Ten Points: West Ham, Newcastle & Save Of The Week (wk 4)


1) West Ham

West ham were an interesting team in 2012/13; good at home, absolutely terrible away from home where they were routinely and heavily out-shot. Now, that 12/13 performance away from was, or so I thought, due to West ham being a newly promoted team and thus overpowered by established PL teams. Thing is West Ham's poor shots form has continued into this new season and spread to both home and away form.   West_ham_wk_4_shots_diff_medium This is West Ham's rolling shots +/- and as we can see it's trending in the wrong direction over these first four games. Obviously this chart merely shows West Ham's raw shots numbers, so let's look at the important shots on target information. SoT% = SoT/Total Shots

SoT Rating SoT% For Prev%
West Ham 96.42 15.38 81.03


West Ham's next 4 fixtures: Everton (h), Hull (a), Tottenham (a) & Man City (h)

There is good and bad news. The Good: West Ham's SoT Prevention% is crazy good. West Ham are squeezing the opposition and forcing them to shoot from shitty angles or long distance or areas where shots are likely to be blocked. The Bad: That Sot % for figure is terrible, just horrible and it's going to have to improve quickly before a quirk turns into a trend. League average SoT for % is 31.7% after 39 games. In short, West Ham are being beaten soundly in the shots count, have a poor SoT for % number and are merely surviving up to now due to the SoT prevention number listed above and a 91% save percentage (league ave is 70%). Room for improvement.

2) Performance Of The Week

Tottenham. Crushed. Norwich. Tottenham are an interesting team to watch this year and not just because they acted out a football manager-like spending splurge for some of Europe's best players. Spurs have a fine young manager, a talented and deepish squad and lots of options in the forward/attacking mid department. But the main reasons I find them interesting is to watch how AVB attempts to mash all these pieces together to form a coherent unit and how long will that mashing take? If these new players bed in and learn the attacking scheme quickly then Tottenham will be, well, top 4.  

3) Scoring% & Goals

Earlier today Mark Taylor penned an article titled A Premiership goal Droughwhich looks at the low number of goals, 74, scored from the first 39 games. I heartily recommend reading Mark's article which prompted the following tweets: On the topic of the final goals scored total at the seasons end.

@TheM_L_G @marktaylor0 Well, I don't think it would be the same. I'd expect it to be about 1-2% lower. — Daniel Altman (@altmandaniel) September 16, 2013


Since it's a hot topic today, I'll go on record as saying there are solid systemic reasons to think PL scoring will drop 5% this season — Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) September 16, 2013

@altmandaniel @TheM_L_G @MarkTaylor0 I think that a 6% drop has been about the biggest in recent years. — Simon Gleave (@SimonGleave) September 16, 2013

  Ted goes onto list Fergie's departure at Man United, Tottenham fixing their defense and Mourinho's PL return as possible causes. Now, I'm not going to argue with these big beasts who are far smarter than I, but I checked on a couple of year-on-year numbers to see if anything stood out. Shots In 2012/13 there was 9.17 shots on target per game and 27.8 shots per game In 2013/14 there has been 8.15 shots on target per game and 25.58 shots per game. It's clear that 13/14's numbers are slightly down from the previous year, but small samples, variance, quirks and closely fought fixtures can have effects on these numbers. Scoring% League average Scoring% over the course of a season will settle at somewhere close to ~30%. In 2013/14 league scoring% is just 23.27%. Time Spent Drawing (link) I assumed that any increases in the amount of time spent drawing may have led to a lower number of goals scored.There has been an average of 41.2 mins per game so far in 13/14. In 12/13 the average was ~46.5 minutes. Three simple categories, none of them tell us anything particularly interesting given the small number of games played thus far but if pushed I'd say that the big drop of in scoring% is responsible thus far. And we know what happens to scoring%? STill, the drop off in shots on target is curious. New systems, new players and new managers.  

4) Save Of The Week

Gareth Barry take a bow.

5) Newcastle

Oh Newcastle, what is this? 7 points after 4 games, this isn't how it was supposed to look considering the shambles of the transfer window? Newcastle were shellacked in their first PL game of the season as Man City ran up the score and Steven Taylor was dismissed for a foolish elbow in a game that was fairly described as a shambles from Newcastle's perspective.  

Newcastle's next 4 fixtures: Hull (h), Everton (a), Cardiff (a) & Liverpool (h)

  Since that opening day defeat Newcastle toiled against a stubborn and restrictive West ham team, beat Fulham and Villa away. The common theme throughout these three games? The opposition was destroyed by the shots count. In fact, despite that opening day defeat, Newcastle have some of the best underlying shots numbers in the league. Percentage share of the shots count. TSR=Total Shots. SoTR= shots on target. Fenwick=total shots with blocked shots removed.

Tied Close Total
TSR 74.14 67.06 59.80
Fenwick 74.47 69.57 60.98
SoTR 62.50 68.00 54.55

  All of these numbers are nice and healthy. It makes a refreshing change to have something positive to write about Newcastle United football club. Naturally, some of these excellent numbers will regress over time. But my Lord does it make a difference when a team doesn't have a crippling list of injured key players. Things that are different so far this year: Coloccini is fit. Ben Arfa is fit. Tiote is fit. Krul is fit. Pardew isn't fucking things up. PDO has regressed nicely in Newcastle's favour and the fixture list isn't the most difficult one will ever see. Let's see where Newcastle are after ten games. There'll be no relegation battle this year. Famous last words!

6) Goal Of The Week

Douglas Costa. Golazo

7) City's Away form

There was gnashing of teeth aplenty after Man City drew yet another game at the Brittania stadium but that draw should have come as no surprise. Man City have had fairly pressing issues with away from for some time. In 11/12, the title winning season, Man City managed 34 points on the road and 55 at home. In 12/13 Man City managed 33 points on the road and 45 points at home. Last season Man City's away form was only the 6th best in the entire league. City's shots count was good, their possession was numbers were fine but they just could not score enough goals. These issues have spilled over in 2013/14 with the goal-less draw at Stoke serving as the perfect example of City's ills. A lack of chance creation or variety, no penetration and too little width are just a few of tactical items that need addressing. When Pellegrini was hired as Man City manager I wrote that fixing the away form was priority #1 and to do this the Chilean would have to fix Man City's scoring% on the road. The scoring% sits at 25% through two games but City's style of play and the disorganized feel about the team are causing concern among City fans. Pellegrini needs time to figure the PL out. The players need time to figure Pellegrini out. New manager, new players and new tactics but the same away day troubles so far.

8) Podcast!

Listen to Ted Knutson and myself discuss topics as diverse as Ozil, West Brom, Diego Simeone, Tottenham, Mourinho and Barcelona. <link>

9) Swansea v Liverpool

It should be a pretty fascinating game this evening and it'll be even more interesting if Liverpool fall a goal behind. So far this season Liverpool have tended to score early and then retreat into a defensive shell with limited counter attacking spikes. We have seen so far this season that Liverpool can defend a lead but can they break teams down? We just don't yet. Liverpool's odds to qualify for the top 4 have shortened to 11/10 and although I think they have improved mightily since Coutinho and Sturridge arrived in January I still think it's a tall task to assume Liverpool will qualify for the CL. Liverpool finished with 61 points in 12/13, can they add another 9 or 10 points in order to break the top 4? Possibly. But with Tottenham and Arsenal arguably having strengthened this Summer it remains a big ask, great underlying numbers and all. Swansea are 1.61 win or draw (double chance)  

10) Move Of The Week

This is just a gorgeous football sequence. Rooney marries tremendous vision with flawless execution and the take and technique that was then displayed by van Persie is genuinely world class. Only a matter of inches and the crossbar deny this sequence the goal of the week honours.

Follow @benjaminpugsley

Barcelona's Attacking Scheme


Unless you happen to be one of those strange, macabre souls who actually enjoys International football then this is a quiet time. Very quiet. During these International weeks I do almost anything but watch football; I will read a book (gasp!) or play the guitar, hell, I may even do some DIY. Or, I will goof around with some football numbers if only to fill the gap where watchable football once resided.

During this dullest of football weeks I decided to add a few of Europe's big teams to my intricate Game State database. Bayern Munich, Dortmund, PSG, Real Madrid, Juventus, Napoli and Barcelona were the seven teams I thought to be of interest. This Game State database I speak of looks at things TSr, SoTR, Fenwick and PDO but the one thing I had forgotten that was included in this database was an automatic breakdown of each teams shots type (Missed/blocked/on target) for & against.

