EPL Season Preview - Opinion Roundtable

Everyone likes to point and laugh at writers who make preseason predictions that go horribly awry. It's only fair that the yahoos interested in all this data and modelling stuff go on the record with their own horrible predictions too, right?

If the transfer window ended today, name the Top 6 teams in order:

Ted Knutson: Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal

Ben Pugsley: Man City, Chelsea, United, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool

Colin Trainor: Man City, Chelsea, Man U, Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal

Paul Riley: Chelsea, United, City, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool

Dan Kennett: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool

Danny Pugsley: City, United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool

Who will get relegated?

Knutson: Crystal Palace, Hull, Stoke

Ben Pugsley: 20th Palace, 19th Hull 18th ahh fuck knows......Sunderland.

Colin Trainor: Crystal Palace, Hull, Sunderland

Paul Riley: Hull, Palace, Sunderland

Dan Kennett: Crystal Palace, Hull, Could be one of 6 sides for the 3rd slot but I’ll go with Stoke because of the Mark Hughes factor

Danny Pugsley: Cardiff, Hull, Crystal Palace. Sorry promoted sides, you're all heading back

Which club will come out and surprise people this year?

Knutson: A toss-up between Aston Villa and Southampton. I see both as having enough quality to steer clear of the relegation fights.

Ben Pugsley: Southampton - good manager, good system, improving personnel.

Colin Trainor: Southampton

Paul Riley: No one! Erm, if I had to choose then Stoke to do ok under Hughes, what the hell.

Dan Kennett: Southampton Danny Pugsley: West Ham. Top 8 finish

Which club will unexpectedly find themselves in a relegation battle?

Knutson: West Brom. I like Vydra and Clarke knows how to organize a defense, but I don’t think last season’s performance from WBA can be replicated.

Ben Pugsley: Fulham. Haven't strengthened, gradually worse by the shots count, could be a sticky 1st year under Khan's ownership.

Colin Trainor: Swansea

Paul Riley: WBA and Fulham to get drawn in this year

Dan Kennett: West Brom. They may have finished 8th last season but they only won 16 points in the 2nd half of last season (only QPR and Stoke got less). And the loss of Lukaku will hit them hard.

Danny Pugsley: Norwich. They seem to be the dark horse tip for a high finish but not for me.

Player of the Year?

Knutson: Juan Mata. Ben Pugsley: Van Persie if he stays healthy. He'll rack up the goals and continue to buck the trend of strikers who decline in their 30's.

Colin Trainor: RVP Paul Riley: Really? Erm, Walcott, what the hell.

Dan Kennett: I fancy a Man City renaissance under Pellegrini and their biggest players coming up trumps in 2013/14.  With no ACN this year I’ll go for Yaya Toure.

Danny Pugsley: Robin Van Persie

Which player wins the golden boot? How many goals will they get?

Knutson: Daniel Sturridge. 27

Ben Pugsley: RvP with 23 goals. It's a lottery question. Health and player usage could embarrass us all on this question.

Colin Trainor: RVP, 25 Paul Riley: RVP, 27 Dan Kennett: It’s almost impossible to look past RVP but for the sake of being different I’ll say Sergio Aguero

Danny Pugsley: Robin Van Persie. 20 goals (at least)

What player that is new to the PL are you most interested in watching?

Knutson: I could pick ten, but Kevin De Bruyne is tops on my list.

Ben Pugsley:  I have a couple: it will be interesting to see if Soldado can replicate his seemingly La Liga inflated numbers. Can Wanyama adapt to the PL pace and turn Southampton's midfield into a +level? But I really want to see Fernandinho play. If he is as good as advertised and he clicks with Toure, it could be a frightening prospect going up against this two big (as in talented) beasts.

Colin Trainor: Wilifred Bony, to gauge how Dutch form can be transferred Paul Riley: Negredo Dan Kennett: Paulinho & Jovetic are too obvious so I’ll say Gerard Deulofeu and Wilfried Bony

#Danny Pugsley: From a City perspective, Stevan Jovetic. Outside of City I've heard good things about Andre Schurrle.

What non-Suarez player will be the most annoying to opposing fans?

Knutson: Jose Mourinho. What? Just because he’s not a player, doesn’t mean the answer is wrong.

Ben Pugsley: If Rooney goes to Chelsea, he is gonna get the bird every game, if he doesn't get that already. The PL doesn't have any pantomime players anymore- Barton was the last. Criteria to be disliked by opposition fans: need to be talented and either dirty or perceived to be a cheaty diver. So Bale is my answer.

Colin Trainor: No idea Paul Riley: Gareth Bale Dan Kennett: Jose Mourinho

Danny Pugsley: It has to be Craig Bellamy on his return to the Premier League, surely?

Which one of last season’s top 5 has the biggest hole (player need) they haven’t filled?

Knutson: I feel like the options here are United CM, Chelsea DM, and Arsenal LW + CF. United’s central midfield is barren, but Arsenal lack both an exciting left forward and a world class center forward. If you read my preview, you know I’m unconvinced by Mikel, but it’s not nearly the problem that AFC and MUFC have. I’ll go with Arsenal.

Ben Pugsley: Arsenal could do with additions in many areas but it has to be United and the Jupiterian sized hole in their midfield. Imagine if Carrick got injured, just think about it........ Phil Jones and Anderson would be their midfield pair. Fuck. Colin Trainor: United - central midfield

Paul Riley: Man United, central midfield Dan Kennett: Flip a coin between Manchester United in Centre Mid and Arsenal Goalkeeper

Danny Pugsley: You have to say United and their midfield. But can they mask it once again?

Which manager wins the sackrace? (First to get sacked)

Knutson: Everyone is saying Di Canio because of the crazy factor, but I am torn between Ian Holloway and Brucey Baby. Holloway has charisma, so I’ll go with Bruce.

Ben Pugsley:  I am feeling pressure here as l picked the winner last season, RDM. No manager sacked is 66/1, which is tempting. Martin Jol if I had a gun to my head.

Colin Trainor: Di Canio Paul Riley: Really? Erm, Martin Jol, what the hell.

Dan Kennett: Mark Hughes Danny Pugsley: Steve Clarke at West Brom as they get off to a woeful start to the season.

Brendan Rodgers’ envelope applies to the entire Premier League – what player will be the biggest disappointment this year?

Knutson: Luis Suarez. Can he win the award before the season even starts?

Ben Pugsley: Lukaku could get swallowed by Chelsea's striker-killing system, but the expectations are low for a 20 yo. Suarez. May be forced to play for Liverpool, he could be sulky and dis-interested. It could be a bloodbath with Suarez and Liverpool.

Colin Trainor: Coutinho. Not that I think he'll be bad but the expectations of him by Liverpool's fans are enormous

Paul Riley: Difficult because i'm a grump who expects so little...not sure about any of City's new guys bar Negredo, Bale to regress a bit?

Dan Kennett: After the endless Summer saga’s it’s got to be one of Suarez, Rooney and Bale.  As a Liverpool fan, I hope it’s not Suarez so will say Rooney.

Danny Pugsley: Gareth Bale. He may have a good season but Im predicting he doesn't come close to last years numbers and influence.

Finally... here's Knutson's final season points prediction, based "70% on a model, and 30% on shit the model doesn't know."


Chelsea 82.5
Manchester City 81.5
Manchester United 76.5
Tottenham Hotspur 74.5
Liverpool 70.5
Arsenal 68.5
Everton 54.5
Southampton 47.5
Newcastle United 46.5
Aston Villa 45.5
Swansea City 44.5
Fulham 43.5
West Ham United 42.5
West Bromwich Albion 41.5
Norwich City 40.5
Sunderland 39.5
Cardiff 38.5
Stoke City 38.5
Hull 32.5
Crystal Palace 29.5


EPL 2013/14 Season Preview - Newcastle

If Newcastle's 5th place finish in 2011/12 was the clear high point since their return to the top flight, then 2012/13 was certainly the low point. Newcastle struggled mightily last year for a number of reasons the mainstream media would never pick up on:

  • Regression from the unsustainable heights of 2011/12.
  • Regression in Ba and Cisse's unsustainable scoring% numbers from 11/12.
  • A PDO drop from 105 to 89.
  • The demands of playing in Europe
  • A lengthy injury list which included several key players.
Newcastle had an awful lot of things go right for them in 2011/12, but as predicted by the sharps who looked at Newcastle's underlying numbers, a big step backwards was always on the cards for 2012/13. Newcastle's 5th place finish in 2011/12 was nowhere near their true talent level. I don't believe Newcastle's 15th placed finish in 2012/13 represents their true talent level either.

