Manchester United: Sleeping Giants

The most popular sports league in the world starts back up this weekend, and with Manchester United playing Swansea City, it will sprint to a start this Saturday. Looking to the Sports Books for a look at how the bettors believe the league will end, Chelsea is the favorite at 15-8 (giving them around a 34.78% chance of winning the title), Man City is a close 2nd at 9-4 (30.77%), Manchester United is 3rd – decently far behind the Blues and City – at 9-2 (18.18%), and Arsenal rounds out the top 4 at 6-1 (14.29%).
Currently the trendy pick to beat their betting odds is Arsenal, who has been pegged by writers and fans alike to have a top 2 finish, or even hardware in their trophy case, with the additions of Alexis Sanchez, Matthieu Debuchy, and potential wunderkind Calem Chambers. However, Arsenal isn’t the sleeper team that should have better odds to win the Premier League, but the other team in red, Manchester United.
Truth be told, Manchester United was going to be due for a bounceback year even if David Moyes didn’t come back to the squad, with the massive amount of bad luck that came on the Red Devils last year.  Goal Differential is usually a more telling statistic for how well a football team performed over the the course of a season, because while beating a team 3-0 and beating a team 2-1 both give the team 3 points, the point totals often don’t fully show how strongly the team performed in the game. When a team wins 3-0, they dominated the game, and proved without a doubt that they were the better team that day, while a 2-1 win with a lucky goal or bad bounce can create doubt that the winning team was undoubtedly better. While Manchester United finished 7th in points in the table and was 15 points back of 4th and 8 points back of 5th, in goal differential they were only 1 goal away from 5th place, and only 6 goals back of 4th-place Arsenal.

Goal differential just takes into account how the team on the field played, and doesn’t begin to account for the significant time missed by a multitude of their top players, such as Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Namanja Vidic, Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck. All of these players will be back for the Red Devils, and there is no way the team could be as unlucky with injuries this year as they were last.

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Another huge addition for Manchester United is having a full season of Juan Mata, their midseason acquisition last year from Chelsea, who will have the whole season to perform. In the above chart from Squawka, you can see that Juan Mata compares equal to, if not better than, Ozil and David Silva, on a per 90 minutes basis of his performance for Manchester United. Having his services for the full year will be a big boost for the squad.
The new summer additions, such as Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, will be a big help, and Man U is near a deal with defender Marcos Rojo to further improve their defense. They made multiple bids for Arturo Vidal and Angel Di Maria, which could skyrocket the club’s talent. The Manchester faithful should not only expect a marked improvement from last year, they should be disappointed with anything below a top 3 finish.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University

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Breaking Down the James Rodriguez Transfer

It is almost certain now that James Rodriguez will be moving from Monaco to Los Blancos, for 60 million pounds, to become the 5th most expensive player of all time, trailing only his teammates Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, and his rivals at Barcelona, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Like both Bale and Neymar, a lot of his value is in his youth and the idea that he may not yet have reached his full potential at the ripe age of 23. Now that the transfer is a done deal, it is time to analyze the ramifications of the transfer for Real Madrid and to attempt to decide if James is money well spent, or a big mistake for Real Madrid.

The reason that James Rodriguez is now a top 5 transfer of all time is because of his play in the World Cup. Comparing James’ performance at the World Cup to those of his teammates at Real Madrid who play a similar attacking midfield position, it is clear that he was the best. On a per-minute-played basis, he was the best player at his position for Real Madrid in all of the key Squawka attacking categories, and at WhoScored, he had the 2nd-best overall rating in the tournament, trailing only Lionel Messi – who of course won the Golden Boot, scoring the most goals in the tournament.

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While his play was especially inspired during these five games, the problem with paying 60 million pounds for a player after a great World Cup run is that he did only play five games. Five games is a remarkably small sample size, and there are many players who have put together phenomenal five-game runs that will not be purchased for anywhere near 60 million pounds. When you dive into James’ World Cup stats a little closer, you find something a little more troubling. Looking at Squawka’s game ratings, while James put up a phenomenal game rating of 106.27 against Japan, in the two games against his toughest competition, Ivory Coast and Brazil, he had game ratings of just 13.11 and 17.42. While those aren’t terrible games by any stretch of the imagination, they are not what you would expect from a player of that expense.

A more predictive way to look at how James Rodriguez will do on Real Madrid is by looking at his stats from last season on Monaco. When you compare the same attacking stats that James dominated at the World Cup against his Real Madrid teammates, to what he did in the regular season in those stats, he does not seem to stand out. His attacking ability looks strikingly similar to Angel Di Maria, and his overall score isn’t as good as Luka Modric’s. On a per minute basis, though, the star of the group is Isco, a player who plays the same number ten position that James will likely play for Real Madrid and is even younger than James with potentially more room to grow. On WhoScored, his yearly rating for Monaco was a 7.41, a strong rating that was good for the 3rd best on his club team. However, Angel Di Maria had a higher rating that James and Isco were just behind at 7.39.

