This is a really interesting look at Brad Guzan's distribution on Sunday that is absolutely worth your time to read. -Robert
How's it going everyone? I'm relatively new here (been following the blog for a while now, just registered) and love the tactical aspect of the game, using tools like StatsZone and video to uncover interesting angles and to help examine them. This may or may not be a reoccurring series, depending on how much you guys like it and how much time I have on my end. Anyway, onto the purpose of this post.
For yesterday's game against Newcastle, Paul Lambert decided to go with Brad Guzan instead of Shay Given, who had been the team's starting goalie for the first two games. This was obviously due to form, as Given struggled to start the season, and Guzan repaid Lambert by making some fine saves and helping Villa get their first point of the season and getting the team out of the relegation places for the time being. However, it wasn't just the saves that impressed me about Guzan. As the game went on, it was obvious that there were other aspects of Guzan's game that really helped Villa.
Something that struck me when watching the game today was the accuracy of Brad Guzan's long balls, whether they were goal kicks, kicks coming after saves from Guzan, or even throws. This lead me to do some investigating after the game. Fiddling around with StatsZone, I wanted to compare Guzan's ball distribution to Given's in his first two starts (I avoided using last year's numbers for Given because it didn't seem to make sense to use numbers from a different system/style of play). Looking at Guzan's passes against Newcastle you can see a difference between himself and Given.
Looking at Guzan's play compared to Given's against Everton, you can see that Guzan completed passes at a higher rate, completing about 71.1% of his passes compared to 53.7% from Shay Given. Also, look at where all these passes are going. Guzan's pass chart ends up with a lot of blue arrows over midfield with a good chunk of those passes towards the middle of the field. Compare that who was spraying the ball all around the field, relying on more short passes to the wings than anything.
That leads us to comparing Guzan's passes to Given's passes against West Ham. Even when Given is completing a high rate of passes, which he did against West Ham (connecting on about 75% of his passes), it's not putting Villa in an attacking position.
Again, looking at the passing charts you see a significant difference in the style of play. Guzan going deep towards the middle, looking to start an attacking sequence with Given opting for short passes to a wing, forcing Villa's defenders (who usually are receiving these short passes) to play the ball out of the back.
Here is a link to a video I put together showing Guzan's long passes (I wanted to embed it here, but due to rights, YouTube isn't letting me): Video [Note: The video has been pulled thanks to the EPL being obnoxious. Sorry. -R]
Watching the video, you can see the advantage of playing long balls from the goalie. If they connect (which is what happened 71% of his passes) Villa is instantly in a threatening position with the ball, looking to get on the attack. Even if the pass isn't complete, you are still putting the opposition on their back foot, forcing their defenders and midfielders to play the ball from the back, and allowing Villa to pressure the ball. It was obvious that Lambert wanted to pressure Newcastle all over the field and these long passes allowed them to, even when they lost possession immediately. Guzan will obviously be starting the next match and it will be interesting to see how these numbers develop as he continues to play. Definitely something worth watching.