On 16th December 2013, the day after Tottenham’s humiliating home defeat by Liverpool, Andre Villas-Boas was relieved of his managerial duties at White Hart Line.  A poor return of just 27 league points in 16 games combined with a lack of goals was enough for Daniel Levy to issue AVB with his P45.

On the day AVB was sent packing Tim Sherwood assumed first team coaching duties, and it was with some surprise that one week later he was handed an 18 month contract as the permanent Spurs Head Coach.

Ten league games later, Sherwood’s Spurs have racked up 23 league points. His average of 2.3 points per game comfortably betters AVB’s return of 1.7 points per game and so this means that Levy made the correct choice in disposing of AVB’s services.  Right?

…………Well not necessarily.

The performances of Spurs under AVB and Sherwood show how management in the modern game is so difficult.  The desire to obtain results in the short term means that some very knee jerk decisions can, and are, being made.  Sherwood has certainly put league points on the board for Tottenham, but based on their underlying numbers their performances under him don’t look any better than the previous performances under AVB.

Lefty Gomez, a pitcher in Major League Baseball in the 1930s and 1940s, often remarked “I’d rather be lucky than good”, and at this stage it looks like Time Sherwood would share that sentiment.

Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas


The Shot Chart excludes penalties and shows average shots per game.  Shots taken by Tottenham under AVB’s reign are shown on the left side, with their shots conceded appearing on the right side of the image.  All teams attack the goal on the right in my Shot Charts.
The table below each chart shows the average number of shots per game across four different zones, where the chances of a shot being scored reduces as we move through the zones.  The proportion of shots in each zone are shown, followed by the average number of goals per game in total and separately for each zone.

Anyone who wants to see the boundaries of the four zones that I refer to can scroll down to the bottom of this post where I have included a layout template.


We can see that AVB’s Tottenham averaged more than 17 shots per game, but scored less than 0.7 goals per game (penalties and own goals are excluded here).  On the other side of the ball, his team gave up almost 11 shots but managed to concede 1.2 goals per game.

The yellow panel in the middle of the graphic shows the number of shots taken in each zone by the average Premier League team during AVB’s managerial spell.  Although Tottenham had almost 4 more shots per game (17.2 versus 13.3) than the average team, we can see that the bulk of their additional shots came from zones other than Prime zone, with the result that these additional shots would have had a reduced probability of being scored.

This fact that Spurs had more shots is no real surprise as I think most watchers of the game will have been aware that Tottenham shot a lot, but that a fair number of these were from low goal expectation locations.  However, I don’t want to compare Tottenham’s attacking performance under Villas-Boas against the average Premier League team.  Instead I want to compare their attacking performance against their defending one.

Despite having slightly more Prime zone shots than they conceded, the North London side managed to concede almost 1 goal per game from this zone yet managed to score less than 0.4 goals per game themselves.  Tottenham converted just 7% of their Prime zone shots during their first 16 games but somehow conceded a goal in 1 out of every 5 shots that the opposition took from this same zone.

AVB’s critics would say that his principled tactic of using a very high defensive line resulted in Spurs not conceding many chances but those they did would come with a high goal expectation.  We can see that the above image shows this is true, as 42% of shots Tottenham conceded during this time were from the Prime zone, compared to 30% of their own shots.

However, even allowing for the fact that the average shot Tottenham conceded was more dangerous than other teams we can see from the above graphic that AVB was most unfortunate to somehow end up with an average goal difference (excluding penalties and own goals) of -0.50 per game.


Levy changed things up on the 16th December with the installation of Tim Sherwood, but how have Tottenham performed (from a shooting perspective) since then?

Tottenham under Tim Sherwood


The initial reaction is that those shot numbers don’t look like they should have returned 23 points from 10 games, but that’s what has happened.

On the defensive side, Spurs have conceded 1 more shot per game than they were before Christmas – and worryingly for them that additional shot is coming from the Prime zone.  In fact, since Sherwood took over, half of all shots they have allowed have been struck from the Prime zone.  Despite the notion that the AVB set up allowed good quality shots against them, it appears that the Sherwood version is even more susceptible to permitting very dangerous opposition shots.

