Inevitably there are those players who, despite seeing their team drop down to the Championship, will find themselves playing in the Premier League next season. For some, it is a matter of financials as their old club needs the proceeds to offset the loss of revenue. For others it is that their skill simply can not be ignored and another club will come in with an offer to tempt them back to the top flight.
Here we’ll look at three players who, based on their statistical achievement, merit a move back to the Premiership as well as look at their likely landing spots. This is, of course, purely speculation but a review like this can occasionally be done more objectively before months of transfer speculation and journalist dart-throwing muddying the waters.
#3. Yakubu Aiyegbeni
The Rovers hitman had a career year as he scored 17 goals in the EPL for a side that managed to score just 48 goals, as 4 came via own goals. Yakubu took 66 shots, with 31 finding the target. He was the club leader in those categories with only himself and David Hoilett (64) surpassing 40 shots. No other Rovers player managed double-figures with Hoilett’s 7 goals coming second. Hoilett did manage those goals on just 19 shots on target, a remarkable return if one discounts that only 30% (19/64) of his total shots found the frame.
Though he signed a three-year deal at the start of the 2011/12 season, it is unlikely that Yakubu will remain in a Rovers shirt next season. Having been out on loan in the Championship to end the 2010/11 season at Leicester he elected to stay in the Premier League, signing with Rovers from Everton. He is already 29 years of age and the Nigerian has struggled with injuries in the past. His injury history may prove a stumbling block as he looks to remain in the top flight but his goals scored this season illustrate the lethal potential in front of goal.
EDIT: Yakubu’s Wikipedia page indicates that he’s signed with Southampton on 17 May, 2012. The Saints’ own homepage makes no mention of it and an interview posted with Yak on Rovers’ page the same day includes the following quote from the man himself:
“It is one of the best seasons that I’ve ever had, scoring 17 goals in the Premier League, I feel good for that but then I also feel very sad. It is a family club, a club with great history, we all worked hard together, we are all friends. It is sad that the club has gone down but we have to bounce back to the Premier League.”
All that said, it seems unlikely that no club will be able to match Blackburn’s valuation of one of the chief assets. Should the Southampton rumour prove false, there are many clubs who could do with a goal scoring talent like Yakubu. In the past two seasons in the EPL his statistics actually stayed consistent, with only chance conversion rising sharply. That disparity (7% in 2010/11 up to 30% in 2011/12) saw his goals return per minute drop from 1 goal every 669′ down to 1 per 144′. In fairness, his limited playing time could have contributed to the poor return, being unable to find form in just 669′. Indeed, playing time has been hard to find for the Nigerian as his last three seasons at Everton Yakubu played 1131′, 1083′, and 669′. His 2452′ this season for Blackburn nearly equally all of his Premier League pitch time in the previous three seasons combined.
Yakubu’s 30% chance conversion for Rovers this season also marked high water for this 4 year period as his three previous seasons saw 14%, 16% and 7% as he returned 4, 5 and 1 goal for an overall return of 10 in 2883′ or 1 goal every 288′ (1 goal every 3 matches). With his current form linked to his health and constant deployment in Steve Kean’s side he would seem to play best when there is no threat to his position.
A very good landing spot for Yakubu could be Swansea City. While Stoke managed to scored the fewest goals of the season with just 36, one fewer that Aston Villa, both Stoke and Villa claim a viable target man on their current roster in Peter Crouch and Darren Bent. The two England men had decent seasons – recording 10 and 9 goals . The large problem with Yakubu is that he does not generate chances of his own. Despite playing 2452′ he created 27 chances, or 1 chance per match. Crouch (1 chance per 108′) and Bent (1 chance per 89′) fall into this same category of striker first and only. It would seem that Yakubu could replace, but would not compliment, either of these teams current options.
Swansea City scored 44 times in their first season since promotion. In their second they will want to improve as a lack of goals saw them held without a goal in 15 League matches, joint worst with Aston Villa. For the Swans this was promise unfulfilled as they played to five 0-0 draws, six times failed to score at home, and dropped vital points that could have seen them in the top half of the table. Their 47 points was good for 11th but they finished just 5 shy of Liverpool in 8th.
Swansea created only 357 chances on the season, with 50 of those coming from Gylfi Sigurdsson in the second half of the year. Similarly to Villa or Stoke, Brendan Rodgers’ Swans employ a target man whose loan job is scoring. Danny Graham did achieve this with some note, his 12 goals leading the team while his 22 chances created rated him only 8th best in the squad. He was modestly lethal, 19% chance conversion, and was durable playing 2845′. Swans, however, do not have a second striker option with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Sinclair the 2nd and 3rd top scorers for the side with 8 and 7 goals .
Next Page: Number 2 and Number 1 players that should stay up on next page! Click to here for next page or use numbers bottom right.
#2. Nigel Reo-Coker
After having spent four seasons at Villa Park, Reo-Coker was deemed surplus and signed a two-year deal with Bolton on a free transfer. The stand-in captain had an excellent season for a Trotters side that dealt with poor performance on the pitch and the unfortunate medical condition of Fabrice Muamba. Through all of it, Nigel was the center of the team. He accounted for 14% of all completed passes made by Coyle’s men this season. His 1668 passes attempted and 1402 completed both led the squad and his 84% completion rate is exceptional in the premier league. For comparison Luka Modric completed 87% of his 2534 passes this season.
