There has been much talk in the press of newly appointed Manchester United manager, David Moyes, raiding his former club Everton to strengthen the Manchester United squad. The majority of the rumours have surrounded the potential signing of Belgian International Marouane Fellaini, but there have also been significant column inches dedicated to the potential signings of English Internationals Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka.
Here I compare the 2012/2013 Premier League stats for these potential transfer targets to those of the United player they would most likely replace in the Old Trafford squad. The comparison for Baines is the most simple; he would be direct competition for the incumbent left back, Patrice Evra. For Fellaini, I have selected the United midfielder who encompassed the most playing time last season after Michael Carrick, 23 year old Tom Cleverley. And for Phil Jagielka I have chosen to compare him to Nemanja Vidic, who played second fiddle to Rio Ferdinand in the United central line last season (both in terms of playing time and his overall performance level).
For each comparison I have selected some key stats for comparing the players and have selected a ‘winner’ (in green) and ‘loser’ (red) for the season on that stat or I have determined the results too close to call (in amber). For ease of explanation and analysis, the stats have been separated into those impacting the defensive areas of the game, and those in the offensive zones.
(1) Patrice Evra v Leighton Baines
Both players had a very solid season for their respective clubs. At 32 years of age, Evra is four years older than his Everton counterpart. So, unlike the other two comparisons we will investigate, a case could be made for Baines being a longer term successor for Evra rather than a direct replacement. That said, Evra has a number of years left at the highest level and neither player would be happy being the second choice left-back at United. Therefore any purchase now would likely be a replacement rather than a long term development strategy.
At a headline level, Evra wins four of the 18 performance indicators analysed (2 in the defensive zone and 2 in the offensive areas). Baines wins seven of the performance indicators (four in the offensive zone). A few areas stand out in the analysis, firstly that Baines wins almost 10% more of his ground 50-50 challenges than Evra and secondly that Evra wins an incredible 23% more of his aerial battles than Baines does. The ‘Goals Conceded per Game’ stat is actually incredibly close, with Baines just taking it – therefore I would suggest that in the defensive areas of the pitch, the two left-backs are (from the data) pretty equally matched.
Given that Baines is Everton’s regular penalty taker and free-kick specialist, you would expect to see him standout in the shooting and goal scoring stakes, in actual fact there is very little difference in these categories for the season, with an almost identical record in terms of goals scored, minutes per shot, shot accuracy and minutes per goal scored. Baines does standout significantly though in the number of crosses he makes per game and the number of chances he creates per match, creating a chance for a team-mate once every 29 minutes across the season (he is actually the highest scoring player in the whole Premier League for this stat last season – an incredible performance for a left-back).
The other area that jumps out for me is in the passing performance indicators, with Evra demonstrating clear wins in ‘minutes per possession loss’ (46 minutes better), ‘pass success rate’ (8% better) and ‘Attacking zone pass completion’ (10% better).
In summary therefore, I would say that United already have a proven left-back in Patrice Evra. His passing and defensive game is every bit as strong as that of Leighton Baines and whilst Baines does offer more in the attacking third than Evra, I would question whether United’s forward line need that additional support given that they were already the highest scoring team in the league last term. I believe United should focus on the defensive side of the game if investing in new fullbacks (all of the other Champions League qualifiers from the Premier League conceded fewer goals than United last season).
Conclusion – Keep your money in your pocket Mr. Moyes. You can wait a year or two yet and see how Alexander Buttner develops before you need to make a move for a new left back. There are more important areas to focus on for new recruits.
(2) Tom Cleverley v Marouane Fellaini
Tom Cleverly had a disappointing season at United, enjoying far less playing time than he would have hoped for. Fellaini on the other hand enjoyed a regular starting berth (interrupted only by suspensions) for Everton and proved he can play at the highest level with goals against Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City. Both players are of a similar age, Cleverly at 23 being just two years younger than his Belgian counterpart. Whilst the two players are very different in their style of play and preferred roles on the pitch, Fellaini would probably be seen as a replacement for Cleverley within the United team. Michael Carrick is now too central to the way United play for him to be the one to give way (at least in the short-term) for any new signings.
