Our tactical expert Stephen McCarthy looks at creating an Ultimate Team deriving each position via Opta Stats and allocating points per statistic. An interesting concept! This article is now free to read for all.
With the veritable dearth of statistics available from EPL Index I thought it might be fun to put together a Premier League Ultimate Team based on those statistics for the season so far. First off we need to consider how we would like our Ultimate Team to play. What is our footballing philosophy? Would we like a team whose focus is pass and move? Or a team who plays a lot of long balls? A team who is tough to beat, and who like to get stuck in: or all the above?
In the defensive phase will it press high or will it sit back and let the opposition have the ball and wait for a counter-attack? Well considering it is an Ultimate Team wouldn’t we like that team to aim for perfection? And who better to try to emulate than Barcelona. I read a brilliant interview with Xabi Alonso recently where he alluded to the fact that he could not comprehend a footballing philosophy whereby emphasis was placed on tackling, and that he was taught from an early age that tackling is a negative and not a positive aspect of the game and that you must try to stay on your feet. In a perfect world that would be the ideal scenario, however, this is the Premiership, and tackling ability is a must. So although our Ultimate Team will be heavily based on passers, it will need a tough element.
With that in mind it’s also important to pick the right formation that our Ultimate Team will play. Without going too in-depth into formations, if our team is to be based on passing, and is based on the Barcelona type model then our front players will all be fluid. Personally for me that rules out one formation, the much derided 4-4-2 or variants of it. Solely on the basis, that it can at times be too rigid. So we will pick our team statistically based on a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 when we have the ball. Remembering that we will need our players to be able to adapt to different positions, as they will be fluid and constantly inter-changing during a game.
Next we need to think about statistics and which ones to look at. Obviously passing statistics will be at the fore, however to narrow down our search we will be filtering some stats to get a more balanced view of accuracy. For example, when considering a deep-lying midfielder who likes to direct the play, an Alonso type say, we will only look at players who have made say over 500 accurate passes for the season. There is no point in looking at a player who has only played 2 games and, has made 99/100 passes in those 2 games thus giving him a passing accuracy of 99%. This won’t give us a balanced view. Furthermore, I will be looking at the statistics in the Quick Stat area of EPL Index, which covers an enormous and wide-ranging amount of data, with over 600 players to gather data on then it would not be possible to try to gather them individually in the Season Stat Area.
So thanks to a terrific idea by Young Franklin in the comments section here is a sneak preview of the goalkeeper and defenders that came out on top when analysing specific statistics of all 623 players who have been on the pitch and/or bench in the Premier League this season. Read on to see how these players managed to come out on top. Maybe one of your team’s players featured heavily.
So without further ado let’s take a look at the goalkeeper position. First off I’m going to filter out any goalkeepers who have made less than 40 saves so far this season. As I said above this will give us a more balanced view of passing accuracy etc. 20 goalkeeper s have made 40 saves or more so far this season. We will award 5 points to the goalkeeper who comes out top in any particular statistic, 4 points second, 3 points third etc. We will also minus points for errors that led to a goal or errors that led to a shot on the same 5 point basis. Remember we will only be looking at the top 5 marks for seven categories and adding or deducting points on that basis. Our emphasis is on possession football, keeping the ball, passing and moving, so our goalkeeper’s possession stats will be of great importance to us.
We are an Ultimate Team that like to pass the ball so obviously in any position’s passing accuracy is one of the most important areas to look at. Out of all goalkeepers that have made 40 saves or more this season, Michel Vorm has the best passing accuracy at 69% so we award him 5 points. Szczesny comes out second with a 67% passing accuracy so we award him 4 points, and so on. See attached table.
Next up chances created. Admittedly, a strange statistic to look at when considering a goalkeeper’s position. However, a goalkeeper can be vital in starting off attacks and counter-attacking opponents, and a keen eye for an opening and quick thinking is essential when trying to form an attacking side. Out of all goalkeepers with 40 or more saves this season both Wayne Hennessy and Jose Reina are the most creative with a total of 5 chances created (including goal assists) this season. We award them both 5 points each, with Robinson, Foster and Hart all earning 3 points, 2 points, and 1 point. See attached table.
