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The stark realisation for Manchester United fans is that their Everton counterparts seem much happier without David Moyes. Even more so after their 1-0 win...
The now-ubiquitous presence of statistics in football analysis makes it much easier to criticise players for their imperfections. If a midfielder isn't making X interceptions per game, we want to know why. What do the heat maps say about his positional sense? How many of his passes in the final third found a teammate? For managers and journalists alike, the numbers provide cold, hard evidence of whether a player is doing their job or shirking responsibilities.
Conversely, the nature of statistical analysis can cloud our judgement of players leading to false praise or unjust rebuke. For example, no-one averages more tackles per game in the Premier League this season than Crystal Palace's Joel Ward, but is that because of the 23-year-old's remarkable application to his duties, or merely a product of Ward playing for the worst team in the division? It's of little surprise that a right-back for the relegation favourites is forced to make so many tackles, despite Ward's promising performances so far.
Statistical analysis also increases the demand for perfection, thus broadening the requirements of modern footballers in search of maximum contribution. While specific positions were previously championed - such as the 'Makelele role' in midfield - they are now rapidly disappearing. Midfielders are generally required to tackle, shoot, pass, key pass, assist, intercept, block, dribble, duel, duel aerially and a whole host of other burdens as hiding places vanish.
This is not the sort of versatility once exhibited by utility men such as Paul Warhurst and Ian Pearce, who were asked to 'do a job' across the pitch in the days of smaller squads and fewer foreign imports. While Warhurst was a jack of all trades, footballers are now required to be masters of everything.
Michael Carrick would not normally be expected to deputise in other positions (although he did appear at centre-back last season), but he is required to fulfil almost all the tasks of his teammates in his midfield role. Dribbling and crossing are obviously beyond him, given Carrick's central position, but neither is it sufficient that he has averaged the most interceptions in the Premier League this year as well as the highest number of passes.
Instead, it is asked why Carrick creates only 1.3 chances per game and why he is yet to provide an assist as United struggle for creativity. And, although interceptions have superseded tackles in the modern game, surely a few more robust challenges wouldn't go amiss. Indeed, the term 'complete midfielder' is now largely redundant, with all midfielders required to show completion, both in their passing rates and general aptitude.
It is for this reason that Andre Villas-Boas has preferred Mousa Dembele and Paulinho to Sandro at the start of this campaign, despite the Brazilian arguably being the strongest of Spurs' midfield options. Elsewhere, Manchesters City and United didn't spend roughly £30million each on Fernandinho and Marouane Fellaini just to watch them sit and hold, while Arsene Wenger's renewed faith in Mathieu Flamini and his 'dark role' stands out for being unusual, hinting at a bygone era dealing in the particular.
The same expansion can be seen in other positions across the pitch as roles grow under increased analysis. Liverpool number one Simon Mignolet is undoubtedly a superb goalkeeper in the purest definition of the term, but that is no longer enough as we ponder how good he is with his feet. That Mignolet's distribution falls way below Pepe Reina's ability is a concern to Liverpool, where there is still an onus on retaining possession despite Brendan Rodgers' tweaks to his system.
Similarly, we have seen changes in the requirements of strikers, with Adam Bate discussing the anachronism of Javier Hernandez here, and how the Manchester United forward is a player behind his time. Centre-forwards are no longer tasked solely with finding the back of the net. Instead, they must bring teammates into play, work the channels and, notably in the cases of Andy Carroll and Robin van Persie, offer crucial cover when defending set-pieces. It is a multi-functional role in which goals, rather perversely, are now underrated.
But how much do we understand the increased demand we are placing on players? And how much do we wish to airbrush inefficiencies? In our discussion of Danny Welbeck's strengths and weaknesses this week, it was interesting to note Sir Alex Ferguson's appraisal of the England international's performances in 2012/13. "He got nine goals last season but if you are going to be a top striker you have to get 20 or above," he said. Clearly it is unfair to demand such a contribution from a player he neither played as a striker nor encouraged to show those instincts from the wing.
Perhaps by opening Pandora's Box of magic numbers, we have come to expect too much from footballers. The brilliance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is often dumbed down into raw data that sedates our emotional appreciation, with our eyes no longer required to do all the work. But football is not a precise science and we would do well to remember that our curiousity is bound to unearth imperfections. The microscope is a powerful tool and one that should be used sympathetically.
Matthew Stanger - he's on the Twitter.
Wenger said that Carrick was the Premier League's best player last season. Not Bale, not Van Persie or Suarez. Carrick. Whilst arguably the greatest British manager of all time, Alex Ferguson, made Carrick the heart of the best team in the country for 5 of the last 7 seasons having previously gone three seasons without a PL title prior to Carrick's arrival. But f365 writers disagree with Wenger and Fergie - in recent seasons they preferred Parker and Barry. Oh yes, and Tom Cleverley. And then there's Aaron Ramsey, a player that Fergie himself tried to sign a few years back, and one who Wenger persisted with when many pundits would have sold him. Now he's arguably the best midfielder in the league. Another player that f365 writers wrote off on numerous occasions. Two great managers with similar views about two great players. But the f365 writers know better! I'm looking forward to knowing who the next great player that this site is going to write off. Did some say, Andros Townsend? How many shots without scoring?- carrick4england