Pogacar the youngest winner in 116 years – The Tour de France in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk September 21, 2020

Tadej Pogacar became Slovenia's first-ever winner of the Tour de France on Sunday, but that was just the tip of the iceberg with respect to the young rider's achievements in the 107th edition of the race.

Pogacar thrillingly overhauled fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic in Saturday's individual time trial to head into the final, largely ceremonial stage in the French capital on Sunday wearing the famous yellow.

He also claimed the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey and white jersey for the best rider aged 25 or under, as the UAE Team Emirates rider produced a memorable performance across the three-week race, which began in Nice on August 29.

But, while Pogacar was ultimately the star of the show, Roglic once again showed his quality, Sam Bennett did Republic of Ireland proud to fittingly claim the green jersey, while Australia's Richie Porte became only the second Aussie to finish on the podium at a Grand Tour.

As the dust settles on a gruelling and engrossing Tour de France, we look at the Opta numbers behind the 2020 edition…

Prodigious – Pogacar is the youngest winner of the Tour de France (21 years and 365 days) since Henri Cornet in 1904 (19 years and 352 days), 116 years ago.

Debut – Pogacar became the first rider to win the Tour de France in his maiden appearance since Laurent Fignon in 1983.

King – The Slovenian is also only the second rider to win the General Classification and two more standings (King of the Mountains and best young rider) in a single Tour de France. Eddy Merckx accomplished the feat in 1969, 1970 and 1972.

Pipped – Pogacar's victory was made all the more dramatic by Saturday's events, and as such, he is the first rider to win the Tour de France in the last two stages since Cadel Evans, who took the yellow jersey from Andy Schleck on the penultimate stage in 2011.

National service – Roglic and Pogacar are the first two riders of the same nationality to finish first and second in the Tour de France since Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in 2012.

Four-ce to be reckoned with – Roglic hasn’t ranked outside the top four in any of the 12 stage races he has completed since April 2018, winning eight of them.

Emulating – Porte is the second Australian rider to reach the podium in a Grand Tour. Only Evans has done so before (three in the Tour de France, one in the Giro d'Italia and one in the Vuelta a Espana).

Bern out – Egan Bernal is the first Tour de France winner (2019) to abandon the race in the following season since Chris Froome. After winning in 2013, he failed to finish in 2014.

Rub of the green – Bennett is the second Irishman to win the points ranking in the Tour de France after Sean Kelly (1982, 1983, 1985 and 1989).

A first to forget – This is the first time Peter Sagan has completed the Tour de France failing to win the Points Classification. He had won it in seven of the past eight editions and no other rider has claimed this title more times in the history of the race.

Nairo struggles – Excluding abandonments, this is the worst Nairo Quintana result (17th) in one of the three Grand Tours since his first appearance in La Vuelta 2012 (36th).

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    As we head into the decisive matchdays in the Premier League season, match-winners will become worth their weight in gold to all 20 sides in the division.

    With that in mind, our latest suggestions for fantasy football enthusiasts include a good number of forwards who will be expected to chip in with goals.

    There are also two of the league's most in-form defenders and a goalkeeper who might just have won himself the number one spot.

    Our tips for this week – powered by Opta, as always – are below...
     

    DEAN HENDERSON

    Since taking over Premier League duties while David de Gea was in Spain for the birth of his daughter, Dean Henderson has made it clear he does not intend to relinquish the Manchester United starting spot.

    The former Sheffield United loanee has the best save percentage (82.4) in the competition this season, while he has conceded just 0.6 goals per game on average – the best rate of any keeper to play at least 200 minutes.

    Henderson will likely keep his spot for the trip to Aston Villa, a team who have beaten United just once in their previous 44 Premier League meetings.

    BEN CHILWELL

    Fresh from celebrating reaching the Champions League final, Ben Chilwell will be looking to keep up his strong league form for Chelsea.

    The left-back has been directly involved in seven goals this season (two scored, five assisted) – no defender in the competition has been involved in more.

    Expect him to provide his customary threat on the break when Chelsea take on Manchester City.

