Michu: The Best Buy Of The Season?

Which player has been the best value buy of the Premier League season so far? Today on the blog FootballInNumbers dissects the season of Swansea City midfielder Michu.

Michu

Since arriving from Rayo Vallecano in the summer, Miguel Pérez Cuesta has enjoyed a successful start to his career in the Premier League. The goalscoring midfielder has been the driving force behind Swansea's impressive start to the season, scoring thirteen goals and picking up four man of the match awards in fifteen games. So lets take a closer look at the player we know better as Michu.

Michu was brought to Swansea last summer by new manager Michael Laudrup. After the departure of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Laudrup was faced with the daunting task of recruiting an attacking midfielder capable of scoring goals. Sigurdsson had played just eighteen games for the club, but contributed seven goals and five assists. He was a crucial player and a hard man to replace.

Michu was highly rated in Spain, but with only one impressive season behind him, it looked a big ask for him to continue his form in the Premier League. A £2 million fee did little to calm the speculation, but if anyone knows what qualities make a top class attacking midfielder, its Michael Laudrup.

The Start

Any doubts hanging over Michu's calibre were soon put to rest. Cruising to a 5-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers, Michu scored two, set up another and received man of the match. It was a dream start for the Spaniard and one he looked to continue.

Michu scored in each of his first three games, and nowhere was his talent showcased better than in the game against West Ham. West Ham looked a rejuvenated team under Sam Allardyce and this would be a big test for Swansea and Michu, with all eyes on their impressive start. They didn't disappoint.

It was a hard fought game but Swansea always had the edge. They controlled possession and once again Michu was a threat throughout the game. They won the match 3-0 – Still West Ham's biggest defeat this season.

The Stats

We're going to look at some of Michu's stats from this game, and their away game against Newcastle to get a feel for what kind of player he is, what he does on the pitch and how Laudrup utilises his talents. We'll start by looking at his passing.

Passing v West Ham

Michu

There is no particular pattern to Michu's passing, but one thing his passes received shows us is his work rate. The majority of passes to Michu came down West Ham's right, but he was making and receiving passes from all over the pitch. The vast majority of passes to Michu in the oppositions half were short. This is because the team want to get the ball to him as soon as he's in a position where he can threaten the goal. This gives us a little insight into how he plays and the job Laudrup want's him to do.

Passing v Newcastle

Michu

The Newcastle game was almost three months after their victory over West Ham, and as we can see, the stats are very similar. There is no pattern to his passing, so this definitely confirms that he's not on the pitch as a playmaker. He made even less passes in this game than he did against West Ham (28 compared to 44) and even received less (41 compared to 51) but his role is identical.

Michu is on the pitch to receive the ball in the opposition's half, or preferably attacking third and get into a shooting position, or get the ball to a team mate and then advance to a goal scoring position ready to receive. In the game against Newcastle he received five passes in the box, scoring once and against West Ham he received two, scoring one. This is what he's on the pitch to do – score goals and get into goal scoring positions. This is exactly how Laudrup wants him to play.

Attacking Third Passes and Goals

So we have established that Michu's main responsibility is to score goals. It sounds simple, but it isn't. For a midfielder, especially a centralised midfielder, to commit so heavily to getting forward requires great off the ball positioning and an intelligent footballing brain.

If he commits to the wrong move, doesn't track his player or switches off at any point, then the team can be left wide open. Also, when players like this aren't scoring goals it can seem like the team is having to carry them. This is rarely the case with good players, but we'll look at a this later in the article.

Below are screen grabs showing his attacking third passes and goals against West Ham and Newcastle. Almost all of the passes he makes in the attacking third are out wide. This is to draw defenders away from the centralised position he thrives in, and allows him no pass and move into the box, or a goalscoring position. This is evident in both games.

Michu

Michu

We can also see the positions from which Michu scored both of his goals. Both are centralised and in the box. Positions you would relate more to a striker than a midfielder. This shows his mindset – to get in the box and to score goals.

There are very few players in the Premier League that are capable of playing this role, especially without compromising their team. It's a hard position to play well. One player who excelled here was Van Der Vaart. Under Harry Redknapp Tottenham were a team to be feared and Van Der Vaart's role was key to this.

It's harder for defenders to pick up attacking midfielders than it is strikers as their positioning is dictated by their defensive line. Defenders can't break the line and advance too far forward, so It's hard for them to track the run of attacking midfielders and it's usually left to the midfield.

Van Der Vaart is no longer in the Premier League, so I want to compare Michu to a player that is. A player that plays an almost identical role to Michu – Kevin Nolan.

Michu vs Nolan

Sir Alex Ferguson recently described Nolan as “as dangerous as any other midfielder in the game near the opposition goal”. I agree, and thats why he's a perfect candidate to compared with Michu.

As we mentioned earlier, an attacking midfielder in the mould of Michu, Nolan and Van Der Vaart are often overlooked when they aren't scoring goals. This is because their position is constantly evolving throughout the game and their performance is heavily reliant on their service.

One criticism of Van Der Vaart in his days at Tottenham was that he could get frustrated and end up chasing the ball. When players like this succumb to ball chasing then the team loses shape and cannot function effectively. Incorporating such an attack minded midfielder means playing a lone striker, and if the attacking midfielder loses position then the striker becomes isolated.

Danny Graham, Andy Carroll and Emanuel Adebayor are all great target men, serving to hold up the ball and play in their goal scoring midfield counterparts (Michu, Nolan and Van Der Vaart respectively). But if the midfield isn't on song then they can cast a lonely shadow up front alone.

This is the area in which Michu and Nolan excel. Below is a table showcasing their talents, and their striking similarities. With Michu having played nineteen games and Nolan eighteen (at time of writing), starting all of them.

 GoalsAssistsShots/GameKey Passes/GameDribbles/GamePasses/GamePass Acc %
Michu 13 1 2.9 1.1 0.3 32.5 78.5%
Nolan 5 2 2.6 0.8 0.1 31.3 78.9%

As we can see from the table above, the similarities between the two are incredible. Both players score a lot of goals. Michu is also the leagues highest scoring midfielder, with Nolan just behind in fifth. So as we established earlier, its all about goals for these two.

It's interesting to see the similarities in other areas of their game too. Neither player dribbles the ball often. As we said earlier, their job is to get into goal scoring positions, not to create. Their average passes are almost identical, as is their pass success percentage – both low for the league.

Again this backs up what we looked at earlier. Their off the ball movement and goal scoring is paramount, they aren't on the pitch to pass and create.

Conclusion

Michu has been a revelation this season. His consistency has been admirable and even when compared to a great goal scoring midfielder like Kevin Nolan, he's shown he's a cut above.

Michael Laudrup and his scouting staff deserves a huge amount of credit for unearthing this gem of a player, who in my opinion has been the best buy of the season.

 

The Odds: Michu is currently best priced at odds of 11.00 with Bet365 and Skybet to finish the season as the top goal scorer in the Premier League.

 

 

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