Exclusive stats reveal a chink in England’s armour... can Malta exploit it?
Ahead of Malta’s World Cup qualifier against England at Wembley Stadium today, The Malta Independent has teamed up with our friends over at daily fantasy football game Oulala.com to analyse the match. Using Oulala’s extensive database of statistics sourced straight from Opta, we’ve taken a look at an array of player performance data in an attempt to uncover a chink in England’s armour, an area of weakness that Malta can take advantage of, and we can exclusively reveal that we’ve found one.
In 10 years at Manchester City, Joe Hart won the Premier League twice in 2012 and 2014, the FA Cup in 2011 and the League Cup in both 2014 and 2016. While for the last five years, the 29-year-old has remained largely unchallenged as England’s first choice goalkeeper.
Pep Guardiola’s decision to start Willy Caballero ahead of Hart in City’s opening three Premier League games of the season, and following Claudio Bravo’s move to City from Barcelona, Guardiola’s preference for a ball-playing goalkeeper was evident. Hart’s time at the club appeared to be over, for as long as the Spaniard was at the helm at least.
Hart opted for a move to Serie A side Torino on a season-long loan deal, ahead of offers from a number of Premier League clubs. The challenge of a new league, in another country, was a clear indication of Hart’s ambition and character, as welcomed by Torino head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
The on-loan Manchester City man has impressed in Italy’s top flight since his arrival. Considering Torino sold their two best central defenders and wing-back Bruno Perez in the summer, Hart’s influence for his new side has been significant.
After five appearances in Serie A, and before England face Malta today, we analysed Hart’s underlying stats in Italy, expecting them to reflect the praise he has received, and they do, in every area apart from one.
Hart has adapted quickly to his new surroundings. The Torino keeper has conceded four goals, the seventh fewest of the 29 keepers to have appeared in Serie A this season. While each of those four goals have been conceded at an average of 0.8 goals per game, the fifth best record in Serie A.
Having kept the opposition at bay in two of his five games, Hart ranks as the fifth best for clean sheets.
When he’s been forced into action, Hart has performed well. The 29-year-old ranks fourth for claims (3.4 per game) with a success rate of 94 per cent and 13th for saves (3.2 per game).
However, there is one area that Hart has fallen short in - distribution. Recording an accuracy of just 64 per cent, the England keeper ranks as low as 21st in Serie A this season. His overall distribution accuracy has been poor but looking deeper, his statistics should worry England fans, having recorded an accuracy of just 43 per cent with his hands, while his accuracy from goal kicks of 53 per cent has the England keeper ranked in 23rd place.
As an area that caused Pep Guardiola concern, Hart’s difficulty to retain possession is still a very big weakness in the England keeper’s game.
While many write off Malta’s chances before a ball has been kicked, let’s not forget Iceland’s heroics against the Three Lions at Euro 2016. Playing with an admirable degree of courage and togetherness, Iceland defied the experts that had made an England win a formality.
If Malta can harass and press the England defence, thus nullifying Hart’s options in the final third when in possession, his vulnerabilities will show, opening up the potential to encourage the England keeper to make mistakes and in turn, concede possession.
It’s a counter-pressing style made famous by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, an approach that Malta must employ to gain any advantage over England today. Describing it as having a stronger impact than any playmaker, Klopp said “You win the ball high on the pitch, you are close to the goal, it’s only one pass away from a really good opportunity”.
Chances will be thin on the ground today, but if Malta can capatalise on Joe Hart’s vulnerabilities, England caretaker manager Gareth Southgate may well be in for an uncomfortable evening.