants to make. And this would require the players around him to also understand his game.

The purpose of this post is Liverpool’s #11, Roberto Firmino. As a rule of thumb (which stems from probably a comfort with multiples of 5), pundits refer to a great midfield player as someone who posts 10 goals and 10 assists a season.

In Ozil’s three seasons with Real, he averaged about 6 goals and 15 assists per season.
Alexis at Barca in his three La Liga seasons averaged 13 goals and 8 assists per season.

So where does this leave Bobby Firmino? In his last 3 seasons at Hoffenheim, he averaged 9 goals and 8 assists a season – so perhaps a bit more balanced than the examples examined above. Last season, he took 2.9 shots per game, made 2.1 key passes and 4.2 dribbles – which actually points him to be closer to Sanchez than Ozil in this comparison – his scoring contribution was (in 2918 minutes played) 0.524, with 7 goals and 10 assists. These came in 33 starts, and was slightly down from his previous season. Another factor to his slow start at Anfield could be starting every game two seasons back to back, and representing Brazil at the Copa America this summer.But I am no sports scientist and cannot speculate on this in an informed manner.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Using just one example of comparing Ozil and Alexis (given their 3 season stints in Spain prior to joining Arsenal), this could be a reason why Firmino is taking time to bed into Liverpool.

From my understanding, attacking midfielders can be ‘a Sanchez’; a direct runner, who takes a lot of shots, is good with the ball at their feet. Or, they could be more of ‘an Ozil’; less shots, more creativity, with an emphasis on assisting than scoring. The latter I feel requires a few things.

  • Understanding the role; making sure that the role and all the tasks a player has to complete on the pitch are understood and being met – and that they are comfortable doing so
  • Cohesion with teammates; for Ozil, players need to trust that if they make the run, Ozil can find them, and similarly that if they are to utilise his creativity, the man needs space. This positional understanding, trust & chemistry are important to ensure moves look as fluid as they can.
  • Acclimatising mentally & physically; this includes on and off the pitch. On the pitch, the pace, space and movement need to be adapted for the environment an attacking midfielder finds themselves, and off the pitch, the club should ensure that the player is in the right state of mind to perform and ‘hit the ground running’

In this vein, I feel that though Firmino may not have sparkled, his passing networks and interplay with his team-mates will increase similar to Ozil’s has, and he possesses the ability to run at full-backs and contribute in a way that Sanchez can. It’ll be interesting to see how Klopp utilises and changes the use of the Brazilian midfielder.


What on earth happened to Darren Bent?

Darren Bent burst onto the scene as a 17 year old at Ipswich Town, making 3 starts and scoring once against Middlesborough in the 2001-2 season. As an Ipswich fan, I take pride in our youth system, and Bent came through with the ‘other’ Darren, Darren Ambrose as two promising players who moved on in the future following financial woes at the club.

Darren Bent was exciting. He was a true goalscorer and had the pace and power to frighten defenders – and most of all, and most importantly, he knew where the back of the net was (as the cliche goes) – so what has gone wrong and why is Bent, one of the hot young properties in England, now a 30 year old struggling to get a game at Aston Villa (after being frozen out last summer, bizarrely after being handed the interim captaincy which subsequently lead to a move to Fulham)

So let’s break his career down;

Ipswich Town FC
I could do a biographical piece, wax lyrical about how he was always eager, worked hard and had the confidence and pace at such a young age to take players on – how at a birthday party when I was 7-10 or something he was at Laser Quest and signed my friend, the birthday boy’s cast. How he was part of the Joe Royle dawn, where we coulda shoulda woulda been promoted with a team of very average players who worked incredibly well together.

Here’s how he did;

    Age Apps Starts Mins Goals Assists PG NPG Mins/G P90 Ap90 NPGp90 SCp90
ITFC 2001-2 17 6 3 320 1 0 0 1 320 3.6 0.00 0.281 0.281
ITFC 2002-3 18 35 24 2328 12 0 0 12 194 25.9 0.00 0.464 0.464
ITFC 2003-4 19 36 31 2842 16 0 0 16 178 31.6 0.00 0.507 0.507
ITFC 2004-5 20 45 45 3932 20 16 0 20 197 43.7 0.37 0.458 0.824

2004-5 is the tasty season – the meaty one where he scored 20 in the league and assisted 16. The partnership with the Big Finn Shefki Kuqi was monsterous, and as I mentioned and bemoaned, Town should have been promoted. But in any league, in any season, 20G and 16A are incredible – reflected in an impressive scoring contribution of 0.824 per 90 – for context, Benzema last season’s was 0.84, Neymar was 0.83 and Ross McCormack was 0.785.