2012/13 Numbers League Position 15th (41 points) Shot Dom 9th (1.06) Shots on target Dom 9th (0.94) PDO 19th (89.1) Newcastle were a middle of the pack shots and shots on target team, but Newcastle's PDO was the boat anchor that dragged this team down. That anchor nearly dragged Newcastle all the way down the the Championship, but a timely win here and there in that run-in was enough to see Newcastle retain their status. As mentioned above, one of the main reasons why Newcastle struggled so badly last term was due to their injury crisis which was caused, in part, at least, by the club's involvement in the Europa League. Long term injuries to key players such as Coloccini, Taylor, Cabaye, Tiote, Krul and Ben Arfa really hampered Newcastle's first team options. Newcastle's 12/13 Injuries Per game Newcastleinjury_13_medium Not only was Newcastle's man games lost to injury number way ahead of league average, Newcastle's number got gradually worse as the season wore on, which hampered them in key games in the run-in. Looking ahead to 2013/14, it may be reasonable to expect that PDO and man games lost to injury may positively regress, and if they do this it should help Newcastle to rebound from a fraught and difficult 12/13 season. Let's now focus on the upcoming season. Personnel We have to start with the clusterfuck that is Newcastle's management team and it's structure. Pardew, rightly or wrongly, is the Newcastle manager and to be honest, he is probably a bang average manager at this level. Good enough to maximise the home advantage in the North East, but average enough to see his team over-matched away from home. has six years left of his contract, but the payoff package is quite low, apparently. Could be sacked. Kinnear brought in, laughably, as director of football. Quite what he has to offer to the modern game is up for question. Friction with squad and Pardew likely. In short, he is Smithers to Ashley's Burns. Graham Carr the ex-Man City scout may well be Newcastle's star man. Consistently finds mid-priced players who arguably outperform their transfer bet.  His 'hit' list is too long to mention here. The rumours have Carr and Pardew barely on speaking terms over the positional deployment of some of his signings. Owner Mike Ashley presides, sometimes irrationally, over this schizophrenic setup. Newcastle is a club with a lot of potential - huge match day revenue, secondary revenue streams - who, with the right managemnet setup could improve on their current standing in the Premier League. To do so may mean to do away with Pardew and Kinnear. Th whole management structure at Newcastle has the potential to become a full scale war between the three parties, especially if Newcastle struggle once more. Incoming Loic Remy has been Newcastle's only signing so far this summer and Remy is... wait for it... injured! Rumours had been swirling of a move for Darren Bent, but this looks increasingly unlikely. Jordan Rhodes is another who has been linked along with a host of players I have never heard of. I'd be surprised if there were no more transfers before the window shuts. Outgoing Simpson, Perch, Harper and a bunch of youth players. Newcastle retain a squad of 27 first team pros. This seems a little on the large side, but after last years injury crisis, it is understandable that Newcastle will carry a large number of players. Conclusion Newcastle were a mess last year: Off-field issues, friction between head scout and manager, and now they have Joe Kinnear's arrival to contend with. If the off-field craziness can be kept to a minimum, Newcastle should be able to enjoy a bounceback season. Injuries - especially to Coloccini and Taylor - the sale of Ba, the regression of Cisse and the extra 10 games of European football all contributed to Newcastle having flirted with relegation last year. If 2011/12 was an unsustainable performance, then 2012/13 was the overcorrection. Newcastle's true ability probably lies somewhere inbetween those two extremes. And a finish around 10th to 12th place is probably to be expected. If we assume that Newcastle won't suffer the same number of injuries in 2013/14, and we add Loic Remy and one or two other new signings, then Newcastle simply have too many good players to be Premier League strugglers once again. Away form is a concern, squad quality isn't. 10th place. [youtube id=2kHj3yysRrI width="633" height="356"]      

EPL 2013/14 Season Preview - Swansea City

This preview was written by Ryan Tolusso

For the past ten years, Swansea have been doing most everything better than other teams in English football. They play attractive football, make astute player purchases, and don’t go into debt. The smart buying has (mostly) continued this offseason, and when the new additions to the squad are combined with Michael Laudrup's tight defensive system, the Welsh club should have a decent year both domestically and on the continent.

Though there are reasons for Swansea fans to be optimistic, fans used to their team playing in the lower divisions have reason to be skeptical of how strong the squad actually is. A close look at the team's numbers from last year reveal the they may have been riding quite a bit of luck on course to their strong league finish. Luck can turn at any moment, and with a tiring Europa league campaign looming, the squad will need to be reinforced to remain competitive.


League Finish: 9th

Notable Cup Finishes: League Cup win

Goal Difference Rank: tied for 8th with West Brom

Shot Dominance Rank: 11th

PDO Rank: 6th

Attacking (Expected Goal) Efficiency Ratio: 1.020

Defensive (Expected Goal) Efficiency Ratio: 0.796

Note: I explain what the metrics mean and why you might care in the metrics appendix at the bottom.

Last season, the Welsh upstarts secured their second highest league finish ever in the top flight of English football, won their first major trophy, and qualified for a European tournament for the first time since 1991. 2012-2013 was perhaps the club's most successful season ever. Despite their strong performance, a few metrics suggest the Swans’ run of form was due to luck, and will be unsustainable for next season. The team's shot dominance was in the bottom half for the league, while their PDO was unsustainably high. Their good luck in front of goal was tied to Michu’s unusually good ability to convert shots on target into goals, and the sustained efforts of the Swans' keepers and defense to prevent good chances taken by opponents from becoming goals.

Shot Positions




A look at the Swans' shot positions last season, both for and against, confirm they may have been lucky in securing a 9th-placed finish. The shot map above reveals the team not only conceded a higher volume of chances than they created, but also that the chances they conceded were of slightly higher quality than those taken.

The first map shows that when attacking, the team had good shot placement for a mid-table team.  Shots from well outside the box were kept to a minimum, while 40% of shots were taken from central areas within the box. Michael Laudrup's attacking system appears to be sound, and the Swans' will keep converting a good number of their chances next season.

On the other side of the coin, Swansea did not do a great job preventing shots from prime positions (the central area of the box). Looking at both maps above, it's clear the Swans' advantage in shooting from good positions is nullified by tending to concede shots from almost identical areas. The team's high pressing defense was always likely to allow their opponents good attacking chances, to the team may need to step up their offensive efforts to make up for their high-line style of play

Laudrup's unsung defensive genius

But... was the Swans' 9th-placed finish all down to luck? Or did Michael Laudrup secretly build one of the best defensive systems in all of Europe?

Looking at the team's Expected Goal Efficiency (ExpG) gets us closer to an answer. In a nutshell, ExpG is a performance measure which gauges how many goals a team would have scored if they were perfectly average at converting chances, based on the quantity and locations of shots they took. Similarly, the defensive measure of ExpG compares how many goals a team would have conceded had they been average defensively and faced the same number of shots from the same positions. "Average" in this case means average for all teams in the top 5 leagues in Europe last season.

The Swans' attacking efficiency score of 1.02 means that they scored an extra .02 goals for every shot they took compared to the average team. This number isn't especially impressive, but shows Swansea were pretty average at converting their chances.

Now, have a look at the ExpG for the defensive side. It's a value of 0.796! In other words, the Swans conceded over .2 goals fewer than the average team, considering the shots they faced. That score puts them among the top 10 teams of Europe in terms of defensive efficiency.

If Swansea continue to be efficient in defending, their finish in mid-table will be secure. There is some evidence the Swans strength in defense is real. Ashley Williams' lead the league in blocks, and Chico had a remarkable rate of interceptions. Both Michel Vorm and Gerhard Tremmel were solid between the pipes as well. Still, if it turns out that efficiency in this case is really luck, expect Laudrup and co to struggle a little more in the coming season.

Magical Michu

The undoubted offensive standout from last season is the 2 million pound man from Rayo Vallecano. He scored 18 of their 47 goals last season, well over a third, and none of them penalties. Can his performance be replicated?




Michu’s shots on target % was only 42% last season, which is quite low. However, of the 37 shots which did his the target, he converted almost 50%! As we can see from the attacker's shot map, his low shooting accuracy comes despite taking shots from mostly good areas.

Michu Shots Around Goal

Though he shoots at the sides of the net at a decent rate, Michu still sends many of his shots to the low, central areas of the goal, right at the keeper. Unless he improves his shot placement, last season's bargain attacker will almost certainly score at a slower clip next season. To fill the Michu-shaped void and keep the team on course, Wayne Routledge, Pablo Hernandez and Nathan Dyer will all need to step up their goal-scoring efforts.



Wilfired Bony


In light of Michu’s lucky foot (and head), Laudrup and the board brought in Wilfried Bony to score some of the goals that he bagged over and over again last year in the Erdevisie. Goals come at a premium these days, and Bony's price tag of 12 million euros was double that of the team's next most expensive player. The purchase is something of a gamble for the usually conservative Swans, especially given that strikers from the Eredivisie have a checkered history of success in the EPL. Even within his own league, it's difficult to analyze Bony's performance, as there is a paucity of public data for the Dutch competition. Evaluating how he might fit into the Swans' system will require a sketchier, qualitative approach.

Even for his large fee, Bony fills quite a few of Swansea's needs for a forward. He has the strength and size to hold up the play while Michu, Dyer and Routledge move forward, and his runs will create bigger spaces for Michu to work in. His height should help the Swans' reduce their exposure to set piece shots, which were a real problem for the Swans last year. And of course, his effectiveness as a striker makes him a goal-scoring threat in his own right. Last season he scored 1.05 goals a game, so even if that rate declines by half, he'll score 15+ goals if healthy. His assist rate last year of 0.27 a game is nothing to sniff at either, and he should play a minor role as a chance creator as well.

Jonjo Shelvey

Well... it's really hard to put a positive spin on this one. Going by the numbers, this was as bad a purchase as Swansea could have made. Despite playing 924 minutes as an attacking midfielder last year, Shelvey had a points total of 1g/0a. One goal, despite taking almost two shots every game that he played. That's awful. Really, really awful. Looking back through his past seasons reveals a similar pattern of consistently poor performance.

Is there any reason to be optimistic about Shelvey? It's been suggested he brings much-needed physicality to the Swans' midfield, though it's hard to determine if that's true. He's a British international, something which the Swans' need to compete in the Europa League. More generally, Shelvey has never been allowed to play consistently at Liverpool, and was never allowed to settle in one position in the midfield. He's likely to be gash, but perhaps he won't be quite so garrish as he was at Liverpool.

Jose Canas + Alejandro Pozuelo

If you're a fan of Michael Laudrup Bargain Buys ™, Canas is a signing is for you. He was essentially free, and is so obscure he doesn't even have YouTube compilation.

The ex-Real Betis midfielder gives the team a physical option at DM, and his stats are as good as you'd expect for a top 7 La Liga defensive mid. He's already been in a fight with Cardiff's new midfielder, Gary Medel, so he'll feel right at home during the South Wales Derbys.

Pozuelo only started 4 matches with Sevilla last year, so I have nothing on him. Hopefully, he can keep doing this.


Swansea's good performance last year remains a puzzle. Was the team so good defensively because of luck, or was it genuinely down to tactical mettle and player skill? This season will provide some answers. Otherwise, the team look set for another good year. Bony will be exciting, Shelvey will have a career renaissance, and Pozuelo will be the next Michu. Well, none of those are for certain, but give a Swansea fan a break. It's not often we have reason to be optimistic. Many thanks to Ted Knutson for the opportunity to write, and for the Shot Dominance Metric. A huge thanks to Colin Trainor for his great work on the shot maps and ExpG ratios.

Metrics Appendix

Shot Dominance is a measure of how many shots a team concedes versus how many they take themselves.  This measure is useful in predicting where teams will end up in the table at the end of the season. It’s not perfect, but it is useful. It falls down a bit when faced with unique offensive systems like at Barcelona and Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, where they take fewer shots overall than you expect from great teams, but the chances they create are significantly more likely to score.

PDO is a measure of how well a team converts shots on the offensive end and saves shots on the defensive end. Good teams tend to post high levels of PDO and bad teams low levels over time, but there is a huge regression to the mean with this measure as well. Thus analysts tend to look at extremes of PDO as “luck factors.”

