On July 18th Marc Tarsky asked Can Spurs live without Modric? highlighting Sandro, Palacios, Jenas and Huddlestone. On August 4th SamRooke89 followed up Mark’s piece as he published an in-depth look at Tom Huddlestone. At the time of each of these articles it did appear, as it does today, that Luka Modric may be making his way across London. What is different today is that it now appears, from Tottenham Hotspur’s first match of the season away to Hearts in a Europa League play-off first leg, that Niko Kranjcar may be the man to replace his Croatian teammate in the middle of the pitch for Spurs. Kranjcar is again in the lineup today at Old Trafford and, following the glowing praise from manager Harry Redknapp following the Hearts match, looks set to lock down his place in the center of the Spurs midfield.
Kranjcar signed for Spurs from Portsmouth for the 2009-10 season and enjoyed a decent first season with Spurs, scoring 6 goals and assisting on 6 others in just 1,660′ in the EPL. He was an exceptional player and even more valuable when his numbers are examined on a minute-by-minute basis. With Gareth Bale bursting onto the scene Kranjcar and Modric putting together his own excellent season, Kranjcar found his minutes severely limited. However, this season has seen Redknapp push him to the inside of midfield, pairing him with youngster Jake Livermore in the center of the pitch.
A quick glance at the numbers from last season, and it is no wonder why he sat on the bench more than saw the field. Niko’s numbers were decidedly worse than his international teammate, in everything from 50/50 challenges, to passing to dribbles. However, a quick glance is simply not enough and we’ve pulled the duo’s respective passing, tackling, dribbling and attacking statistics to provide a more full examination of the replacement of one leading Croatian midfielder with the up-and-comer.
Kranjcar did not benefit from the severe reduction in his minutes. He was not as successful wining balls on the ground (both 50/50’s and tackles) though his aerial numbers were quite good. Even in few minutes Niko showed his commitment, with better per minutes challenges in both ground and aerial 50/50’s and tackles. His willingness to confront the opposition on the ball is an important distinction between he and Modric, especially because of the statistical advantage (or rather, the statistical reflection of the on-field advantage) that Modric has over his countryman in passing.
Modric showed in the 2010-11 season that he was a better passer in all phases of the game. Though Niko had fewer chances, there was clearly a gap in the talent on display and Luka pulled the strings with aplomb. Though Niko did have a similar Open Play completion percentage, the below table shows that he was more frequently passing indirectly, passes which are more likely to be completed.
Interestingly, it was Kranjcar, and not Modric, who was more even in his distribution, passing to the left more than 10% of the time, while passing to the right just less than 2x as frequently. Conversely, Modric passed to the right nearly 3x are frequently as the left, a disparity that does put a point in Kranjcar favor. On the ball they were equally as likely to lose the ball, each losing possession about 3 times per EPL fixture.
Similarly, they each intercepted the ball well, with Modric earning one more interception per match.
The single largest disparity in Modric’s advantage is their ability to take on defenders. Modric completed more than 4x as many dribbles per match. This ability on the ball has become Modric signature, with his ability to beat his man and find an open teammate a defining characteristic of his play.
Kranjcar’s response to that is to be much better scoring. In very few minutes he was able to provide 2 goals for Tottenham in the Premier League while Modric, for everything that he did provide, did only provide 3 goals. Modric average just a goal every 10 matches, while Kranjcar was closer to a goal every 2. For everything that he may lack in creating or seizing on opportunity for his teammates, Kranjcar makes up for with his work rate and his scoring touch.
Though it is clear that last season Modric enjoyed a significant statistical advantage over Kranjcar with, perhaps, some of his per minute statistics being influenced by Niko’s lack of match sharpness, it is worth looking at some of these same numbers from the 2009-10 season when the two played alongside one another in the Spurs midfield, earning a more comparable numbers of minutes.
It the 2009-10 season Kranjcar put together a solid playing record that further illustrates both his scoring touch and his willingness to challenge opponents on the ball and in the air. Further, his passing statistics are more similar to Modric’s with Kranjcar clearly performing at a higher level in a season where they played similar minutes.
While Modric was clearly still the more skilled at passing, as Kranjcar’s OPP % dips from nearly 85% in limited minutes in 2010-11 to about 79% in previous season and his overall passing from about 80% to 73%. These are not insubstantial reductions in accuracy when compared against the volume of passes that these players attempt, however, both are skilled with the ball, Modric is simply in a rarefied class that Kranjcar is not currently a member. The same is true of Modric when his challenges are compared to Kranjcar’s.
Though the % suggest that Modric is similarly skilled at winning challenges, those some figures clearly show that he is unwilling to engage in as many 50/50 balls and tackles. Kranjcar, on the other hand, is winning nearly twice as many tackles and attempting twice as many aerial challenges. Further, he does attempt more ground 50/50’s (though Modric enjoys an 8% advantage in winning them). As when examining the most recent season, Modric prefers to win challenges by intercepting the ball.
Modric once more shows his skill dribbling the ball, with a greater than 2-to-1 advantage. Further, he is dribbled past less frequently and losses possesion less frequently than Kranjcar. They are comperable, though Modric enjoys the lions share of plaudits for the skill shown while dribbling and the exceptionally high level of passing he displays week in and week out. Kranjcar does, however, posses one skill that is far superior to
Over a full season it is clear that Kranjcar is the better scorer. In a longer season his average dipped from a goal every two
matches to a goal every three, but that is still a fantastic return. He also directly contributed to twice as many goals as Modric, and no Spurs supporter would laugh at these numbers (earned in just 1,660′) over a full season as they put Kranjcar right among the best midfielders in England:
In short, Kranjcar is much better at scoring. While he did play more to on the wing on the 2009-10 season he possess a
scoring touch that is markedly better than Modric’s. His accurarcy, and the translation into a chance conversation rate twice that of Modric, make him a dangerous player in the center of the pitch. While Kranjcar may not start as many opportunities for his teammates as his passing will be slighly below the exceptionally high level of Modric, his willingness to invest his body in winning challanges, and his tireless work rate in making challanges should offset the lower passing accuracy. His number of winning 50/50 balls and tackles will make him a defensive presence in the midfield and his final touch should see him find the net more frequently. With the rumored £30m+ coming in a transfer, Tottenham would be foolish to dismiss the offer out of hand…properly invested those funds could strengthen other weaknesses while the presence of Kranjcar will mitigate any void created by Modric’s departure.
A quick Fantasy Premier League look at Kranjcar can be found here.
UPDATE: Because the Manchester United fixture has now been played, below you can find, via The Guardian, Chalkboards of Modric’s performace at Old Trafford last season and Kranjcar’s performance at Old Trafford this season. It should be noted that Modric played 90′ while Kranjcar played just 74′ so his statistics were earned in 5/6 the pitch time. In the match last season, which United won 2-0, Modric had 2 interceptions, attempted 7 tackles and won 6 of them, had 1 clearance and 0 blocks. In addition to the passing performance outlined below, Kranjcar had 1 interception, attempted 7 tackles and won 5, had 0 blocks or clearances as United won 3-0.