So this curve is a combination of staying fit, playing games and being the focal point of every Town attack. Then came a failed promotion, the hawks circled and just like that, he was a £3m Charlton Athletic player.

Bent moved aged just 21 in 2005-6 (Crucial); he was at the height of his confidence, ready to take the Premier League by storm. And he kinda did. Scoring twice I think on his debut, then finishing his first season as the highest scoring English striker. Nailed on to go to Germany ’06 and tear that up too, the young and hungry Bent. Right? He should be on that plane with Rooney, Owen and Peter Crouch, right? Wrong.
Sven picked f*cking Theo Walcott (who hasn’t been to a World Cup since). 16 year old Theo Walcott. Fresh from signing on to Arsenal.

England were knocked out on penalties by Portugal and Walcott did not play a minute. Peter Crouch lead the line against Portugal because Owen was injured and Walcott was.. well… 16.

Anyway, enough of me moaning. This is how he did;

    Age Apps Starts Mins Goals Assists PG NPG Mins/G P90 Ap90 NPGp90 SCp90
CAFC 2005-6 21 36 36 3160 18 0 3 15 176 35.1 0.00 0.427 0.427
CAFC 2006-7 22 32 32 2863 13 1 3 10 220 31.8 0.03 0.314 0.346

Eh. Less exciting but still a good number of minutes played, and a very solid return. Started taking penalties at Charlton too – Tommy Miller wouldn’t ever let him near the ball at Town. Anyway, 25 non-penalty goals in 68 appearances is nothing to be ashamed off. So what do Spurs do?
They sign him for £16.5m – with add-ons I guess. Insane.

Tottenham Hotspur
And so it began. Spurs signed him and there was HUGE pressure for him to perform. In a team where Defoe and Keane ruled, how was young 23 year old Darren gonna get a game? Harry had faith. Right?

    Age Apps Starts Mins Goals Assists PG NPG Mins/G P90 Ap90 NPGp90 SCp90
THFC 2007-8 23 27 11 1149 6 5 0 6 192 12.8 0.39 0.470 0.862
THFC 2008-9 24 33 21 2175 12 2 1 11 181 24.2 0.08 0.455 0.538

Faith or no faith, his first season, Bent didn’t start much at all – just 11 starts, and 16 appearances from the bench. HOWEVER – check out that scoring contribution. 0.862 – higher than ITFC levels, but again, pinch of salt. The boy was coming off the bench, but he was assisting again. Which was good.

Season 2, not so good. 11NPG and 2A but 21 starts. More game time = less insane scoring stats. Either way, 0.538 means he had a hand in a goal every other game he played. Good stuff. So no wonder Sunderland came a-knocking, with a £10m rising to £16.5m fee agreed.

Sunderland AFC
Boom, Bent is approaching his prime here – and it’s another World Cup year. Capello seems like a guy who knows what he’s doing right? So Bent moves up the country to Wearside, and the Stadium of Light. Starts every single game, 19NPG, 4A and a SCp90 of 0.612. Bish, bash, bosh. Nope – not enough. Rooney, Defoe, Heskey and Crouch chosen, and Benty left at home. Disappointed again.

Ted Knutson of the wonderful, beautiful StatsBomb has actually done a great radar on this season. This visual aid is much better to understand than my data dumps and non-visuals.

    Age Apps Starts Mins Goals Assists PG NPG Mins/G P90 Ap90 NPGp90 SCp90
SAFC 2009-10 25 38 38 3383 24 4 5 19 141 37.6 0.11 0.505 0.612
SAFC/AVFC 2010-11 26 36 36 3128 17 2 3 14 184 34.8 0.06 0.403 0.460

Hmm. Second season he secures a HUGE money move to Aston Villa – £18-24m is quoted. He repays that by scoring more goals in the second half of the season than the first. Villa love him, they’ve got a goalscorer and Martin O’Neil has the money to make things happen. All is wonderful. Rosy.

Then the injuries begin.