ExpG figures are based on a model developed by Colin Trainor and Constantinos Chappas, and measures how many goals teams are expected to score/concede based on shot locations. More of their work can be found in our archives.  

Ryan Tolusso is a student of International Trade Policy at the Master's Level. He is currently based in Canada).  

EPL 2013-14 Season Preview - Aston Villa

Amazing Ron Vlaar pic C/O Ron Vlaar's Twitter
Amazing Ron Vlaar pic C/O Ron Vlaar's Twitter
Not enough experience. Youth experiment gone wrong. Terrible in defense. Destined for the drop. That was the common refrain when commenting on Aston Villa last January. The team had just lost three matches around Christmas by a combined score of 15-0, and it was difficult to imagine any team in the league playing worse than Villa at that time. However, what somehow got lost in the rush to call them terrible was that the team was suffering from a horrendous spate of injuries, including ones to both of the first-choice center backs. In fact, Aston Villa actually suffered the most man games lost to injury of any team in the league last year, wresting the award from perennial winners Arsenal. Injuries on that scale would cause serious problems for all but the biggest of squads, and it obviously caused major problems with Villa’s smaller, rebuilding team. Luckily, the boys in claret and blue healed up and things turned around. They won five of their last ten matches outright, drawing two, and finished 15th, five points clear of relegation. 2012-13 League Finish: 15th Notable Cup Finishes:  Capitol One Cup Semis Goal Difference Rank: 15th Shot Dominance Rank: 17th PDO Rank: 15th Note: I explain what the metrics mean and why you might care in the metrics appendix at the bottom. A narrow escape for a team that used to be a European mainstay, but one that was always possible during what was certainly a transition year.  Gone was the hopeless, soulsucking football commanded by Alex McLeish. In its place was… well, no one was quite sure, really. In their one season in the top flight under Paul Lambert, Norwich played a bunch of different tactical formations. Pegging Lambert for a style other than “adaptive” or “counterpuncher” has been difficult during his time in the Premier League. I think he’s an excellent manager who sets up his teams to help nullify the opposition, but even after keeping an eye on his work for the last two years, I can’t really describe how he prefers to play football. That’s fairly unusual in this day and age, and another thing that makes Villa interesting to follow. Also gone were the free-spending days under Martin O’Neill. What remained was a giant wage bill filled with underperforming, overpaid players and a raft of kids. Lambert’s job was to figure out who was actually good, jettison the leftovers, and make sure they stayed in the Premier League. Thanks to a plague of mid-season injuries, it nearly didn’t happen. But everything came good in the end, which is why I’m writing a preview about them instead of QPR or Wigan. I talked to people early last season and I told them I thought this was a three-year rebuilding project. Part of the issue is that the high-paid dross at Villa had all been given long contracts as well, so shifting them would be difficult. Another part of the issue was that Villa had simply recruited badly in the last 3-4 years – it takes time to overcome that (just ask Liverpool). And the final part of the issue is that what the players were asked to do under Alex McLeish was really nothing like football. Like anyone suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, it takes time to work through that. (And hugs. Lots of hugs. “It’s not your fault.” I feel more sorry for players forced to work for McLeish than I do for those who have to work for Tony Pulis, and that’s saying a lot.) Outgoing Richard Dunne left on a free. 33 years old and injured the entirety of last season, it’s pretty clear Dunne’s best work is behind him, especially for the likely wages he was on. Obviously he landed at QPR. Also leaving on free transfers were Eric Lichaj and Brett Holman (who just arrived last year). The only player Villa have “sold” so far this summer was Jean Makoun, who was out on loan all of last year, and is now back in France permanently. We also know that Villa are waiting for a team to meet their asking price on Darren Bent (allegedly £5M plus his large wages), and would gladly accept any reasonable offer to take Stephen Ireland and the last year of his wages off their hands as well. Beyond that, Villa either need what remaining talent they have left, or simply don’t have an decent surplus to sell and raise extra funds. Incoming Lambert, and whoever he has running his analytics/scouting network, are very adept at shopping for players. Benteke was a revelation last season, but so were Lowton and Westwood, both of whom were purchased from League One and stepped directly into Premier League action. I would have been fine if they sold Benteke for £25M, because I feel like Lambert could have found more bargains to replace his production. Instead, the big guy backed down of his transfer request in exchange for a fat pay rise and another season in Birmingham. That works too! I was asked fairly explicitly by a reader with reference to Villa’s new signings, “Who the hell are these guys?” It’s a fair question, as Villa sign players from one of the widest ranges of countries and leagues in the Premier League. I shall do my best to answer. okoreJores Okore – The most expensive of the new signings (£4.1M), Okore is a 21-year-old center back from Denmark, “known for his pace and strength.” Looking at film, he’s corded up with thick muscle, a lot like Benteke, but not as tall. He even has Champions’ League experience with Nordsjaelland, which is unusual for Villa players, and he’s played seven times for the senior Danish national team. This feels like one of those signings where Lambert and Villa’s scouting staff make everyone look dumb for not buying Okore themselves. Nicklas Helenius – He’s tall. Like, 6’6” tall, which is only one inch short of ole’ Crouchy. The thing is… he doesn’t move like Crouchy. Watching this kid run (age 22), he’s neither knees and elbows, nor hulking. He moves like a smaller player who’s been stretched on a rack until he was tall enough to play in the NBA. This is a good thing. Also unlike Crouchy, Helenius takes free kicks, seems legitimately quick, and has a pretty reasonable skill set. Watch the highlight video below, and try and remember if you’ve ever seen Crouch pull away from central defenders in a foot race. We’ll see whether he gets refereed as badly as Crouch has over his career (there is a huge anti-tall-player bias among referees), but he seems like he’ll provide another good, dynamic option up front. It’s not like he was hidden, either. He was the Danish Superliga player of the year, scored 14 non-penalty goals in 33 matches, and still only cost £1.3M. And as noted, Okore played in the Champions’ League last year. I’ve mentioned how much I appreciate their scouting work, right? [youtube id="5bR5WVbTtL4" width="633" height="356"] The goal for number 7 in this highlight real is preeeeetty sick. [Edit- the video I'm referencing was deleted. I found another - the highlight I mean is at around 1:30 here.] I’m also trying to imagine teams marking both Helenius and Benteke late in games during set pieces. Oh, and add Vlaar and Okore (who is built like a redwood tree) to that. That will be fun to watch. Aleksandar Tonev – He’s 23, plays for the Bulgarian national team, and plied his trade for Lech Poznan (they of the famous celebration) in Poland last year. In 22 starts, he was substituted off 20 times.  That is the sum total of the information at my disposal. I got bupkis here, kids. Leandro Bacuna- A 21-year-old box-to-box midfielder from the Netherlands, Bacuna came cheap (just under £1M), and is another excellent prospect. Much more detailed information is available here, where Mat Kendrick picked Michiel Jongsma’s brain for all the relevant deets. Antonio Luna – A 22-year-old left back, who was owned by Sevilla, but saw most of his playing time on loan with Mallorca last year. Aaaand that’s all I know. Conclusion I know last year was stressful for Villa fans, but they have to admit it was a lot more exciting than watching the team under Alex McLeish.  47 goals scored! 3 points better than the terribad 38 they earned under the dour Scot. Heart attacks nearly every single week! What’s not to love? This year should be a bit less stressful and more fun. The talent level in the team is significantly better than it was last year, and Paul Lambert is a good manager. They aren’t through with the transition process – there’s still some older, overpaid flotsam to get rid of, and they could use another star and more depth – but this team has more in common with the good squads under Martin O’Neill than the last two years of relegation terror. While I wasn’t entirely sold on Benteke’s performance last year, he’s an undeniable physical presence, and good enough to win a few games practically by himself. Adding better bodies around him, which they have done, should ease the burden on the big Belgian and allow him to be a bit more efficient in his play. Bacuna and Helenius seem like excellent value finds, and combined with Agbonlahor + Weimann, Villa can cause teams problems on the offensive end this year. This is by far the best group of attacking players Lambert has ever worked with. The defense was a major weakness, but one that was exacerbated by injuries, especially in mid-season when they conceded 15 in three matches around the Christmas holiday. Okore and Luna will help with that, as should another season of maturation for what again looks like the youngest team in the Premiership. After last year, this all probably looks wildly optimistic, but I feel fairly secure that Villa have turned a corner now, and are on their way up. Midtable security and maybe a decent cup run is easily within their reach. [youtube id="7xl7OtPuOhA" width="633" height="356"]   Metrics Appendix Shot Dominance is a measure of how many shots a team concedes versus how many they take themselves.  This measure is useful in predicting where teams will end up in the table at the end of the season. It’s not perfect, but it is useful. It falls down a bit when faced with unique offensive systems like at Barcelona and Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, where they take fewer shots overall than you expect from great teams, but the chances they create are significantly more likely to score. PDO is a measure of how well a team converts shots on the offensive end and saves shots on the defensive end. Good teams tend to post high levels of PDO and bad teams low levels over time, but there is a huge regression to the mean with this measure as well. Thus analysts tend to look at extremes of PDO as “luck factors.”

EPL 2013/14 Preview: Sunderland

Oh, Sunderland! How are we going to evaluate what kind of team you will be in 2013/14? Who are you, how will Di Canio change you? Will the Italian even see out the season? So many questions and all we can do is project and grope about blindly at what may happen. First of all, let's take a look back at what happened last season. 2012/13 Numbers League Position 17th Shot Dom Rank 19th Shots on Target Dom Rank 19th PDO 5th (103.7) Some of these numbers don't really do justice to how horrendously terrible Martin O'Neill's team was in the first third of the season. Sunderland were out-shot heavily, out-chanced heavily and, frankly, were lucky to have retained their PL status in 2012/13. Here we see Sunderland's rolling SoTR and PDO: Sunderland_13_pdo_sotr_medium It wasn't until game 17 that Sunderland broke the 40% barrier in terms of SoTR (par is 50%). During that early season run it was Sunderland's PDO that was keeping them afloat and likely off of the bottom of the table. Now, it was clear to me that firing O'Neill was the correct decision- hell, the Northern Irishman should have been fired six games into the season. Any team that posts 1 shot on target or less in nine of it's thirty eight games is a team that is clearly out-matched both in talent and tactics. O'Neill was correctly fired, Di Canio was hired in his stead. The Italian only had a short amount of time to work with his new charges and although he didn't improve Sunderland's underlying numbers, he achieved the most important thing, that of PL safety.  