    AARON WAN-BISSAKA

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer challenged Aaron Wan-Bissaka to improve his attacking output, and the tough-tackling right-back appears to have heeded the call.

    Three of his four goal involvements (75 per cent) and 21 of his 26 chances created (81 per cent) have come since the turn of the year.

    The United man also boasts 13 Premier League clean sheets this season; among defenders, he is behind only Ruben Dias and Matt Targett (14).

    MOHAMED SALAH

    Liverpool might have struggled for consistency this season, but Mohamed Salah's goal output has remained impressively high; he has 20 in the league, behind only Harry Kane (21).

    On Saturday, he will meet some of his favourite opposition in Southampton, a team against whom he has scored seven goals in seven league appearances, including five in three at Anfield.

    Saints have also lost their past three league games away to Liverpool by an aggregate score of 10-0.

    GARETH BALE

    With a hat-trick against relegated Sheffield United, Gareth Bale proved he could still be a vital asset in Tottenham's European chase.

    Bale has scored nine goals in 727 minutes in the division this season, averaging a goal every 81 minutes, which is the best record in the competition in 2020-21.

    Should he take his tally to 10 against Leeds United, Bale will set a new record for the longest gap between 10-goal seasons in Premier League history (eight), overtaking Paul Scholes and Nwankwo Kanu (seven).

    MASON GREENWOOD

    Mason Greenwood has recaptured some of his better form in recent weeks to help United... well, if not catch Manchester City, at least consolidate second place.

    The forward has four goals and one assist in his most recent four league games, which is more direct goal involvements than he managed in his previous 28 appearances.

    Solskjaer will likely have to rotate given the hectic week ahead, but expect Greenwood to be involved at Villa Park, even if it's as a substitute.

    KELECHI IHEANACHO

    Speaking of rediscovering form, nobody in the league has done so quite as spectacularly in recent weeks as Kelechi Iheanacho.

    The Leicester City striker has scored nine goals and assisted two in his most recent eight league appearances – that's one more direct goal involvement than he managed in his previous 57 league games.

    The Foxes are also on a run of eight wins in 10 league games against Friday's opponents Newcastle United.

  • Sevilla's unlikely LaLiga title challenge: The key men Sevilla's unlikely LaLiga title challenge: The key men

    When Sevilla defeated Inter in their gripping Europa League final clash last August, there was a sense of deja vu for Los Nervionenses. Not only because they were winning that trophy for the sixth time, but also that talk quickly turned to "the next step".

    Sevilla had been here before: Their back-to-back UEFA Cup successes under Juande Ramos were supposed to transform them into a new power in Spanish football, but it didn't quite happen.

    Then the Europa League three-peat with Unai Emery was supposed to elevate them, but in the 13 months that followed the hat-trick-clinching win over Liverpool, Sevilla lost two coaches (Emery and his popular successor Jorge Sampaoli), revered sporting director Monchi and some of their best players.

    Monchi returned in 2019 following a well-publicised split with Roma, his reputation having taken a significant hit. The damage has been impressively repaired, however, building a Europa League-winning squad straight away and appointing Julen Lopetegui, the man who got them back into the Champions League.

    Looking back, his hiring of Lopetegui was a bold one. Here were two men, both of whom had taken significant flak in their previous jobs, with their own points to prove.

    Regardless of Monday's shock home defeat to Athletic Bilbao, it's arguable that Sevilla have already taken "the next step" that Monchi spoke about 15 months ago. Never before in a 20-team LaLiga season had only three points separated top from fourth with five games to go, yet Sevilla were one of them.

    A draw between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona coupled with a Sevilla win over Real Madrid the following day could yet see Lopetegui's side get themselves back in the hunt for the title. Even if they don't, 2020-21 has proven Monchi still knows how to find a player and a coach.


    Thinking From the Back

    Lopetegui came in with his own ideas. Many Sevilla teams over the past 20 years have been exciting to watch with an attacking brand of football. This team are arguably not one of them.

    The first thing regular watchers of Lopetegui's Sevilla will say when summarising this team's style of play is that they're not exactly LaLiga's great entertainers. In fact, the 34 matches they've played this term have yielded just 76 goals. Only Osasuna, rock-bottom Eibar (both 72) and Getafe (66) have been party to fewer.

