There was a wordy preamble here, but I currently live on a building site, and the electrician inadvertently fried my working copy, so now you are spared such madness before we dive in to the good stuff. Falcao vs. Welbeck – To the Pain! Regardless of whether or not it’s fair, these two men will be linked to each other based on the events of their transfers. Falcao arrived in Manchester at the tail end of the day, either on an outrageously expensive loan or a gobsmackingly expensive transfer (as Guillem Balague reported was the story told by Falcao’s agents). Also changing teams at the end of deadline day was Danny Welbeck. Falcao’s arrival and Welbeck’s departure were nearly simultaneous, and the fee United garnered for Welbeck will pay for at least the first year of Falcao’s services. The reality of the situation is that Falcao’s arrival was probably as a replacement to Robin van Persie, who may be gone for the season with another serious injury. However, the question the stats guys found themselves asking was: If you have Danny Welbeck, why do you need Falcao? Most fans will find that to be a stupid question on the surface – why are we comparing the performance of one of the world’s best number 9’s against, well… Danny Welbeck? Well, because there is a huge question mark over whether Falcao should be labeled as one of the world’s best any more. Consider the following: While Falcao’s goalscoring at Ateltico Madrid was very good, it was partially fueled by a high number of penalties. This took him out of the Ronaldo or Messi range of scoring contribution and returned Falcao to the land of mere (incredibly talented) mortals. Additionally, after moving to an easier league (Ligue 1 vs La Liga), Falcao’s scoring rate actually went down, from .62 down to .45 non-penalty goals per 90. Add to that the fact that Falcao turns 29 this season, and he’s just coming off a serious knee injury and you have the basis to convene a grand jury. Or um… to just ask the question above. Now consider Danny Welbeck. In 12-13, I definitely said bad things about Danny Welbeck. In that season, he could not hit the broad side of the barn, and because if this he looked completely out of place as a goalscoring threat either for Manchester United or for England. Since that time, however, I have learned a lot, and done a great deal of research into what to expect from young goalscorers. In short… I was wrong. Welbeck’s four-year goalscoring trend looks like this: .31, .40, .07, .56. One of those seasons is not like the others… was it a blip or some glaring problem? I’m going to lean toward blip, if only because the rest of the trend is so clear. Welbeck isn’t even 24 yet. That’s an excellent scoring rate for a young player, especially one who rarely played as a center forward. Yes, there are some sub effects included in that data, but there’s also the fact that he was often played out wide, where it is harder to score. What Welbeck doesn’t have is elite shot generation numbers, but he has speed (something Arsenal have desperately lacked without Walcott in the lineup), good feet, and is used to playing combination passes with talented players. Arsenal do generate a ton of shots for their center forwards (Sanogo has seen and missed a ton of them), and Welbeck will get good chances. At only £16M, Wenger somehow ended up getting a huge discount for a young scorer who is just entering his prime. Will Welbeck have a better career than Falcao isn’t what’s up for debate here. Falcao has had some amazing seasons that Welbeck might have to get lucky to match. The question is whether this year, and next, and the year after, will Welbeck score more goals than Falcao? Assuming they play the same amount of time, even if they cost the exact same amount per season, I know who I would bet on. We’ll know more in May. In the meantime, Arsenal fans can look forward to seeing this on a regular basis. Is Welbeck Arsenal’s Sturridge? This also came up yesterday, and as someone who wrote about how quietly amazing Sturridge was even before he moved to Liverpool, I felt the need to quash it now. Back when he was young, Sturridge showed incredible scoring and shot generation. Welbeck is a different type of player, and though his trends were good, they weren’t otherworldly like Sturridge’s. I think Welbeck will be good for Arsenal, and there’s even an outside chance he will be a great goalscorer over the next four or five years. However, Sturridge is one of the best goalscorers in the world right now, and it would come as quite a surprise if Welbeck were to reach those heights. Arsenal’s Glaring Deficiencies Arsenal went into this transfer window with a couple of needs. First, they needed to replace their right back, who was leaving. Beyond that they needed an elite center forward. They also needed an elite, playmaking defensive midfielder, and depending one what happened with Thomas Vermalaen, they needed to add depth at center back. In my opinion they also needed to find an elite left-sided wide forward, and though they were rumored to bid for Marco Reus, that deal was never very likely to materialize. They somehow managed to address the right back and center forward needs (doing perhaps better than I expected with the attacking spot), while completely failing to bring in a dynamic defensive mid or adding to the defensive cover at CB. How could a team that had clearly defined needs from the start of the summer and an enormous stockpile of cash let the window close without finding players to fill those positions? Only Wenger knows. The most likely scenario now seems like they will buy Rabiot on a Bosman next summer while missing out on any CB targets that