Copa America: Messi, Suarez, Martins and the golden oldies

By Sports Desk June 12, 2021

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

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    The 6-1 Packers travel to face the 7-0 Cardinals for a meeting of two teams to have emerged as clear frontrunners for the top seed in the NFC playoffs and who boast a combined winning percentage of 92.9.

    That is the best combined winning percentage for a game in Week 8 or later played on a Thursday since the 11-0 Chicago Bears played at the 10-1 Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, 1934. 

    Yet recent history and misfortune on the side of the Packers may see what many hoped would be a fascinating spectacle fail to live up to its billing.

    Including the playoffs, the Cardinals have won each of their last three games against Green Bay, and the contrast in the talent the two offenses will have available means the most likely outcome is that streak continuing in the desert.

     

    Packers lacking firepower

    The Packers are set to be without their top offensive weapon on Thursday after Davante Adams was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

    Adams needed to provide two negative tests, 24 hours apart, and be asymptomatic for 48 hours to be permitted to play against Arizona. He has reportedly not travelled with Green Bay and is not expected to play, leaving the Packers minus arguably the most complete receiver in the NFL, one who is maintaining the remarkable All-Pro standard he produced last season.

    Adams is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 744. He has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.8 per cent of his targets. That is not too far above the average of 60.9 per cent, however, Adams leads receivers with at least 25 targets in burn yards per route with 5.1.

    In other words, when Adams does win his matchup, he makes the most of it and creates significant separation, reflecting his reputation as one of the NFL's elite route-runners.

    His absence will leave a massive void, one that will be more apparent because of the loss of the lead candidate to fill it.

    Allen Lazard was placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday as a close contact of a person to have tested positive.

    Unvaccinated, Lazard is out for five days, robbing the Packers of a receiver with a 71.4 burn percentage who has produced a big play on 44.3 per cent of his targets.

    Without Adams and Lazard, the Packers are light on receiving threats to legitimately scare a Cardinals defense ranked second in yards per pass play allowed.

    Running back Aaron Jones is Green Bay's second most prolific pass-catcher behind Davante Adams with 26 receptions. He may need to take on more of the receiving workload this week, though the Packers are hoping Marquez Valdes-Scantling can return from a hamstring injury and provide a spark with his downfield speed.

    However, Valdes-Scantling's burn percentage of 43.8 from 16 targets so far this season indicates he may find it tough to lift a depleted group. Yet, regardless of whether it comes from Valdes-Scantling, Jones or tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis, Green Bay will likely require a significant contribution from an unlikely source to keep pace with a passing attack that is loaded by comparison.

    Deck stacked for MVP contender Murray

    Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is firmly in the MVP race and, while that is in large part down to his own remarkable accuracy – 83.3 per cent of his attempts have been well thrown, the best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts – and playmaking ability, a lot of credit has to be attributed to the stellar performances of several receivers.

    Three-time first-team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins has unsurprisingly hit the ground running in 2021, posting a burn percentage of 80, the highest ratio among receivers with a minimum of 25 targets, and producing a big play on 45.7 per cent of his targets.

    Christian Kirk, with a burn percentage of 75 and a big play rate of 38.8 per cent, is not far behind while veteran A.J. Green (35.6 per cent big play rate) has been unexpectedly rejuvenated after trading Cincinnati for Arizona.

    The X-factor, however, is rookie Rondale Moore, whose speed out of the backfield has added another dimension to Kliff Kingsbury's offense.

    Moore's average depth of target is just 2.3 yards, the lowest in the NFL (min. 10 targets), yet Moore is averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, above the average of 2.5, illustrating his effectiveness in the quick game with his ability to beat defenders with both speed and elusiveness.

    His presence has allowed Kingsbury to get more creative in the deployment of his offensive personnel, using the threat of Murray and Moore as runners to his significant advantage.

    That particular string is not one the Packers have in their bow and, despite an impressive performance against the Washington Football Team in Week 7, their defense appears ill-equipped to deal with an offense that also saw tight end Zach Ertz score on his debut last week.

    No case for Green Bay’s defense

    The numbers for the Packers on the defensive side of the ball are impressive in terms of limiting the efficiency of their opponents.