With a team who likes to play possession football it’s essential we win back possession as soon as possible. So how good are our ‘filtered’ goalkeepers at winning possession back in the defensive third. See above table. Ben Foster has won back possession 79 times this season, Hennessy next with 49, Cech 44, Vorm 42 and Jussi 38 times. So we give them their due points.
Next up is goalkeeper saves. As you you can see from the table across Wayne Hennessy has clearly made the most saves of any goalkeeper this season with 134, with Vorm the second most amount on 95. It’s worth also remembering with this stat that goalkeepers with teams further down the table are more likely to make more saves as relatively speaking those teams would be under more pressure and have less possession.
Lastly, in awarding points let’s take a look at the percentage of ground duels our goalkeepers win. An important statistic when it comes to measuring battling qualities of a player and important in winning possession for our team. See above table. As you can see Simon Mignolet has won 100% of his ground duels, Vorm 92%, Joe Hart 89% and so on. So when we add up our points for each goalkeeper so far, Vorm leads the way with 11 points, and both Reina and Foster are second with 7 points each.
So in determining the best goalkeeper to play in our Ultimate Team let’s take a look at 3 areas where they may have made mistakes and deduct points accordingly. Firstly let’s take a look at the errors that led to a shot statistic. As you can see from the table Szczesny has made the most errors this season with 3, next Mignolet 2 errors so we deduct 5 and 4 points from them. And finally errors that led to a goal and loss of possession. Both stats are self-explanatory and in terms of goal-keeping and how we want to play, the less times our goalkeeper loses possession and commits errors the better.
Now when we deduct points for the above errors we are left with our final table. As you can see Michael Vorm comes out on top with 15 points with Ben Foster joint second on 5 points with Wayne Hennessy and Petr Cech third on 4 points. I realise this is not the most scientific way of determining the best goalkeeper, however, we must remember that we aren’t necessarily picking the ‘best’ shot stopper type goalkeeper per se, but the best goalkeeper, statistically, who suits our passing style. Given how Swansea have played this season and their attractive passing style of play it’s maybe not that surprising that Vorm comes out on top.
Next on the agenda is the Left Back position. Again our criteria are the same. First off I’m going to filter out any players who have attempted anything less than 600 passes this season. 134 players have attempted 600 or more passes this season so next we need to filter out the left backs amongst that lot. These are left backs that have played the majority of their games in this position. We are then left with 15 left backs to analyse. So what attributes are we looking for in our left back? Well, passing obviously, but they also have to be extremely attacking if we are to play a narrow formation like 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. The full back role in general has become more and more important these days as they are usually asked to fill a number of roles within the team ethos. Passing, crossing, attacking, dribbling – these are all the skills required of a modern full back. Not to mention the ability to defend. So we will look at number of each statistics and award points on the above basis. We will break down the statistics into categories, passing/possession stats, battling stats, creativity stats and deduct points for loss of possession.
First of let’s take a look at our possession statistics graphic. These are the top 5 left backs in each particular area of the 15 we are analysing. Ashley Cole has the best passing accuracy with 88.28% of any left-back that has attempted 600 passes or more in the league this season with Patrice Evra second with 86.26% and so on. Jose Enrique comes out tops in the possession won back in the defensive third category – so we award him 5 points per above. Last category is the percentage of all clearances that find a team-mate. Neil Taylor of Swansea tops this with 64.38% of all his clearances reaching a team-mate. Important when trying to keep possession of the ball and shows he is cool under pressure. So after the first round of points there is a 4 way tie between Taylor, Assou-Ekotto, Cole and Figueroa all on 7 points each.
Next let’s take a look at the battling qualities of our top 15 left backs. We are going to look at 2 categories, tackle win % and ground duel win % – I have purposely left out the aerial duel win % as a full back is not really a zone on the pitch whereby it’s the be all and end all to win your aerial duels. Granted at set pieces in becomes more important, however, players like Ashley Cole usually end up on the back post or in the wall and not competing for aerial balls into the box.
As you can see from the table left Jose Enrique tops the tackle win % category winning 82.35% of all his tackles, with Riise second winning 79.49% of all his tackles, so we award them 5 and 4 points. Both Figueroa and Warnock come out top winning 67.43% and 62.38% of all their ground duels. It’s worth noting that both those stats are among the top of any player in the league. In fact of all players to attempt 200 ground duels or more only Kaboul (70%) and Koscielny (69%) have won more of their ground duels this season. So pretty impressive from both left backs. As you can see from the table after that round of points Figueroa now leads the way with 12 points followed closely by Enrique on 10 points. Cole, Taylor and Assou-Ekotto follow closely by on 7 points each.