It’s worth specifically noting the concession of an average of 1.3 shots per game from within the 6 yard box is a particularly bad stat.  Over the 10 games, this equates to 13 shots conceded from inside the 6 yard box and only Fulham and Cardiff have conceded more shots from this very important area in the period since Sherwood took over.  By way of comparison, Everton have conceded 3, Liverpool 6 and Man City 4 over the same period, so the amount of such chances conceded by Tottenham are not consistent with a team chasing that important 4th league position.

Yet, despite all of that, the concession of an average of just 1 goal per game (excluding penalties and own goals) is less than allowed by AVB managed Tottenham teams in the first half of this season.

Going Forward under Sherwood

Although Sherwood’s Spurs’ have taken 4 shots per game less than AVB’s, the reduction in shots have mostly come from the low expectation zones – so there can be no great criticism of the quality and number of shots that Tottenham are now attempting.

However, even with that allowance, Tottenham’s underlying offensive performance under Sherwood is similar to the defensive one described above.  By this, I mean that the numbers don’t indicate that they should be any more potent than they were under Villas-Boas; but they have been.

What has been different to the AVB reign is that over the last 10 games Tottenham have been able to put the ball into the net much more regularly than before.  They have scored an average of 1.8 goals per game, which is more than a full goal higher than the AVB version of Tottenham managed to score.  The difference in pre and post Christmas is encapsulated by the fact that under AVB, Tottenham scored just 7% of their Prime zone shots, this compares with a huge 28% conversion rate experience by Sherwood.

Goal Difference

Over the 10 games that Sherwood has been in charge, Spurs have an average goal difference (excluding penalties and own goals) of +0.8 per game compared to AVB’s -0.5.  Yes, it is true that AVB’s goal difference took a hammering due to a couple of very heavy defeats but these can’t be ignored for two reasons.

The first reason is that Sherwood has recently been handed his own Man City shaped spanking and secondly, those heavy defeats appear to have played a large part in the reason AVB was sacked.  For example, had Liverpool beaten Tottenham by just a single goal in December would there have been the same clamour for his removal?

Little thing called luck

We have seen that the swing in average goal difference of 1.3 goals per game hasn’t come about from an underlying difference in the number or quality of shots that their teams were taking and allowing.  Instead, it looks like lady luck has played a huge factor in the goals tallies for both managers with Sherwood seemingly taking advantage of the “Luck Pendulum” as it came back Tottenham’s way just as he took over, with the North London outfit seemingly bereft of luck in the early part of the season.

“You make your own luck” is a common cry, and whilst there is no doubt that Sherwood has been brave with his choice of tactics and personnel, the evidence of the shots that have occurred in Tottenham’s games would suggest that he has been fortunate in picking up as many points as he has.


There is one metric that has perfectly captures the ebbs and flows mentioned above in relation to Tottenham’s season; PDO.

PDO doesn’t actually stand for anything, but has been described as follows by James Grayson (the guy who first applied it to football):

PDO is the sum of a team’s shooting percentage (goals/shots on target) and it’s save percentage (saves/shots on target against). It treats each shot as having an equal chance of being scored – regardless of location, the shooter, or the identity or position of the ‘keeper and any defenders. Despite this obvious shortcoming it regresses heavily towards the mean – meaning that it has a large luck component. In fact, over the course of a Premiership season, the distance a team’s PDO is from 1000 is ~60% luck.

As stated in James’ own definition, the weakness of PDO is that it treats all shots as equal.  Fortunately in this instance, the profile of the shots taken and allowed is roughly similar in the two managerial spells so PDO will give us a good representation of what has been happening.

On Friday, Grayson tweeted the following information:


The important figures are contained in the last column.  Under AVB, Tottenham had a PDO of just 860, yet under Sherwood they have recorded an extremely large PDO of 1256.

The league average team will record a PDO of 1000 and teams will tend to regress back towards that value.  The AVB number of 860 in comparison to Sherwood’s 1256 neatly illustrates the difference in luck experienced by the two managers.  We can see that the component that has seen the biggest shift in outcomes has been Tottenham’s Shooting percentage, ie Goals / Shots on Target.

