Ashley Williams cost Swansea City £400,000 when they bought him, aged 23, from then League Two side Stockport County in 2008. Mario Balotelli cost Manchester City £18.5m when they bought him from Serie A giants Internazionale in 2010. He was 20 years old.
Yesterday, these two players from completely different backgrounds came together in a battle that, in all likelihood, would go a long way to deciding the outcome of the vitally important game between their two clubs. Swansea City, a side attempting to replicate their feat of 1982, when they survived in the top division for a second season against Manchester City, chasing their first League title since 1968 and desperate to finally crawl from beneath the considerable shadow cast by their red neighbours. For a completely different set of reasons, the stakes for both clubs could not have been higher.
Playing at home, Swansea were 6/1 against by the bookmakers to win the match, which suggested that the bookies felt that the flamboyant Balotelli would prevail over the more steadfast Williams in their personal battle. The playing backgrounds of Balotelli and Williams could not differ more starkly. Williams, who sought sanctuary at Hednesford Town when he was released by West Bromwich Albion as a teenager, before joining Stockport and then rising through the divisions with Swansea, compared to Balotelli who, also as a teenager, was sent to the far more appealing surroundings of Barcelona for a trial when his local club Lumezzane decided to let him go, before joining Internazionale of Milan, where a stellar career at the very highest level was predicted.
More on page 2: The dominance of Ashley Williams & match stats…
Those unflattering bookies odds, as far as Swansea were concerned, were probably also an indication that the feeling was that Balotelli, the mercurial yet inconsistent genius, would possess too much flair and ability for Williams, a far more reserved, reliable and dare I say it, underrated player. I should clarify that last comment of course, I mean underrated by all those east of Offa’s Dyke, for in Swansea, Ashley Williams is not underrated in the slightest and is instead revered as simply one of the finest central defenders Swansea City has ever had in its long history. Arguably the finest.
He proved that again yesterday, whilst also proving to be much more than a match for Balotelli in their personal duel, especially when we look at the match statistics of the pair.
Williams undertook 72 passes, completing 83.33% of them. Balotelli attempted almost 50 less than Williams, with only 21 of his 27 passes – 77.78% – finding their mark. If I also tell you that Swansea’s own lone striker, Danny Graham, enjoyed an 80.95% success rate with his 21 passes, added to the fact that he actually spent 11 minutes less on the field than Balotelli, then that too tells its own story of the Italian’s ineffectiveness.
The tone for the battle between Williams and Balotelli however, was set in the first minute of the match, when a ball was played in behind Swansea right back, Angel Rangel, for Balotelli to chase. Sensing the danger, sprinting across from the centre of defence came Williams, beating Balotelli to the ball, and nicking it out for a throw. That was the first of Williams’ nine ground 50/50 challenges, of which he won 78%. Again, compare that to Balotelli’s 41% success rate in his ground 50/50’s and a picture of Williams’ dominance begins to emerge.
But there was worse to come for Balotelli, suffering Williams’ complete aerial supremacy over him during the match. In his five aerial 50/50’s of the day, Williams won 80% of them. But in the three challenges that featured Balotelli, Williams won them all. Balotelli’s aerial success rate during the game, sadly, probably mirrored his contribution to it, 0%.
One positive for the Italian was that he won both his tackles of the day – not against Williams I should add who also won all three of his – and made two interceptions, and embarked on three dribbles. In terms of leaving his mark on the game, that’s probably not what a Man City fan would want from their £18.5m striker.
More on page 3: Match Stats continued…
The final insult for Balotelli comes in the statistic that only really matters for a player like him – shots on target. His success rate of 40%, just two on target from his five efforts during the game including one woeful effort from the halfway line, was dwarfed by Williams’s 100% return. That statistic alone is probably one that summed up the woes of Balotelli on his first trip to Wales; he was out run, out battled and out performed by a player who, from that very first challenge where he beat Balotelli to the ball whilst putting it out for a throw, demonstrated a far greater hunger and desire to deliver victory for his team.
In all aspects of the game, Balotelli was completely dominated by Williams, and when Balotelli sought refuge elsewhere, the dominance was continued by Williams’ young defensive partner, Steven Caulker, who similar to Williams won all his aerial duels, all his tackles and even bettered Williams’ percentage rate of passes, finishing the game with a completion rate of 86.59%.
Thanks to Luke Moore’s 83rd minute header, who in just 11 minutes matched Balotelli’s two shots on target, Swansea ran out well deserved winners, actually completing more accurate passes (490) than Manchester City even attempted (481) and also managed to get more crosses in than their illustrious opponents, 24 against 23. That fact alone illustrates perhaps how far Swansea have come since their bow in this division last August, when during a painful 4 – 0 defeat by Mancini’s team, they only managed 14 crosses in a game in which they completely dominated the possession, if not the score-line.
But despite Moore’s powerful header from Wayne Routledge’s excellent cross, it was the battle between the Welsh International and his Italian opponent that intrigued me most and was no doubt extremely significant in the final outcome of the contest. And that battle was won hands down by the Welshman.
They may play in different positions, they may be from different backgrounds and they probably live completely different lives, but if I was a manager handed £18.5m to buy a player to strengthen my squad, and Williams and Balotelli were the options, then I know 100% which of the two I would invest my money in. And it wouldn’t be Super-Mario.
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.