The 2011/2012 English Premier League season is being embraced with less enthusiasm than usual for a number of Aston Villa supporters, and the reasons for this are numerous. For the sake of both this article and my sanity, I will be concentrating on just two of them; Ashley Young, and Stewart Downing.
Young’s departure came as no surprise, as contract negotiations between Employer and Employee had been stalling for the preceding 12 months. The inevitable finally happened on 23 June, when Ash signed for Man Utd. More surprising was his Left-footed contemporary’s decision to follow suit. Just over 3months after this interview Stewie decided that he also liked the colour Red more than either Claret or Blue, and joined Liverpool.
Each player was highly effective for Aston Villa last season, as both their transfer fees and suitors suggest. But just how effective were they actually? And are there players that can fill their vacant boots?
To help try and answer this question, I will be highlighting the areas from which Wide/Attacking Midfield players should be judged, in no particular order: The number of Goals they make, the chances they create, successful dribbles (how many times the player chose to keep possession of the ball rather than pass, and how good they were at going past opposition players with it) and successful pass percentage. Goals will also be considered, but not primarily as I believe that a Wide/Attacking Midfielder’s main priority should be supplying good service to the Forwards. Goals are a bonus, not a necessity in this department.
Pitted against the two former Villa players will be a current Villan in young Marc Albrighton, and possibly, a future Villan in Wigan Athletic’s Charles N’Zogbia, who has been linked with a move to the Midlands Outfit recently.
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Good stats from Ash, averaging an assist every 3 ½ games, give or take. Downing averages in at one every 483 minutes, or every 5.3 games. While Super Marc can only count 4 assists, his playing time was significantly lower than either Ash or Stewart, so his return was an assist for every 5 games. The lowest figure goes to N’Zogbia, counting on average an assist just over every 6 games.
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The statistic that stands out here is Marc Albrighton’s “Attempted Passes” figure, 397 being significantly lower than the other three players analysed, and that’s after you take into account his reduced playing time. From a percentage standpoint, Albrighton’s total is just 21% of Downings. The next least productive passer is N’Zogbia, although this is offset by his passing efficiency.
The fact that Marc and Charles’ were the two least regular passers could be explained by looking at their decision making, and we’ll be touching on that later.
Interesting results, these. The Player who has created the most statistics is clearly Stewart Downing. But when you compare the chances created with actual playing time, the figures tend to even up. Ash’s playing time worked out at 90% of Downing’s, and his chances made compared to Stewart’s (78 to 84) came in at 88%.
N’Zogbia, too, wasn’t far off. The Wigan winger was on the pitch for 82% of the time compared to Downing, and his chances created amounted to 79%. Even Super Marc’s comparatively low number of chances fares up fairly well; He was on the pitch just over half the time Downing was last season (53%) and managed just under half the amount of chances created (43%)
Dribbling (the positive kind)
While these figures don’t take into account how many attempts each player actually made to dribble, the numbers are still informative, and surprising. The worst dribbler on display here is Ashley Young, managing an unimpressive 18 successful dribbles. While Downing’s 28 isn’t much better, his style of play isn’t associated with by-line trickery and shoulder drops, nor for that matter is Albrighton’s. Yet both players are more successful at taking the ball past opposing players than Ash; Albrighton nearly twice as successful.
Of the other players, the one whose style of play is most similar to Mr Young’s is N’Zogbia. The Franco-Wigan’er managed 91 more successful dribbles than Ash over the season, which gives this stat a lop-sided look. And that’s being polite to the former Hornet.
It’s important to remember that both Marc and Charly were also the two players who passed the ball the least, so this could be down to each players’ decision making at each moment. Even so, you wouldn’t expect Ashley Young to come bottom of this stat.
Lastly, we’ve got Goals scored to consider. Top marks to N’Zogbia again, scorer of the most goals, 11.5% of his 78 shots going in. The best percentage of goals to shots comes from Albrighton however; 5 goals from 42 shots equalling 11.9%. To be completely fair though, all the players have yielded decent results from their positions out wide.
Conclusion (of sorts)
Both Man Utd and Liverpool have bought very good players, which logically puts Aston Villa at a disadvantage for the start of the season. But, we can see that we already have one natural replacement in Marc Albrighton (given more playing time) and Charles N’Zogbia (if we manage to buy him) more than matches either departing player.
This should mean that, if Alex McCleish spends his money wisely, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing could prove absolutely replaceable. It also raises the old question as to why Premier League teams pay so much more for English Players. The reports are N’Zogbia would cost, at most, £11 million. If he opts not to move, next in line is Juan Manual Vargas at a reported £13 million. Both are considerably cheaper than either departure. For the money spent on Stuart Downing, you could buy Charles N’Zogbia and Rafael Van Der Vaart. Is he really worth that?