Now, I understand it is very early in the season to be drawing conclusions about any given teams' strategy but Barcelona's shots outcomes profile so differently to any other teams (Europe's big 7) that I had to write a short fluff piece about it. Barcelona are weird, they are also incredibly unique.

Barcelona Shots For Outcomes

I have used a traffic light system here: Green=good (Shots On target) Red=Bad (Missed Shots) Blocked=Yellow (Meh)


As previously stated, it is very early in the season but this strange looking graph is a pretty curious thing. Barcelona's ability to get the shots they take on target is pretty ridiculous. Looking at Barca at Tied we can see that they get a staggering ~72% of their total shots number on target and at +1 that number is over 50%. These numbers will probably regress some over the coming weeks.  but we do know that Barcelona have a pretty unique attacking scheme which focuses on taking shots from prime locations.

Barcelona do this by exhibiting a tremendous amount of patience, but it goes further than this. Patience with the ball, extremely good shots discipline and constant movement from the forward players certainly help. But really it's about the attacking scheme: width from fullbacks, creating odd-man overlaps and the wide receiver style routes of most of the attacking players.

To add to all the brilliant little things that Barcelona did well, it seems that under the new management of Martino, an even more visible mixed strategy is in place. Martino's scheme still has that mesmerizing short passing, but also has the through ball down the middle for the wide players who move in centrally which, by my eye, may only be possible due to Barcelona playing a longer pitch (distance from the center backs to the highest forward player) and thus stretching the opposition out. This creates space between the opposition lines and draws the opposition out further away from their own goal.

Let's use the Valencia v Barcelona to explain this stretched pitch tactic and highlight why Barcelona may be getting so many of their shots on target so far this season.


Pitch Stretch

An example of the pitch stretch with the two wide players (Pedro & Neymar) staying high up as an outlet for the more direct ball over the top and thus forcing Valencia's defenders to stay deep.


The next shot again shows Pedro and Neymar staying high and wide.


Remember how Pedro and Neymar's high and wide positions stretch the pitch and provide a passing outlet? This is what happens when one of Barcelona's attacking mids gets the ball in a good passing location.....


Fabregas is going to slot that ball through the middle as both wide players curl in and run a football-type post route.


Boom, through ball to the curling wide players who stay high to stretch the pitch vertically  and stay wide to stretch the pitch horizontally.



Virtually identical to the previous screen shot, Neymar again curls in from the left and the passer has time to thread the ball through. Again, look at the gap between Valencia's midfield to defence and defence to 18 yard line. This is an option Barcelona just did not have last season when Messi dropped deep and Iniesta tucked in.



Again, the pitch is stretched and this time Messi is the outlet. Yet again a simple vertical ball exploiting the space between defensive line and 18 yard line.

These last 4 screen shots point to a couple of things:

  • Valencia's defensive scheme was a mess.
  • Barcelona are definitely using the direct through ball as an attacking option.
  • The width and high pitch option offered by Pedro, Naymr and Messi is going to cause some teams problems, especially if Barcelona remain this stretched out thus stretching the opposition out.

Attacking Variety

Returning to the graph that pointed out Barcelona's excellent SoT% numbers I want to quickly show a couple of images of the mixed strategy that generates such high shots on target percentage numbers.

Passing With Width From The Left

Alba joins the passing blitz on the edge of the oppostions box.


Passing Through The Centre

Here we see Barcelona's big guns trying to work the ball through the middle. In shot: Neymar, Messi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Pedro.


Passing With Width From The Right

Dani Alves provide the wide right option, Iniesta provides the inside right option. All the players inside the box are providing movement for a pass. This drags the defenders into the box which opens up space for Messi to move and shoot or pass to Fabregas for a shot.


In short, Barcelona use a multitude of weapons in an attempt to generate scoring chances. They use fullback width on both sides to create passing lanes and shooting options. Barcelona try and work the ball through the middle with utilizing their incredible close range passers and the skill of the individual. And going back earlier in the piece, they use width and players positioned high up the pitch to stretch the field and provide an out ball option which tries to create a shooting opportunity or to get a Barcelona player isolated with an opposition defender which will be, on most occasions, a complete mismatch.

Barcelona already employed a pretty varied attacking scheme but the addition of Neymar, who gives the team a left-right balance, and Martino appear to have given Barcelona even more weapons in which to hurt the opposition.

This scheme needs testing against more robust opponents than Valencia and the real tests will come against European opposition. But it's a bright start from Martino thus far. Tactical tweaks needed to be made and Barcelona may have found a coach (Martino) and a player (Neymar) who can offer even more variety to what was an attacking scheme that felt like it was slowly being figured out by quality opposition.

StatsBomb Predictive Models – Week 5 in Eredivisie, English Champ and Bundesliga.2

I work for a very large internet bookie. Because of this, I’m heavily restricted in what I’m allowed to write about.  So despite the fact that I’m a subject matter expert in English Premier League betting, I ain’t writin’ about it, no way, no how. You’ll see me occasionally discuss my opinions on Champions’ League matches or College Football on Twitter, but that’s about it. (I don’t actually work on the Champions’ League product and used to bet College Football professionally before working at Pinny.) Anyway, I do other stuff at work too, including dabbling in predictive models. I can’t produce weekly picks for you, but one of the things I can do is discuss some point-in-time power rankings. Most of the models I’ve looked at become active after week 5, including the latest iteration of my own. For fun, I’ll post the initial rankings on StatsBomb for most of the European leagues as they come online, and you guys can argue about them until your heart is content or filled with hatred. Either way. Why Should I Care? You probably shouldn’t. This model is just stuff I play with during my spare time, and I’m certain it doesn’t have the brainpower or man hours put into it as something like the European Club Index from Infostrada. On the other hand, the most recent version of this model has been in play since June, and has done a good job picking out the good and bad teams in Brazil and MLS very quickly. Simpler versions of this model also predicted Augsburg would pick themselves up off the bottom of the Bundesliga and escape relegation last season, which they did. Sadly, it also thought Deportivo would save themselves from doom in Spain, but missed that one due to three losses in their last four matches. Ya win some long shots… A quick note on methodology: These rankings know nothing about the league table. They don’t care what team is in first and what team is in last, and operate on an entirely separate statistical methodology. They are highly predictive of future league places in the table, but variance exists. I would not post them if I didn’t believe they were pretty good. Additionally, these are very early rankings. Things tend to settle down a lot after week 10, so expect some volatility between now and when we next check back on them. Eredivisie Rankings After Week 5






PSV Eindhoven






PEC Zwolle








Go Ahead Eagles




AZ Alkmaar


NAC Breda




NEC Nijmegen


ADO Den Haag





Predicted League Champ: Twente Fighting for CL slots: Groningen, PSV, Feyenoord, Vitesse, Zwolle, Heracles Relegation candidates: Roda, Waalwijk Through the first 5 matches, Twente are far and away the best team. Their coefficient likely won’t stay so far ahead of the other teams for the rest of the season, but they have been massively impressive across the first five. Ajax are dead middle of the pack and will probably suffer without Christian Eriksen. Waalwijk are so bad at doing certain things that they broke the model. English Championship After Week 5






Queens Park Rangers


























Nottingham Forest


Sheffield Wednesday















Predicted League Champ: Watford Fighting for Playoff slots: Ipswich, QPR, Burnley, Wigan, Huddersfield, Brighton Relegation candidates: Birmingham, Yeovil Personally, I don’t think anyone except QPR are going to win this league. Part of that is based on the additional players they brought in before the deadline, and part is based on the absolutely massive gulf in quality and pay they have from the rest of the league. That said, Watford are again very good. Given their position in the league table, I am as shocked by the Ipswich position in predictions as anyone. I think their coefficient will likely drop before the next update, but their results will improve, if that makes any sense. Birmingham are in fairly serious trouble unless something changes. Reading are also on the edge of the troubled zone, something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Bundesliga 2 After Week 6


