Nigel Reo-Coker shone in Aston Villa’s 1-1 draw with Wigan at the weekend when nobody else would and showed why he was the deserving winner of the Aston Villa Blog Midfielder of the Year poll, though there was little contest in the nominees with the likes of Downing, Young and Albrighton all classed as attacking forces. Reo-Coker picked up just over 58% of the votes, as shown below, ahead of club captain Stiliyan Petrov (23.5%) and youngster Barry Bannan (18%) although admittedly the little Scot only played half of the season. Many Villa fans still undervalue the 26-year-old in my opinion often for not being attack minded enough or for poor passing, an assumption which he has disproved this season. What you need to remember is that Reo-Coker is a defence minded player, he will get about the opposition and break up play which is exactly what he is supposed to do. OK so he keeps things simple but in my opinion Villa need an attacking playmaker a la James Milner to counter-balance his role, something that Stiliyan Petrov, nor I fear Jean Makoun will effectively do. It may well not matter if the former West Ham skipper leaves on a free in the summer, with Makoun likely to replace him next term, but losing Reo-Coker would effectively lose one of our best players from this campaign in my opinion. I have decided to look in to how NRC has compared with the so called best of the league and world for that matter, to see if my praise for the midfielder is valid.
Starting with our man Reo-Coker and the stats relevant to a defensive midfielder. I have gathered his results for passing accuracy, tackles won per game and fouls conceded per game but can’t find a source for distance covered per game which is a shame. His passing is something which has admittedly let him down in the past but he has clearly worked on his ability to keep the ball this season picking up an impressive pass completion rate of 85%. I understand that many of these passes are very simple balls which you would expect him to make but I would stress again that that is his job. This total is the best in the league for Aston Villa showing his improvement in this department.
Of the players at the club to have appeared in more than 10 league games, Reo-Coker again tops the standings for the most tackles made in a game, averaging 3.2. In terms of fouls committed he is understandably another high ranker, joining a six-strong list of players to give away 1.3 free-kicks per game. Only Ciaran Clark has a higher average of players to have appeared over 10 times in the league, perhaps unsurprisingly having picked 9 cautions in just 16 starts. Reo-Coker has done well to pick up just 3 bookings in his role as a defensive midfielder this term. He has not netted this season and picked up just one assist, making an average of 0.57 key passes per game, but again, that’s not what he’s there for.
Footballer of the Year Scott Parker seems like a good person for comparison to start with and the midfielder has been immense this term. In no way am I trying to say that Nigel has been up there with Parker because its just not true but its just an indicator. The West Ham captain plays slightly more advanced to Nigel and is a role model for any committed centre midfielder, weighing in with an impressive 5 goals this season. In terms of his passing accuracy, Parker’s average of 83% is slightly lower than NRC. His tackles per game however, is higher than our man with 3.9 though he concedes more fouls, 1.4, and has received more bookings, 7. Parker’s key passes per game rate is double Reo-Coker’s at 1.33. In terms of a replacement for Nigel if he leaves, you could get no better than Parker in my opinion, but that will no doubt be the opinion of clubs better than Villa! Parker has four years on Reo-Coker at 30 years of age.
Moving on to another Premier League great in terms of the holding men, Chelsea’s Michael Essien springs to mind. The Ghanaian has scored 3 goals this term and if Reo-Coker is to be a favourite at Villa Park then he needs to net a few goals. Essien, 28, has a slightly improved passing average of 87% but it shows that Nigel’s shouldn’t be frowned at. The Chelsea man makes far fewer tackles with an average of 1.5 per game but it should be said that he is forced into far fewer at a club like Chelsea. Considering he makes a lot less tackles, Essien still gives away just as many free-kicks as Reo-Coker with 1.3 and has a worse disciplinary record with 5 yellows and 1 red. The former Lyon-man makes an average of 1.1 key passes per game.
Reo-Coker’s fellow Nigel, Man City’s de Jong is a mainstay in an all star side alongside former Villan Gareth Barry, both of whom play primarily defensive roles at Eastlands. De Jong’s passing rate is very impressive at 90% but Barry’s is equal to Reo-Coker’s at 85%. The Dutchman was made infamous for a karate kick on Xabi Alonso in last summer’s World Cup final and is seen as a bit of a bad boy. He has picked up 9 yellows while Barry has 8. De Jong, also 26, makes an average of 3 tackles per game, slightly fewer than NRC, while Barry makes 2.6. Despite both making fewer tackles, both give away more fouls, with 1.4 and 1.6 respectively. Gareth Barry makes slightly more key passes with 0.75 per game but De Jong makes fewer with 0.48.
The final Premier League player I have decided to compare is Alex Song at Arsenal, a team which demands passing averages of the highest standard. This high standard sees Song complete an average of 86% of his passes, just 1% higher than Reo-Coker. Song makes slightly more tackles on average at 3.3 but gives away far more fouls at 2.3 per game and has a much worse disciplinary record with 7 yellows and 1 red. The Cameroon international makes more key passes with 1.03 and has chipped in with 4 goals and 2 assists this campaign.
I decided to have one little look abroad to compare Reo-Coker’s stats and where better to go than the world’s best team, Barcelona. Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano both play the Reo-Coker anchor man role and playing in the best passing team by a country mile means that their ball retention has to be world class with both players completing 92% of their passes in the league this term. Javier Mascherano makes an average of 3.1 tackles per game while Busquets makes 2.3, both less than NRC. Mascherano surprisingly only gives away an average of 1 foul per game, fewer than Reo-Coker, while Busquets gives away slightly more than the Villa man with 1.4. Again, both have worse disciplinary records. Busquets makes 0.74 key passes, again slightly more than Nigel but Mascherano makes far fewer with 0.21, though he has played in defence on more than one occasion.
Average Passing Success Rate: 1. Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets – 92%, 2. Nigel De Jong – 90%, 3. Michael Essien – 87%, 4. Alex Song – 86%, 5. Nigel Reo-Coker, Gareth Barry – 85%, 6. Scott Parker – 83%
Average Tackles Won Per Game: 1. Scott Parker – 3.9, 2. Alex Song – 3.3, 3. Nigel Reo-Coker – 3.2, 4. Javier Mascherano – 3.1, 5. Nigel De Jong – 3, 6. Garth Barry – 2.6, 7. Sergio Busquets – 2.3, 8. Michael Essien – 1.5
Average Fouls Conceded Per Game: 1. Javier Mascherano – 1.0, 2. Nigel Reo-Coker – 1.3, 3. Sergio Busquets, Scott Parker, Nigel De Jong – 1.4, 4. Michael Essien – 1.5, 5. Gareth Barry – 1.6, 6. Alex Song – 2.3
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