Aston Villa ft. Fulham

Bent’s time at Aston Villa is a weird one. He’s still there, aged 30 – but he was frozen out last summer and spend the summer on loan to Fulham (doomed for relegation. Chaos that was)

    Age Apps Starts Mins Goals Assists PG NPG Mins/G P90 Ap90 NPGp90 SCp90
SAFC/AVFC 2010-11 26 36 36 3128 17 2 3 14 184 34.8 0.06 0.403 0.460
AVFC 2011-12 27 22 21 1858 9 1 2 7 206 20.6 0.05 0.339 0.388
AVFC 2012-13 28 16 8 815 3 1 0 3 272 9.1 0.11 0.331 0.442
FFC 2013-14 29 24 11 1249 3 2 0 3 416 13.9 0.14 0.216 0.360

Definitely in decline. 2011-12 ended in injury for the big man, 2012-13 was recovery and eventual freeze out and 13-14 was a loan to a club where Berba was the main man for a bit, then Bent came back into the fold toward the end (still, scored a goal at Old Trafford to crash Moyes’s party)

Now 30, Bent (in my eyes, and from the scoring stats) is still a good player.

Ipswich fans, Murphy’s SCp90 last term was 0.462 and McG finished with 0.540 – Nouble was similar to Bent with 0.350 (doesn’t mean they’re similar – I mean it does, but don’t let this prejudice you)

So what has happened to Darren Bent? A crisis in confidence, the wrong moves at the wrong times, and little faith. This should be a cautionary tale to any young, budding striker who moves to a Premier League club for big money. Is Connor Wickham the next? Jordan Rhodes is one who can be regarded a success – dropped a division, scored mad goals and then got a big move to the Championship – where he’s still on of the best strikers.

I’d love Darren Bent back at Ipswich. Would be an excellent swansong, but that’s my rose tinted glasses.



Ticket Prices, and the Scandal of the Premier League

In recent times, supporters of Liverpool Football Club have been unfurling a banner at their games which reads ‘Football without fans is nothing’. This comes weeks after Manchester City sending over 900 tickets back to Arsenal as they refused to play the £62 for tickets to watch the teams play (article here courtesy of ITV Sport), which fans found ridiculous, which lead to fans questioning the actual prices of tickets.

In October 2012, the BBC released their annual ‘Price of Football’ survey (here). It showed that the average price of a matchday ticket at a game had risen from  £19.01 to £21.24. The price of a season ticket in the Barclays Premier League would be on average around £441, £100 more expensive than the nPower Championship, and £140 more than League 1. As a club moves up the tiers of football, the income naturally grows, with sponsorship,TV rights and more regular coverage and interest of fans. Therefore the price difference between Leagues 1 and 2 aren’t too different.

The SPL, the Scottish equivalent of the English Premier League, has season ticket averages which are similar to that of the lower leagues. This may not even correlate back to the quality of football, nor the level of enjoyment a day out at such a ground has.

A recent Guardian blog about the ticket prices revealed how the financial structuring and management of the Premier League was poor compared to the Bundesliga, the German Premier Division. This league has the highest average attendance than anywhere in Europe’s five major leagues (Bundesliga, Liga BBVA, EPL, Serie A and Ligue 1)

The teams consistently perform, with the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich excelling both domestically and within the European club competition, the Champions League. Yet, in the largest stand in Dortmund’s ground, the Westfalenstadion holds 80,720, and is consistently filled out. The reason? Within Dortmund’s “Yellow Wall”, the biggest stand in the world with a capacity of 26,000, the prices are €15, around £10 a head on average.

My local team, Ipswich Town, has student prices at £15-20 on ‘Band B/C’ games for students, and the prices increasing on big matchdays and for adults. Though schemes are held for the likes of the Capital One Cup (at least, the earlier rounds) where U16’s can get in for £1, the ground is consistently left unfilled due to soaring ticket prices and a sense that a day out would not be value for money.

The Bundesliga is a fantastic template for further development, especially with the financial fair play looming. Though it may make €350m less per season in matchday revenues than the Premier League, the level of wages paid out from general revenue is just 50%. Huge clubs such as Manchester United have killer debts building, whilst the Spanish crisis has lead to many clubs selling the ‘family silver’ as it were, with stars such as David Silva, Juan Mata and Michu being sold off to help ease financial woes – worse still, if/when players aren’t paid due to this crisis, they strike and refuse to play. The French league, Ligue 1 spends 71% of its income on the wages of superstars such as Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Pastore.

The Football Supporters Federation chairman speculated that around £32 could be cut from every single ticket due to the rise in TV revenues this year – saving so many people so much money, increasing crowds and raising atmosphere. Armchair fans are on the rise, with families of those who are struggling financially finding that watching it on an illegal stream, in the pub or gathering around a mate’s house to watch has a similar effect and there is little pulling fans outside to cheer on their boys in the bitter cold.

Something has to be done; this is definitely a more pressing issue than bringing back standing facilities.