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The Enigma of Sunderland's Left-Hand Side: Statistical Comparison of Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini

After eventually failing in the long-drawn-out pursuit of Fabio Borini, Sunderland are left with something of a conundrum on the left-hand side of midfield. Argentinian international Ricky Alvarez was signed from Inter Milan on deadline day and is expected to make the position his own, but could Borini’s Italian counterpart Emanuele Giaccherini also be in the frame?

Mike Hewitt

So far this season Connor Wickham has occupied the wide-left position in Sunderland’s midfield, though this is a decision that has most likely been forced upon Gus Poyet due to lack of options, rather than the Uruguayan envisaging the 21-year-old filling the role long term.

In truth, Wickham has thus far looked out of place on the left, and Sunderland are in need of the goal scoring touch the youngster demonstrated at the back end of last season to head their under-firing attack.  

Ahead of Saturday’s visit of Tottenham Hotspur, it remains uncertain exactly who will operate from the left-hand side of the Black Cats’ midfield.

Poyet finally has options with new boy Ricky Alvarez, Adam Johnson and a now fully fit Emanuele Giachherini at his disposal, and with that in mind, here’s a closer look at whether or not the latter of the three could be the man to step up and fill the void left behind by Borini.

Both Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini operated predominantly from the left-hand side last season, and looking at each of the Italian’s overall statistical performance across the 2013-14 campaign, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two.

Left: Fabio Borini   Right: Emanuele Giaccherini

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Goals

The most notable contrast between the pair are the statistics concerning the goal scoring department. Borini boasts a superior shooting accuracy of 50% over Giaccherini’s 36%, and netted seven Premier League goals to Giaccherini’s four.

As we all know, Borini contributed some extremely valuable goals last season, but in fairness to Giaccherini, the 29-year-old’s goal return in a more in-depth comparison is actually marginally better than that of Borini.

The Liverpool loanee spread his seven goals across 37.15 hours of Premier League football, whereas Giaccherini netted his four-goal contribution in only 21.6 hours.

Bearing in mind also that three of Borini’s Premier League goals came from the penalty spot, it is perhaps fair to say that there is very little difference in the goal-scoring threat each of the Italians brought to the team last season.

Passing and Creativity

Again, the amount of pitch time allotted to each of the pair last season has to be taken into account.

On this occasion, Giaccherini’s 82% passing accuracy was slightly better than Borini’s 77%, although had the 29-year-old played as many minutes as his fellow Italian, we may have seen his overall pass succession rate lower somewhat.

However, in terms of chance creation, Giaccherini managed to carve out 29 opportunities for his team with Borini managing only 26. Furthermore, when looking at the amount of forward passes made by each player, Giaccherini again comes out on top. The 29-year-old played over half of his passes forward at 52.5%, whereas Borini played only 47.1% of his passes forward.

Left: Fabio Borini   Right: Emanuele Giaccherini

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Defending

Stats such as you see above can only tell you so much about a player, and it’s when it comes to the comparison between the two player’s defensive qualities that Borini’s superiority comes into prominence.

The young Italian kept Giaccherini out of the Sunderland side for most of last season, and a huge reason for this was because of the 24-year-old’s valuable defensive work rate.

One of Borini’s main strengths is his determination to track back and regain possession of the ball, this was a constant characteristic of his play last season, and it’s no wonder that Gus Poyet was prepared to fork out as much as £14 million for the player.

Left: Fabio Borini   Right: Emanuel Giaccherini

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Outcome

In my personal opinion, neither Fabio Borini nor Emanuele Giaccherini are best suited to playing from the left-hand side in the Premier League. Borini is a centre forward by trade, and Giaccherini’s physicality doesn’t lend itself well to the position in England’s top flight, which is perhaps why we have begun to see Poyet utilise the 5”5 midfielder through the middle.

Large pockets of Sunderland fans seem to have lost faith in Giaccherini after what was a difficult and injury stricken first season in English football, but from somebody that has seen plenty of the Italian previously at both Juventus and Cesena, I have no doubt that there is a player in there somewhere.

The 29-year-old has now been fully reinstated into the starting XI of the Italian national side under the stewardship of Antonio Conte, and that could result in the Sunderland man brimming again with the same confidence that saw him shine at the 2013 Confederations Cup before departing Serie A headed for Wearside.

Borini has now effectively burned all bridges with the club, and it’s probable that Ricky Alvarez has been drafted in to fill the void on the left-hand side. But Giaccherini can still play a role this season, and has the ability to yet make a considerable impact.

The Italian has shown signs of building a strong understanding with Connor Wickham. Four of Wickham's last goals in all competitions were assisted by Giaccherini, so don't be surprised if you see Poyet play the pair in close proximity of one another as the season progresses.

To conclude, Giaccherini stats certainly aren't bad, and he showed a determination to stay on Wearside this summer and prove his worth, as oppose to Borini who eventually shunned the club. For that reason alone the 29-year-old deserves a second chance to sway his doubters, and convince Black Cats fans that he was well worth the £7 million price tag.