Taking a Look at Minutes Played

As Paul Pogba limped off the field today my first thought was “wow,this sucks for him after all the (unnecessary) criticism after the Chelsea game.” Actually, if I’m keeping it real, it was more like “Damn, now I have to watch Fellaini play for an entire half.” (Though to be fair to him he was pretty good today)

Back to my main point, Man U have made some deep runs in both Europe and the domestic cups and infuriatingly it feels like Mourinho has played Pogba for every second of those games. Whether it was against lesser opposition where he probably shouldn’t be playing at all or against tougher opposition but the game has been put away, Pogba has been in the middle of the pitch for pretty much all of it.

To settle if its really been that bad, I put together a list of minutes played for the Top 6 in England plus PSG, Barca, Real Madrid and Atletico.

ALL Data from whoscored.com

Notes: I only chose players who have played 2/3 of the total minutes in the league and their primary position had to be central midfield. (Saul is the exception as he is for some reason listed as a defender first) Also, for teams that play 3 in midfield all 3 mids are included (KDB,Silva,Fernandinho) but teams that play with a #10 only the 2 deeper midfielders would be included (which is why Ozil doesn’t show up). The list is sorted by Total Minutes played.

Player Total League Europe Cup1 Cup2
Pogba 3511 2250 783 360 118
Koke 3447 2271 698 478
Wanyama 3191 2392 608 23 168
Eriksen 3055 2274 551 60 170
Herrera 3044 1819 540 540 145
Gabi 2950 1997 630 323
KDB 2829 2004 539 32 254
Silva 2801 2035 540 0 226
Saul 2665 1672 512 481
Matuidi 2600 1753 700 127 20
Busquets 2594 1703 601 290
Fernandinho 2580 1855 545 0 180
Kante 2536 2329 0 90 117
Kroos 2474 1560 554 360
Wijnaldum 2438 2081 0 267 90
Henderson 2265 2118 0 147 0
Motta 2259 1870 376 13 0
Lallana 2181 1986 0 180 15
Matic 2175 1995 0 90 90

This Week: I am just completing the Leroy Sane post so it should be up later tonight or early tomorrow. I figured I would post this quickly as the game just ended and it didn’t take too long to look up. The Champions League post will be up tomorrow during the late afternoon or evening.






I struggled to get through this weeks edition of the Starting XI. A lot of FA Cup matches were played and when Top 4 teams run up the score against league 2 or lower sides it’s difficult finding excitement in that (as a neutral). At the time of posting, I’m looking at updates of whether Jose Mourinho purposefully had Rashford not travel with the team as to “surprise” Chelsea if he’s included in the starting lineup today. That storyline itself has me ready to get back to league action but anyways I’m moving on to the Starting XI.

11 gifs, thoughts and tweets from the latest round of football matches

  1. This week I’m focusing more on La Liga, so of course that means another game where Real Madrid fall behind early then end up winning the game. I’ll have more on Keylor Navas later but with tough matches still left against Atletico and Barcelona so ensuring they left this game with all 3 points was crucial.

2. After a historic comeback, it’s hard to fault Barcelona for slipping a little in their next match, but being outplayed so much that they lost to Deportivo instead of drawing is pretty bad. I’m not sure what’s funnier the way Depor managed to not score on a 50 yard 3v1 counterattack or the papers linking Neymar’s timely suspensions/injury at this time of year (Stop snitching lol). The title isnt out of reach but the pressure on Real Madrid has lessened considerably.

3. Griezmann scores a fine header to give Atletico the W and just as importantly to give them some space in the 4th and final CL qualifying spot. Villareal are now in 5th and are 4 points back and Real Sociedad are level on points but are in 6th place after losing this weekend.

4. Speaking of the race for 4th place, Sevilla may find themselves there after drawing with Leganes. This is their 2nd draw in a row and with away matches left against Atletico, Barcelona and Real Madrid it’ll be interesting to see if they can stay in 3rd. (Especially with a deep CL run.

