Better the Neville you know?

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With Tony Hibbert injured, Leon Osman in the form of his life and Everton sitting fairly pretty in 5th, there’s a distinct lack of negativity about the place and little seemingly blue to talk about.

Step forward Philip Neville.

We’ve all come to appreciate Darron Gibson and what he brings to the side, so when Cap’n Pip trundles into the midfield breach the boo boys like to target him. Usually by making comments about poor passing, pointing a good game and ridiculous rallying cries.

He’s better at right back, surely? Why doesn’t Thomas Hitzlsperger get more games? A lot of people are so desperate to get Neville out they’ve already signed Vadis Odjidja Ofoe in their minds and installed him in the team. Not that they’ve ever seen him play of course but he can’t be any worse can he? Francisco Junior v Leeds anyone?

Hitting the topic with a stats hammer is probably not going to change any Neville boo-boys minds, but I’ll have a go anyway….and obviously only using data from games when he’s played in midfield.

First up, there’s the assertion that all he does is pass it backwards and sideways. This can’t be denied. According to the excellent Stats Zone app Neville passes to Jagielka more than any other team mate. His next favourite ball is a shuffle across to Coleman at right back. He makes few combinations with fellow midfielders, let alone Fellaini or Jelavic.

The difference between Neville’s passing and Hitzlsperger’s couldn’t be more different. The German rarely goes backwards; he even plays the ball to the front two. He looks like he wants to get involved. It looks better on the eye but is it effective?

Hitzlsperger has started 4 games in the middle and Everton have lost 2 of them (Reading and Chelsea). We’ve looked to be playing well in both those games but ultimately have been caught on the hop.

Neville’s midfield game might be simple but the indicators are that it’s more effective for Everton. Per game, Everton take more shots when he plays in midfield, score more goals when he plays in midfield and concede less goals when he plays there too. Neville has started 12 games in midfield this term and we remain unbeaten when he’s in this role.

Possible reasons? Bong has talked a lot recently about Baines, Pienaar and Osman linking up together causing “pint-sized mayhem”. Very simply, not only is Hitzlsperger left footed, he wants the ball more than Neville. This means Osman having to take up positions on the right side of the pitch and having a gradually decreasing influence. The graphic below shows this:

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In the Chelsea game, it looks like Moyes sought to rectify the situation by stationing the German on his unnatural right side. Osman came into his own again, and Everton played well while Hitzlsperger had his quietest game yet. Osman was MoM by some distance, making more passes, interceptions and take-ons than anyone else in the game.

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Osman has been key to Everton’s good form this season. He makes more tackles and interceptions than his midfield colleagues and has taken more shots too. He also makes more passes than anyone else in the side. Hitzlsperger reduces Osman’s influence plain and simple. Neville allows Osman to play his game.

Hitzlsperger is actually the least accurate midfielder we have passing-wise. He may look vastly superior to Neville on the ball but the fact is he’s giving the ball back to the opposition with nearly 25% of his passes.

Even if a safety first Neville lay-back to Jagielka ends up with a lump towards the opposition box, the ball is not lost in a dangerous area and team mates aren’t committed. They’re much more likely to be committed if Hitzlsperger gives it away a lot in the middle of the park.

Everton press and push defensively as a unit. The onus is on restricting space and keeping the ball out of danger areas and in the opposition half as much as possible. Our chums across the Park use possession stats as some kind of measure to how well you’re playing and how you should have won the game. Possession better correlates as a defensive tool rather than an attacking one. It denies your opponents the opportunity to hurt you. Not only does Neville keep the ball with his really simple passing range, but as captain and Moyes’s right hand man, he also keeps the shape better.

It may not look pretty but the only stats that matter in football are goals – and these come from shots on target. Create these for yourself while denying them to your opponents and you pick up the points. When Neville plays this is what happens.