     

    Key to this is Sevilla's effective defence, which has conceded only 27 times. Atletico (22) and Real Madrid (24) are the two sides with better records. And looking at expected goals conceded in the table above shows that Sevilla's defence is the most miserly in LaLiga. Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde have proven a hugely successful pairing at the base of the defence for well over a year now, but while it was the Brazilian attracting more of the plaudits last term, it's his young colleague who is capturing the imagination in 2020-21.

    While he may not look it when standing next to the supreme physical specimen that is Diego Carlos, Kounde is an impressive competitor in the air. At just 5-foot-8 he has a great spring and his 93 successful aerial duels is bettered by only three other defenders this term.

    But given Sevilla generally spend more time on the ball than their opponents, it's Kounde's progressiveness in possession that helps him stand out the most. Lopetegui's flexible 4-3-3 formation often morphs into more of a 3-4-3 as Fernando drops back, and this allows Kounde to push out from the back, in what has become a key aspect of their system.

    The Frenchman makes his influence known in two ways. Firstly, he's attempted more forward passes (801) than any other outfield player in LaLiga, and only central midfielder Dani Parejo (624) can better his 623 successful ones.

    This speaks to Kounde's positive nature when in possession and his contribution to Sevilla's attack can be highlighted by our sequences framework. Of all centre-backs in the league, only Clement Lenglet (108) has been involved in more open-play sequences that have resulted in a shot than Kounde's 88. Team-mate Diego Carlos is fourth on the list with 73.

     

    This forward-thinking approach is aided by Kounde's extreme comfort on the ball. His 12 ball carries (dribbling with the ball for five metres or more) followed by a take-on is third best among centre-backs, and just three other central defenders have carried the ball further up-field across the season than him (5,532 metres).

    The confidence of Kounde – and Diego Carlos – on the ball helps explain why Sevilla's 396 pressed sequences against (instances where they have three or fewer passes and the move ends within 40m of their own goal) is the fifth-lowest in LaLiga, while they are the only team not to concede a goal as a result of a high turnover by the opposition.

     

    Sevilla are very effective at playing through a press, best demonstrated by their remarkable 37-pass goal against Valencia in the Copa del Rey in January, and Kounde is essential to that, operating as a kind of defensive playmaker in the backline.

     

    While they managed to keep hold of him despite interest from Manchester City last year, they might struggle to shoo away potential suitors this time around.

    Filling the Void

    The one area where Sevilla have perhaps been weaker in 2020-21 than 2019-20 is in midfield. Losing Ever Banega was always going to be a blow, but replacing him has proven especially difficult.

    Ivan Rakitic received something of a hero's welcome as he returned from Barcelona and, perhaps through nostalgia-tinted glasses, was billed as Banega's initial replacement with Oscar Rodriguez seen as the long-term heir.

    While Oscar has hardly featured, Rakitic has at least been a fairly regular part of the team, often filling the third midfield spot alongside the first-choice pair of Fernando and Joan Jordan.

    But despite his adulation, Rakitic's influence simply hasn't been anything like that of Banega, who offered far more across the board last season than the Croatian has at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in 2020-21.

    Instead, it's been Jordan who has courted praise after kicking on from an encouraging first campaign at the club. The fact he’s now seemingly in the thoughts of Spain coach Luis Enrique speaks volumes about his progression this year.

    A dynamic midfielder, Jordan sets the tempo for Sevilla but also contributes off the ball in a role not too dissimilar to that of Koke at Atletico Madrid, who is only of only six midfielders to have completed more passes than the former Eibar man (2,161).

    His 1.97 tackles per 90 may not be remarkable, but among midfielders with at least 15 appearances, it is above the average of 1.65. Tackle numbers are always likely to be lower for players of teams who tend to see more of the ball anyway, but it proves Jordan is by no means only of use on the ball.

    That is, however, when he's at his most comfortable. Granted, he has on occasion been accused of being a sideways-pass merchant, perhaps explaining why as many as 11 central midfielders have been involved in shot-ending sequences with a better cumulative xG value than Jordan (10.4).