Wenger felt would fit in the team, but it’s a huge gamble in squad depth, especially with Mikel Arteta already out injured. Arsenal currently lead the league in shots for, shots conceded, passing completion, and possession. However, part of that is due to the fact that they’ve faced two likely relegation candidates in their first three matches. There is an adjustment Wenger can make to help address the DM issue, but it involves playing Aaron Ramsey in that spot (he was good there back in 12-13 when Arteta was out), and shifting Cazorla, and or Oxlade-Chamberlain into the center midfield roles to provide dynamic passing and runnners. Wenger’s feeling is that this probably wastes part of Ramsey’s skill set, and given he was the best midfielder in the Premier League, I can kind of understand that. The alternative, however, is that Arsenal lack not only a physical destroyer (there is none in the squad), but also lack a passing quarterback to spring the sprinters on the wings into action. You can probably get by without one of those things, but lacking both will cost points down the road. Again. Though I will say Arsenal should also be great fun to watch now. Other Transfer Stuff Ben Pugsley and I gabbed about this already for a good long time, so instead of repeating what we said, check out the unicorn-like podcast we actually managed to record this week. Weekend Quick Hits
- Speed kills, and Liverpool have probably the fastest attack I have ever seen. At age 19, Raheem Sterling is already one of the best players in the Premier League. Liverpool’s ability to challenge for the title rests on whether Rodgers manages to adjust his system/personnel to control the midfield better, or whether his defenders are good enough now to consistently win battles against opposing attackers on their own. For the neutral, Liverpool’s balls-to-the-wall style is now must see TV.
- After lauding Spurs last week, on Sunday we saw that they aren’t “there” yet. Kaboul looked awful yet again (which is why Spurs bought Fazio), and Liverpool’s normally porous defense was surprisingly stout against the Spurs attack. Pochettino’s press needs to work in order for his team to get a lot of good chances, and Liverpool acted like it wasn’t there. This level of defensive work always takes time to work perfectly – Spurs will need to be better if they are to compete well against the top teams.
- Are Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin getting a divorce? What has long been the steadiest pair of center backs in the league has looked anything but that for the start of the season. There are rumors that Distin feels jilted and angry, and will now only speak to Jags in French. Roberto Martinez needs to get in there and do some counseling quickly, because so far this year it looks like Everton’s attack is married to Wigan’s defense, which is a recipe for disaster.
- Manchester United’s cast-off forwards Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck ended up at Real Madrid and Arsenal, respectively. One of those teams is not in the Champions League this summer, and yet those players were eagerly snapped up by two teams that are. Some weird talent evaluation going on here.
- In non-EPL news, PSV lead the Eredivisie despite some seriously questionable stats powering their wins so far. Memphis Depay and Luciano Narsingh will create some unexpected goals, but like @11tegen11 says here, expect regression to come. Cocu doesn’t seem like a good enough manager to enable them to just run away with the league.
- Also outside of England, Iker Cassilas is done. Like done done. Like stick a fork in him because he’s a Thanksgiving turkey done. Deterioration of goalkeeper skills is often a sudden thing, but for Saint Iker it’s been a creeping suspicion ever since Mourinho benched him two years ago. Since then you have more and more consistent gaffes, both in the Champions League and at the World Cup this summer. The final straw, barring injury to Keylor Navas, should have broken this past weekend when he looked absolutely terrified, and barely attempted to command his box in a 4-2 loss to Real Sociedad. It’s a shame, because Iker was very very good for a very long time. At this point in his career though, almost any other option is preferable.
- Zlatan currently has an NPG90 rate of 2.51.
- With a goal and four assists through three games, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s scoring contribution is 1.67. It’s unsustainable, but it lends credence to the theory that most players need to play in their best position to excel.
- Also part of the four assists in three games club is Cesc Fabregas. Dammit.
- Memphis Depay had his first real off game of the season this past weekend against Heerenveen, and still ended up with four shots and four key passes. He probably would have had one or two goals as well, but his legs clearly tired at the end of the match after a midweek Europa League tie.
- Steven Berghuis, a player I think is one of the top talents in the Eredivisie, has a scoring contribution of 1.44 so far this year on 87.5% shooting! Needless to say, he’s not going to maintain that.
- There is a guy named Igor currently leading the Championship in goals.
Finally, we come to Junior Malanda. Want to know how to confuse the living hell out of stats guys in terms of your Expected Goals totals? Check these out. https://vine.co/v/MLXYwUHDrUM That’s nearly impossible to do, even when you are trying, but Malanda presumably wanted the ball to go IN the net, not away from it. However, to prove his special set of skills, Wolfsburg fans got this in the next game! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5RIvVqN1ws