One of the things we like to do here at StatsBomb is to take popular perception of things in football and apply stats to them to see if they hold true. Today I want to examine the stats a couple of star-crossed attacking midfielders to see whether they are over or underrated in popular opinion versus actual performance.
The little Belgian mastermind was one of Chelsea’s most exciting players this season. With 14 goals and 7 assists in 32 starts, he was the driving for behind their effective, but sometimes stunted offense. Transfer rumors this summer have linked linked him with moves to PSG worth up to £50M (though these seem less likely now that PSG have bought David Luiz for £48M. It feels like there should be a clause “and a player to be named later” added to the transfer or something). Should Chelsea laugh in the Parisien club’s face at the thought of stealing away one of their most exciting young players, or should they jump at the offer?
These are some key stats for Hazard this past season.
Now explain to me, what combination of those stats would make Hazard worth £50M? He is a great dribbler, and his key passes are quite good. In fact, you could argue that his KP to Assists return this season (ranked 8th in one and 39th in another) was deeply unlucky and would have bumped him up the scoring ladder in the process.
That said, Hazard isn’t a shot monster. He’s not leading the league in shot creation like Suarez was last season, and he’s .7 of a key pass per 90 behind David Silva on that front. For those who suggest he could mature into that guy – even when he scored 20 goals for Lille, 9 of those were penalties and he only averaged 3 shots a game.
To put it another way: His combined scoring contribution this season fell between Emmanuel Giaccherini and Charlie Adam. Seriously!
It’s his dribbling and passing ability that make him truly valuable, but he’s not in that top, top tier of guys in any of those categories yet, and he is playing for a good team.
Verdict: Overrated. Hazard is a very good young player, but you can’t argue he’s in the same ballpark as Suarez, Reus, Cavani, or even Sturridge.
Chelsea’s player of the season in 2012-13, Mata was the subject of a £37M move to United in January after being found to be surplus to requirements by Jose Mourinho. That’s a strange season. I thought United overpaid at the time by £5-7M, and that’s based on what Mata’s previous season was probably worth and not the numbers he put up in his struggles under Mourinho. That said, his team splits make for some awfully interesting reading.
Whether it’s the product of luck, different systems and roles, different managers, or whatever, Mata has been worth half a goal more per 90 minutes at United than he was at Chelsea. If you take his full-season scoring contribution, he ranks right behind Eden Hazard for the season, and directly above Charlie Adam. However, if you just take his United splits, he shoots up to 13th or so, right above Yaya Toure (remember, penalties are excluded). That’s a massive swing.
The other thing I find fascinating about Mata is that despite the claims that he wasn’t defensive enough for Jose, he still produces half a tackle and interception better per game than Eden Hazard does, though it’s admittedly over 1 I+T less than Oscar.
Verdict: Underrated. United probably still overpaid when they bought him, but Old Trafford will be happily singing his name if he produces like he did in a red shirt again next season.
I know, I know, this is suddenly strangely Chelsea-heavy when I meant to take a wider look, but this needs to be said: Willian had a great first season in England. This guy does not get nearly enough love – he might be the best two-way attacking midfielder in the league.
Much like Hazard, the assists lag severely behind the key pass figure, where he was second in the league, just a snip behind David Silva, and better than Ozil, Nasri, Eriksen, etc. Very impressive stuff, as is his defensive output of 3.38 Interceptions +Tackles per 90. The only guy that’s even close among the top 10 KP guys is Phillipe Coutinho, and he’s completing 1 entire KP per 90 fewer than Willian. Add in nearly 2 dribbles per game and a better-than-league-average crossing percentage and you have a quietly outstanding player.
The one issue at hand is his shooting. He’s below average in shooting percentage and conversion rate, which means that his shooting locations could probably be better. He clearly has the skills to do so, though, and a small adjustment in decision-making there will likely pay big dividends in front of goal next season.
I look forward to seeing what he does with more lethal forwards up front for Chelsea.
Verdict: Underrated. He’s possibly the best two-way (attack and defense) attacking midfielder in the league.