As before, nothing too systematic, just interesting odds and ends. Unless otherwise mentioned, all numbers come from WhoScored.com.
We’ll start with a quiz: what do the first four players in this list have in common, and why does the fifth not fit?
The answer: the first four were among the 27 Premier League players who took only one shot this year. Fernando took two.
King of the non-shot takers this season was Leon Britton, who helped keep Swansea City up by taking zero shots in 1176 minutes played. Incidentally, although Britton has 17 goals in all competitions in his career, he hasn’t scored in any competition since the Welsh side joined the Premier League.
Keeping on the low-shot theme, a special citation goes to Danny Simpson, who played almost 3,000 minutes this year and took only two shots. And a special special citation to Rickie Lambert, who played only 12 minutes and also took two shots. Both were blocked.
When a guy hits the woodwork, we say it’s bad luck, when of course it’s nothing of the sort. It’s missing the target. But even I might be tempted to call Kevin “Pinball Wizard” De Bruyne unlucky when he rattled the frame eight times this year, equalling Robin van Persie’s mark from 2011/12. Van Persie took 174 shots; De Bruyne needed only 86.
Pity Jermain Defoe. For the obvious reasons, of course, but also because he had 38.4% of his shots blocked this year – extraordinarily high for a central striker. Second highest this year was Diego Costa at 28.8%, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sergio Aguero close behind. This seems to be a recurring feature of Defoe’s game: in 2015/16, he was at 30.6%, and back in 2010/11 he hit 38.2%. But in other years his numbers have been more reasonable.
By the way, the players who have the largest percentage of their shots blocked are usually attacking midfielders, who shoot from farther out and have more defenders between them and the goal. Among players with at least 50 shots, this year’s champion was Adam Lallana, with 42.0% of his shots blocked. But a shout to Jordon Ibe, who had 10 of 15 shots blocked, or 66.7%.
Moving to dribbles, let’s talk about Chelsea. Eden Hazard was the big leader back in 2014/15 when he attempted 281 dribbles, one short of the league record, and the Blues won the title. This year they won the title again, but Hazard’s role changed significantly, and his dribbles dropped to only 186, well behind Wilfried Zaha’s 255. Who holds that league record? Wait for it…Charles N’Zogbia. Good times.
And on another Chelsea player, one of the ways you can tell that Costa is off his game is that he tries to dribble too much, rather than pass and move. He’s seventh in dribbles attempted, but has the second-lowest success rate of anyone in the top 20 in dribbles attempted, at 41.4%. Only Dele Alli is lower, at 39.2%.
One thing that Costa is good at is looking aggrieved when he thinks he’s been fouled, which is most of the time. His only competitor in that department is Zaha, but at least he’s got a good reason. This season Zaha was fouled 121 times, a record since the stat has been recorded. He also led that category last year, but with only 90. Zaha and Hazard are the only two players to have been fouled 100 times in a season.
You don’t have to be a Spurs fan to like Toby Alderweireld. The kit man probably likes him too, since this year he pulled off the Clean Shirt Double: among regular outfield players, he committed the fewest fouls per 90 minutes and suffered the fewest fouls per 90 minutes. Just call him Mr. Lilywhite.
Speaking of defenders, we’ll move to Liverpool, and a fascinating comparison between James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne. I came across this when looking at one of my favourite stats – crosses blocked – and finding that Milner led the league. His stats are on the left; Clyne’s are on the right:
Crosses blocked: 34 11
Tackles attempted: 143 103
Tackle success: 65.7% 77.7%
Fouls: 38 14
Yellow cards: 5 0
Clearances: 101 54
Two very different full-backs: one more physical, the other more technical. I don’t think anyone would dispute that Clyne is the better defender, which goes to show that defensive stats aren’t always easy to read. Paul Riley’s maps show that for all Milner’s tackling, cross-blocking, and fouling, Liverpool’s opponents created 28 chances from his wing, and just 17 from Clyne’s.
We all love a good penalty-box predator, and Fernando Llorente fits the bill. In fact, this year he took 52 shots and only one came from outside the penalty area. That puts him 93 behind the leader in that category, Christian Eriksen. This is the third straight year Eriksen has led the league in shots from outside the box. (In the first of those years he was tied with Philippe Coutinho, and in the second he nipped the Brazilian at the wire by a single shot.)
Another of my favourite stats is aerial duel percentage, because it’s as clean as a stat gets. No context needed: you’re good in the air or you’re not. First, the good. Among players with more than 2,000 minutes, Jan Vertonghen takes the title with 75.7%. Just to show he could do it on the big stage, he also won 75.0% in the Europa League, 75.0% in the European Championship, and 82.6% in the Champions League.
Now, the not good. Again with 2,000 minutes as the qualifier, Andre Gray takes the wooden spoon, winning only 12.9% of his aerial duels. And since it’s always a good time to mention Tom Cleverley, let’s mention Tom Cleverley. With Everton this year, he was a midfield Peter Crouch, winning three of three aerial duels. When he moved to Watford, someone put lead weights in his boots, and he won only one of 19.
In a stat I’m sure you’ll be thrilled by, 453 of the 543 players in the league made at least one key pass; even Papy Djilobodji. But let’s hand out some awards for key passes:
Christian Fuchs wins the Rory Delap Award with 11 key passes from throw-ins, eight more than anyone else.
Paul Pogba wins the Lionel Messi Award for most key passes from through balls, with nine.
Gylfi Sigurdsson wins the Gylfi Sigurdsson award with 55 key passes from free kicks and corners, destroying second place Christian Eriksen at 37.
We opened with a quiz, and so we’ll close with a quiz. All these stats refer to players who played only in midfield and logged at least 2,000 minutes.
Player number one: he was the busiest player in the league, making 87.4 passes per 90 minutes.
Player number two: he had the best touch in the league among midfielders, guilty of only 0.4 unsuccessful touches per 90 minutes.
Player number three: he was the hardest midfielder to dispossess, losing the ball to an opponent only 0.5 times per 90 minutes.
Take your time on this one.
Need hints? All three of these players played for a team in red shirts.
More? All three of these players wore number 14.
The answers? Jordan Henderson, Jordan Henderson, and Jordan Henderson. And from now on, that’s JFH for short.