Di Canio has made TEN new signings, and quite honestly, this was necessary. Sunderland's squad required quality and some depth and it appears Di Canio has addressed this.

IN Czech defender Celustka has joined on loan, Giacherrini, somehow, was convinced to join Sunderland in a £7.5m deal and Jozy Altidore was signed for £10m and he should give Sunderland some much needed help up front. Vito Mannone was signed from Arsenal as the #1 'keeper.

There are some nice pieces here. Altidore and Giaccherini should aid Sunderland's underwhelming attack and Mannone should be a capable goalie. I was pretty sure that Di Canio would fix what I though was Sunderland's most pressing team need, midfield. But as of the time of writing, it appears that the club is happy to stick with what it has. Creativity and the ability to retain the ball in midfield could be an issue once more.


Danny Graham has departed on loan, Danny Rose has returned to his parent club and  Elmohamady, Bramble and Maclean are also gone. But it is the loss of Mignolet which may hurt Sunderland the most. At times last season Mignolet was superb and looked like an elite level 'keeper. Will his absence harm Sunderland? I guess it depends on Mannone's ability to play a full PL season as a #1, but I would guess that Mignolet will be dearly missed.  

The Manager

Dican_medium Beneath the crazed veneer and intense stare is an intelligent man and good football coach. But can DI Canio communicate his message to the players, and if he can, are these players good enough to execute that message? I like Di Canio and I will be rooting for him, but one gets the feeling that some form of chaos is always bubbling away under the surface. Is Di Canio too hard with his players? How will he behave with the press corps? What will happen if Sunderland go on a bad run in terms of results? Will that passion and intensity, which was so beloved late last season, twist and become tiresome if the results aren't positive? These are just some of the questions we can reasonably ask of Di Canio in what will be his first full top flight season. My biggest question - and it may be the most important - is can Di Canio improve one of the worst shots +/- teams around? Another season of being butchered in the shots count will place Sunderland pretty close to being relegated. Reasons For Optimism

  • Di Canio and his coaching brain. A full pre-season should be plenty time for Di Canio to implement a superior tactical scheme to the one we saw last season.
  • Giaccherini and Altidore should add some much goals and creativity.
  • Sessegnon is still at the club.
  • A return to some sort of fitness for Brown and Cattermole will help too.
  • Strike force. Fletcher, Sessegnon, Altidore and Wickham should, in theory, score enough goals with Johnson and Giaccherini providing the service.

Reasons For Pessimism

  • This team was bad last year. Sunderland were heavily out-shot and it remains unclear whether Di Canio can fix that.
  • Lack of Midfield quality. Cattermole, Gardiner, Colback, Cabral, and maybe Larsson, doesn't sound like a midfield that is strong enough to control the play.
  • How much will Mignolet be missed. It's clear that Mannone isn't t the same level as Mignolet, but how much worse is the Italian? 5 or 6 goals? If Mannone struggles, Westwood may be brought in.
  • There's talk of Di Canio changing Sunderland's style and playing out from the back and to feet. A change had to be made after last season's performances, but do Sunderland have the personnel in the full back and midfield areas to play a quick, short passing game? [No. - Editor Knut]


Ha! Really? This is a lottery. Di Canio could succeed in the North East with a new tactical set-up that his players really buy into and this would result in a lower mid table finish. If his methods don't succeed or his players aren't able to perform up to his standards, then Di Canio could be under pressure, he could go to war with his players and himself and only God knows what the outcome of that would be. Could be a relative success, or could fail to see out the season. I think Sunderland could struggle if the bets on Altidore and Giaccherini don't come good.        

Analysis of Liverpool’s Efficiency and Quality of Chances

Following up from Dan’s (@DanKennett) piece yesterday and expanding on my previous article, I decided to look a bit more closely to the Liverpool performance in 2012/13 through the lens the Goal Expectation (ExpG) metric and its associated efficiency. As mentioned in my previous piece, it estimates the probability of a shot being scored by taking into account a number of shot characteristics. The easier the chance, the more likely it is for the striker to score the goal, and therefore the higher the ExpG value. On the other hand, shots from difficult positions (as well as other factors), which are less likely to end at the back of the net, are associated with smaller ExpG values. Excluding own goals, Liverpool during the 2012/13 season scored a total of 67 goals. To achieve that, they needed 739 shots, which translates to an overall conversion rate of 9.1%. Of those 67 goals, 23 were scored by Luis Suarez (a conversion rate of 12.3%), 10 from Sturridge (conversion rate of 16.4%) and 9 from Gerrard (conversion rate of 9.7%) with the rest of the players scoring 5 goals or fewer. The following table shows the raw conversion rates of all Liverpool players who had at least 10 shots. LiverpoolConvRate Note that Gerrard’s 4 out of those 9 goals were in fact penalties, and one of Sturridge’s goals came from the penalty spot. Had we removed all penalty shots (Gerrard had one saved against West Brom) from the data, the captain’s conversion rate would fall to 5.7% and Sturridge’s to 15%. It becomes immediately obvious that including penalty data in total shots/goals statistics creates a problem, as conversion rates do not provide a platform to compare players on. Taking this a step further, the same would apply when trying to compare a predominantly long-range shooter to a 6-yard-box goal poacher; conversion rates alone would not make much sense. It’s here that the metric ExpG we devised with Colin Trainor (@colinttrainor), and have introduced during the past week or so in a series of articles, can provide the additional information and the platform to compare players or teams on. Our calculation of goal expectancy, given the chance a player is presented with, is based on a number of factors. The higher this number, the better the quality of the chance. If a player has many such chances (or in general a higher average ExpG per shot) you would expect their conversion rate to be relatively higher too. We also devised a metric to measure a player’s ExpG efficiency (ExpG Eff). As described in previous pieces, if a player is expected to score 10 goals given the type of his chances, yet he manages to get on the scoresheet 12 times, his ExpG Eff is 12/10 = 1.2 therefore he is 20% more efficient than how an average player would fare from that particular combination of chances. In a sense, this removes (to the model’s best ability) the explainable factors affecting conversion rates (such as a shot’s location) and leaves whatever factors are unaccounted for. The better the model, the fewer the significant unaccounted factors. To visualize all this information, I’ve tried to include these metrics for those Liverpool players who had more than 10 shots during 2012/13 in the following plot:


[As you will notice, both Liverpool’s summer transfer Iago Aspas, and transfer target Diego Costa have been included in the analysis for comparison purposes.] The horizontal axis shows a measure of the average chance quality for each player, according to our calculations. The vertical axis illustrates the efficiency based on ExpG. The size of each point indicates the traditional raw conversion rate while the colour of each point highlights the number of shots each player took. In addition, Liverpool’s average chance quality and overall efficiency are shown as well as what the benchmark efficiency is (1.00). What can we gather from this? As mentioned in a previous piece as well as a tweet discussion a few days ago, Liverpool’s overall efficiency has been below average, and by our figures lies at around 0.86. This simply means that Liverpool did not score as many goals as their chances should have expected them to do. Liverpool scored 67 goals, but had they been average in terms of efficiency they would have scored approximately 78 goals. As an aside, here is the same chart on a team-level, for the 20 Premier League teams in 2012/13:


Back to Liverpool, the shooting inefficiency was widespread across the team. Only 4 Liverpool players managed to have an above average efficiency: two strikers (Suarez with 1.08 and Sturridge with 1.02), a midfielder (Henderson with 1.30), and a defender (Sktrel with 1.83). The rest of the players posted marginally or grossly inefficient figures, irrespective of their position on the pitch. It’s also interesting to note that both Sturridge and Borini come out on top of the chance quality measure, as one would expect given the fact that they are strikers, but the same does not apply to Suarez. The average quality of his numerous (red dot!) chances is lower down, evidently affected by his choice of difficult-to-score shots from acute angles or long-range efforts. However - and this is something that the efficiency picks up on - due to the difficulty of his chances he is “only” expected to score 21.2 goals from those 187 shots, whereas Sturridge was expected to chip in with 9.8 goals from his 61 efforts. So in effect, Sturridge may have registered a higher conversion rate, but given the type of chances he had, he was expected to do so. It’s for this reason that looking at the 16.4% raw conversion rate for Sturridge against the Uruguayan’s 12.3% is not directly comparable. The ExpG efficiency measure is also more robust against the inclusion or lack of penalty shots in the data. Gerrard’s ExpG Eff is at 0.93 but “only” falls to 0.83 once penalty shots have been removed instead of a 9.7% to 5.7% move in the raw conversion rates. Other players with a significant number of shots include Johnson and Downing, both of whom have contributed less than expected. While in the case of Johnson, that may be excusable given that he is in fact a defender, Downing has consistently failed to live up to expectations in terms of scoring (and in terms of assists, but that’s another matter!), so it may indeed be the final curtain for him. On the other hand, Henderson’s impressive 1.30 ExpG Eff, as well as his shooting from favourable positions, may necessitate keeping a closer eye on him in the future. As for Skrtel, he has performed way above scoring expectations, but that is only based on 15 shots, so I would not jump into conclusions just now. As mentioned above, data from the 2012/2013 Celta Vigo season for Iago Aspas have also been included in the char,t as well as Diego Costa’s metrics. Aspas performed very similarly to Suarez, scoring 12 goals while expected to score 10.9 out of 102 shots. That gives him an ExpG Eff of 1.11 and if he can replicate his performance for Liverpool, he may prove an excellent addition (or should I say replacement?) to Suarez, especially given the relatively low fee. Talk of Diego Costa has somewhat quietened, but perhaps his raw conversion rate of 20% was misleading given that his shots came from chances of extremely high quality. More relevant would be his efficiency, which is not much different to either Suarez or Aspas and lies at 1.09. It’s reasonable that such analysis, both in terms of methodology and with respect to its usefulness, is open for debate. The main question, associated with sample size, is whether a single season’s results can be repeated or whether they are down to chance. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to previous seasons’ data and cannot answer this question. With the new Premier League season starting soon, perhaps additional data will either reinforce or contradict our findings. One thing is for certain though: metrics such as these help to better understand and compare the more traditional statistics, and perhaps occasionally unearth information hidden under the large volume of noise.

