"Caught off guard" - how Sunderland defender REALLY stacks up to team mates

John O'Shea player of the season? What the stats say.

by David_Barwise Saturday, 28 April 2018 08:33 PM Comments
John O'Shea player of the season? What the stats say.


The decision is in, and John O'Shea has been named Sunderland's best player this season. But from a statistical vantage point, how good has he actually been?

Well it was always going to be an anti-climax. After the dizzying heights of Jermain Defoe, we were always going to be underwhelmed by Sunderland's Player of the Year awards.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the mutters of disapproval – how can the award possibly go ahead? With expectations of a top half finish, why should we reward failure?

I for one think it's exactly what we need. With 95% of the season being a guided tour of everything that's wrong with our club, it nice to celebrate the positives that are overlooked.

But John O'Shea, though? Yeah, it caught me off guard as well.

How praiseworthy has the stalwart's season been, then? And how does he stack up against the rest of the squad? The coffee's been poured, tears shed, and conclusions drawn as we look over the stats.

O'Shea – Sunderland's Best Player?

He's in the mix. Amazingly, both WhoScored and Squawka have him ranked as our 4th best performing player this season.

In fact, according to Squawka, John O'Shea actually had the highest defensive rating in the squad (270 points), narrowly edging out Tyias Browning (234) and Didier Ndong (183).

From the numbers, he makes a subtle difference when he plays. Sunderland concede on average a little under two goals in games when he starts, compared to just over two in games when he doesn't.

But taking a stride back, both those numbers are crazy. Whether a mid-table side or cellar dwellers, conceding a brace of goals each game is embarrassing.

Going back to Squawka's rating, Deby's Curtis Davies scored 1182 in the same defensive category – over four times better. O'Shea's concentration has been enough to minimise his own personal mistakes, but not enough to control and inspire the players around him.

To put it another way – if the league was determined by attacking prowess and goals scored, Sunderland would scrape into the top 20 at the time of writing; if it was about clean sheets and damage limitation, the club would be rock bottom.

The side's defence, then, is what's anchored the Mackems to the foot of the table. If the attacking players are doing their jobs slightly better than those at the back, then it's those lads who should be in contention for player of the season.

Which of them is top of the tree? Stay tuned – that article's on its way...


O'Shea – Sunderland's Best Defender?

While the Ireland international boasts the best overall defensive score, the team's two prominent wing backs give him a run for his money, while proving to be much more capable in possession.

Bryan Oviedo managed more tackles (1.94) and interceptions (1.64) than O'Shea (0.89 and 1.43 respectively) while becoming the go-to guy for turning attack into defence, with more "key passes" per game in the squad than anyone other than Aiden McGeady.

Adam Matthews has been far more disciplined, making no defensive "errors" and picking up zero cards (O'Shea has made two and picked up three in the league). Yet, he can still boast the best pass completion rate of any other defender in the squad.

While the former Manchester United man has the edge on both of these players in terms of blocks and clearances, you can't realistically say he's had the better season than those who've kept up with him at the back while offering more going forward.

O'Shea – Sunderland's Best Centre Back?

Was he our best centre back, then? Let's have a look...

Predictably – this is a bit tighter. Sure, our defence has been shocking this season, but it feels as though lack of communication and understanding have played a bigger part than individual performances.

John O'Shea's trademark of being a tentpole planted in the middle of the box (unmoveable, static, but getting in the way) didn't hold true this year, losing more aerial duels than any other CB. Kone took the plaudits (somehow that feels like the wrong word) here, winning 65% of his battles.

Sadly, the Ivory Coast international came stone-dead last in every other meaningful stat – not being able to pull off enough decent performances to neutralise the stonkers.

A straight-up tussle, then, between O'Shea and Ty Browning to see who takes the most coveted prize in football – the I'm-not-as-truly-woeful-as-the-other-Sunderland-centre-backs award. I'm already giggling with excitement.

The Everton-loanee had spells of looking the real deal – looking quicker, more dynamic, and more driven than most guys sporting red and white this season. We sure knocked that out of him.

Still, his energy levels meant Browning made more blocks and interceptions than the 36-year-old, despite having played 700 fewer minutes.

The drawback of all this charging down and general putting-in-a-shift-ness, is that you have to have a FDA-approved safety net for when things go wrong.

Sadly, the club's not been doing so well in that department.

Sunderland have averaged more goalkeeping mistakes than any other league team in England this season (okay, I haven't checked this, but the fact that you believed me speaks volumes).

Browning, while being far from a hot-head, has therefore had to pay for his misjudgements - averaging more mistakes, errors leading to a goal, and cards for bad tackles per game than his Irish mentor.

It should be no surprise, then, that O’Shea leads the team in clearances (7.5 per game) as an ambassador of the “when in doubt, hoof it out” movement.

I don’t think that it’s unfair to assume that Browning’s 2019 will outclass O’Shea’s. The Englishman’s shown a lot of promise and I hope he thrives wherever he ends up.

But for just about keeping his head when everyone else is running beak-less out of the farm gates, the veteran tentpole is the player that Sunderland needed the most this season. At least, more than his colleagues.

So yes, John O’Shea has proved himself as Sunderland’s best centre-back this season.

Cherish it, lad - it’ll be the last thing any of us win for a long time.