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The reason that the comparision between Isco, Di Maria and James is important is because it is believed that Di Maria is as good as gone for Real Madrid, with him heading to PSG, and Isco is potentially the next man to get the boot from Madrid (to make room for the large James transfer) with Real Madrid losing a key starter to their Champions League Champion squad last year, and their most promising prospect, who was still playing at a high level in his own right.

Comparing this transfer to Madrid’s great move for Toni Kroos for less than 20 million pounds, the transfer for James Rodriguez has much better chance to be a big bust for Los Blancos. If he continues his five great games at the World Cup at Real Madrid, then he will be undoubtedly worth the money. However, if the more likely scenario occurs and he plays more toward his form at Monaco, then Real Madrid might regret purchasing him, and losing Di Maria (and potentially Isco) as well.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University

The Statistical Impact of Neymar and Thiago Silva’s Absence

The loss of Neymar

The entire nation of Brazil was punched in the stomach when the news came that Neymar, their young superstar, was out for the remainder of the World Cup, and the emotional video that Neymar sent out to the country caused tears for millions across the world. For most nations in the World Cup, losing a player of Neymar’s caliber would probably end their Cup dreams, the same way that #7 FIFA ranked Uruguay looked like a completely different team in their two games without their superstar, Luis Suarez. Even Argentina didn’t look the same after Angel Di Maria left the field and Enzo Perez, midfield for Benfica, stepped in for the rest of the match.

Fortunately for Brazil, the two most logical replacements, Willian and Bernard, would start for most any other squad in the World Cup. Willian is a battle-tested, attacking midfielder who plays for Chelsea and has a style similar to that of Neymar. Both Willian and Neymar are dribblers who can hold possession and use their speed to get the ball up the pitch. When you look at the stats from Squawka, you can see how Willian is better in several key areas than Neymar, though Neymar is still the superior overall player, especially when it comes to scoring goals.

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From the comparison on Squawka, you can see that Willian has the edge in creativity, in terms of creating chances in the club league season for Chelsea, in the more difficult Premier League, and in about the same amount of time played, he created vastly more chances, 64-41. He also had about double Neymar’s key passes, and even had a better Squawka possession score than Neymar. However, the one thing that Brazil has especially lacked this world cup from their two strikers, Jo and Fred, has been goal scoring, and Neymar does a much better job scoring goals than Willian, scoring more than double Willian’s goals this season. Jo and Fred have scored 1 goal combined, and most of the scoring responsibilities have fallen on Neymar. Willian doesn’t have the same scoring ability as Neymar, but Brazil’s World Cup hopes depend on his passing and creative ability to bring more out of the other Brazil attackers, such as Jo, Fred, and Hulk.
Thiago Silva’s absence, and why it is difficult to properly measure
Thiago Silva was suspended for the upcoming semifinal game against Germany, a huge blow after a remarkably stupid yellow card from the seasoned vet. Thiago Silva’s replacement, and the analysis that comes with it, is much more complicated, and there is no cut-and-dry replacement for him. Silva is one of the best defenders in the world, and any time a team is missing a player of Silva’s quality, it undoubtably hurts. However, when just looking at the stats between Thiago Silva and his replacement, FC Bayern star Dante, there does not appear to be a large gap between the two players.

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It is a well-known fact that David Luiz plays more like a defensive midfielder than a true center back, and his squawka score reflects those tendencies, showing his very high attack score, relative to his total minutes played. Dante also has a high attack score relative to his defending score, which is where the biggest problem lies for Brazil. Thiago Silva does a phenomenal job covering defensively for Luiz, and his defensive prowess is shown in his defense score in Squawka which is more than double Dante’s. His clearances also stand out, being more than 60 above Dante in a similar number of minutes played. David Luiz and Thaigo Silva’s great attack/defense chemistry (which PSG paid 50 million pounds to get) is key to the Brazilian back 4, with both Marcelo and Dani Alves known for their attacking skills. This all shows how much the defensive ability of Silva is relied upon, as Dante will not  be able to play the same style that he excels at.

What this means for Brazil’s chances
All in all, losing two of your best players can only hurt a teams chances of winning, and Brazil’s biggest challenge all tournament will come next game against the best team in the tournament, Germany. If the last two games were being played on a truly neutral field, Germany would be the favorites to take home the title, however, with Brazil’s home field advantage, they are still the favorite, with Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight giving them a 46% chance of winning the title and a 67% chance of beating Germany. However, while Silver thinks that the lost value is from the attack, with the attack-minded Dante and increased chances from Willian, the attack may stay closer to form than expected, while the area to watch for Brazil is their defense without Thiago Silva’s support.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University