EPL 2013/14 Season Preview - Liverpool

by Dan Kennett

It's difficult to gauge the expectations of Liverpool fans going into this season and even harder to make a reasonable definition of "success" for this Liverpool team.  During four lamentable years of finishing 7th, 6th, 8th and 7th, the high-point remains victory in the High Court over the ruinous Tom Hicks and George Gillett.  The nadir was probably reached in the calendar year 2012, when a full league season yielded a borderline relegation total of 43 points and the team went 367 days between consecutive league wins.

Through most of last season, the impression was an entire club learning on the job, novice owners, manager with one season in the top flight, extremely young squad and a novice CEO.  The turning point was the January transfer window and the arrival of two players who made a genuine, significant impact on the team’s performance and results.  For the 2nd half of the season, the team returned 36 points (the median for a Liverpool half season in a 20-team Premier League is 33.5), the club’s best performance since the 2nd half of 2008/09

Sturridge & Coutinho

Sturridge provided all the attributes you want from a centre forward with extreme pace, quality finishing, and physical presence.  Sturridge was an unsustainably good 9/34 in-box shot conversion (0.264) and managed an astonishing 62% on target (including blocked shots)

Coutinho instantly became the most sublime creative player at Liverpool since the lesser-spotted Jari Litmanen in 2001, a bona-fide Brazilian maestro.  He created a superb 2.8 open play chances per match, making him a peer of David Silva, Juan Mata and Suarez.  However, Coutinho's value-add was that over 30% were Opta's “clear chances." Chance quality is a critical advantage, because we know that 38% of “clear” chances are converted compared to 8% of “normal” chances.  Whilst Suarez, Silva, and Mata created a clear chance between every 190 and 200 minutes, with Coutinho it’s 100.  Those numbers make little Phil look a genuine phenom.

(Aside: whilst not popular with some analysts, I'm a big fan of the Opta "Clear chance" data.  Clear Chances include things like penalties, one-on-ones, unchallenged headers and shots with clear line of sight to the GK)

Here comes the rub - the problem with Sturridge & Coutinho is that they both only played one third of the season (about 1,100 minutes each).  And neither have played more than 2,000 season minutes in their career.  The good news is that, between them, they can replace-the-irreplaceable Luis Suarez whilst he is suspended for the first 6 games.  Virtually no player in the world can match Suarez's output in terms of Goals, Shots, Chances Created and Clear Chances Created.  For what Liverpool can afford (and attract), there’s no single player who can match Suarez’s output, but between them, Coutinho and Sturridge have bettered it so far.  I’ve likened this to the “Giambi’s Hole” chapter in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball where the Oakland A’s were faced with replacing the Jason Giambi, a player whose OBP was 50 points higher than any other player in the league in his last season with the A’s.  They couldn’t do it directly, but replaced him with a number of players and the team improved overall.


Even if there are no more arrivals or departures, the Liverpool first XI and squad are significantly stronger than a year ago, thanks to some excellent work last January and some early summer work. In defence, Reina, Carragher and Danny Wilson have been replaced in the squad by Mignolet, Toure and Andre Wisdom. In midfield, Joe Cole, Shelvey, Spearing and Carroll have been replaced by Coutinho, Alberto, Aspas and Sturridge.  The one nagging concern remains the lack of an aggressive, dominant centre back (what this team would give for Sami Hyppia!).  If such a player can be recruited before the end of the window, then things might really be looking up.

Critical Success Factors for 2013/14

1)    Making it harder for opponents to score

Liverpool’s number 1 problem was that they were too easy to score against last season but this isn’t a recent phenomenon, it’s been a problem through the last 4 years as you can see:


Liverpool Opponent Box Conversion
2012/13 0.175
2011/12 0.188
2010/11 0.156
2009/10 0.175
2008/09 0.149


The 5 year league mean for box conversion is 0.146 (with n=100 and standard deviation=0.024)

What is more curious is that Liverpool were extremely good at keeping Opponent’s penalty box chances and clear chances to a very low level.



Opponents Box Shots per match

Opponents Box Conversion

Opponents Clear Chances per match

Opponents Clear Chance conversion






Man Utd





Man City





















My own conclusion is that Liverpool didn’t have a systemic problem last season in terms of conceding box chances and clear chances to the opposition.  Rather there has been a weakness at Goalkeeper for a number of years in terms of not enough opponents shots were being saved compared to other clubs.  In fact, Opta confirmed that in the last two seasons for GK playing more than 1000 minutes, only Paddy Kenny had a worse “% of shots in the box saved” number than Pepe Reina.  Thankfully this looks to have been addressed with the purchase of Simon Mignolet, a goalkeeper who performs extremely well in just about every GK metric that you care to choose.  In a sport of very few goals like football, the theory is that more saves equals fewer goals conceded equals more points.

2)    Become more efficient in front of goal

It’s scarcely believable, but 2012/13 saw a 47% improvement in Liverpool’s penalty box finishing compared to 2011/12.  However this improvement was still not enough to pull them above the Premier League mean.  To seriously challenge for the top 4, Liverpool are going to have to return a well above average conversion rate, this means improving from an all-box conversion of 0.135 to 0.15 or even 0.16.  Even the shots from prime central locations in the box need to be improved from 0.188 last season to 0.21 or 0.22.  This leads us nicely onto point (3)

3)    Patience in the Final Third

Liverpool’s Achilles heel in attack was too many shots from “bad” areas.  The team created far more chances than any other team in the league (14.5 per game, next best 13.6), and also had the 3rd most “clear” chance opportunities with 101 (City 121, United 118, Chelsea only 76). However the quantity of shots from wide and narrow areas in the box was ridiculous and converted at an appallingly bad rate.




The other final third metric that Liverpool need to improve on last season is Final Third Pass Completion.  Whilst Liverpool’s figure of 0.728 was pretty good, it needs to get up to 0.75 to be really effective.  That little bit more patience and opting to pass instead of the crazy shot could further improve the number of good chances created and result in those extra few goals that in turn mean more points.


If Liverpool can retain Suarez and integrate him to a system with Coutinho and Sturridge, then they could be onto a very good thing if all 3 produce similar levels to 2012/13.  Assuming he can cope with the pressure of being Liverpool GK, Mignolet should make a big improvement on the team’s defensive performance. The signings of Aspas and Alberto look like clear squad upgrades for rotating in the front three, whilst the young tyro’s of Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe have astonishing pace and could be big factors away from Anfield.

In terms of results, if the second half of last season can be repeated over the season, then the team will be right in the mix for Champions League qualification, but even then may still fall short.  My personal prediction is 6th and 68-70 points.