Karlsruher SC


Fortuna Düsseldorf




Energie Cottbus


FSV Frankfurt




Dynamo Dresden


Arminia Bielefeld


Union Berlin


Greuther Fürth






St. Pauli








1860 München


Erzgebirge Aue

Predicted League Champ: Too Close to Call Fighting for Playoff slots: Any of the Top 6 Relegation candidates: Erzgebirge, 1860, Paderborn Thanks to Colin Trainor for hooking me up with stats. Bundesliga.2 is much more tightly packed than the Championship, indicating great parity. They still have some pretty bad teams, but nothing close to how awful Birmingham is. Somehow I expected a higher Pace in this league (noted by total shots for and against per game), but it’s about 25 a match versus Championship’s 26.4 or so. They also don’t show the same ability to put shots on target as the big German league does, looking much more like England in that respect, something I didn’t really expect. Recap Right, so there’s a quick look at what my personal model suggests to be the best and worst teams in each of those leagues. We’ll check back on them after week 10 and see what has changed as the coefficients solidify. The model becomes active on Bundesliga.1 and Ligue 1 after this weekend, so expect me to take a quick look at both of those in the middle of next week. --TK

The Top Ten Transfers of Summer 2013

So last week, Tancredi Palmeri released his Top 10 Transfers of the Summer on WhoScored. Tanc’s list is full of large numbers and big names, which struck me as a bit lazy, but might have been the entire point of his piece.  Maybe it was just supposed to be a recap of the big names that bebopped to new clubs this summer. I would evaluate paying 60 million euros for Falcao as awful business, but he made Tancredi’s list in the three slot. This forced me to dig through all the summer business and come up with an alternative list of my own.

The point of my list is to examine value for money, with at least a nod toward the full cost of a transfer versus just a reported fee. This means that only paying £10M for Carlos Tevez, though fairly clever business on the surface, is mitigated by the fact that he’s 29 and has a huge wage packet.  The same is true for Samuel Eto’o, who Chelsea got for free from Anzhi, but who is 32 and allegedly had the highest salary in the world before his move. In Ted’s world you get bonus points for buying younger players that already produce in the top tier, since they tend to get even better as they get older and reach their physical peaks. I also care a lot about the stats you produce, and care not at all about the player’s name.

These are in no particular order.

Max Kruse – FWD/AM - £2.25M


Last season, Freiburg bought Max Kruse for 500k euros from St. Pauli. He repaid that by scoring 11 goals and assisting on 8 others, a fantastic return on such a small investment. The only problem was, Kruse’s contract included a fairly public release clause (I was told by one of my Twitter followers it was actually in Kicker magazine), which allowed Borussia Moenchengladbach to buy the high performer for the relative pittance of £2.25M. In 4 matches so far this season, he has 2 goals, 1 assist, averages 3 key passes a game and is completing 87% of his passes. He just does everything well.

Max Kruse is what started my writing about player analytics(link). He was obviously going to be on this list all along, but it’s nice to see him start the new season like he finished the last one.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – FWD – £11.1M

In a summer that saw massive inflation for goalscorer fees, how did this guy move for only 11.1M? This is yet another example of Dortmund targeting players that can help them and then crushing the market on the fee they paid. Back at the start of the window, I compared many of the notable forwards on the market, and Aubameyang came out very well in the visualization (link).

19G/9A last season, only 23 years old, technically gifted and quick. Yet somehow his fee is so tiny as to barely be noticeable in the heaving tides of cash tossed around this summer.

David Villa – FWD – £4.4M

I think I mentioned in the Liverpool transfer shopping piece that I did The Tomkins Times, that there are two basic sweet spots to find value in the market. The first of these is to sign younger players with established levels of performance, and the second is to sign older players who have been great and are still performing well on giant discounts. (The last one depends a lot on whether you can get a good deal on the wages.) Dimitar Berbatov for £4M was one of those last summer, and David Villa is another one. If Villa is 28 years old, he’d easily sell for £20M+. He’s 31 now, but still put up excellent stats last season (even with Barcelona inflation). There is almost no risk in this transfer, either in fee or expectation from the player.

It’s just another tremendous deal from Atletico, who are hugely talented on the pitch this year and did very well in the summer shopping market.

Mario Goetze – AttMid – £31.5M

Ahhh, release clauses. In cases like Edinson Cavani, they are amazing things for the selling club because it allows them to have a firm negotiating position on a player they might want to sell, but not for anything less than maximum value.

And then there’s Mario Goetze. Already one of the best attacking midfielders in the world at age 20, he was purchased by Bayern Munich from league rivals and Champions League Final opponents Borussia Dortmund directly before their big semifinal battle against Real Madrid. Dortmund clearly did not want to sell him. They especially did not want to sell him to their biggest rival in Germany. Yet there was a pesky release clause written into his contract that let Bayern carry him away.

Goetze’s fee is almost certainly £10-12M too cheap for a player of his calibre and age, and it helped Munich weaken Dortmund this coming season while adding yet another generational talent to their roster.

Tremendous, bastardly business.

Christian Eriksen – AttMid – £11M


There’s a strong indication that producing high levels of assists at a young age (22 or younger) is indicative of special talent. Eriksen is one of those guys. He did it first for Ajax at age 19 (11A). Then again at age 20 (17A). Then again at 21 (13A)!  He had 3 assists in four matches this season before sealing a transfer to Tottenham Hotspur.

Now granted, scoring in Eredivisie is inflated and goal numbers produced there don’t always translate well when players move to bigger leagues. That said, passing skill seems fairly universal. Great passers in one league usually end up being great passers in another league.

Spurs just signed one of the best creative midfielders in Europe, at age 21, for £11M. He produced 41 assists in the last three seasons and had a real chance to set the league record this year if he’d stayed with Ajax. And he won three straight league titles there.

He only cost £11M because he was in the last year of his contract, but how were no Champions’ League teams involved?

Give him a year or two to settle in at Spurs, and Eriksen will make everyone but Baldini look really dumb.

Etienne Capoue – DM/DC – £9M

Speaking of Baldini, I was unconvinced by this one at first. Oh joy, another random French defensive player… those always work out well, don’t they? [To clarify, he's a highly defensive DM who sometimes played CB for Toulouse as well.]

Then I saw him play a couple of matches and wow, he’s everywhere. Per90 averages of 4.1 tackles and 5.5 interceptions are stunning, especially in a new league. His passing ability is solid, and he’s obviously physically gifted. Given how deep he normally plays, his stats from last year also show the ability to get involved at the offensive end as well.

Spurs quietly shored up their defense this summer with moderate investments, but they already look a lot better. Capoue cost a third of what PSG paid for Marquinhos and looks like he’s every bit as good, if not better.

How did they find him? Well, he was the second highest rated player in France according to WhoScored. The only player who graded out better than him last year according to their algorithm was Zlatan. Sometimes it really is that easy.

Luca Cigarini – DM – £1.9M

It’s likely that I don’t fully understand his actual transfer fee because of some jointly-owned player stuff that Serie A is famous for, and that his deal was somehow a bit more expensive than the £1.9M listed. To me, that is the only way this transfer fee can possibly make sense. Napoli bought Cigarini ages ago for closer to £10M and then farmed him out to learn his trade. He seemed to settle in at Atalanta and I expected Napoli would be very interested in bringing him back this year.

Why should you care? Because his statistical profile looks very much like a poor man’s Andrea Pirlo. That’s not me being glib – he has the same regista abilities that Pirlo has, only he’s not quite as jaw-dropping as the much older Italian maestro (I looked at this in more detail here). At 27, he’s right at the expected peak age for midfielders, and if he stays healthy, he should have another 3-4 years of excellent performances ahead.

Given all the money spent around Europe this summer, £2M would have been an absolute pittance for a central midfielder who was sneakily world class calibre. *cough*ManU*cough*

Mario Gomez – FWD – £17.2M

Higuain? 34M. Cavani? 54M. Falcao? 51M. Liverpool turned down £40M for Suarez. Gareth Bale? £85M

Of all the forwards on the market this summer, over the last two seasons, Gomez was second in Goals and Assist per90 average to Higuain. Yet he was by far the cheapest of the lot. Granted, a small reason for that is due to his age (28), but a much bigger factor is that Mario is boring.

Look, this isn’t my opinion – I’m just interpreting what everyone else seems to be saying. Apparently, goals are boring. Dribbling? THAT is exciting! Beating your man is exciting! Creating tons of shots (for yourself) is exciting, even if you are bad at converting them. Creating shots for others might be exciting. The world is a bit on the fence about that one.

Brutal statistical efficiency? Boring. Even when it leads to goals. Yaaaawn, so what if a guy is always in the right place at the right time. Did he beat two guys on the dribble to get there? No? Fuck ‘em.

