Following Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Tottenham, City’s Micah Richards tweeted fulsome praise for Gareth Bale, comparing going against him to that of facing Arjen Robben (who ensured Richards endured a torrid Champions League evening in Munich earlier this season).
Bale, the reigning PFA Player of The Year, has again been in excellent form through 2011/12 and his going up against Richards was one of several key match-ups in Sunday’s game that saw City snatch the win with Mario Balotelli’s late penalty, converted a matter of minutes after Jermain Defoe had, by a matter of inches, failed to convert Bale’s cross.
In previous encounters with Bale in fixtures between the two sides, Richards has struggled at times; most notably on the opening day of the 2010/11 season when he had a torrid time and with questions still remaining – despite enjoying arguably the best form of his career – over the defensive aspects of his game, Bale would have been confident of a productive afternoon at The Etihad Stadium.
Given the offensive threat that Richards poses, the clash between the pair was always going to be an intriguing one. With an unrivalled threat running with the ball, Bale is arguably as dangerous an attacking threat there is in the Premier League, but Richards contribution to City’s potent attacking play should not be underestimated. The key was whether either players natural game and instincts would be stymied in trying to counter the threat of the other.
We know how the game itself played out, but what of the battle between Richards and Bale? Did either come out on top and help shape the result?
You would expect Richards to be far more solid from a defensive perspective, and the numbers bear this out:
What does stand out from the defensive numbers is that whilst not necessarily flashy, Richards was solid from a defensive aspect: notably not committing any errors, nor was he beaten (dribbled past) at any stage during the game. Richards was also excellent in the tackle (100% success from five tackles), won both his aerial duels and posted an impressive 58% success rate from his Ground 50-50’s.
Moving onto the passing numbers we can also see that Richards had a solid game in this regard, posting a 91% success rate from his Open Play passes (with 42% of his 30 completed passes positive ones in that they were directed in a forward direction). Bale’s numbers were solid too, completing 89% of his 55 Open Play passes (with 51% going forward) but what the table below does show – aside from a very well executed goal to level the game at 2-2 – was a lack of offensive output; making only a single successful dribble and completed none of his three attempted crosses:
Both players overall passing numbers – both successful and unsuccessful – are also shown in the following Guardian Chalkboards and show the extent to which Richards was part of City’s attacking game, effectively countering the positional threat of Bale:
Digging deeper into the passing numbers a little, we can see a comparison of Richards and Bale in both the defensive and attacking zones and also the opposition final third both from Sunday’s game and over the course of 2011/12 to date:
There is no real surprise with the above numbers, with Bale involved in a greater number of passes in both the opposition half and final third, with the defensive numbers roughly similar. This was to be expected given the propensity of Bale to be more involved in the attacking game (as a ‘winger’ than a full-back) but was is telling is that Bale’s figures against City in all three categories were a significant improvement on his average so far in 2011/12, with Richards returning higher numbers from a defensive and opposition half standpoint but saw his final third numbers lower than the season average – an indication that the threat of Bale (combined with Benoit Assou-Ekoto) reduced his ability to be involved higher up the field as is usually the case.
This is also shown in the attacking numbers, with Richards neither scoring nor attempting a shot on goal (perhaps not too much of a surprise) but Bale too attempting just the one shot on goal – albeit one that hit the back of the net, but from a position where Richards had no influence upon the outcome:
Added to the above is that neither player assisted on a goal with Richards and Bale creating one and two chances respectively. As the below table shows, Bale had made more touches of the ball (81 to 60), with both being dispossessed twice and Bale overrunning the ball (in possession) four times, whilst he lost possession 20 times compared to Richards’s 13 times.
Richards was also able to win possession twice in his defensive zone, with both players winning possession in the midfield and attacking thirds – showing that both were solid from a defensive aspect throughout the whole pitch:
Until Mario Balotelli’s antics, it was Gareth Bale who looked to have grabbed the headlines with his strike that looked to have earned Tottenham a share of the spoils but behind these headlines were the numbers that showed whilst not dominating Bale, Richards was able to largely restrict Bale’s attacking threat, in the process looking far more competent as a defender than he has done previously against the Welshman.
The battle between the two was certainly a fascinating one though, evidence of two players at the of the game who by and large nullified the threat that each possess – a contest that contributed to what was an absorbing game of football between two sides who showed quite why they occupy positions at the Premier League tree.
The comparison tables are taken from the EPLIndex Stats Centre’s Comparison Area. To have access to this area and write for EPLIndex.com just £3.95 per month – Subscribe Now!