Part two : Midfield
As with my last blog on defence, I won't be concentrating purely on players listed as 'midfielders', but more on the types of skills generally associated with midfield - passing and tackling, chance creation in the transition game and so on. Once again, there are some statistical categories I will be examining which could be seen as attacking stats rather than midfield stats (crosses, for example). However, football is a team game, and Swansea are very much a team's team; every player helps out in every area, so I'm using the terms 'defence', 'midfield' and 'attack' in the broadest sense so as to break up these stats into readable, blog-sized chunks.
With the disclaimers out of the way, let's look at some numbers. Swansea's team game is based very much on possession retention and passing, so that seems a good place to start :
It would probably surprise those unfamiliar with Swansea to see two defenders top the chart for pass attempts. Obviously, this is bound to happen when a side is comfortable playing the ball from the back, and is a hallmark of certain schools of South American and Spanish football, from which the Swans game takes a clear influence. Leon Britton, the lynch-pin of the Swansea transition game, rounds out the three but really asserts himself in the next chart :
Pass Completion %
'Little' Britton has been compared all season long to Barcelona's similarly diminutive playmakers Andrés Iniesta and Xavi, and rightfully so; Britton's pass completion ratio has actually been among the highest in all of European football this season, better even than the Barca men.
Living slightly in the shadow of Britton's fantastic accomplishment is the emergent Joe Allen, unexpected star of my last blog on defence. Allen's own 91% rate puts him in the same class as Britton, Iniesta et al., and is further demonstration of Allen's legitimacy as a first rate all-round midfielder.
Coming in third is Swans stalwart Garry Monk, who narrowly edges out Jazz Richards, Alan Tate and Stephen Caulker (all 87%) for the best pass completion rate among the back four (Williams and Rangel hit 85% and 84% respectively).
Next to passing, perhaps the most important stat for midfield is tackling, as epitomised by the 'ball-winning midfielder' stereotype. We've already looked at tackling in the last blog about defence, so I'll put another spin on it this time and discount the Swans defenders from the tackle stats to see what we're left with :
Tackles Attempted (excluding defenders)
Just like the last time we looked at this category, Joe Allen tops the table. Unsurprisingly, ball-thief Leon Britton is second and equally unsurprisingly if you've spent any time watching the Swans, Nathan Dyer is next. Dyer has previously won my 'defender in disguise' award for his willingness in the tackle. Of course, as with passing, willingness is one thing, success another.
Excluding defenders once again (and based on players making 20 attempted tackles or more), the tackle % chart looks like this :
Dyer makes the cut, as does Allen, but the big surprise is that enigmatic winger Wayne Routledge is top of the chart. Routledge just scraped in to the reckoning having attempted 21 tackles this season. If you'd rather disregard Routledge's effort on the grounds of too few attempts, then the next best after Dyer was Sigurdsson, who won 71% of 28 attempted tackles (actually 71.43%, maths fans) having played slightly more minutes than Routledge despite only joining the team mid way through the season.
Sigurdsson comes up big again when we look at crosses attempted :
It is encouraging to see full back Neil Taylor on this list after watching him develop his forward runs towards the end of last season. However, Sigurdsson appears to surpass the nearest competition easily, although it is more than worth noting that Mark Gower played far fewer minutes than did Sigurdsson.
Gower's minutes-per-cross figure is 11.8, which isn't far off Sigurdsson's superior 10.9, proving that Mark Gower likes to get the ball forward, and not just sideways or backwards, contrary to both popular belief and visual evidence of actually watching him play. Gower tops the cross completion list, too :
Gower's 37% is very impressive, especially considering the number of crosses he made during the season; these aren't lucky numbers based on a small sampling. In fact, all three of the players on this list (and several just short of making the list) boasted figures better than any of the wingers selected to join England in the European Championships this year. Not bad for a team that generally keeps the ball on the ground.
Next up, we'll have a look at one area which Mark Gower dominated early on in the season, and not just among the Swans players, but across all of European football - chances created :
Gower's absence from the list is ironically down to the addition of Sigurdsson during the January window, which saw Gower drop to the bench. Sigurdsson's own figures are outstanding, especially given he played half the games of Allen and Dyer, who again assert themselves as Swansea's elite players.
Mark Gower actually made 31 chances this season, which is good for fourth on the list and equates to one chance every 36 minutes played, whereas Sigurdsson created one chance for every 32 minutes. To put that in context, David Silva, one of the Premier League's most dangerous playmakers, creates one chance every 27 minutes, playing on a well-stocked Man City side which can routinely out-match most opponents man-for-man and therefore expect to dominate most games. Siggy's not so far off that figure, especially given the patient play built-in to the Swansea game plan.
Next, we'll take a look at one of the least satisfying statistical categories in all sports : football (soccer) assists. As a quick aside, I don't know why football can't follow the same rules for attributing assists as, say, NHL ice hockey does. That's a system which makes sense and generally helps to recognise which players are active and involved in goal scoring plays. What actually qualifies as an assist in football is vague, open to interpretation, and results in such small figures as to question the worth of collecting such stats at all. Regardless, I think in principle assists is an important category, even if it is poorly implemented in football. Here's how the Swans player's made out :
Again, Mark Gower stands out on top of this list. No doubt many of his assists came as a direct result of the number of chances he created, as we saw in the last list. Which makes me wonder where Sigurdsson, Dyer and Allen got to? Like I've said, football assists make no sense.
It is nice to see Scott Sinclair make an appearance finally. Generally regarded as one of Swansea's more recognisable names, his contribution will be better appreciated next time when we look at attacking stats.