In economic markets, boring is cheap. Therefore, in this summer of monster transfer fees for anyone who can score a goal, Fiorentina bought Mario for a pittance. Half of an Higuain. A third of a Falcao. Arsenal should have snapped Bayern’s hand off at this price, but somehow Gomez ended up with the Viola, fighting in the Europa League.

Wickedly good business though. Well done, purple people.

Adem Ljajic – AttMid/FWD – £9.25M

If you followed my Twitter at all this summer, you know that I have a football crush on Ljajic. Only 21, he put up top tier numbers for Fiorentina last season, with goals per90 (.55), key pass (1.6), and passing success rates (88%) that were off the charts for his age. In fact, two of those three numbers are at the top of the charts for nearly any age. Yet somehow none of the Premier League clubs in England could lure him away from Italy. Did they at least try?!? Nobody knows.

With only one season left on his contract, Fiorentina were forced to sell him or lose any value whatsoever, but they were desperate not to sell him to AC Milan, who stole the last CL place from Fiorentina on the last day of the year with an extremely dodgy penalty award. Eventually Roma stepped in and bought him as a replacement for Erik Lamela, pocketing £20M in the process.

Let’s look at that again in a different way. Roma sold Lamela to Spurs for £30M, which was actually a fairly good buy in and of itself. Roma then bought Ljajic, who is nearly s perfect replacement for Lamela’s production and the exact same age.

For £9M. Grand larceny.

Your honor, I rest my case.

Mesut Ozil – AttMid – £42.5M

I debated leaving this one off because I am inherently biased. Ozil is my favourite player. He was purchased by the team I have rooted for since I started following football back in 1998. He has a beauty and grace to his game that are hard to quantify, and yet advanced metrics absolutely love him. There was no way I could evaluate this one objectively.

Then the complaints from Real Madrid players began filtering out. Ramos and Khedira both seemed tremendously sad and frustrated that Ozil was sold. Uppity ups in the German National Team quietly cheered that he moved out of the Madrid pressure cooker into a more supportive environment where he was sure to get playing time. Even Ronaldo took a moment away from contemplating himself in the mirror, and said he was angry that he’d get fewer perfect balls to put away.

Seriously, Ronaldo complained.

The fact of the matter is, they are right. Ozil has the most assists of anyone in Europe over the last five seasons. He clearly makes his teammates better and is a footballing genius. His genius is recognized by his now former teammates, who have gone out of their way to bitch to the press about his sale. That’s pretty usual.

I’m fairly agnostic about the value of goals versus assists – to me they are all scoring elements that differ slightly by the end result. In my opinion, it’s probably best to measure offensive contribution by combining the two numbers into one value. Ozil had a higher G+A per90 than Gareth Bale last year and in fact, every year, but is only one year older than Bale. Yet Bale sold for twice as much. Ozil’s non-penalty stats were similar to Cavani’s, but Cavani cost more. They were better than Falcao’s, but he also cost more. And that only addresses the direct scoring contributions, when Ozil actually plays a much busier and more active role.

Overall, £42.5M is fair value for an attacking midfielder who is one of the best in the world. On the other hand, he probably is the best in the world at that position and is just entering the prime of his career. This summer especially, getting Ozil for less than £50M and convincing him to go to Arsenal was a shocking piece of business. It doesn’t make up for the rest of Arsenal’s donkey-do this summer, but it’s a start.

Honorable Mentions

A few quick hits about the following guys before I sign off

Player Name Age Pos From To Fee(£)
Fernando Llorente


FWD Bilbao Juventus


Sascha Riether


FB Koln Fulham


Nathan Redmond


AM Birmingham Norwich


Josep Illicic


FWD Palermo Fiorentina


Jeremy Toulalan


DM Malaga Monaco


I am uncertain if free signings are allowed to count toward best transfers, but Llorente was damned handy before Bilbao punished him by sitting him on the bench for an entire season just for wanting to leave. He’s big, but skilful and will provide Juve with some extra punch they have needed for at least two seasons now.

Good right backs are a scarce commodity and Fulham grabbed Riether after renting him last season for a measly £1.3M. If you read my OptaPro piece (link), you’ll know he was quietly one of the best fullbacks in the league last year. I would have included Norwich’s Nathan Redmond above, but I don’t have stats for him from last season and we’ve only had three matches so far this year.

That said, he has terrorized opposition with his dribbling ability, and looks like he might even pick his head up from time to time to pick out a teammate on the pass. If he even comes close to living up to his potential, that fee will be a fifth of his next one. Illicic posted good numbers on a bad team last year in Italy(Link). Initially rumored to be going to Leverkusen, Fiorentina somehow latched on and added his abilities to an already potent attacking force. Compare the 7.6M spent on him to the dross picked up around the Premier League for similar fees and you can immediately understand where I am coming from.

As for Toulalan, he has long been a handy player in the center of the park, and brings a ton of Champions’ League experience with him. Monaco hoovered him up as part of their massive summer shopping spree, but he was one of the few names they grabbed that did not also have a massive price. He’s another example of older national team players that were grabbed for a nice discount versus what you can expect from his performance.

10 Points: Deadline Day, Liverpool, Paolo Di Canio, United's Set Pieces and erm, 10 Points? Week 3

1) Deadline Day

Panic, chaos and overspend. These seem to be three words which most accurately sum up how most clubs operate on deadline day. Smart clubs conclude their transfer business early in the window and tend not to take part in the last gasp dash that was Monday night unless a fantastic opportunity presents itself. The smart clubs try and bring in new players before the season has even begun in order to bed those players into new environments and new systems. But we know this isn't always possible. Most clubs attempt to buy and sell players until the very last day of the window and this means agents are pushing clubs to sign players, and pushing players to leave clubs. This pushing and touting of players probably causes a lot of upheaval and stress at a time when managers and players should be focusing on the match preparation and tactical issues. A solution to the problem of agents hawking players, players becoming unsettled and the division of a mangers time and concentration? Shorten the transfer window and move it back to, lets say, August the 10th. The window closes before any league fixture in the major European Countries has taken place. Agents, managers and players can focus their efforts on the transfer window pre-August the 10th and once that deadline has closed everyone can focus all their efforts on playing football games. We don't need situations like the Bale and Cabaye sit-outs. We need a clean seperation between transfer window and competetive football fixtures.

2) Liverpool's Strong Start

It's been an impressive start to the season for Liverpool. 3 wins, including a win over a pretty toothless Man United team. Liverpool have scored the first goal of the game in each of their first three fixtures and once in the lead have tended to tighten their defensive shape and consolidate their game position. The real test for Liverpool, their new team and the managers tactical setup will come when Liverpool fall behind in a game. DO they have enoug skill, creativity and no little patience to come from behind in games and a positive result? What of Luis Suarez's return, will he help or will he become a distraction for a team who is building nicely without him? Fixtures against Swansea, Southampton and Sunderland may not tell us much about Liverpool's ability to overpower above average opposition but these were the types of games Liverpool sometimes struggled in last term.

3) Fulham

It's early in the season, like, really early in the season but Fulham have not started well. Three points from three games isn't terrible considering Fulham are a poor away side and their solitary home game was against an Arsenal side who feast on weaker opposition. There has been a common theme running through each of Fulham's fixtures so far: they are being butchered by the shots count. Fulham_week_3_medium TSR shows Fulham's share of total shots. SoTR shows Fulham's share of the shots on target. Fenwick shows Fulham's share of the shots on target & blocked shots. League average is 50 in each of these categories and it's clear to see that Fulham fall well below that league average number. A sub-par midfield, an odd corps of specialist strikers and lack of pace throughout the team could cause Fulham to become this seasons Sunderland (a team who struggled mightily in 12/13 by the shots count). Next up, West Brom at home.

4) Performance Of The Week: Stoke

Mark Hughes won a football match! Yes, that is now two wins from three games and this represents a nice start to what is surely his last chance as a PL manager. Stoke's first win of the season was at home to Crystal Palace who are one of the leagues weaker teams, but Saturday's fixture away at West Ham was a different beast. West Ham had mighty good home form in 2012/13 and I expect that form to continue into this season too. Sam Allardyce team are difficult to play against, they create good opportunities to score and tend to restrict the opposition from doing likewise. Hence way not many pundits fancied this Stoke team, in transition in terms of manager and playing style,, to go and win away in East London. Not only did Stoke manage to take the three points they did so in impressive fashion. Stoke outshot West Ham 15-9 and 5-0 in terms of shots on target. Stoke had more possession, more corners and the final third passes were 130-127 in West Ham's favour. These are impressive numbers from a team who were one of the poorest away outfits in the league last year. It's very early in the season to be drawing any conclusions about manager effects or how a team has overhauled it's style but the 2013/14 season has started pretty well for Stoke.

