Whilst much of the attention was on Man-of-the-Match-winning centre-back Fabian Balbuena in West Ham United’s defence during the weekend’s fourth Premier League victory in succession, over Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham at Craven Cottage, there was another Hammers defender quietly putting in an excellent performance.
Much-maligned for his defensive exploits in the past, Arthur Masuaku was he after starting another match in his native left-back position under Manuel Pellegrini. Three days after the 0-2 triumph, we are going to execute a statistics-driven tactical analysis on the Democratic Republic of Congo international’s much-improved defensive display, to prove just how much better he was at the back.
First up, we will be analysing Masuaku’s key defensive statistics from Saturday evening and comparing them to his average defensive statistics, with the help of our good friends over at wyscout.com, from whom the below graphic, containing the stats, has been acquired.
As you can see in the image, his average defensive figures occupy the upper column beside a mini heatmap and his stats from West Ham’s third Premier League clean sheet of the season are found in the lower section.
The first stat our eyes are drawn to, next to a column detailing his left-back positioning in a second London derby win in a week for the Hammers is total defensive duels and the percentage of which he came out on top in. This within the back four of Pellegrini and alongside Issa Diop, Balbuena and Pablo Zabaleta.
Straight away, Masuaku has eclipsed his per 90 minutes average in the full 96 minutes he featured at Craven Cottage, entering 12 offensive duels, though he could only win a pair of them. But this is respectable for a player known much more for the offensive side of his game.
At 5 ft 10, 0.5 in, Masuaku is not the tallest, this coupled with his position explains why he was only involved in one aerial duel in Fulham, failing to emerge victorious in it. However, the attack-minded full-back will have been disappointed to have not committed to a single sliding tackle on a very wet night in West London.
The highlight of the 25-year-old’s defensive figures surely come in the number of interceptions he managed while guarding his flank against the threat of a capable Cottagers attack. Masuaku registered an eye-catching ten interceptions, over five more than his career average.
Another stat where he improves on the aforementioned per 90-minute average is losses and the number of which come in his own half, going nine and four, three days ago. Whereas, all six of the ex-Olympiacos star’s recoveries came in his own half.
While the French-born Congolese couldn’t block a single shot in his first-ever trip to Craven Cottage, he did make two clearances, which, you guessed it, is better than his average to date in his five-year senior career.
Masuaku could commit just one foul in the west of the capital defending against the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Aboubakar Kamara and 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Andre Schurrle. He also failed to pick up a single card in his 15th appearance of 2018/2019, impressive for how much he was involved in proceedings.
Whilst there can be little arguing that these stats leave much room for improvement for the African, they are undoubtedly a step in the right direction as he bests his career average in nearly every stat. This is conclusive evidence of defensive improvement for the man often dropped after shambolic defensive displays, such as his showing at home to Manchester City earlier on in the campaign.
Heatmap and touches
Next, in this tactical analysis, we are going to move on to analyse Masuaku’s heatmap and number of touches of the ball on the evening his team won four in a row in the PL for the first time since February 2014. They are both contained in the below image, provided by whoscored.com.
As we can see from the touches column at the very top of the graphic, Masuaku saw a high total of 69 in his full 96 minutes on the field of play. This was the third most among his teammates, only being beaten by the 70 of opposite full-back Pablo Zabaleta and the 72 of form man Felipe Anderson. It was also the sixth most on the pitch, displaying how he could stay heavily involved in proceedings in spite of doing more defending than attacking.
When we look at the heatmap slightly below, there is proof that the paceman spent most of his time on the pitch defending in an encounter where his side didn’t have to dominate to take home the three points, just take their early chances which they did. Masuaku also dipped inside to help out the central players and got forward when he had the license, popping up in a variety of different areas.
To prove how excellent and more importantly, improved Masuaku was on the right side of West Ham’s back four one more time, we’re going to compare him with his opposite number on the evening. Fulham left-back Joe Bryan, a player that is generally believed to be better defensively.
In order to do this, we have made use of WhoScored’s Match Centre feature as you can see above, where we have statistically pitted the two players together based on their contributions on Saturday.
The stats in the image form the basis of our comparison and without looking too deeply into them, we can see that there is only one clear winner, as initially evidenced by Masuaku’s superior WhoScored match rating (7.61 out of 10 to Bryan’s 6.50).
He also sees more of the ball than him with 12 more touches (not shown) and 4.6 per cent of the overall possession to his 4.1, as well as achieving a much better passing accuracy figure of 83% to his measly 69%.
There is more than meets the eye to Masuaku’s four successful tackles, not only does it beat his fellow full-back Bryan by one, but it was the most of any player that day, a feat he also achieves with his six interceptions.
The final victory for the Hammer sees him defeat the man of the same age by dispossessing an opponent once more. This completes a resounding 5-0 thrashing for the integral part of Pellegrini’s squad, one that speaks for itself about the player’s defensive quality on his side’s latest win.
In conclusion, our statistical tactical analysis today has proved that a drastic rise in his level of performance at the back from a statistical point of view allowed Masuaku to put in a display in the triumph over the Cottagers that was much-improved defensively.
Undoubtedly, the defender still has a lot of work to do on the defensive side of his game, something that he has clearly received help with from Pellegrini on the training ground. But this showing will have bided him that time to implement his improvement in matches, ahead of Aaron Cresswell in the pecking order. And you never know, we could be witnessing a dramatic and permanent improvement in Masuaku’s defending, one that’s long overdue if you ask any member of the Claret & Blue Army.
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