I’ve studied thousands of shots in the Premier League and for the vast majority of teams you can predict pretty accurately how many goals they will score over a season based on the no of shots they’ve taken from certain areas. Applying this model to the team we can see that when Neville plays, Everton should and do concede less than when Hitzlsperger plays. We can also see that the team’s numbers hold up as well with Neville in midfield as they do when Gibson’s available, albeit against inferior opponents:

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This all may be unfair on Hitzlsperger due to his lack of games, but with Neville, Moyes knows what he’s getting. The manager doesn’t do chance and Everton fans should thank their lucky stars he doesn’t because when you have finances like ours, and a small squad like ours, the odds are always stacked against you.

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12 thoughts on “Better the Neville you know?

  1. Pingback: Phil Neville: Does he have a point?

  2. I usually enjoy readin’ your observations, but you’re badly BADLY wrong this time.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times nevile’s FORWARD passes that have gone directly to an opposition player 5-10yds in front of him. That’s not good enough At least hitzlsperger’s passes are 80& forward, much unlike the 90% or so square & (mainly) backpasses nevile makes. I’ve seen him shunt the ball back to Howard on as many occasions when there’s been a team-mate square of him & unmarked.

    He is utterly useless. When next playin’ as a right-back, you just watch how he defends like a right-sided centre half on the right-hand corner of the 18yd box. He NEVER moves from there when the opposition are comin’ forward. He NEVER goes out to the touchline or shows the opposin’ winger the line. And he NEVER tackles at the earliest opportunity, but instead waits until the player’s enterin’ the box. How many free-kicks in dangerous areas is he responsible for? I’ll bet it’s more than Hibbert.

    And you say: “Possession better correlates as a defensive tool rather than an attacking one. It denies your opponents the opportunity to hurt you.”

    But prior to that you said: “Even if a safety first Neville lay-back to Jagielka ends up with a lump towards the opposition box, the ball is not lost in a dangerous area and team mates aren’t committed. They’re much more likely to be committed if Hitzlsperger gives it away a lot in the middle of the park.”

    So, what’s it to be? Is it somehow OK that we give away possession through a Jagielka long ball, or through an intercepted pass from Hitzlsperger? Or even through one of the nevile forward passes that I mentioned earlier – you know, the one that goes to an opposition player 5yds ahead of him?? If you haven’t got possession, you can’t do much other than win it back. nevile doesn’t win the proportion of possession he’s responsible for losing.

    Possession’s only part of the game. It’s also about how quickly you can get the ball forward to do the most damage. How many times have you seen promisin’ counterattacks break down because the team have to wait for him to lacksadaisically stroll up to take a long throw that INVARIABLY goes to the head of an opposition defender (Much like his lofted, floated crosses) ?

    There is NO case for a 34/35 y.o. who lacks pace & passin’ ability.

    • First, let me say thanks for such a detailed response. Second, this piece was written by myself, not Bong. I’ll answer your points one by one!

      1. Neville’s forward pass completion rate is 83% when he’s playing in midfield. That’s more accurate than everyone else’s total passing except Osman and Heitinga. From that i think we can deduce that Neville must be one of, if not THE most accurate forward passer we have. They’ll probably be simpler passes but as i’ve said, Hitzlsperger’s passing is worse as he completes 70% of his forward passes.

      2. The article is about Neville in midfield. All the stats and Statszone graphics are from games he’s played in midfield.

      3. Neville keeps possession nearly 9 out of 10 times he passes it. He keeps the ball better than anyone else in the side.

      Neville isnt responsible for Jagielka smashing the ball at the first opportunity.

