Payet’s 2015/16 was unprecedented, and we may not see anything like it again

Dimitri Payet’s 2015-16 season peaked too soon. He scored game-winning, narrative-writing goals in several of France’s pre-tournament Euro 2016 friendlies, and one in the opening game, but otherwise had quite a quiet Championships. After such an exciting and hopeful build-up, it was a disappointing end.

However, the rest of Payet’s season was, to put it mildly, rather impressive. He made 4.2 key passes per 90 in the league this season, only beaten by Mesut Ozil. But Payet also shot too, 2.4 times per 90 minutes, which is a reasonable tally in itself for a midfielder. If you take Payet’s overall shot contribution – his shots taken and the ones he set up – that’s a 6.6 per 90 which puts him amongst Neymar and Ribery’s tallies for this year.

But wait, there’s more. All shot numbers are pumped up to an extent by speculative efforts which involve a good deal more hope than skill. Some players have more opportunity, or are allowed more rope, to inject their game with number-steroids than others. If you take their shots on target, you go some way – not the whole way by any means – to sorting the wheat from the chaff. Shots on target is marginally better at predicting future goals than total shots.

If you do that, Payet’s 2015-16 joins some truly, truly elite company with 5.2 shots on target and key passes per 90. Messi of 2011-12 and 2013-14, Suarez of 2013-14, and Ronaldo of 2014-15 are all within touching distance just above or below that number.

But wait. There’s more.

As established last week, possession adjusting shots can be a way of levelling the playing field between have( the ball)s and have-nots. The same principle can, of course, be applied to individual players. There are much more sophisticated ways of refining statistics, which will give much more sophisticated answers, but as far as simple adjustments go it seems a nice one.

When possession adjusted, Payet’s tally of shots on target and key passes may be the best in major European leagues since 2009 (the furthest back good levels of data is available for). A complete ream of statistics direct from Opta may find someone unexpected amongst the mass of possible players, but most of Messi and Ronaldo’s seasons don’t come particularly close. Payet is on 5.29, Reus from 2013-14 on 5.25, Ronaldo from 2012-13 on 5.14, with Ronaldo’s next best season (2014-15) on 4.47.

Generally, the players around the top of this list are on great teams and the vast majority were on sides that had a possession share of above 50% – apart, of course, from Payet. Kevin Gameiro at last season’s Sevilla is possibly the next highest ‘score’ from a team with below 50% possession; his number was 3.61.

Does this suggest that Payet’s season has been a freak one-off? Probably. But West Ham fans should at least be hopeful. Stretching back to 2009-10, when this kind of data starts, Payet’s possession adjusted shots on target and key passes have read like so:

 

2009-10 (Saint Etienne) – 3.36

2010-11 (Saint Etienne) – 4.44

2011-12 (Lille) – 3.42

2012-13 (Lille) – 3.54

2013-14 (Marseille) – 3.09

2014-15 (Marseille) – 4.13

2015-16 (West Ham) – 5.29

 

There’s some fluctuation, but it seems unlikely at this point that Payet’s production in this statistic would drop below that 3.5 level. That area is either around or above seasons from Coutinho, Higuain, Benzema, Özil, and Alexis Sanchez (although also a season from Christian Benteke).

Disclaimers about not having a thorough sample to scrutinise more fully apply, but Payet’s 2015-16 was certainly special, even if it did end in disappointment.

By @EveryTeam_Mark

Eastbridge, now UK licensed!

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