"Who is taking ownership?" - Rio and Scholes on VAR fiascoOct 3
The Premier League is finally back! Following three months without any action from England’s top flight, fans would be forgiven for forgetting how some of the players were faring pre-lockdown.
So Football Critic’s Paul Macdonald has identified five stars who went under the radar somewhat in 2019/20 and are worth keeping an eye on in the extravaganza of matches to come.
It’s fair to say that given the amount of money Everton have splurged in recent seasons, their outlay hasn’t been met with commensurate success on the pitch. But the £45m spent on Richarlison, which raised eyebrows at the time, increasingly looks to be an excellent piece of business.
His total of 13 goals + assists is in fact a little behind his expected goals (xG) + expected assists (xA) total of 15.1, and the Brazilian - only just turned 23 - is proving to be the perfect foil for a flourishing Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
He has also created 11 big chances in the Premier League in his role as dual scorer and creator. He netted in four of his seven league appearances after Christmas and the feeling is that with Calvert-Lewin in tow, Everton could have a striking relationship they can build around.
Indeed, Calvert-Lewin’s goal contribution P90 of 0.66 is on a par with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and superior to Marcus Rashford, two players who have had considerably more written about them in 19/20. This has the potential to be a fruitful duo for the Toffees for the next few seasons.
It’s one thing for a player in a team that is fighting relegation to simply score goals (see Norwich forward Teemu Pukki). It’s much more important that they count for something, and in Jordan Ayew, Crystal Palace have a clear example of a saviour whose goals will likely keep them in the league.
Ayew has eight Premier League goals - but crucially, hi strikes against Watford, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and West Ham his goal proved to be the winner in the contest, turning one point to three.
He scored an equaliser against Arsenal twice (home and away) as well, turning losses into draws. That is, in effect, a 12-point swing instigated by Ayew’s big-moment propensity alone.
Add in his opening goal at Old Trafford against Manchester Utd (Patrick Van Aanholt clinched the 2-1 win) and his goals were worth 15 points total. Take those away from Palace and they are in the relegation zone.
The Eagles could well look at the £2.5m they spent on Ayew last summer to make his deal from Swansea permanent as the best investment they have made in the past decade.
There are few certainties in football but here’s one to throw out there - if Norwich go down, Emiliano Buendia isn’t going down with them. Buendia’s displays in an aesthetically pleasing but ultimately naive Norwich side suggest he could do great things with better personnel around him.
He is small at 5ft 5in and a little slight of physique, but we are often told that players of this makeup cannot succeed in the Premier League. Buendia denounces that stereotype.
He makes a huge 3.3 key passes per-90; by comparison the most creative player in the league, Kevin De Bruyne, makes 3.9, while his 0.3 xA P90 places him fifth in the division behind established chance creators De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and David Silva. His actual assist total of seven is bettered only by the first three on the above list while his 3.8 completed dribbles P90 is fifth best in the league, too.
His 85 touches per-90 is easily the most of any Norwich player (minimum 1,000 mins played) showcasing his importance to the team. His form did tail off in February and March, however (his xA dropped to 0.11) and they will need to see him return to his best if they are to make the most unlikely of escapes.
Jesus is hardly underrated but perhaps his statistics are. Manchester City’s problems this season haven’t stemmed from the attack and, in fact, the smart rotation between Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus has brought out the best in both men.
In terms of non-pen goals per-90, Sergio Aguero is the Premier League leader with 0.90. In second position is Jesus, which is testament to the good work he has done with the time available to him - just 1,336 league minutes, or the equivalent of just under 15 full games.
When we bring assists into the equation, Jesus’ non-penalty goal contributions per-90 of 0.94 is better than anyone else in the league… who doesn’t wear light blue. Only De Bruyne, Mahrez and Aguero are superior.
The beauty is that when looking at Jesus’ expected goals and assists totals, he’s actually slightly underperforming on his combined total of 1.1, meaning every time Jesus steps on the field he is expected to contribute just over a goal or an assist.
Jesus must be desperate for a consistent run of games but his big problem is that his efforts have pushed Aguero to even greater heights. He, however, has time on his side.
With respect to Burnley and Sean Dyche, they aren’t a side conducive to offensive expressionism, but McNeil has been able to do quite a lot with not a great deal since breaking into the side.
Already an established England U20 and U21 international, McNeil enjoyed a more than decent non-pen goal contribution per-90 in his debut season of 0.44 and he’s built on that platform this season.
His 2.2 completed dribbles per-90 combined with his 6.8 crosses per-90 (seventh highest in the league, min 1,000 minutes) helps paint the picture of precisely the player he is; a winger in the traditional sense used to shifting and swinging balls in with his left foot with bend and accuracy.
It’s rare to see a player these days so keen to get the ball into the danger area early and McNeil’s wand of a left foot has created an xA per-90 of 0.23; that puts him in the territory of heralded talents such as Jack Grealish and ahead of Mason Mount or Harvey Barnes. At just 20 - you’d be a brave man to bet against him making his senior England bow sooner rather than later.