NOTE: STATISTICS ARE TAKEN FROM WHEN EVERY A-LEAGUE MEN TEAM HAD PLAYED AT LEAST FIVE GAMES (25 JANUARY 2022)
With the season underway, and all teams playing at least five games, now is a good time to take a look at the data to explore which players are setting the pace early on in what has been a disjointed start to the season.
However, comparing players based on statistics and data isn’t a straightforward process of goals and assists when determining which players are performing ‘best’. Within the modern games, every player across all positions have various roles to fulfil which lead to data gaps and insufficiencies across common measurements for positional success.
In the modern game, fullbacks are often required to supplement their defensive contributions with input to the attacking phase of a team, frequently spending their time high and wide up the field to deliver balls into the box.
This graph above compares two elements to see which fullback is performing best statistically at the time of writing: Successful Defensive Actions refers to the combination of successful tackles, interceptions, and clearances. Key passes are termed as passes leading to a shot or chance created. In this, there are three highlighted players performing well above the A-League Men average.
Melbourne City’s Galloway, Jamieson, and Western United’s Risdon top the graph with the trio all performing well above the average for key passes, as well as maintaining equal to or above average for their successful defensive actions.
Combining the data thus far, Jamieson is the top performing fullback in the A-league men early on with the equal second most successful defensive actions (40) and equal most key passes (12).
Risdon does fall into a close second with more successful defensive actions (47) but fewer key passes (nine). This implies less involvement in attack compared to the Melbourne City duo however, the strongest defensive performer across the league’s fullbacks.
The average for players who have played in the majority of their games (five+) is typified in the grouping in the graph containing Sydney FC’s Rhyan Grant with just over thirty successful defensive actions and just four key passes- eight below the top fullbacks.
Hoffman has been highlighted as behind the pack for those that have played five games. He has spent time in centre-back which explains his lower tally of key passes, however, the low number of successful defensive actions (13) is concerning for a side that hasn’t had a stable defence, conceding eight goals in five games.
This graph examines the league’s central defenders across their successful defensive actions and their total passes; their cumulative number of any completed pass. This identifies the players who contribute across all phases of play to their team, rather than just those capable of stopping an attack.
Within this scope, Melbourne City’s Nuno Reis and Adelaide United’s Jacob Tratt are clear best performers thus far in the league. To an extent, this breakaway could be explained by a high number of games played by the duo (7 & 8 respectively), providing an advantage over those able to feature in just five fixtures thus far.
However, this advantage is largely negated by Uskok (36 Defensive actions and 205 passes) and Wilkinson near the middle of the pack (27 defensive actions and 413 passes). Both of which have played in more than five games, with Wilkinson involved in seven.
Statistically, Melbourne Victory’s Brendan Hamill has struggled early on. Trailing the main pack noticeably, he leads only those playing low minutes or fewer games. His return of 19 defensive actions and 220 passes is a concerning showing compared to his peers.
While Victory sit atop the ladder, they have conceded eight goals from seven matches. When a team performs solidly as a unit, less defensive actions is to be expected as they maintain control of a game and stifle attacks further upfield. However, this typically is supplemented with greater involvement in build-up play with the ball. Therefore indicating that Hamill is short-falling his contemporaries across all phases of the game early on this season.
The final point of note is the positioning of Kye Rowles. Rowles signifies the general average across the division but highlights a key feature of play, a trend echoed at City, where build-up play tends to go through a specific player in the centre-back pairing. In this scenario, Rowles has more passes (319) than his centre-back partners Tongyik (141) and Hall (112) combined.
This highlights the manner in which teams tend to designate players to try and dictate play through, and how this ends up averaging out across a player’s involvement and performance through the season.
We can expect to see Nuno Reis continue his trajectory across the metrics as City’s designated ball player, and a more than capable reader of the game will flag him as the defender to watch for the rest of the season.
The goalkeepers dataset compares the goals conceded, and the xG on target conceded. xG on target conceded measures the quality of the shots a goalkeeper faces that are on target so therefore a higher proportion of saves from distant, low quality shots, don’t skew a goalkeeper to appear disproportionately better than their actual performance.
Again in this category there are two clear frontrunners in Central Coast Mariners’ Birighitti and Macarthur FC’s Filip Kurto, who conceded three and one goal respectively.
Within this scattergram good performers will appear below the grey line- signifying that they concede less than the xG on target conceded. Those on or near the line match the expectation, and those above it are considered to be underperforming.
What is remarkable about the performances of Birighitti and Kurto is how much better than their xG on target conceded they are performing. With xG on target against of 7.2 and 6.3 respectively it shows how remarkably important the pair have been to their sides’ strong starts to the season.
The notable poor performers thus far are Melbourne City’s Tom Glover and Wellington Phoenix’s Oli Sail. Glover has conceded 11 goals from an expected 9.1 whereas Sail registers similarly with an almost two goal discrepancy with an expected 7.3.
At current standings, Melbourne City have conceded the second most in the league, with Glover performing to expectations (conceding nine) which changes their standing to now equal second most with Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers at nine.
The implications of this imply that the underperformance of Glover is not the sole factor for the high number of goals conceded, rather implying a lack of stable, structured defence thus far that allows too many high quality chances.
It is a similar story with Wellington Phoenix, who’s 14 goals conceded is the worst in the competition. The underperformance of Sail is responsible for an element of this, however, backup keeper Paulsen has over-performed conceding five from an xG of 6.5. This again implies the struggles of Wellington in goal may have been solved. However, the Phoenix’s struggles defensively are not solely the responsibility of the goalkeepers.