When Tottenham finished 4th in 2009-10, Tom Huddlestone made 33 Premier League appearances. He was a vital part of a successful team. Last season he made only 13 starts. Is it possible that his absence was a major factor in a less successful Tottenham team?
How big is big Tom?
After making his senior England debut and playing an important role in the charge for 4th, injury caused Huddlestone to miss most of an important season in his career. Despite his injury problems, he was present for 6 wins, 5 draws and 2 losses. Spurs won 46% of their matches with Huddlestone, as compared with 42% for the season as a whole and 40% without him. They also drew a greater than average proportion of matches and lost only 15% of matches with him (21% total average and 24% without him). Had Tottenham accrued points at the same rate through the entire season that they did for his 13 appearances, they would have beaten Arsenal to that 4th place by one point.
Icing on the cake?
When Huddlestone started matches, Spurs matched their season average of 77% completed passes and exceeded their average number of completed passes (405 to 385). They also matched their rate of passes into forward areas, 55% of passes went forward with and without Huddlestone. Tottenham completed 5% less of those forward passes with Huddlestone in the starting 11.
They averaged 20 shots per game with him and 16.9 without him. 14 chances created per game and 12 per game without him. These are slim margins, but evidently, Spurs were more of an attacking threat with Tom Huddlestone in the team.
Heads and shoulders
It is interesting to compare Huddlestone’s statistics with those of his midfield colleagues at Tottenham. He averaged more touches per game Rafael Van Der Vaart, Sandro and Wilson Palacios. His 79 touches per game sit well behind leaders like Charlie Adam (89) and Cesc Fabregas (100+) but are only 8 less than teammate Luka Modric.
A physical presence
Perhaps the most surprising statistic, Huddlestone completed a greater proportion of tackles than any other Spurs midfielder and Tottenham were a more robust defensive side with him in the team. They made 75% successful tackles with him and only 71% without him. His statistics also suggest a more complete player than any of his teammates. His tackling was statistically more effective even than Sandro and Palacios, two players known primarily as defensive midfielders. Huddlestone’s effective tackle rate of 86% is among the best in the league for a midfielder. His pass completion rate was only 81%, lower than Modric (84%), Jenas (87%) and even Palacios (86%) but was still higher than Van der Vaart and Sandro. His long passing statistics were quite poor and these dragged his overall stats down. Excluding long passes, Huddlestone has the highest rate of completed passes of all Tottenham midfielders.
A big hole in the team
Tom Huddlestone is clearly an important player, certainly the statistics show that. He also brings a unique combination of physicality and creativity which Spurs’ other midfield options lack. If his brief season can be taken as a guide, Huddlestone’s absence may have been a decisive factor in Spurs finishing 5th in 2010-11.