Raheem Sterling and the ‘data’ that proves he is actually sh*t for England

Date published: Thursday 1st December 2022 2:41 - Editor F365

Raheem Sterling celebrates England goal v Iran

While all the English tabloids get giddy about photographs of England players in a pool (It’s all going swimmingly!) and The Sun pretend that obtaining an exclusive interview with Chesney Hawkes is worthy of a front page while the actual country goes to sh*t, the real talk begins about who should start for England in three long days’ time.

We have covered this debate ourselves and declared it a nonsense as a) Gareth Southgate is the manager and b) it’s not as simple as choosing the player who has scored the most goals.

But why let that get in the way of all the fun of the speculation? And as usual it’s Raheem Sterling who has to take the role of fall guy. It was ever thus.

Obviously the headline is different online because clicks. So that becomes:

‘Revealed: The stats that show Harry Kane is not playing as a striker’

Well he is. He just isn’t playing as the sort of striker that stands in the box waiting for crosses. But crucially, he is playing as the sort of striker who is creating goals for his teammates, which is what he often does for both England and Tottenham to the fury of a) yer da and b) journalists and pundits who really should know better.

But what of Sterling?

‘Telegraph Sport has obtained the Fifa data that has been sent to Southgate and his backroom staff, and it does not make encouraging reading for Sterling.’

First, what they have ‘obtained’ are the kind of statistics that are freely available on the internet. Second, the statistics they have ‘obtained’ really do boil down to ‘Sterling has not scored as many goals as Rashford’. Third, we are pretty sure that Gareth Southgate has his own data that goes way, way beyond the Fifa statistics.

‘Marcus Rashford netted twice against Wales to put himself in contention to win the World Cup Golden Boot and the stats that Southgate will have received make it even harder to drop the Manchester United forward.’

That does evoke the wonderful image of Southgate being pretty sure of his team for the clash with Senegal – based on performances in training, history and his own data – before opening his e-mails, sitting back, saying ‘shucks’ and then diligently crossing out names.

‘Foden also scored against Wales and he and Saka, who netted twice in the victory over Iran, can make a better case for selection against Senegal than Sterling, according to the data.’

So Sterling – the only one of those wide forwards to be credited with an assist at this tournament – is now not just an inferior option to Rashford but to Saka and Foden too.

‘Other than casting doubt over Sterling’s place, the data has also highlighted the fact Kane is yet to pose a goal threat for England at the World Cup and has effectively been operating as a false nine.’

Because our eyes are not enough. And we are all going to collectively forget the chance he had v USA, described as a ‘great late headed chance’ by the very same writer – Matt Law – who is now declaring Kane not to be a goal threat.

‘Having assisted three times, Kane’s position is not under threat and Southgate has proved in the past, as in the case of Harry Maguire, that he is prepared to ignore stats and keep faith with players who have consistently performed for him.’

Erm, Harry Kane will not keep his England place because Southgate ‘ignores stats’; Harry Kane will keep his England place because he is their most important player.

‘Harry Kane became the first England player since David Beckham 20 years ago to assist three goals at a World Cup by setting up Phil Foden against Wales. But the striker got nowhere near scoring himself during the three Group B games, which may be some concern with tougher tests on the horizon.’

Apart from that ‘great late headed chance’ v the United States, of course.

‘Marcus Rashford has put himself firmly in the race for the World Cup golden boot with his three goals so far and it is hard to think of any other nation debating whether or not their leading scorer at the tournament should keep his place. Unsurprisingly, the data supports the fact that Rashford has been England’s best forward player, despite a relatively poor first half against Wales.’

The ‘data’ basically consists of a list of the England players who have had the most shots and how many of them are on target. We could have told you that Rashford would come out on top in all those metrics (even without ‘obtaining’ Fifa data). And on that evidence alone, Rashford should start v Senegal, though we are yet to see any evidence why Sterling should not start too.

‘On numbers alone, Saka has a better case than Sterling to come back in for the last-16 match against Sengal.’

The ‘numbers’ are that Saka has run further than Sterling, which are offered without the context that Saka has quite simply played more. Which seems important. We’re then told how much further Foden ran v Wales than Saka ran v the USA, so join us in being truly shocked that a man who played 90 minutes plus stoppages ran more than one who played 77 minutes.

Data is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.

We are also treated to this statistic:

‘Top passing %: Rashford 100 (v USA), Foden 89 (v Iran), Sterling 95 (v USA), Saka 81 (v Iran).’

Pesky but quite important fact: Rashford made two passes v the USA. So with any sensible parameters, Sterling has the best pass completion rate of any of those forwards.

So we’re still waiting for evidence that both Foden and Saka ‘can make a better case for selection against Senegal than Sterling, according to the data’.

Meanehile, Mediawatch can tell you from Opta data that Sterling has beaten more players that either Foden or Saka at this World Cup, with Saka failing with six of his seven attempts to dribble past the opposition.

Indeed, it was Law himself who wrote that ‘the Chelsea star worried the USA defenders with his pace and trickery going forwards early on’. But that has now been forgotten as we must all unite in the notion that actually, he has been utter sh*t. Apart from when he scored that goal, made that goal, found teammates with all those passes, or went past defenders. And we will pretend it is about the ‘data’.

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