Range of passing
The most impressive aspect of Irving’s game is undoubtedly his passing. Last season he had the second-most passes per 90 out of all his Hearts team-mates. What makes him stand out from the rest though is how frequently he looks to get Hearts on the front foot by playing progressive passes, as well as his influence in the final third. The graph below shows all Hearts players who have played over 1000 minutes this season and their statistics for progressive passes per 90 and final third per 90.
As we can see from the above image, Irving is clearly ahead of his teammates in terms of the statistics we are analysing. It’s one thing to stand out amongst your fellow teammates but how does Irving rate amongst all midfielders in the Scottish Premiership who have featured for 1000 or more minutes this season for the same data set.
Once again, the ‘Portobello Pirlo’ impresses. This is despite a few players from Rangers and Celtic making more final third passes than he does. Nobody makes more progressive passes than the 20-year-old. This is even more impressive when factoring in that Celtic and Rangers are clearly the best two teams in the league and have scored 153 goals between them this season, Hearts have scored just 31. The relevance to the data above is that as a team Celtic and Rangers make more progressive passes than Hearts do, so to see Irving being the most progressive passer in the league speaks volumes about his ability. Let us look at some examples from the Greenock Morton match.
One of the most important principles of football is moving the ball forward. As an invasion sport, the eventual aim of any play is to reach the opposition’s end of the pitch and score. With the rise of ever more advanced pressing and counter-pressing schemes, it is increasingly difficult to do this. Hearts, in particular, have had difficulties in doing so with the chance creation out wide from Ginnelly. The fact is that with these vertical passes, Irving can break one/two lines of opposition pressure instantly and progresses play forwards and deep into Morton’s defensive block.
Hearts in the Championship almost on a weekly basis face opposition who look to sit in a deep compact block and frustrate them. The build-up play from Hearts recently, especially without Winger Ginnelly to stretch and penetrate the opposition has become problematic. Irving is a player with the characteristics to break down and control matches in these situations. With the quality, vision and execution that he has, there cannot be any justification for leaving him out of the starting lineup in my opinion. He showed he was one of the best orchestrating attacks from deep in the SPFL last season. He, given the opportunity, will demonstrate that again in the Championship. It would be really interesting to see Irving alongside Peter Haring in the heart of midfield for the Jambos.
Stats Credit: Modern Fitba