Since Jordi Gomez took a monumental tumble at the DW Stadium when Nathan Dyer faintly caught him with a high challenge that saw referee Andre Marriner waving the red card at him, Dyer’s misfortune has turned into Wayne Routledge’s good luck. In the four games that have followed Dyer’s sending off, Routledge has been given the run in the side he has long yearned for since Brendan Rodgers signed the much travelled winger from Newcastle, whilst Dyer has had no option but to cool his heels in the stands.
There is a truism trotted out by many of sport’s positive thinkers that a person must make the very most of every opportunity that comes their way. Failure to grab those chances in football, an industry as cut-throat as any you can think of, will potentially see a player being farmed out at some point down the road, while being widely regarded as an under-achiever. Having watched Wayne Routledge closely in the games he has been given by Rodgers, namely the two victories against Manchester City and Fulham and the subsequent defeats by Everton and Tottenham, I have no doubt whatsoever that here is a player who is in no way an under-achiever, but rather a very talented player, more than capable of making the most of the opportunities that are presented to him.
Yet sometimes, even doing the very best that you can, may still lead to disappointment and ultimate frustration.
Take the Tottenham game. Routledge was excellent. In the seventh minute he produced a wonderful trick from a pass by Leon Britton to flick the ball over the head of the on rushing Benoit Assou-Ekotto before getting a cross in for Scott Sinclair. A minute later he followed that up with a crisp, edge of the box shot just wide of the Spurs goal after being set up by Joe Allen, and in the second half, had the strength to hold off the combative Assou-Ekotto to roll the ball into the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson for him to gleefully slot home and continue his recent rich vein of goal scoring. Yet after this important assist and in a match in which he again performed to a very high level, just 12 minutes later, the fourth official lifted the electronic numbers board to inform Routledge that Dyer was to make his comeback, and his work for the day was done. There were no Andy Carrollesque histrionics from Routledge, but you get the feeling that we would have all understood his frustration if there had been.
Swansea City are in the very fortunate position to be blessed with three wide players of fantastic ability, namely Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Routledge. In the first half of the season it was clear that Routledge would have to play second fiddle to the other two, and maybe he even understood that himself. Sinclair and Dyer had been irresistible last season in getting Swansea into the Premier League, and this season, Dyer has continued to grow so much so that he has been talked of in terms of an England place. The development has not been so stark for Sinclair. He is obviously a player of rare quality – pace, quick feet, good vision – but there have been many times this season when the impression has been of him sometimes selecting the wrong option and when chances have been delivered to him, frustratingly, a high percentage of them have been blasted high over the bar. Yet it seems that under Brendan Rodgers, Sinclair is the first name on the team sheet, and one of the last Rodgers will consider taking off when it comes time to make a change. That approach means that generally, it is between Dyer and Routledge for the other flank, with Dyer usually coming out on top in that particular battle.
When I saw Routledge’s number go up yesterday, I understood that Dyer had to come on, but I couldn’t help feeling that maybe it was Sinclair that should have made way and not Routledge. Was that a fair supposition? Let’s have a look at the stats.
Next Page: Stats from the loss to Spurs… (click below right)
Swansea City Stats
Well yesterday, they seem to confirm that Sinclair was indeed a lucky boy to stay on. In his 90 minutes, Sinclair made 31 open play passes, completing 24 for a success rate of 77%. In just 71 minutes, Routledge made 34 open play passes, completing 31 for a very impressive 91% success rate. Advantage Routledge. When analysing those passes, 24% of Routledge’s were forward, attacking passes, compared to 19% of Sinclair’s. Advantage Routledge again.
Sinclair headed Routledge in dribbles, his three successful ones bettering Routledge’s single successful dribble, and it was all square on the crosses, both players providing two, with just one each being successful.
The one statistic that does separate the players however is in the assist column. As I mention above, for Sigurdsson to score the goal that brought Swansea back into the match, he required an assist, and he got that from Routledge. It was perhaps justice that Routledge managed to hold off Assou-Ekotto, because from almost the first minute, the Spurs left back fouled the Swansea winger consistently from behind, yet bizarrely, referee Andre Marriner completely ignored Assou-Ekotto’s transgressions.
So on yesterday’s performance and comparing Sinclair and Routledge, it’s clear that Sinclair can count himself fortunate that it wasn’t his number that was held up by the fourth official when Dyer was re-introduced. And it’s not just on yesterday’s game that Sinclair can count himself a little fortunate. Since coming into the starting line up for Dyer in the Manchester City victory – in which he delivered the cross for Luke Moore’s winning goal – Routledge has out performed Sinclair in cross accuracy in every game (except the Tottenham game when they were equal), has had more assists than Sinclair over the four games (three against two), has attempted more passes than Sinclair in each of the games and Routledge has also provided more attacking passes than Sinclair, again, in every game.
Football is often a game of perceptions, and sometimes, those perceptions are hard to change. I get the feeling that the perception is that Sinclair is a star player for the Swans, and he has earned that tag over a long period of time and that is fair enough. I also feel that there is a perception that Wayne Routledge is a bit part squad player who will only play when either Dyer or Sinclair are not available. I would suggest that in the last four games that he has started, Routledge has gone a very long way to altering that perception, and it is to his credit that he has done that. I suppose the question now is has he done enough to retain a starting berth for Friday’s game against Newcastle. For me, the answer is straightforward – yes. But who will he play instead of? Well, form would suggest Sinclair, but would Routledge be as effective down the left flank as he has been down the right? Hard to say. All in all, it gives Brendan Rodgers the headache that all managers welcome, three top players chasing two spots in the team. I really can’t see Rodgers going in without Sinclair, he is a favourite of the manager and that is the manager’s right.
But personally, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if Rodgers did decide to give Sinclair a breather and start with Routledge for the fifth straight game, and if that does eventually transpire, I think it’s fair to say that Routledge will have earned that opportunity and deserves the chance to continue changing people’s perceptions. It’s the least he deserves.