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    Only six interior defensive linemen have defeated a blocker on a pressure more often than Kenny Clark (22), but the Packers' defensive tackle is lacking support off the edge, with Za'Darius Smith a long-term absentee following back surgery and Preston Smith questionable for Thursday due to an oblique issue.

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    The Packers do not have the resources up front to make his performance under duress drastically worse nor do they have the resources in the defensive backfield to keep all the Cardinals' weapons under wraps.

    With their own offensive arsenal severely reduced, it may take a vintage Rodgers performance of the highest order for the Packers to avoid enduring another frightful experience in Arizona.

  • Koeman sacked by Barcelona: Messi's departure, Clasico woes and a Copa triumph – the highs and lows Koeman sacked by Barcelona: Messi's departure, Clasico woes and a Copa triumph – the highs and lows

    Ronald Koeman's 14-month spell in charge of Barcelona came to an end on Wednesday following another humbling defeat.

    Barca fell 1-0 at Rayo Vallecano, fresh on the back of losing to fierce rivals Real Madrid, and find themselves ninth in LaLiga with 10 games played. 

    The Dutchman departs Camp Nou with a win percentage of 58.21 across a 67-game tenure that provided more negatives than positives.

    Here, Stats Perform picks out a few of the highs and lows from Koeman's reign, which coincided with the most difficult off-field period in the club's history.

    MESSI'S DEPARTURE

    When looking backing on Koeman's time at Barcelona in years to come, it will be best remembered as the period in which the Blaugrana were having to adapt to life without all-time leading goalscorer Lionel Messi.

    Years of financial mismanagement predating Koeman's arrival in August 2020 meant Barca were unable to tie Messi down to a new deal and he left for Paris Saint-Germain shortly before the start of the 2021-22 campaign.

    Sergio Aguero arrived but it was always going to take considerable time to replace a player that had scored 672 goals and provided 265 assists across 778 games. So it proved, with Barca's goalscoring problems laid bare this term.

    CLASSICO WOES

    While the loss to Rayo proved to be the final straw for Koeman, there had been growing talk that he would be on his way out regardless following Sunday's 2-1 Clasico defeat to Madrid.

    Barca simply failed to turn up against their biggest rivals – and not for the first time given it was their fourth successive loss to Madrid in all competitions, making it their worst such run in the fixture since 1965.

    Koeman is only the second manager in LaLiga history to lose his first three Clasicos, after Patrick O'Connell between 1935 and 1940, and that latest loss was not taken well by Barca supporters. The former Netherlands boss had his car mobbed by a crowd of disgruntled fans as he attempted to depart Camp Nou.

    EUROPEAN HUMBLINGS

    Barca's on-field struggles were not limited to LaLiga, either, as they made a historically bad start to this season's Champions League campaign with 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

    Never before had they lost their opening two games in the competition and, while they did just about recover with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev last time out, whoever succeeds Koeman still has plenty of work on their hands to advance from the group.

    Indeed, before that win over Dynamo, Barca had lost four and drawn one of their last five games in the Champions League, having also lost to Juventus in the final game of their group campaign last term before losing to PSG over two legs in the last 16.

    COPA TRIUMPH EASES PAIN 

    Exiting the Champions League in the first knockout round last season was one of a number of disappointments for Barca in their only full season under Koeman.

    Barca finished the LaLiga season in third, seven points behind champions Atletico Madrid, and also lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana in dramatic circumstances.

    But Koeman did win one trophy at Camp Nou thanks to success in the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. After overturning a two-goal first-leg deficit against Sevilla in the semi-finals, Barca exacted revenge on Bilbao in the final with a 4-0 win.

    That made ex-Valencia head coach Koeman the second manager after Luis Enrique to win his first two Copa del Rey finals this century.

     

    A NEW DAWN

    Koeman will rightly point out that he had to operate with one hand tied behind his back due to Barca's financial difficulties, with Antoine Griezmann following Messi out of the door in the most recent transfer window.

    Barcelona's squad became substantially weaker as a result, though it did at least present a chance to bring in some new blood. Koeman has brought the average age of the side down to 25.5, ranking Barca as the third-youngest team in LaLiga this season.

    Ansu Fati's development may have been stunted by knee injury issues, which again kept him out of the Rayo loss, but the club's new number 10 has been given a firm footing to potentially succeed all-time great Messi as the face of Barca going forward.

