We are, for all intents and purposes, halfway through the 2016-17 season! It’s been a ... weird season so far, and that’s putting it mildly. However, in many regards, its also been a case of same old, same old. With narrow victories, annoying goals conceded on set pieces, angry reactions to the players and their performances, injuries galore, Giorgio Chiellini getting re-injured on his first match back after an injury having reinserted himself back into the starting lineup, calls for Max Allegri’s head, mercato pandemonium and a stroll to the summit of Serie A, it’s been similar to years gone by…
Now that we’re almost at the midway point of the season, it’s time to cast a glance back at the events that have transpired so far. We asked you, the awesome readers of this wonderful blog, and the writers, to cast their votes for our player of the season so far. Well, as of midnight Dec. 31 here in India, the votes have been cast, and with an overwhelming majority vote of 42 percent (and 150 votes), BWRAO readers have voted Alex Sandro as our player of the 2016-17 season so far! Gonzalo Higuain was a distant second with 17 percent of the votes, followed by Mario Mandzukic with 13 percent.
Similarly, five of the seven writers who contributed to the BWRAO Roundtable a few days ago also voted for Sandro. I was one of the five, so without further ado, let me go into why I personally think the Brazilian has been our player of the season thus far.
From last season, it was evident that Sandro possessed a flair and skill going forward typical of famous Brazilian fullbacks of years gone by, and far superior to the threat posed by his rival for the spot, Patrice Evra. The real question was if he could balance that with the safety that someone like Evra guaranteed.
To everyone’s delight, Allegri has firmly made Sandro the starting left back/left wingback for Serie A, whereas its still a bit of a toss-up based on formation and opponent in the Champions League, although if recent games are anything to go by, it would be silly to start Evra over Sandro for the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Porto.
Sandro has made 16 starts and one substitute appearance in Seria A so far, as compared to his 15 starts and seven substitute appearances last season. However, amazingly, he’s already played the exact same number of minutes as last season: 1490. So we have a very uniform foundation upon which to compare his stats.
On the defensive side, Sandro has truly upped his game since last season, showing he’s adapting well to the Italian game, his teammates and the coach’s instructions.
His tackles attempted have increased from 2.2 to 2.9 per game, while successful tackles have also increased from 1.8 to 2.4 per game. He intercepts the ball 2.2 times per game, as compared to 2 last season.
He averages 1.8 clearances per game now, to 1.6 last season, and 1.6 aerial duels won per game, compared to 1.5 last season. His blocking has also improved, with averages of 1.1, 0.4 and 0.2 per game for passes blocked, crosses blocked and shots blocked, as opposed to 0.6, 0.2 and 0.1 per game last season.
The only defensive stat of his that is worse this season, is the number of times he’s been dribbled past, which has increased from 0.4 per game, to 0.6
These stats really highlight the massive progress Sandro has made. Just observing his game, it is clear that he is able to stand his own against opposing wingers pretty well, and positioning was the only real trait of his that needed some work. His pace and stamina only further highlight just how well rounded our Brazilian full back is.
BOMBING DOWN THE FLANK
What makes Sandro special is the massive offensive threat he poses as well. While his dribbles completed have decreased from 1.8 per game to 1.5, it is clear that these are still high numbers for a fullback/wing back. Also worth noting, is that these stats are from whoscored, and they have a very particular definition for what constitutes a completed dribble. On his own, Sandro is able to cover massive ground down the left flank, and he possesses the pace, stamina and strength, to be able to contribute productively at both sides of the pitch for the entire duration of a game.
Also worth keeping note of, is that teams in Italy have begun to realize the threat he poses. One key example is the game against Roma this past month, where the right winger Gerson, and fullback Antonio Rudiger spent the bulk of the game holding more defensive positions, so as to negate Sandro’s threat. Even the introduction of the deadly Mohammed Salah in the second half couldn’t spark Roma’s right wing to life, and this speaks volumes of Sandro’s impact on either phase.
THE COMPLETE PACKAGE
Sandro’s passing has also massively increased, from 36.2 completed passes per game last season, to 48.2 completed passes per game this season. His passing percentage has also gone up from 84 percent to 84.7 percent. This is very impressive considering the number of forward passes he makes, as evident from this graph below, which shows that Sandro averages almost as many forward passes as backward passes, which is certainly impressive considering he primarily plays as a fullback.
