Five very popular players with their respective fan bases are the new men in at Chelsea, Manchester United, Swansea City and Arsenal. Only one of these players played in the Barclays Premier League a year ago – Robin Van Persie – while the other four have each made an instant impact upon their arrival in England. Based on their Premier League statistics through three fixtures, we examine their current pace and take a look at last seasons stats for each club to determine if these hot starts can possibly continue throughout the whole 2012-13 campaign.
A year ago the Chelsea front line featured Juan Mata and a rotation of Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres. Drogba has departed and Nando Torres has cemented his role as starter, leaving England international Sturridge as a substitute. The third member of the current front line is Roberto Di Mateo’s summer signing and instant impact player – Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard. Hazard has generated four assists (remember: we are using Opta stats) from his eight chances created.
The Belgium international has created 100% of his chances from open play, though he has also earned penalties – and converted one himself – that sees his ‘traditional’ assists tally sit at six. We will discuss the raw number of chances created below – in a section discussing Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla – but, suffice to say, Hazard’s chance created pace and goals scored pace are sustainable across a season in the EPL. He is on pace to create 101 chances and the 100-chance plateau has been breached before. 100 or more chances were created by both David Silva (104) and Juan Mata (102) a season ago, by Florent Malouda (117) in 2010-11 and by Frank Lampard (114) in 2009-10. What is rather unsustainable is the volume of goals being created by Hazard’s chances.
The best case scenario would be for Hazard to continue to provide a number of chances and return an assist per every eight chances. Certainly, there are a number of players who saw more of their work end in goals scored (Aaron Lennon in 2009-10 had a particularly good season in that regard) but with the volume of chances likely to be created by young Hazard, Juan Mata’s season of a year ago is the benchmark. Hazard could well end the season with 15 or more assists, but to speculate on more than that would be unsupported by the evidence at our disposal.
As Roberto Di Matteo strengthened his side following a Champions League victory, Sir Alex Ferguson strengthened his side after failing to retain the Premier League trophy. He has brought in Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie to bolster an attack that scored 89 times and still lost the title on goal differential. Last season’s Golden Boot winner, Van Persie, scored on his first shot for United. In the same match, Shinji Kagawa got off the mark with a 35′ strike in United’s 3-2 win over Fulham 25 August.
Robin van Persie
We’re going to focus this paragraph on Van Persie. While Kagawa’s accomplishments are notable, the presence of many other elite midfielders makes forecasting playing time difficult and without playing time certainty, it is increasingly difficult to determine a players long-term goal-scoring impact. Certainly, we know what Van Persie can accomplish, having posted one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory. For more on that season, please read: Robin van Persie | The Best of the Best | Opta Stats by Cooper.
Within Sir Alex Ferguson’s system, employed over the past few EPL seasons, there is a primary goal-scorer and a number of secondary options. For the past three seasons that responsibility has fallen on currently absent players: Wayne Rooney (thigh injury) and Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham). In their stead, the Dutch sniper has shined, extending his exceptional scoring record with four goals in two fixtures for the Red Devils, including a spectacular hat-trick to clinch three points against Southampton.
The best comparison for Van Persie’s 2011-12 campaign is actually Rooney’s 11-12 campaign for United. The two players posted nearly identical accuracy tallies – Van Persie 58.2%, Rooney 58.3% – while each took a shot on target better than once a half. The key difference was Van Persie’s ability to stay on the pitch, a trait which he is again displaying this season. While Rooney was dropped to the bench after a lackluster performance in the opening fixture, and has since suffered a dangerous gash to his leg, Van Persie has been on the field for 202′ of the 288′ that United have played in the Premier League this term. He has been outstanding, taking 12 shots, of which six were on target, and scoring four goals. Van Persie has already shown he is capable of putting shots on target and we can expect that his current 50% accuracy will remain steady, or perhaps improve. His four goals give him one goal every 50.50 minutes, a statistic that is likely unsustainable over a full season. However, he has shown that he can both record quality shots on goal and score a high percentage of his shots. If we concede that Van Perise plays a full season with United uninhibited by injuries, there is no reason that he can not reach or exceed his 30 goal haul of last season.
United’s other impact signing, Shinji Kagawa, has been excellent distributing the ball. The Japan international fits well in SAF’s side and has already played 219′. The attacking midfielder has completed 90% or more of his passes in each of his first three EPL fixtures: completing 68/75 – 91% vs. Everton; 44/49 – 90% vs. Fulham; 39/43 – 91% vs. Southampton. Last season, only three Manchester United midfielders completed 90% or better of their passes, minimum 300 passes attempted. Tom Cleverley completed 279/303 – 91% while both Michael Carrick (1975/2192) and Darren Fletcher (428/476) completed 90%. Recently departed, Ji-Sung Park completed 434/485 – 89%. Kagawa’s distribution has led to scoring opportunities for United. He has created five chances, all in open play, though he is not credited with an assist by Opta yet this season. Kagawa’s direct competition for playing time, Luis Nani and Ashley Young, were not as proficient with the ball at their feet a year ago. Nani completed only 841/1049 – 80% of his passes and Young was better but attempted far fewer total passes completing 615/734 – 84%.
