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Data Rant: Antonio Valencia

June 24, 2014 Tags: , Data 7 comments
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To much surprise Antonio Valencia signed a new, three-year, contract with Manchester United this week. Once bearer of the famed number seven shirt, Valencia’s star has fallen as much in reputation as output in recent years. The appointment of high-flying Louis Van Gaal is seen a sign of United returning to its attacking history, but retaining the Ecuadorian winger has taken much wind out of the United faithful’s sails.

Valencia’s form is such that many fans feel that the Ecuadorian is entirely undeserving of a new contract. There had been reports of Liverpool’s interest – and so poor has the player’s form been that very few United fans would object to a move – even to a major rival. Perhaps the most rational explanation is that United’s management has sought to preserve Valencia’s value in the market.

Contrary to many reports, the new United manager is not wedded to a 4-3-3 formation. In fact Van Gaal has often deployed a 4-2-3-1, while the Netherlands national team under his management is playing a 5-3-2 at the World Cup in Brazil – a point we’ll return to later.

Either way, a backup winger is required with United’s cupboard especially bare in wide areas. The suspicion, however, is that Valencia provide will cover Rafael da Silva at full-back instead, with the Reds lacking cover for the Brazilian, and Valencia having been deployed in that role already. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will be required in more central areas, after all.

table-1 defensive actions

Valencia is now primarily known for his defensive dependability than his attacking numbers; the new Ji-Sung Park, if you will. The Korean was, with some irony, a protégé of another Dutch coach in Guus Hiddink.

Yet, the data shows that the 28-year-old Valencia is rather different from other defensive wingers. The blocks that Valencia made last season suggest that he dropped deeper than Chelsea’s Willian, for example, while the Ecuadorian was far more studious in tackling than United’s Ashley Young or Danny Welbeck.

table-2 - defensive actions

The Ecuador captain has exhibited statistics more typical of an attacking full-back, although notice how many of Valencia’s defensive actions were interceptions last season. Valencia made less defensive actions than Rafael – a factor of Valencia’s higher position the pitch relative to the Brazilian – and he clears the ball less often than the full-back.

This observation is obvious, although the number of chances created by Rafael and Valencia is also interesting.

The images below – Rafael left, Valencia right – show that the Ecuadorian winger created chances in much deeper areas than Rafael. This suggests that despite Valencia’s more forward deployment, it was Rafael who attacked the byline. That is, Valencia was stationary and functional, Rafael more dynamic.

Rafael Chances Valencia Chances

To pin down Valencia’s default position we must establish that the proportion of interceptions in each player’s defensive actions represents the player’s positioning. To do this we look at a randomly chosen defender and midfielder from each of the Premier League’s top 10 clubs, and then compare the number of interceptions to the number of shots per game. Each figure has been adjusted by the club’s point tally, ensuring that the experiment is unaffected by team quality.

The idea is that more advanced players will make more attempts at goal than deeper players. If there is correlation then we can deduce where on the pitch, and with what role, Valencia was deployed last season.

Data towards the right of the chart, below, represents among others, Frank Lampard, who aggressively ventures forward, and some central defenders. They are outliers for our purpose and we remove them and see if there is any underlying trend.

figure-1 - shots per game-interceptions

There is a distinguishable relationship between shots-per-game and number of interceptions. In this Valencia’s positioning is shown to be very close to that of Michael Carrick and Newcastle’s Vurnon Anita – both defensive midfielders. In other words, Valencia played in line with Carrick. Valencia played as wing-back rather than a true winger.

figure-2 - shots per game-interceptions

Very few top clubs play five across the back. Juventus, however, plays such system with Kwadwo Asamoah as left wing back. The similarities between the Ghanaian and Valencia are remarkable. Valencia left, Asamoah right in the images below.

table-3 - Valencia vs Asamoah

Asamoah Chances Valencia Chances

The data is illuminating. In essence David Moyes played a back five last season, which helps explain the excruciating rigidity of United’s approach – and Rafael’s exile from the first team. This also sheds light on Valencia’s new contract – van Gaal could very well continue with the 5-3-2 system deployed at the World Cup. After all, United’s ace in Robin van Persie appears to be very happy with the approach.

All data: Squawka

A brief note on methodology
1) All categories are weighted equally
2) Each figure has been adjusted relative to the best in each category
3) Assumptions dictating linear regression have not been held strict

7 comments

Geoff wangai - June 24, 2014 Reply

well Valencia is not that talented but atleast he works hard. He’ll be a good wingback or fullback option for Rafael

Geoff wangai - June 24, 2014 Reply

we have to accept that we can’t attract top players. Last session will haunt us for many yrs

Ersatz - June 24, 2014 Reply

Another nice piece. I reckon Valencia will be Van Gaal’s next converted winger to play attacking full back. Personally i am pleased he has a new deal. I suspect many of the duffers from last season will have new roles and/or a new lease of life under van Gaal.

Subterranean Steve - June 25, 2014 Reply

United have four first team squad wingers and only Januzaj should be kept on.

Nani has great skill and can contribute excellent passes and screaming shots. However he has done little of that over the last two years and is injury prone. Time to cash him in.

Ashley Young is similar to Nani in that he is injury prone but can score screamers when cutting in from the left on to his right foot. He is also a decent crosser but only with his right foot which for a left winger is an issue. Get rid of him..

That brings us to Valencia. He is fit as a fiddle, but these days can’t cross for toffee, unless it’s to the first opposition player waiting in line. Additionally, he hardly ever scores because he often doesn’t come inside far enough (from the right wing) when the ball is being crossed from the left. He is not a blind-side goal poacher.
He gets a new contract, ridiculous.

Can’t help but feel that Gigsy’s judgement is coloured by his relationship with his (former) teammates and Woodward hasn’t a clue. There is no queue of clubs for Valencia so he has little (and ever decreasing) resale value so a new contract benefits the player much more than the club.

United’s squad is large in size but with too many average players including the three mentioned above. There needs to be a cull but Giggs doesn’t want to oversee it and LVG might postpone it until January at the earliest.

Julian - June 25, 2014 Reply

I think you are spot on – particularly those last two paras. I cant see how LVG could have given his full attention to Valencia’s new contract. This was primarily Giggs’ decision and that was always going to be the problem with having him as No 2 – his lack of objectivity regarding his former team mates. Hopefully LVG will take full control once he finally arrives after the WC and a bit of a break no doubt. Its then going to take him a bit of time to sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

nazr - July 17, 2014 Reply

nothing wrong in valencia contract extension. one must realized that van gaal is not the kind of manager to let others do the work for him and if valencia was awarded with new contract, then it was authorized by him. i see valencia as more a wingback rather than out and out winger. i bet he even better as right back compared to rafael who shows lack of strength and aggresion sometimes. he could be the last puzzle to be placed on van gaal 3-5-2 formation.

Peter - June 25, 2014 Reply

I like Valencia as a player. He may have lost his way a bit but claiming Rafael is more Dynamic during your assessment is I think ill judged.

Rafael plays as an overlapping full back, that generally means that when Valencia has the ball Rafael will try and make a run in behind the defence looking for the ball to be played onto him. This will generally put him in a more attacking position than Valencia.Also Rafael did not play that many games last season and finally at no point during any game did I watch that Moyes was in charge of did we play 5-3-2. We defended a lot but that wad not the setup, not even once.

We won by our best margins and played our best football whilst Valencia was in the team, IMO.

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