5) PDC

So Paolo Di Canio had another pop at his players after their 3-1 loss away at Crystal Palace. Di Canio was quoted criticizing his captain John O'Shea, calling the players sending off ''absolutely poor and not acceptable''. But the following quote about Connor Whickham is my personal favourite:  "After one and a half goals against a League One side he is probably over the moon. There is not the right desire, and I cannot change the heart of my players". Now, it's one thing criticizing an underperforming senior pro, but I would question just how sensible it is to lay into a 20 yo striker prospect. It's even worse to criticise the performance of your club captain, who in some circumstances, will be your only true ally in a dressing room that is too painfully used to being criticised in public. We all knew Di Canio would lose his lax control on that temper of his, but nobody thought the public criticism would have begun this soon. Just think for a moment about Di Canio and his charges mental well being after the run of home fixtures. Sunderland's upcoming home fixtures:  Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham. Di Canio could well and truly out of his mind by the time we get to Xmas.

6) Waste In The Final Third

Within the analytics community a lot of recent work has focused on the final third, namely passing numbers, chance creation and shots (distance, location etc). This of course looks closely at the outcomes, but not so much at how teams arriving in these positions in the first place. This then is what we are looking at with City this season as we try to record the first meaningful (publicly anyway) data. Although three weeks in is way too early to draw any conclusions there is an area that we perhaps didn't necessarily account for: how much possession and territorial advantage that the final third brings is wasted. Let's take City this season. City, through three games have had 168 final third entries, yet have lost possession (either turning it over or being dispossessed) 100 times, or 59.52% of the time. Take the other side and City have allowed 72 final third entries but the opposition have lost possession a staggering 50 times, or 69.44% of the time. Contrast this to the number of shots taken (City 37 and opposition 14) and it appears that territorial advantage may not be as valuable as thought. Early days of course and this may merely highlight the value of strong defence. One to keep an eye on as we move through the season.

7) Yaya Toure & Free kicks

7) Yaya Toure & Free kicks

Yaya Toure is a fine footballer, a powerhouse midfielder who roams across the field with authority. One aspect of his game which is not particularly well known is his free kick taking ability. That looks like it may be about to change. This was Toure's free kick against Hull, his second goal from a set-piece situation in three games. Paul Carr digs into some of the background:

In his first 3 PL seasons, Yaya Toure had no goals on direct free kicks. He has 2 in 3 games this season. — Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) August 31, 2013

He (Yaya Toure) had six shots on direct free kicks in the previous three seasons. via @PCarrESPN

Toure's new found prowess as a free kick taker may have been a skill he possessed all along, it was just that Toure was never given a chance to prove it. Previous seasons have seen Tevez, Balotelli, Silva, Milner and Kolarov all on rotation for spot kick duty. Under Mancini, Toure was never an option yet Pellegrini has seen something in Toure that has forced the managers hand. Toure is unlikely to sustain this excellent free kick conversion rate for the rest of the season but it's mighty nice when a new manager tweaks a system or, in this instance, a free kick taker and having it pay off immediately in terms of goals scored.

8) Man United's Set Piece Puzzler

Manchester United were an incredibly good set piece team in 2012/13 (link), scoring a league high 26 goals. Now, set-pieces are some parts luck and some parts skill. It's nearly impossible to determine the drivers of the set-piece skill, but it may fair to guess that delivery is a big part of it. Hence why it may be fair to say that a good part of Man United's set-piece prowess last term was due to quality delivery from dead ball situations. You can see where I am going with this. van Persie was the main driver of that excellent set-piece goals tally in 2012/13, so why on earth is the same player not taking the primary set-piece's for Man United this season? Robin van Persie's Set-Piece Tally In 2013/14 v Swansea 2 corners, 1 free-kick v Chelsea 2 corners, 0 free-kicks v Liverpool 0 corners 1 free-kick Now, I have no idea how many free-kick situations Man United have had in the three PL games of 2013/14 but I imagine there have been more than two, which is RvP's free-kick tally this term. How about corners? Man United have been awarded 15 corners in this new season with RvP taking just 4 of them. So what the hell is going on, why take a player who was, in all likelihood, the driver of Man United's set-piece magic off of set-piece taking duty? A theory: either van Persie is injured - specifically, a left foot injury - or Moyes doesn't really fancy van Persie as his set-piece taker. Early doors and all, but this is definitely something to keep track off this season. Thoughts?

9) This Ten Points Thing Is Popular, Huh?

We've been running this Ten Points recap/reflection/look back for almost a year now both here on Statsbomb and over at Bitter and Blue, and it has proved one of the popular features on the site. How popular? Take a look around the mainstream media this past week or so: We have The GuardianBBCMENThe MirrorIndependent and ESPN have all offering up their versions. As far as we know (although we are willing to stand corrected) we were the first to run something along the lines of a 'Ten Points...' piece. If you can't beat 'em....

10) Goal Of The Week

Hatem Ben Arfa wins it. The quality of his footwork and his balance was a joy. But it was the importance of the goal that tipped the decision in the Frenchman's favour. Redmond and Yaya Toure were in consideration.

The Animal Farm of Key Passes

The ability for us amateur analysts to access Opta data through front end publishers such as StatsZone and Squawka has probably been the single biggest reason for whatever advances have been made in the field of football analytics over the last year or two. But, I discover that having access to this data now causes me problems.  I find that I now always have a desire to dig ever deeper into the available data; I have a need to go further and further into the Rabbit Hole.  Believe me, it’s a bloody frustrating place to exist in. So why am I going all philosophical on my readers? Key Passes metric This was sparked by the excellent piece published yesterday by Adam Bate on Mesut Özil where he uses metrics such as Key Passes and Key Passes per90. As Ted Knutson remarked on Twitter, it is great to see the emergence of metrics such as Key Passes being used in the mainstream media and it’s a clear sign that analytics is slowly making its way into football parlance.  The use of this metric helps put an objective measurement around the creativity of footballers. Before the Key Pass metric came into existence, reporters would have had no option but to gush in subjective terms about the “wand of a right foot that player x possesses” or at best they perhaps could have cited one or two specific examples of great passes. Thanks to the Opta recorded measure of Key Passes it is accepted that it now possible to move away from relying solely on subjective measurements and be able to construct a synopsis of a player on undisputed facts.  This synopsis can then have the “soft factors” added into it by the writer to complete the picture of a creative player. So what’s the problem? I’m not totally happy with the use of Key Passes being used to measure the creativity of a player, because I know we can do better. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m much happier with using this measure than not having any objective measures available to us at all, but the drawback when using Key Passes is the implicit assumption that all Key Passes are the same.  I say this as the data providers (edit - just to clarify I mean in terms of the standard metrics that are published) do not distinguish between the relative effectiveness of different key passes, it therefore follows that users of this stat just cannot distinguish between different types of Key Passes. Coutinho v Sissoko I’ll use the example of the Key Passes created by Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko over the first 3 games of this current Premier League season to demonstrate my point. Firstly, how did the two players fare in terms of Key Passes so far this season? Sissokho WS Coutinho WS The above images are taken from whoscored.com We can see that both players have an average of 2 Key Passes per game, or 6 Key Passes in total. The Analytics Skeptic Now picture a journalist who was previously an analytics naysayer deciding to finally embrace analytics.  He goes along to the whoscored site and uses the best data (Opta supplied) that is readily available to him and states that, on the objectively measured data, Sissoko and Coutinho were equally creative over the opening 3 games of the season. Our journalist has taken the stats at face value and penned his piece along those lines.  However, within 10 minutes of his piece being published he gets bombarded with comments by readers asking what planet he lives on if he is suggesting that, even over those 3 games, Sissokho was as creative as Coutinho. Don’t stop Let’s go back to the sentiments I expressed at the top of this piece. I now appreciate that it is wrong to stop at the top level of detail, Key Passes in this example.   It’s just a pity that no one told our journalist friend this as he has now decided that he’s never going to look at an Opta statistic again, and that he was right all along not to trust those pesky stats. More detailed data is available, so why don’t we use it instead of being content with the top level metric of Key Pass? The obvious answer for why we tend not to use the whole depth of data that is available to us is that it is so bloody time consuming to digest and interpret.  Thankfully, at this stage of the season with just 3 games played that task is just not quite so onerous. Let’s now look in detail at the 6 Key Passes that the two players played over their first 3 games, starting with Sissoko. Sissokho Apparently Sissoko created 6 chances during Newcastle’s opening 3 games.  I would contend that he actually made 1 very good chance, 1 poor chance and the other 4 are falsely labelled as chances as they all must be 40 yards or more out from goal. So what about Liverpool’s Brazilian playmaker, Coutinho? Coutinho Coutinho’s 6 Key Passes really look like Key Passes.  I would argue that only one of those passes led to what could be classified as a “poor shot”.  The other Key Passes led to very high quality shooting opportunities for Liverpool. Summary This piece isn’t intended as a slight on Sissoko, and indeed I don’t think that too many would have argued that the Frenchman was as creative as Coutinho.  However, when looking at the bare Key Pass numbers it appeared that the two players had the same creative impact over their first 3 games.  When delving a little deeper into the data available to us we see that this simply wasn’t the case. So what’s the point of this? I guess I have 3 points: 1 -  There just aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to process and effectively use all of the data that is now available to us in one form or another. 2 - On a macro level, even being armed with the data is not enough.  The data needs a lot of TLC to be able to be used efficiently and to release the secrets that it undoubtedly holds. 3 - On a much narrower micro level, it is obvious not all Key Passes or chances created are the same.  Now that the term “Key Passes” is slowly appearing in the mainstream media is it time to go a little further into the Rabbit Hole and attempt to assign some quality measure to the raw, but important statistic of Key Pass?  I feel it is, and the above extreme example illustrates why. And remember, all Key Passes are equal, but some Key Passes are more equal than others.

