Do the stats back up what we've been witnessing?
Last season, I felt that at times with the inclusion of our floppy-haired flamenco-loving virtuoso at the head of a midfield three we actually lost something in terms of playing "The Swansea Way". I felt his ability to link play was somewhat limited, and although his goals obviously led us to a League Cup win as well as another improved league finish, there was sometimes a bit of a disjointed feel to our attack as Michu, Pablo, Dyer & Routledge all tried to adjust to each other's games.
This year, we've been witnessing a much improved, more team focused Michu, and I've been wondering if the stats back up what I've been thinking in that he's become a much more effective link between midfield and attack. Luckily, I compiled a load of statistical data from last season so I can put together a fairly accurate comparison - although obviously it's early days yet in terms of how his "average per game" statistics pan out this season.
In the entirety of last season, Michu managed two assists in the league (and 18 goals, in case you'd forgotten). So far this season, whoscored.com are crediting him with one in the league, and when you consider he managed three further assists in the Europa League to date it seems he's definitely looking to play his team-mates in more often. Whether that's indicative of him receiving more support in the final third is up for debate, but to me it looks like he's been taking some advice from Laudrup, who made a career of unpicking defences with cute and/or outrageous passes. Evidence of this can be found in the match against Crystal Palace, where an exquisite turn was proceeded by a lovely through ball for Alvaro Vazquez, before he squared for Dyer to slot home.
He's playing the same amount of passes per game (32), while his pass completion is also slightly up on last season (79.7% - exactly 1% better than last year), and his shots per game has also remained at around the same level (3.0 as opposed to 3.1 last year). He is making less headers, though, winning two aerial duels per game as opposed to 3.3 per game last year. Defensively, they've got him listed as having made 1.2 tackles per game (1.3 last year) and 0.5 interceptions (0.9) this year, but it's not quite that clear cut as he's made 2.3 clearances a game so far this campaign, compared with only 1.1 last year. Those contrasting statistics tally nicely with how I see Michu's defensive game - a bit erratic, full of effort, but not always successful.
His ball retention has also seen an improvement. Last year he gave the ball away on average 1.1 times per game, and that's marginally down to a nice round 1.0 now, but he's only been dispossessed 0.3 times per game this season as opposed to 0.9 times per game last season - considering we've played United, Liverpool & Arsenal at home, as well as Spurs away, that's not a bad average! He's also having a cheeky dribble more, averaging one per game as opposed to his meagre 0.2 per game average last season.
I started putting this blog together confident that the stats would back up what I've been seeing with my own eyes, but I had started to become dubious it would indeed turn out like that. That is, until I found the "key passes" statistic. Last year he averaged one per game, but so far this season he's managed a whopping 2.5 - quite a marked improvement and seeing as last year's stat is an average based on a season's data, it's fair to take that as an indication of a change in how he's operating. Often, team's over-zealous marking of Michu allows others to find space, and it seems he's becoming increasingly aware of this and using it to Swansea's advantage. The slightly weird "through ball" statistic is up on last year too, with 0.5 per game showing a rise from 0.1 last year. That can't be right...
It seems that after a slightly shaky start the stats do indeed seem to indicate that Michu is operating in a much more creative manner, and that his fulfilment of the link-man role is vastly improved on last season. Long may it continue, as with a hectic schedule over the next few months we'll need the goals to be coming from other areas of the team, not just from the wizardly left-food of Miguel Michu.