      I also said everton push and press to keep the ball in the oppo half as far forward as possible. a jagielka hoof loses the ball in a less dangerous area (mostly likely the final third) than a hitz or nev pass (most likely middle third)

      4. Not sure what throw ins have got to do with him playing midfield. I’d imagine the moyes details who takes throws in the final third and he tells the team it’s going in the box. however, i’m reliably informed by a chap at prozone that 40% of all throw ins across the league are lost within 3 touches. so neville’s not alone

      Re crossing, again this would be a feature of his right back play, and not the midfield stuff i’ve talked about here. In any case, i’ve done a piece about crossing for my own website prev. the most accurate crossers in the league last yr (of those who take a sizeable amount – i.e hundreds – baines, nani, mata, young, nasri were at 25-30%. accuracy. neville last yr made a paltry 26 crosses but 9 (or 34%) were accurate

      In conclusion, i think people are watching neville in isolation and without context of whatever else is going on around them. Sometimes our eyes lie to us, especially if they’re watching with prejudice. he’s a limited player on the ball no doubt, but that means many of his actions minimize risk, which isnt a bad thing if the other mids around you are continually taking them. its a team game

      And before i forget, Neville makes 1.3 fouls a game. Way way down the list behind the likes of Arteta, Sidwell, Tiote, Yacob, Diakate, Diame, Schneiderlin, Mulumbu, Granero and Sandro who play similar sitting roles

  3. Well thanks for your detailed response. allow me to answer your points in finer detail if I may.

    1. 83% for nevile’s pass stats – all well & good. But for those who watch the game rather than concentrate on statistics, the vast majority (Probably more than your 83%) will be asking ‘What his accuracy like when he makes a FORWARD pass?’

    2. Midfield, Right-Back , Left-Back, what’s the difference? There is none in terms of his passing abiltiy, pace, positional sense, or the ability to stick a foot out & intercept the ball., regardless of whereabouts on the pitch he is.

    3. Possession’s about as much use as a handbrake on a camel if your MIDFIELDER is going square or backwards with every *completed pass*. As I keep mentioning, his forward passing is garbage. I’ve never said nevile’s responsible for jagielka hoofing the ball up the pitch; nevile’s responsible for the backpass in the first place, which on occasion has left Jagielka with no other option but to do so. I’ve lost count of the times when nevile’s had an easy pass to make in terms of maintaining/ gaining territorial advantage, but has gone backwards or square. But hey! He’s made another *completed pass* hasn’t he?

    His abject lack of pace and positional awareness also means that the other midfielders have extra work to do. So for you to say I’m concentrating solely on nevile is utter tripe. The main reason we couldn’t break down Swansea is because of him & all the points I’ve made about him up to now.

    4. I’d have thought my point was clear about him & his throw-ins. As I’ve said, I’ve seen countless promising counters break down because he’s taken all bleedin’ day to both get to the point where the throw-in’s taken; and another eternity to throw the ball LONG to an opposing defender’s head.

    “40% of throw-ins being lost within 3 touches – so he’s not alone” you say? Can you furnish me with the statistics for his throws going direct to an opposing defender’s head?

    And as for the crossing, are the likes of Arteta, Sidwell, Tiote, Yacob, Diakate, Diame, Schneiderlin, Mulumbu, Granero and Sandro (who play similar sitting roles) excluded because they’re midfielders? Don’t they get themselves into positions where they have the opportunity to cross the ball? They DO – but nevile doesn’t.

    I appreciate you mentioned it being more relevant to a Right-Back position, but there isn’t one supporter of any club will disagree it’s about the QUALITY of the cross. nevile may well have had 34% accuracy, but that only applies to the usual high lofted ball that’s a helluva lot more difficult to for the forward players to control rather than a whipped-in cross that’s difficultfor the opposition to defend…..one that nevile appears almost incapable of making.

    And last night’s ‘performance’ at southampton is further evidence of why nevile should not be anywhere near the reserves – nevermind the starting XI, Although in fairness he wasn’t alone, but when osman AND pienaar both have a bad night and nevile can’t even be put on a par with either of them, then you have to ask yourself what is the point of him?

