The Conte-Postecoglou Transition: A Data-Driven Study of Defensive Evolution

Written by Omar Kaddah

Graphic by Liban Rizvi

Vicario vs Hugo Lloris:

Ange Postecoglou has impressed fans with his positive football philosophy, great personality, and desire to always strive for better things. When tapping into what makes Ange Postecoglou’s football so successful, we would need to look at the players that he has utilized and their qualities. In this article, we will look at what the numbers say when comparing the key defensive players under Postecoglou and those under Conte. Vicario vs Hugo Lloris: With club legend Hugo Lloris nearing the end of his career, it was clear that Spurs needed a long-term replacement. To Ange Postecoglou, the man for the job was none other than the 27-year-old Italian Guglielmo Vicario. Though Vicario was first perceived to be “the cheaper option”, he was quickly able to shut down that narrative and has proven to be one of the most vital players in Ange Postecoglou’s system. When looking at the data, we are able to see many critical comparisons: Looking at the data chart, it is evident that Vicario is significantly superior. The most important stat that can be seen here is “post-shot expected goals – goals allowed.” With this stat being based on xG, a goalkeeper with a positive value usually indicates that they outperform expectations.

In contrast, a goalkeeper with a negative value indicates that they are conceding more goals than expected. We can see that Guglielmo Vicario is outperforming expectations (With the highest positive difference in the Premier League currently), whereas Lloris is underperforming. Then follows the goals against, saves, and save percentage statistics, which show Lloris conceded more goals per 90 last season while having a lower save percentage with more saves. These statistics can be misleading sometimes due to the context and multiple factors that come into effect, such as the quality of defending and xG. However, it is still a good statistic to take notice of, which shows Vicario’s superior goalkeeping ability.

Credit: The Daily Mail

Regarding passes attempted and passes completed, we need to understand that these stats are based on tactics and team performance. Nevertheless, we can see that Vicario qualifies more as a “modern goalkeeper” due to his outstanding actions on the ball compared to Lloris’s. We can then see that both Vicario and Lloris have the same cross-stopping abilities. The statistic that Vicario really excels in is his actions outside of the penalty box. This statistic is based on his sweeping skills, a trait that has proven to be rather important throughout his time as Tottenham’s goalkeeper. However, this is another stat that Lloris evidently lacks. Overall, we can see that Vicario was the right man to take over and the perfect candidate for Ange’s system.

Micky van de Ven vs Eric Dier:

The signing of Micky van de Ven excited Tottenham fans due to the repetitive failed attempts to sign a proper Jan Vertonghen replacement. The signing was also celebrated because it meant that we had a replacement for an out-of-form Dier, who was losing support from the supporters. It didn’t take long for Micky to integrate into Ange’s system, and fans quickly adored him. There was a lot to like with Micky, whether it was his rapid pace or great defensive actions. When looking at the data comparing Micky and Dier, we see how much of an improvement Van de Ven really is. As always, when analyzing a chart like this, we need to understand that stats are not only an indicator of a player’s abilities but of a manager’s philosophy as well. This means some statistics may increase or decrease depending on how a manager sets up his players.

Nevertheless, when looking at this chart, we see many significant strengths and weaknesses that are attributed to both players. The first three stats (starting from the top and going clockwise) are related to the defensive attributes of these players. We can see that even though Micky excels in winning tackles, Dier greatly excels in blocks, and both players are quite comparable when looking at the tackles and interceptions. For clarity, a tackle and interception is when a player can get the ball away from another player before he shoots/passes, whereas a block is when a player gets in the way of a shot. When putting this into context, we can interpret that Micky’s defensive contributions usually occur when a player is on the ball, whereas Dier’s usually comes after a player has released it. This can be interpreted in a way such that Micky’s defensive contributions can be considered more controlled, considering he excels in getting the ball before a shot is taken, whereas Dier’s contribution is more last-gasp since he excels in stopping the ball after a shot is taken. Then, when looking at the following three stats, we are introduced to their passing abilities.

Credit: @TheSpursExpress

It is clear from the chart that Micky’s passing is a lot better than Dier’s. Micky excels in the number of completed and progressive passes, with Dier falling behind shortly. Yet the passing stat that really sets these two players apart is those into the final third. We can see that Micky almost makes twice as many passes into the final third per game as Dier does, and this could very well be due to how Ange has set him up in his system. Even with that, it is still an important attribute to point out when comparing the two players. The last three stats show the player’s ability to carry the ball across the pitch. When looking at the chart, you can see that this is another attribute that Micky excels in. This shows us that Micky’s ability to move with the ball around the pitch is something that Dier simply can’t compete with. We can understand why Micky was chosen to replace Dier when putting all the stats together. It is clear that Micky is capable of holding his ground defensively while also being able to exceptionally support the midfield and attack with his progressive passes and carries.

Destiny Udogie vs Ivan Perisic:

The signing of Destiny Udogie initially caused a bit of confusion within the fanbase because the original plan was for him to come in as a wing-back for Conte’s system. Once he got the sack, fans began to doubt how he would integrate into Ange’s system. Additionally, he was brought in to replace Croatian veteran Ivan Perisic, who many saw as the perfect wing-back. Similar to Van de Ven, Udogie instantly integrated into Ange’s system, and with the combination of his swift pace, never-ending stamina, and robust strength, Udogie answered all the lingering questions and became an instant fan favourite. But what do the numbers say when comparing him to Perisic? As mentioned, statistics like this depend on the team’s quality and tactics. Still, they can also indicate particular strengths and weaknesses within players.

The first three statistics on the chart are linked to both players’ defensive abilities. A common criticism of Perisic was that he lacked defensive quality, causing a lopsided difference between his ability to attack and his ability to defend. Looking at the chart, we can see that Udogie is generally a better defender since he wins more tackles and interceptions, yet Perisic overtakes him in blocks. This is similar to the pattern we saw with the Micky and Dier comparison, where it was established that the defensive actions of a player with more tackles and interceptions are usually better than those of a player more heavily reliant on blocks. The next three stats are based on passing. This is where most fans would probably be shocked to see how much better Udogie’s stats are compared to Perisic’s. But the reason for this is quite simple. Perisic was more renowned for taking a man on and then crossing the ball, whereas Udogie’s play style is heavily reliant on give-and-goes or one-twos. It should also be noted that Udogie has not put a single cross into the box this season, whereas Perisic averaged 1.03 a game. But when it comes to the pure numbers, Udogie is a better passer and, more importantly, a better progressive passer. The last three stats are based on the players’ ability to carry the ball forward. Though Udogie and Perisic are considered great carriers of the ball, Perisic is still the better carrier.

Similarly to the passing statistics, this is tied to both managers’ philosophies. Perisic had a lot of freedom in Conte’s system, encouraging the wing-back to run forward and take on defenders. In contrast, Udogie’s role is more linked to passing and getting into space. Nevertheless, the stats tell us that Perisic is a more progressive carrier and a better dribbler. This is something that the fans were able to see every match day with his trademark step-over into a cross-move. But even with this, Udogie still overtakes Perisic in the carries into the final third statistic. This means that Udogie is more likely to carry the ball from around his own half into the final third than Perisic. But overall, it can be said that Perisic is a better dribbler than Udogie. With him being so young and having such a high ceiling, there is no doubt that he will continue to flourish under Ange’s management.

Image Credit: Daniel Carson/Getty Images

Citations:

“Football Statistics and History.” FBref.Com, fbref.com/en/. Accessed 2024.

Plots generated by modifying https://github.com/Slothfulwave612/soccerplots

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