Much has been said about the treatment Wilson Palacios received on Sunday against Liverpool when his passing let him down once again. We’ve all seen his form suffer since the death of his brother, whether that’s coincidence is debatable but there’s no questioning his commitment to the cause and no player in a Spurs shirt deserves to be ridiculed in front of 36,000 fans like he was for a short period of time. Thankfully there were enough sensible fans out there to chant his name once the sarcastic cheers started for which I’m sure he would be grateful. I’m yet to hear someone say they were one of those who partook in the cheers, so quite who those people were I don’t know. It’s like when the team gets booed off the field, no-one ever seems to admit doing it.
I was no different to anyone else when I was watching him misplace pass after pass. I was moaning and groaning with every misplaced pass as I’m sure we all were. Then I decided to look into just how badly he had played. Personally I thought he had a shocker in the first half and had we not already had to make two substitutions due to injury I think he would’ve been taken off, but he got his game together and played well in the second half just as he had done against Arsenal a week earlier when Jenas got injured.
Football is a game based on statistics. Maybe not to the extend a sport like cricket is but they’re being used more by clubs, journalists and fans alike, all for differing reasons. There’s the simple stats that we all know, like top goal scorer and top assists, plus goals against and for, and then there are the stats that look at individual player performances. How many times have we heard this season about Bale’s work rate and how far he runs each game and at what speed. There are hugely successful companies who specialise in it. Who’d heard of Opta a decade ago? As someone on twitter so eloquently put, stats schmats! Statistics can be viewed in different ways. For example I could say Palacios had a higher success rate with his passing than Gareth Bale on Sunday. I wouldn’t be lying, but I’d be bending the truth somewhat and not explaining the stats correctly. Obviously a lot of Bale’s passes were actually crosses so it’s hardly surprising that his success rate was nearly 17% less than Palacios’s who will often spend most of his time passing 5-10 yards.
So to gauge just how bad Wilson was on Sunday we need to compare him to another central midfield player who will often spend large proportions of the game in similar positions to him. Modric is an option, especially as he played in the same game but he doesn’t play in the same position, preferring instead to play a more advanced role. So the only fair player to compare him with is Tommy Huddlestone. Regarded by most Spurs fans and non Spurs fans as one of England’s finest passers of the ball. Unfortunately because Wilson was his (and Jenas’s) replacement it’s impossible to compare in the same game but it is possible to take a look at recent games. The chalkboard below is the closest I can get to compare the two, with Liverpool and Sunderland being a similar team and both games being played in November. It’s also the closest the two become with regards to a pass success rate, both being around 80%. For the record the most recent game Jenas played a full 90 was in November too, in the recent 4-2 win against Blackburn and his success rate was only 75% in a game we largely dominated.
As you can see, both Palacios and Huddlestone play in a similar position and most of their passing is done in and around the centre circle, Palacios is slightly deeper i general but that’s probably more to do with Liverpool’s more offensive style compared to Sunderland who offered very little going foward. The main difference is the direction in which the passes are attempted. Palacios tends to pass sideways and backwards with the occasional forward pass but rarely a long ball, whereas THud looks to keep the ball with simple side and back passes mixed in with defence splitting forward passes, in particular long diagonal balls to the left, where I presume Bale is waiting.
Against Manchester City, Wolves and Aston Villa, the only other home games Tommy’s played he had a worse than 80% passing success rate. Only Wigan at home where he had a brilliant 87% was he better than Palacios was on Sunday. At least with regards to successfully completing the pass. It’s obvious to all that Huddlestone attempts far more advanced passes, passes that have the potential to stretch the opposition. I’m not saying his passing is worse than Palacios’s, far from it, but a long pass that doesn’t find a man in lilywhite is as equally wasteful as a short one isn’t it and is there a possibility that because we view Palacios as a poor passer of the ball, when he does fail in an attempt it’s more obvious than when Huddlestone does the same?
I think we would all agree that passing isn’t really Sgt Wilson’s forté but from what I’ve seen, albeit over a small selection of statistics (approx 5-6 games) it’s not quite as bad as we might think. Yes, he doesn’t look to spray balls from one side of the pitch to the other but then do we expect him to? The problem is the passes he fails to make are one’s we look at and think, “I could pass that” and therefore think it’s easy and should always been made. He’s the midfield enforcer we were crying for for years. His form has dropped admittedly which has seen him go from being the first name on the team sheet to being the 4th choice central midfielder and rightly so. Unfortunately he’s no longer good enough for what we as a team want to achieve and while his form has suffered, others have improved. There’s one more thing I want to look at though only because as I said, passing isn’t what he’s known for. His job is to win the ball back and pass it, if possible, to the technically better players around him. I’ll look at the same games as I did for the passing so it’s at least a fair assessment.
Again, there are different ways to look at the above stats. You could say, during the Sunderland game, Tommy didn’t have many tackles to make because they didn’t show much adventure going forward, whereas Liverpool played with 2 strikers and pushed men forward so the fact Palacios attempted more tackles, winning 5 of them, compared to THud’s two isn’t surprising. You could also say, Palacios is more likely to get into positions where he’ll be able to attempt a tackle and in today’s fast paced league football 5 out of 8 is quite a good return. Of course 2 out of 2 is pretty good, especially if they were the only times Tommy was called into action but when we look at other games throughout the season we notice THud doesn’t actually make that many tackles. Against Man City he made 4, winning 3. Wigan at home saw him attempt 2 tackles compared to Palacios’s 5. There were 2 once again against Wolves, when Jenas who was partnering him this time made 5, winning 2. Against Villa he made 3, winning 2 compared to Modric’s 9 attempts winning 4. This is not a coincidence. Huddlestone doesn’t attempt many tackles, even when playing in a deep position as Palacios does.
This doesn’t make Palacios better than Huddlestone. The title of this piece is obviously tongue firmly in cheek, and as I’ve pointed out, stats can be viewed in many different ways. For the record, Palacios also makes more interceptions, blocks and clearances than Tommy, but then that’s what we should expect because they’re very different players. Palacios will never be able to do what THud does and I don’t expect THud to improve his marking, tackling etc to one day be a tough tackling midfielder. You wouldn’t play THud as a defensive holding midfielder. When he plays, the “ugly” side of the game tends to be shared more with his partner, although so far this season his partner, whoever that may be, has been the one to do the majority of it.
Huddlestone is without doubt one of our first 11 when fit, but we shouldn’t compare the likes of Palacios to him when they play in his place. We know what to expect from Wilson and as annoying as his misplaced passes are they don’t occur more often than others produce the same mistakes, we just notice it more with him. So next time he makes a saving tackle on the edge of the area and runs away with the ball only to pass it straight back to the opposition lets give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s been through things hopefully none of us will ever have to and he wears the cockerel on his chest with the same pride we would. His talent has waned but he’s not as bad as some (including me) may think.