5. On to Germany and as I was just about to commend Dortmund for turning the corner, they lose 2-1 to Hertha Berlin. Dortmund were without Reus and had played midweek but Tuchel does himself no favours by rotating his squad yet again.

6. It gets funnier the more you realize how ridiculously lucky/unlucky this sequence is

7. The Bundesliga title race looked like it might be between Bayern and RB Leipzig before the winter break. However with Bayern 10 pts ahead, it looks like another year where they win the title. From here on out, I’m more interested in following the race in Germany for the spots in Europe and the top scorer race. Aubameyang and Lewandowski look like they’ll be taking this one to the wire, the former is ahead by 1 goal. The sleeper candidate would be Anthony Modeste who has propelled FC Koln to the 7th spot with his 19 goals.

8. Liverpool got the win but I think it’s safe to say they aren’t quite over their problems breaking down lesser opposition.

9. I wrote about Nice here, and ended the post by saying they have an outside chance of winning and a good chance of finishing in 2nd. Of course they promptly dropped points with a 2-2 draw this weekend to Caen.

10. The Memphis Depay hype train is decomissioned but I’m lowkey ready for it to start back up again.

11. Keylor Navas giveth away points…

…And Keylor Navas taketh away points

This Week : I’ve mainly been looking up stats for various player & clubs that will feature in upcoming posts which is why I skipped writing last week. From here on out I’ll be posting consistently, starting with a post on a Man City player midweek and then a CL post which will be mainly a review of the matches but also some quick thoughts on the upcoming matches. I’ll have to wait for the draw to post that article but it will be posted sometime on Friday. Thanks for reading!

NICE Guys Finish First?

The Squad Report will be a recurring post where I take a look at different clubs in Europe and how they have performed on the field as well as the transfers they have made. First off, I will be looking at a team in the Ligue 1 title race, OGC Nice

For the first time in recent memory, as the first leg of the Champions League knockout stages have been played approach, PSG is not running away with the title, in fact they are in 2nd but only ahead on goal difference after 23 games played. The two teams above them (Monaco and Nice) are very different in how they have played this season. Monaco have been a phenomenal attacking team, having the most goals scored in Europe’s top 5 leagues. However, OGC Nice have achieved success in a different way, which I’ll be taking a look at in this article.

Off The Pitch

One of the most impressive things about Nice being in the top 3 is their success this summer when it comes to transfers. PSG have spent a whopping €144.6 milion, Monaco spent a more respectable €50.5 million, but Nice have only spent €15.25 million! In fact, Nice’s transfer strategy becomes even more remarkable since 5 out of the 10 outfield players in the most used Starting XI are new transfers.

Over the past few years, Nice has primarily bought young players for low transfer fees or promoted players from their academy, then once they develop further they will sell them for a much higher fee. Previous players that have been sold include Mendy (Leicester), Amavi (Aston Villa) Ospina (Arsenal). This past season Nice lost their 2 main attackers in Hatem Ben Arfa & Valere Germain. This should’ve been a huge loss as these two players accounted for 56% of all of the league goals scored by Nice.

When purchasing new players, Nice make use of free transfers and loans for many players in the squad. The highest profile example of that this season would be the free transfer of Mario Balotelli from Liverpool. However, out of the most used starting XI (which does not include Balotelli), 6 of the players are new transfers.

Balotelli might be the highest profile transfer made by Nice but when it comes to performances he has not been the most influential

On The Pitch

Before the season it was clear that the on the field performance would be changing as Nice appointed a new manager. Lucien Favre was probably most known for his 4 year stint as the manager for Borussia Mochengladbach. During this period, he guided them to the Champions League multiple times (They currently sit in 10th this season). Strangely enough over the past 2 years at Gladbach his team went from one of the top defensive teams to one of the highest goalscoring teams almost overnight.