Under AVB, Tottenham scored from less than 17% of their shots on target, however since Lucky Tim has been at the helm they have managed to convert more than 51% of their on target shots!!!  It may be the case that Sherwood has tremendous coaching capabilities but I’d certainly be betting that his Tottenham team won’t finish the season with more than half of their on target shots being scored.  In fact, I’d wager that the Regression Monster is due to pay another visit to White Hart Lane.

I have included both my Shot Charts and James’ PDO calculation in this analysis as they complement each other.  The Shot Charts may help someone appreciate how such vastly different PDO scores can arise, and the one line PDO number neatly summarises the vast amount of information contained within the detailed Shot Charts.

Sound basis for analysis

This piece hasn’t been written in an attempt to defend AVB or to suggest that Levy made the wrong move in sacking the Portuguese manager.  Rather, the aim of this is to show just how fine the line is in such a results orientated business.

The results achieved by Sherwood in the Premier League have been more impressive than those achieved by Villas-Boas, yet when we look beyond the bare league points won by each custodian there is nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest that Sherwood deserved to gain more league points than AVB.  Sometimes football really is a funny old game.

I can only hope that football club owners and chairmen have their own objective way to measure performances and that they don’t hire and fire solely with reference to league points won.  For any that do use the latter criteria aren’t running their clubs in a way that will maximise the chances of their club being successful, however success is defined.


Zone Boundaries Template


  • Chirps

    That’s not a compliment by the way. It’s astounding that anybody could use such intensive stats to reach a conclusion about football. Your eyes and brain are a much better indicator.

    These stats are compiled by humans who are subjective. A scuffed shot that dribbles toward the keeper is a shot on target but a blistering drive the narrowly misses is a shot off target. Etc et.

    Luck exists but in even measures. A casino knows that it’s 18/18 red or black until you put the one little green zero on the wheel then luck goes out the window and the house wins – over time.
    And so it is in football. You may be lucky during a game or even for a few games but over a number of games it ceases to be luck.

    The over reliance on stats is a dangerous game. Have more faith in your ability to process the action or you may as well play Top Trumps.

    • Seb

      “It’s astounding that anybody could use such intensive stats to reach a conclusion about football. Your eyes and brain are a much better indicator.”

      “The over reliance on stats is a dangerous game. Have more faith in your ability to process the action or you may as well play Top Trumps.”

      This is a bit of a contradictory comment. The whole point of using statistics is to try and generate an unbiased, numerical representation of the game . When you analyse a game in your mind how exactly do you decide whether or not a player has played well? You will surely have a ‘feeling’ that a player has been misplacing their passes, or missing too many opportunities. Those feelings arise from performing basic stats in your head, whether you’re aware of it or not. Actually recording the numbers just provides some real data for analysis and any conclusions are therefore far less subjective than one’s opinion on its own.

      Our eyes and brains are biased and in no way capable of the in-depth fair assessment of the performances of 22 different players simultaneously, or a team as a whole across a 20 game period.

      It’s ridiculous to suggest that our eyes and brains are better than raw numbers. Our eyes and brain are capable of interpreting different things such as technique or confidence, but they’re not able to accurately generate and analyse huge amounts of data. These interpretations should be used together with numbers to form ideas and explanations regarding a team/player’s form or whatever else.

  • Bazza

    This is the trouble when you try and use stats to make arguments,you make conclusions often on the base of simple stats and even when you try and enhance that so much is left to the individual interpretation. What difference is a shot from a prime area? Basically you can carve a great opportunity or take a snap shot that’s covered by a close marker.
    Far better to enjoy the game and watch whats really going on, we have stopped the slow possession play under AVB and frequently gotten the ball forward quicker enabling us to attack defences trying to get in position and trying to pull players behind the ball. Of course we will create better chances and have and that’s why we’ve scored more. We’ve also dispensed with playing a high line that’s left us very exposed to balls played through for players to run on to. The high line gave a false stat early on basically because opposing teams were not burying the chances, but it was always an accident waiting to happen and so it proved. Was anyone really convinced by our early goals conceded stat and felt the defensive highline was good, I doubt too many who watched the play rather than read the stats were and that’s just looking at it’s defensive shortcomings not even looking how it compressed players into one half and made it harder for our attackers to find time and space.
    Stats can generally say anything you want them to, personally I know that I am far happier now with our game than I was, it’s far from perfect but it’s so much better than early in the season under AVB and we are creating more real chances and scoring more regardless of what the bean counters might like to suggest

