As has been recently detailed in an excellent article by JWarsop, Blackburn had trouble keeping possession in the 2010/’11 season. Further, they were not particularly adept at turning what little possession they did have into chances in the opponents end. At the heart of the problem, as at the heart of the team, is a midfield that failed to control the ball and make aggressive moves to push Blackburn into attacking positions while creating scoring opportunities. To remedy these problems Blackburn is going to need to look externally as their best internal options, Dunn, Gamst Pedersen and Emerton, are largely the cause and not the solution.
As a team Rovers completed just 62% of their passes attempting just 11,174 passe in open play, finishing the season better than only one side, Stoke City (60% completion on 10313 open play passing attempts “oppa“). The next worst passing teams were Bolton’s 65% of 12,733 oppa, Sunderland’s 68% of 14,168 oppa, relegated side Birmingham City and nearly relegated Wolverhampton as they completed 69% of their 14,035 and 14,833 oppa respectively. Blackburn’s passing, both in number and efficiency, left much to be desired and a midfield general is required to control possession and push the attack. In comparing our two blind resumes to the incumbent midfielders it is quite clear that either player would provide a significant upgrade over the current options. Given Dunn’s usage now being equal parts starter and bench option, we’ve considered Pedersen and Emerton the most likely to be taking the minutes in midfield this season. Because the blind resume player’s statistics would be replacing those minutes we’ve chosen the players with the most minutes from this past term.
Emerton was decent at holding possession when given the chance. With few opportunities he simply was not able to impact the passing game as much as his success rate warranted. Emerton was also not particularly good at doing anything besides keeping possession, failing to advance the ball from the rear (long passes) or make sharp, incisive passes in the attacking end (through balls). Pedersen was similarly ineffective, though for different reasons. His own inability to maintain possession is evident when compared with our blind Players, his passing success ratio was 10% less than Player A and 20% less than Player B. Though Pedersen was useful at providing through balls he simply did not attempt enough volume to have an impact. Neither Blackburn player came close to being as valuable as either of the blind resume Players last term.
Players A and B fare much better here. Clearly Player B is the pick of bunch with evident skill at passing in all phases of the game. His ability to maintain possession through passing, integrate the long pass into his game, and routinely attempt through balls makes him a valuable commodity. Player A is similarly skilled, if a bit less in raw passing. stature However, in the attacking end Player A shows his lethal touch and willingness to force the issue completing a higher % of his own through balls. Both players were comfortable playing the ball from the back and attempted significantly more passes and long passes than any individual Blackburn player. This despite the fact that Pedersen was one of the most involved passers at Blackburn in 2010/’11, accounting for 10% of all the clubs passes for the season while playing the equivalent of 27 full matches.
In the attacking statistics Player A regains some of the ground he lost to Player B in passing. While Player B posses greater skill running with the ball he did also lose possession at a slightly higher rate and created only 3/4 the chances. It is here that A’s value is most evident, with his chances created being split between open play and set pieces. His 83 chances, 9 assists and 11 direct free kicks taken are significant increases over the other three players production. It is worth noting that Player A has set piece responsibility for his current club and created 42 of his chances from set pieces, a skill that Player B may posses but has yet to demonstrate in the EPL.
These statistics have not been modified to account for difference in time played. The reason for this is simple, one final statistic not included above but every bit as important is age. Pedersen is 29, Emerton 32 while Player A is 28 and Player B just 25. Age, fitness, health and the expected deterioration of the physical body as players pass 30 years is evident and can not simply be ignored. For this reason we’ve included minutes as a barometer of the amount of playing time Blackburn could reasonably expect to get from their midfielders. Playing time is every bit as important to the success of the club as any other individual statistic, particularly when discussing the player who will be pulling the strings for your club.
With these numbers throughly threshed all that remains is to reveal the two players. It is fair to say that, from the statistics examined here, either player would immediately become the most influential midfielder for BRFC playing the lynchpin role and pulling the strings. Thought B is perhaps the better player, Player A’s numbers are quite good and certainly in contention for a legitimate argument as to which would provide the best value to Blackburn’s current side.
Player B is Luka Modric, a player that Harry Redknapp has labeled as “priceless”. The 25 year old Tottenham midfielder who has been the subject of much transfer speculation and a rumoured £35m bid from Chelsea. Modric’s skill on the ball is evident with both the naked eye and a careful inspection of the underlying numbers. It is perhaps surprising to find he does, in fact, lose the ball on occasion and does not make as many successful through balls as memory would have you believe. Modric is clearly class and any club would be happy to have him in their squad.
Player A is Joey Barton. Unsurprisingly to some, his raw numbers stack up well compared to his more sought after peer. Barton clearly is not the passer that Modric is, either in precision or in volume. Barton’s true value comes in his willingness and ability to press the attack from any part of the pitch while infrequently conceding possession to the opposition. Of course it must also be noted that Barton accomplished these numbers while lining up alongside Jonas Gutierrez and Nile Ranger while Modric had the good fortune to play with Rafa Van der Vaart and Gareth Bale. The current collection of talent for Blackburn does more closely resemble the talent in last season’s Newcastle side, but for either of these players their own skill would ensure they raised the level of play for those around them.
Certainly Barton and Modric carry with them different reputations within the game and, granted, he’s had an altercation with another of the team’s midfielders. However, assuming Barton and Gamst Pedersen can let bygones be, it is clear that the addition of Barton would significantly upgrade the passing, free kicks, long ball play and chance creation in the Rovers’ midfield. True, explaining that Barton would be replacing him (or Emerton) in this scenario may cause MGP additional consternation and strain an already frayed relationship. That notwithstanding, as an exercise in numbers, clearly Barton could be the man to keep Rovers up this season and progressing towards their stated eventual ambition of a top 4/5 finish.