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Joey Barton | England’s best midfielder?

“Honestly, I think I’m the best [English midfielder],” Barton told the French magazine So Foot. “Luka Modric and Samir Nasri are very good, but in terms of English players… well, Jack Wilshere isn’t bad, but Frank Lampard’s on the way down and Steven Gerrard’s been injured a lot.”

“Look at Jordan Henderson [against France],” he said. “He was up against [Yann] M’Vila, [Mathieu] Valbuena, Nasri and [Yoann] Gourcuff. And he had Gareth Barry alongside him. What could they do against those players?

A bold statement from one of the most controversial players in the Premier League. Joey Barton had his best season as a Newcastle player last season and was awarded the Player of the Year in recognition of the excellent season he had. The above interview came shortly after England’s friendly against the French back in November, where Capello chose not to include him in an already depleted squad, and continues to not to select him, despite Barton’s excellent performances in a black and white shirt. There are suggestions that he is unpickable due to his chequered past – but he’s not the only Englishman to have skeletons in his closet. Terry, Crouch, Ashley Cole, Gerrard and Rooney are to name but a few who have had problems off the pitch, but have been given another chance by Capello.

With Barton suggesting that he is England’s best midfielder, I thought it’d be interesting to compare his statistics with the players he mentioned in his interview – Jack Wilshere, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Gareth Barry.

There are obvious differences between midfielder roles between the five players (eg Lampard plays in a more advance position than Barry), but I believe that there are core statistics that are comparable between the five.

Barton compared to other English midfielders

Against the other five midfielders, Barton’s percentage of shots on target is about average. Not as high as Lampard, who takes more shots and also more on target – but a higher percentage of shots on target than Henderson.

One of Barton’s downfalls was his passing percentage (68%), although on further analysis Barton’s passes are across a further distance, compared to the Wilshere, Henderson and Barry – where their passes are usually within ten yards (see below). Whether this is resulting in tactics employed by Newcastle or a personal preference by Barton to play the longer ball is a different matter.

Note that Barton attempts longer passes and takes more set pieces

Although he has a lower percentage of successful passes, he has the most assists (9) and has created the most chances (83) compared to the other five midfielders – although on average, Gerrard marginal creates more chances per game. Only four other players in the Premier League last season created more chances than Barton. A result of the longer passes that Barton attempts, rather than the safe options that other midfielders choose to play.

Not only does Barton come top in creating chances on goal, his tackling success rate is also better than the other five players. Although Barton is employed as a right midfielder for Newcastle, he tends to tuck in (see above chalkboard) and therefore is more involved in the game, than your conventional out and out winger.

Along with his combative nature to tackle and get stuck in, he attempted more 50-50 ground duels (374) than the three players who have played regularly this season (Wilshere (339), Henderson (258) and Barry (299)), although his success rate is only better than Jordan Henderson.

Also, statistics from last season show that Barton is less likely to lose possession of the ball compared to Wilshere and Henderson.

So is Barton England’s best midfielder? Based on last season’s statistics, it’s hard to argue against it. He’s not as effective as Frank Lampard in terms of shooting, but that’s down to the different midfield roles that the two players are employed in. Along with Stewart Downing, Barton was the highest assisting midfielder last season, he created more chances than the five players analysed, attempted more ground duels and has a higher tackling success percentage. Although I can understand trying to blood Henderson in, I don’t think he’s quite ready to take to Euro 2012. Barton, on the other hand, will be in his prime and arguably playing his best football in his career, with no off-field problems. What more do you need in a complete central midfielder? A bit of graft and steel in defending, mixed with a bit of class and creativity at the other end.

And after the season he’s just had, it’s crazy to think that Barton could leave on a free transfer at the end of next season. I just hope that Ashley, Pardew and Barton can sort a new contract out as soon as possible.

Newcastle United supporter and blogger. Creator of www.nufcvisualised.wordpress.com. Lover of all things football. Follow me on Twitter @avaehe
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