Tactical Snapshot: Henderson’s Freedom, Consistent Coady & Keeper Creativity
Our data analysts dive into Stats Perform’s advanced metrics to pull out the key tactical snapshots from the latest Premier League action. Data visualizations, AI models and the occasional Arsenal bias can all be guaranteed, as Jonny Whitmore and the team dive into the numbers each week.
It is no secret that over the last few weeks Manchester United’s pressing has been uninspiring. A lot of this criticism has been focused on their forwards. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson took full advantage of this on Sunday.
Rarely have I seen a midfielder being given so much space to dictate play. Against United on Sunday, Henderson registered more touches (144) and completed more passes (128) than any other Premier League player has done this season.
Sure, Paul Pogba’s 60th-minute red card certainly contributed to this, but the only time Henderson has played more passes in the first half of a game this season was against Watford, where Liverpool had the most passes in a single game this season (816).
You can see below the staggering amount of space that Henderson was able to receive the ball in behind United’s lifeless front four. It was a far too common occurrence.
Fred and Scott McTominay suffered all game from a numerical disadvantage in midfield and were given an impossible task to cover huge amounts of space.
At one stage, Henderson was able to play five short passes in quick succession as he slowly ambled in front of the largely stationary United forwards.
It’s sounds like Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s job is safe for now but Manchester United are in dire need of some changes if it is to stay that way.
Wolverhampton Wanderers conceded their third goal from a penalty this season against Leeds United on Saturday. That is more than any other team this campaign and a tally equal to or higher than seven Premier League teams suffered over the whole of last season.
Despite this, Wolves’ defensive numbers on the season look promising. They’ve conceded just nine goals in the league, a tally bettered only by Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
The underlying numbers are equally as favourable. Wolves have conceded roughly in line with the expected goals they have conceded (9.8 xG), while only Brentford and Manchester City have conceded lower quality chances overall.
A lot of this can be credited to the form and consistency of their back three. Conor Coady, Max Kilman and Romain Saïss have started every game together in the Premier League this season, a feat that cannot be matched by any other defensive partnership.
Crystal Palace’s Joachim Anderson and Marc Guéhi are the closest, having only missed one game together due to the former’s absence in their opening game of the season against Chelsea.
While the consistency of Wolves’ centre-back partnerships cannot be matched this season, Conor Coady is the true constant in their defence. Since being promoted ahead of the start of the 2018-19 season, Coady has played in 99% of available Premier League minutes for Wolves.
Incredibly, he has only missed 119 out of a possible 11,070 minutes available. Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel is the only player to have played more over this period (100% of minutes) and Burnley’s James Tarkowski is the closest outfield player (95% of minutes).
While the return of Willy Bolly may disrupt their perfect record this season, no one will be displacing Conor Coady in the Wolves backline any time soon.
We are continuing to see a trend of goalkeepers becoming more and more involved while their team is in possession. As highlighted by OptaJoe at the weekend, Brighton’s Robert Sánchez set a new record for the highest number of completed (58) and attempted passes (68) for a goalkeeper in a Premier League game.
The trend of goalkeepers increasingly passing their goal kicks within their own box has continued to this season too (unless you’re Nick Pope). 39% of Premier League goal kicks have ended inside their own box this season, compared to 31% last season.
This, and the increased dependency on goalkeepers to be better with their feet, has led to a record-high average pass completion rate of 68% for Premier League goalkeepers this season. Over the last ten years, this has gradually increased from 52%.
Without the context of pass difficulty here, we can only draw so many conclusions but, for some teams, goalkeepers are now an important part of beating the opposition’s press in order to create goal scoring opportunities.
There were three goals this weekend where the goalkeeper was involved in the sequence leading to a goal:
- Watford’s Ben Foster (Emmanual Dennis)
- Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel (James Maddison)
- Liverpool’s Alisson (Naby Keïta)
For Liverpool’s first goal, they were able to use Alisson as an extra player in possession to evade Bruno Fernandes’ enthusiastic press. This stretched Manchester United’s players, pulling them out of position and ultimately led to their first goal six passes later.
There have now been 17 times when a goalkeeper has been involved in the build-up to a Premier League goal this season. If it continues at this rate, goalkeepers will be involved in 72 goals this campaign, just one fewer than the total for last term.
There is a reason why goalkeepers with incredible passing ranges like Ederson at Manchester City are seen as so valuable for modern possession-based teams. Ederson has been involved in the build-up to 11 Premier League goals since the start of last season, more than any other goalkeeper.
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