Who Is the Better Player: Swansea City's Michu or Arsenal's Olivier Giroud?
The Swans' Michu was hailed as one of the signings of the 2012-13 Premier League season, while the Gunners' Giroud, it would be fair to say, was not. This season, however, the Frenchman has received rave reviews for his improvement while Michu has continued in the same rich vein of form.
Who is the better player?
Comparisons are one of the best elements of football. When comparing the likes of Lionel Messi to, let's say, Diego Maradona, we have to go on video highlights and the blunt instrument of goals and appearances.
When comparing players of the same vintage, especially today's players, however, we have a multitude of tools available to us. Regardless of statistical websites like Who Scored, Squawka and EPL Index, the very best tool we have in our arsenal, no pun intended, are our own eyes, ears, common sense and football experience.
Michu are Giroud are hardly the same type of player. They do, however, play in similar positions and share comparable football characteristics. Both players are at the very top end of the game. But, as we all know, the difference between being regarded as a great player and an also-ran is miniscule.
So, for the purpose of this comparison we will look at five important attributes for forward play.
- Penetration and Mobility.
- Link up Play and Creativity.
- Deadliness in front of goal.
Penetration and Mobility
Two of the most important, misunderstood and underestimated aspects of center-forward play are penetration and mobility.
The center-forward provides his team with positional play that will allow penetration of the opposition and it is mobility that gets him there.
The above drawing gives a blunt demonstration of how important penetration is at the highest level.
Without Robin van Persie at center-forward, Manchester United's game plan against Manchester City became null and void, whereas City played with a conventional striker in Alvaro Negredo (No. 9). Negredo, took up a position that allowed his midfield room to play in and give penetration at the same time. It can be clearly shown that Danny Welbeck, United's No. 19, played a deeper role that offered no penetration.
In terms of penetration, Michu and Giroud have always been excellently disciplined players. When playing as strikers they take up and hold the center-forward role and guard it jealously. There comes a time, however, when the forward must rotate and pivot out of position.
Michu has proved expert at dropping deep or drifting slightly wide and then appearing in the box unannounced. Giroud, however, lacks the pace to swap positions and the tactical nous to play in any other position. He plays in an old-fashioned line between the center circle and the penalty spot, whereas Michu can move around. This is made much easier at Swansea by their fluid system.
Arsenal, while fair on the eye, are very much a conventional team. They play 4-2-3-1 with each player knowing his role expertly and rarely deviate. If anything, it is only recently with the inspired signing of Mesut Ozil that greater flexibility has been shown.
Players will always swap positions, but at Arsenal they always return back to home base. Ozil, against Stoke City, showed up everywhere. He was playing in the central attacking midfield role but could be found in a myriad of positions up and down the pitch.
Swansea to a certain extent have always played like this.
Michu's better mobility allows him to develop better relationships with his teammates and this is the main reason why he settled into the Swansea team so quickly. His mobility allows him to bring his teammates into the game in a far more fluid fashion. This can be seen by the fact that Giroud only made an average of 20 passes per game last term to Michu's 32.
In terms of penetration and mobility, Michu is the better option as he is more mobile, but the difference is slight and depends upon tactical balance.
Link-Up Play and Creativity
Link-up play and creativity go hand in hand for any forward worth their salt.
Link-up play is made of a combination of strength, passing ability and control. Creativity delves deeper into passing by adding vision and improvisation.
Neither Michu nor Giroud are the most creative center-forwards around. They tend to only get involved in play in the latter stages of the move. Giroud's 20.5 passes per game average ranks him as the 218th most involved player in the Premier League last season. Michu ranked at 135 on Who Scored in 2012-13.
Add in the fact that each player only averaged one key pass per game and contributed just five assists between them and you begin to see that creativity and improvisation is not their forte.
Their pass completion percentages of 78.7 and 64 for Michu and Giroud respectively show that the Spaniard is better at keeping possession. This is all important with regards to link-up play.
Their strength and control are harder to measure, but we again can use statistics here.
When Giroud first first arrived in England he found it hard to settle in to the pace of the game. All too often was he passed by and also lost possession at an alarming rate. As the bigger man, Giroud stands at 6'4" to Michu's 6'1", the Frenchman was wrongly deemed the physically superior.
Stronger and broader of frame Giroud may be, but Michu knows how to use his smaller body to better effect. Initially he was better at holding off defenders and linking the play up. Giroud has improved immensely since those early dark days. At one stage Arsene Wenger even dropped him to help him deal with the pressure.
I felt that he is under much pressure at the moment and sometimes to get a little breather is good.
What I will do on Tuesday [when Arsenal travel to Montpellier (Giroud's old team) in the Champions League] I honestly don't know.
I just felt that the time has come for him to not be under too much pressure
Giroud's first touch improved with his rise in confidence after Christmas. He is slightly behind the Spaniard though.
Michu is dispossessed less than once per game to Giroud's average of 1.7 times per game over the last two years. The Frenchman also turns the ball over more than twice per match through loose control and misplaces 36 percent of his passes.
Again Michu has the edge as he turns the ball over less than once per game on average and only misplaces 22 percent of his passes.
Deadliness in Front of Goal
This is where we expect Giroud, as a conventional center-forward, to move ahead of his rival.
In some respects it is unfair to compare the two this term as Michu has dropped into a deeper role to accommodate Wilfried Bony at center-forward.
However, we can still look at their strike rates from last season and compare their conversion rates for this term.
There is no doubt that Michu enjoyed the better season last year.
Eighteen goals in 35 matches to Giroud's 11 in 34 tells its own story.
When you add in the fact that Arsenal have some of the most creative players in the Premier League and have finished in the top four in each of the last 16 years. Swansea are new to the Premier League, having won promotion in 2011, and lack the playing and financial power the Gunners possess.
Both players averaged 3.1 shots per game, with Giroud getting 49 percent on target to Michu's 42 percent.
This season has seen a massive sea change for both players, but especially Giroud. The Frenchman has scored four goals in five games to Michu's two and is averaging 4.6 shots per game to the Spaniard's 3.6.
Somewhat ironically, Giroud's on-target rate has dropped to 40 percent while Michu's has risen to 54 percent. This, strangely enough, shows how the player's confidence levels have changed over the summer.
Giroud is far happier in his role and has finally adapted to the league. His goals and percentage returns show that he is taking more chances to score. These statistical returns also show that Michu is not shooting from the same positions as last season and that he taking a far more deliberate approach.
Considering that the Spaniard is now playing deeper, his returns are very good. Giroud's, however, have been exceptional.
On current form, one would have to say that Giroud is the man to have in front of goal and Michu is the man to have breaking from midfield.
As mentioned before, Giroud and Michu are very different players. They have proved successful, eventually so in Giroud's case, and could, realistically, fit into almost any team.
However, at the highest level of the game, one feels that Michu would be better suited.
His link-up play, mobility and passing rates are all better than Giroud's. He gives the ball away less and up until he was moved into an attacking midfield role he was scoring more goals.
The rumors wouldn't be there if he wasn't a better player than Giroud, it's that plain and simple, and the statistics back that view.
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