This is the second of two statistical wrap-ups of the Premier League season. Number one covered team stats, so this one is on individual stats, in most cases with a minimum of 1,500 minutes played. But there’ll be a slight difference. Since you probably already know or can guess some of the big individual stats – goals, assists, dribbles, tackles – here we’ll spend more time with numbers somewhat out of the ordinary.
And why not start with Christian Eriksen, a player very much out of the ordinary? Before this season, he had led the league in shots from outside the area for three straight years. Last year he had an amazing 94. This year, though, he dropped to 62, and was bested by Kevin de Bruyne’s 72.
But Eriksen did stand out in one important respect: among outfield players, he had the best disciplinary record in the league. That’s 3,226 minutes in 37 appearances without a single card of any color. Not the record, though – back in 2011/12, Aaron Hughes of Fulham logged 3,406 minutes – only 14 short of a full season – without being sanctioned. He was getting on a bit then, and amazingly, he’s still playing for club (Hearts) and country (Northern Ireland). But Eriksen now holds the record for midfielders.
Who had the worst disciplinary record? In total yellows, Oriol Romeu. In yellows/90, your friend and mine, Ashley Barnes, the guy I want on my side in a Demolition Derby. In fouls committed/90, a fellow old-style centre-forward, Glenn Murray, topped the table. That’s often the way, because strikers are always competing for balls with physical defenders. In this category Peter Crouch was second, and Barnes fourth.
Those kinds of players always lead in one of my favorite weird categories: most goals without registering an assist. Murray had 12, Barnes 9, Javier Hernández 8, and Charlie Austin 7. Jamie Vardy gets a special citation for scoring 20 goals and providing only one assist.
As we know, Vardy is going to Russia, and there are those who think he should start against Belgium. Well, here’s a reason in support. In fact, have two reasons – maybe. Vardy led league strikers by a huge margin in fewest times dispossessed/90, and finished second to Troy Deeney in fewest bad touches/90. Sounds like fantastic ball control, but Vardy’s behind-the-defence style means he’s challenged less often by would-be tacklers. In fact, he finished an astonishing 129th in the league in times fouled/90. Eden Hazard was the guy hacked down most frequently, followed closely by Richarlison, with Barnes leading among strikers.
We talked earlier about shots from outside the area. Let’s go now to shots inside the six-yard box. It’s Harry Kane who got in close the most, beating out Gabriel Jesus by 18 to 16, but Jesus played significantly fewer minutes, and so leads Kane in shots inside the six-yard box/90. Aguero and Sterling, other exponents of Pepball, follow in third and fourth.
Shots sometimes go in, sometimes get saved, and sometimes miss the target. But they also get blocked, and percentage of shots blocked is an obscure but telling stat. It says a lot about which players get into good positions and which don’t. The highest percentages generally belong to attacking midfielders, who are shooting with more bodies in the way. If we take 50 shots as the minimum, the leader was the dear departed Philippe Coutinho, with 42.6%. But second was a player who played mostly as winger or striker, Jordan Ayew, with 39.4% of his shots blocked. For comparison, Jesus was at 16.1%, Aguero 21.3%, Sterling 21.8%, Mo Salah 22.9%. Ayew’s total says a lot about why Swansea had difficulties scoring.
The related stat is percentage of shots on target, and with 50 shots minimum, the winner by a mile was Jesus, at 58.9%. You can see why he’s Guardiola’s choice to take over from Aguero. The wild man of the league, with only 22.6% of his shots on target, was England’s answer to Arjen Robben…Andros Townsend, of course. He was closely followed by Richarlison and Paul Pogba. And spare a thought for Renato Sanches, who had enough troubles this season without missing the target on all 12 of his shots. Marvin Zeegelaar of Watford played it safe, going 995 minutes without taking a single shot. And Jan Bednarek, defender for Southampton, took one shot all season. It went in.
After all this stuff about shots, let’s ask a simple question: why did Mo Salah win the Golden Boot instead of Harry Kane? Because he scored more goals. Why did he score more goals? Partly because Kane hit the woodwork five times, a league high, and Salah not at all. In fact, Salah set the all-time record, taking 144 shots without anyone saying “he was desperately unlucky there”.
