Sander Berge or John Lundstram? Crunching the numbers ahead of big midfield decision for Sheffield United at Villa Park
As football inches ever closer to a return by the day, the eyes of the world will be on Villa Park next week as Sheffield United take on Aston Villa in the first Premier League game played after the coronavirus break.
The Blades, who are seventh, can climb as high as fifth with victory over Dean Smith's relegation-threatened side. But with such a gap since both sides last played, it will be fascinating to see how the respective managers approach the game.
One talking point for the Blades will be who plays in midfield. In United's last game, a 1-0 win at home to Norwich, John Lundstram got the nod over record signing Sander Berge, and repaid that faith with a superb cross for Billy Sharp to score the winner.
Lundstram, for some a surprise package this season, has stepped up his game another notch since the £22m arrival of Berge in January, after initially losing his place to the Norwegian.
So, who will get the nod at Villa Park? Delving into the stats of the two players, there doesn't actually appear to be a lot between them. Offensively, Lundstram averages almost twice as many attempts on goal as Berge but 21.4 per cent of his efforts are on target, compared to 21.3 for Berge.
Lundstram's expected goals metric is twice as high - 0.08 compared to 0.04 for Berge - whereas Berge leads his teammate in terms of both the number of dribbles and successful dribbles, and also 'progressive runs'. Berge averages almost twice the number of dribbles per game than Lundstram this season, and his success rate is also higher.
Defensively, there isn't much between the players either. Lundstram just edges the defensive duels metric, with 8.07 per game compared to Berge's 7.48, although the Norwegian wins 64 per cent of them compared to Lundstram's 62.4.
Their interceptions per game average is identical, 4.76, while Berge's average recoveries (10.63) just pips Lundstram's (9.73). Just under half of Lundstram's recoveries are in the opposition's half, compared to Berge's 37.4 per cent.
What does it all mean? The two players, it seems, are closer than many fans perhaps realise - and whoever gets the nod at Villa Park will have a damn fine player breathing down their neck for the rest of the Premier League run-in.