This season’s two top scorers, Robin van Persie (18) and Luis Suárez (16), have been central to Manchester United and Liverpool teams who have had varying levels of success. Two very different players stylistically, the pair have established themselves as the Premier League’s striking elite.
Van Persie’s game is a clinical one, and with the ability to score goals of every description from almost anywhere on the pitch, the Dutchman has carried on for United where he left off with Arsenal.
Indefatigable in winning the ball back from the opposition, creative with it, Suárez has already scored five more goals this season than he did in the whole of 2011/12. With the January arrival of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea, and the early signs that his signing could be the perfect foil for Suárez, the Uruguayan is currently enjoying his best spell in a Liverpool shirt.
Van Persie’s stellar return of 30 goals for Arsenal in 2011/12 ensured he won both the Professional Footballers’ Association’s and Football Writers’ Association’s Player of the Year and with 9 assists to his name, he was demonstrably superior to Luis Suárez who finished the season with 11 goals and 3 assists.
The stats show that whilst van Persie outperformed Suárez last season, Suárez has very much closed the gap this season.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that van Persie is often attributed as being the most proven finisher in the league, yet his clear-cut chance conversion of 39% is eclipsed by Suárez’s 52%. More than that, Suárez is managing a shot every 21 minutes compared to van Persie’s 26 minutes.
However, van Persie is averaging a goal in the league every 103 minutes whilst Suárez registers every 126 minutes, and that is arguably the most telling difference.
On the other hand, when you consider that Suárez scored a goal every 232 minutes last season, his improvement this year is substantial. This is consolidated by the fact that in 2011/12 his clear-cut chance conversion was a meager 25%.
Van Persie’s position for Arsenal in 2011/12 and Manchester United in 2012/13 has been as the focal point in the team’s attack, when once he performed the role of ‘the number 10’. Last season for Arsenal he scored 93% of his goals from inside the box and this season he has scored 89% from inside the box for Manchester United. Contrast this to Suárez who has scored 75% of his 16 goals from inside the box in 2012/13 and the reason for their respective goal tallies becomes clear. Van Persie performs the role of the classic striker whereas Suárez is free to roam, and this makes his scoring rate this season all the more impressive.
The stats for the players’ creativity highlights just how different the two are in terms of the way they play. Suárez has completed 69 dribbles this season, whereas van Persie has managed just 18. This is given more emphasis when you consider that Suárez completed 76 dribbles in the whole of last season, a figure which he is surely set to surpass.
This level of difference is repeated in the players’ respective crossing stats. Van Persie has crossed the ball a total of 106 times, far greater than Suárez’s 37. Nevertheless, only Everton’s Leighton Baines (77) has created more chances than Suárez (64) this season. Suárez created the same number of chances in the entire 2011/12 season, which is indicative of his vast improvement. Van Persie is, however, creating a clear-cut chance every 184 minutes, somewhat better than Suárez’s effort of 197 minutes.
Clearly then, Suarez and van Persie employ contrasting styles, which are equally effective. Once more though, the telling difference in terms of creativity is that van Persie has notched 6 assists in contrast to Suárez’s 3.
With more goals and more assists to his name, van Persie has marginally outshone Suárez this season.
Despite that, the players are virtually inseparable when it comes to passing. Both players have a final third pass completion of 73% and Suárez’s overall pass completion is only slightly higher at 75% compared to van Persie’s 72%.
Suárez’s willingness to dribble with the ball means he is more susceptible to losing possession and whilst he has lost it 84 times this season compared to van Persie’s 36, Suárez (58) has been dispossessed only slightly more often than van Persie (45). This reaffirms that, given his style of play, Suárez is effective at using the ball when in possession.
The Uruguayan is equally keen to win the ball back when his team doesn’t have possession. His number of total ground 50-50’s stands at 339, dwarfing van Persie’s 139. The pair both have a tackle success rate of 80%, though Suárez has won the ball back in the attacking third 19 times compared to van Persie’s 13.
Suárez’s improvement from last season is clear: he has scored more goals and is creating more chances. The fact that van Persie has been able to maintain such a high standard is equally impressive, and whilst he may have the edge in the stats that matter, the overall difference is becoming less readily apparent.
Whether you admire Suárez’s ability to harrow a defence, nutmeg a defender and then score a clever goal, or appreciate van Persie’s unnerving ability to finish so cooly, there is no doubt that both are outstanding players.
Both van Persie and Suárez are at the heart of everything that is good about Manchester United and Liverpool, and both teams will rely on their talismans to perform in the second half of the season, the way they did in the first.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.
3rd Year Sports Student at University of Southampton. Sport fanatic. @Chris__Fleming Researcher for Infostrada Sports and reporter for the IPC at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
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