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The Great Debate: A Statistical Look at Player of the Year

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A statistical look at the three contenders for player of the year.

Alex Livesey

Disclaimer- You are on a Liverpool blog, this is going to be slightly biased no matter how hard I try not to be. Feel free to refute these stats and/or opinions in the comments.

In all honestly I tried to suppress my bias and let the numbers do the talking. After I started poking around, I was quite surprised by what the numbers told. All these stats come from A fantastic site I highly recommend you check out. The subscription is well worth it. On to the good stuff.

Who who should it be? Clearly the field should be narrowed to three names: Bale, Van Persie, and Suarez. These awards make me cringe a bit since they seem to be as much a popularity contest as an actual award for good play. Everyone has their corners and at this point many are dug in, but I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the statistics and what they show about each player's game.

As many of you (especially kindred) know, I am not a huge fan of using statistics as a means of evaluating actual play and worth to a team. Unlike baseball, there is so much in football that is not accounted for. Mainly, movement off the ball. While stats have gotten much better lately with statisticians keeping track of everything from touches and dribbles to snot rockets and loogies, they still can be misleading. As the great philosopher Homer Simpson once said, "Facts are meaningless, you can use facts to prove anything that's remotely true!"

So here we go. All of the candidates are very offensive minded players. I could keep whacking away at goals scored and we would end up right where we started. Let's look at the other side of the ball, what do these players do when they lose possession and what do they do to make chances for others:

First defensive stats:

Suarez Bale RvP
Appearances 29 26 26(3)
Minutes 2595 2294 2313
Number of Ground 50/50's 450 245 175
% Ground 50/50's won 38% 48% 47%
Aerial 50-50's 38 111 81
% Aerial 50/50's won 26% 40% 42%
Tackles 39 24 18
Tackle Success Rate (%) 79.5% 70.8 77.8%
Interceptions 18 35 9

What jumps out at me first is that they are fairly similar in playing time although Suarez does have about two more games (in terms of minutes) than the Bale, the player with the least. However, it is quite clear that RvP is a one trick pony. Sure, he plays higher up the pitch than either Bale or Suarez do now, but don't forget that Suarez was played all by his lonesome until Sturridge arrived. Both Bale and Suarez clearly contribute significantly to the defensive play of their side. RvP's number of tackles and number of 50/50s are much much lower than the other two's.

Suarez clearly likes to get stuck in, and might be a decent holding midfielder. He has over 200 more total 50/50s than Gerrard does. Bale being a wider player at times obviously tracks back and statistically puts in a good defensive shift.

Suarez Bale RvP
Possession Won in Def Third 14
31 12
Possession Won in Mid Third 61 56 45
Possession Won in Att Third 27 7 15

The 27 balls won back in the attacking third is the highest mark in the EPL thus far. This would seem to show again that Suarez is much more active without the ball and tenacious in and although he has been dispossessed more than either of the two (although he has far more touches), he works hard to get it back and keep the pressure on.

Lastly we'll look at what they do when in attack mode and their statistical creativity.

Suarez Bale RvP
Accurate Final Third Passes 416 244 297
Pass Accuracy (%), Final Third 72% 71% 74%
Successful Dribbles 79 55 25
Total Dribbles 216 116 35
Total Crosses
Total Chances Created (includes assists)
Clear Cut Chances Created

So the final round of stats shows how much more Suarez contributes to the rest of the team than the other two do. He has nearly 25% more accurate passes in the final third. It was a but surprising to me to see how far off Suarez was in his number of crosses, although it makes much more sense based on his more direct style of play and desire to take defenders on. Bale obviously would lead this since he is a more natural wide player. However, despite this Suarez is still far ahead of the others in terms of total chances created. It is actually quite the indictment of Liverpool's finishing ability that Suarez only has four assists.

What do I take away from this? Well, it is clearly not a three horse race. It really is a two horse race between Bale and Suarez. The stats together do seem to show that both Bale and Suarez are much more involved in their overall team play. One must take into consideration though that they are the focal points of their respective teams nearly every minute of every game which RvP is not. Much of Suarez's passing stats are padded by the style of play the Brendan Rodgers has implemented at Liverpool.

That said, Bale and Suarez are clearly having unreal seasons, but not just offensively. Their defensive contributions are unappreciated in the general conversation, but should not be overlooked.