Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks.
Weekend Debrief: 14th October 2019
Absent Individuals can have big bearing
When determining whether there is value in a price there are so many factors to take into account, it can be easy to forget or overlook something.
On paper, what might look like a brilliant price often has an underlying reason why it is longer than expected, and it’s worth digging deeper to thoroughly understand why this might be the case.
The introduction into the mainstream of statistics such as Expected Goals (xG) helps add context to form, but once again can’t simply be taken at face value. There are so many factors even behind the xG, such as level of the opposition, context of the game such as red cards, or individual player performance, to consider.
However, taking a slightly different angle, over the International break, there have been a number of high-profile injuries to leading players. The example of Paul Pogba’s absence for Manchester United over the past few weeks has helped to highlight how influential certain players can be, and how this needs to be taken into account when determining whether a side is worth backing.
Pogba’s absence against Newcastle was obvious, as United were missed the link between midfield and attack, as well as the creativity to break down a rigid, well-structured Newcastle defence.
Although this is obvious to those who watch United on a regular basis, and knew that Newcastle were going to hard to break down, there were some alarming statistics heading into the game. As highlighted before the game, Pogba was averaging 2.6 key passes and had two assists to his name already this season, and the gap in creativity is shown by the fact that no other United midfielder is averaging above one key pass.
Pogba is miles ahead of his teammates in terms of passes completed, averaging 74 per-game, whilst the man asked to replace him in recent weeks, Nemanja Matic, was averaging 40.
If you take some of the statistics from that subsequent Newcastle game, it came true as United struggled to open the Toon up, with only Scott McTominay in the midfield completing a key pass, and attackers Juan Mata, Dan James and Marcus Rashford cutting isolated figures up top, with Rashford only managing 22 touches.
Another example how one individual player can have a huge impact on a side is Pascal Gross from Brighton, yet the headline statistics wouldn’t suggest so. Despite not having as assist or goal to his name this season, an injury to Gross would have a huge effect on both style of play and creativity for Graham Potter’s side.
The German is ranked 13th in the Premier League for Expected Assists (xA) from open play, as well as making 11 open play key passes. Let down by his sides poor finishing, taking him out the starting XI severely impacts the creativity, and would be a key factor in determining whether or not Brighton are worth backing.
What this highlighted is how an injury or suspension to one key player can have such a big knock on effect to a side, and with a number of potential injuries picked up over the international break, I have identified a couple of examples of teams could have concerns as a result.
Federico Chiesa – Fiorentina
Federico Chiesa limped off in the first half for Italy in their 2-0 win over Greece on Saturday, and has been a shining light up front for Fiorentina alongside Franck Ribery.
Key to Vincenzo Montella’s 3-5-2 formation, his ability to drift in from the wing, as well as commit players at pace allowing Fiorentina to play on the counter has been key to their success this season, and in particular the five-match unbeaten run they find themselves on.
Taking the 21-year-old Italian’s key stats this season, he has already contributed with two assists (a team high) and one goal, whilst he leads the team in shots per-game (5.1), third-highest in key passes (1.7) and third-highest in dribbles per-game (2.3).
His individual xG is also at 3.19 over the campaign, showing he is getting himself into plenty of goalscoring positions, however he is currently underperforming this as shown by his one goal this season.
The issue Montella has is that if Chiesa is ruled out through injury, he needs to determine how to replace him. Riccardo Sottil has started up front in two games so far, but doesn’t offer the same threat, opting to play more centrally, whilst Kevin-Prince Boateng would offer a similar threat to that of Ribery, but lack the pace which Chiesa does to stretch the game.
An adaptation tactically could harm the influence which Ribery has been having, and it has be factored in when considering backing Fiorentina, and in particular he goal markets on their games, in the coming weeks.
Although Chiesa could be back for the next round of Serie A fixtures where they take on Brescia on Monday, Fiorentina will also need to balance the risk/reward of aggravating the injury, and if he was to be forced out for a significant period, this could have a devastating effect on their season.
Chelsea’s treatment table
Chelsea will be begging for the end of this International break which has seen injuries picked up to key players N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Andreas Christensen, with Reece James also withdrawing from the England U21 squad.
Although there has been no timescale placed on these player’s returns, Chelsea are about to head into a busy period with seven games in 21 days, and this volume of fixtures, coupled with Frank Lampard’s intense, pressing football could bring on further injury concerns.
Kante will be the biggest miss, with his energy and tenacity in the midfield fundamental to getting the best out of Lampard’s approach. Although he has only featured four times in the league, the Blues are a much better side with the Frenchman in, and his defensive numbers are much higher than that of potential replacements.
Averaging 2.3 tackles and 2.3 interceptions in the league, Kante also contributes in the attacking phase, having netted twice in those four games.
The issue Lampard will have is the potential severity of Kovacic’s injury. He has filled in alongside Jorginho for the early part of the season, and his energy has also been key in implementing the pressing football.
Although they have a suitable replacement for the Croatian midfielder in Ross Barkley, he has struggled with consistency, and past the English midfielder, there is a worrying lack of options heading into the busy period.
Chelsea should be able to cope with Kante and Kovacic’s absence over a short period, but an already stretched squad could see itself down to the bare bones quickly, and Lampard could be forced to adapt tactically to avoid his side burning out, especially with a double header against Ajax in the Champions League to come, as well as an EFL Cup game against Man Utd.
At the back, there are injury concerns over James and Christensen, and adding in the currently injuries to both Emerson Palmieri and Antonio Rudiger, how Lampard prioritises certain competitions, as well as finds ways to rest players over the hectic period, awaits to be seen.
As a result, it would be recommended to approach the Blues with caution over the next set of games, and in particular be wary of Lampard being forced into tactical decisions he otherwise may not be comfortable with as he manages a thread-thin squad.
Although these examples aren’t the only injury concerns to come out of the international break, it does highlight the importance of factoring in team news as early as possible when picking out the best bets for the weekend.
Some underlying numbers may prove a player could be a bigger miss than first expected, whilst others could be less concerning than first thought.