The Curious Cost of the Everton Loans

What is the first thing you do when you start a new game of Football Manager? If you’re at all like me, you look for players to sell so you can raise money, especially ones with big contracts. The second thing you do is go shopping for all the young talent (wonderkids) you can possibly find in your price range. (Note: This assumes that you are the type of person who likes a challenge, and takes charge of a League One/Championship side at most. If you just want to control Manchester City or Chelsea, may god have mercy on your soul.) In business terms, you are looking to sell overvalued assets to some unsuspecting sucker and turn the cash from those into undervalued assets that have a strong likelihood to appreciate. By doing so, you create a “wonderkid revenue stream,” which is really useful in both acquiring better players, and later selling those players at large profits. Lather, rinse, repeat. 1)      Sell old dudes. Sell expensive dudes. 2)      Buy young dudes. 3)      Train young dudes well and wait for them to become older. 4)      Profit!!! It sounds kind of silly, but that’s one of the fastest roads to prosperity in the world’s most addictive game/spreadsheet. One of the things you almost never do at that level is take large salaries on loan. The reason for this is simple – unless you think the loan player will get you promoted, you are completely destroying any asset value that money would have. It flies right out the window as a cost and never comes back. Spending that money on one year of player performance is almost always inferior to buying a good player that you can later sell down the road. (There is a middle ground of taking great young players from bigger clubs on loan (their wages are usually reasonable or subsidized by the big club), but that’s not the point I’m after right now.) Why are we talking about Football Manager? Because I suspect most of our audience have played it, and it’s a reasonable analog for running a football club. You have a fixed budget. You have to balance spending on transfer fees and wages. And the point is most certainly to try and win games, but also to increase the value of your club overall. The Curious Case of the Everton Loans Andy Hunter had a piece in The Guardian on Tuesday detailing Everton’s deadline day transfers. The article leads off with this:

The Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, showed an astute business head as three signings were completed late in the day and the Marouane Fellaini deal delivered more than expected.

Impressive, right? Then it ends with this information:

Everton intend to offer Baines a new contract now the window has closed and, despite making a profit this summer, £2m of the Fellaini fee is owed to his former club Standard Liège while the loan deals for Lukaku and Barry will cost close to £10m. Kenwright, meanwhile, finds himself in the rare position of receiving credit where credit is due.

Oh cool, that’s great business then. You sold Fellaini for £27.5M, and grabbed two strong players for your starting eleven for the next year. They only cost… TEN MILLION?!? GarryBarryNow the fact of the matter is that these are the reported fee and salaries. The actual amounts could be less than these, and I would hope they are. There are also deals like the David Villa one that looks crazy on the surface – Atletico bought him for about 5 million euros – but in reality contain things like first option on Oliver Torres that make them much more valuable. Torres is already incredibly talented at age 18, and virtually guaranteed to be a starting midfielder in Spain’s national team in the future. However, even if the fees/salaries were 75% of the reported amount, the size of them turns a transfer window that was championed as great completely on its head. A club with a revenue stream the size of Everton’s (£80M in turnover) simply cannot pay these types of expenses for a one-year rental. Everton management is delusional if they think the addition of these two players will get them into the Champions’ League. And if that isn’t the result, then what's the point? And Now For Something Completely Different… LambertMagicTo illustrate a different way of spending that money, look at the last two transfer windows for Aston Villa. Villa are a club of similar size and stature to Everton, but one that has been through a rough patch recently, caused by years of ridiculous transfer and wage spending crossed with bad managerial choices. Under Paul Lambert, all of that has changed. Instead of buying Premier League players for large fees, Villa focus their efforts on overseas and lower league youngsters. I have no knowledge as to their scouting network or how they use analytics, but I can say that last year’s purchases were excellent, and this year’s crop seem good as well.

Player Age Position Fee(£M)






















For £1M more than what Everton are spending on Lukaku and Barry this season, Villa added five potential stars to their lineup. This isn’t to say that they will all be good – on average about half of all transfers are a probable bust – but they aren’t risking much in the gamble. Their biggest risk came on deadline day, where they grabbed 24-year-old Libor Kozak from Lazio for a rumoured £7M. My guess on this one is that they either decided Helenius wasn’t a good enough backup, or they found a good deal on a player they liked, and get to let him bed in for a year before selling Benteke next summer. [All hate mail and inquiries from Villa fans should be directed to @footballfactman on Twitter.] One of the massive benefits of buying younger players is that basic physiology tells us they are likely to get better. Their muscles and body of males continue to develop until about 25 years old, and age curves for the different positions suggest there will be peaks at 25 for forwards, 27 for midfielders, 29 for defenders, and 31 for goalkeepers. Buying young players who already perform well lets teams naturally benefit from the age curve. Also, because the players are young and the transfer fees are low, they are likely on comparatively low wages. This means that they don’t cost much if you aren’t playing them, and you can resell them fairly easily to other teams/countries if things don’t work out. Compare this to Arsenal’s disastrous last four years of loaning out underperformers again and again because they are overpaid and no one wants to buy them, and you will see what I mean. Overpaid bad players are football’s herpes, destined to come back again and again, right when you don’t want them. Villa are already in a position where they can flip multiple players they bought during Lambert’s first season in charge. For a fee of just under £8M, Christian Benteke made an immediate impact in the Premier League, helping Villa avoid relegation, making Darren Bent and his giant wages expendable, and parlaying one year of performance into a hefty new contract. Given the goalscorer inflation from this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Benteke sell for £35-40M a year from now. Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood, both purchased from League One, are other players whose value appreciated dramatically after one year of Premier League action. Villa were never really skint, but their savvy in the transfer market paid almost immediate dividends, both in terms of performance on the field, and performance as a business.  A guaranteed £25M profit from Benteke can then be sunk back into the product on the field while continuing to develop players for the future. It’s a simple philosophy, but one that is correct and hugely rewarding when employed correctly. Back to Merseyside koneNow compare this to what happened up at Everton this summer.  Selling Fellaini for £27.5M was good business (though not incredible, since Fell is alleged to have cost £17+M initially), as was the sale of Anichebe to West Brom for a rumoured £5-6M. However, Everton’s incoming players leave a lot to be desired. I liked the loan for Delofeu, who was excellent in Segunda last season and should develop into a fine player. The fee and wages are likely nominal, so this move just makes sense. I also like the purchase of James McCarthy for a rumoured £12.5M. He’s only 22 and is already maturing into a valuable player at the Premier League level. After that though, things go bad quickly. First you have £5M spunked on a 29-year-old forward in Arouna Kone, a player who will have zero transfer value in a year or two. Wigan buying him for 3M when they were desperate for a scorer was a good gamble and he produced. Everton allegedly paying twice that price a year later is not.  The verdict is out on Robles, but the fee is low enough and he’s young enough that it’s hard to quibble there. Then you have the reported £10M spent on loans for Barry and Lukaku. £10M to rent two players for a season, when there is no way this team is making the Champions’ League – what’s the point? None of these help the team get younger or add to the asset list of the club. Did Martinez sell Kenwright a bill of goods in getting his hopes up for Champions’ League football? Is Kenwright willing to offset these fairly crazy expenditures with cash injections, something that hasn’t happened before? Compare this to what Villa are doing and it all looks foolish and misguided. In fact, it’s a lot like what happened to Liverpool during the Hicks, Gillett, and then Comolli eras. Money is going out the door on things that cost too much, don’t add enough to the product on the field, and provide no long-term value for the club. Mistakes like this when you have Liverpool’s revenue stream costs you hundreds of millions of pounds and years of lost Champions’ League participation. Mistakes like this at Everton’s level are likely to yield a plunge in performance that takes years to dig out of, especially since the clubs around them (Liverpool, Swansea, Aston Villa, Southampton) suddenly seem really smart.  

