By The Numbers: The Facts And Figures Behind Sunderland's Passing

Mark Runnacles

Gus Poyet is intent on instilling a new passing philosophy into Sunderland, but with January deals on the cards, which players that the Uruguayan inherited on Wearside have taken to it?

A midweek pause for breath is something that we haven't really been blessed with for a while and, frankly, we didn't really know what to do with ourselves.

So, in the end, we did what any self-respecting football hipster would do - got a big raging Klopp-on and started to study statistics as if they are are much more important than they actually are.

Yes, statistics aren't that important, we accept that. But they are still fun anyway. We have observed that there are two types of football fans when it comes to statistics. Those who love them and those who love telling people who love them that they are berks. So, either way, fun for all.

Let's concentrate on looking at everyone's favorite statistic - passing.

Average Total Passes Per Game

Ki Sung-Yueng 51.6
Wes Brown 39.3
John O'Shea 38.8
Mobido Diakite 38.7
Seb Larsson 36.3
Lee Cattermole 36.3

Seeing who is most involved with the ball at their feet seems like a good place to start, just to try and establish a little context for the rest of the figures to follow.

The distance by which Ki is ahead of the rest in this regard is frightening and really underlines how he has become the fulcrum of the Sunderland side. People say 'everything goes through him' and even Jose Mourinho specifically targeted stopping the Korean from playing when the two sides met, but this really illustrates the point.

The next three are central defenders, which comes as little surprise. Since Poyet's arrival they are clearly spending much more time on the ball and being actively encouraged to pass it shorter. Long may that continue.

Pass Accuracy

Ki Sung-Yueng 91.2% (Total Passes 825)
Jack Colback 87.4% (Total Passes 588)
Valentin Roberge 85.9% (Total Passes 319)
Lee Cattermole 85.2% (Total Passes 472)
John O'Shea 83.0% (Total Passes 660)

Absolutely no surprise to see Ki again at the top here with an imperious 91.2%. If anything you are almost surprised it isn't higher. It's especially impressive considering the sheer volume of passes he has attempted.

Jack Colback also deserves plenty of credit considering his season has been largely split between full back (where it is tougher to pass a ball) and central midfield. Okay, so he isn't all that creative with it, but he is certainly accurate.

Key Passes

As the self-comforting saying goes, it's not what you've got it's what you do with it that counts, and that really does apply to passing. Simple square passes are all well and good but sooner or later someone has to deliver the final telling ball from which a team mate can attempt a shot on goal.

Adam Johnson 26
Seb Larsson 24
Emanuele Giaccherini 23
Ki Sung-Yueng 21
Jozy Altidore 16

Perhaps the most surprising thing on this one isn't who is at the top of the list, but who is down there in fifth place. When strikers are not scoring they will always come under scrutiny, but this does show that Jozy Altidore is contributing. He is involving himself in the game and providing a platform from with others can play. We all want him to score more goals, but when playing as a lone striker, this is a decent starting point.

The two at the top of the the list are also interesting too given they are habitually accused of failing to create anything. We should note of course, that the figures don't take into account the quality of chances that are being created to have a strike on goal.

There-in lies the fundamental flaw in football statistics really - they are quantitative, not qualitative.

Accurate Long Passes Per Game

Lee Cattermole 4.3
Ki Sung-Yueng 4.1
John O'Shea 2.9
Wes Brown 2.8
Seb Larsson 2.6

We've seen who can keep it and who can use it, how about who can pass it over a little distance? Ki is up there, obviously, but Lee Cattermole completes more long passes than the Korean does per game so far this season. Of course, he also attempts more per game, but still deserves credit where it is due. Spreading the play well is not easy and a good skill to have in your side.

That Cattermole and Ki are so far ahead of the rest demonstrates the importance of the deepest midfielder in Gus Poyet's system. Those are the two players who have played there and they get plenty of time on the ball to distribute it.

Most Give-Aways

Steven Fletcher 30
Emanuele Giaccherini 27
Jozy Altidore 22
Lee Cattermole 13
Adam Johnson 13
Ki Sung-Yueng 13
Fabio Borini 13

Finally, who gives the ball away the most? It's the table no one wants to feature on, but it can be deceptive. The more involved you are and the more things you are trying to create, the more often you'll give it away. It's just probability, I guess.

It doesn't make good reading for Steven Fletcher, obviously, who is having a tough season following injury. Though, the fact that Altidore is not too far behind does hint at perhaps a glitch in the Sunderland system. It could point towards the striker getting too isolated a little too often.

All stats provided by whoscored.com

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