Mythbusting: MNF, Jamie Carragher and Mesut Özil

A couple of weeks ago, before Arsenal played Manchester City, I watched Monday Night Football. Generally, I enjoy Sky’s coverage; however on this occasion I couldn’t help but take issue with a couple of the things Jamie Carragher said about Mesut Özil and David Silva.

If you have access to a recording of that episode, the section in question begins about 7 minutes in. I’ll try to keep this brief but the points I think are contentious and/or demonstrably wrong are outlined below with the times at which he said them:

  • Jamie Carragher attributes the criticism over Özil (as opposed to Silva’s praise) was because Silva “has done it since day one” while Özil has not (~7 minutes 26 secs).
  • Carragher says that “virtually [Mesut Özil and Silva are] identical, right through the statistics” (~ 7:41). He states that this season, Özil “is at the level of David Silva, but David Silva has been doing it for 4 or 5 years”.
  • Carragher finishes by getting to the core of the issue: “Mesut Özil turns games; [pauses for effect] David Silva runs games”. (~ 7:55)
  • He follows this up with some highlights of David Silva and some vague comments about “involvement” and pre-assists (the pass before an assist).

So how do these points stack up with the available evidence?

1. Silva “has done it since day one” while Özil has not.

Unhelpfully here (and in typical pundit fashion), Carragher doesn’t strictly define what he means by ‘doing it’. However, it’s pretty safe to say that he is referring to Özil’s production on the pitch. There are many ways to measure this, but, we’re going to keep it simple and use chance creation (shot assists and goal assists).

Chance creation is chosen for two reasons. Firstly, it’s generally a good indicator of creative talent. Players like Mesut Ozil and David Silva are signed specifically to get the ball into dangerous areas, and chance creation is a metric that measures this pretty well. The second reason is that this metric appears in a graphic used by MNF themselves (see below, under point 2), so they’ve clearly understood to some degree the significance of it, too.

The following chart shows the rolling 19-game average chances created per 90 minutes played in Premier League games leading up to the one in question:


Immediately we can see the issues with Carragher’s assertion.

  • Since arriving in England, Özil’s output has been more or less at or above the level of David Silva.
  • David Silva’s minimum output over the past few seasons is actually less than Özil’s.
  • So if Silva has been ‘doing it’ since day one without dropping off, so has Özil.

2. “Virtually [Mesut Özil and Silva are] identical, right through the statistics”

Again, Carragher’s not specific about the statistics to which he refers. However, Sky Sports helpfully provided a graphic as he was saying this, so we’re going to take the pretty safe assumption that these are the stats about which he is talking.

Source: Sky Sports 1, Monday Night Football

Now for the numbers which don’t matter so much (passes, pass accuracy, and raw touches), they are more or less the same. However, for chances created, Özil’s 4.5 per 90 is quite a bit higher than Silva’s 3.2. I mean, you could maybe try to make the argument that it’s not a significant difference, but that’s 40% more, and you’d be wrong.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at the distribution of chance creation numbers in the Premier League (midfielders who’ve played more than 900 minutes in the respective season).

The x-axis shows the chances created per 90 minutes played, while the y-axis shows the proportion of players who have achieved that number. For instance, we can see that most players create between 0.5 and 2 chances per 90.


Silva’s 2015/16 total is very good. Very few players can achieve 3.2 chances created per 90 minutes played. But Özil? He’s basically off the charts.

So no, they’re not virtually identical.

3. “Mesut Özil turns games; David Silva runs games”.

I’ll be honest, I’m not actually sure what “running a game” really is. Feel free to disagree with me, or let me know what I’m missing (honestly), but to me it’s one of those platitudes that sounds reasonable when you first hear it, but gets less and less meaningful as you examine it.

If a coach told a player, they needed to ‘run the game’. What specifically would they need to do more of?

Is it getting on the ball more? Passing more? Well, as Sky Sports’ own graphic (above) suggests, they both do this in equal measure (touches and passes), so either Jamie’s just contradicted himself or it’s not that.

