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Swansea City
Posted by Max Hicks on 06/12/2012

In the last instalment of my statistical Swans season breakdown, I'll be looking at a Swansea City 'best eleven'. There aren't many surprises, but there is plenty of food for thought.

I have taken the statistical categories I explored in my previous stats roundup entries (attack, midfield and defence) and calculated each players performance per 90 minutes. This means I was also able to include fringe players like Alan Tate and Jazz Richards, who previously escaped scrutiny by having only played a handful of games.

It stands to reason that the figures for fringe players are based on a significantly smaller sample than for first team players, but keep in mind this examination is meant to be as much a bit of fun as a thought provoking sober analysis.

On with the show, then. First up...

Goalkeeper



Well, this one's easy. It has to be #1 Michel Vorm, who played all but one game this season and has proven to be worth ten times his transfer fee. 'nuff said.

Centre Back

Next, central defence. Over the season, the Swans mostly used three centre backs; Ash Williams, Steven Caulker and Garry Monk. Alan Tate also played some games, but I've included him under the full backs list later on, as he covered that position slightly more often. Also, Vangelis Moras isn't included, having left the club in January, featuring for all of five minutes.

Here's a look at some key statistical categories for central defenders. Clicking on the image will open up a larger copy which ought to be easier to read.


As the figures show, there really wasn't much between all three players on paper. Where one player excelled in one category (Williams' clearances, say), another excelled elsewhere (Caulker's low number of free kicks conceded, Monk's pass percentage). Ultimately, however, Monk's last place status in interceptions and blocks and higher number of instances of being dribbled past betrays his comparative lack of mobility. Williams figures are solid across the board (though he could do with fouling a little less), whereas Steven Caulker's error free game and general heroism (goal-line clearances, last man tackles) mean the two 'best eleven' centre halves have to be #2 Williams and #4 Caulker.

Full Back

Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor are the de facto starting full backs, but as both players suffered spells with injury or suspension this season, Jazz Richards and Alan Tate got some playing time, too. Here's a look at the stats :

One of the first things you might notice is how Alan Tate's figures are better suited to centre back (high clearances and blocks, no crosses), a position he might prefer to play. Tate's significantly higher chances created figure appears to be an anomaly. All the players in this list are good passers, with youngster Jazz Richards the most aggressive tackler (most attempts, most won and a high number of yellow cards given his limited appearances).

Rangel asserts himself in making the most interceptions and last man tackles - evidence of his under-rated defensive acumen - and also has the second highest clearances. It's safe to say Rangel makes the cut. Ruling Tate out of the running for being a converted centre half / utility man, that makes it a two horse race for left back - Richards versus Taylor.

Richards looks good; on top of his fondness for attempting tackles, he passes the ball more often and is marginally more successful in doing so, and his percentage of completed crosses is the highest of the group. However, the quality of those crosses might be a little lacking, as evidenced by his low chances created score. Similarly, although he tackles more often than Taylor, he is not as effective in the tackle, and perhaps most tellingly, he is dribbled past more often than Taylor by a significant margin. All these factors conspire to expose Richards' youth - they build up a picture of an enthusiastic but raw player, which seems about right.

On those grounds, Taylor's more measured performance means he takes the left back spot. Just like in 'real life', our full backs are #22 Rangel and #3 Taylor.

Midfield

Next, it's the turn of the midfielders to impress. Specifically, the two central, deeper midfielders as utilised in Rodgers' favoured 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 system. The system was often modified (especially when facing superior opposition in the pre-Siggy days) to feature three deep midfielders at the expense of the advanced attacking mid (the position Siggy made his own, which we'll look at later), but post January, it was increasingly the case that Sigurdsson would occupy the attacking position higher up, drifting slightly to the right to allow for Joe Allen's runs from deep central left. With that in mind, I have based this 'best eleven' on the 4-2-3-1, which means we'll be looking to pick out the two (and not the three) best central midfielders in this section.

Midfield is a complex position, as we can see from the sheer number of categories in this chart. Of course, not every midfielder is given the same role to play, so there will be imbalances in the stats as we compare players.

