Those of you who follow my column know that I’m not a fan of comparing two players’ stats from two different teams. And you also know that the reason I find this problematic is because individual stats are often driven more by the team than by the player themselves.
For example, how many tackles a player makes is usually a sign of how his team is set up or his job on that team rather than how much of a “beast” the player is in the tackle. Some teams, West Ham is one, despite their reputation as a tough defensive team and the fact that they eschew possession, simply refuse to tackle and/or play passing lanes to intercept the ball. As far as I can tell, this is a deliberate tactic by Sam Alardyce, he wants his team to be more controlled in defense and not dive into tackles all the time. Another is example is that the team that is 4th best in possession, Arsenal, are league leaders in interceptions per game. A lot of stats are more about how the manager wants his team to play than how fantastic a player is.
Still, people love comparing two players. It’s just… a thing people do. They can’t help themselves! And there are a few instances when comparing players can be intriguing.
Chelsea and Arsenal are fascinatingly close to each other in terms of stats this season and that makes fertile ground for player comparisons. First, here are some League stats for both clubs:
The only stats that are massively different are Interceptions, Dribbles, and (ehh) Assists. The assists difference is basically down to the Costa-Cesc partnership and the Hazard-Cesc partnership. According to Transfermarkt, Cesc has assisted those two players 11 times this season. Arsenal’s leading assists combo is Cazorla to Giroud, with 3.
But the interceptions and dribbles stats are down to managerial preference. Wenger likes his team to play passing lanes and gamble on interceptions, Mourinho likes his teams to… uhhh.. not.. the interceptions… so much. I suspect this is a discipline thing for Moumou but if you have a better explanation I’m 1% ears (I can’t really be “all ears”, that would be gross, how would I.. eat? Also I don’t read with my ears.).
Now that we see similarities between the teams (and differences) it’s slightly easier to draw comparisons between players.
Here’s a screen shot of the Squawka comparison matrix for Coquelin v. Matic.
Given what we know about the two teams and the two players, I think we can make a reasonable assertion that Coquelin is the better tackler of the two players. Given that both teams tackle at about the same rate and that Coquelin is significantly more efficient at tackling than Matic, it’s fair to say that he’s a better tackler.
Interceptions, however, is a close call. Matic averages about 21% of Chelsea’s total interceptions. In fact, between him and Azpilicueta almost no one else on that team even bothers. Coqelin’s 3.65 INT per game towers over Matic’s 2 but it’s actually a smaller percentage of his team’s overall production, just 17%. So, how do we square the fact that Coquelin is obviously doing more work (making more interceptions) but Matic is the best on a team which seems reticent to go for interceptions? I don’t have an answer and I would hesitate to say one is better than the other.
And finally, we know that Coquelin doesn’t carry the passing load for Arsenal. Neither does Matic, but he is playing along side Fabregas who is second in the League in passes per game. So, it’s not a surprise that Matic completes more passes than Coquelin.
Let’s switch tack a bit and look at the headliner matchup. No. Not Özil v. TheguywholefthisDNAinBarca, I’m talking about the two players Arsene Wenger tipped for player of the year: Alexis and Hazard.
First, let’s look at some key offensive stats:
Hazard is a very good dribbler and leads the League in dribbles per game with 4.8. He’s also adept at drawing fouls with his dribbling and leads the League in that category as well with 3 per game (he drew a penalty with a dribble and foul in the first meeting). Alexis, however, is no slouch! He’s 3rd in the League in dribbles per game (behind Ox, who is second) and 4th in fouls drawn.
What is really telling, however, is that Hazard’s 4.78 dribbles per game are 37% of Chelsea’s attempts. In comparison, Arsenal spread things around much more and Alexis accounts for “only” 22% of Arsenal’s dribbles. Another caveat to the numbers above is that Hazard has scored 3 goals from the penalty spot and Alexis hasn’t scored any. If we remove pens, Alexis’ goal scoring record is significantly better than Hazard (per game), though they both convert goals at about the same rate of 6.6 shots per goal.
Defensively it’s another story entirely.
This is what so many of us love about Sanchez! Just look at those tackles and interceptions numbers, it’s ridiculous for a forward to rack up that many tackles and interceptions. If you look at players who play left, right, and center forward only Coutinho tops Sanchez in terms of tackles attempted per game. And in terms of interceptions, Welbeck leads the league’s forwards with 1.4 with Alexis right behind him!
Even accounting for the fact that Arsenal are an interception-happy team, the stats show Alexis is working his buns off up front trying to score and when he loses the ball, win the ball back, so that he can score.
If I were to hazard a guess, it’s Sanchez’ overall workrate, not just the dribbles and goals, that is the main reason Wenger sees him as player of the year.