At first glance, Cleverley ‘wins’ 8 of the 18 performance indicators analysed and Fellaini ‘wins’ 5. Three of the five that go to Fellaini are in the goal-scoring and shooting area, which I guess is expected given the type of player he is and that Moyes’ asked him to play high up the pitch for Everton.
The stats appear to back up what we probably already knew, Cleverley is a combative midfielder who breaks up play and makes quick incisive passes to start United attacks (he outscores Fellaini on tackle success, ground 50-50 wins, lost possession, number of passes, defensive errors, pass success and attack zone pass accuracy), for me it is clear he is a better defensive midfielder than the Belgian and is stronger in the passing part of his game.
Fellaini on the other hand has an outstanding win % for aerial duels (at 6 ft 4 inches, compared to Cleverley’s 5 ft 9 in, I guess this is hardly surprising!), with 60% of his aerial duels won. He also significantly outscores Cleverley on the goal scoring elements of the game.
The key here is the way in which Moyes wishes to operate at United. If Carrick plays, you accept that he isn’t going to be a goal scorer within the United team, it is vital therefore that others contribute to the goal scoring effort from the midfield areas. To date, Tom Cleverley hasn’t demonstrated his goal scoring pedigree or an indication that this will be part of his game in the future (less than one shot per game for the season makes it very difficult to be prolific). If Moyes wishes to go for three central midfielders in a five man midfield, then I can see a role for Cleverley in the same team as Carrick, but as a two-man central midfield partnership I would see Fellaini as the better option. Having said that, in a five man midfield, you could imagine a central three of Carrick, Fellaini and Cleverley operating well.
Conclusion – Fellaini definitely offers something different to the United team. His aerial strength and ability to score goals from the central midfield areas is not something United currently have at their disposal. Personally, I think a more technically gifted and creative midfielder than Fellaini is required at United, but I can also see some advantages in adding Fellaini to the Old Trafford team.
(3) Nemanja Vidic v Phil Jagielka
Nemanja Vidic is the Manchester United club captain but since injuring his knee ligaments in Basel 18 months ago he has spent significant time on the sidelines and he played just 1,619 minutes (equivalent to 18 full matches) last season.
Phil Jagielka is now a regular in Roy Hodgson’s England squad and a mainstay of the Everton defensive line, last season he was particularly impressive for the Goodison Park outfit, playing a total of 3,155 minutes.
Nemanja Vidic ‘wins’ six of the 16 performance indicators selected, Jagielka has the edge on just three. Two of the areas where Jagielka outperformed Vidic last season are in the offensive parts of the game (minutes per chance created and shot accuracy). In the defensive areas of the game Vidic is equal or better than Jagielka in all criteria, apart from the percentage of ground 50-50 challenges won (which Jagielka takes by 77% to 61%).
In the offensive areas, the two players are fairly equal with two ‘wins’ each. With Vidic demonstrating (as have the other United players in this article), a superior passing ability to the Everton player (Vidic is 10% better in both ‘pass success rate’ and in ‘attacking zone pass completion’ stats).
Conclusion – This one is a no-brainer, Vidic outscores Jagielka in almost all areas of the game and this in a season when he has struggled for form and playing time. United already have an incredibly strong (and developing) central defensive line. The experience of Rio Ferdinand and Vidic will be vital in helping the development of Chris Smalling, Johnny Evans and Phil Jones. Jagielka is 30 years of age and so would be by no means a long term solution for United. He is undoubtedly a good player, but I cannot see the value in adding Phil Jagielka to this already impressive defensive unit at Old Trafford.
So whilst David Moyes may have had players that he rates and trusts at Everton, I believe he would do much better looking at some of the talented players on the continent in order to strengthen the United team. It’s hard to argue that the mentioned Everton players are World Class and it is unlikely that they would take the current United squad to the next level. Moyes really needs to be targeting a world class central midfielder and/or winger if he is going to push this United team to the next level and rival the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The likes of Strootman, Fabregas, Ronaldo and Bale are really the players United should be targeting in the current transfer window in order for Moyes to realise both his domestic and European ambitions next season.
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