Exclusive stats re­veal a chink in Eng­land’s ar­mour... can Malta ex­ploit it?

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Rus­sell Cane Based in Malta, Ou­lala.com is a daily fan­tasy foot­ball game and the of­fi­cial fan­tasy foot­ball part­ners of Premier League cham­pi­ons Le­ices­ter City FC. The game cov­ers four of Europe’s top leagues, the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and Ligu

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.

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