  • James Rosser


    Your stats are very interesting, however the one factor, that you admit is excluded from pdo is what lead to the shot. Take for instance West Ham. I saw a game against another team where West Ham more or less lobbed the ball into the box the whole game and as a result all Headers and ‘Shots’ were from within or near the six yard box. Most were extremely meaningless shots or misses or easy blocks. Where as Man City or Liverpool play and open game that allows the man to be free in and around the area. When a shot is made when the man is free, one on one or has a minimal number of defenders near him who are also out of position because of the speed of the football played, there is a greater chance for that player to score. Under AVB Tottenham were ponderous and predictable and in a couple of games unlucky. But teams could setup to defend against the way we played, because they knew what it would be. Under Sherwood, an element of luck exists, especially defending, but the attacking is quick incisive and tries to work a player into a ‘free’ shooting position. This is the primary reason for the goals scored and the difference between the two attacking philosophies. Otherwise very good stats.

  • Markie Alan

    Less of a high line.
    That’s it.

    • Colin Trainor

      I don’t think there’s any point in addressing these comments individually so I’ll make a general comment / defense.

      I am not saying that Tottenham do not attack quicker or with nore bodies. Even if they do so, the difference in the conversion rates compared to what AVB was achieving is worth noting. I will bet large sums of money that by the end of the season Spurs won’t have a shot conversion rate of 50% during Sherwood’s time. Adebayor is on a very hot streak right now, but wull he maintain his current conversion rates? I don’t think so.

      Look at the shots conceded inside the 6 yard box, those numbers should be worrying Spurs fans.

      All I’m doing is using analytics to say that, based on the way Spurs are playing, they are over performing and it’s highly unlikely that they will continue to pick up league point at their current high rate.
      I’m pointing out that their outputs under AVB and Sherwood aren’t really that different. What is different are the outcomes that are being achieved.

  • gjames

    This is probably a better question for James Grayson or maybe Ben Pugsley, but how many teams do you have on record in the EPL sustaining a sh% of 50%+ over 10 games? and over 22 games?

    I’m going to guess the answer to the latter is 0 but to the former is surprisingly high.

    • Colin Trainor

      Good question and I’ll ask James that.

      And that is kinda my point. For whatever reason, Spurs are having a conversion rate that is simply not sustainable. Were Tottenham fans aware of that? Not sure, but hopefully anyone that reads this now will be.

      • gjames

        Thanks a lot. I had a quick look and City also pulled off a 10 game 50%+ streak this year (from the 7-0 versus Norwich to the 1-0 versus Palace). Though they do have the location numbers to vindicate it.

        Another team I could think of off the top of my head was WBA last year, but they only managed a 42% 10 game streak – maybe Spur’s numbers are a bit rarer than I guessed. Still very impressive and surely the best example last year of a team taking the plaudits despite having some worrying underlying numbers that ultimately caught up with them – though I suppose United is another and they got away with it for as long as they needed.

        Also, it’s a dull semantic point but I prefer “unsustainable” to “lucky”. A tactical innovation that others will inevitably find out would be an example of unsustainable, but not lucky. A rash of deserved penalties would also be unsustainable, but again not necessarily lucky. If it is something along those lines it would be very interesting to study how it’s worked so far without showing up in the shot numbers.

  • John White

    It’s this religious reliance on analysis and extrapolation of data which made watching AVB’s teams so boring.
    You mentioned a quotation about being lucky. I’ll give you an apposite saying: “You can’t see the wood for the trees”.

