Alan Biggs Sheffield United column: Statistics reveal Clarke’s true worth to Blades

Leon Clarke of Sheffield United during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane Stadium, Sheffield. Picture date 18th August 2018. Picture credit should read: James Wilson/Sportimage
Leon Clarke of Sheffield United during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane Stadium, Sheffield. Picture date 18th August 2018. Picture credit should read: James Wilson/Sportimage

Leon Clarke – and why the numbers add up even when he’s not scoring. While most of the focus has been on the big fat zero beside the name of last season’s top Sheffield United marksman, students of the game have been looking elsewhere.

Did you know, for instance, that Clarke is among United’s top ball-winners in the opposition half?

Certainly, I had no idea until chatting the other day with a performance analyst who makes a compelling social media study of his favourite team.

Well, so what then?

Clarke’s in the side to lead the front line and score goals, the second part of which he has failed to do in the first six games of this campaign. But the key stats suggest two things; that the goals will start flowing soon and that the 33-year-old contributes big time to the Blades whether he’s hitting the target or not.

This is where the evidence of our eyes can leave a false impression.

The enduring images are of Clarke missing chances – there have been a few. What he does generally for the team has not been acknowledged except by the manager.

For me, the eye-opener came not only from Chris Wilder’s appreciative comments but from the man behind twitter account @Blades_analytic , James Socik, who has gathered a large following in a short time of statistically analysing team and individual performances.

The sometimes languid-looking Clarke has his critics, not least because of a long list of clubs that suggest to some that his 19 goals of last season was a freak occurrence and that he is something of a travelling maverick.

In that case, says James Socik: “The eyes deceive. Leon works extremely hard.

“I see this ‘lazy’ tag . . . well, his tackles and interceptions in the opposition half are higher than for most of our players.”

The Blades Analytic stats also show that Clarke “scored more goals than he should have done” last season, based on the number and quality of his chances. In short, he struck from low percentage positions on many occasions.

This season? “He’s in the top ten in the Championship for players who should have scored more goals.” Bad? Well, good in that he’s taking up the right positions and, James points out, “is a streaky” scorer who plunders goals in batches and is likely to go on a run anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Billy Sharp’s percentage conversion ratio has been phenomenal so far. Maybe United’s most natural scorer was a touch under-used in last season’s run-in, which is being wise after the event.

What isn’t in doubt is that, whether or not United beat the weekend deadline for another striker, the status quo have a big part to play. And Wilder will hope Clarke overcomes a hamstring tweak in order to face Aston Villa on Saturday.