A quick overview of the figures tells us that Joe Allen is probably deserving of that ridiculous rumour which had him going to Real Madrid for £12 million last week. His passing percentage is second only to Leon Britton, who was the best passer in all of Europe last year (Allen was 9th), and he boasts solid figures in pretty much every category except aerial challenges, which you'd expect. Like Britton, Allen has a decidedly positive fouls won to fouls conceded ratio, whilst his tackling stats and interceptions figure show his defensive ability. So Allen makes the team, but who plays alongside him?

Going by the figures alone, bit-part players Kemy Agustien and Mark Gower make compelling arguments for their inclusion. Gower's vaunted chance creation is now the stuff of legend, whilst he also has superb crossing stats (albeit bolstered by his status as set-piece taker). Agustien, meanwhile, is the best tackler and easily superior in the air. However, both Agustien and especially Gower are considerably more likely to concede free kicks that the other players.

Orlandi is an interesting case. His appearances this season were severely limited due to injury, and one of his rare starts came when Rodgers' was using the experimental 3-4-3 formation versus Wolves (Orlandi played on the left of the midfield four, scored early, and looked good until his substitution).

His figures really mark him out as an attacking threat more than a central midfielder, and I could have included him in the attacking mids section later on. He is shot-happy, shoots on target (50% is a good figure here, as we will see), loves to run with the ball (his 3.05 dribbles per game are better even than Nathan Dyer) and is a chance creator. If Gylfi Sigurdsson doesn't come back to Swansea, the new Swans boss might want to give Orlandi a good, long look in the same role (assuming he plays a similar system).

Finally, we have Leon Britton. Apart from his excellent passing, Britton's game is one which really doesn't stand out on the stats sheet. Perhaps this is why he was allowed to slip through the gaps of top flight football for so long and end up with the then-lowly Swans? (Probably not. Football clubs have only very recently started putting a little faith in figures).

In any case, at the risk of appearing to be a coward, I offer a caveat : any Swans fan knows the importance of Leon to the team effort. He is the tick and the tock in the heart of the Swansea clock. His composure and willingness to take the ball under pressure and still deliver flawless passes upfield is not a skill which shows up easily on the stat sheet (at least not basic stats like these). Likewise his positioning and his ability to steal balls so sweetly that the event doesn't even register as a bone fide tackle. For all those reasons, I am going to choose Britton for the other midfield role. I did say at the start there wouldn't be many surprises.

So the central midfielders are #24 Joe Allen and #7 Leon Britton.

Attacking Midfield

Next up it's Siggy versus Dobbie in a head-to-head match-up that might help resolve a few forum debates, as we look at the pivotal attacking midfield position.

With just two players to assess, the stats are easy to read. Sigurdsson's superlative 0.42 goals per 90 minutes was always going to beat Dobbie, who barely had chance to score in his limited cameo appearances.

What is interesting is that both men shoot often, and almost as often as each other, Dobbie actually slightly more, which, as I discussed in my attacking stats round-up is a key factor (and an obvious one) in most goalscoring success.

Dobbie even put more of his shots on target, and yet was a continual source of frustration in a Swans shirt this season as he routinely telegraphed 25 yarders over the bar or hit them softly and straight to the keeper's chest. The quality of shots is not something these stats can convey, but is clearly a decisive factor.

Sigurdsson is the better passer, and his 2.82 chances created per game is fantastic (although Dobbie's 0.70 is respectable). Sigurdsson is again superior in the air, although both men are equal in dribbles and tackling.

There is a good argument that says it is unfair to compare the players in this way, as Dobbie's stats are largely derived from compounding a handful of late substitute appearances and not many full starts - the player has hardly had time to develop any fluidity of play. Nevertheless, this was all I had to base the figures on, and although both men are equal in some areas, Sigurdsson is clearly in a different class in others.

There is a chance Sigurdsson doesn't come back to the Swans next season, whereas Dobbie, on loan at Blackpool, will return. With a new manager, perhaps Dobbie will get a chance to improve on those figures after all. For now, however, the attacking midfielder in this best eleven is #42 Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Wingers

Swansea are blessed with three gifted wingers who can each play on either flank. Although Scott Sinclair is the more recognisable name among non-Swans fans, I have heard a degree of support for each possible combination of these three as Swansea's best winger duo. So which two should rightfully start?

