The unsung ball-winner stopping the Premier League in its tracks
Stats Zone measures two forms of ball-winning: Tackling and intercepting. Tackling involves directly dispossessing an opponent, intercepting is about cutting out a pass before it reaches an opponent.
Naturally, defensive-minded players tend to occupy the top slops on both leaderboards, with holding midfielders featuring prominently. Some players specialise in one area or the other Ã¢ÂÂ West HamÃ¢ÂÂs Mohamed Diame completes on average 3.9 tackles per game, compared to just 1.2 interceptions, whereas FulhamÃ¢ÂÂs Chris Baird is the opposite, with only 1.4 tackles per game, but 3.2 interceptions. A teamÃ¢ÂÂs overall style and strategy, as well as the qualities and preferences of the individual, can impact the figures.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs extremely rare for a single player to be the league leader in both categories, but thatÃ¢ÂÂs the case this season. SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin is naturally a combative player, but since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino his ball-winning statistics have risen considerably, in accordance with the ArgentineÃ¢ÂÂs insistence on heavy pressing, and winning possession quickly and proactively. The FrenchmanÃ¢ÂÂs record is 4.2 tackles and 3.8 interceptions on average per game.
Last weekÃ¢ÂÂs 2-1 defeat to Queens Park Rangers was a huge blow to SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs chances of survival Ã¢ÂÂ not least because they appear to have let Harry RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs side back into it Ã¢ÂÂ but it was also a great demonstration of SchneiderlinÃ¢ÂÂs talents. He made an astonishing 10 interceptions, and also managed to complete eight out of his nine attempted tackles. Both figures are amazingly high, while such an impressive tackle completion rate shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be overlooked, either.
Clearly, that was extreme Ã¢ÂÂ even for Schneiderlin. Consider the impressive 3-1 victory over Manchester City a month ago, and the numbers are less unusual Ã¢ÂÂ just three tackles (two successful) and five interceptions.
However, itÃ¢ÂÂs not solely about the frequency of the tackles and interceptions, itÃ¢ÂÂs also about their position. Schneiderlin is fielded as SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs deepest midfielder, generally alongside Jack Cork, who distributes the ball calmly to either flank, and Gaston Ramirez in the No.10 position. Positional discipline is important for Schneiderlin, but the bravery of his positioning underlines how heÃ¢ÂÂs a perfect holding midfielder for a coach demanding heavy pressing.
Under Nigel Adkins, Schneiderlin player deeper. In the last Premier League game before AdkinsÃ¢ÂÂ shock dismissal, almost all SchneiderlinÃ¢ÂÂs defensive work was close to his own penalty area, rather than either side of the halfway line. The type of match Ã¢ÂÂ away at Chelsea Ã¢ÂÂ certainly contributed, but in general he was playing a much more reactive role.
Clearly, pressing heavily requires great stamina, and another league-leading statistic was revealed earlier this month Ã¢ÂÂ Schneiderlin runs seven miles per game, more than any other Premier League player. In a week where the dangers of eating processed meat were revealed in a new survey, Schneiderlin is inadvertently encouraging people to eat healthily, putting his energy down to an improved diet.
Ã¢ÂÂFitness is something I have worked on a lot,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. Ã¢ÂÂWhen I was in League One I could not finish a game without blowing or after 60 minutes feeling tired on the pitch, so IÃ¢ÂÂve tried to make sure I eat the right things and look after my body better. When I was 18 I thought if I ate a pizza and a lot of takeaways at nights it wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt affect you but it did. Now I eat only healthy French food.Ã¢ÂÂ
Lionel Messi famously improved his eating after a couple of years at Barcelona, having been brought up on an Argentine diet featuring too much red meat, and while Schneiderlin isnÃ¢ÂÂt quite capable of the Barcelona forwardÃ¢ÂÂs goalscoring, he claims his nutritional adjustment has benefited his attacking, too. Ã¢ÂÂIt has helped me score goals Ã¢ÂÂ before, I couldnÃ¢ÂÂt make those forward runs because I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt fit enough to get back in position.Ã¢ÂÂ HeÃ¢ÂÂs registered four goals this season already, having managed just three in 163 previous appearances Ã¢ÂÂ when playing in lower divisions.
In all, Schneiderlin has probably been SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs most consistent player in their first year back in the Premier League. ItÃ¢ÂÂs no wonder the club were keen to tie him down until 2017, with an improved contract agreed last month. TheyÃ¢ÂÂll hope itÃ¢ÂÂs another four years of playing in the Premier League Ã¢ÂÂ but if the worst happens in May, SchneiderlinÃ¢ÂÂs statistics will surely ensure his own presence in EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs top division next season.
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