Europe's Best Young Attackers

In my review of Roberto Soldado last week, I was critical of the fact that the Spaniard had just an average conversion rate based on the chances he attempted last season for Valencia and, as a result, a price tag of £26m was a little steep for the striker. To attempt to put my claim into context I have pulled together a list of the best young attacking talent from Europe’s Big 5 leagues last season. By “best” I mean the most efficient converter of the chances they attempted, and I also give a nod to other very important analytical attacking measures. One of the main uses of such a list is that it creates a great short list for potential transfer targets.  Other than using raw conversation rates with their obvious drawbacks (ie Player A scored 17% of his shots) I’m not aware of any other metric that can be referenced by fans or analysts in attempting to spot the most efficient strikers. The net result of the lack of such a measure is that I would suggest that all the players that appear on this list are undervalued by the general market as their efficiency is simply not recognised (that’s leaving aside any other skills that the players possess). Unfortunately, not everyone on the list is likely to be up for sale, so for those players that won’t move this Summer this list serves as a reminder to keep an eye out for them as I expect their value and reputations to increase. ExpG Eff I measure player efficiency through a metric named ExpG Eff  This concept has been introduced over the past week by myself and Constantinos Chappas (@cchappas) on this site.  In short, this is a measure we created which objectively measures a striker’s conversion rate based the quality of chances he attempts. The data we use to create this metric is taken from Squawka, and as they are provided by Opta we only have access to on the ball measurements.  Unfortunately, this means that our ExpG model cannot take into account other undoubtedly important things like defensive pressure, defensive formation, number of attackers or the work that the striker went through to take his shot. Even taking that these limitations into account, the model’s estimation of total goals for all teams is a very good estimation for the total goals they actually did score, this was shown in Constantinos’ piece last week. Perhaps I’ll take this opportunity to say that if anyone wants to provide us with some “off the ball” data so we can improve on our model it would be gratefully received!! Criteria What I have done is rank all the young strikers based on their ExpG Eff for last season.  All the players are under 25 and played in the Big 5 Leagues last season.  To ensure that I’m not looking at players who played a handful of minutes I have further filtered down this group to just include anyone who played more than 1150 minutes and who had at least 2.5 Shots Per90. The List I’ve then chosen the top 10 players who meet that criteria and thus consistently finished their chances better than the average player.  It’s this group of players that as a scout, a manger or a Director of Football I’d certainly be looking at before I turned my attention to players who put away their chances at more average rates. As you see from the table below, there are a fewof household names in there, but there are also a few names that I’d wager some readers won’t have heard of before and could represent a great value punt for a lower or mid tier Premier League team at minimal cost with little potential downside. [table id=26 /] I’ve taken the player valuations from transfermarkt.co.uk and whilst they’ll not be exact they can be used as a quick reference to let us know that, even if they played in the same city, Lewandowski and Courtet are unlikely to be found in the same restaurants. ExpG = Expected number of goals based on shots taken ExpG Eff = Goals / ExpG The last 3 columns provide a breakdown of where the player took their shots from Cristian Tello TelloSumm Tello is a wide player with the result that less than 10% of his shots were from central locations.  He favoured the left wing but when he moved to the other side he was devestating with 3 goals from 5 shots from the right side of the pitch. His ExpG Eff at 2.83 is off the scale, however some caution is required here for two reasons.  Firstly, he only took 33 shots last season and secondly, Barcelona is the one team that our model struggles to keep up with and so we underestimate their chances of scoring goals. Regardless of that, scoring nearly three times as many goals as his chances would have suggested is extraordinary. One other slight negative on Tello is that his Shots per90 is low, in fact he just scraped through the 2.5 threshold that I set. TelloPlacement Look at the kid’s shot placements. Now we’re left in no doubt as to why he’s got such a high efficiency number.  A small handkerchief could cover the 9 shots that were destined for the bottom right corner. That arrow like shooting makes up for his lack of defensive work.  However, as with last season, it’s difficult to see him getting a huge amount of pitch time this season at the Nou Camp and perhaps another club would give him the time required to prove himself a little more. I’m including a highlights reel for each player. [youtube id="CFxNPRTcfGM" width="633" height="356"] Luis Muriel MurielSumm Udinese’s Colombian striker has been linked with Man United over the last few days.  I can only hope there is more substance to this potential link up than the Twitter created link of a few weeks ago where Liverpool were reported by some sections of the media to be interested in Muriel. Personally, I would have bought this guy instead of Soldado (but as you read down through the list he’s not the only one I say that about). Like Tello he scored more than twice as many goals last season as his shots would have suggested – those returns are super elite. His shot locations are evenly split between the 3 areas and his 0.71 Goals per90 is a great companion for his 2.13 ExpG Eff figure. His goal numbers were inflated by some questionable goal keeping, but as well as putting the ball in the net more regularlry than he should, other positives include the fact that he can win his own ball, ride a tackle and beat a defender with his dribbling. I’ve no doubt the £12.5m quoted in the table above is a little on the shy side, but I’d certainly make a  move for Muriel if the recent £18m valuation quoted is in the ball park. [youtube id="6JBN6SS3L9w" width="633" height="356"] Heung-Min Son SonSumm Bayer Leverkusen beat me to it by signing the South Korean from Hamburg during the summer. His ExpG Eff of 1.59 is a massively high number as he scored 12 goals instead of the 7.5 that our model would have expected.  Ideally you would have liked to see more creativity as his Key Passes per90 figure is the smallest on the list. It’s good to see that another club, in the shape of Leverkusen, has identified Son as having tremendous potential. [youtube id="vdyrm7CgfN8" width="633" height="356"] Adem Ljajic LjajicSumm Apparently Ljacjic is keen to leave Fiorentina.  If there is even a little truth in this then why has he not been picked up yet by any of the Premier League clubs? His ExpG Eff of 1.42 is much higher than would find on the roster of some teams in England (or elsewhere for that matter). But as if that wasn’t enough he brings much more than that. His more than 4.5 shots per 90 is more than 1 per90 higher than everyone else on my list, and he also manages to cram in almost 2.5 key passes in every full game that he plays in.  In total, that’s 7 “key actions” he performs per90. That figure of 7 key actions is 10th best in last season’s Big 5 leagues.  He’s only tenths of one key action behind Messi, Bale and Totti and just over 1 key action behind Suarez. As well as Ljajic's elite levels of productivity, his ExpG Eff is only just less than Messi and Bale whilst being superior to Suarez and Totti. Yet with all that in his locker he’s rumoured to be available for around about £10m. I know that he, and his stats, will have benefited from playing alongside Jovetic last season but we’re see talking about a very low valuation. In terms of negatives, as mentioned above he’s fond of a shot, perhaps too fond as more than 60% of his shots last season were from outside the penalty area.  He only scored with 2 of those efforts, but I guess you could say that his conversion numbers are so good that he can shoot from any damn place he chooses. However, perhaps another school of thought would suggest that with a little bit of coaching some of his more speculative shot choices could be reduced. Either way, I think he is the stand out value pick on this list and represents a low risk striking option for whichever club manages to grab him this summer. [youtube id="a_DajhQjU_A" width="633" height="356"] Wissam Ben Yedder YedderSumm I have 2 players on my list who currently play in Ligue 1, and according to the Transfermarkt valuations you could pick up both of them (combined) for little more than a bag of Magic Beans. Ben Yedder managed 2.75 shots per90, but wasn’t as creative as most on this list as he had little more than 1 key pass per90. It appears that Ben Yedder signed a contract extension with Toulouse last Friday so the French club have been successful in securing his services for another few years. [youtube id="WLMqF648PZY" width="633" height="356"] Robert Lewandowski LewSumm The Polish striker is the marquee name on my list, and with a valuation in excess of £30m he certainly won’t fit every club’s budget, but with 0.83 goals per90 he could be safely trusted to do the business regardless of where he plays his football. The suggestion is that he had his heart set on a move to Bayern Munich but Dortmund wouldn’t let him follow the same journey that Mario Goetze took.  If that is the case it is hard to see him being interested in anyone else other than the European Champions such is the buzz around the Allianz Arena these days. However, if he could be attracted to the Premier League then I feel he would be well worth the likely transfer fee. His 24 goals from 99 shots is almost exactly the same conversion rate that Roberto Soldado posted last season, however due to the nature of his shots (including the fact that he had a few headers) he would only have been expected to score less than 18 goals.  That is quite an over-performance by the Polish striker. His preferred hunting ground is central close to goal with almost 70% of his shots being struck from there.  His productivity is excellent with virtually 3.5 shots per90. All in all, if a club was after a young proven top class striker then it would be difficult to look past Lewandowski, and I would be surprised if his next move was to somewhere other than Munich. Although, perhaps a cheeky offer from a Premier League club may persuade Dortmund to let him go this summer instead of waiting until he is out of contract next year and so can move to their great rivals for nothing. Arsène, Brendan you could do a lot worse.................. [youtube id="8vPFu6FVP00" width="633" height="356"] Gaetan Courtet CourtetSumm We quickly move down the price bands to reach the Reims striker Gaetan Courtet. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know too much about Courtet (I even failed to find a Youtube highlights reel for him), but anyone with an Efficiency measure of 1.35 (even in Ligue 1) is worth more than £1.5m value that transfermarkt has assigned him. Christian Benteke BentekeSumm The big Aston Villa striker is the only Premier League player to make my list. Benteke was there for the taking just a month ago as he handed in a transfer request.  However, he since performed a U-Turn and reportedly signed a 4 year contract which will continue to see him lining out at Villa Park. Had I been advising one of the big clubs I would have grabbed the Belgian as quickly as I could when he was on the market. What more could a big club want? He’s only 22 and proven in the Premier League with 19 goals despite playing little more than 80% of available minutes.  With almost 3.5 shots and more than 1.5 key passes he shone in a pretty tepid Aston Villa attack and still managed to keep his ExpG Eff above 1.30. Those are great figures. As well as being an excellent finisher, he’s exceptionally strong and is quick for someone so powerful. Very simply, this is the striker that Tottenham should have had top of their shopping list this summer. [youtube id="-fg-b4QMic8" width="633" height="356"] Nicola Sansone SansoneSumm With just 6 league goals to his name last season, Sansone is the least prolific of those on my list and he’s also one of the quietest as he just crept over the threshold of 2.5 shots per90. It’s worth keeping an eye on him this season to see if his numbers become any more prolific but his finishing skills certainly caught the eye of our model. There is one truly outstanding must-see goal in his highlights reel, which would suggest that he has the quality and the skillset to make a mockery of his £4m valuation. [youtube id="Jxxx9ywW9n4" width="633" height="356"] Stephan El Shaarawy ElSharSumm Two players were jointly awarded the Serie A young player of the year last season, and both have made my list.  The distinctively coiffured left sided attacker joins his co-award winner Luis Muriel as strikers that have posted really impressive shooting efficiency numbers. The rumour is that at least one of Man City and Chelsea have made an offer for the exciting player and the offer was accepted by Milan, but the player himself turned the move down. It’s easy for me to see why he’s been attracting the attention of top English clubs. He has almost 2 key passes and 3.5 shots per90.  And like all the players on this list, it’s what he did with his 103 shots that marks him out as being really special; as he achieved an ExpG Eff mark of 1.27. At just 20 he would have been a great acquisition for either of his potential suitors, but I look forward to watching his progress next season to see if he continues to post as exceptional a set of numbers as he did this season. I’m sure he will. [youtube id="7lzoX0rn3ug" width="633" height="356"] Summary Of the 10 players on my list, 4 stand out for me as being truly top class as they managed to achieve more than 3 shots per90 as well as attain the terrific conversion rates required to even appear in this article. Those four players are Lewandowski, Benteke, El Shaarawy and Ljajic.  The first three named players all have valuations that aren’t far off £30m, but are still probably good value for those valuations. However if the media talk is to be believed Ljajic can be picked up for close to £10m. That price is just wrong and I would implore any club to go and spend the money required to capture the Serbian – it’s honestly a no-brainer at that level. Any club that wanted to send a message out about their intent this season could do so by signing one of the other three big strikers in this list (Lewandowski, Benteke, El Shaarawy).  I have no doubt that their returns will make their transfer fees look small. The remaining six players on the list all have relatively humble valuations, and I believe they would represent a minimal risk for any club given the finishing skills they have demonstrated. If pushed and I had to choose one, I’d go for Muriel but I think they’d all provide value at their respective price points.

Performances of Note from Week 1 of the English Championship

This article was written by @ballnotabomb. Football's finally back. It may not feel quite the same without Gary Lineker's smug face presenting with a bunch of tepid ball bags at around 11 o’ clock, but for 72 of the 92 clubs in league football in this country, there was the normal mix of excitement and nerves. Of course, as with most good things, there are far more questions than answers. Will he cut it in this league? Will he adapt? Is he any good? Is he really that shit? Thanks to WhoScored.com, a few of these can be answered, but obviously create a few more unanswerable questions. Alejandro Faurlin Arguably Q.P.R's second best player the last time they were in the league, behind the brilliant-but-punchable Adel Taarabt. He settled in like he'd never been away and made 10 tackles and 2 key passes, a decent performance for any midfielder. If Harry Redknapp had kept him in January instead of shipping him out to Palermo, Q.P.R might not even be this situation. But Jermaine Jenas was a hit, right? Will Hughes Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Derby County v Sunderland - Pride Park6 tackles, 5 key passes and he's still only 18 years old. Most people know Will Hughes' name by now, but it's always nice when statistics back up your subjective view of a player. You know how people keep banging on about how we need to produce technical players in England? Will Hughes is that player. Enjoy it Derby, I've got a feeling he won't be sticking around for too long. Junior Hoilett Any player that has over 5 shots in a game deserves a shout out (YO LUKAS JUTKIEWICZ), but when you combine this with 3 key passes and 8 fucking dribbles, they deserve a sentence or two right? Hoilett has the ability to absolutely kill this league (I might be repeating myself a bit here, but I could say this about a lot of QPR players - in fact this whole list could be Hoops players) although there has always been the nagging question of whether he is efficient enough. It's strange though, that this question is always levelled at wingers, who are apparently supposed to get the ball directly on to the striker’s head every single time they go down the line. As it has already been proven by the guys on this site, this is impossible. Gabrielle Angella A player that was seen as Udinese's fourth choice centre back by many last season. After making 12 starts in Serie A and scoring 4 goals, it was a surprise to see him sent to sister club Watford and he's already looking a bit good. 7/8 aerial duels won, 3 interceptions, a passing success of over 80% and 12 clearances means the Italian is showing that he is probably going to make this level look like a piece of pannetone. That’s good, because the obvious end goal for the Udinese football conglomerate is to get Watford promoted, at which point they will have a fledgling team in the league of riches and one of the consistent better clubs in Italy. Notable mentions should go to Harry Arter (2 assists, 6 key passes) and Lewis Grabban (2 goals), who were at the heart of Bournemouth's opening win against Charlton. It will be interesting to see if Bournemouth and the other two promoted sides, Doncaster Rovers - who for me look doomed - and Yeovil Town, who may keep themselves afloat if Ed Upson stays for the whole season. Some sides to watch this season in terms of excitement but maybe not quality, could be Blackburn and Derby. Their game had 35 shots in it, but somehow ended in a 1-1 draw. Chris Martin and Ruben Rochina are the most guilty parties there. Game to watch this weekend- Brighton vs. Derby The boys from Brighton – one of the footballs league's best-run clubs, and contenders for promotion again this season – take on Derby and the aforementioned Will Hughes. Brighton are owned by international sports bettor Tony Bloom, and are almost certainly heavy into analytics behind the scenes, though you’ll likely never hear about it. Derby have been around forever, but haven’t been back to the Premier League since the season where they produced the most abject performance ever seen in the league. They are better than that now and should be a lot of fun to watch this year. Note: Opta and WhoScored have had problems with the Championship stats for some reason, and although they have sorted it out somewhat, there are still quite a few stats missing. Sorry if it seems like I have made any glaring omissions.