    However, this is likely down to how Sevilla's midfield trio all sit quite deep rather than any inherent lack of creativity. After all, Jordan has played a role in 10 shot-ending sequences where he has both created a chance and been involved in the build-up, behind only Frenkie de Jong, Luka Modric, Pedri and Toni Kroos.

    He may not be the flashiest of midfielders, but Jordan has proven himself effective and clearly has the trust of both Lopetegui and the rest of the squad.

    While replacing Banega will probably be on the agenda for Monchi again at the end of the season, Jordan's shown he could be worth a shot in a more advanced position.


    En-Nesyri Defying the Doubters

    When Sevilla shelled out roughly €20 million in January 2020 on a striker who had scored just 18 LaLiga goals in his first 77 matches, it's fair to say eyebrows were raised.

    Although only 22 at the time, it felt as though Youssef En-Nesyri had already been around for quite a while, but he'd rarely stood out as a particularly outstanding player. Hard-working, sure, but a Champions League-level striker? There were many who had their doubts.

    Rather gangly, just as likely to trip himself up as he was to beat his man, the Moroccan scored four goals in his 18 league appearances last term following his mid-season move and he failed to truly dislodge Luuk de Jong, who was widely derided until his Europa League final heroics.

    But En-Nesyri has proved a lot of people wrong this season, his haul of 17 league goals so far is the same as his total for the previous two campaigns combined.

    Even more impressive is the fact none of them have come from the penalty spot.

     

    He really has led the line in excellent fashion, and his non-penalty xG of 15.1 is the third highest in LaLiga, suggesting he is frequently getting into high-quality scoring locations. When he does get those opportunities, the Sevilla striker is putting them away. Of players to have scored at least 10 goals this season, his 24.3 per cent shot conversion rate is a record that only Marcos Llorente can better.

     

    Playing consistently alongside better players and in a system that seems to accentuate his pace and aerial strength is seemingly paying off. And it's in the air where he really comes into his own, which marries up well with Sevilla's most regular source of chances.

    Jesus Navas may not be to everyone's liking, but he's been reborn as a right-back for Lopetegui, getting himself back into the Spain squad when his career looked to be petering out upon returning from Manchester City in 2017-18.

    Navas has created 59 chances from open play this season – the highest number of any player. Only twice before in La Liga has he managed more over a full season, back in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when he played exclusively as a winger.

    Navas' bombing forward from right-back – aided by Kounde's effective covering behind – is a key facet of Lopetegui's system. He's attempted (160), and completed (52), the most open-play crosses in LaLiga. Similarly, his 32.5 per cent crossing accuracy is better than anyone else to have attempted at least 50.

    This is where En-Nesyri's aerial strength comes in. He's only behind Rafa Mir (13) for headed shots on target, while Karim Benzema (six) is the only player with more headed goals than the Sevilla striker (five).

    It remains to be seen how much more En-Nesyri has to give, and the same can be said generally for Sevilla, with their 1-0 loss to Athletic raising questions of their ability to break down stubborn opposition.

    Ahead of Sunday's trip to Madrid, our AI predictor gives them a minuscule 0.1 per cent chance of upsetting the established order and clinching their first LaLiga title since the 1940s.

    But Madrid aren't going to set themselves up to nullify Sevilla, they need the win too and will surely look to put as much pressure on their visitors as possible.

    But with capable ball players such as Kounde and Jordan in the side looking to break the lines, such a situation could be conducive to giving En-Nesyri, Lucas Ocampos and Papu Gomez space on the break.

    Sevilla couldn't, could they?

  • Barcelona v Atletico Madrid: A LaLiga title rematch seven years in the making Barcelona v Atletico Madrid: A LaLiga title rematch seven years in the making

    So we come to it: the biggest LaLiga game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for seven years.

    Forget the Champions League disappointments, the off-the-field murmurings about money problems and the lingering toxic cloud of the Super League, and get ready for a title showdown.

