Throughout a season, debates will rage amongst fans as to who exactly is responsible for their side’s peaks and troughs in form, yet it is often very difficult to ascertain exactly who should be credited. With each of Europe’s top 5 leagues now completed, hindsight gives us a frustrating yet extremely useful chance to look back over the season to see where it all went so wrong. Here, we do exactly that, focusing on the differences in teams’ results when they have, or are missing, the players that have the biggest effect on their performances. To be considered, each player must have started at least 10 matches and also missed at least 10 matches, so that we can gauge the effect of his being in or out of the starting XI.
A somewhat indifferent season for Inter Milan saw them trade between 3 different managers and end the season sixth in Serie A. Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta’s return to fitness after an early season injury coincided with a run of 9 wins in 10 league matches that he started in the Nerazzurri colours. In the first 3 months of that run, Motta also missed 4 Serie A and Champions League games, of which Inter won none. After he left Italy for the riches of Paris Saint Germain, Inter’s 7 match winning streak in the league promptly ended, and they lost 5 and drew 2 of their next seven games. Overall, Inter won just 28.6% of their league games that Motta did not start – the difference of 61.4% between this and their 90% win ratio when he did start is the biggest for a player in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, showing just how important a player he was to the Italians, and how well they might have done had they kept hold of him.
Hernanes’ presence in the Lazio team has also had a profound effect on the side’s results this season. The Brazilian started 27 league games, with his side winning a highly respectable 59.3% of those games. Though that is not a particularly outstanding win rate, it is all the more impressive when compared to games than Hernanes did not start. The Rome based side won only 2 of the 11 matches he missed (18.2%), meaning a difference of 41.1% in their win rate with and without the playmaker – the biggest for any player to have started over 20 games in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
At the other end of the spectrum, Bayer Leverkusen’s Simon Rolfes stands out for all the wrong reasons. The midfielder started 22 games at the heart of the midfield of the Bundesliga outfit, with his side winning just 4 of those matches – a win rate of just 18.2%, compared with a quite staggering 91.7% win rate without him in the starting eleven. Leverkusen won 15 league games this season, with only 4 of those coming when Rolfes featured from the off for them, and the difference in their win ratios of 73.5% is by some distance the biggest in the top European leagues.
Also of note is Aaron Ramsey’s effect on Arsenal, with many fans of the opinion that the Welshman had a bad season. The Gunners won 44.4% of games that he started, compared to 82% of those that he did not - all the more reason for the supporters to be wishing for Jack Wilshere to make a swift recovery from injury.
Goals Scored per game
When it comes to the difference in goals scored per game by a team with or without a player, there are some extremely surprising players that stand out.
Kevin Gameiro’s debut season at PSG saw him find the net 11 times, finishing as the club’s third highest scorer behind Nene and Pastore. What stands out for the striker, though, is the profound difference in his side’s goalscoring between games when he starts and when he does not. In the 27 matches he started this season PSG averaged 1.59 goals per game – a distinctly average rate for a team challenging for the Ligue 1 title. Meanwhile, in games the €11 million striker did not start, PSG scored over 2.9 goals per game, meaning the Parisian team score 1.32 more goals per game in matches where Gameiro did not start – the worst rate of any non-defender in Europe’s top 5 leagues to have started at least 10 games and also not started 10.
Possibly an even more surprising player to feature in this section is world football’s pass master, Xavi, whose presence in Barcelona’s starting eleven has an extreme effect on their goalscoring. The Catalan side scored an impressive 2.62 goals per game in La Liga this season with Xavi in the starting team, compared to an incredible 3.83 goals per game that Xavi has missed. The difference of 1.21 fewer goals scored per game is just behind that of Gameiro, though it is arguably the more startling.
When it comes to positive effects, Vedad Ibisevic’s January move to Stuttgart proved to be a fantastic signing by the Bundesliga club. Without the Bosnian international starting, Stuttgart scored an average of 1.32 goals per game, compared to 2.53 when he has started for them. His side made a late push up the table, losing only one of their final 12 matches, as they grabbed a Europa League spot with a game to spare.
Goals Conceded per game
A player who had a huge impact on his side’s defensive performances this season is Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen, whose presence in the Arsenal starting XI sees a dip of over 1.5 goals conceded per game. The Londoners let in 24 goals in the 10 games the Belgian did not start; whilst they conceded a mere 0.89 goals per game over the 28 games he started for them. His absence from the side coincided with their terrible start to the season, and they would do well to manage to keep him fit for the whole of next season. Although his importance generally comes at the other end, it seems Vermaelen may be as important to the Gunners as Robin van Persie – the difference he makes in terms of goals conceded per game is the biggest of all defenders in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
In stark contrast lies Osasuna’s attacking full-back Damia. In matches that the Spaniard has started, Osasuna have averaged 2 goals conceded per game, compared to just 0.93 goals in games that he has been absent. While a full-back is of course not always to blame for a goal being let in, the fact that Damia has also featured this season in an advanced midfield position shows his attacking talent and he clearly still used that when at right- or left-back, with his team suffering as a result, conceding more than twice as many goals per game.