In partnership with the EA Sports Player Performance Index, Rant Monthly uncovers the data behind Manchester United’s strong start to the 2011/12 campaign. Here’s a sneak preview of the data from October’s magazine…
The EA Sports PPI covers Premier League performance based on a mathematical model developed Dr Ian McHale (a Liverpool fan) and Professor Phil Scarf (a United fan). The index provides objective ratings for players’ performances in a match and over a season, enabling comparisons across positions and identifying how much a player genuinely contributes to a team’s success.
Players are allocated points based on set criteria, including points won by the team, specific actions during a match, time on the pitch, goals, assists and clean sheets. McHale and Scart have analysed hundreds of matches since the Premier League’s inception in order to quantify the relationships between player actions and the match result.
The index demonstrates what many United supporters will already know: Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has made a strong start to the Premier League season, backed up by performances by key individuals
Between the sticks few United players have had more column inches dedicated to them than David de Gea. Despite this the young goalkeeper is the top ranked stopper in the Index, having made an incredible 45 saves already this Premier League season, and conceded only five goals at a shots-to-goals ratio of 9:1. By comparison, Manchester City’s Joe Hart has made 25 saves, conceding five goals, at a shots-to-goals ratio of 5:1. The PPI data draws two obvious conclusions: United is allowing far more opposition shots on goal than the side’s rivals but de Gea is more than up to the task, backing the conclusion that Ferguson’s 2011/12 incarnation is a more open than in the past.
Meanwhile, in a defence that has been disrupted by injuries to first choice pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United’s younger players have been thrown into the spotlight far earlier than Sir Alex Ferguson may have intended. Yet, Ferdinand and Vidic may have some concern about their long-term positions in the side, after strong showings from Phil Jones and Jonny Evans over the first six matches of the Premier League season. The Northern Irishman is now ranked 24th overall in the Index and is the seventh ranked defender. Phil Jones is ranked 30th overall and ninth in the defenders’ list. Remarkably, the pair hasn’t lost a tackle between them in the Premier League and contributed 13 clearances too. Patrice Evra, now one of the senior men in United’s defence, is the 13th ranked defender in the Index, perhaps underlining the slight loss-of-form some fans have noted in recent months.
The much criticised United midfield has also performed strongly in the Premier League this season according to the Index. Brazilian Anderson has shown signs of fulfilling his promise, ranking sixth overall in the Index, completing 123 passes in his opponents’ half, which works out as one every four minutes 14 seconds. Demonstrating the all-round game the 22-year-old is now developing, Anderson has won 78 per cent of tackles he entered into and made five interceptions.
Darren Fletcher’s return is also a boon to Ferguson, with the younger Scot demonstrating his box-to-box credentials by covering 7.65 miles and 7.37 miles against Chelsea and Stoke respectively. Meanwhile, Tom Cleverley’s emergence is underscored by the young midfielder’s performances in his four appearances to date. Cleverley successfully fired 80 per cent of his shots on target and covered an average of 7.4 miles per match before being injured against Bolton Wanderers.
It is, however, in attack that United’s has performed ahead of all expectations this season, scoring 22 goals in six Premier League games to date. Wayne Rooney is the Index’ leading player this season, scoring nine goals and contributing two assists in five games. Ashley Young, ranked third, has started his United career in fine fashion, while the winger on the other side, Nani, is ranked fifth. Between them United’s attacking trio have made 37 shots on target, netting 68 per cent of the side’s goals so far. Demonstrating the hard work the Portuguese has put into his game over the last 18 months, Nani has also covered more ground – 43.8 miles – than any other United player this season.
Adding some level of proof, if any was really needed, of the delightful attacking football Ferguson’s side has put together since August Rooney, Nani and Young have each completed over 100 passes in their opponents’ half this season – 118, 157 and 116 respectively.