Even with a clear definition in mind, is one demonstrably better than the other? I’m not so sure. At the very least, Carragher doesn’t, in my mind, explain adequately why would make Silva is better than Özil.

There are many different ways to contribute towards the team on a football pitch. Different teams require different roles and it may well be that Özil is more valuable to this Arsenal side by ‘turning’ games than ‘running’ them.

Moreover, just because one player is more obviously contributing in one way, does not mean another player’s different role is having a lower net effect on the team’s performance and overall success.

For instance, if a striker consistently scored 3 unassisted goals a game and did nothing else, we would hardly criticise them for not ‘running’ the game.

In fact, there is an algorithm developed to try and tease out a player’s overall impact on games beyond metrics like goals and assists: the excellent and aptly named GoalImpact. In this metric, Özil also comes out above David Silva.

Maybe I’m being harsh, here. However, without clearly explaining first what he means by ‘running’ a game and second why that’s superior to ‘turning’ games, it’s difficult for Carragher’s argument to hold much weight.

4. “Involvement” and pre-assists

This last point was somewhat rebutted by Thierry Henry on the show. A player doesn’t need to get on the ball to influence the game and create space and opportunities for others.

In short, Özil is, was, and will continue to be, great

The media narrative surrounding Özil has somehow managed to become “he used to be bad, now he’d good”. But this is wrong. While his raw output has increased this term, Özil has been performing to a high standard since he arrived in England. Unfortunately, well respected journalists and media analysts like Jamie Carragher have bought into it. Of course, I don’t mean to pick on Carragher. I’m only writing this response because of the usual high standard of his work. Nonetheless, Mesut Özil has been an elite footballer for a while.

It’s almost like he ran Real Madrid’s attack at 21.


22 thoughts on “Mythbusting: MNF, Jamie Carragher and Mesut Özil

  1. This is great, very well written and thought out. There’s been something annoying me about the comments he put forth that night, and I had pretty much assumed it was because there was absolutely no substance to it, so thanks for proving me right. Hope Carragher reads it! He might benefit from a long, hard look at the facts.


  2. Very good piece. Well written and structured. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I feel with Özil the general media find it difficult to fully praise him as the narrative of him playing quite poorly is ingrained in their opinion of him. That’s just my two cents! Anyway do not hesitate to put forward your thoughts on Özil, Arsenal or football in general. Thanks!


  3. I love Özil (and enjoyed this article) but I do agree that Silva got off to a better start in the Premier League. There’s an argument to be made that this is because he has had more clinical strikers to work with than Mesut.

    The press was on Özil’s back from the start because he was the first big money buy Wenger had in years. It would have suited the press for Arsene to fail (more headlines, call-ins etc, just look at Van Gaal atm) when he started spending big again but thankfully it didn’t happen. Despite their insistence that Özil was a luxury he did have a big impact on the team and gave us belief, which Sanchez further built on the year after. However, he was not as brilliant as Silva was in his first Premier League season.

    On a positive note I think Özil can keep improving, and is currently the best player in the prem. He doesn’t have the same ceiling as Silva. In my opinion, he’s better. If anything Özil’s rival at City over the next few years will be De Bruyne, who looks like an incredible player on his return to England.


  4. Its a good article but I do believe that it does miss a certain point made by Jamie. The main difference between Silva and Ozil is that the latter needs a team to work around him while Silva can do a hell of a lot more with just getting the ball at his feet. Don’t get me wrong I do think that Mesut’s ability to see the game 3 or 4 moves ahead makes him better than David Silva but it is undeniable that the german lacks composure on the ball and speed to turn defenders (like we saw from DiMaria) – in short while Silva is creating space for himself to operate Mesut needs others to do that for him. That’s why putting Santi behind Mesut to dictate pace while Mesut dictates play is such a brilliant move.