EPL 2013-14 Season Preview – Manchester United

Most analysis is complex. “In this situation, these things will probably happen.” Or “when controlled for these three crazy things, this becomes apparent.” Some analysis, however, is simple. Manchester United are going to miss Sir Alex Ferguson. I know, I know… it’s obvious. If I was going to write a lengthy paean to Fergie’s amazingness, I kind of missed my window, right? There were so many good ones when he announced his retirement, ones with writing far beyond my skill level and stories I never knew to tell, that there isn’t space for another one. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to try. fergie_celebrateSo when I say that ManU are going to miss Fergie, I mean it a way few people will have discussed. The stuff Manchester United were doing offensively under Alex Ferguson was analytically unique across the entirety of Europe. The vast majority of teams rely on shooting the ball as much as possible while trying to make the opponent shoot as little as possible. But not all. We analysts have been lumping United and Barcelona together as tactically and analytically different. And they are… sort of. The problems arise when you try to analyse them with the tools we use to analyse and predict normal teams. It took a while, but after running their numbers through a couple of different models, I can actually get pretty close when it comes to Barcelona. The model still thinks they are about as good as Real Madrid, but they are way, way ahead of the rest of the pack in La Liga. Tiki-taka is fascinating, but once you know how to look at it, you can kind of figure it out. United, on the other hand, are analytically inexplicable. I’ve walked through almost every predictive model I can find, and the closest anyone can get them is fourth. That’s Alex Ferguson. Fergie was one of the most innovative, adaptive, and genius tacticians football has ever seen. The funkiest thing about United’s offense in recent seasons is that no one really seemed to notice it was so different. Sure, maybe they were a little more patient in the build-up play. Or not. Scholes was still there pinging long balls to the wings, and switching play. Sure, maybe Fergie invented some sweet post-up play for 1-2s in and around the penalty area. Or not. They still had fast guys running a lot, and amazing finishers up front scoring goals. I read a lot of stuff, and I enjoy the hell out of a good tactics blog. I haven’t really seen anyone pick apart all of the cool, interesting, +EV stuff that went into United’s offense. Maybe there wasn’t anything. It was United’s offense. They kick the ball around, crossed it sometimes, moved a lot, got into good shooting spots all the time, and scored a lot of goals. That’s football, right? Boiling it down and looking at the numbers, what Fergie got out of those inputs is different than anything I have ever seen. And that is what David Moyes has to replace. Good. Fucking. Luck. 2012-13 League Finish: 1st Notable Cup Finishes: CL Round of 16, FA Cup Round 6 Goal Difference Rank: 1st Shot Dominance Rank: 8th PDO Rank: 1st Note: I explain what the metrics mean and why you might care in the metrics appendix at the bottom. The Good This is fairly easy to sum up in an image. ManU Percentages That’s great on both sides of the ball. Conceptually, United could do with taking a few more shots per game and giving up a couple less, but they are a surgical strike team and not bombardiers. They are almost impossibly good at making the chances they get count, and they ran away with the league last season. Ben Pugsley recently looked at United’s performance from corners (link), and oh boy were they good. Can that carry through to another season with the same personnel on the playing field? We’re certainly going to find out. The Bad Fergie’s gone and no one knows quite how well Moyes will fill that hole. Moyes has always been good at coaching defense. On the other hand, we have no evidence that his offenses have ever been better than average. If he can learn from the old Scottish master and keep that offense relatively intact while adding his defensive principles, United could be awesome. If he can’t, they might merely be good. Merely good hasn’t been seen at Old Trafford in a generation. Cup competitions were an issue last year. Bowing out in the round of 16 of the Champions’ League (to an admittedly tough draw of Mourinho’s Real Madrid), and then to Chelsea in the sixth round of the FA Cup was a disappointment to the faithful at Old Trafford. Is the squad good enough and deep enough to do better this year? I have some doubts. Transfer Issues The last few years, Fergie was playing the managerial game on hard mode. Money was spent, but almost none of it on recognizable stars. Instead, most of United’s signings came in the form of talented younger players to stock the storeroom for the next generation. Smalling, Chicharito, De Gea, Phil Jones, Buttner, Kagawa, and Nick Powell were all signed age 23 and under. Robin van Persie was a huge exception to this, and his contributions last year were the driving force behind Fergie’s 13th and final league title, but looking at the transfer history, it’s clear United has had a solid eye on their future. Considering their stature as one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world, the Mancs were fairly frugal in the transfer market, especially when compared to the expenditures of the big Spanish teams or their “noisy neighbors.” Given the frugality, it’s not a huge surprise then that United have some fairly glaring holes in the squad, mostly caused by age. Michael Carrick - almost certainly United’s MVP last season - is now 32. Premier League golden boot winner Robin van Persie recently celebrated his 30th birthday. Rio turns 35 this season, Vidic 32, Evra is 32, and Paul Scholes re-retired at age 38. Even the ageless Ryan Giggs can no longer outrun the career chronometer. His 39-year-old season saw him start only 12 league matches with 10 substitute appearances, his lowest contribution in 22! years. The stalwarts of Fergie’s last United era are officially o-l-d. Defensively, United should be fine. Buttner and Rafael are a helluva fullback pairing already, and even with Vidic and Rio getting older in the center, they are backstopped by a good trio in Evans, Jones, and Smalling. The big worry comes when looking at the midfield. Anderson simply cannot stay healthy. Cleverly has a similar problem, and Fletcher’s unfortunate condition robbed United of an excellent player. Carrick has been a rock, but there is zero useful cover in that spot. The fact that Fergie won a title with that midfield might be his most impressive work. Obviously all of this explains there prolonged attempt to sign Thiago (stolen away to Bayern by his idol Guardiola), and subsequent more desperate attempts to find other passing options. Should he be signed, Fellaini will add a useful physical presence to the center, but you gotta think United need more than just one body. wayne-rooney_rrrrThe attack is slightly better off, with RVP the leader, and Kagawa, Valencia, Young, and Chicharito all excellent contributors overall. (Okay, maybe not Young.) Welbeck, however, was dreadful last year, meaning an awful lot hinges on what happens with… Wayne Rooney. It’s strange to me that a saga that started well before the season ended is still going on a week before the new season starts. United don’t seem to want to sell (and they shouldn’t), but Rooney doesn’t want to play for Moyes. They didn’t get along in the past, and I suppose he thinks they won’t in the future, so he wants out. Simples. If it were me, I would have wanted to assess and resolve this quickly, so that the club could move on and Moyes could avoid the distraction. That obviously hasn’t happened. Losing Rooney would not be the end of the world. United already have Kagawa ready to fill most of Rooney’s role (at least the one he played last season). None other than Jurgen Klopp has suggested he’s one of the best goal-scoring midfielders he’s ever encountered. That said, Rooney is a footballing genius. When motivated, there is almost no one like him, and at this point in the window United would have trouble finding anything remotely like value for money in that position. In the past, Moyes has been deliberate almost to a fault when it comes to transfer dealings. Much of that was caused by the razor-thin financial margins he operated under at Everton, but doing the same thing at United may end up costing them big. United need a top calibre passer or two in midfield. They also either need a healthy, happy Wayne Rooney, or a reasonable replacement. Time is running out. Conclusion Look, David Moyes probably has the most impossible replacement act English football has ever seen. Not only is he taking over for a legend, but he’s now competing against Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini in control of teams with massive budgets, and Spurs and Liverpool are the best they have been in years. (Silver lining: Arsenal are not.) I think he’ll do okay, but teams often take time to bed in with new managers and tactics, and the competition is unlikely to provide that luxury. Combine that with the fact that United seem a bit short of quality in key areas and have yet to make any major transfer moves this year, and defending the title seems out of reach. Winning the Premier League is a big ask in the best of times, and even Fergie would find the odds strongly stacked against him this season. To put it another way, United were almost inexplicably good last year. Everything about David Moyes suggests that he operates in the world of muggles. Fergie was secretly headmaster of footballing Hogwarts. --TK [youtube id="0p_1QSUsbsM" width="633" height="356"]     Metrics Appendix Shot Dominance is a measure of how many shots a team concedes versus how many they take themselves.  This measure is useful in predicting where teams will end up in the table at the end of the season. It’s not perfect, but it is useful. It falls down a bit when faced with unique offensive systems like at Barcelona and Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, where they take fewer shots overall than you expect from great teams, but the chances they create are significantly more likely to score. PDO is a measure of how well a team converts shots on the offensive end and saves shots on the defensive end. Good teams tend to post high levels of PDO and bad teams low levels over time, but there is a huge regression to the mean with this measure as well. Thus analysts tend to look at extremes of PDO as “luck factors.”  

