Bianchi vs Austin – bellezza contro la bestia Graham Smeaton September 27, 2014 Leeds United, Stats 43 Comments I have been accused of and ridiculed for use of over-flowery prose so I am going to avoid that and stick to the meat and two veg in this piece, discarding the rest as superfluous and unnecessary. The stats source I use, Squawka.com have just published a piece on September 24th called ‘Why Rodolph Austin’s resurgence could be key for Leeds United’; I published one looking at his performance during the 2013/14 Championship campaign called ‘Is Austin Leeds’ $6 Million Man’?’ on July 26th, a full two months before. I admit it, right here, I have a soft spot for Austin and was ridiculed for it on some Facebook fan groups – they focused on his wild shooting and apparent lack of grace around midfield. I tried arguing that asking him to do the graceful and nimble in midfield was like expecting one of the shunting engines from the Holbeck depot in Leeds Station to be a mainline train; it wouldn’t happen. However, against Huddersfield he did some Ronaldoesque ‘CR7’ moves such as pirouettes to avoid tackles and stepovers to win a free kick. I was interested in what he did last season and whether it would be effective this season; seems like it is looking that way. Austin 2013 vs Austin 2014 Source Squawka.com Rodolph Austin had an excellent 2013/14 Championship campaign where he was the Championships leading midfielder when looking at ‘duels won’ (tackles/one-on-ones/headed duels) and 5th-ranked when looking at his ‘defensive actions’ (clearances/interceptions/blocked shots). This season’s figures show drop offs in the chances that he’s created from 7 (2013/14) to 3 (2014/15) and a drop defensively with 8 ‘defensive actions’ (2013/14) against 4 ‘defensive actions’ (2014/15); that however represents a change in the way that Rodolph Austin seems to be being deployed. Austin is taking a more active part in other midfield duties and this is represented in improvements elsewhere; most notably a massively improved pass accuracy of 84% in the 7 games he’s played this season (against 75% in first 7 games last season) . This change in passing emphasis is reflected across the whole of the Leeds United midfield unit. If you compare Austins ‘per 90 minute’ (per 90) returns across the 2013/14 season to his 2014/15 per 90 returns, it makes for interesting comparison – well to a sad stat geek like me it does. Passing-wise, this season, Austin averages 59.62 passes per 90 (against 37.25 passes per 90 in 2013/14) and with greater accuracy at 84% which means that more of his passes are finding the target with greater frequency than last season. This is important if you believe that more frequently accurate passing leads to more chances further down the chain which leads to higher frequency of shots on target and hopefully more goals…I said hopefully. Defensively, Austin remains pretty similar in terms of tackles per 90 (2.84 in 2013/14 vs 2.56 in 2014/15) and successful one-on-ones per 90 (0.66 in 2013/14 vs 0.64 in 2014/15) although his number of headed duels has dropped per 90 from 1.77 per 90 (2013/14) to 1.12 per 90 (2014/15). However, move over Austin, there’s a new kid in town that goes by the name of Tommaso Bianchi. Source Squawka.com I have written about Tommasso Bianchi’s rise to prominence in a little more detail than I’d like to go into here but I’d like to look at Rodolph Austin and Tommaso Bianchi’s 2014/15 season starts side-by-side. Bianchi has come into his own this season and is proving to be a savvy buy. Alongside one of last season’s most consistent Championship defensive midfield players, Tommaso Bianchi is more than holding his own so to speak. Both players share identical figures across almost all categories but what is worth a note is that Bianchi has created 6 chances in his 7 games so far this season. Broken down a little, and looking at particular areas, Tommaso Bianchi’s stats are all the more impressive. Both players attempt a high frequency of passes per 90 (Bianchi 60 passes – Austin 52 passes) with both players ranked highly on average passes (Bianchi 7th-ranked – Austin 44th-ranked). Now I know passes are viewed as immaterial by some and that goals are viewed as the prize but I still think that a higher frequency of passes combined with greater accuracy leads to more chances which develop more shots on target and hopefully a higher goal return…phew a mouthful to type. Defensively, Bianchi also comes out on top with all the major areas that had made Rodolph Austin so consistent last season. In the ‘duels’ category (tackles/aerial duels/take-ons) Bianchi has the edge in 2 categories on a per 90 basis: ‘tackles’ (Bianchi 2.71 – Austin 2.56) and ‘aerial duels’ (Bianchi 1.57 – Austin 1.12) whilst Austin takes the ‘take-ons’ plaudits courtesy of a per 90 return of 0.64 versus no return for Bianchi. With regard to the ‘defensive actions’ (interceptions/clearances), again Bianchi takes all the plaudits per 90: ‘clearances’ (Bianchi 2.86 – Austin 2.56), ‘interceptions’ (Bianchi 1.86 – Austin 1.60) and ‘blocks’ (Bianchi 0.71 – Austin no return). A warning needs to be mooted though insomuch as that Austin’s role has changed somewhat and that he is now playing in a more advanced midfield role. If you were looking at the Bianchi vs Austin situation as a straight replacement on a like-for-like basis then you have that replacement in Tommaso Bianchi. New head coach, Darko Milanic, has said that he will not tinker too much with the players who have performed so well in the 4 games under caretaker coach Neil Redfearn (10 points from a possible 12) but he may look for alternative formations to deploy those players in. Milanic tends to favour the 4-4-2 double six over other formations; a formation that relies upon two defensive midfield players deployed as a ‘screen’ in front of the centreback pairing. One of these ‘holding’ players usually being more defensively-minded that the other whilst his partner usually has a better ball distribution. Could this option be the bellezza e la bestia that Leeds United might turn to should the need arise?