So let us look at creativity. Obviously an important area when it comes to the modern full back. If you take a look at the table below it includes 3 different types of areas of creativity. Firstly it is imperative that our full back is accurate with his crosses. In this case, the number of crosses does not matter, as teams down the bottom of the league will be predominately defending more than attacking so to give a more balanced view I’ve just included the crossing accuracy. Still remembering the players are filtered – with only players having attempted more than 600 passes on our list. This ensures that each player has had plenty of time on the ball to show what they can do.
Nicky Shorey has the best crossing accuracy of any left back in the league this season, accurate with 31% of all his crosses. Of all players this season to have attempted 1000 passes or more only 9 players have a better crossing accuracy than Nicky Shorey. So a fantastic statistic when put into a little more context. Next category determines how efficient and how often our left backs create a chance or an assist. Baines comes out tops here, having created a goal or a chance every 18.2 passes he attempts. Again in context another incredible stat – as with all players with over 500 passes attempted, only 16 players can better that this season, and not one of them are a defender.
Lastly in this category we want our left back to have some dribbling ability, as it is important he is able to get wide, create space and drag opposition players across to free up some space for our narrow midfield in the centre. As you can see from the graphic Evra comes out on top – successful with 69.57% of his dribbles this season. Which is quite impressive as with all players to have attempted 30 or more dribbles this season only 6 players have a better success rate, and again none of them are defenders. So how does our table look after awarding our latest round of points? As you can see Figueroa leads the way with 15 points, with Enrique and Nicky Shorey close behind on 14 points.
Lastly let’s deduct points on the same basis and let us look at two different statistics. We would obviously like our defenders not to be error prone, so we will deduct points from players whose errors have led to a goal. This ensures we don’t have one of those players in our team that is always likely to make a mistake. Both Warnock and Figueroa have made 2 mistakes each which have led to a goal so we will deduct 5 points from each. Lastly, our loss of possession statistic, Marc Wilson loses possession every 3 touches of the ball so we
deduct 5 points from him and so on down the list. It’s worth noting that of the 273 player to have had 500 touches or more this season only 44 of them lose possession more often per touch than Marc Wilson, quite poor for each player on the table, as Leon Britton tops that list only losing possession every 9.8 touches of the ball.
So how does our table look at the end after those deducted points? As you can see we have a joint tie at top of the table between Shorey and Enrique on 14 points. Evra and Assou-Ekotto come close runners-up with 12 and 11 points each. As we are a team which has possession at the core of our footballing principles, in the event of a tie we will look at the passing accuracy to decide who comes out on top. Enrique’s passing accuracy is 80.13% with Shorey successful with 76.04% of his passes. Quite a big difference there so we will declare the winner here to be Jose Enrique.
Next let’s move on to the right back position. Again we filter our right backs and only include those who have attempted 600 passes or more this season. That leaves us with a total of 136 players, of which 11 of those are recognised right backs. So let’s take a look at some of their possession stats. Take a look at the tables below:
Rangel comes out top in the first category; he is accurate with 84.62% of his passes, with Bosingwa of Chelsea accurate with 84.46% of his. Kyle Walker comes out tops in the next table, having won back possession for Spurs in the defensive third 93 times this season, with Bosingwa coming in second, so we award 5 and 4 points for both. Lastly Angel Rangel comes out top in the final possession stats, 69.86% of his clearances finding a team-mate. In fact of any players this season to attempt 50 clearances or more none can boast a better rate than Rangel.
Next up let’s take a look at the battling qualities of our right backs. Have a look at the table below to see who wins more tackles and ground duels.
The first statistic is quite surprising in that Jose Bosingwa comes out tops winning a massive 91.30% of all his tackles. He has won a total of 42 out of 46 of his tackles this season. An incredible amount. In fact out of the 202 players this season that have attempted 20 tackles or more no other player can top that statistic. Jason Lowe gets 5 points in the next statistic winning 65.83% of all his ground duels.
