The Analyst Diary – October 4
Double Century, Single Mood
The Premier League weekend started with Cristiano Ronaldo not starting, but, early in the second half, he was called into action for the 200th time in the competition. It won’t go down as one of his most effective performances, with just 17 touches, one shot and a harrowing on-pitch view of Everton’s Andros Townsend not only equalising, but also stealing/honouring his goal celebration. It does mean, though, we can finally compare United’s No. 7 to other players who have made 200+ Premier League appearances. The only such player to win more than 70% of his games is former United man Nemanja Vidic, although Fernandinho might get there this season if he gets some actual game time. As it stands, Ronaldo is in seventh place with 134 wins so far. That will rise but if Manchester United’s difficult schedule after the international break means he stays on 134 for a few weeks longer, then he might soon by playing for his third different manager in the English top flight.
MSN Error Report
Barcelona have had one shot on target in the Champions League this season. They had two of them against Atlético Madrid on Saturday evening but still lost 2-0, with Luis Suárez assisting the first and scoring the second. He was once one prong of the fabled MSN attack, feared by managers across the continent. The other two prongs, Neymar and Lionel Messi, are back together in Paris but their project had an even worse result this weekend, losing 2-0 at Rennes and failing to even have a single shot on target. A front four of Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ángel Di María and a net result of zero shots on target. It’s almost 10 years since that last happened in a Ligue 1 game, back when PSG faced Marseille in November 2011 with a front four of Kevin Gameiro, Nene, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Ménez. Back then Lionel Messi was a few months into arguably his greatest season, one in which he scored 73 goals for Barcelona. Ten years on and we can comfortably state that he won’t come near that total, and maybe Barcelona won’t either.
Back In Tandem
Sadio Mané expertly tucked home Liverpool’s first goal in their 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Sunday. It was his 99th in the Premier League, three of which came, of course, in the quickest hat-trick the competition has ever seen.
His colleague Mohamed Salah reached 100 Premier League goals earlier this season, but the combined form shown by the pair so far this season harks back at least a couple of campaigns, when they both, along with Roberto Firmino, formed one of the most dangerous attacking line-ups in European football. All three players reached double figures for Champions League goals in 2017-18, something not done by any club in the competition before or since.
Injury has limited Firmino’s minutes in 2021-22, but Mané is casting off memories of an underwhelming 2020-21, while Salah has arguably been the best player in the Premier League this season by some distance. Looking at the Premier League’s insight feed we can identify traits in their shooting this season. These figures are for open-play shots excluding headers, and Salah and Mané, on 25 and 23 respectively, lead the division so far this season. Salah, as you might expect is shooting from an average of two metres further out than Mané, and, as a result, he is averaging more opponents between himself and the goal when he unleashes. Salah is also shooting with more velocity and has hit at least one effort this season over 100 kph. Someone looking at this data with precisely no knowledge of either player could still conclude that Mané tends to be played into position nearer the goal while Salah has the air of a player with the sort of gravitas and palmares that allows him to take outrageous shots without completely alienating his team-mates.
And guess what: Liverpool’s two goals against Manchester City bear this out completely. Who needs footage?
Weekly Jamie Vardy Mea Culpa
Talking of age, on Sunday Jamie Vardy continued his inexorable mission to become the top-scoring Premier League player based on goals scored by players in their 30s. Ian Wright’s long-held landmark of 93 is now out front by just three goals. Vardy has a real chance of scoring 100+ goals aged 30+, which even allowing for advances in sports science and preparation, is surely a record that will stand for a long time. Michael Owen, who broke into top-flight first team football so early, scored 106 goals in his 20s; Vardy needs 16 more to match that in his 30s. Finishing is obviously important for strikers, but few get to finish their careers as well as Jamie Vardy is.