Villa and Sunderland Set to Cancel Each Other Out?
This Saturday sees the first return of Martin O'Neill to Villa Park since he left the club on the eve of last season much to the annoyance of the fans. Said annoyance has hardly wavered in many, who blame the Ulsterman for a number of, let's say, questionable financial outlays and a lack of loyalty.
The weekend's clash will see a stadium unite, in the majority at least, in their disdain for both managers perhaps like no other match this season. For what it's worth I'm not on the O'Neill hatred bus, as I don't really blame him for an admittedly fairly cowardly desire to keep his record unblemished with the foresight that he possessed.
As a statistical analyst for WhoScored I'm privy to numbers galore when it comes to team statistics and have, in turn, noticed a number of similarities between the sides to go head-to-head at Villa Park next time out. Unfortunately for both the figures aren't good ones, though Sunderland, in ninth, will care far less than Villa.
In terms of average possession Villa rank 18th in the league, with 43.7% just down on Sunderland's 43.9% (17th). Villa's 11.5 shots per game is the 19th best, only ahead of Stoke, while Sunderland's 12.1 (again 17th) is not much better. It is Villa, this time, who place 17th for pass accuracy (73.4%), with the Black Cats again just ahead in 16th (74.2%). These statistics and standings from Villa are a joke and are why McLeish should not be tasked with taking the club 'forward'.
However, when looking at the defensive standings, you can see where the two managers have managed to get the best out of their respective sides. The lowly possession rates will of cause take their toll on a necessary defensive output, though Sunderland's league leading 21.9 tackles per game is testament to O'Neill's renowned ability to get his players to battle for him.
Villa rank in third for the same statistic, with 20.5, indicating that although the side's commitment is rarely questioned, their ideas when in possession certainly are. It is, indeed, Villa who top the league for interceptions per game (19.9), with Sunderland fifth, but the young side are now without their captain, who has racked up the highest average of any individual player in the division in this regard (3.6).
While the aforementioned comparison indicates that the approach of the two sides is not dissimilar, Sunderland have had stars this season, where Villa have not. Although James McClean's inclusion has perhaps been O'Neill's masterstroke so far, the performances of Stephane Sessegnon have been at the heart of all that is good about Sunderland.
The Benin international is the creative link between midfield and attack that Villa have lacked all season and is, ironically, a player to whom Houllier was linked whilst at Villa. Stop the 27-year-old and you effectively stop Sunderland's attacking threat.
Sessegnon is joint top scorer for the club, with 7, but his assists tally of 9 is the most noteworthy standing. Villa's top creator, in comparison, has been Gabby Agbonlahor with 5 assists, though his last came way back in December.
I can't help but think that this weekend the sides, who have both looked tired in recent weeks, will cancel each other out, with an all too familiar draw the most likely outcome. One thing for sure is that a win would relieve a hell of a lot of pressure from the Bolton game in midweek, so let's get behind the lads and hope for the best! UTV
All figures courtesy of statistical football analysis site www.whoscored.com. Follow @WhoScored