Following its success in other sports, the idea of stats-led ‘Moneyball’ recruitment and management in football – very much a game of opinions – has been introduced in recent years. The increased variables of this sport mean that it’s rather more difficult to implement than baseball, for instance, but it hasn’t stopped us wondering which players would be perceived differently based on statistics.
As it is St George’s Day, we thought we’d take a crack at discovering England’s best performing XI based on freely available top-flight stats this season. Our only caveats are that they must have not retired from international duty (sorry John Terry) and have played over two thirds of the campaign so far.
GK: Fraser Forster, Southampton
Former Celtic goalie Forster was ruled out for the rest of the season with injury last month, but he has had a fantastic debut campaign with Southampton. His record of 13 clean sheets is the most of any English keeper in the Premier League, while his ratio of saves per goal conceded is also above the likes of Joe Hart and Ben Foster.
RB: Nathaniel Clyne, Southampton
Another important element of Southampton’s surprisingly stingy defensive set-up, Clyne finally worked his way into the England squad for real thanks to his form for The Saints this season, which was among the best in the league for his position, let alone nationality. Defensively, he has tackled more per game than his compatriots, while his dribbling rate two goals have shown he offers the overall threat that a full back should. We must give credit to Burnley’s Kieran Trippier, however, who ran Clyne close on many of the offensive and defensive stats.
LB: Danny Rose, Tottenham Hotspur
Perhaps the fourth or fifth choice left back in reality, it seems as if Danny Rose deserves a bit more credit than currently given. While he hasn’t the tally of clean sheets secured by Ryan Bertrand or the assists of Leighton Baines, the Spurs man has a superior overall rate of tackles, interceptions and dribbles forward this season that puts him in the team.
CB: Phil Jagielka, Everton
It’s not been a vintage year for The Toffees but skipper Phil Jagielka continues to put in strong performances in an otherwise shaky Everton defence. His rate of clearances and aerial duels won are among the highest in the league, and makes his selection in Roy Hodgson’s England side fully justified.
CB: Joleon Lescott, West Bromwich Albion
It’s been a while since Lescott was in the England set up, but his stats at The Baggies this season suggests he deserves a recall. His high rates of interceptions and tackles won per game show just why Tony Pulis’ side have been able to collect so many clean sheets, and just as a bonus he’d surely work well alongside former Everton teammate Jagielka again.
DM: Gareth Barry, Everton
It highlights just how few eligible options there are to choose from in holding midfield that Barry gets the nod, as Everton haven’t been the most convincing this season. He does, however, have a generally superior clean sheet record and defensive stats compared to the likes of Ryan Mason and Joey Barton.
M: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
The midfielder is certainly doing his part to take his place as the heir to Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. Goals and assists are aplenty, with superior passing stats to the likes of Jack Colback and James Milner. Players such as Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph would probably be in contention had they featured more for their clubs this season.
M: Stewart Downing, West Ham United
Downing’s form in attacking midfield for The Hammers earned him a brief England recall last year, albeit on the wing where he reminded everyone why he hadn’t been first choice in his old position for some time. With so many assists, crosses, blocks and chances created this season, though, there was no way there wouldn’t be space for him. This place on the left side of a midfield three should be somewhere he’d be well utilised.
F: Raheem Sterling, Liverpool
He’s played across the front three this season at Anfield, which perhaps skews his stats a little, but Raheem Sterling’s season certainly warrants his place in the team. Seven goals and seven assists are impressive, while he has so often been the main creative outlet for The Reds this campaign. He’ll do just fine to the right of the main striker.
F: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur
Furthest forward, who else but Harry Kane? 20 goals in 29 games have catapulted the Spurs academy graduate to national attention, and with England captain Wayne Rooney’s strike rate weakened by his time in midfield this season, Kane leads the way up top.
F: Jason Puncheon, Crystal Palace
There can be no arguing with Danny Welbeck’s international form, but in terms of club statistics he can’t come close to Palace’s Jason Puncheon (mind you, he hasn’t played anywhere near as much). The 28 year-old has flourished since the arrival of Alan Pardew as manager, which has skyrocketed some of his stats – Puncheon has created 61 chances this campaign, assisted seven goals and scored four for himself, perhaps deserving of an England call-up for real.
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