In one other regard, Kagawa is making an impact on the level of Nani and Young. This season the 23-year-old has attempted four dribbles, leaving him on pace for 50 dribble attempts. In addition, he is completing 75% of his attempts. In the 2011-12 season, Ashley Young completed 18/37 dribbles and Nani led Manchester United with 53 successful dribbles in 79 attempts. Clearly, Kagawa is not on pace to match Nani’s volume of dribble attempts but, in completing 3/4 of his attempts, he is showing the skill necessary to complete a high percentage of his dribbles in the Premier League.
One player making his presence felt despite a less than spectacular passing record is Swansea City’s Michu – 107/130, 82% completed. Michael Laudrup took the reigns following Brendan Rodgers defection to Anfield and watched as Joe Allen (Liverpool) and Scott Sinclair (Manchester City) followed their old manager out the door. However, a pair of new signings – Michu and Pablo Hernández – have arrived to replace the lost production with the former making a staggering impact in the early fixtures. Miguel Pérez Cuesta has taken seven shots through three fixtures. He has put four of those seven on target and scored on all four of his on-target shots. His four goals are joint best in the Prem with Manchester United’s Robin Van Perise and Michu is one of only two players – Carlos Tevez – to score in each of his sides first three games this season.
One statistic that could provide a glimpse into Michu’s success is his ability to find clear-cut chances. Through three games, he has had two clear-cut chances and scored on one of those attempts. While his overall goal scoring form is clearly unsustainable over a full season, his ability to be ‘in the right place’ may be. Last season there were six players in the Premier League who had more than 25 clear-cut chances on the season; Michu is currently on pace for 25. While Van Persie (46), Adebayor (41), Rooney (33), Aguero (31) and Suarez (28) are names most would expect to see on that list, the sixth name – Yakubu Aiyegbeni (28) – in not. Playing for a side that was relegated, Yakubu managed to be ‘in the right place’ a number of times and his goal-scoring directly benefited as he converted 15 of 17 goals in such fashion. This season Swansea has created five clear-cut chances, with Michu the only player to score from such a chance. Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham have each squandered their only clear-cut chance this term. Should Michu continue to be the main beneficiary of such chances, he could be in line for a similar season to Yakubu’s 2011-12 campaign.
A season ago, Swansea City created 58 clear-cut chances and the team as a whole scored on just 23 of them. Danny Graham, by far the greatest benefactor of clear-cut chances, scored seven goals on such chances and failed to score on a further 15. The recently departed Sinclair was second on the team, and the only player beside Graham to receive more than four, with five goals scored on clear-cut chances out of 14 such chances. Clearly, there has been a change in the team as Laudrup make imparts his tactics but the team should remain capable of creating at least as many chances as they did a season ago. If Michu can continue to find himself in the right place, he could find himself top the Swans scoring table at the end of the season and provide a much-needed second scoring option for a team that was largely reliant on Danny Graham a year ago.
Without equaling the scoring exploits of Michu, Santi Cazorla has made his presence known in each of Arsenal’s opening three fixtures. The midfielder has been the leading creative force, providing an edge to an attack that is largely controlled by Mikel Arteta (Pass Comp 268/288 – 93%). Through three matches, Cazorla is third in the Premier League in chances created (12) and his minutes per chance created (1 every 21:45) rates him fifth among those with five or more chances created this season. In this role, Cazorla is replacing the production of the departed Robin van Persie. Over the 2011-12 season, Robin van Persie created 96 chances, or one chance every 36:15′, to lead the Gunners.
What is interesting about Cazorla’s current production is that it could prove to be sustainable over an entire season. Typically, when we compare statistics from Van Persie’s impressive 2011-12 campaign, the pace set by the Dutch play-maker are nearly impossibly to predict for another player. However, both Juan Mata (one chance every 24:48) and David Silva (one chance every 27:06) posted statistics close to Cazorla’s current pace while playing a position similar to that which Cazorla occupies in Wenger’s offense.
Interestingly, Cazorla’s current pace would have him creating 152 chances over a full 38 game season. It is unlikely that the Spaniard plays the full slate of Barclays Premier League fixtures, but a 152 chance season would almost certainly be out of reach regardless. Since 2009-10, only David Silva has broken the century mark for a non-Chelsea side. Frank Lampard set the mark over the past four years, creating 134 in 2008-09. Assuming that Cazorla continues to earn the bulk of playing time in the attacking midfield role, there is every reason for Gunner’s fans to expect that Santi can equal or surpass Van Persie’s chances created (96) and break the 100 chance created mark.
So, with those statistics, which player is making the biggest impact so far this season? Who is set to make the biggest impact over the course of the season? And, which new players have the potential to post impact seasons for their new clubs? Leave your suggestions in the comments.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from our Top Stats area in the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.