Graham's note: A worthy read on why Chelsea might be better off with having bought Raul Meireles rather than Luka Modric on Wednesday.
After a summer chasing Modric, Chelsea got their midfielder in Raul Meireles, a twelve million pound deadline day signing from Liverpool, where he was coming off a season where he was their fans Player of the Year.
Meireles was second choice on Villas-Boas’ shopping list, but Daniel Levy’s rebuffing of overvalued Luka Modric bids meant that in the dying minutes of the transfer window they had to turn to what many believe a lesser player. However is the Portugese international the better buy? Has the club really got a better player for significantly less money?
Raul Meireles came to the Premier League under Roy Hodgson’s failed stewardship of Liverpool, an 11.5 million signing from FC Porto to reinforce the midfield stocks at Melwood. He did not do much to impress under his first manager in England, failing to score at all, but Kenny Daiglish’s arrival spurred him to better things. He scored on his first game under the Scotsmen, triggering a run of form which included a wonder goal at Wolves. By the end of the season, Meireles had five goals and five assists in thirty three games - spending a total of 2,544 minutes on the pitch in a season where Liverpool finished sixth. It seemed that Kenny Daglish’s revolution would not require many new midfielders, as Meireles form coincided with the emergence of Lucas as a quality holding midfielder and Suarez’s form promising to unshackle Gerrard.
However FSG Sports were keen to implement their new philosophy at Liverpool Football Club, and this meant the arrivals of Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam for a combined 27 million. It’s widely interpreted that Meireles’ move is one triggered by money – but a risk of minimal playing time and his disappointment in the clubs failure to live up to the terms of his agreement meant that he would be moving to London on September 1. He disappointed many Chelsea fans as he was not the star playmaker they desired, but with Josh McEachran in the wings does Meireles offer the best solution?
A 28 year old, on a four year contract, Meireles offers a potential re-sale if sold within two years, and whilst we may not may a profit on him, he will have helped add depth to a midfield that’s sorely needed it and perhaps, for all we know, may go on to be a pivotal player in the team. However there is the question of how much better could Luka Modric have been if we had managed to get him as our first choice target?
Modric has been at Spurs for three years now, moving there from Dinamo Zagreb in 2008, after Tottenham won the bidding war against Chelsea. They paid fourteen million for him, meaning they would have made a tidy twenty six million profit had they accepted Chelsea’s highest bid.
In his first season he recorded nine assists, this dwindling to four the next season, and then last year he only managed two assists. Of course it must be remembered that playing time limits oppurtunities somewhat, and a lot has changed in between 2009 and now. However we can compare Meireles and Modric from last season to gain a clearer picture of their ability and value, in terms of pure stats.
In Meireles’ thirty three games for Liverpool, often playing out of position, he touched the ball a total of 2077 times, passing it off 1348 times. 1058 of these passes were successful, leading to a pass completion rate of 78.5%, or as deg0ey and joady pointed out, a 53% ball retention rate. He successfully dribbled the ball 17 times, had a cross accuracy of 30% and created 61 chances, leading to 5 assists. He took 44 shots, 24 of which were on target, scoring five goals, a conversion rate of 8.8%.
On the other hand Modric played thirty two games for Tottenham, not including games in the Champions League. In these he touched the ball 2800 times. He passed the ball 2070 times, with 1748 of these successful, meaning a pass completion percentage of 84.5%, and a ball retention rate of 62%. He successfully dribbled the ball 69 times, had a cross accuracy of 21% and created 66 chances, leading to two assists. He also had 37 shots, 16 of these on target, scoring three for a goal ratio of 12.3%.
These stats reveal a few notable points about the two midfielders.
- Modric has a better pass completion rate, beating Meireles by roughly 6%, and is more efficient in possession as seen by his superior number of chances created (5)
- He is clearly the better dribbler, nearly tripling the amount of successful dribbles that Meireles did.
- Meireles is the better attacker in terms of scoring, with a superior goal tally, nine more shots on target and a better shooting accuracy (68% compared to Modric’s 61%)
The first conclusion is that stats-wise and in footballing terms, Modric is the better player, as reflected by his far greater selling price and value to the club. However, if we take a second look at the stats with the view that the player is playing within the current system then we can establish the following points.
- Meireles offers more or less the same threat as Modric in terms of effective penetration passing – fives less chances created is not a huge gap in skills
- As Lampard’s time at peak fitness comes to an end, another goal scoring midfielder helps ease the pressure that has built up on him because of his previous achievements. Meireles, with a better shot, is more that person than Modric.
- Chelsea lack top quality crossers of the ball – and Meireles with fifteen completed is a decent return. We must take this with a grain of salt however, as Spurs have superb wingers in Bale and Lennon, and thus there is less onus on Modric to cross than there is on Meireles in a Liverpool side that last season was bereft of any good crossers. Furthermore, playing out on the wing, as he did under Hodgson, means you are more likely to cross than anything else.
It also must be remembered that Modric had to play deeper last season than he did in his prolific first season due to the arrival of Van der Vaart. This restricted his penetrative passing through the middle, rather he used his passing ability to spray balls to the flanks, playing to his side’s strengths.
Meireles is not anywhere near the level of passing and vision that Modric has, and this is worrying in terms of our lack of creativity. However it can be argued that with Mata and Sturridge on the wings, it can be said for a Chelsea midfielder that is not so much picking out the perfect through ball than it is quickly circulating the ball wide.
Villas-Boas’ focus on ball retention and possession play – a philosophy obvious in the fact that Chelsea top the possession charts for the season so far with 67% - means that the midfielders must have strong passing attributes. While on stats alone Modric is the better at this attribute, it must be remembered there is a line between the best player and the best financials. 40 million on Modric for four extra key passes, or 12 million on Meireles?
Judging by the stats, Tottenham’s hardball may have helped Chelsea hit a home run in player recruitment.
Original amended to account for deg0ey's correct pointing out of the wrong ball retention stats.