    If you disagree we just need to look at Real Madrid situation. What was Mou’s biggest problem in big games? Getting the ball to Ozil. Why? Cuz you cannot just pass it to him and rely on him to make enough space for himself to operate in – no those passes are wasted since he tends to lose the ball or slow an attack doing that (he is just not good enough in that aspect). So Mou semi solved that involving wingers as primar target for Xabi Alonso who than involved Mesut. And exactly the same showed in 2 games where opponent man marked the german and made various tactical adjustment to cut off the Ramsey-Ozil supply line (ofc those 2 games are vs Newcastle and Soton).


    1. “The main difference between Silva and Ozil is that the latter needs a team to work around him while Silva can do a hell of a lot more with just getting the ball at his feet.”

      Thats bunk. This Arsenal attack is in disarray and yet Ozil has still performed. The Tottenham match is the best example of that.

      ” in short while Silva is creating space for himself to operate Mesut needs others to do that for him. ”
      Ozil is one of the best in the world at creating space for himself. You have to watch him to see it.

      Also, what team looks good in attack with a bad central midfield?


  5. One word awesome!
    If I had to pay to read this I’d have been thoroughly satisfied because the qualify of this post would have been value for money.
    Özil has been awesome from day one. He took his time to adjust to the league while maintaining a good level of productivity. He’s by far the best player in the league right now.
    Thanks for this post. Please post more like this, it was really a good read.


  6. Ozil makes it look easy and with little effort, and so the paper’s get on his back and remember they called him lazy. We have a world class player and I don’t give a damn what other’s have to say as you only have to be at a game or watch on TV to see the thing’s that he does of the ball as well as on. Why does he get slated? My view is because he is an Arsenal player end of.


  7. Freaking amazing
    We are witnessing the biggest jealousy of the history
    British media hates oil and arseNE wenger

    Day and nite they pray for arsenals defeat


  8. You’ve got some great points there. But I disagree on the Turning games vs running games point. This might be a bit long.
    So basically in his first season, Ozil was spectacular right upto Theo getting injured. After that injury his game was down slightly as the only player he was combining brilliantly was Rambo. The reason was our forward line was all slow players who don’t run in behind. That role was completely done by one man, Ramsey, who then injured his thigh. After that Ozil’s performances could be called poor, foolishly.
    The beginning of the next season he got injured. After his return he’s been on fire, much to the media’s angst. A huge factor since his return was Santi and Coq (to a much lesser impact) playing behind him. Now he could just drift into a dangerous area and expect Santi to find him in space, then look up and see Sanchez, Ramsey and often Theo too, to pick a glorious pass and contribute.
    Silva, on the other hand always had freaks like Aguero, Yaya etc playing with him. He was never short of options.
    Now coming to the point of running v turning, Silva is a player who likes to drop deep, combine with everyone and contribute in bringing the ball from midfield to the last 1/3rd. He asks for the ball and is the chief prober in looking for a goal.
    Ozil on the other hand plays the pass, moves out wide, or runs inside the box and tries to fashion an opening for himself, or for a mate. He also doesn’t need to drop as deep as Silva as we have a spectacular player in Cazorla to set the tempo in midfield.
    Silva is also the only high quality creative player in the City squad other than Yaya. Ozil is in a team riddled with creativity.
    In my opinion, this makes Ozil superior to Silva, he obviously has the ability to pick the most astounding pass, like Silva, and he can help the other creative players like Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey, Alexis and even Giroud by making space for them and giving them an option with his insanely good off the ball movement.
    And it’s wrong to compare the 2 in terms of goal output as Silva plays with Aguero and Yaya who can destroy teams, Ozil plays with limited players like Theo, Giroud. Yet Ozil’s output is at least as Silva’s level. Which again makes Ozil a superior player.


  9. Nice story.
    especially in oezil turna games and silva runs games..hmm,maybe in City there is a Yaya Toure,who often make a different,more than my views..

    i hope someday oezil can be a finalist of the world’s best footballer


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