In the midst of this unscheduled break in play, what else is there to do but delve deep into this season’s Premier League stats?
Rather than telling you what already know (Trent Alexander-Arnold crosses the ball a lot, Sergio Aguero scores goals, Chris Wood lives offside) we thought it would be best to present some surprising findings that seem to contradict what we see when watching games, highlights, etc.
For each one we’ll analyse to what extent the stat is misleading and what it actually tells us about the players concerned.
Remember, stats are only ever misleading if they are interpreted wrong…
WILFRIED ZAHA CAN’T KEEP HOLD OF THE BALL
Crystal Palace’s talisman has been dispossessed more than any other player in 2019/20.
This one initially jars with us because we, as Premier League followers, recognise Zaha as one of the best dribblers in the league.
And he is; he’s completed more dribbles than anyone else and is the only player to have attempted over 200.
Zaha has dribbled past 146 players, 19 more than Adama Traore and double that of Allan Saint-Maximin!
It’s his prolific dribbling that means he’s the most dispossessed player because the Eagles are so dependent on him to carry the ball that his team-mates look for him nearly every attack.
In fact, Jordan Ayew is the second-most dispossessed player, which tells you everything you need to know about Palace’s game plan in possession — give it to Wilf and Jordan and hope for the best.
IT’S EASIER TO GET PAST AARON WAN-BISSAKA THAN IT IS TO GET PAST GRANIT XHAKA
In our minds, Man United’s right-back is the best one-on-one defender in the league, possibly the world.
Whereas Arsenal’s No34 is figure of ridicule.
So it’s rather surprising that Wan-Bissaka (27) has been dribbled past more times than Xhaka (24) this season.
You may think this is because of their positions; Wan-Bissaka is up against wingers while Xhaka is in the middle of the park.
However, midfielders are actually more likely to be dribbled past — eight of the top ten players to have been dribbled past are central midfielders, many of them occupying a similar role to Xhaka (Ruben Neves, Fred, Oliver Norwood, Pierre Hojbjerg, Declan Rice).
The key to this deception lies in the Swiss anchor’s devious methods.
Only Etienne Capoue has committed more fouls than Xhaka in 2019/20 — he stops opponents by hook or crook.
Wan-Bissaka’s statistics reinforce what we see when watching him play, he’s a defensive monster.
Only Ricardo Pereira has made more tackles than the ex-Palace defender but whereas Leicester’s right-back is successful in 65% of his tackles, Wan-Bissaka stops his opponent 80% of the time, which is the highest percentage of any player to have attempted 50+ tackles.
SADIO MANE AND DAVID MCGOLDRICK HAVE SQUANDERED THE SAME NUMBER OF GOALSCORING OPPORTUNITIES
Liverpool’s No10 has missed 15 big chances (as defined by Opta) this season, the same number as Sheffield United’s goalless forward.
Much has been made of McGoldrick’s wastefulness at Bramall Lane since the Blades’ promotion, and rightly so.
The 32-year-old hasn’t scored a league goal in 2019/20 despite featuring in 26 games.
According to the expected goals (xG) boffins, McGoldrick would have scored between five and six goals this season if he had exhibited average chance conversion.
His xG of 5.6 is similar to that of Alexandre Lacazette (5.5) and Jack Grealish (5.5), who have both scored seven goals.
So while it’s true that Mane and fluffed as many big chance as McGoldrick, it’s important to note that the Senegal international has also scored 14 goals and has actually outperformed his xG (11.3) by nearly three goals.
Mane has missed plenty of big chances because Liverpool are so dominant and therefore create many opportunities.
Whereas Sheffield United don’t create as many chances and so McGoldrick’s misses are more concerning as he’s not scoring either.
Additionally, Jamie Vardy has also missed 15 big chances and he’s leading the race for the Golden Boot.
JORGINHO DOESN’T PASS SIDEWAYS
Critics of Chelsea’s regista claim that he is unambitious in his passing, but the stats suggest otherwise.
