We all have a love and/or hate relationship with statistics. Jack Colback’s recent links with a move to Everton has thrown into my mind pass completion statistics and how they generally get hoyed about whenever we talk about a player being good or bad. It seems so tangible that this correlation be black and white, especially for a central midfielder – but is it and how important is Colback and his passing to Sunderland?
First, if I take some less obvious examples outside of SAFC as evidence in support, Gary Medel of Cardiff City, currently holding their own as a newly promoted side, has a completion average of 91% (note all pass completion statistics are taken from WhoScored). The often maligned Tom Cleverley boasts an impressive 89.7% and of his Premier League starts for Manchester United (six) they won four losing just once away against high flying Liverpool.
A little closer to home, in our two Premier League wins John O’Shea and Seb Larsson both averaged 89.5%, yet their season averages are a little more average at 82.3% and 82.6%.
Even the Premier League table offers some support for the correlation, we would be relegated if the table were decided by pass completion, however it also offers some contradictions. Manchester City are top, when in reality they are a disappointing 8th – similarly Swansea City would be runners up however they find themselves in a pretty lowly 13th spot.
So what exactly does a good pass completion prove? Well, on its own, not a lot – I am sure you will have noticed the blatant logical flaws in most of the insinuated points so far. I am under no illusions that pass completion has enough substance to support any argument on its own. Basically, thus far, you may feel I have wasted your time, get to the point, yes sir.
Basically my point is that Colback’s pass completion over the last three Premier League games of 90.66% is impressive but is certainly not a reason to get in an almighty tizz about his possible departure. I could try to enforce my point with the old counter-argument to any good pass completion, that none of his passes are particularly meaningful. I could point out that of the eight misplaced passes he has made in the last three games, only one was not a forward pass and that you could almost count the number of completed forward passes he has made on your hands. Or indeed that his defensive contributions have been limited at best (note these particular statistics were lifted from FourFourTwo). Let’s be honest, that would be equally as misleading and mystifying as arguing that he is hugely important just because he passes the ball well.
Perhaps a more meaningful view would be to look at his overall performances. He was rated man of the match by both ourselves and fellow Sunderland site Roker Report for his display against the Mags, yet in his most impressive passing performance to date both sites rated him a measly 3 against Hull City. Again, both sites were in agreement that of our midfield three, Colback was the least impressive against Manchester City. That's not to suggest both are categorically correct, of course our opinions are no more qualified than the next Sunderland fan.
I am a fan of Colback, I really am. We can build and improve whilst including him in future plans without compromise. He fits in perfectly with the Poyet model and has already proved competent enough to impress at Premier League level. Ultimately, he is a good but replaceable player. Tidy passers are not rare anymore. I do hope we manage to tie him down to a new contract, but that is not because I would be worried about replacing him with a player of similar quality. For me it would be a whole different worry in that I like an English influence in our midfield and fear that would not be replaced by our new recruitment system. Not to mention he is not exactly worth a great deal with his contract running out in the summer.
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