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Top 12th Man | Opta Stats

We’ve already examined the Top 12th Man for two clubs, writing profiles of Adel Taarabt for QPR and David Stockdale at Fulham. When we put out the call for the very best players off of the bench, several clubs went unrepresented. From those clubs we’ve taken the best of their best and selected the top option for comparison here.

Aston Villa has not enjoyed the best season. With on loan Robbie Keane seeing his time back in the EPL drawn to a close Alex McLeish will lose one of just five players to have scored more than a single EPL goal for Aston Villa this season.  With a regular starting XI that has seen infrequent rotation the choice for a top option off the

With Marc Albrighton, Emile Heskey and Barry Bannan; there exists a trio of players who perhaps belong in the starting line-up each weekend. Having played the fewest minutes of the trio, Bannan has managed to score only a single goal, the same total as Heskey and one fewer than Albrighton’s 2. Despite recording the fewest minutes, Barry Bannan’s overall play dictates that he is the best Villan off of the bench this season. For the sake of fairness, we’ll examine all three options here, but the numbers illustrate that Bannan is not just a top option for the future, but also could propel the Villans up the table this season.

Bannan has made just 5 starts this season, but his 13 substitute appearances have seen him on the pitch for 730′ this season.  Defensively, as seen at right, he is the best of the three attacking players, albeit just slightly better than the hard working Heskey. His tackle win rate of better than 88% helps offset his ineffectual play in the air. That Bannan has contested a single aerial 50/50 in more than 8 full matches worth of minutes is remarkable.

It is in the attacking phase of the game that Bannan, far right below, truly distinguishes himself from his peers. Despite the increased minutes for Albrighton, far left, and Heskey, center, it is the young Scottish midfielder who sets himself apart.


Though he has been far from lethal in front of goal his crossing accuracy has been more impressive (Heskey only has 3 crosses attempted).  As he is crossing at 32% accuracy, combined with his 22 chances created (better rate creation of the three), Bannan is showing that whatever poor judgement he’s shown away from the pitch, on it he is a valuable contributor in a side that is lacking quality play at the moment.

The examination of Blackburn Rovers playing squad paints an even more dire picture than Aston Villa. With a rotation of few, no clean sheets kept and a dearth of midfield play-making ability, it is former Barcelona youth player Rubén Rochina who gets our nomination as Steve Kean’s top choice off of the bench. While Rochina has started 9 times, he has made only 6 other EPL appearances for Kean this season. His pitch time has been limited to 762′ but he’s made an impact in those minutes, recording 2 goals on 17 shots, converting 12% of his chances and 77% of his open play passes.

Though these numbers may not look impressive, in fact they’re far from impressive, in the context of this side these numbers represent a solid contribution. The two goals place him third on the team, jointly with Samba and Goodwillie, while only one goal separates that pack from the joint-second leading scorers Pedersen, Hoilett and Formica. His minutes per shot is third best on the team behind only Bret Emerton (33:45) and Yakubu (33:54). Given his youth, the Spaniard is just 20 years of age, he should continue to grow into the rigors of Premier League football and move from being a top substitute to a regular name in the starting XI.

Oddly, Tony Pulis’ side did not receive any nominations for the top 12th man in the EPL. Stoke City have enjoyed a memorable run in the Europa League and sit 13th in the League table on 30 points. Moreover, they have no shortage of players who’re eligible for nomination here including their former #1 Asmir Begovic, who posted 4 clean sheets in the team’s opening eight EPL fixtures before losing the job to Sorensen. Injuries and suspensions have limited Rory Delap to just 1272′ while Mathew Upson has just 5 full 90′ this term.  However, the player we’re intrigued by is the versatile Ryan Shotton.

With playing time for defenders is at a premium in a side that boasts Shawcross, Woodgate, Huth and Wilkinson, Ryan has shown the ability to fit the teams needs and play further up the pitch. In his new midfield role it is perhaps unsurprising that he cuts a defensive figure with his open play passing successes barely eclipsing his remarking tackles won %. His overall numbers clearly indicate a player who’d prefer to prevent goals at the back than create them at the front with his lone shot on target (of 5 attempts) being his lone goal of the Premier League campaign.

Shotton does turn the ball over a bit more than he should, committing three loss of possession per 90′ on average. And, for a midfielder, he clearly does not range far afield. From ESPN we can see that Shotton’s average position was just into the attacking half, and from the heat map was can see that he played wholly against the right wing. The rigidity of his play is unsurprising, given the move to a new position and the tactics employed by Pulis. However, seeing where on the pitch he plays gives good context here. His propensity to engage in challenges, both ground and aerial 50/50’s, it shows a weakness in his overall game. The combination of his wide play and his few crosses, means that he needs to improve his overall passing in open play to effectively contribute to the attack.

Shotton is also capable or wearing his kit back to front, and that is exactly the thing we’re looking for as we march through the Top 12th Men in the Prem.

Brendan Rodgers has just 11 players who’ve recorded more than 1,000′ in the EPL this season.  Clearly his starting XI have achieved the goals that Swansea set before the year began. With 30 points, the third best home defensive record in the Prem and a dynamic duo leading the way – the addition of Gylfi Sigurdsson to Sinclair and Graham has provided the Swans with an attacking edge they were lacking earlier in the season. However, Sigurdsson is clearly not a traditional ’12th man’ as his addition in the window led to his immediate presence in the starting XI. Similarly, club captain Garry Monk hasn’t played much this season as injury has limited his availability. He is also one of only three current players, together with Alan Tate and Leon Britton, who has played in all four divisions with the club. Clearly, when healthy, he is in Roberts’ starting XI.