    Pedri and Gavi have also made a big impact under Koeman, the latter overtaking his team-mate to become the youngest player to start an El Clasico this century last weekend at the age of 17 years and 80 days. 

    It will be those players, and not Koeman, who will attempt to return the club to former glories.

  • Koeman sacked by Barcelona: The numbers behind the Dutchman's doomed tenure Koeman sacked by Barcelona: The numbers behind the Dutchman's doomed tenure

    Ronald Koeman has been sacked as head coach of Barcelona following a poor start to the season. 

    A 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday proved too much for the Camp Nou hierarchy, who pulled the trigger on Koeman's time with the club.

    The Dutchman was brought in to replace Quique Setien in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, although they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao. 

    The hope was that Koeman could steady the ship in the face of the various financial challenges that were affecting incomings and outgoings at Barca, but after winning just 39 of his 67 games in charge, the former Southampton, Everton and Netherlands boss was relieved of his duties.

    A total of 12 draws and 16 defeats during Koeman’s 14-months at the club, with 138 goals for and 75 against, was ultimately not good enough, but was it all bad? Stats Perform takes a closer look at the numbers behind his reign.

     

    Worst record post-Pep

    Of all the coaches to take charge at the club since the departure of Pep Guardiola in 2012, Koeman had the lowest win percentage (58.2 per cent), with the next lowest being his predecessor Setien (64 per cent), who himself only lasted 25 games in the hot seat.

    Koeman is also the only Barca boss to average fewer than two points per game in LaLiga (1.96 PPG), again comfortably behind the next worst in Setien (2.21 PPG).

    There was also an undoubted, yet somewhat understandable over-reliance on Lionel Messi. The club's greatest ever player shocked the world when he left for Paris Saint Germain in the summer, but it was no shock to discover that prior to his departure, he had been holding the team up almost single-handedly.

    Despite leaving in the summer, Messi has still scored almost twice as many goals as any other Barca player during Koeman’s time as boss (38), has created more chances than anyone else (117), has taken more than twice as many shots as anyone else (271) and is still joint-second in assists (12), behind only Jordi Alba (15).

    This season, Barcelona have begun a LaLiga campaign without a win in their first four away games for the first time since 1991-92 – when Johan Cruyff was in charge. They have also failed to score in three consecutive league away games for the first time since February 2003.

    They were unable to hit the target in the first half against Real Madrid or Rayo Vallecano, which is just the second time in the last 19 LaLiga seasons they have done so in consecutive games.

    During Koeman's reign, Barca dropped 12 points from winning position in LaLiga – only Frank Rijkaard (29) and Ernesto Valverde (26) had poorer records in that regard.

    3 - Barcelona are winless in their last four away trips in LaLiga (D2 L2), failing to score in the last three - they have failed to score in three league away games for the first time since since February 2003 (3). Run. pic.twitter.com/cd1Q8QWz7f

    — OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 27, 2021

     

    Did anything go right?

    Well, his team did gain 24 points from losing positions in LaLiga – only Valverde (48) and Rijkaard (43) won more.

    While reliance on Messi last season was clear, Barca actually coped well on the rare occasions they were without their talismanic figure. 

    In the 45 games with the Argentine in all competitions, they had a win percentage of 60 per cent (27), averaged 2.2 goals for, and 1.2 goals against per game. In the nine games without the superstar, their win percentage was 77.80 per cent (seven), with an average of 2.4 goals for and 0.7 goals against.

    While his hand may have been forced, Koeman has also given plenty of chances to promising stars of Barcelona's future, in particular overseeing the emergence of Pedri.

    The 18-year-old wonderkid was the fourth most used player in Koeman's tenure, playing 56 games, behind only Sergio Busquets (63), Frenkie De Jong (62) and Jordi Alba (57). The former Las Palmas midfielder has clearly benefited from such faith, now starring for both club and country.

    Ansu Fati has played significantly fewer games under Koeman (16) but this is mostly due to injury, and would no doubt have featured more otherwise, while Gavi looks to be following in Pedri's footsteps after being given 11 opportunities by Koeman, already earning his first caps for Spain as a result. He is the youngest player to play for the country, and became the youngest Clasico starter since the turn of the century when he was named in the Barca XI on Sunday, for a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

    There have certainly been promising signs, but whoever comes in next at the Camp Nou will be hoping that the numbers will all start going in the right direction, and soon.

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