noun 1. a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency. Often referred to as “Vince Lia”.
Poor Vince Lia. A foundation member of the Wellington Phoenix, veteran of 149 games (the fourth most in Phoenix history) and goalscorer four years ago, Lia still has people on his back after every game, quick to pin any semblance of blame on the Australian midfielder.
The critique is largely unfair, as Lia has never been a player likely to stand out on any given day, instead asked to do the dirty work in the depths of midfield, while keeping his attacking contributions to a minimum.
However, come Sunday’s match against the Western Sydney Wanderers, I was surprised to see Lia’s name in the starting lineup on the team sheet. Why wouldn’t they start Alejandro Gorrin?? (I will die on this anti A-Rod hill). Gorrin’s a much superior player, right?
That’s right; I had become one of THEM. A dreaded Vince Lia derider – a creature as rare as flies in the summertime.
Lia’s performance (dragged off at halftime by Ernie Merrick) didn’t do much to stop the crusade coming out in force after the game, making me take a step back and decide to re-evaluate things from a different perspective.
With Albert Riera, Roly Bonevacia and Michael McGlinchey all certain starters, there’s largely only one midfield spot available for either Lia or Gorrin to snare. To add some insight into which player deserves to take that starting spot, I turned to my old pal – statistics.
Before we get into this, let’s be clear on one thing – This is merely a statistical analysis and comparison of the two players. The Phoenix coaching staff know roughly 4300x more than I do when it comes to these matters, and have much more information at their disposal. However, footballing statistics are often underused, and can tell us some important information about both players.
I’ve split the statistics up into the defensive duties of being a central midfielder, and the on-ball and attacking operations. Since Gorrin has played over 200 more minutes this season, I have also provided per-90 minute figures to allow for balanced comparisions.
Let’s see what the numbers tell us.
Gorrin 35 (3.4 per 90)
Lia 18 (2.3 per 90)
Lia 17 (2.1 per 90)
Gorrin 8 (0.7 per 90)
Gorrin 31 (3.0 per 90)
Lia 19 (2.4 per 90)
This was a reasonable surprise – with Gorrin being more willing to put in tackles in the midfield, and also being slightly more fruitful in making key interceptions. Lia’s presence is seemingly more valuable to the back four when it comes to last-ditch defending, being proficient at clearing the ball away from danger.
Gorrin 780 (76.6 per 90)
Lia 570 (72.4 per 90)
Shot Assists: Gorrin 10 (1.0 per 90)
Lia 9 (1.1 per 90)
Gorrin 5 (0.5 per 90)
Lia 4 (0.5 per 90)
A fairly even battle when it comes to being on the ball and providing impetus going forward. Lia’s attacking passing looked better to the naked eye under Merrick than in previous seasons, and he has shown an ability to create chances at the same level as Gorrin. Both get on the ball plenty in the hub of the midfield, and both players aren’t likely to pull the trigger at goal.
Gorrin 522 (51.2 per 90)
Lia 339 (43.0 per 90)
Here’s where the gap starts to open up statistically. Gorrin’s passing accuracy ranks right up the top of the Phoenix’s squad, and his 87% success rate is vital to retaining possession, especially considering his comparatively high numbers of attempts (Eg- He’s not making only square, simple passes).
Meanwhile, for all their flaws, the anti-Lia brigade does have one thing right – he’s not an accurate passer. It has gone downhill in recent weeks too, sliding from 81% all the way down to 76.9% after some uninspiring performances. You could understand someone with more creative licence – such as Michael McGlinchey – having a low passing accuracy percentage due to taking higher risks on potential defence-splitting balls, but Lia’s role doesn’t require that, yet he still gives possession away more often than the rest of the Phoenix midfielders.
Of course – there are plenty of factors unmentioned here which are important in making personnel decisions. But the statistics back up the angry mob – Alejandro Gorrin should have the edge for the central midfield role.
Hamilton raised, Niall Anderson now halves his time between university studies in Auckland and catching up on all things Waikato football in the Tron. Having covered Waikato FC and WaiBOP United in the ASB Premiership, Niall is also the lead writer at nzhoops.co.nz. Find him on Twitter @NiallGunner.