IT’S something that will not make headlines but Marvelous Nakamba finished among the Top Five ball-winning midfielders in the English Premiership last season.
Only Declan Rice, Phillip Billing, N’Golo Kante and Wilfred Ndidi did better than the Zimbabwean among the players who played, at least, 1 500 minutes.
That’s according to defensive data collected by the authoritative sources at Breaking The Lines.
So, in simple terms, Nakamba, for a player in his first season in the Premiership, played very well.
His role is to win the ball and play it out — not gain the headlines.
But, in the post-season breakdown of Aston Villa players, Nakamba is someone who flies under the radar a little bit — despite his general importance to the team.
He didn’t score important goals, he wasn’t a regular starter post-lockdown, and he wasn’t involved in many critical moments.
He’s been linked to a few moves away — but do Villa really want to see the back of Nakamba?
Was it a bad season for Nakamba then?
By no means.
The tough-tackling midfielder emerged as an early star during the tough first portion of the season, and even earned a spot on some highlight reels thanks to a crunching challenge in the League Cup final, against Manchester City.
He’s rather unique in this Villa side as well.
The early stages of the season saw Nakamba singled out as a top performer and crucial to the side.
According to Statsbomb, Villa had given “Nakamba a thankless job, and he’s doing it admirably’’.
With Dean Smith admittedly going “gung ho’’ — Villa’s defence was exposed and Nakamba flourished in doing his best to fight fires.
Villa didn’t always win, or draw, but Nakamba did a good job.
What was that job?
To sit back and break up play.
It was very clear the midfielder was doing the heavy lifting for the side’s defence and midfield — something which likely made him a focus of opposition analysis briefings.
Any praise of Nakamba is met by valid criticism — a yin/yang balance.
While Nakamba is good at winning the ball, there are questions about his ability to keep the ball safe, and provide the same support as Douglas Luiz.
There are plenty of caveats that we need to place in mind when we consider passing success.
For instance, it’s easier for some players in certain positions, and certain roles, to complete passes as their passing may be less risky than other positions.
For example, recycling possession, bypassing sideways to build pressure, should in theory be easier, and less of a risk, than trying to angle a through ball in to a rushing attacking player.
More often than not, certain roles — your defensive midfielder — will be attempting much more of the former, and perhaps fewer, of the latter.
How well did Nakamba perform with his passes, then?
Short passes, as defined by FBref via Statsbomb, are passes of under five yards — so think more of your quick combinations in-and-around the box to fashion a chance in tighter areas, and less of passing back and around the defence.
Villa’s leaders in short passing attempts — Grealish and El Ghazi — lead in high areas of the pitch, and don’t complete a great deal of short passes (well under half — 37.6% for Grealish and 26.8% for El Ghazi).
Nakamba and Hourihane lead Villa’s short passing completion percentages with 46% each.
Medium passing is defined as above five yards and up to twenty five yards, so it does cover (literally) a lot of ground and is clearly the most common pass type.
When we think of short, medium as defined by FBref does a good job of highlighting what we assumed to be “short’’ passes, as well as a few longer passes. Nakamba still ranks high here, with 88% of his passes completed.
He’s not a long passer, but he still managed to complete 77% of his longer attempts.
Nakamba’s overall percentage of 84.5 percent pass completions compares well enough with Kante’s 85.5 percent, Ndidi’s 85.9 percent and Rice’s 86 percent.
On average, he’s a good-enough passer.
We can say that due to the crystal-clear numbers.
On average, he’d still be fine, perhaps not as fine as the eye test demands, but good enough to include in a team due to the upside that his ball-winning abilities bring.
The criticism of Nakamba isn’t truly about just his passing, it’s about his passing under pressure.
That’s also a critique of his role itself though — one that perhaps tactically invites opposition pressure due to it’s nature as a holding point of the midfield.
Break Nakamba, perhaps, and you break Villa.
That should perhaps invite conversation that the midfielder’s passing failings are not necessarily down to him, but also down to a tactical success of smart pressure by the opposition.
If Nakamba is the man doing a lot of work, why would you not target him?
Reflecting back on the Statsbomb analysis above, it was very clear that if you beat Nakamba, you beat Villa.
Of course, a breakdown in passing can occur without pressure as well, and that shouldn’t avoid criticism.
Nakamba hasn’t bailed out Villa well in some situations, when he could’ve done better.
Analysis by VenkyReddevil on Breaking the Lines shows Nakamba is much in the same boat as Ndidi and Rice in terms of both his defensive strengths and weaknesses.
There are situations where Nakamba should be utilised and those should be games were Villa do not expect to have the ball.
While Douglas Luiz is certainly gifted, he is an asset when carrying and using the ball.
Marvelous is the opposite side of the coin. He is an asset without the ball. There is room for them both, but perhaps more so for Luiz.— BirminghamLive/Sports Reporter.
Kaizer Chiefs fires coach Middendorp
ABSA Premiership runners up Kaizer Chiefs on Wednesday parted ways with head coach Ernst Middendorp.
The German mentor, who had a year left on his contract, was shown the exit door four days after Amakhosi failed to clinch the league title despite being on top for most on the season.
In delivering the news, club founder and chairman Kaizer Motaung said: “We deliberated and considered many aspects related to the team, including our way of playing, our performances and the results before coming to the decision,” confirms Motaung.