Goals For Goals Against Points
This Season 44 21 59
Last Season 37 28 36

In his first season with Nice, Favre has improved their numbers across the board. The amount of points is definitely what jumps out the most but this season, Nice have increased their goalscoring while also decreasing their goals against.

Defensively, Nice has been great, with the 2nd best GA. However, looking at the underlying numbers provides some interesting insight. Strangely, Nice have been last in interceptions and are one of the bottom 4 teams in tackles. Part of this can be explained by their high possession figure (57.1%). In addition to this, Nice are in the bottom 4 of shots allowed, which means they are allowing a lot of shots from opposing teams. This is strange as they have a high possession figure, and a low number of goals against yet opposing teams are still able to take many shots.

Offensively, Nice has been good in this category as they have the 4th best GF. As I mentioned before, they have a 57.1% possession figure which is the 2nd highest amount in Ligue 1. Nice also have the 2nd highest pass accuracy rate at 87.6%. When it comes to their shooting statistics, Nice are in the middle of the pack when it comes to the amount of shots, but they are a top 4 team when it comes to shots on target. This suggests that they don’t take too many shots but the shots they take are high quality.

Nice’s most used starting 11

Looking Ahead

Whether or not Nice can overtake Monaco & PSG to win the Ligue 1 title remains to be seen. The injury to their main striker Alassane Plea definitely will hurt their chances. However, their upcoming clash against PSG will go a long way to deciding the title, or at least 2nd place. If they don’t win the title, Nice should still be happy with a Champions League position where they will be hoping to do better than their showing in the Europa League this season.


Formatting edits were made to this post on February 28

After a short break trying to figure out different ideas for articles (more on that at the end), here is the February 27th edition of the Starting XI. I’ll be posting this every Monday from now until the end of the season.

  1. Wavy dribbling by Reus to get his assist. Dortmund were not quite clinical with their finishing (especially in the 1st half) but this is definitely an improvement from their night in Lisbon a couple of weeks ago.

2. The less said about Hamburgs defending in this game the better. Bayern dominated them the entire match and the scoreline still could’ve been worse

3. Just like Reus in the video above, Hazard does fantastic work to beat his defender and provide the assist.

4. From one prolific striker to the next. Harry Kane bounced back from his own goal and Tottenhams’ exit from the Europa League with a hattrick and 1 assist. 2 of the goals were absolutely fantastic finishes and he left no doubt as to who the MOTM was.

5. I know its only the EFL cup but it’s great seeing United winning a trophy, especially as the league is basically out of reach. Fantastic cross by Herrera to set up Ibra’s winner in a game that Southampton created many good goalscoring chances and definitely could’ve won. (Note: I really hope I don’t have to see another game with Rojo at LB, in the leadup to one of Southhamptons goals it honestly looks like he’s trying to give away a penalty)

6. Barcelona got a late winner in a tough match against Atletico Madrid and now are only 1 point back of Real Madrid, although they have played 1 more match. As for Atletico, their title challenge concluded a while ago and now it looks like it is a three team race for the title. If that’s not bad enough, Real Sociedad are only 1 point behind them in the race to get the final Champions League spot.

7. Clearly Real Madrid learned absolutely nothing as they fell behind 2-0 early in the second half. Luckily enough after a questionable penalty they were able to turn it around and pick up all 3 points. Villareal is a tough side but these are the games Madrid needs to win in order to ensure they win the title. Much has been made about Barcelona being “finished” but they are 1 pt back and Sevilla is 3 pts back. Madrid may have a game in hand but they still have to play Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla.

8. After their famous 4-0 victory vs Barcelona, PSG immediately followed that with a goalless draw vs Toulouse. However, this convincing victory vs Marseille looks like the dominant PSG are finally here to stay and it has them right back in the Ligue 1 title race, tied on GD with Nice and 3 pts back of Monaco.


10. Many articles have been written about Leicester sacking Ranieri, it’ll be interesting to see how the players respond to this, starting with tonights match vs Liverpool.