I love body part numbers, and not just my wife’s. Who was the most two-footed scorer in the league, ten goals minimum? Son Heung-min, five with his right and five with his left. Marko Arnautovic delivered six and five, Kane checked in with an excellent 13 and 10, Eriksen had four and six (yes, he scored more with his left), and Sterling a surprisingly balanced 11 and seven. Who was the most one-footed scorer? Leroy Sané, who scored all 10 of his goals with the left foot. But at least he tried, taking 13 shots with his right. Charlie Austin took 38 shots with his feet, 37 with his right. The most two-footed shooter, 40 shots minimum, was Dwight Gayle, 22 shots right and 21 left. Santi Cazorla would have been proud.
Let’s take an excursion to goalkeeper stats. Jack Butland, marooned behind Stoke City’s defence, led the league with 142 saves, 11 of which stopped shots from inside the six-yard box. Neither of those is close to the record, though. Ben Foster saved 169 shots one year with Birmingham City, and Shay Given once made 16 close-range stops for Aston Villa.
But these days the only keeper stat that matters is shot-stopping rating, looking at shots faced and calculating the ratio of expected goals to actual goals allowed. That means if your rating is 1.0, you’re exactly average; above that is good, below is bad. Using Paul Riley’s xG numbers (which don’t include the last week of the season), the runaway leader was David de Gea at 1.63, with 42 expected goals but only 26 goals allowed. That makes him a stunning 16 goals better than an average keeper.
The rest of the rankings offer food for thought. If you’re wondering why Nick Pope is going to Russia and Joe Hart isn’t, Pope ranked a clear second in the league at 1.38 (12 goals better than average), and Hart ranked 21st at 0.86 (five goals worse than average). A surprising third in the league was Mat Ryan, particularly impressive since he’s small for a top-flight keeper. And Liverpool fans, your man Klopp made the right move: Loris Karius ranked fourth, Simon Mignolet 20th.
But here’s a shocker, for me the most surprising stat of the year. Southampton fans won’t believe it. I don’t believe it. But the rankings show Fraser Forster substantially ahead of Alex McCarthy, 0.98 to 0.85, which places Forster an almost exactly average 12th, and McCarthy 23rd out of 25. This is the spot where stats people say “trust the numbers, not your eyes”. Well, I’m going to trust the numbers, but I’m not happy about it. And I’m going to watch McCarthy very, very carefully next year.
If we’re talking about eyes and numbers, let’s talk Cesc Fabregas. A few weeks ago I picked him as one of the disappointments of the season, and was criticised for that call in the mailbox. I admit I trusted my eyes, and not the numbers. I was floored to find that he was top in the league for key passes/90. Looks like I got it flat wrong. But a huge 39.6% of those key passes came from set pieces. From open play, he ranked eighth. That’s a significant drop from last year, where he ranked a clear first if we drop the qualifier to 1,300 minutes. Moreover, last season only 17.8% of his key passes came from set pieces. So in one sense that’s a genuine decline – you decide whether it’s enough to make a Disappointing XI.
Our final set of numbers involves aerials. We start with aerial duel percentage. As I say every time the subject comes up, this is my favourite stat of all, because it’s almost entirely context-free. It doesn’t matter who you play for; it’s a pure measure of skill. Numbers one and two on this list were yet another surprise to me. Jamaal Lascelles? Ryan Shawcross? Shane Duffy? Jan Vertonghen? James Tarkowski and/or Ben Mee? Nope. A clear first was Kurt Zouma at 77.3%, and a clear second was Gary Cahill (!) at 75.0%, his best ever number since the stats have been kept. Maybe Gareth Southgate knows something. Oh, and don’t send long balls to Pedro. He lost all 18 of his aerial duels.
Among strikers, the best in the air was (stop the presses) Peter Crouch, at 64.8%. That’s outstanding for a striker. But outstanding doesn’t begin to describe Crouch’s other aerial numbers. If we go to aerial duels fought/90, he totaled 21.4, smashing the record of 19.3 held by Rudy Gestede with Aston Villa. Look at that number closely. It means when he was in the game, he was in an aerial duel about once every 4½ minutes, and since Stoke City had the ball less than 50% of the time, it means roughly every two minutes of possession they sent one up to the big man. And that wasn’t just Plan B – he started 14 games this season. Wonder why they got relegated?
But let’s go one step further, with my choice for individual stat of the season. Because Crouch was so good in the air this year, we move from aerial duels fought/90 to aerial duels won/90. The record had been 11.5, held by Crouch himself. He didn’t just smash that record, he Bob Beamoned it, winning 14.1 aerial duels per 90 minutes. That’s a 22.6% improvement. Mo Salah would have needed 38 goals to match it. Kevin de Bruyne would have needed 25 assists. Manchester City would have needed…yeah, well, they did it, actually.
See you in August!
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