    • Duncan

      Again with the fallacy. AVB didn’t use stats. He hated them. If he used them he wouldn’t have had the whole team shooting from no-hope land pretending to be Gareth Bale.

  • Lasse

    More shots contributed to Townsend playing and having 10 wasted shots himself per game
    Less goals not getting the ball to the striker
    More goals conceided due to high line and two massive losses with defenders injured

    Less shots due to Townsend not playing
    More goals due to having a determined Ade
    Less goals concieded due to pure luck

    The play and game plan has been pretty dire under both managers. AVB to controlled and to restricted and never having more than 1 man in the box a bit. Sherwood’s team plays like a headless chicken, no game plan, but now at least getting people in the box, however looking very naive and seem to have ridden his luck a lot.

    So lets hope he is a lucky manager as he might just need it

  • ultrapunch

    Sherwood is not lucky and AVB was not unlucky. The difference between AVB and Sherwood is simple. It’s ADEBAYOR!! If AVB hadn’t fallen out with Adebayor and had played him in his 16 games in charge then AVB could still be in charge. Instead he perservered with Soldado and he was basically incapable of scoring in the premier league apart from the penalty spot (which your statistics don’t include).

    Unfortunately your statistical analysis is nonsense because you haven’t allowed for the most important difference between AVB and Sherwood. That is Adebayor replacing Soldado. Adebayor takes his chances whereas Soldado didn’t. It’s as simple as that.

    The next important difference is that Townsend was available to AVB who played him in every game. Townsend took every opportunity to shoot, but was woefully inaccurate in his shooting. Basically Townsend hasn’t been available for Sherwood so the shots per game have gone down dramatically under Sherwood.

    Unfortunately you have allowed for these differences in your statistical analysis so basically all your work has been a waste of time.

    • Colin Trainor

      Yes, Townsend shot far too often, indeed I was one of his most vocal critics, but those shots will be shown in the Marginal and Very Poor Locations zones, and so their impact won’t be tainting the shots that AVB’s Spurs took from the Prime zones.

      The point is that Ade is converting chances better than Soldado, but Soldado did show in Spain that he can convert his chances at a reasonable rate (I wrote a piece criticising his purchase last Summer but agreed that he converted shots at an average rate). For some reason that didn’t happen for Soldado early this season, but (again) that’s the point of this article.

      Also you don’t make any reference to the defensive numbers. Sherwood has been charmed with the relatively few goals they have conceded given the quality of the shots.

      Just be aware that those numbers are highly unlikely to continue.

      • ultrapunch

        Unfortunately the statistics concerning the shots conceeded by Spurs from the so called “prime zones” are just as misleading. Why? Beacause whereas AVB had the use of Spurs BEST defender, Vertonghan, during his 16 games in charge he has been unavailable to Sherwood because of injury until very recently..

        Sherwood had to use Capoue as an emergency centre half for his first few games in charge (he didn’t want to play there and it showed!!!). Thereafter he had to rely on Chiriches as a partner to Dawson. Chiriches is a class act, but made some important mistakes leading to shots on goal.

        I suspect that the partnership of Vertoghan and Kaboul will be crucial in reducing the number of chances Spurs concede in future if Kaboul can keep fit.

        Again this statistical analysis is nonsense because it doesn’t take into account key changes in playing personnel.

        Take West Ham for instance. They were leaking a goals galore, but only because they didn’t have any fit centre halves. Once they returned from injury West Ham have conceeded less goals. SIMPLES.

        • Mitch

          AVB also played Vertonghen at LB, because Rose got injurred and he shipped off the only natural backup. But all that is beside the point. The point of this article is that Spurs are giving up a worrying amount of chances to opposing teams, that thankfully they haven’t really been punished for yet.

          Honestly, why do you people come to a website called STATSbomb and argue about the usefulness of stats? It has it in the fucking title. Go read one of the red tops if you want to hear about how team confidence is the difference between Sherwood and AVB.

  • ultrapunch

    Correction. My last sentence should read ……. “Unfortunately you have NOT allowed for these differences in your statistical analysis so basically all your work has been a complete waste of time.