Defensively, Modric is actually a good comparison for Reo-Coker. They posted similar numbers in winning % for ground 50/50 (Modric 48%: NR-C 49%) as well as minutes per 50/50 (~9′:~10′), tackle success rate (71.5%: 73%), minutes per tackle (57′: 38′), interceptions (82: 88) and loss of possession (41: 45). While Modric is clearly the better player going forward, Nigel Reo-Coker’s contributions in the midfield should not go overlooked simply because he created only 20 chances for the season. He is a defensive force, leading the club in both tackles attempted (86) and tackles won (63). He did lead the club in cautions, with 7 yellow cards, but while he gave away 50 fouls he also drew 31. In all three phases of the game he was the most combative and hardest working of the Wanderers at earning possession. In the defensive third he won possession 101 times, in the midfield he won possession 157 time and in the attacking third he won an additional 15 – leading the club in all three statistics.
So where might Reo-Coker end up next season? Depending on the club’s ambition to play competitively in the Europa League, the League and in both cups, Newcastle would be a good landing-place. With Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Jonás Gutierrez making up the attacking 3/4 of a midfield, Reo-Coker could slot into the defensive midfield spot and allow more freedom for the others to join in the attack. Even better for Alan Pardew’s side would be the ability to replace Gutierrez with a healthy Cheick Tioté, paring him with Reo-Coker in the middle in matches that require two combative defensive midfielders.
Certainly Reo-Coker is not an ideal attacking option but Newcastle is not short of attacking midfielders. Last season, Cabaye led the Geordies with 55 chances created, Gutierrez contributed another 30 while Ben Arfa, in 1556′, created 34. However, none of the three of them passed as well as Reo-Coker. The player most similar to him on the current squad would be Cheick Tioté. His passing mirrors Reo-Coker’s completing 1166/1402 for 83%. Tiote managed to start 24 matches while Reo-Coker played 37, the same number as Gutierrez. But Gutierrez passing is not of Reo-Coker’s quality, only completing 973/1219 passes (80%) while being on the pitch 3308′.
Statistically speaking only, a return to Villa Park would help the home side immensely. The Villans loss of Nigel is evident in their own passing numbers this season. Stephen Warnock attempted the most passes (1229) while Stilian Petrov completed the most (967) and had the best accuracy (83%), while NR-C was 1402/1668 84%. The combined ‘best’ of the squad saw them winning possession 89 times in the defensive third (Warnock), 98 times in midfield (Petrov) and 17 times in the attacking third (N’Zogbia), numbers which collectively were still overshadowed by Reo-Coker’s efforts for Bolton.
#1. Steven Fletcher
The simple fact is that the Scottish forward is just 25 years old and plays at a consistent high level. In a season where he played 2353′, starting 26 times and playing in 32 EPL matches total, Fletcher maintained a quality scoring pace. Linked to many sides in the league: Liverpool, Sunderland and others already linked – his 12 EPL goals were good for joint 12th in the scoring table (D. Graham), bettered Suarez at Liverpool, and both his shooting accuracy (44%) and his chances conversion (19%) were quite good. As with many strikers who play as far up the pitch as he does, he created few of his own chances (36, 1 chance per 65′) but this season did see him cross the ball more (34 crosses up from 14 the season prior).
It is unquestioned that many mid-table clubs will come calling this summer. The interesting thought for Fletcher would be his willingness to become, at such a young age, a second, third or fourth option. A club like Manchester United could well afford to carry Fletcher on their bench, a spot United themselves afforded the 2010/11 Golden Boot winner Dimitar Berbatov this season. With Michael Owen out of contract, the aforementioned Berbatov likely seeing an exit as well, and the health of Chicharito unknown as the sporting world struggles to learn proper player safety following traumatic head injuries, having Fletcher to play off Rooney and as a striking option from the bench would be exactly the sort of weapon that United enjoy having at their disposal. This role would be nothing new for Fletcher. Just a season ago he played 1395′ with 14 of his 29 appearances coming from the substitutes bench. Off the bench he played hard, making a ground challenge every 5:06′ and an aerial challenge every 11:10. He won a good deal as well, recording 38% win on the ground and 67% in the air.
For a quick comparison, Chicharito played 1476′ in the EPL this season. He scored 10 goals on 39 total shots, boasting 56% shooting accuracy and 26% chance conversion. He created a chance every 70′, but in an offense like United’s this is hardly a concern. The previous season, in 1395′ for Wolverhampton, Fletcher scored 10 goals coming from just 33 shots, on a 55% shooting accuracy and 30% chance conversion. He created 18 total chances, or 1 chance every 78′. This isn’t the sort of move that United typically make, but the addition of Fletcher would be a subtle, yet effective, move to strengthen their depth as they look to reclaim the title.
What are your thoughts? Players you think will make the move and where do they land? Suggestions for new articles always welcome in the comments or via Twitter @FantasyGaffer.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.