With Monk and Sigurdsson discounted from consideration, the choice is between incoming loaned midfielder Josh McEachran and Wayne Routledge, the summer signing from Newcastle. Given their respective production this is an easy decision with Routledge having played in 21 of the clubs EPL fixtures as of this writing. The majority of his value, in a side that has recorded just 28 goals in 25 matches, and has been held without a goal 10 times, is in creating on the offensive end. This is good because with just 15 tackles attempted (winning 80%) and only 8 aerial challenges, Routledge doesn’t contribute much on the defensive front.

Routledge has embarked on 18 successful dribbles, or 0.86 per game.  Routledge does not frequently cross the ball with success. Despite having 50 crosses over the course of the season, there were only 3 successful crosses, just 6% of all attempts finding their mark.

Similarly, he has recorded only 7 shots. That is not shots on target, that it total shots. Fortunately his accuracy, 4/7 on target, led to his 1 goal. Still, Routledge does provide most of his attacking flair with the ball at his feet.

The Swans squad has just three players who have attempted at least 32 dribbles on the season – Routledge (48) has the second most attempts per minute, behind only Nathan Dyer (85). Scott Sinclair’s 95 attempted leads the side. For Routledge, it maybe that his poor success rate has relegated him to the substitutes role as his 38% success rate is the worst of any Swan with at least 5 attempts on the season.

His passing in the final third also counts against Routledge’s claim at a place in the starting XI. Swansea has been exceptional with the ball this season, their team totals for passing accuracy read like this: Defensive half 91%, Attacking half 74% down to 71% in the Final third.  However, Routledge – who matches the team with 91% in their own half – sees his accuracy drop to 64% in the attacking half and a further point, to 63%, in the final third.

Still, despite not playing 1000′, he’s has created the fifth most chances in the side. His fourteen chances created and one goal assist are modest totals but in this side those numbers represent a significant attacking advantage coming off of the bench.

The Baggies have had six midfielders run out at least 1200′ this season but none has eclipsed 1900′ out of the total 2366′ the squad has played. Out of those players, Paul Scharner has recorded the fewest minutes with 1270′, but he has started 15 games, being a used substitute just 4 times, and is on the edge of our criteria as he’s started more than half of his sides games.

Scharner, however, has been valuable in all three phases of the game. making 23 clearances, with 18 of those being successful. His 79% of tackles won is the best of any Baggie with at least 15 tackles attempted. He has won 22/28 tackles and has continued to show that dedication and skill as he won 65/127 of ground 50/50’s and 16/27 of aerial 50/50’s. When he’s not dying his hair, Scharner is leading the way for Roy Hodgson’s side, with exceptional passing in through the attacking half and final third.

As a team the Baggies have completed 86% of passes in their own half, with that dropping substantially in the attacking end. WBA have been able to complete just 67% of open play passes in the attacking half, dropping to 66% in the final third. However, Scharner’s presence on the pitch ensures far great success with those passes as he completes 90/78/77%.

His contributions of 2 goals and an assist add to his overall value, though they have come despite a minimal number of chances created. Scharner’s 10 chances created is good for only 11th within the squad and amounts to fewer than 5% of all chances created by West Bromwich this season.

There is no doubt he would be a welcome member of the starting XI most weeks. Though he’s started 15 times this season, he hasn’t had a full 90′ since January 3rd and has seen WBA post 1 2-1-2 record in his absence. His current role may not be defined but his skill is evident.

Remarkably Wigan presented the easiest choice as Roberto Martinez has seen fit to relegate the under-performing Hugo Rodallega to a super-substitute role. This season Rodallega has started 10 matches, and been a used substitute in 9 more. However, he has seen the pitch for only 1096′, an average appearance last just 57:40.

In that time Rodallega has scored twice on 52% shooting accuracy, contributed 3 goal assists from his 19 chances created, and completed an acceptable 73% of his open play passes. This has not been his best season at Wigan. Since his arrival 26 January 2009, the Colombian international is surprisingly consistent whether deployed in a starting role, off of the bench, in the front of the attack or to the left wing.

While his shooting accuracy frequently shows variance of up to 20% season to season, Rodallega is able to maintain a consistent chance conversion rate between 8-10% over the life of his career at Wigan.  Similarly, regardless of his deployment, he is completing between 71-75% of his open play passes.

There is very little doubt that Rodallega belongs in the starting XI – no member of this side has scored more than 4 goals, and just Di Santo and Gomez have hit this mark – but he is currently relegated to a substitutes role and as such he is the ideal candidate to be Wigan’s representative as their Top 12th Man.

We’re aware that this is a very long post, has been a long time coming, and this, the forth article in the series, is only the penultimate post. Stay tuned for the TOP 12 12th men in the English Premier League. One player from each of the remaining EPL sides, ranked from 12th to 1st with complete statistical reviews.

These articles take a lot of effort so we appreciate hearing from you in the comments and seeing this post get Tweeted by all of you or shared on your social media of choice.

In the hair of Paul Scharner:

All of the stats in this post are from the EPLIndex Stats Centre. Want access? You can subscribe now: Subscribe to EPLIndex Stats Centre

Cooper is the founder of FantasyGaffer.com - All the Info You Need to Win Your Fantasy EPL League. He also contributes to Backpage Football. Follow him on Twitter @FantasyGaffer.
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