Pro-active Petrov, bargain Ba and Europe's most creative player....a Swansea midfielder

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the big weekend fixtures... 

Wayne Rooney in midfield? With Paul Scholes retiring, Owen Hargreaves leaving the club and Michael Carrick seemingly out of favour, even when he isn’t injured, Sir Alex Ferguson had to use his number ten in a deep-lying midfield position during the weekend Champions League win over Otelul Galati.

The comparison with Scholes was inevitable, and here’s a direct look at the passing styles of the two players – Rooney’s from the game on Wednesday, and Scholes’ in his only complete match in the Champions League last season.

There is a clear similarity – although if anything, Rooney seems to have played even deeper than Scholes. Whereas the latter has a lot of passes played from just over the halfway line, Rooney’s balls are often played from the other side of the centre circle.

Scholes had a marginally better pass completion rate, 93% to 89%, and it’s clear that he’s more accurate with the long diagonal balls. And, while Rooney attempted three long balls into the penalty box, Scholes saved his move forward for when he knew he could make it count – picking up an assist.

If the art of tackling has declined, as Match of the Day pundit Lee Dixon has argued this week, then players who are good at intercepting the ball must surely become particularly valuable.Therefore, credit is due to Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov, who has made more interceptions than any other player in the Premier League this season, 39 – nearly four per match.

With the exception of one, the interceptions from his most recent matches show they all take place in the middle third of the pitch, highlighting how intercepting is a more proactive method of winning the ball back than tackling, which generally take place in much deeper positions.

The most creative player in Europe – Andres Iniesta? Mesut Ozil? David Silva? No – Swansea’s Mark Gower, at least by one measure. According to Opta, has averaged 3.8 chances created per match this season, more than any other player in Europe’s major five leagues – England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

The diagrams of the chances he’s created in his last two league games shows no real pattern to the passes, perhaps explaining why he is so hard to stop. A few come from corners, some are through balls into the area – but most importantly, two are assists. No wonder Swansea made moves to offer him a new contract this week, and Liverpool will have to keep a keen eye on him tomorrow.

Is Demba Ba the signing of the season so far? He has plenty of competition, from Juan Mata, Sergio Aguero and Scott Parker, among others – but when you consider that those three cost over £60 million combined, while Ba arrived on a free transfer after West Ham’s relegation, he’s surely the frontrunner for that accolade, with eight goals from nine matches.

His hattrick at Stoke on Monday was his second of the season, something only Wayne Rooney can match. The diagrams of his hattricks show that he’s basically a poacher – four of those six goals came from within the six-yard box, and all from within the penalty area. The one attempt he had from outside the box in those matches was blazed over the bar.

The distance of the shots might partly explain why he has the best chances-to-goals conversion rate of any player that has scored more than four goals this season, at  47%. His opponents this weekend, Everton, tried to sing him over the summer – how they must wish they’d succeeded.

Stats Zone, the app from FourFourTwo powered by data from Opta, is available now at the iTunes App Store  

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