10.09.2017 – Matchday Four of the 2017/18 Premier League season
Burnley v Crystal Palace (at Turf Moor)
3.36pm: Burnley’s captain and talisman, Tom Heaton, came to claim a cross, before falling awkwardly to the ground in the penalty area. Following a lengthy stoppage in play, the Clarets’ stopper was helped off the pitch in obvious discomfort, with what appeared to be a very serious shoulder injury.
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To many of those watching, including several of Burnley’s own supporters, there was concern that this might have marked an end to the Clarets season, or at the very least, the start of a much more difficult survival battle.
But from the bench came the relatively unknown Nick Pope. Here was another goalkeeper who, like Heaton, had been plucked by Burnley from League One, following his team’s relegation from the Championship at the end of the previous season.
What happened for the remaining 54 minutes of the Crystal Palace match, and then for the other 34 matches of the Premier League season was remarkable. Firstly, a hard earned 1-0 victory for Burnley, and a clean sheet for Pope, even though official statistics do not credit it as such, as he did not play the entire ninety minutes.
There then followed a series of performances in goal that belied Nick Pope’s previous lack of top flight experience. It doesn’t necessarily require in-depth data analysis to know that Pope’s contribution to Burnley’s season was a vital one, but it can help to provide some important context.
A plethora of statistics, from various sources, suggests that Pope had become a vital replacement cog in Burnley’s defensive system – goals conceded, clean sheets, xG improvement, number of saves, number of high claims, all of which were impressive in their own right.
However, the data available from Twelve, which I have used and posted at various stages through the season, shows something else, in addition to information from elsewhere. Points are awarded for actions throughout each match, and although for goalkeepers there may otherwise be a tendency to focus on the activity in the penalty area, the system also credits other contributions, most notably in terms of attack.
Nick Pope topped the Twelve leaderboard when it came to attack, with the plot below highlighting his most important contributions.
Nick Pope went on to win all but two of the thirteen individual Player of the Year awards at Burnley FC’s supporters’ groups awards evening, and also earned the overall Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the season awards too. The subjective consensus was most definitely in Nick Pope’s favour, but it can also be helpful to consider other methods of classifying performance.
In fact, there are several other Burnley players who could also stake a claim to the overall Player of the Year award. Based on the Twelve data model, the table below shows the players who rank more highly, using points per minute (excluding Dwight McNeil, who only came on for the last few minutes of the final match):
Of the other highest scoring Burnley players, the three at the back who have shared central defensive duties, James Tarkowski, Kevin Long and Ben Mee, lead the pack. They are followed by two more offensive players, striker Chris Wood and midfielder Robbie Brady, who each only played less than half of the season. Each player displays their own particular strengths in each area to which points are allocated.
It helps to have data to support decision-making processes, rather than to use data blindly, but few would argue with Nick Pope’s status as Burnley’s Player of the Season. More recently, his call-up to the England squad for the World Cup in Russia is a well deserved reward for a very successful first season in the Premier League.