Our friend Graham Parker published an excellent analysis on ESPN FC of Sunday's game at Yankee Stadium. His take centered on Andrea Pirlo, whose brilliant playmaking skill set is tempered by the need to place tough box-to-box types around him, owing to his inability to defend. Check out the article-- as with anything with Graham's name on it, it's worth your time.
Today, we crunched some numbers to get an even better understanding of how Pirlo's talents work -- or don't, as is sometimes the case -- in the NYCFC system. What we found, courtesy of WhoScored.com, illuminates a handful of attractive (if not downright stunning) developments for the legendary playmaker:
- Pirlo took 105 touches, far and away the highest tally in the game, as well as his highest such total as an NYCFC player. Despite the high volume, he led the team with an 83% passing completion rate and 3 passes leading to a shot on target.
The Bearded One's 105 touches vs. Toronto -- WhoScored.com
Pirlo's combination of passing touch and overall field vision is truly extraordinary. Generational. But in order to get the most out of the man, two things must happen: (1) he's gotta have the ball, and (2) once he has it, he needs bodyguard-like support from other rugged midfielders. Think Clarence Seedorf or Arturo Vidal.
With Federico Bravo on patrol all around him -- a welcome change from week one in Chicago, in which NYCFC's three-man midfield just didn't have enough defensive steel -- Pirlo was able to reach new MLS heights as a ball-worshiping distributor. Right on cue, WhoScored.com awarded him a match rating of 8.2, second among the Blues only to the brace-scoring David Villa's 8.4. In 12 MLS games last season, the maestro's average rating was a humble 6.7.
Despite blowing a two-goal lead, the Blues just looked better top-to-bottom than they did against Chicago, doing so against a far-superior opponent. And Pirlo, with the right pieces around him, was a prime mover in making that happen.
- Despite dominating the ball, Pirlo only lost possession 3 times.
Compare Pirlo's sure-footedness to Khiry Shelton, who took just 43 touches but lost possession of the ball 7 times over. (I know, the comparison is viciously, egregiously unfair.)
Once again, this speaks well of Bravo about as much as Pirlo himself. While a guy like Sebastian Giovinco can and did break the game open through pure individual brilliance in isolation, Pirlo can't contribute at an ace's level without the right role-players surrounding him. Tommy McNamara and Mix Diskerud are anything but ideal for the kind of grunt work necessary to stamp out opposition pressure on Pirlo-- the Chicago match proved as much. But Bravo, as well as Mikey Lopez, looks to be up to the task of these unglamorous, yet essential custodial duties up the middle.
- Il Maestro actually led all players in tackles! Seriously!
This is a man who has never been known to leave his feet for a challenge, and his lack of pace precludes his ability to chase down adversaries in order to win the ball. But something amazing happened on Sunday: Pirlo was successful on all 8 of his tackle attempts!
Pirlo's tackles vs. Toronto -- WhoScored.com
Way to cover that ground, young buck!
We're wise to the fact that high tackling numbers, by themselves, are not a fair indicator of defensive prowess. But considering that Pirlo also led all NYCFC midfielders and forwards with 7 recoveries of possession, the sheer willingness to challenge opposing ballhandlers is a welcome sight, and not one that we anticipated seeing whatsoever.
If Sunday's numbers are any indication, the forecast for 2016 calls for blue skies.
OTHER STATS WE LIKE
- Bravo committed 6 fouls, twice as many as any other player in the game. He needed to do so in order to keep the game from blowing right past Pirlo. Mission accomplished.
- Khiry Shelton blocked 3 crosses, which led all players. The second-year man continues to flash a healthy defensive work rate to go along with his goal-and-assist performance last weekend. Given the scant margin for error in Patrick Vieira's midfield, he'll be relied upon to continue to track back and donate his superb athleticism to the defense.
- Ronald Matarrita did more than a little of everything. He was the only NYCFC player with 2 successful dribbles, he led all players, period, with 7 interceptions, and fired off more passes (70) and took more touches (81) than any teammate besides Pirlo. His 7.7 WhoScored match rating was higher than every Toronto player besides Sebastian Giovinco.