If the stats are telling the truth, our midfield woes may already be over (for the time being) and we could be in the finals race (September included) up to our elbows.
See below, particularly the stats for the last five matches (the last 6 lines of the article).
The midfield changes making Essendon go from good to a genuine finals threat
Riley Beveridge, FOX SPORTS
July 18, 2017 11:53am
THE bookends were keeping Essendon’s season alive.
But now the midfield has made the Bombers a genuine finals threat.
Having endured an indifferent first half of the season, tweaks to Essendon’s on-ball group has revitalised the team and sparked life into its charge towards September.
John Worsfold has trialled new personnel through the midfield and has given opposition teams different looks at centre bounces, making the Bombers more potent going forward.
The results were evident in a 37-point victory over Collingwood a fortnight ago and perhaps even more so in a 61-point win over the in-form St Kilda on Friday night.
And while defeats to Sydney and Brisbane were blips in a promising five-week stretch, they were games the Bombers could — and perhaps should — have won easily.
Since the side’s Round 12 victory over Port Adelaide, Essendon’s numbers in the mid-zone of the field have improved out of sight — helping the side return to finals contention.
They’re now a top five team for contested possession and clearance differential across that period, helping their inside 50 differential rise significantly over the last five games.
In fact, Essendon is now creating, on average, 22 more inside 50 entries per week over the last five matches compared to its first 11 games — an incredible turnaround.
Given the form of key forwards Joe Daniher, James Stewart and Cale Hooker — combined with the threat of the side’s smaller forwards — more looks therefore means more potency.
As a result, a forward group which was already firing — averaging 92 points per game in the first 11 weeks — has gotten better and is now averaging 107 points per game over the last five.
“The first 11 weeks of the year, they were really good in their back 50 and really good in their forward 50, but they were really poor in the mid-zone,” David King said on Fox Footy.
“When you talk about opportunities, the gap between inside 50s then and now is about 20-odd more a game. That is a huge number. And it gives the forward 50 far more opportunity.”
Zippy forwards Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Orazio Fantasia have both been given more stints pinch-hitting through the midfield, adding speed and a new dimension to the on-ball group.
However, perhaps the most significant move in terms of personnel has been the decision to switch David Zaharakis from a role solely on the wing to one as a pure midfielder.
“He’s almost been one of the linchpins for their improvement,” Gerard Healy said on Fox Footy’s On The Couch.
“His run through the middle of the ground, when perhaps he was playing too much on the wing, has seen his numbers change enormously through this five-week period.
“His whole impact on games has been superb.”
Zaharakis’ numbers have risen significantly over the last five weeks, making him a damaging prospect for opposition coaches who already have their hands full when facing the Dons.
He is averaging 28.2 disposals per game in that five-week period (+5.7 per game from the first 11 weeks), 464 metres gained (+140m) and 10.2 score involvements (+5.4).
Winning the majority of his footy on the outside, Zaharakis has also proved the perfect man to complement the team’s contested winners like Dyson Heppell, Jobe Watson and Zach Merrett.
However, such a role makes him the easiest to tag — a facet of the game triple premiership winner Jonathan Brown believes he will be forced to deal with in the coming weeks.
“He has to be sat on — the opposition has to set a tagger on him,” Brown said.
“But you can keep moving him around. You start him inside. But one of the strengths of Essendon’s game over the last few weeks is that they’ve started to put some speedy players in the centre square. So you can get him on the wing or get him at half forward.”
As noted by Brown, the sheer weight of numbers Worsfold can now rotate through the midfield gives the side flexibility — a key element heading into September.
And that’s perhaps where they will be playing in just over a month’s time.
A game behind Sydney, Melbourne, West Coast and St Kilda, Essendon is right in the finals mix and has a percentage (108.5 per cent) that is greater than three of the four sides above them.
Given a 2016 season where a depleted Bombers outfit finished on the bottom of the ladder, the team also has a favourable run-in to end the season.
The play just one side above them on the ladder in the final six weeks (Adelaide at Etihad Stadium in Round 21), with only one interstate trip (Gold Coast in Round 22) on the calendar.
This, factored with the side’s new-found form, puts them in a position of power heading into the latter stages of the season — and makes them a genuine threat come finals time.
ESSENDON’S MID-ZONE DIFFERENTIALS
Contested Possession Differential: -11 (17th)
Clearance Differential: -6 (18th)
Inside 50 Differential: -12 (17th)
Pts For: 92 (7th)
Pts Against: 96 (14th)
Contested Possession Differential: +6 (5th)
Clearance Differential: +3 (5th)
Inside 50 Differential: +10 (2nd)
Pts For: 107 (1st)
Pts Against: 75 (3rd)
*Courtesy of Champion Data
Originally published as How Dons went from good to genuine threat