Summer is slowing down and some of the best footballers on the planet are back plying their trade in the English Premier League.
While there have only been three match days so far, the advanced analytics movement is in full swing, with analysts everywhere meticulously calculating some of the game’s newest metrics to measure performance. Of course, with plenty of English football left to be played, predicting who might lead the table in specific statistical categories is slightly difficult.
However, based on the play so far and some of the numbers from last season, here are projections for the stat leaders in the 2013-14 English Premier League.
Currently there are three players tied with the most goals in the 2013-14 EPL season with three each, Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud. Seven other players have two goals, including the most prolific scorer in the English Premier League last year (26 goals), Manchester United’s Robin van Persie.
Other notable players with at least two goals so far include Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski and United’s Danny Welbeck.
The second and third most abundant scorers from last season are out of the mix with Luis Suarez serving suspension and likely incapable of catching up (although he can score goals quickly, no question) and Gareth Bale’s gone from the EPL after his transfer to Real Madrid.
Benteke bagged 19 goals during Aston Villa’s domestic campaign last season, and given his form so far he must certainly be considered in this discussion.
To truly try and determine who will lead the EPL in goals three variables must be considered, player position, shooting accuracy and quality of teammates.
28 - C Benteke (17) & D Sturridge (11) have scored 28 PL goals in 2013, more than 16 of the 23 clubs to feature in the PL this year. Clash.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 23, 2013
Player position is critical as the most abundant scorer is likely to be a striker, given the nature of the role. Sure, midfielders are capable and expected to score but a player like van Persie has one job on the pitch—find the back of the net.
Shooting accuracy is obviously critical because it measures whether or not a player is using his chances efficiently.
Teammates matter, of course, because soccer is a game so dependent on others. Individual efforts provide goals on occasion, certainly, but service from teammates is almost nearly as important to finding the back of the net as the skill of a goal scorer.
Among players with at least 76 shots in the EPL last season, van Persie was the second most accurate shooter putting 59 percent of his attempts on the frame (Lukaku was highest among that group with a 66 percent accuracy rate). Giroud was more wasteful only finding the frame on 49 percent of his attempts. Sturridge put over half of his shots on target (57 percent) in his 14 games for Liverpool.
RVP and Sturridge look to have the best teams so far, despite United’s slow start, and while Benteke is a lock to bag tons of goals the nod goes to the reigning EPL scoring leader in van Persie. He is simply too gifted of a footballer to be stopped.
11 - Robin van Persie is the first player in Premier League history to score 11+ away goals in three different seasons. Deadly.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 14, 2013
The Dutchman will top his total from last season and bag 27 goals to lead English football’s top domestic league in goals.
Creativity: Assists, Chances Created, Final Third Passing Accuracy
As mentioned previously, dynamic attacking play is crucial to scoring goals. Messi has talent coming out his ears but so many of his goals have been the product of incisive and appetizing passes from Barcelona teammates.
Before the advanced analytics movement creativity in soccer was only truly measured in assists. Now there are multiple categories including chances created and final third passing accuracy that provide a sense of just how dangerous of a distributor a given player is.
Like goal scoring, being a creative genius definitely requires the assistance of teammates who are clever enough to make runs to get open and finish off opportunities. Playmaking also requires refined technique and the vision to see gaps and holes in backlines.
Simply stated, it takes a special player to be a creative genius in soccer.
So far in the 2013-14 Premier League Season only three players have recorded at least two assists, Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Swansea’s Pablo Hernandez. Five players have registered 10 key passes (chances created), Newcastle United’s Sylvain Marveaux, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Everton’s Leighton Baines, Arsenal’s Santiago Cazorla and Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon.
A handful of players have created at least eight or nine key passes, as well, including well-known creators like Manchester City’s David Silva and Swansea’s Michu.
The sample size of three games is small however some of the league’s top chance creators from last season are once again at the top of the rankings. Indeed, Silva averaged the most key passes per game in the 2012-13 EPL with 3.3. Cazorla was up there also serving passes that led to a shot 2.5 times per game.
Chelsea’s Juan Mata led the 2012-13 Premier League in assists with 12. Following the Spanish maestro were Cazorla and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard who each notched 11. Cazorla and Silva were also both in the top ten in passes per game with 65 and 57 respectively.
188 - Mesut Özil (92) and Santi Cazorla (96) created a combined 188 goalscoring chances in league football last season. Wizardry.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 2, 2013
Based on performance, skill and history Silva will be the Premier League’s top creative player finding himself right around the top of the following categories, assists, chances created, final third passing accuracy and passes into the box. He will best last season’s assist record and serve up 14 total, average 3.5 chances created per game and connect 70 percent of his final third pass attempts.
Defense: Clearances, Blocks, Interceptions
Defenders are difficult to measure because so much of what they do on the field is based on movement and positioning without the ball.
Some of the best defenders in World Football are never forced to tackle because their read on the game is so superior they snuff out attacks before they can formulate.
That said clearances, blocks and interceptions give a solid measure of defender activity, positioning, anticipatory ability and discipline.
So far in the 2013-14 Premier League Season City’s Aleksandar Kolarov is leading in interceptions per match with an impressive six. Not far behind are United’s Michael Carrick and Hull’s Ahmed Elmohamady with 4.7 and 4.3 respectively.
They are all ahead of last season’s most abundant interceptor, Southhampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin.
Five players are averaging 11 clearances per game, Swansea’s Chico, Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, City’s Matija Nastasic, Sunderland’s Modibo Diakite and West Ham’s Winston Reid. They are right around last season’s most prolific clearer Villa’s Ciaran Clark who averaged 11.3 clearances per game.
Three players in the 2013-14 EPL are blocking two shots per game so far, Fulham’s Aaron Hughes, Fulham’s John Arne Riise and Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel. Once again these averages are superior to the three players who blocked the most shots in the EPL during last season’s campaign, Swansea’s Ashley Williams, Villa’s Nathan Baker and West Ham’s James Collins who all blocked 1.4 shots per game.
40 - Ashley Williams has made a league-high 40 blocks this season, only 26 fewer than Arsenal have in total (66 being a joint-low). Heart.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 16, 2013
A critical variable in defensive actions relates to how much a given team is under pressure. A team that does not average a lot of possession is more likely to be under siege providing frequent opportunities for CBI’s (clearances, blocks interceptions). The most likely candidate to lead in these categories is someone on a mid-table or lower table team.
That noted, with West Ham ranking 16th and possession per game with averaging only 44 percent, Winston Reid is a solid bet to lead the 2013-14 EPL in CBI’s.
Now all that is left to do is watch some of the best quality football on the planet to see if these predictions will come true.
Who do you think will lead the EPL this season in the aforementioned categories?