Mourinho’s pragmatism enters stasis

It would be remiss of me not to talk about the ‘title decider’ and although it predictably lacked the wild flair and thrills to match the hype, it nonetheless conjured up some neat points.  Last year, Mourinho was quite fond of reflecting that his side had beaten the two teams above them in the table in all their fixtures and whilst this year he remains undefeated against both Man City and Liverpool, no bragging rights were derived from his team’s tepid display on Saturday evening.

Chelsea had three shots! *blows raspberry*

In fact, shorn of Fabregas and Costa, he was left with the rarely selected Ramires to add to a proliferation of gritty Brazilians in both team’s midfield and a club hopping ex-Newcastle forward up front: Chelsea’s line-up felt distinctly last season.  And their performance was far more reminiscent of that team than the efficient and ruthless unit we’ve witnessed so far this year.

On the flip side, having gained just one point from the matches against Arsenal and Chelsea, Pelligrini can feel a little aggrieved. In both matches City went behind having done little wrong and in both matches they had long spells in which they squeezed and squeezed.  Unfortunately for them, where in the Arsenal match the 20 minutes of constriction was relieved by Giroud’s goal, it followed that Chelsea managed to retain parity; on another day the pressure may have eventually told.  Intriguingly, few were ready to acclaim this as a defensive Mourinho masterclass and his petulant media blank betrayed an intent to bury any in-match storyline and let the maintained 5 point lead drive the headlines.

Of course Mourinho’s pragmatism has been well noted but he appears very conscious of competing well against title rivals. Having spent so long at Madrid, he could hardly not. In fact, chastened by a 0-5 drubbing in the Nou Camp back in 2010-11, his Madrid teams competed well in further Clásico games. Since arriving back at Chelsea though, despite solid results, the performances against City, their obvious title rivals have regressed badly. So much so that in two matches this year against City, Chelsea haven’t even mustered ten shots.  Here’s Mourinho’s title match-up record from the public stat era:

mourinho

So: three shots is bad.  The point gained was good but with no incident to dramatise and his team lacking a praiseworthy hook, it was silence from Jose.

It is strange to think of Chelsea as a side that lack depth, especially when reflecting that they have a second squad of talented and promising players out on loan, but when you dine at the very top table, squad depth can be difficult to maintain. When employing some of the world’s best, their replacements will necessarily be a step behind.  Chelsea bought the right players in the summer, but their retained fitness is paramount for them to maintain their title challenge.

West Ham look horrible in 2015

Much of the weekend had an essence of 2013-14.  The ‘Superior Seven’ (© @SimonGleave) are back!  All the larger clubs won, even Everton, and Man Utd, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool happily dispatched lesser opposition.   The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this means I have now classed Big Sam’s 36-point-gainin’ West Ham in that merry band of inadequates.  I think there’s good reason for this too.  Simple analysis can tell us that they’ve stopped winning frequently: in a shade under two months and 8 games, they’ve beaten Leicester and Hull at home and their schedule hasn’t been too taxing.  They were completely outshot by quickly improving Liverpool and the trends aren’t pretty:

west hamLast season, here on Statsbomb, Ted Knutson noted the ’16 shot principle’ as quick method to identify relegation candidates mid-season (FWIW only Sunderland and nearly QPR are qualifying right now, but shots are down generally).  If we refer back to the chart, we can see that West Ham have been heroically exceeding that mark for some while.  Combining this with a shots for rate that’s heading for the bin and we can now see that all the early season promise was something of a mirage.  So how on earth are they sitting in 8th with all those points? Is the league that bad, or are they just riding some luck?

westhampdo*PDO: essentially the rate in which shots on target are converted added to the rate in which you prevent the opposition converting.  Known to regress over time. High is often thought to represent lucky, low= unlucky.

Well this helps.

Every year there are teams that appear to exceed their talent level and it is often accompanied by a PDO spike.  Newcastle’s 2011-12 5th, Villa’s 09-10 6th and Everton last year all ran high PDOs.  It can contribute to saving truly bad teams too, Stoke 11-12 put up horrible numbers but survived in 14th and er… West Ham last year?  Yep.  Relegation numbers from Big Sam last season yet 13th place powered by a big PDO.  Does lightening strike twice?

I remain sceptical that Allardyce has found the holy grail of stat-based management (Eternally high PDO!) but it is known that he does incorporate some level of analytical thinking in his preparation.  More likely is that these numbers are unsustainable and will come down as the season progresses and West Ham will probably fall back to mid-table.  The near future will test them hardily too: visits to Southampton, Tottenham and Arsenal are imminent and they host Man Utd and Chelsea soon.

I will leave it to Alan Shearer, from last night’s Match of the Day to sum up where West Ham now are:

‘Talk of, perhaps, Champions League football is a bit premature.’

I quite agree, Alan.

Match of the Day 2 does stats

As interest in the numbers of football has increased, we’ve seen a eagerness for news media and television to incorporate statistics to flesh out the storyline of what unfolds.  Monday Night Football does an excellent job of putting together a coherent and multi-faceted analysis of the weekend and has been so successful that there are now Liverpool fans that do not detest Gary Neville, a feat thought quite impossible from his playing days.

Slowly but surely, there is understanding and connections being made by a wider range of football fans.  Shot volumes are important.  Locations of shots are important too, as the widespread criticisms of Balotelli and Townsend testify.  But with the proliferation of statistics comes a knowledge deficit that, in time, will need to be filled.  This exchange, transcribed from Match of the Day 2, (which came after a good non-stat-based sequence from Martin Keown in which he showed how Aston Villa weren’t making positive passing decisions) shows that there is still a large gap between the traditional analysis and a more conjoined, multiply informed view:

Mark Chapman (host):

Do you think that stats are ruining football?  (…) because we are talking about possession (…) pass completion, number of successful passes a side makes but that  (…) means nothing if you’re going sideways and backwards.’

Kevin Kilbane (former player):

”First thing a player looks for on a Monday morning, talk about managers being obsessed with stats, players are obsessed with stats! (…) first thing they look for (…) How well have I done? (…) my pass completion and how much distance have I covered and you’re not necessarily having an influence in the game.  That’s the problem.

One presumes that in-club, post-game analysis has moved on at a similar rate to the external blogosphere since Kilbane exited the Premier League in 2010. However, it’s hard not to be incredulous and mildly disheartened that his and Chapman’s analysis on why stats are ‘ruining football’ is the primary view that millions of fans will have heard tonight.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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