An abiding memory of Hudson at Stoke in that final season was of him casually taking the ball from the keeper,usually in front of the Boothen End before exchanging half a dozen square passes with various slightly terrified members of his own back four.It was only when an opposing forward was dispatched to chase the ball that Hudson stroked a forward pass into the vacated area,thus instigating a Stoke attack.This little cameo not only showcased his skills,it also gradually allowed his team mates to become more comfortable in possession ,but as an unintentional by product it also ramped up the great man's passing statistics.Were Opta around thirty years ago Hudson would be near to the top of their passing charts.
More pertinently to the present,the scenario exposes some of the more obvious flaws of raw passing statistics.Square balls played under little or no pressure from the opposition are a lot easer to complete than forward passes played through the congested shipping lanes of midfield or the final third.Nowadays defenders are happy enough to play the Hudson role themselves and even avid long ball teams such as the present day Stoke are content to pass the ball along the backline,accruing possession gold stars as they go.Comparing the raw passing stats for a defender who can gain cheap successes with an attack orientated midfield player who is constantly trying to thread the eye will inevitably lead to misleading conclusion unless some attempt is made to contextualise each players passes.
In this post here I used the percentage of longballs a team plays as a proxy for the overall difficulty of the passes attempted and I've attempted something similar for individual players over last season and the first half of this one.This time I've used the percentage of forward passes from EPLIndex as the proxy for pass difficulty and I've grouped players by teams and split the sample as either defenders or midfielders.The profile of passes played by defenders and midfielders is very different,although defenders play proportionally more forward balls than do midfielders,62% compared to 50%,they are faced with many more safe,low risk passes.
How Defensive Pass Success Declines with Increased Proportion of Forward Passes.EPL.2010-12.
The correlation appears reasonably strong and an increase in forward passes leads to a decrease in successful passes,which is what you would expect.This allows us to derive a regression equation that can be used to predict a completion percentage for a certain proportion of forward passes based on the record of all defenders who played in the EPl over the last one and a half seasons.If we therefore calculate the completion rate expected for an average player for an actual player's proportion of forward passes,we can see if that actual player's completion rate is above or below our prediction.
For example Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen completed around 88% of his passes last season and those raw numbers rank him as equal 16th out of defenders who have played at least seasonal 100 passes over the two years.Vermaelen played 70% of his passes forward and from the regression we can say that an average defender would expect to complete just 68% of his passes under such circumstances.So the Arsenal defender was well above average for pass completion last term and if we repeat the calculation for all eligible defenders and re sort the rankings,he jumps to 7th best overall.
From the Vermaelen case we can see that the application of a reassessment of a defender's passing percentage based on the amount of forward passes he plays can re shuffle the pack and better reflect a player's enterprising passing style.The top ten defenders on raw passing completion percentages are listed below,followed by the ten biggest over achievers based on the predicted completion rate for an average defender making their percentage of forward passes.
Most Accurate Passing Defenders by Percentage Completion Rates.EPL 2010-12.
None of the most accurate raw passers appear in the corrected list below,although John Terry makes the first list from this season and the corrected list from the previous campaign.Clint Hill is by far the biggest beneficiary from the correction,jumping over 200 places on the back of an astonishingly large proportion of forward passes.Stoke defenders dominate the bottom 25 places in terms of raw stats,with Wilkinson,Shawcoss, Huth,Collins,Higginbotham and Wilson each making at least one appearance,but all move comfortably up the table under the revised terms.The EPL's worst corrected passer with at least 100 passes turns out to be Stoke's Ryan Shotton who falls over 30 places to the bottom of the pile compared to his raw stats,although in mitigation he hasn't been used exclusively as a defender.
Most Accurate Passing Defenders Corrected for Proportion of Forward Passes.EPL 2010-12.
If we now repeat the process for EPL midfielders we can similarly apply a correction to their pass completion rates.The strength of the correlation is less strong on this occasion and the regression line is slightly distorted by the presence of the passing stats of the Big Five teams.Although passing rates are almost always attributed to the passer,it is self evident that there is also another player involved in the act of passing,namely the recipient.If we take Manchester City as an example,a pass from Silva to Aguero represents the nearly £70 million of combined talent,similarly Ya Ya Toure to Dzeko required a cash outlay of £60 million to bring about.The gap between the top and the rest of the EPL is never more evident than when you compare their respective attack and midfields.By contrast the average combined "cost" of a midtable EPL team's passing tandem will rarely peak at much more than £10 million and the average will be less.For example,Stoke's average midfield is worth around £4 million per player and it's regular strike force around 7 million.
In short the disparity between the Big Five and the rest is more evident when looking at passes originating from midfield compared to those originating from the defence.As with all high end improvements,small but noticeable improvements require a disproportionately large input of cash and in this case the presence of the stats of the hugely expensive top five team's midfielders weakens the correlation between difficulty of pass and pass completion for the league as a whole.
However,if we press on with this caveat in mind we see that Mikel and Denilson appear in both groups and the currently injured Lucas,despite his comparatively lowly completion rate can lay claim to being to top overall passer with 100 or more passes in each year because of his more adventurous attempts.
The much hyped Swansea midfielder,Britton slips from the top spot in the raw stats all the way down to 66th in the corrected version by virtue of his reluctance to pass the ball forward.
Most Accurate Passing Midfielders by Percentage Completion Rates.EPL 2010-12.
|John Obi Mikel.||2011/12||92|
|Nigel de Jong..||2011/12||92|
Most Accurate Passing Midfielders Corrected for Proportion of Forward Passes.EPL 2010-12.
|John Obi Mikel.||2010/11||90||74|
|John Obi Mikel.||2011/12||92||76|