Premier League Shooting - The First 3 Weeks

Three games is an awfully small sample set on which to make any solid conclusions or assertions.  Still, with the international break upon us and Deadline Day behind us I thought I’d have a look at the data and see what the opening few games have told us about the creativity (or otherwise) of the Premier League teams. I am fully aware that almost everything in this piece needs to be caveated with “remember that only three games have been played”, but I’ll assume that people would rather read those caveated comments than nothing at all.  If you’d prefer not to then you have opened the wrong link. Data Rules In this piece we’ll look at the number of shots that each team has taken thus far.  The plot below shows the total number of shots (horizontal axis) and the number of shots from centrally inside the penalty area (vertical axis) taken by each team during their opening three games. Centrally inside the penalty area assumes that the end boundaries of the 6 yard line were extended as far as the edge of the penalty area. Penalties have been excluded and headers included in these figures. (Click on the image to make it easier to read) Shots3     jelavic Everton Everton has taken the most shots so far in the Premier League. Their total of 55 shots has been assisted by the score effects that they have “enjoyed” in their games so far.  These score effects have meant that the Goodison men have been chasing goals through huge portions of their Premier League pitch time, but as with last season they are seeing far too many of their efforts blocked.  These blocked shots, ceteris paribus, tend to be symptoms of teams that are too ponderous and static in their build ups as they give the defending team time to get defenders between the shot and the goal. For information, there are currently three teams which have seen 30% or more of their shots blocked. They are Everton, Arsenal and Sunderland. soldado Tottenham Tottenham are a close second to Everton with 51 shots in their three games, although as with last year Spurs seem to have an overwhelming desire to pull the trigger early on their shots. It had been assumed that the primary reason for the majority of Tottenham’s shots being struck from outside the area last season was due to the presence of Gareth Bale. But on the early evidence of this season perhaps Bale merely fitted extremely well into the Tottenham system of play as opposed to him being the main architect for why they played that way. If indeed this is the case, then Roberto Soldado may end up being as frustrated as I had feared he might in this pre-season piece where I evaluated his acquisition by Spurs. Tottenham’s 15 shots from prime shooting territory are approximately just on a par with West Ham and Southampton even though those latter two teams have 16 – 18 shots less than Spurs.  This love of long distance shooting is something that I feel the North London team need to work on. Their opening two wins and perceived favourable summer transfer activity has seemed to mask, in the mainstream media anyway, the fact that they haven’t actually scored any goals other than their two penalties.  That really is poor from 51 shots at goal. manc Man City Man City has comfortably the most shots from inside central location this season. With 29 shots from this region they have seven more than their nearest rivals, Arsenal.  However, City’s figure is somewhat inflated due to the fact that they have 18 headers included in their attempts, with all of them being attempted from these good positions.  By contrast, Arsenal has only had eight headed attempts so far this season. Interestingly, whether by luck or design City have had almost double the amount of headers than any other team in the Premier League.  Everton and Newcastle follow a long way behind City as "Best of the Rest" with 10 headed attempts. It is worth remembering that headers have a lower probability of being scored than a shot struck with feet from a similar position. Almost 80% of City’s shots have been from inside the penalty area this season.  Although this figure will inevitably decrease as the game counter ticks by, they have displayed an extremely disciplined approach to their shooting.  Compare that with Spurs’ tally of just 43% from inside the area.   Even after just three games have been played, the assumed strong teams are making their way to the right side of the image.  There are seven teams currently residing in this right side and six of them would belong in almost everyone’s top seven of strongest teams.  The one exception is Newcastle, who takes the place of Man United as the only genuine top 7 team that is missing from the right side of the chart. rvp Man United Before anyone makes the point that United haven’t been racking up the shots over the last couple of seasons, for example they only had the 7th most shots last season.  They finished with just 18 inside central shots less than Man City last season (that’s less than 0.5 per game) who were league leaders for that metric.  In summary, last season they achieved an excellent number of shots from prime locations even though they weren't overly prolific in their total attempts. Perhaps the fixture list has been unkind to United, and specifically Moyes in his introduction, as they have faced both Liverpool and Chelsea during their opening to the season.  However, any negative strength of schedule effect they have experienced which may depress their shots tally should have been more than offset by the game state that they suffered during both of those games. As they were at home to Chelsea and conceded a goal after just four minutes to Liverpool, they should have been actively searching for shooting opportunities during those two games. If 36 shots and 13 shots from central locations is their output when looking for goals over almost 200 minutes of football then this United team is going to be in for a long season and their fans’ expectations may need to be recalibrated from their previous highs. Questions were asked of Moyes and his penchant for prudent, conservative tactics when he was appointed to the Hot Seat at Old Trafford.  The evidence of the first three games and their position on this chart does suggest that, even at this early stage, Moyes is going to have to do something a little more flamboyant with this United team. No longer can he continue with a midfield and attacking unit, excluding Van Persie, of Carrick, Cleverly, Giggs, Young and Welbeck.  It might have been good enough at Everton, but surely United should have higher aspirations than merely competing and making it difficult for he opposition? gouffran Newcastle It comes as a surprise to see the Geordies currently holding the position that Man United will presumably occupy once a few more games have been played.  In fact, given that they only had six shots in their first game against Man City their total of 47 shots after three games is even more impressive. Well, perhaps it would be impressive if their other two opponents weren’t named Fulham and West Ham. It is clear that Newcastle adopted a strategy of quantity over quality of shooting during those two games as with just 13 inside central shots their marker lies quite low on the vertical axis.  Arsenal, for example, despite having one less shot than Newcastle, has had nine more shots from good positions than the Barcodes. Mid Table Teams West Ham and Stoke ranked number 1 and 2 last season in the Premier League in terms of the proportion of their shots that came from inside central positions.  With that in mind, it’s probably not much of a surprise to see them highest up the vertical axis of the nine teams grouped towards the middle of the chart.  It appears that Big Sam is sticking to his tried and tested approach of insisting on shoots from close in positions, and despite suggestions that Mark Hughes is attempting to change the way Stoke play these figures would suggest that they are still intent on avoiding long range shots where possible. Life at the Bottom There are four teams that are already visibly detached from the other 16 teams in the league, even at this early stage.  The fact that three of those four are the newly promoted teams is probably to be expected, however the team that have had the least shots from inside central positions is Fulham.  Over the past four seasons The Cottagers have firmly established themselves as a mid table side, but their start to this season has been far from acceptable. berb Fulham From their opening three games, Fulham have amassed just 24 shots with only an average of one shot per game coming from centrally inside the penalty area.  In fact they have taken just six shots (25% of their total) from anywhere inside the penalty area. So bad has been their chance creation that, per our Expected Goals model, they haven’t even deserved to achieve their total of two goals. Unlike United, Fulham can’t blame their schedule for these rank bad numbers.  Yes, they played Arsenal, but this was at Craven Cottage and their two away games were against Newcastle and Sunderland.  I might alienate any North East readership I have with this comment, but those two teams certainly wouldn’t be considered two of the strongest teams in the league.  Struggling against that calibre of opposition should have alarm bells ringing at Fulham. It’s early in the season and things can change, but a central midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell is not going to get Jol out of this particular pickle.  In a world where two footballs are allowed on the pitch at the same time Adel Taarabt may be able to provide some creativity, but the Moroccan currently appears to hinder Fulham’s attacking attempts. Hull and Crystal Palace These two promoted teams have both managed five shots from inside central positions but have taken a hugely differing number of shots to reach this point.  Hull have managed just 20 shots (the lowest in the league), whereas Palace join the bunch of teams in the middle of the chart with 36 shots. From a Crystal Palace perspective it is clear that they are attempting too many speculative attempts.  Given Palace’s total shots number of 36 the average league team would have somewhere in the region of five to six more shots from good positions. Looking at Hull’s marker on the chart we can see why, like Spurs, they haven’t managed to score other than from the penalty spot.  I heard Robbie Savage on Match Of The Day last weekend say that the Tigers should have beaten City.  I’m sorry, but looking at my figures that’s just being sensationalist. Very simply they are creating next to nothing, but if I was to look for a positive I would point to the opposition that they have faced.  The fixture schedule was cruel to them with visits to arguably the two strongest teams in the country in their first three games but with those games now out of the way it is imperative that they start to fashion decent chances if they wish to survive in this league.

