Comparing Schneiderlin to Carrick, Busquets, Matic and Schweinsteiger

Much can be said of Manchester United’s exploits in the transfer window in recent times. From absolute unabashed comedy during the Moyes era to relentless drama that unraveled last season under Van Gaal, the summer window has been quite the roller coaster ride for United fans of late.

‘Fabregas to Vidal to Fellaini’ has been made as much of a possibility by the United hierarchy as have been the signatures of Di Maria and Falcao without the sweet lure of Champions League football. This time there are shouts of Bastian Schweinsteiger in the air which have quickly descended to whispers of Morgan Schneiderlin on the ground.  Should the United fans fret for the unfortunate fall of perceived prominence of their transfer target for a problem point in the team? Or is this as they would say, a blessing in disguise? Let’s figure this one out.

The journey from England’s League One to the Premier League has been an eventful one for Manchester United target, Morgan Schneiderlin.

At the very end of last season Louis Van Gaal was asked what his priority for the upcoming transfer window would be. His reply was as straightforward as it can get.

“No.6 is a key player, yes. I have more key roles – the no.6 is just one of those key roles. You have seen this season, for example, because Michael Carrick is injured and I don’t have another, I have to play with Ander Herrera there. He did it very well, but it is not his specialty.”

 “I have played Wayne Rooney there also, but it is not his favoured position. I had to do this because I don’t have another right-footed holding midfielder like Carrick. That is why it is a key role, but I cannot discuss other positions because then I show too much.”

Lo and Behold! We hear whispers of Morgan Schneiderlin eagerly pursued by United and at one point even Arsenal and Tottenham to play the very same role Van Gaal wants.

The “No.6” that Louis refers to here is a player who ideally is a game controller.  The sort of player capable of winning back the ball from the opposition as well as dictating the tempo and flow of the game with either a combination of vision and passing range or sometimes both. The ideal reference for a player of such a keen nature is a Xabi Alonso in his prime functioning at Real Madrid or a slightly differently styled, Sergio Busquets as he has been deployed more recently under recent Barcelona managers.

The first thought that goes through the mind however, is that surely Morgan isn’t the best response to United’s immediate reuirement? The plot thickens. You see, most football fans have this notion that he is an enforcer rather than  a controller. Someone who breaks the opposition down and pass it to the player who can dictate play, rather than do it himself. There is of course, more to him than that. Establishing that fact is the point of this statistical analysis in addition to of course gathering a clearer idea of his quality in the position he plays.

Michael Carrick, the key cog in Louis Van Gaal’s sentient United machine, is the first player Morgan needs to be compared to. United, as results have suggested most certainly last season, have been far more effective with Michael Carrick than without him. Assumptions based on Van Gaal’s comments lead to the idea that the Carrick role is exactly what United expect Morgan to play if he was to join, taking pressure off the ageing legs of Michael Carrick. So how good is he for that part?

Distribution is one of the most important tasks of a controller. Effective distribution is also the key facet that separates a controller from an ordinary defensive midfielder. To keep play ticking and to ensure the ball is recycled decisively and quickly is no mean task. It requires a certain game intelligence which can never be quantified. Yet, there are a few stats which may explore a player’s ability to that effect.

Morgan does well if you consider the Matrix. He compares favorably to Carrick’s passing numbers and length. Morgan makes a similar number of passes to Michael and at the same time the average length of their passes though slightly favorable to Carrick’s quality as a distributor isn’t really damning for Morgan. The one place where Morgan does make a major inroad into debates related to his quality is the quanta of Key passes he makes per game, more than double of Carrick’s numbers. Fairly impressive for a player who is often regarded as more of an enforcer than a controller.

However the numbers that interest us here are the forward and backward passes. While it isn’t a written rule, a defensive midfielder and a controller tend to differ on the numbers here. Most defensive midfielders will tend to pass backwards over forward particularly if that is not their brief. They tend to pass to a defender after recovering the ball from the opposition or perhaps to a player tasked with controlling the game. A box to box player will then move forward while a defensive player will slot into their defensive position leaving the distribution to the controller. This assumption is laid bare by Carrick’s numbers who plays roughly only 1 backward pass for every 3 forward passes. Furthermore, we drew up the same stats for Victor Wanyama, who ends up further establishing the notion by playing 2 backward passes for every 3 forward ones. Morgan establishes a similarity in playing style to Michael Carrick here and at the same time, even gives him a good run on the qualitatively inclined statistics such as completion, key passes and pass length. The question that follows now is, Is he really capable of proving to be a better signing than most other targets linked? Considering of course, that some of the linked alternatives are quite ‘world class’?

The answer to that is quite the bit debatable, thus it seemed a good idea to check up against an established ‘world class’ reference point for a player who is a Controller in Busquets and another Manchester United target in midfield who is dubbed ‘world class’ and would bring in a different range of quality desired by the Stretford End faithful, in Bastian Schweinsteiger.

The results are incredible. Bastian passes more and creates more than anyone else on this roster, which makes sense considering the fact that he does indeed play more like a shuttler than a controller and hence ends up higher up the pitch than the rest.

Yet, when you compare Morgan to Busquets who plays in similar parts of the pitch, you realize Morgan does better than Sergio and by some distance if you notice the chances created stat even though there is no comparison to Bastian. The average pass length is much shorter for Sergio for reasons well known whereas Bastian’s is comparable to Morgan’s but the former completes less of all his passes compared to Schneiderlin.

When you jump in to the defensive side of the game, you realize that there’s clear daylight between Morgan and the rest. 

If you set store in stats, you will see clearly that Morgan’s are comparable to the incredible Nemanja Matic in the league. Matic has been the very personification of a beast in midfield this season for the League Champions and Chelsea have as much to thank him for as they would have thanked the likes of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard for their run to the title. And here we have Morgan go toe to toe with Nemanja on the defensive side of the game.

To further ascertain the quality Morgan possesses in a crunch game, it would be due to note that in a direct contest vs Chelsea, the Southampton midfielder completed 10 interceptions and 9 tackles (via whoscored) as the teams dueled during the business end of the league. That’s a combined tally of 19 in one game. That’s almost twice as much as Morgan’s average across the season.  At Stamford Bridge no less. This was also a game where Morgan maintained an 87.5% passing accuracy (highest amongst all 22 starters in the game) having attempted 10 long balls with 6 of them being accurate ( Only Fraser Forster (8) and Cesc Fabregas (7) had more accurate long balls in the game). He also was Man of the Match in this encounter.

(Thanks to WhoScored for the stats for this game)

To sum up, Morgan Schneiderlin has stats that essentially bring us the following inferences.

  • He can hold a midfield together like a Matic.
  • He can control the game like a Busquets.
  • He can pull strings for a midfield like a Carrick.
  • He creates more chances than any of them. 
  • He isn’t a Bastian Schweinsteiger but he is a very capable midfield controller.

Morgan is indeed a well rounded midfielder who could be a fantastic addition for Manchester United and depending on the system he is deployed in, he could have quite the impact for a club looking for some stability in the middle of the park. Whether he is the No. 6 United want (Bastian is still the popular choice) or not is debatable but he is beyond doubt the Controller that United need.

Credits and Thanks to WhoScored and Squawka for the statistics and stat matrices.


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