    League leaders Atletico are two points clear of Real Madrid and Barca with four games to go. If the match produces a winner, that team will have the power to decide their own fate. A draw could be enough for Atleti. A defeat for either may prove fatal to their chances.

    The last time these two teams met this late in the season with the title still on the line for both was on that famous final day in 2013-14, when Atleti went to Camp Nou knowing they would win the league if they did not lose the match. Alexis Sanchez broke the deadlock, Diego Godin equalised, and Atleti were crowned kings of Spain for the first time in 18 years.

    Nothing will be decided this season on Saturday, of course, and as any LaLiga coach will tell the media at any given opportunity, "every game is a final". But this one feels a bit different. With Madrid and fourth-place Sevilla meeting this weekend, too, Barca and Atleti must sense this is a massive chance to get a hand on the trophy.

     

    FORM IS TEMPORARY...

    For the neutral, the fact we even have a title race in early May is something to celebrate. So dominant were Atleti in the first half of the season – 16 wins, two draws and one defeat from their first 19 games – that the rest were struggling to keep up.

    In fact, according to Stats Perform AI, on January 22 Atleti had a 75.1 per cent chance of winning the title based on predicted results, while Barca's chances were just 12.4 per cent. As of April 30, however, that same predictor model gave Atleti a 38 per cent chance of winning the league, with Barca just behind on 32.6.

    While Atleti have won only half of their past 16 league games, Barca have been one of Europe's most in-form sides in 2021, winning all but three of their 19 league matches since the turn of the year – and lifting the Copa del Rey. They have collected 49 points in 2021, the most in the division and eight more than the leaders.

    History is also on their side in this fixture: the 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano in the reverse game, when Yannick Carrasco grabbed a first-half winner, was their only league loss to Atleti in their most recent 21 meetings. They have not lost at home to them since Pepe Murcia's side ran out 3-1 winners in February 2006. Diego Simeone has drawn three and lost five of his league games in charge of Atleti at Camp Nou, making it his least favourite opposition ground as well as the scene of arguably his greatest coaching achievement.

     

    OUTPERFORMING

    This weekend's game is also the meeting of the best defence and attack in the division. Barca have scored 80 league goals, at least 19 more than anyone else, but Atleti have conceded a miserly 22. Attacks win games, defences win titles, as the adage goes.

    Barca have actually faced the fewest shots (280) of any team in LaLiga this season, 40 fewer than Atleti, who are sixth best. However, the Blaugrana have conceded 33 goals from an Expected Goals Against figure of 37.0, whereas Atleti's 22 have come from an xGA of 33.7.

    That highlights perhaps Atleti's greatest asset: based on Expected Goals on Target – an indicator of the quality of shots faced by a goalkeeper – Jan Oblak has prevented 7.1 goals this season, the highest figure in LaLiga. For teams in Europe's top-five leagues, no goalkeeper who has played more than 10 games this season has a better save percentage (79.1) than Atleti's Slovenian sensation.

     

    MESSI V SUAREZ: BEST OF ENEMIES

    Having missed the reverse fixture, this will be the first time Luis Suarez has faced Barca since his rather acrimonious departure at the end of last season. To date, the Uruguay striker – who has 166 career goals in LaLiga – has scored against all 30 of the teams he has faced in Spain's top flight.

    Suarez has been a driving force of Atleti's title charge, even though he has only managed three goals in his most recent 11 games. With 19 goals in 28 league appearances overall in 2020-21, Suarez is averaging 0.79 per 90 minutes. Only one player has a better rate: Lionel Messi (0.92), the top scorer in the league with 28 and perhaps the most in-form player since the turn of the year.

    Since January 1, Messi has scored 21 goals in 18 games, more than anyone else in Europe's top five leagues. Excluding one penalty scored, he has plundered 20 from an xG of just 11, giving him the biggest positive differential for anyone in those top five leagues in 2021. He is a man on a mission – perhaps his final mission for the club, if he doesn't agree to extend his contract.

    Prevailing wisdom would suggest one of these former team-mates will decide this contest and, in turn, the fate of the title race. Barca and Atleti have waited seven years for a battle like this – who will hold their nerve?

     

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