However, the conundrum looks like it may have sorted itself out in the short-term in unfortunate circumstances for Masuaku, as he has picked up an injury while away on International duty and is a doubt for the Hammers’ next match. Today, we carry out a statistics-driven tactical analysis of Manuel Pellegrini’s left-back dilemma, comparing the two players and analysing how the knock may have made things simpler in East London.
Despite the kind of poor form that has seen speculation of Cresswell replacing him anyway in the starting Xl for the upcoming Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur, Masuaku received his second International call-up to represent the Democratic Republic of Congo, this International break.
It was on his International debut over the weekend, in a 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifying defeat to Zimbabwe, that he had his evening cut short by injury, what is understood to be an ankle knock. The France-born African has already flown back to East London to receive treatment, but may not make Saturday’s London derby, paving the way for Cresswell.
For the next phase of our analysis, we are going to be looking in-depth at each defender individually, from a positional point of view to display their style of play and which is suited better to the Irons, starting with Masuaku.
As you can see from the above graphic, which is provided by our good friends over at wyscout.com, like all the graphics in this article, the 24-year-old tends to play the role of a more attacking left-back.
All the stats and data we are using, including these heatmaps, are from this 2018/2019 campaign so far, both his positional map on the right and his heatmap on the left show him getting forward to support attacks, bombing down the wing with his excellent dribbling skills and pace. While this fits into Pellegrini’s philosophy, this and his not-so-smart defensive capabilities leave the East Londoners exposed at the back.
Next is the turn of Cresswell, widely thought to be the better defender of the two as he also has experience of playing as a left-sided centre-back, not this campaign, however, as the image tells us.
The ex-England International’s positional map has him rarely straying beyond the halfway line and sticking more to his own position, while the heatmap displays him still getting forward on the wing, that side of his game being not that shoddy either. Cresswell is, for sure, the more defence-minded player, but Pellegrini will know he is still more than capable going forward, just look at his seven PL assists last season, more than any other defender in the division.
For the main part of our statistical analysis, we are going to pit the two left-backs against each other based on their Top-Flight defensive stat averages from this campaign thus far.
Using Wyscout once more, we have created a block of these stats along with a mini version of the heatmaps that we saw earlier. It must be noted that whilst both have averaged 90 minutes when they’ve played, Cresswell has been restricted to just one start in 2018/2019, Masuaku has enjoyed seven.
The first two stats that we are drawn to involve defensive and aerial duels, in the first, Masuaku is involved in more, but can’t win nearly as many of them on average and it is very much the same case with the latter, displaying Cresswell’s stronger defensive solidity.
On average, Masuaku has committed to one more sliding tackle, though, possesses a poor success rate when sliding in, with Cresswell averaging 2.85 interceptions, to Masuaku’s 0.58.
A much higher percentage of the Englishman’s recoveries come in the opposition half than the DR Congo man’s, but a much lower percentage of Cresswell’s losses come in his own half, with Masuaku error prone closer to his own goal, as seen in the most recent Brighton & Hove Albion loss.
The ex-Olympiacos star has offered marginally more blocks and clearances this term, a small margin for the considerable amount of more minutes he has spent on the pitch than the 2014/2015 Hammer of the Year, although, his disciplinary is inferior, averaging 1.2 fouls to his 0.32 fouls, per game.
However, Cresswell has been more prone to yellow cards this campaign with another average of 0.32 to Masuaku’s 0.13 and neither have been shown red under Pellegrini’s, in the two competitions the club have competed in, so far.
Overall, when looking at the defensive stats, one would feel that Cresswell unblushingly edges things, after all, when he is picked, you are expecting more defensive protection and perhaps a little less razzmatazz than Masuaku offers, in the final third.
In conclusion, our tactical analysis today has found that, regardless of injury worries, Cresswell should be replacing Masuaku anyway in the starting Xl for the visit of Mauricio Pochettino’s men to East London.
The former Ipswich Town man gets the better of the 2016 summer signing in the majority of the stats we’ve analysed, despite spending far less time on the field than him in the period we have looked at. What Masuaku’s ankle injury does is, in all likelihood, make Pellegrini’s final decision for him, one that was perhaps on the cards anyway and eases the blow of dropping his preferred left-back, giving Cresswell another chance to play himself into the manager’s long-term plans, starting with this Saturday.