So how does our table look after those 2 rounds? As you can see, Bosingwa and Rangel are both close at the top of the table, with Walker, Johnson and Simpson closely behind on 10 points. We’ve all ready discussed why creativity is so important for full backs so let’s look at the creativity statistics for our right backs for this year.
Surprisingly Phil Bardsley of Sunderland has created a chance or an assist every 38.72 passes he attempts. Bosingwa again features in the points creating a chance or assist for his team-mates every 45.67 passes. Lastly Kyle Naughton comes out on top in the last category with 80% of all his dribbles successful. It’s worth noting that Naughton only attempted 10 dribbles all season, compared to someone like Glen Johnson who has attempted 48 dribbles. However, who is to say that if Norwich had more of the ball he couldn’t keep that ratio up.
So let us deduct some points for errors our right backs may have made. Only 3 players out of our 11 right backs have committed an error that led to a goal. One error each, so we deduct 5 points from Rangel, Reid and Simpson. Next how often do our right backs lose possession for every touch they make. Well Bardsley is the worst offender losing possession every 3.27 touches of the ball, so we deduct 5 points from him, when you consider someone like John Terry only loses possession every 8.57 touches of the ball then that wouldn’t be good for our possession based Ultimate Team.
Moving onto a look at our final table; as you can see Jose Bosingwa comes out top by a clear 5 point margin, however, honourable mentions should go to Rangel and Jason Lowe who are not too far behind on 12 points. So Jose Bosingwa is the right back in our Ultimate Team. Maybe slightly surprising, however, when you look at a lot of teams like United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and City, they have all had problems with injuries in the right back department. So maybe the standard in that position hasn’t been as high as other seasons. Again though, according to our stats Bosingwa comes out quite high in possession, tackles and creativity, and he also does not make many fatal mistakes in defence, so perhaps a worthy winner.
As we have two to pick we will be picking the two centre halves that come in the top 2 positions in our table at the end. However, the stats we look at will be slightly different. We will mostly look at possession and battling statistics and will leave out creativity as it is not an area that is essential for that position. Remember we will filter out players who have attempted 600 passes or less. This will narrow down our field to 30 centre halves.
Let’s take a look at our possession stats first. There are a lot of stats to take in so we will just have a look at the more interesting ones. First John Terry’s passing accuracy stands out at 91.36%. In fact of the 136 players this season to have completed 600 passes or more only 3 players have a better pass accuracy, Leon Britton, Nasri and Mikel. So John Terry is the defender with the highest pass accuracy of all defenders we are looking at.
Not surprisingly Daniel Agger comes out ahead of his colleagues in both the headed clearances and clearances that go to a team-mate. A player who, quite clearly, is cool under pressure and is able to find a pass from defence.
Next are the battling statistics. Joleon Lescott features heavily here winning 90.91% of all this tackles and coming joint top of the aerial duel win % category. I have awarded John Terry the points as he has attempted more aerial duels, thus winning more than Lescott this season. Of our 136 players we are analysing, out of all defenders only Bosingwa has won more of his tackles this season.
Finally let us deduct points from the centre halves who have made the most errors this season. As you can Metesacker tops that list making 3 errors that have led to a goal. Which might go some way to explaining why Arsenal are doing so badly defensively this year. John Terry has also made a couple of mistakes that have led to a goal so we deduct 2 points from his total. Lastly we deduct points from our centre halves that lose possession more often per touch than their counterparts. James Collins of Aston Villa loses possession every 3.27 touches so again we deduct 5 points from him. So how does our final table look now?
Here is a snapshot of the top players in the table. A clear winner is Daniel Agger on 10 points. Again not too surprising when we are looking at possession statistics and if you are looking for a centre half to play in a team full of passers then a good choice. We have a two-way tie for the second centre half spot in our Ultimate Team. Keeping in mind that we wish to have this position as error free as possible we’ll make that statistic the decider. Therefore John Terry has made 2 vital errors this season that have led to a goal which menas we will declare Lescott the winner. I don’t think there will be too many complaints as he has had an excellent season so far.
So our back 5 now looks like this: Vorm, Enrique, Bosingwa, Agger & Lescott.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you join me next week for the second part in this series.
Next week: Midfield
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes a author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.