RJ DEMELLO - Wednesday, April 16, 2014
A big question for U.S. fans heading into the World Cup is surely on Jozy Altidore and just what is plaguing the young striker at Sunderland.
Many situations could each play a role in the poor season, coaching changes, style of play, shaky confidence, and so on. All of those factors end up being subjective and ultimately do not tell for certain what could be causing the former New York Red Bull to shrink into the shadows.
What remains to be a factor we can measure without bias or opinion coming into play (for the most part) are the statistics. So let's take a look at Altidore and his numbers to see what we can find out.
For the article's purpose I examined each of the striker's 21 goals for the US National team. As I proved in my last article on Aron Johannsson, goals in the Dutch league should hardly be studied. My purpose being to see how Altidore scores his goals, and thus why he seems unable to put the ball in the net for the Black Cats.
First I set out determining if Altidore's goals were directly from service from other players or of his own making. The criteria used is simple, scored on a first touch means set up by service from another player (cross, through ball, etc), while a goal with anything more than one touch needed and it is considered made by Altidore himself.
Of his 21 goals, 14 were scored on a first touch while five were scored with two or more touches. Two of the striker's goals were from dead ball situation, a penalty kick won by Clint Dempsey, and a free kick against Bosnia. To keep it simple the goals were split with one going to the made by Altidore category while the other went to the from service category.
What that leaves is 15 or 71.4 percent of his goals, following the criteria, were directly from service. Altidore is a striker, like many others, who relies heavily on the service provided to him to score his goals.
With this determination the main statistic needing to be examined to explain his drought in the Premier League is Sunderland's crossing numbers.
Looking at the numbers from the midpoint of the season it is easy to see Sunderland is just not the proper place for a striker like Altidore who needs the ball sent into him in dangerous spots.
The team as a whole averages 20 crosses a game, leaving it 15th out of 20 premier league teams in crosses per game. But it isn't just about the number of balls thrown into the box; it is also the quality of the service.
Again as of the midpoint of the season, Sunderland had three players who attempted on average three or more crosses per game. The list of players in the group with the three Black Cats contained 43 in total.
Adam Johnson, Emanuele Giaccherini, and Ondrej Celustka provide the bulk of crosses for the struggling Sunderland team, and it seems they are a large part of the problem.
The player closest to competent is England winger Adam Johnson. The former Manchester City man at the time sat 14th in crosses attempted per game with 4.58. His completion percentage came in at 22.22 percent, good enough for 16th place on the list. Twelve teams had at least one player who had a better completion percentage than the Sunderland winger. For those doing the math at home, factoring his attempts per game with his completion percentage, Johnson completes roughly one cross per game.
Emanuele Giaccherini doesn't even come close to Johnson. His attempts per game are somewhat respectable being just in the bottom half of the list with 4.06 per game. It is the Italian's completion percentage that is, quite simply, pathetic. Giaccherini sits fifth from last on the list in completion percentage with a rate of only 13.89 percent. Putting the numbers together it means that the diminutive playmaker completes a cross roughly once every other game.
Finally there is Celustka, who is somehow worse than Giaccherini. The fullback is fifth from bottom on the lists in attempts per game coming in at 3.11 per game. With that comes the second lowest completion percentage of 12.9 percent. This all means that the Czech defender averages a cross completed once in just about every three games.
Combining the three most frequent crossers on Sunderland's numbers they average just fewer than 12 crosses per game. Factoring their individual percentages, of the 12 in a game from the three, roughly two will find a target. That's good for a cross completion percentage per game of 16.66 percent from the team's top three crossers. At the time this data was gathered, the Premier League average was 20.08 percent.
So at the end of the day, Sunderland is a team with both a low number of crosses attempted, and a low number completed.
It is no wonder that a striker who scores the overwhelming majority, 71 percent, of his goals directly from service is struggling under this set up.
Sure, a host of other factors could be effecting Altidore's time at Sunderland, but it can never really be measured how much confidence or teammates opinions of a player effect the game. What can be seen is that Altidore needs service, and Sunderland just can't seem to provide enough of it.