A Quick Hit on the Arsenal Transfer Window

By Ted Knutson I do fewer quick hit analysis pieces than I used to do on my old blog, because somehow StatsBomb feels like it deserves longer pieces with depth and breadth of analysis. That said, I just wanted to toss up a couple of thoughts on Arsenal’s transfer window prior to doing the team grades later this week. poldi_ozil 1)      Minus that guy (and he's pretty special), it was fairly shambolic. The deals they whiffed on (Higuain, Suarez) were both public and painful. You can argue that signing Suarez would have locked Arsenal out of signing Ozil (who is the better player), but signing Higuain – Arsenal’s clearest area of need this summer – would not. Football is too big and complicated now for one person to both manage the team and hunt for talent, and there’s too much damned money and competition for the best players anyway. Arsenal need to change how they deal with the transfer season going forward or this situation will repeat itself again and again. 2)      Ozil was the best player signed in the window and one that nobody thought was available. The amount paid for him was almost exactly what I have listed as fair value. It is the first time since I have been a fan (1998) that the club have signed an already-developed world talent on the offensive side of the ball. Huge props. 3)      Some noted pundits like Gary Lineker have said they don’t think Ozil really helps Arsenal. Allow me to disagree. While attacking midfielder wasn’t an area of direct need, Cazorla’s best position for Arsenal is likely on the left wing. This gives him space to run and create, and it bolsters what is Arsenal’s weakest area on the pitch (especially with Poldi gone for at least three months). The problem with putting him out there is that Arsenal’s central midfield then lacks an additional creative passer of that caliber. Put plainly, there is no better creative passer in the world than Ozil (Ben did his career per90s here). He has an exquisite understanding of space, his vision is almost prescient, and he has the ability to weight passes perfectly that Arsenal haven’t quite had since Cesc left. He will improve the offense, the counter-attack, and help the team generate better chances against both good teams and packed defences. He can also score goals now, a trait that Wilshere notably lacks. (Champions’ League goals aside, Rambo has a career record of dreadfulness when shooting, so the combination of him, Jack, and deep-lying Arteta means all the goal pressure is on the front three. Ozil changes that.) 4)      Flamini looked better than I expected this weekend. If he plays at anything close to his previous level at Arsenal – and Arsene believes he can or they wouldn’t have signed him – then he’ll be good. I appreciate the desire for a regista like Arteta and Ramsey (now), but in many games Arsenal have definitely missed a terrier in midfield. Flamini provides that in spades and already understands how Arsenal work. They may not be physically impressive, but every one of Arsenal’s current central midfielders can be a feisty ball retriever, which definitely takes certain teams by surprise. Wilshereballrec 5)      This ties back into point number three. Defensively, Arsenal were actually good last season, minus the Achilles heel of personal mistakes.  They were basically tied for second in shots against, and were second in the league in goals against. The 37 goals they gave up were 12 fewer than the year before, which is a massive reduction. However, defensive solidity came at a bit of a cost, as Arsenal produced the lowest amount of shots per game in at least the last four seasons and probably longer. Their shots on target percentage also dropped slightly, meaning overall goal expectation dropped. Signing Ozil should be enough to boost goal expectation back to where they were 3-4 years ago (a 10% boost). Even if that doesn't happen, his ability to create great chances with movement and passing should also boost the shots on target number. He matters. 6)      Even if the entire squad was healthy, Arsenal needed to sign another forward (even a slightly-less-than-world-class one was required), and another center back, preferably one that was young and talented. Obviously this is Arsenal and thus the entire squad is not healthy, and the inability to find/sign someone acceptable may cost Arsenal something significant. Flamini may prove to be a bit of unexpected genius in the DM role (he really was good when he left for Milan), but the club had money to buy a stud there and whiffed on that as well. Hopefully the lesson will be learned from this summer, and targets for the new financial firepower will be assessed well ahead of time and purchased early in the window. Arsenal improved a little this summer. Their problem is that Liverpool improved a lot since last January, and Spurs spunked the Bale money on all sorts of potential (Lamela and Eriksen are already among the best in Europe and they are only 21). The fight for top 4 spots has never been hotter than it will be this season, which is both exciting and a little worrying if you are a Gooner.

Mesut Özil: Career Numbers (per 90)

Mesut-ozil-with-german-teammates-national-team-nutella-funny_medium You never can be sure with deadline day deals but it appears increasingly certain that Mesut Özil has become an Arsenal player for 42m Euros. It's a happy ending to a fraught Summer. But Özil was worth the wait. Most of us are familiar with Özil's style: a graceful player, a wand of a left foot and an above average work-rate. But by far Özil's best skill and most dangerous trait is his truly elite passing ability. Almost all neutral fans will agree that Özil will be a fine addition to the Premier League. As for the Arsenal fans, all the collective pain and inertia that the summer window had wrought may suddenly fade from memory with with this signing. Unless I am very much mistaken Özil's signing will be the biggest import transfer in Premier League history at around £40m. And he may just be worth it.   Mesut-ozil-fashion-model-looking-good-transfer-man-united_medium  

Career Numbers

Shots and Goals  

Team Age Goals p90 Shots p90 SoT p90 Sc% Sh Acc%
Real Madrid S 12/13 24 0.40 1.34 0.76 52.94 56.67
Real Madrid S 11/12 23 0.14 1.09 0.35 40.00 32.26
Real Madrid S 10/11 22 0.21 1.38 0.53 40.00 38.46
Werder Bremen S 09/10 21 0.31 2.32 1.08 29.03 46.27
Werder Bremen S 08/09 20 0.13 1.88 0.63 21.43 33.33

  Özil's goals per90 numbers are pretty inconsistent as are his shots on target per90 numbers. This isn't a player who will score a lot, for he just isn't a shooter.   Passes, Assists and key Passes per90  

Team Age Assists p90 Passes p90 Pass% KP p90 ToP%
Real Madrid S 12/13 24 0.58 50.39 84.10 4.09 53.21
Real Madrid S 11/12 23 0.60 57.45 87.10 3.61 67.53
Real Madrid S 10/11 22 0.60 51.01 85.40 4.21 66.95
Werder Bremen S 09/10 21 0.42 37.56 82.50 3.23 68.29
Werder Bremen S 08/09 20 0.54 n/a n/a n/a 52.92

  Some of these numbers may look confusing but I'll quickly run through them. here is a link to some of Europe's best players in 2012/13 and their per90 numbers (link) Assists per90 Truly elite. Off the charts elite. Ozil is going to create hell for opposition defenses. Passes per90 Good numbers. Key Passes per90 Truly elite Time on Pitch% The percentage of minutes a player actual plays against the total available. I think we have an understanding of the strengths of the player: Ozil is a creator, not a shooter. But his passing numbers - KP per90 and Assists per90 - are truly elite. Yes, there may be a slight Real Madrid boost in effect here, and some of Ozil's numbers may drop a little due to no longer playing in a team that scores 100 league goals a campaign, but this is a player of the highest quality. A game changer for Arsenal in terms of talent and a game changer for for Arsenal in terms of future recruitment of world class players.