It's been quite a while since we did this feature. Mainly as we were locked out of our stats account, but we're back now and we're looking at the numbers to try and work out who is best to partner Lee Cattermole in midfield.
It's becoming almost as increasing a problem as our left-back situation. Who is best to partner Lee Cattermole in midfield? The fact Cattermole is an automatic start is a given. He's not only our captain, but emerging as one of the better holding midfielders in the Premier League.
Who goes alongside him though is proving to be a tricky task, especially now given the arrival of Adam Johnson for big money, Seb Larsson's inclusion also becomes a bit more tricky.
It would appears from the outset that there's just clearly a case of too many cooks spoiling our midfield broth, so to speak. The primary contenders seem to be Jack Colback and Seb Larsson.
Craig Gardner might like to play there, but for the purposes of this purely statistical look, there isn't really a large enough sample size with him only playing there once this season. We'll have to draw on some numbers from last season for that, as we will also for David Vaughan. We'll discount David Meyler as he's away at Hull City, and not likely to feature for us barring an epic injury crisis.
Now obviously Cattermole takes the role as the destroyer. No national media, not the destroyer of other players knees and so forth, just the one who breaks up play, makes interceptions and lays it off nicely to someone else to get things moving. It's what he's best at, and what he's excelled at to a new level in recent weeks.
Looking at the numbers it would appear we can go one of two routes along side him.
Hold, Hold, Hold!
One route would be to put another holding midfielder alongside Cattermole and allow Stephane Sessegnon, James McClean and Adam Johnson to run wild. That would be the goal anyway, but thus far it hasn't quite panned out like that.
It's an option that might come in handy in the bigger games though where we might come up against some more highly skilled or attacking central midfielders.
If we're looking in this role, you'd immediately think of Jack Colback, and rightly so. He's won more tackles per game than his Swedish adversary for the role with 3 compared to 2.66, but that is really only a negligible difference.
Colback has also committed less fouls than Larsson too, with an average of 1.71 per game compared to 2.16 per game.
Larsson has however won more ground duels. Ground duels are effectively the posh term described by Opta for 50-50 challenges, with the Swede winning 58% of them compared to Colback's 53%.
David Vaughan's managed to commit himself to three foul in just 80 minutes of football this season, whilst winning only one tackle. Whilst as we've already written, Craig Gardner committed more fouls in midfield last season than anyone without the surname Cattermole.
If we need someone to sit in their and graft, it has to be Colback. However, what's the doing's once they've won the ball?...
Pass & Move
This is an area which is up for debate when you look at our two main contenders. Colback comes in with a healthier pass accuracy with 88% finding their target compared to the 83% of Larsson.
However the use of those accurate passes is also a key factor. Larsson finds himself playing the ball forwards 33% of the time, while Colback only 31% of it. The stats are equally similar when it comes to playing the ball backwards too, with Larsson committing to it 15% of the time, and Colback 16% of the time.
So with things a near enough tie, are either of them actually creating anything with the ball? It's only in this section does one man begin to emerge victorious.
As perhaps expected for a more attack-minded midfielder, Larsson's attacking contribution dwarfs that of Colback.
There's something to be said for our chance creation department, but according to the stats, Larsson in the middle of the park is credited with creating 2.16 chances per game, where as the Ginger Prince II a meager 0.85 per game.
Colback said back at the start of the season that he was looking to add goals to his game but it doesn't seem to really be happening for him. And it certainly won't happen if he continues at his rate of 0.71 shots per game as opposed to Larsson's 1.34 per game.
If we're looking for shots though we need look no further than Craig Gardner. Last season he took more shots than any other central midfielder, with 27 in 17 games from the position, and returning very few goals for his efforts. Equally he only created 11 chances for his teammates, compared to say Larsson, who has already contributed 13 this season.
Overall there's still arguments to be made for all parties, which goes to show the task that Martin O'Neill is up against in selecting someone for the role. Even the numbers don't separate the two who are most hotly contesting the position.
Ultimately you have to factor in some of the intangibles. Of course that flies in the face of a feature such as this, but with Larsson having a significant edge of Colback when moving the ball forward and creating chances for those around him, plus of course his significant strength as chief freekick and corner taker, you can overlook his indiscipline and ever so slight weakness when it comes to holding firm in there.
We do love Jack Colback as a player, but for the good of the team it seems as though Seb Larsson might be the way to go to provide more balance and attacking verve to the midfield.