“We truly believed and hoped that our 50th anniversary year would be better, and it indeed looked promising. The decision taken is part of a strategy to have the team win trophies again and to make our supporters happy because they deserve better.
“After giving the coach and the technical team the ammunition required to compete in the new season,” Motaung adds, “there were some improvements, and this was evident during the first seven months of this 2019/2020 season.
“However, when the league restarted post-lockdown, things changed, and we looked a totally different side in our last eight league matches.
We witnessed some heart-stopping performances and we were overtaken on the log in the last game of the season, which truly broke our hearts. We have to take responsibility – we can’t wait and allow this situation to continue.”
On the way forward, the chairman said: “The squad has been given time off after a grueling completion of the season and will return before the end of September to start preparing for the 2020/21 season.
“We will announce the new coach before the team returns for pre-season training.-Soccer 24
Rampant Celtic spoil Billiat’s party
Zimbabwe international forward, Khama Billiat, saw his 30th birthday anniversary spoiled by Kaizer Chiefs’ 1-3 defeat at the hands of a rampant Bloemfontein Celtic yesterday.
The Warriors talisman turned 30 yesterday.
But, his Amakhosi were humbled by the impressive Celtic at Tuks Stadium.
In the fourth minute, Celtic midfielder Wandisile Letlabika tried to catch Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi off his line with a cheeky long-range lob, forcing the Nigerian to backpedal and tip the ball over his bar.
With 10 minutes gone, Victor Letsoalo got in to a pocket of space between the Chiefs defence and midfield before firing away a shot which was tipped around the post by a diving Akpeyi.
Nine minutes later, Celtic switched play well as Andile Fikizolo found Letsoalo, who in turn found Ndumiso Mabena and the talismanic striker turned well before firing away a shot which Erick Mathoho did well to block.
Chiefs were showing their aerial prowess, putting plenty of balls into the Celtic box.
A Billiat corner on the hour mark found Leonardo Castro at the back post, whose powerful header forced Chaine into a good save.
Shortly afterwards, Mathoho broke the deadlock with his fifth goal of the season when he towered above the Celtic defence and headed home powerfully from a Parker corner.
However, Phunya Sele Sele equalised on the stroke of half-time. Lantshene Phalane’s slide-rule pass released Sifiso Ngobeni, whose left-footed cross-cum-shot from the left-hand byline was tapped home by Sera Motebang.
Celtic took the lead slightly fortuitously shortly after the interval when Lantshene Phalane’s deflected shot found its way to an unmarked Motebang Sera in the box, who stroked the ball past Akpeyi and into the back of the net with ease.
Soon after, Nurkovic hit the crossbar with a shot that caught Chaine off his line as Celtic survived a scare to see their lead remain intact while Willard Katsande’s attempted long-range piledriver was straight at Chaine in the 53rd minute.
There was no goalmouth action until the 75th minute when Celtic scored their third.
Letsoalo did brilliantly to run onto the second ball and control it at at pace before firing past Akpeyi into the bottom right-hand corner.
Billiat had a golden opportunity to pull a goal back for the Glamour Boys in the 89th minute.
Cardoso dinked the ball into the box and the Zimbabwean was unmarked in the box but couldn’t control the header as it sailed over the bar, with the Soweto giants failing to extend their lead over second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns. — Kick-Off.
Former Cheetahs player to lead Real Betis Academy in Zim
TO many sporting fans in Zimbabwe, Gerald Sibanda is a rugby person, who has represented the country in the 15s as well as sevens version of the game at international level.
Sibanda is better known for his side steps, burst of pace and scoring magnificent tries for the Cheetahs from 2007 to 2012 and the Sables (2006-2016).
His rugby skills saw him playing for clubs in South Africa, Scotland and Romania.
It, therefore, came as a surprise when Sibanda’s sporting agency, Athletes Sphere Management secured a deal to open the first ever Real Betis Academy on the African continent in Zimbabwe. The Spanish club announced last Thursday that it had got into a partnership with ASM, whose founder and chief executive officer is the former rugby star.
The 34-year-old said football has always been a part of his life since he played the sport from a young age and feels he was one of the most gifted footballers of his generation until rugby took over his life. Sibanda did his secondary education at Milton High School in Bulawayo and Churchill High in Harare, which are traditional rugby playing schools and that is where he fell in love with the game.
“Football is my other life, I was born into football, I played football from a young age, all I knew was playing football up until I reached Form 1. When I went to Milton High School in 1999, I remember going for my first football session, I think I was one of the most talented football players in my time,” said Sibanda.
“Milton being a traditional rugby school I was convinced that for me to become a successful student I needed to try rugby after that I fell in love with rugby. It became a part of my life, but I never lost my touch with football.”
He is delighted that ASM has given him an opportunity to get involved in football, something he had always wanted to do.
“I am so happy that with Athletes Sphere Management, I am able to take up that great role to lead the Betis academy. To me this is something that is unbelievable, but something I envisaged since I was born into football.”
According to documents availed by Sibanda, the Betis Academy Zimbabwe project, which is meant to take off in Harare in October, is a nationwide grassroots football development initiative and a unique experience for Zimbabwean and African talented youth players to develop their football careers.
Exceptionally talented youth players have an opportunity to be scouted and use the Betis academy as a gateway to the world of professional football.
A group of at least 15 players will travel from Zimbabwe to Spain every season. During that week the players will have five training sessions, two friendly matches with local teams and Real Betis school teams, a stadium and city tour-training facilities tour and nutritional classes.