It is also worth noting that Sandro has completed the most passes of anyone in the squad, with 676 completed. He is also the only Juventus player in the top 30 in the league for this statistic, although he is soon to be joined by a certain Tomas Rincon (669). This can be somewhat explained by the number of games the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Chiellini, Dani Alves and Claudio Marchisio have missed due to injury however.
He also averages 1.4 crosses completed per game this season, an increase to his 1.2 from last season. With the introduction of Mandzukic and Higuain, his long ball game has also improved massively, increasing from two long balls per game last season, to 4.6 this season.
He also averages 2.1 key passes per game, an increase to his 1.9 per game last season. He is the defender with the highest average in this department in the league.
Most startlingly, however, Sandro leads the team in chances created with 35. Miralem Pjanic comes second with 34. What makes this most impressive is stacking him up against the other primary creative forces in the league.
Sandro’s 35 chances created is more than the likes of Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne (who have both created 33), and is less than only Antonio Candreva (38), Marek Hamsik (40), Alejandro Gomez (41) and Salah (47), which is again pretty amazing when you consider the positions all these players play.
For key passes completed, he is joint-fourth in the league with Hamsik (32), only Josep Ilicic (33), Ever Banega (34) and Salah (41) ahead of them. Once again, this is an amazing stat when one considers the positions those players occupy.
With one goal and three assists, he is also proving decisive in the stats that matter most: goals. From all these stats, we can see without a doubt that Sandro is indeed the complete package. He holds his own well enough against the best wingers in the league, and his chemistry with our other defenders has improved mightily since last year, despite the revolving door of faces who line up next to him at center back. At the same time, despite Juventus not being a team that focuses on wing play, he has emerged as the primary creative force of the team. It is worth noting that Pjanic’s numbers for chances created are also boosted by his taking all the set pieces for the team, yet Sandro still has created more chances than him.
His mere presence alone is making teams play more defensively on their right side, and this is testament to the massive quality he possesses.
Stats aside, it has been a bit of a slow going season for us so far. We are still finding our feet going forward, what with the new signings of Pjanic and Higuain, the loss of Pogba, and the large number of matches Dybala has spent on the sidelines. Our midfield too has been shaky and is only starting to stabilize since Marchisio returned to the fold. Our defense as a whole hasn’t been the same strength on paper atleast, and we’ve been leaking goals lately. Still, to play devil’s advocate, all our other defenders have spent extended periods on the sidelines, and only Rugani now is starting to show some consistency with his fitness.
Our squad as a whole has been a bit of a mess, with a very large number of players playing in a number of different positions and formations. The one constant throughout all of this, has been Sandro down the left, and he has maintained his lofty levels from the very get go. He has the highest average whoscored rating in our squad with 7.59, and I have to confess that I’m a little worried with him on the sidelines now. It is no question in my mind to me atleast, who I’d want starting on the left for all our big matches, and I think that highlights his importance to the squad. He is my undisputed choice for best player of the season so far, and in terms of importance to the squad, he must surely be giving chase to the likes of Marchisio, Buffon and Dybala for that title.
We are lucky to have him in our team, and he is still young enough that his peak could well be ahead of him. The thought that he could improve even more is a scarily satisfying one, and sky is the limit for Alex Sandro in my opinion. He is my Player of the Season so far.
Gianluigi Buffon: Superman, the GOAT, what more is there to say? Thinking back to that game against Lyon in the Champions League still gives me goosebumps...
Daniele Rugani: With each passing day, he is not only proving his massive quality and potential, but is slowly emerging as a silent leader in the heart of the defense. He wears his heart on his sleeve when he plays, and he seems to possess black and white blood, and one can only hope he will don our stripes for many years to come. How many 22-year-old defenders can truly claim to have been able to minimize the loss of someone like Bonucci?
Claudio Marchisio: The stats will probably never attest to this, but our team just looks massively inferior without Il Principino playing. The offense looks less crisp and fluid, and the defense looks shakier. He is the one who brings balance to the force.
Gonzalo Higuain: It will take a lot to justify the King’s Ransom we paid for him, but game by game, he is slowly doing just that. He has proved to be THE difference maker from the very start of the season. He’s capable of winning games single handedly, and he is doing us just that. When the offense and his chemistry with Dybala and Pjanic truly starts to click, expect him to truly be unleashed.
That said, thanks for sticking with me so far! Which player do you guys and girls think will be the difference maker for the second half of the season? Is there any other player you’d like to see such player spotlights on?
I wish all of you a very happy new year. May 2017 usher in loads of happiness and success and good health to all of you! Cheers!