Doubters say all his passes are easy, short and sideways, and therefore relatively inconsequential.
But while only seven players have attempted more passes this season, 70 have attempted more ‘short passes’ (fewer than five yards), indicating Jorginho doesn’t take the easy option as often as some think.
The distance of his passes aren’t cited as often as the direction: it always goes sideways!!!
However, no player has completed more passes into the final third than Jorginho this season.
Chelsea’s No5 actively progresses the Blues forward and only the ignorant don’t acknowledge the importance of such a role.
CALLUM WILSON IS A THUG…
Only two players have committed more fouls than Bournemouth’s centre-forward, the aforementioned Capoue and Xhaka.
This stat is one of those that won’t come as a surprise to fans of the player but has probably gone unnoticed by most others.
Wilson certainly doesn’t have a reputation as a ‘dirty player’ but season-ticket holders at the Vitality Stadium will probably have twigged how often his duels result in free-kicks for the visitors.
Wilson is joined by fellow strikers Jordan Ayew, Wesley, Sebastien Haller and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the top 15 players to have committed the most fouls in 2019/20.
This is because centre-forwards are frequently penalised for what most fans would call ‘soft fouls’ that don’t linger in the memory for very long.
Isolated forwards have to scrap with towering centre-backs and inevitably commit minor indiscretions that referees tend to look upon harshly.
We don’t take much notice of such fouls, but they add up.
MASON HOLGATE AND ERIK PIETERS ARE EQUAL TO JAMES MADDISON IN TERMS PLAYMAKING
Here’s a classic example of how stats can be terribly misleading.
Mason Holgate has the same number of assists this season James Maddison… so does Erik Pieters and Christian Atsu.
The aforementioned players have all provided three assists in the league this season.
Instinctively, many of you will say that reflects poorly on Maddison and may question whether Leicester’s playmaker is overrated.
However, it’s important to remember that assists depend on the actions of other players.
If you play an exquisite throughball to put your striker one-on-one with the keeper and they sky it, you don’t get an assist.
If you scuff a shot and it lands at the feet of a team-mate 30 yards from goal and they then smash into the top corner, you are credited with an assist.
That’s why, when measuring playmakers, it’s better to consider a number of other measures: chances created, key passes, expected assists, etc.
In these more detailed stats, Maddison excels.
Only Kevin De Bruyne has played more key passes this season while the Belgian is one of four players (alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Riyad Mahrez, Emi Buendia) with more expected assists in 2019/20.
In fact, only Raheem Sterling has bigger negative discrepancy between his expected assists and his actual assists than Maddison.
In average circumstances, Maddison would have seven assists at this stage of the campaign, he only has three because his team-mates have missed good chances.
In contrast, Harvey Barnes has six assists compared to an expected assists estimation of 2.4.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes at the concept of ‘expected assists’ but it’s proved to be a worthy measure of playmakers.
Those with the top four estimations are also the top four assist-providers in the league, Maddison has just been inordinately unlucky.
NICK POPE > ALISSON
Burnley’s keeper (11) has more clean sheets than Liverpool’s No1 (10) this season.
This is unexpected because the Clarets (40) have conceded almost twice as many goals as the champions elect (21).
Which begs the question, what’s better: fewest goals conceded or most clean sheets?
You may remember that in the first half of the season, Liverpool had a habit of conceding, often winning games 2-1.
This trend means their clean sheets don’t align neatly with their impressive defensive record (best in the league) and has allowed Pope to become front-runner for the Golden Glove.
Burnley kept clean sheets in four out of five games during a purple patch of form between late January and the end of February.
Does this mean Pope is superior to Alisson? In short, no.
The Brazilian has missed several games through injury with Adrian deputising in 11 league fixtures.
As a result, Alisson clean sheet ratio (in relation to games played) is the best in the league by some distance.
And if you look at the truly nerdy numbers like save percentage and xG prevented, he’s top of the class.