  • ultrapunch

    Your article is titled …… “Tottenham, Lucky Tim Sherwood and why Results can be misleading ”

    However your article is misleading!! Sherwood isn’t lucky. He is reaping the rewards of playing Adebayor. Your main striker taking his chances is the difference between winning and losing. Take the Arsenal vs Liverpool game yesterday. Sturridge had 3 gilt edged chances. He didn’t take them and Liverpool lost. They could have won if he had taken them.

    Results are not misleading. Statistics are misleading if those statistics don’t take account of significant changes to the playing personnel. Namely Abebayor playing instead of Soldado as main striker and Townsend being unavailable to Sherwood.

    • Duncan

      No, he is lucky. You’re not understanding the article. The rate at which we’re converting is unsustainably high. That is not something which can be expected to continue. Ade is on a hot streak. That streak will end at some point, and then the results will match the downturn in Adebayor. All the Red Bull in the world won’t change that.

      • Reed

        Exactly. Adebayor is on a hot streak, but it’s mostly a hot streak of unrepeatable goals. Part of what has made City and Liverpool’s attacks so successful is that they have movements and passing lanes that are repeated over and over again, working to find a shot in the right area.

        Adebayor has been out of his mind, but it doesn’t seem like it will keep going.

  • James Rosser

    Seeing how my comment wasnt really addressed. Speed of transition is something talked about alot in coaching circles. Sherwoods setup allows for far greater speed in transition to attack thus allowing attackers to have more time to deliver their strike. This is the simplistic difference between the way AVB and Sherwood are setting up their teams. A case in point would be versus Newcastle. Goals one through 4 all came from a quick transition to attack, Newcastles shape was therefore disrupted and they couldnt press as well or get as tight to our players, plus the increased volume of players arriving in the box meant Newcastles defenders had more to worry about. Whilst Chadli’s strike was a world class shot as likely to miss as to score, the time and space afforded to him by the quick transition made it much easier for him to set himself for a better chance. Luck is a beach ball deflecting a goal in and the referee not dissallowing it. Luck is not having more threats in the box affording your strikers more time and space to make their shots and score.

  • ultrapunch

    The statistics used in this article are grossly misleading because they don’t take account of 2 key facts. Firstly AVB ignored Adebayor and he has proved key to Sherwood’s success and secondly Sherwood has only very recently had Vertoghan available.

    Adebayor is our best attacker and Vertoghan is our best defender.

    If Adebayor succombed to a serious injury then I don’t know where the goals would come from. Sherwood will remain lucky whilst Adebayor stays fit.

  • Bruno Prado

    Very good statistical article, I quite enjoyed it. Reading the comments to see if any GOOD information would come up was disappointed to see so many fanatics reading an statistical analysis (that’s unusual). I’m no fan of AVB but he seems to be a very good manager of small teams. If think he’s not able to handle to much EGO inside a room. As soon as he made Tottenham one big team (by purchasing a lot of players) he lost the dressing room. But that can’t be measured and together with his bad luck his sacking was imminent. In no way Tottenham is better than Everton right now and they are on top of them, that by itself (no numbers attached) has to raise some questions. Thanks for the articles and if have one complaint is that you make to little articles per week!

  • TatarugaJones

    10 games is far too few to say anything statistically relevant about Sherwood’s tenure. Which in a way is the point you make about the PDO, but then you go onto rely on other measures, just as statistically insignificant. For me the big danger in this kind of analytics is that the outliers are excluded because of randomness, but those statistics which fall within your own, in your head, expected distribution get included.

    In fact for me the whole field of analytics is more akin to alchemy than science, which is not to say there isn’t plenty of insight to be mined, but that human interpretation of the signs and sigils, informed by expert understanding of the game, is where the real skill lies and the analytics themselves are a kind of framework to allow that expertise to be brought to bear in a structured and focussed manner.

    I’d be very interested to know if any of these models are tested in the real world, if they’re profitable, and if so, the degree to which the human has to moderate the projected probabilities.

  • Roke

    Really interesting. I look forward to seeing the reaction to Spurs’ inevitable PDO regression.

