This week’s international break has given us a chance to draw breath and take stock of the season so far. A key part of this season’s appeal has been the arrival of several big name players at the top 5 clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd) that have had a substantial impact; chief among these is the sensational Diego Costa at Chelsea, with honourable mentions for Angel Di Maria at Manchester United, Alexis Sánchez at Arsenal and Frank Lampard at Manchester City.
Chelsea’s transfer policy would appear (at this stage of the season) to be the smartest. United’s has been big on attracting top attacking talent, while Liverpool’s transfer dealings have yet to convince. To see which positions fans of the top 5 clubs identified as the ones needing addressing, we looked at the Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football data for the top 15 most popular players last season, to determine the popularity of individual players and pinpoint the ones that most needed replacing.
Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football is a game similar to “Football Manager”, but applied to live football, where you manage your favourite club and pick line-ups, formations and substitutions, all in real-time. When fans play the game, the Beat Your Manager team can measure the popularity of different players, by looking at how frequently they are selected for the starting line-up, substitutes bench or not selected at all.
The app ran for the 2013/4 EPL season and is currently inactive while the developers are creating the revised version – we’ll keep you posted on when it’s going to re-launch.
Goalkeepers: Szczęsny the most popular, while Cech feels the heat
Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczęsny was the most popular goalkeeper, with a 97% rating from Gunners’ fans, just shading out Man United’s David De Gea on 95%. Szczęsny’s status at the Emirates may be behind Lukasz Fabianski’s move to Swansea City in search of first team football.
Chelsea’s Petr Cech is the next most popular goalkeeper (on 87%), with Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet (82%) and Manchester City’s Joe Hart (81%) the least popular 1st choice goalkeepers.
Although he recorded a very respectable rating with Chelsea fans, Cech’s position has been challenged with Mourinho’s recall of Thibaut Courtois from Atletico Madrid.
Despite being England’s No. 1, Manchester City fans were the least confident of their goalkeeper and Pellegrini may also be thinking the same; while the summer did see the exit of Costel Pantilimon to Sunderland, it also saw the arrival of Willy Caballero from Malaga.
Liverpool fans were (almost) equally dubious of their goalkeeper, but Rodgers opted not to spend in that department and even completed the move to Bayern Munich of backup keeper Pepe Reina.
Defence: Wenger’s boys dominate the three-man defence
Of the 29 defenders surveyed, Arsenal had two clear fan favourites in Per Mertesacker (94%) and Bacary Sagna (92%), the two most popular defenders. Arsenal’s next most popular defenders, Laurent Koscielny (83%) and Kieran Gibbs (68%) both make it into the top 15 most popular defenders (positions 8 and 15, respectively), indicating that for last season at least, Arsenal fans had a pretty clear back four. Nevertheless, the departure of Sagna has prompted Wenger to strengthen in this area, bringing in Calum Chambers from Southampton and Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle United.
Despite also having two clear-cut choices last season in Glen Johnson (86%) and Martin Skrtel (83%), Liverpool’s similarities in defence ended there as neither player made our most-popular defenders list. Additionally, Liverpool’s next-most popular defender was Daniel Agger (62% rating with Reds’ fans), offloaded to Brøndby, while Martin Kelly (Crystal Palace) and Seb Coates (Sunderland) have also seen the door. Rodgers moved to address this during the summer with the acquisition of Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo, but those signings have yet to convince.
By the end of the summer, Manchester United faced a crisis in defence, with their three-most popular defenders Patrice Evra (90%; our 3rd choice defender), Nemanja Vidić (77%) and Rio Ferdinand (56%) now signed for other clubs. While Ferdinand may not be such a loss, the departure of Evra and Vidic will be keenly felt around the Old Trafford ground and in response, the club have brought in Luke Shaw (Southampton), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon) and Daley Blind (Ajax).
Manchester City had four defenders (Kompany (86%); Zabaleta (82%); Clichy (74%); Demichelis (68%)) in the top half of our defenders table last season, while Chelsea’s most popular back four were equally scattered (Ivanovic (86%); Terry (82%); Cahill (71%); Cole (65%)), indicating a robust level of support for their defenders from the Blue halves of both Manchester and London.
While Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards both departed the Etihad this summer, neither will be missed by City fans on this evidence and the arrival Bacary Sagna from Arsenal and Eliaquim Mangala (Porto) should soothe any ruffled feathers. By contrast, Chelsea fans may find the sale of fan favourite Ashley Cole to Roma a bitter pill to swallow, even with the acquisition of Filipe Luis from Atlético Madrid.
Of the top five teams, Liverpool fans were the least confident of their defence, recording an average rating of 59%, while Arsenal were the happiest at the back, their average 84% rating for the top defenders easily beating their rivals.
Midfield: Man City and Liverpool happy campers, while United fans bemoan their lot
Of the top five teams, Man City fans were the most confident of their midfield, with an average 79% rating and two midfielders in the top four; Yaya Touré (97%; the most popular midfielder) and Nasri (89%), while Silva (86%) is 8th in last season’s list of 28 midfielders. Those favourites now have to compete with new signings Fernando (Porto) and top Chelsea boy Frank Lampard, while Pellegrini has felt comfortable to release Javi García (to Zenit St Petersburg), Jack Rodwell (to Sunderland) and Gareth Barry (to Everton).
Liverpool fans were next most confident, with the most clearly-defined midfield last season; Gerrard (94%), Henderson (88%) and Coutinho (87%) making up three of the top-six most popular midfielders. Rodgers did not dispense with any midfielders of note, instead bringing in Adam Lallana (Southampton), Lazar Markovic (Benfica) and Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen) to keep this position competitive.
Arsenal’s Özil was our 3rd most popular midfielder with a 91% rating from the Gunners’ fans, with colleagues Cazorla (84%) and Ramsey (80%) not far behind in 9th and 11th spot. Frank Lampard was Chelsea’s most popular midfielder and ranks 10th on our list with an 83% rating from the Londoners, while his colleagues Oscar (79%) and Ramires (70%) were not far behind. Wenger has seen fit to buttress midfield with the acquisition of Alexis Sánchez from Barcelona, while Mourinho has splashed out to bring former Gooner Cesc Fabregas back to London.
Man United’s newly-minted Juan Mata made it into 7th spot on an 87% rating from MUFC fans, but the Club faced their biggest challenge in this area. United fans gave their midfield by far the lowest (57%) of all their top 4 rivals, with most of the players languishing near the bottom of our scale; apart from Mata, only Michael Carrick (71%; 16th in our list) earning anywhere near a respectable rating. To address this, the club has brought in one of the summer’s transfer success stories in the shape of Ángel di María from Real Madrid, and also the creative talents of Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao.
Forwards: Liverpool’s fine-tuning in replacing Suarez while Chelsea go for total re-vamp
Last season, Liverpool had the most clearly-defined forward line, with Luis Suárez (98%) and Daniel Sturridge (94%) taking the top two most-popular forward spots. However, the departure of fan favourite Suarez has meant that Rodgers was forced to look at several players (Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Rickie Lambert (Southampton)) over the summer to fill his shoes.
The one area of the pitch Manchester United fans did not rate poorly last season was in attack; clear favourite Wayne Rooney scoring 92% with the Red Devils’ fans, making him the 3rd most popular forward and well ahead of colleague van Persie, on 78%. With both players still at the Club and the arrival of Radamel Falcao from Monaco, the departure of Danny Welbeck (to Arsenal) and Javier Hernández (to Real Madrid) should be easily absorbed, provided nobody gets injured.
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard just misses the cut for the forwards on an 85% approval rating, but Chelsea faced substantial difficulties upfront; Fernando Torres, the Blues’ next-most popular forward, lagged way behind on a 54% rating from fans. Mourinho complained a lot about his forward line last season and has completely revamped his attack, jettisoning Torres (AC Milan), Demba Ba (Besiktas), Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o (both Everton) to make way for high profile signings Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid) and Loic Remy (QPR), as well as the return of fan favourite Didier Drogba (Galatasaray).
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud (82%) and Lukas Podolski (79%) similarly miss out on the line-up, but their respectable polling numbers means that the club holds the middle ground for forwards; breaking into that line-up will be a tough challenge for Man United reject Danny Welbeck.
Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero (82%) is similarly benched, while the coach has felt able to dispense with the services of Álvaro Negredo (to Valencia) without revisiting the market.