liverpool

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.

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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.

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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.

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.