NOTE: I’ll be posting more regularly, starting with a post on one of the teams in the Ligue 1 title race. This should be posted on this Thursday

Tony Martial…Sits Again!??

From the very first day he stepped foot on the pitch at Old Trafford, Anthony Martial gained the adoration of Man United fans(and Martin Tyler judging by his reaction).

Scoring 17 goals in all competitions and winning the Golden Boy award, big things were expected in his second season. This has not been the case as Mourinho has left him out on a few occasions. Even accounting for 3 games missed so far due to injury, Martial has played almost HALF the minutes that he did at this stage last year. On top of that, last season he only made his first appearance Matchday 5!! as a substitute after a late transfer.

Under Louis Van Gaal, Martial was an assured starter and almost always played the full 90 minutes. It is clear that Jose is less willing to do so, at least so far. I compared Martial’s performance through Matchday 23 and also in the group stages of European Competition. I looked at some attacking metrics such as dribbles, shots on target, key passes, goals + assists to see if I could find any noticeable differences.

A couple things to keep in mind:

Last year despite not qualifying for the knockout stage, United had a relatively playing in Europe meant playing a relatively easy group (I wont forget those 10-15 minutes vs Wolfsburg when we briefly qualified for the knockout stage). With all due respect to the players at Zorya and Feyenoord, the teams in Manchester United’s group are much weaker this year.

Also last year, since Memphis still had Manchester United fans (myself included), coaches and players convinced he was the next great number 7 so, Martial initially played as a striker but by around this time last season he was moved out to the left wing. This year Martial has played almost entirely on the left wing.


Champions/Europa League Comparison

CL – 6 appearances, 516 minutes

EL – 4 appearances, 259 minutes

Performance Stats 2015-16 2016-17
Successful/Total Dribbles 1.4/8 1.7/2.8
Shots (On Target) 1.9(1.2) 1.4(0.3)
Goals 0.3 0.4
Key Passes 1 1
Assists 0 0

*All stats are per 90 and were found on whoscored

When looking at Martial’s performances in Europe the first thing I noticed was how often he dribbled unsuccessfully last season. A lot of this was due to our relying on him to singlehandly create in attack but still that number was shockingly high. This year he has been a lot more effective with his dribbling attempts though it is an admittedly small sample size. Besides this, there are virtually no changes.

PL Comparison

2015-16: 18 appearances, 1556 minutes

2016-17: 13 appearances, 711 minutes

Performance Stats 2015-16 2016-17
Successful Dribbles 2.8 1
Shots On Target 0.58 1.1
Goals 0.29 0.3
Key Passes 1.1 1.6
Assists 0.1 0.4

When comparing Martial’s stats from the Premier League, there are a couple of encouraging signs. Firstly, the amount of key passes he has made has increased and his assist ratio is 4x better so far this season. In addition to this, he has doubled the amount of shots he has on target. With United being encouraged to attack more, and with the attacking additions of Ibra, Mhkitaryan and Pogba it is reasonable to think that the increase in assists is sustainable. Even though the team is no longer as reliant on him offensively, it is good to see that his goal scoring ratio per 90 is the same.

Personally, I think that Martial’s extended absence in the team will be beneficial to him in the long-run. Last year, United were very reliant on him in attack, and this season with the new transfers, his burden has been lessened. Also, this gives Mourinho a chance to get his message across before the important fixtures start rolling in. To his credit, Martial seems determined to work for his place in the team (following Zlatans advice is usually a good idea). That being said, Martial is still the best option at LW and after looking at the stats, I want and expect him to be in the starting lineup when we play our most important matches.