Looking through the stats, we can see three trends, one for each player. Scott Sinclair is a soloist; he puts the fewest crosses in (although he is more successful than the others when he does), he takes easily the most shots of the three and creates the fewest chances for other players. Wayne Routledge is the opposite; the fewest shots, the smallest goal return, the most crosses and the most assists. Somewhere in between is Nathan Dyer, who also tackles most, dribbles the most and, probably as a consequence, draws the most fouls, making him a particularly useful player.

Hence, the decision for which two ought to start might come down to what you want from your wingers. For my money, Nathan Dyer has to start - his all round game is too strong to drop him. On the other flank, pick Sinclair if you want a goal-scoring winger, or Routledge if you want a goal-provider. Situationally, it would probably depend on the relative strengths of the opposition defence and wide players.

For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to remain unsurprising and pick #11 Scott Sinclair and #12 Nathan Dyer. The Swans only use one striker after all, so some auxiliary scoring is essential.

Striker

We've got ten of the 'best eleven' already (well done if you're still with us). Finally, it's time to choose a striker.

The Swans have fielded three main strikers this season, with Graham winning the starting job early on (was it ever in doubt, given his transfer fee?). As strikers go, Graham is a fine choice, but the figures tell us something interesting about one of his competitors. First, let's deal with Graham.

The goal return per 90 minutes was remarkably similar for each player. However, Graham's percentage of shots on target is perhaps the most significant factor in his superiority. Both Luke Moore and Leroy Lita have very impressive shooting efficacy figures (that measures the percentage chance a goal is scored following a shot on target), but neither men have Graham's touch for putting the ball on net in the first place, although Moore is a pretty decent second.

Leroy Lita's baffling aerial domination is borne out by the figures (I was surprised to see Graham's aerial percentage so low), whilst Graham asserts himself as easily the best tackler of the bunch. However, it is Luke Moore who dominates almost all the other stats.

Moore creates the most chances (although he ended the season with no assists), has the best pass percentage and attempts the most tackles per game, even if he isn't as effective in the tackle as Graham, as shown by his poor fouling record. Moore's free kick figures show he is a handful physically, although more often than not this is not to the Swans advantage (more free kicks conceded than won).

Moore only goes five shots between goals and scores on 20% of the shots he takes. I feel like these impressive shooting figures would drop slightly if he played more games (or shot more, since he takes the fewest shots of the three forwards). Nevertheless, the figures make a compelling case for Moore as a potential first team player.

All this was news to me, and probably the biggest shock of the project. With all due respect to Luke Moore, he often looks lackadaisical and uninterested on the field; to see the figures prove he actually makes a good effort out there was encouraging. However, his comparative reluctance to shoot coupled with his high pass percentage, chance creation and physical play earmarks Moore as a deep-lying forward or target man, something the Swans don't really utilise at present.

I also have my doubts that Moore is sufficiently crafty to play the attacking midfield / Sigurdsson role behind the lone striker. He certainly doesn't seem agile enough for starts, but played as one striker in a two striker system, I can imagine Moore would be successful.

Revelations aside, I have to complete an entirely predictable best eleven selection with #10 Danny Graham. Graham's nose for goal is exactly what a lone striker system demands.

Here's the final best eleven :

Looks familiar? Seems like Brendan really knew who his best players were all along, which shouldn't be surprising. Of course, there is the likelihood of statistical corruption given the fringe players' stats were aggregates of small patches of play rather than prolonged stretches of first team football. Also, the Swans squad is thin, and having no sustained cup runs this season, the pool of both players and matches for the players to play in were almost as small as they possibly could have been (plus, I only used Premier League games for the basis of these stats).

Still, I hope the analysis has been fun and a little bit thought provoking. Orlandi looks set to make a splash next season (injury permitting), and the varied skill sets of the Swans midfielders will give the new boss plenty of options. And that's to say nothing of the inevitable new signings we'll be seeing shortly... roll on next season!

Some graphic elements courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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