Following a year in which Manchester City dramatically won the league by beating Queens Park Rangers on the last day of the season (with goals from Edin Dzeko in the 92nd minute and Sergio Aguero in the 94th) after trailing 2-1 for virtually the entire second half, the club have their sights set on repeating their Premier League feat. But while the early results of the season have been mostly positive, with City sitting in third position in the table through eight games, Roberto Mancini faces some tough decisions ahead.
Having brought in the likes of Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell, Maicon, and Scott Sinclair, Mancini’s squad selection process must now resemble a game of musical chairs: one player’s inclusion comes at the expense of another, while differing styles result in the accommodation of slightly different formations. Although most managers would argue that this is the kind of problem they’d love to have, alternating lineups have clearly played a role in City scoring ten fewer goals and conceding three more than at this time last season. At the back, for example, Mancini has utilised lineups with both three and four defenders, with no fewer than eight players (Maicon, Kolarov, Kompany, Clichy, Lescott, Richards, Toure, and Zabaletta) featuring in at least one game.
While many would suggest that a lack of stability and the frequent changing of formations is to blame for the increase in goals allowed, a three goal difference over the course of eight games is hardly something to lose sleep over. Where the difference is more pronounced, however, is in the attacking third of the pitch, where City have netted just over one goal fewer per game through the first eight games of this year.
So, what is to blame for the drop-off in goals? A number of factors likely play a role. For one, City have faced tough challenges early in the season, squaring off against Liverpool at Anfield, hosting Arsenal, and playing with ten men against West Brom for over an hour last week, after James Milner was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Shane Long.
Additionally, for the first time since taking charge of City, Mancini has a plethora of attacking options. In Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, and Edin Dzeko, the City manager has what is likely the most formidable group of strikers in all of Europe, and for the first time since becoming a unit, all four are available for selection virtually every week. With Tevez appearing to be on better terms with Mancini following his long spell away from the club last season, and Balotelli showing signs of increased maturity by putting the disciplinary problems that have plagued him throughout his career behind him, now is the time for Manchester City to make a decision about their strikers. Thus, this article takes an in depth look at how City’s “fearsome foursome” stack up against each other.
The chart above shows the number of appearances for the club by each of the four strikers through the 2011/2012 season and into the first eight games of this season. Not surprisingly, as the big money signing and unopposed starter for much of last season, Aguero has the most appearances with 39, as well as the highest total minutes played at 2849.
On the other side of things, Tevez has the fewest number of appearances and the fewest minutes played in total, mainly due to his exclusion from the team following a touchline dispute with Manchini.
Interestingly, Dzeko ranks second in total appearances with 37, only two games behind Aguero. But those 37 appearances have translated into 1074 fewer minutes played, as over half of his appearances (19 of 37) have come as a substitute, a role that he said, following his two-goal performance last week against West Bromwich Albion, that he accepts but does not prefer.
Balotelli is also a unique case, featuring 30 times for the club, but only averaging 54.5 minutes per appearance. This is due to being used predominately as a starter (60% of the time) and in those starting situations, having little margin for error with the likes of Tevez and Dzeko ready to replace him.
An examination of the passing statistics shows that Tevez and Aguero are the most accurate passers, achieving success rates of 83.7% and 83.4% respectively. Balotelli ranks third, with a clip of 76.4%, while Dzeko appears to be the worst passer. Additionally, despite playing the fewest minutes, Tevez has completed the second most passes, a good sign considering his high completion percentage.
In terms of crossing, Balotelli ranks the best, crossing accurately on 26% of occasions. Aguero is the least accurate, only achieving success 10.5% of the time. However, the 15.5% disparity between them has led to only two more accurate crosses in total, an indication that strikers generally don’t attempt a lot of crosses and are best suited to be on the receiving end of balls delivered into the box.
Not surprisingly, Aguero has totalled the most assists with nine. Despite playing 586 fewer minutes than Dzeko, and 450 fewer minutes than Balotelli, Tevez has recorded two and five more assists than his colleagues respectively.
Finally, in terms of minutes played per chance created, Tevez ranks the best, creating a chance every 27 minutes. Aguero and Dzeko are nearly identical, with the former creating basically a chance per half( every 44.5 minutes) and the latter every 48 minutes. Meanwhile, Balotelli creates a chance every 65.5 minutes, nearly 2.5 times less often than Tevez.
The final relevant category when comparing strikers is goal attempts. The chart shows that Aguero is the top scorer with 25 goals, Dzeko is second with 19, Balotelli has netted 13 times, and Tevez rounds out the foursome with seven.
In terms of minutes played per goal, Dzeko ranks highest, scoring once every 93 minutes, while Tevez takes 1.8 times longer to score.
There is no noticeable difference in terms of shooting accuracy between the four, with Tevez being the most accurate at 58.5% and Aguero the least at 49.5%. It should be noted however, that Aguero has taken nearly 3 times as many shots as Tevez during their time together at City.
Minutes played per shot on target range from 38.5 (Dzeko) to 50 (Aguero), with Balotelli ranking second best at 46.8 minutes, and Tevez third at 49.5 minutes.
Finally, chance conversion percentage shows that Dzeko completes nearly a quarter (23%) of his chances, Aguero and Balotelli finish just over one fifth of their chances(21%), and Tevez slightly under a fifth of his.
While the four strikers in question have their own strengths and weaknesses, it is possible to distinguish between them using the passing and goal attempts charts listed above. From a passing perspective, Aguero and Tevez are clearly dominant, as they are superior in terms of both passing accuracy (completion percentage) and minutes played per chance created. These are two of the most relevant statistics when measuring overall passing proficiency, especially as these stats that are independent of total time on the field.
In terms of goal attempts, Dzeko is the most prolific overall, taking the least amount of time to register a shot on target, the least amount of time on the pitch to score a goal, and converting the highest percentage of his chances. It must be noted however, that Dzeko’s statistics are at least in part prorated, as he has done a lot of his damage as a substitute.
Therefore, it would be in Manchester City’s best interest to deploy Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez as their two main strikers, with Edin Dzeko filling in from time to time, and fully adapting to the role of “super sub” that he has been so effective at filling. Although Mario Balotelli may not have fully developed and reached the potential that many believe he possesses, City are in need of a regular strike partnership in order to fight off the tough challenges currently being presented by clubs such as United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from 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.