As the 2013/14 Premier League season draws to a close, we are beginning to see awards at club and divisional level being handed out. Luis Suarez picked up the PFA Player of the Year award, while Eden Hazard picked up the organisation’s Young Player of the Year award. However, these awards often don’t take the league’s most improved players into account and so I have my own opinion on the matter. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey win in this category, in my opinion.
Who has been the greater of the two however? Given that Henderson and Ramsey have often been played as attacking midfielders, I think the best way to compare the two would be to look at their respective passing, creativity and goal attempt statistics from last season and this season, and finally compare them to each other.
Henderson has easily been Liverpool’s most improved player this season. The midfielder has went from starting just under half of the Reds’ league games last year to being named in in the starting 11 for all 34 games he has been available for this year. However, while his passing accuracy is an impressive 87% this season, it is only marginally better than his 85% in 12/13. When you look at the areas where most of his passing occurs in more detail however, it better reflects the improvement in Henderson’s game. For instance, he has been accurate with 81% of his passes in the final third this season compared to just 72% in the same area last season.
Ramsey has had a similar impact at Arsenal this season with his team’s title chances faltering after the halfway point, arguably due to the Welshman’s absence through injury. In contrast to Henderson’s improvement in passing however, Ramsey’s has actually digressed. He has a passing accuracy of 84% this season compared to his superior 88% last year. Similarly, he was better in every third of the pitch last season as well. His defensive zone accuracy of 93%, attacking zone accuracy of 84% and his 81% in the final third being better than the respective 90%, 80% and 73% he has managed in 13/14.
This is one area of each player’s game where they have seemingly improved considerably in the last 12 months. Henderson has created 60 chances for his team mates, this includes the seven assists he has made in the process. This equates to a chance being created every 51 minutes on average and this doesn’t include the six clear-cut chances that he has also created. This is almost double the amount of chances and assists he created last season at 33 and four respectively, however this was in a significantly amount of starting appearances. Interestingly, it took him 46 minutes on average to create chances last year, less time than the previously mentioned 51 this season.
Similar to Henderson, Ramsey has created fewer chances this season due to his long absence from the side. He has created just 32 chances this year compared to the 45 he created for his team mates last season. However, he has been much better in making goals for Arsenal this season, contributing with eight assists compared with just two last year. This shows you just how more effective Ramsey has been at creating great opportunities for his team mates, countering his inferior creation amount. He has also created more clear-cut chances this season with 10 compared to just six last season.
Liverpool’s goals have mostly come from the SAS combination of Suarez and Sturridge this year but other players have had their part as well, such as Henderson and the four goals he has contributed to the team’s tally. However, this is dwarfed by the nine goals scored by Ramsey in 12 fewer games. Henderson has so far been unable to match the five goals he scored last year, whereas Ramsey has been far more effective in front of goal this time round as reflected by his solitary strike last season. Five of Ramsey’s goals have come from seven clear-cut chances, giving him a conversion rate of 71%. This is much better than
Henderson’s 29% in the same statistic, which is significantly worse than the 43% he was able to manage in 12/13.
It is in this area of the game that Ramsey has undoubtedly been the most improved player of the two. Even though Henderson’s performances have been close in this respect, the fact he has actually digressed cannot be ignored.
Both players have made much more significant impacts on their teams this season. As mentioned before, Arsenal’s fall from the head of the title race has arguably been due to the absence of Ramsey in midfield and Liverpool’s performance have arguably been below the level you can expect without Henderson on the pitch.
As far as who the most improved player of the two is, it’s hard to say. Cases can be made for both players but if an award was to be handed out, I think it would be far more likely to see Henderson and Ramsey sharing the prize.