With 3 games played by most clubs in the Football League this season, it’s a good chance to take stock of the players who are performing well in the early part of the season. The week we’re using stats published by The Analyst to identify a key difference-maker in each division and look at who their club is playing on the weekend ahead. For each division we also provide a Best Bet, which if combined provides a 7/1 accumulator.
Michal Helik (Barnsley) – King of the Interception
QPR v Barnsley, Saturday 21st August, 12.30pm kick-off
Sky Sports Football
When it comes to football, I’m defence first, and while it’s a cliche that offence is the best form of defence, there’s a balance to be struck between the two. A lot of the teams in the Championship are very structured in their approach, with a focus on shape, and doing the basics right. Which is why it’s a bonus if you have a player who can win the ball in transition, not only do you nullify the opposition attack, but, while they’re out of position they are at their most vulnerable.
Enter Michal Helik, the Barnsley defender who has more interceptions (9.05) than any other player in the Football League, and who has initiated more attacks than any other defensive player also. The Pole has been ever present for the Tykes this season, the highlight of which was a clean sheet against an improving Coventry team.
Helik’s Barnsley take on a dominant QPR attack, spearheaded by Lyndon Dykes and Chris Willock, a pair who have had a large hand in 8 QPR goals in 3 games this season. The Hoops sit 3rd having seen of Middlesbrough with 10 men on Wednesday night. Based upon the quality and team-spirit QPR have demonstrated so far this season, I think they will maintain their unbeaten record.
Verdict: QPR 1-0 Barnsley
Best Bet: There isn’t much value in the midday game, so I’ve gone for Blackburn v West Brom instead. 11+ Corners at 11/8; or if you’re brave 12+ Corners at 9/4. Blackburn avg. 7 corners per game at home; West Brom average 8 corners per game away.
Ben Garratt (Burton Albion) – The Difference-maker
Cambridge v Burton, Saturday 21st August, 3pm kick-off
Highlights on Quest, Saturday 9pm, Sunday 10am
A football team contains 11 players, is it possible to quantify the impact of an individual? Burton are 2nd in the league, hold 9 points after 3 games, with a goal difference of +3. Ben Garratt’s ‘Goals Prevented’ statistic, based upon quality of shots faced is 2.7, therefore statistically, without him, that goal difference is 0. Let’s put those Goals Prevented into perspective. Burton v Ipswich: The score is 1-1, Garrett saves a penalty before Burton score a late-winner. Burton v Sunderland: Garratt makes 7 saves, of which 2 were expected goals in a man-of-the-match performance as Burton ran out 1-0 winners. Without him, the Ipswich game is a probable draw, and Sunderland is a probable loss, leaving Burton with 4 points, a drop of 10 places to 12th in the league.
Statistics can overstate the impact of a single-player however, and as a club Burton have been on the rise since Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink took over. Looking objectively, this ia potential high-point for Burton, as they are over-reliant on their defensive unit to see out games rather than controlling play further forward.
The Brewers face a Cambridge side this weekend who are yet to record a victory, but have a knack of nicking a goal late on. In Cambridge’s three games this season, their goals have come in the 76th, 78th and 79th minute. Joe Ironside has stepped into record goal scorer Paul Mullin’s shoes, and his shot accuracy is very impressive putting away the majority of the few chances coming his way.
Verdict: Cambridge 0-1 Burton Albion
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals – 4/5
Andy Cook (Bradford City) – Goal Machine
Mansfield Town v Bradford City, Saturday 21st August, 3pm kick-off
Highlights on Quest, Saturday 9pm, Sunday 10am
City striker Cook has been involved in more ‘Shot-Ending Sequences’ than any other player in the Football League. Bradford have scored six goals in three games, of which Cook has scored three and assisted another. Derek Adams team pressurise their opposition by retaining possession and playing through-balls to create goal-scoring opportunities. This enables the Bantams to get the best out of Cook, and his strike-partner Lee Angol, in their rise to second in League Two.
Bradford’s opposition this Saturday are Cook’s former team, third-placed Mansfield. This game represents the stiffest test of the season so far for the Bantams. We previewed Mansfield last week, and they defied our expectations by putting a well-drilled Newport side to the sword. That game was a battle for possession, with Mansfield spending marginally more time in the opposition’s final third which ultimately made the difference. Whichever team is able to best exert their influence, however marginal, is likely to walk away with the victory here.
Verdict: This game is to close to call, it will be fascinating to watch and could go either way, however I see it ending in a draw.
Mansfield Town 1-1 Bradford City
Best Bet: The risk outwieghs the value in this one, so we’re looking to the Northampton v Rochdale game where there should be plenty of goals. Over 2.5 goals – 10/11