The funniest & finest moments from the weekend in world football

As much as I enjoy reading immediate post-match (over)reactions and player ratings, it would be too much work to summarize multiple matches across 3 different leagues. Instead I have decided to create a weekly post focused on some of the best and worst individual moments of the weekend, along with a few other thoughts highlighting specific performances in a piece called “The Starting XI”. Without further adieu here is the Starting XI

11 random gifs, thoughts and tweets from the latest round of matches

    1. Neymar had one of his better games in a 3 – 0 Barcelona win over Athletic Bilbao. An in-form Neymar is a nightmare for La Liga defenders


2. Speaking of nightmare for defenders Eden Hazard terrorrised Arsenal’s back four in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory. I’ll let you be the judge of which clip is more embarrasing, Mustafi throwing himself to the floor

    …or Coquelin being shrugged off on route to goal.
    3. Arsenal losing to Chelsea was somewhat expected and at the end of the season losing away at Stamford Bridge ultimately won’t make or break their season. However, Liverpool losing to relegation-zone Hull is the definition of a shocking result. It seems teams in the Champions League places keep finding new and more amusing ways to try and miss out on that competition.
      4. Manchester United got a step closer to being in the top four this weekend beating Leicester City 3-0. The real story however is Leicester City being unable to score in their last 5 Premier League games and gaining only 1 point. The reigning champions are really in danger of being relegated and there is a fantastic

story detailing how Claudio Ranieri may be losing the dressing room

    5. Fantastic work by Ousmane Dembele to set up the only goal in Dortmund’s 1-0 win over the Bundesliga’s least liked team. Dortmund missed many chances to put the game away and Reus and Auba will be especially relieved that RB Leipzig had their last minute equalizer ruled out for offside. 
    6. Monaco are continuing their assault on opposing teams defences. This weekend they beat 3rd place Nice 3 – 0. This brings their total goals scored in Ligue 1 to an astonishing 68!
    7. Antoine Griezmann missed yet another penalty kick this weekend for his 3rd miss of the season. It’s strange how Griezmann is pretty reliable in a shootout but during regulation maybe it’s time Simeone considered having someone else take them.
    8.Moussa Dembele getting his hattrick in style


    9. Another game where Man City dominate their opposition, take the lead then have the other team tie it up. Luckily for them Gabriel Jesus flipped the script in a performance that justified Pep’s decision to start him instead of Aguero
    10. Bayern Munich had an unconvinving 1-1 draw with Schalke but they extended their lead over Leipzig to 4 points.
    11. Class is permanent

NOTE: Be on the lookout this Wednesday I for a piece I wrote about Manchester United winger Anthony Martial!

Welcome to On The Half Volley

My name is Dale and I am a university student living in Canada who is currently freelance writing and decided to post my opinions in a blog. I’ve been watching football (Glory Glory Man United!) for as long as I can remember and lately the recent emphasis on numbers has made me look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes stats will confirm my opinion of a player, other times the eye test is completely opposite to what the numbers say. I will be writing about the game trying to balance a bit of both.

First things first…why the name on the half volley? It could be because a half volley is slightly less difficult than a volley, but when it is pulled off the ball usually goes flying top bins. Maybe it’s could be because “The Volley” could be referring to a tennis or volleyball blog, or a random computer game. Alternately, maybe I just wanted to slyly include a video of a highlight worthy Pogba goal in a Manchester United shirt

You can choose any of the above answers but as of right now this is a working title, so I’ll see if I can think of something better.

In this blog, I will write regularly about ongoing narratives in world soccer mainly focused on the PL, Champions League, La Liga, Bundesliga with some occasional features on teams & players from other leagues. Besides taking a look at the weekly matches I have planned an ongoing series looking at players and coaching performance over longer periods of time.

Thanks for reading my welcome message, my next post will be a review of PL Matchday 24. I have 2 posts planned for the following week and I will be posting on here regularly once I figure out a schedule that works. I welcome any discussions through the comment section (NAME SUGGESTIONS) or also on Twitter. I also would love to read interesting football posts you have come across whether written by yourself or others, so feel free to point me in that direction. My email is in the contact section for any other questions.