Links From Around The Web

A weekly round-up of stuff you should read. There has been tons of excellent stuff here on Statsbomb.com and I do want to link it, but if I start linking content from this site I may never stop. Instead, I impore you to go and read everything we write here at stasbomb, Now! The Best Data Graphics you will ever see (link) Really. Read this. Gladwell, Simmons and Silver (link) Three big beasts chatter away on a podcast over at Grantland. Enough said. Cosh on SIlver. Again (link) Colby Cosh swore he would never write about Nate Silver again, but here he is breaking his promise.  'Silver went to the trouble of writing a whole book about what he does, but it is in the nature of such books to be bought more than they are read and read more than they are understood' How did Mike Trout slip to #25 in his draft year? (link) Interesting article here from Fox sports. How good, or should that be, how big is Mike Trout's name? I haven't followed baseball closely for some time and I even I know who he is! Oh, this (link) is pretty good too. Gabriel Desjardin's Soccer Archive (link) Some staggering work here (but not his full archive) with data of the like I don't think we have had access too before or since. In short: the soccer analytics community can't hold a candle to any of this work and Gabe wrote this stuff over 3 years ago. He does stil write but it's about 5g technology rather than game state effects on weighted pass rates. I prodded him a week ago on shot quality and luck in soccer, but no luck. Although, this tweet from June gave rise to hope:

  Open this link at your peril (link) This is just sensational! The GIF Oracle by Jon Bois is the best collection of sports gif's you are ever likely to see. I lost about half an hout of my life in this post, and I feel lucky it was only 30 minutes. http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/516980/2009_medium.gif Wayne Gretzky was traded 25 years ago this gifweek (link) Adam Proteau of The Hockey News has a nice oral history of the trade which changed and expanded the NHL into new markets and away from it's traditional roots. This happened one day before the gretzky trade  NWA [youtube id="Enter video ID (xFNZUDSVqck)" width="633" height="356"]  

EPL 2013-14 Season Preview - Everton

It's the start of a new era in L4 as Everton prepare for life without David Moyes. It's almost impossible to write a season preview without continually referencing the Scotsman's work. Moyes was Everton. Fans seem pretty split right now. They're either looking forward to a breath of fresh air from Roberto Martinez who could finally make the push the club has often threatened to in recent years, or they're dreading an inevitable decline because Moyes milked every last penny of the money available.

A lack of cash defines Everton, and, as is now tradition, speculation is rife about who the club is going to sell rather than buy. Marouane Fellaini looks to actually really be on Moyes' Manchester United radar now after failure to capture first choice targets. The Old Trafford outfit may also still come back for Leighton Baines after a failure so far to flex their financial muscle in the transfer market.

The Numbers

Everton 2012/13

League Finish: 6th

Goal Difference: 7th

Chance Creation: 4th

Chance Conversion Efficiency: 19th

Chance Prevention: 5th

Preventing Goals Efficiency: 11th

With a new manager on board who espouses a different philosophy from the pragmatic Moyes, it's necessary to look at what the new encumbent did at his previous club. Going forward, Wigan improved last year on previous by posting fewer shots overall but taking them in better areas more central and closer to goal. Throughout Martinez’ time the Latics were pretty efficient in front of goal, scoring at the rate they should have. Their output stretched from around a goal a game to a goal and a quarter.

Everton also improved going forward last year both increasing shot numbers overall and in better areas to boot. However, not once in the last 3 years did Moyes’ side even get close to being efficient in front of goal. Last year they were particular inefficient. However, the Blues still outscored everyone below them bar Liverpool and posted 63 points, their joint 2nd best total since 1988.

The graphic below shows how Everton created their chances last year in the “wheat” zone (the zone where goal productivity is best):




As you can see, Everton were big crossers of the ball from high, wide positions. Over half the chances sent into the wheat zone were made this way. The Toffeemen also worked a pretty good number of chances to the wheat zone from within the box itself. What Everton didn't do under Moyes was thread the ball from "the hole". A lot of Everton's play over recent years has been to methodically work the ball wide to create overloads on the left side of the pitch.

Much is made in the media and amongst fans of Martinez' attractive, progressive football. The numbers suggest this is a myth. Wigan created around half the chances that Everton did in the wheat zone. But the proportions of how they made them were almost exactly in keeping with how Everton made them. Lots of crosses, a fair amount of chances created in the box and very few through balls. Wigan played a lot of their football away from danger areas and proportionately took a lot more shots from 'chaff' zones - from wide angles and long distance pot shots. Everton preferred to hem opponents in - no team has controlled the football in the opposition half more than Everton over the last few years. That's no team - not United, not City, not Arsenal, not Chelsea.

And this could be one of Everton's problems with efficiency in terms of converting chances. The pace of Jagielka and Distin enables them to play a high line. With Fellaini able to hold up the ball, Everton can then rely on a small squad of decent footballers to keep the ball there. But being squeezed in allows defences to get set. And if a defence is set, it doesn't matter much if you have the best crosser of the ball in the league in Baines and the best converter of headed chances in the league in Fellaini - it's still going to be difficult to score goals. Unless defences are pulled away from their own goal, space in the box is at a premium.

Everton relentlessly bombarded well defended boxes in a footballing war of attrition. Over time it worked and outcomes were pretty good in terms of points and goals over the season. However, there's an underlying feeling around Goodison that this team is still capable of more.

Nikica Jelavic suffered a lot last season. JelavicHandsonHead


The fact is that last year, Jelavic was getting far fewer touches of the ball and having to deal with far more aerial chances arriving his way (13% first season compared to 40% last). This was mainly due to Fellaini's presence up front being so prominent. It's plain to see the kinds of chances the Croatian thrives on - ones played in front of him on the deck, but his confidence was so shot by Christmas that even when they arrived, he started fluffing those too. Jelavic has looked in decent nick in his fleeting appearances during pre-season and scored an absolute belter against Real Madrid last week. Everyone at Goodison is hoping he can regain his goalscoring touch.

Maybe Martinez' less in your face approach will suit Everton and knocking the ball about in less threatening zones will draw those defences out. It may also provide Kevin Mirallas with the kind of open spaces in behind that he thrives on.

Unsurprisingly, Everton's defensive numbers were pretty decent. One of the best sides at preventing chances, the Blues were also pretty efficient conceding 3 goals less than expected for the types of chances conceded. This is no mean feat considering how Everton push up. It's testament not just to the team's organisation but again to defensive pair Jagielka and Distin's ability to hold a high line and provide adequate cover for not just the marauding Baines but Coleman's pacy forays too. Here's the graphic showing the types of chances Everton conceded last season in the wheat zone:




Conversely, defence cannot be said to be Martinez' strength. Wigan's combined goal difference in the league during the Spaniard's 4 years at the helm was a whopping -109. Last season, Wigan conceded 13 goals more than could have been expected. This made them the least efficient defensive unit in the league by some distance. I have numbers for many things but how this is going to play out next year is difficult to determine exactly. Everton have a better goalkeeper and better defenders than Wigan do, but the difference in numbers here is alarming and is the main source of worry to Martinez sceptics.

Incoming Transfers

Four players have arrived so far and it’s difficult to see any further bodies coming in at this stage without one leaving. If Martinez is going to survive at Everton then how he handles limited cash reserves is going to be THE most important factor during his tenure. Moyes understood this and from the off treated the club's cash like his own by gradually replacing older, clapped-out players with younger, hungrier talent.

The striking thing about Martinez’ two main bits of business so far – Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz - is that Moyes wouldn’t have touched either with a barge pole if he was still in charge. Kone will be 30 before the end of 2013 and had a major knee operation a few years back. Alcaraz turned 31 last week, spent last season’s run in injured and is currently injured again. This pair may be useful additions to the squad for the upcoming season, but beyond that, they’re a leak of resources that Everton simply don’t have.

To balance the age thing, 23 year old Spanish goalkeeper, Joel Robles, another buy from Wigan, comes in to replace the outgoing 30 year old Slovakian international, Jan Mucha. It’s unlikely Robles will replace Tim Howard this season. The youngster edged out Ali Al-Habsi towards the end of last season at the JJB, but Wigan continued to leak goals like a sieve.

The player everyone wants to see is Spanish ‘prodigy’ Gerard Deulofeu, who top-scored for Barcelona B with 18 goals last year in Segunda Division.  It’s pretty unclear how much this kid will be used during the course of the season. It’s taken until this week for him to feature in Everton’s pre-season and only then for a few minutes. Also, Everton only have him for a season on loan. To me, the (dreaded) youtube reel of Deulofeu looks more like an advert for how bad second tier Spanish football is rather than an endorsement of his talent. Let’s hope he actually is something kind of wonderful.

What we’re left with then, is Kone probably being the new player who will get most minutes next season. I have studied the Ivorian’s shots and goals going back to 2010 when he started playing again regularly after cruciate knee ligament surgery. Remarkably he has retained a decent turn of pace but what’s in store goals-wise probably isn’t what Evertonians may expect having seen him terrorise John Heitinga last season.




Kone may occasionally skip past some challenges and motor down on goal before smashing home, but he only does this a few times a season. His bread and butter goals are often close- in scrappy affairs and he’s not a stylish finisher. Still, the last two and a half years have been decent for him. For the type of shots he takes, he’s scored more than expected in both seasons. However, last year saw a little decline and other work done on this site shows that at his age, the trend is unlikely to reverse. At most, Everton fans can expect Kone to just about reach double figures goals-wise next season in the league.


If Everton can get to the 1st of September without losing players, there's no reason to worry about any huge decline in the coming season. Only rivals Liverpool were within touching distance last season and Everton have a decent level of talent to call upon in most departments. The main problem for Everton continues to be lack of squad depth. The first choice XI has shown on many occasions that they can match the big boys (even if they don't actually beat them very often). The bench, however, is often made up of spark-free senior players of similar or lesser ability to the ones they're replacing or kids who have yet to make the grade.

Unlike most fans, if one of Baines or Fellaini had to be sold, I'd prefer that one to be Baines. He's getting on, he'll lose value and there's a ready made replacement for him in situ in Bryan Oviedo. Coleman could pick some attacking slack up on the right hand side too. Fellaini leaving would leave a huge gap in a not-so-strong central midfield area and the likes of James McCarthy simply won't fill such a void.

It's unthinkable that Everton's attacking efficiency won't get better next season as the play becomes less direct. Any increases here though look likely to be offset by a greater defensive frailty. It will take time for Everton's players (especially the centre backs) to adapt to life under Martinez.

7th place looks a realistic target for The Blues next season.

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