Do the numbers back up what we’re seeing on the pitch?
After this week examining Aston Villa’s best midfield trio and comparing this season’s results with last season of the teams played so far, it’s time for a statistical comparison.
In short, the following questions will be answered:
a) which players stand out this season and
b) how the team’s stats compare with last season. Sometime that can be a little overkill on the use of stats, but with a few Villa stats here we hope to provide a little insight into what is actually happening on the field.
Possession and passing
Top 3 passers (minimum 2 starts): Jores Okore (88%), Ron Vlaar (86%), Diego Luna (85%).
Here, the passing accuracies have been expressed using our most common starting XI:
Now this would somewhat support what we’ve seen on the pitch. Villa have primarily been a counter-attacking team. Although I feel that pundits have made too much of this (we were more of a counter-attacking team under Martin O’Neill, I feel), our greatest success this season has been our ability to sit back, soak possession up and then break.
Even at Norwich, we only had 36% of possession. This shows with the passing statistics: Villa have strong passing stats at the back (Okore has the best passing stats of all players this season), very good percentages in the middle, and poor passing stats going forward. Given that Villa don’t spend lots of time keeping the ball in the opposition half, and instead look to play a quick ball into the wings or a ball up to Benteke, these percentages aren’t too surprising.
One surprise is perhaps Ashley Westwood – he has been criticised for his inability to pass the ball forwards and instead passes sideways and backwards – yet his pass success is worse than Karim El Ahmadi and only slightly better than Fabian Delph, who has been breaking forward and trying to create chances.
For me, Westwood is Manchester United’s Michael Carrick equivalent – his passing success is up at 84%. I’d like to see Westwood try more forward balls like Carrick, as last season showed Westwood’s ability to grab assists with through balls.
Brad Guzan’s passing at 47% looks poor, but for a keeper this is reasonable – Simon Mignolet at Liverpool (who play out from the back) is at 44% for example.
As a team, we’ve had 41% possession this season (compared with 45% last season). Comparatively, this is the worst out of all teams in the league. Is this down to more counter-attacking play, hard games, or both? I’d certainly expect a bit higher with three central midfielders.
Top 3 number of ‘key passes’ per game: Benteke (2.2), Agbonlahor (2.2), Lowton (1.3).
Top 3 number of ‘successful dribbles’ per game: Delph (2.8), Agbonlahor (1.6), Benteke (0.8).
Top 3 most fouled players (fouls per game): Delph (3.2), Benteke (1.8), Agbonlahor (1.6).
Top 3 most shots per game: Weimann (2.6), Benteke (2.2), Bacuna (1.3).
So, part explanation for the lower pass success rate for Benteke, Agbonlahor and Matt Lowton could be that they are trying (and succeeding) in creating chances via key passes. Lowton created 21 chances last season (0.55 a game) and has created 4 this season (1 a game). However, his improvement in creating chances came in the latter months of last season – so this season’s chance creation is arguably below par given his end of season performances and chance creation (he managed all of his 4 assists last season and a goal in the final months).
Particularly with 3 central midfielders and Weimann enjoying coming inside on the right, Lowton could perhaps offer more.
Delph shows up well here – despite being an attacking midfielder at times, he has a high pass success rate, a high dribble success rate and is fouled a lot (due to being a decent dribbler!). His stats fully support his excellent form.
The top shot takers is surprising. Weimann (2.6) vs. Agbonlahor (1) shows that Weimann is taking almost 3-times the number of shots as Agbonlahor.
Agbonlahor, from the stats, is more of a creator than a scorer of goals. Even though Agbonlahor played centrally vs. Norwich, he didn’t have a single goal attempt. Furthermore, with Weimann unable to score (despite being an obvious goal threat), I can see a reliance on Libor Kozak for goals until Benteke is back.
‘Big chances’ created (as a team, per game):
1.6 – 2012/13
2.0 – 2013/14
Total shots per game:
11.53 – 2012/13
On average, Villa have created more ‘big chances’ and had more shots per game than on average last season. Interestingly, our games this season have been against teams with good defences (bar Newcastle (H)). [PAGE 2]
Given our tough start to the league campaign and our counter-attacking style, our defenders have once again been called upon too much for our liking. Here is how the stats look:
Top 3 ‘tacklers’ (tackles per game): Delph (4.8), El Ahmadi (4.2), Bacuna (2.7).
Top 3 number of interceptions: Delph (3), Lowton (2.3), Luna (1).
Delph’s role as an ‘all-action midfelder’ really shows here – he wins the ball back and is happy to run forward with the ball too. Delph also shows up Westwood: better passing, more tackles, more chances created and more interceptions.
As a team, Villa have been conceding fewer chances and shots than last season. Even though Guzan’s performance was deemed to be fantastic against Norwich, Norwich only had 2 shots on target (1 was the penalty and the 2nd was the Banks-esque save).
‘Big chances’ conceded per game:
2 – 2012/13
2 – 2013/14
Shots against per game:
16.63 – 2012/13
13.0 – 2013/14
Despite a very difficult start to the season, Villa have conceded fewer shots and the same number of ‘big chances’ as last season.
In conclusion, given the difficult start to the season, it’s great to see stronger attacking and defensive displays this season. Delph has continued his excellent end of 2012/13 form.
Westwood on the other hand has been poor statistically, and although I’d like to see him stay in the XI, his position is not quite as nailed on as last season. We need more from him than we’re getting.
Similarly with Lowton, his pass completion needs improving -his average position is higher than Luna’s, and now that Okore is out for the season, Vlaar will be playing as RCB.
Vlaar is liable to get caught out so Lowton needs to ensure he’s not caught out himself with poor passes.
Also, we are still conceding more shots against than we are taking ourselves. We should probably expect more of this if we’re going to sit back and give the opposition more possession, however. What the shooting and possession stats tell me is that I’d like to see us take on teams a bit more at home (or tell Gabby to shoot more!).
The stats generally support what we expected (particularly with the passing statistics) given that our counter-attacking style so far, with a few surprises. However, Delph’s performance here was not one of these surprises. UTV.