    @Bobby Thomas

    You’ve got to be kiddin’ trottin’ out that lame one, haven’t ya? If that’s not a tongue-in-cheek then all I can say is: Jesus H Navas – You just can’t be serious if you think he contributes that much that we allegedly win more BECAUSE of him

    • I’ll repeat it as you obviously didnt see it:first time:

      1. Neville’s FORWARD pass completion rate is 83% when he’s playing in midfield.

      2. ……

      3. See 1. Also, if he’s so bad positionally how is it the team has gone 24 Prem games in a row unbeaten with him starting in midfield stretching back almost a calendar year? Are the others THAT good to make up for him? really?

      4. throw ins….. re crossing….that lot average less than half a cross per game, and some of those are on free kick duty

      5. with moyes favouring fellaini up front, the article focuses on neville v hitz in midfield. personally i’d favour fellaini dropping in as i stated here three months ago:

      http://theexecutionersbong.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/tactical-analysis-deconstructing-evertons-shooting-accuracy/

      while this is my preference, i’ve tried to come up with some reasoning why moyes doesnt do this and still been successful with neville there

  4. You’re defending the indefensible. No two ways about it. I too, if inclined, can make up a list stats to my heart’s content – but that’ll divert my attention form actually watching the game as it happens.

    But anyway, once again I’m compelled to respond.

    In case you didn’t know, there are eleven players on the pitch at once. Are you suggesting that the input nevile offers, is such that it is entirely BECAUSE of him that went 24 games or what-have-ya, unbeaten?

    Horseballs.

    There have been plenty of draws in games that we really ought to have won, and quite probably would have, had we had a more mobile & more technically gifted player instead of that. As I’ve said, swansea was a case in point; Southampton further evidence why he should be binned altogether.

    Do other managers look at our starting list and think to themselves ‘Oh hey! nevile’s playin’ I’d best prepare meself for a rough ride then’

    I seriously doubt it.

    They, like the majority of Evertonbians, see a skill-less, paceless 34/35 year old in an importatn position.

    As for your 83% penchant. Look at it this way. How many of those 83% are passes of more than, say, 10yds? What proportion of those 83% of forward passes take out 1 or even 2 opposing players?

    How many of those 83% of forward passes were made under pressure from an opposing player, and of them, how many were made in the opposition half?

    I’m askin’ because the most recent episode of nevile losing posession while under zero pressure that I can recall was against swansea. Once again I witnessed him (Inside our half) make a 10 yd FORWARD pass which went directly to a swansea player. That player was the nearest to nevile. That is an all too common occurrence. Fortunately, swansea never scored – but it had our defence scrambling, all the same.

    That’s the difference between nevile and ANYBODY else in the side. The reason nevile gets away with it time & again is because he only ever passes forward when there’s at least 2 defenders behind him.

    I notice you didn’t answer about the throw-ins, but deflected the main point I made to crosses made by those other players. Are you for real to try to palm anyone off with some fabricated tripe that nevile passes forward/ crosses more than Arteta? Just who are you tryin’ to kid?

    But back to the throws, and especially his long throws. Bring up all the stats you like. The consensus amongst most of our support that I’ve asked regarding this, is that what I’ve mentioned is a huge bugbear of theirs, too. They’ve noticed it with their own eyes too, see? No amount of statistical embellishment can disguise the fact that his throws are plainly sh*te – and that’s before I get onto the subject of those lofted, hanging crosses that I’ve already mentioned!

    AS i said in my original post – there is NO case for him to be in the side. He simply has to be THE most unpopular choice of captain this club’s EVER had.

  5. Worst fears realised yesterday. The team paid for what he does on at least one occasion per game. And there’s nobody can say that wasn’t comin’.

    Nice one ‘pip’ you useless thief of wages & younger, better player’s opportunities. Retire (Never to return) and give the younger, talented & worthy a chance.

    • Don’t know what happened there ^^^^ Think there was a problem editing the post. ‘Twas meant to read:

      “Worst fears realised yesterday. The team paid for what he does on at least one occasion per game. And there’s nobody can say that wasn’t comin’.

      Nice one ‘pip’ you useless thief of wages. Retire (Never to return) and give the younger, talented & worthy a chance.”

      He’s got me so annoyed I can’t even type properly.

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