This week, West Brom full back Steven Reid credited Shane Long with invigorating the success of Romelu Lukaku’s loan spell at the Hawthorns in the 2012/2013 season. He believes that he can perform a similar role for Nicolas Anelka this upcoming season.
However, Reid’s comments got me thinking. Is Long capable of being the man to replace Lukaku, rather than being a foil to any potential replacement for the Belgian forward?
Before looking at the most important areas for the strikers, goals and assists, I thought it would be worth looking at some of the less-heralded but still important statistics.
Because West Bromwich Albion tended to employ a lone striker for the majority of last season, a lot of responsibility for holding the ball up fell upon one forward, with that forward being either Long or Lukaku.
These stats show that Long and Lukaku were very similar when competing in Aerial Duels. Lukaku competed for only 9 more Aerial 50-50’s than the Irish international, with a success rate of 42% compared to the 41% success rate of Long. In this area, it is clear there is very little to choose between the pair.
Work for the team
Although there isn’t a category entitled this, I’ve brought a couple of statistical categories together to form this part of the analysis. By work for the team, I’m referring the defensive roles of the central striker in Steve Clarke’s 4-2-3-1 formation. With only one man up front, there must also be defending there, constantly pressing opposition in an attempt to enable The Baggies to counter.
The first batch of statistics (see above) show that Long attempted far more tackles than his Belgian rival and although his success rate was lower, it is the number of tackles and minutes per tackle that highlight the pressing game expected of the lone forward. The first statistic is outweighed by the latter, making it particularly irrelevant.
The other statistics that have gone into my “work for the team” category is the amount of times possession was won for their team and how often they were dispossessed, as I believe both of these are vital to the role of the lone striker. Again, Long clearly out-performs Lukaku in terms of possession won, showing how well each striker presses the opposition.
Long won double the amount of possession in the attacking third compared to Lukaku, showing how well he pressed high up the pitch. There is less of a difference in the amount of possession won in the middle third of the pitch, but Long is still 10 clear of his Belgian counterpart. However, Lukaku did lose possession fewer times than Long, suggesting that he was better at holding the ball up, particularly when coupled with Lukaku’s decent amount of success in aerial duels.
This category is another one that demonstrates the job the lone striker does for his team-mates and once more there is very little to choose between Long and Lukaku. Lukaku had more success with his dribbling than Long, but the Irishman counter-acts that with a far superior crossing accuracy than Lukaku.
The Chelsea loanee created more chances than Long and took less time to create the chances. He also created 1 more clear cut chance than the Irishman. Despite this, the pair created the same amount of assists.
Shooting and goals
This is the one area where Romelu Lukaku has a big advantage. Of course, the main statistic people will focus on is that Lukaku has 9 more goals than Long. It also took Lukaku only 118 minutes to score, where as Long took 271 minutes. Lukaku averaged a shot every 25 minutes, compared to Long having a shot every 49. Lukaku also had a far better shooting accuracy than Long.
There is, however, one area that Long will look back on with satisfaction. He had a very impressive clear cut chance conversion rate of 44%, compared to Lukaku’s 36%. In fact, that clear cut chance conversion rate is superior to the likes of Carlos Tevez, Demba Ba and Robin van Persie.
It is perfectly feasible to suggest that Long is capable of stepping into the big shoes of Lukaku. It is only really the number of goals he scores where Long needs to improve to match up with the Belgian, and with West Brom’s summer transfer plans seemingly focused on bringing in wide, creative players, that should help Long’s quest.