    Or Sherwood is unquestionably the greatest manager in the history of the game and worth tens of millions of pounds (if not more) because he’s able to cause a 396 point shift in PDO.

  • Reed

    The interesting thing about this article is that there wasn’t an attempt to explain everything intricate about Tottenham’s attack, yet that’s what the commenters are complaining about.

    Guys, take the stats for what they show here, namely that luck is playing a role in how the results are turning. Winning 4-0 against Newcastle thanks to repeated errors by Krul is the kind of stuff that AVB wasn’t getting. Winning against Everton from an unrepeatable play by Adebayor is exactly what Colin is trying to show here. It seems like most of the goals by Tottenham lately have been very fortunate, and almost fluky. Meaning that you couldn’t repeat the goal if you got the same players in the same positions. Adebayor has been good, and also very fortunate.

    • Mclement

      The two Newcastle games are a pretty stellar indication of Colin’s point. First game against Newcastle, Spurs produced one of (if not the?) best attacking performances of their season, Krul had the game of his life, Spurs scored no goals and conceded one early on the break. Should have won that game 3or4-1. Second game against Newcastle, didn’t even come close to dominating them like they did in the previous game, scoreline ends up as a massively over-complimentary 4-0. Beautiful game, eh.

  • Jack Coles

    To be honest Colin, with regard to people leaving negative reviews, and your responses to them, you’re talking at cross-purposes. The fact they don’t understand is their problem, not yours.

    The pervasive sky sports narrative on football dwarfs any other opinion on the sport, unfortunately. If you were on the Gillette Soccer Saturday panel I’m sure you’d have an easier time getting your ideas across. Some people are willfully misinterpreting your article, and others are just misinterpreting it because it does not tie in with the way they’ve been told to think about football.

    I know you have to be reasonable to other people Colin, but any post that starts ‘the problem with using statistics is….’ isn’t worth your time. You’ve written some simple concepts in this piece, and if people aren’t getting it, it’s just a conversational problem, as opposed to any problem with you data or your writing.

    • Hussain Dzan

      Fully agreed. Keep up the good work, Colin!

  • http://www.theboyhotspur.com Harry Hotspur™ (@theboyhotspur)

    If you separate in your mind the Newcastle game, which was uncharacteristically good to watch, in all of Tim’s other games, luck, or as I prefer to call it, “random chaos” has been Tottenham’s 12th man in every game, win lose or draw.

    And every time we played someone good, we had our pants pulled down.

    Under AVB, play was frequently turgid. Under Tim (minus Newcastle) we’ve been animated – like a Tom & Jerry cartoon animated.

    You don’t need stats to support this, just watch the games. If you do need stats, they are there in droves.
    What I learned from this article was in the comments section. Too many Spurs fans haven’t got a clue about football, but love instead to bicker over who can wizz highest up the wall.

    AVB = tough to watch
    Tim = Newcastle aside, laughable.

    2 more games for fannying around NCFC & CPFC, then Chelsea and the Arse.

  • noone

    They were struggeling to score under AVB. Soldadoo isolated upfront was not working, so most of the time they were always attacking because they were not winning. Under Tim they look more likely to score and when they do those shots might not come as often because they are winning and concentrating on protecting the lead. Stats can always tell a different story but if you analyze the match and put it into context the stats might be misleading.

  • KC_Gunner

    An excellent and informative piece. I like stats-minded analysis, and this piece makes good points.

    Those compliments out of the way, may I offer a word of advice / mild criticism. Anticipating one’s audience and their likely reactions/criticisms is often worthwhile, and this piece would be much more difficult to dismiss by the stats-haters (and much more likely to increase un-stats-minded folks to appreciate statistical analysis) if you dealt explicitly with the key “counterpoint” being repeatedly raised by such commentators: Spurs are scoring better because Sherwood plays Adebayor, while AVB persisted with the sub-par Soldado.

    I quite like stats, but I was even genuinely taken aback by the total absence of Adebayor from the column. It’s a big, noticeable change between Sherwood-Spurs and AVB-Spurs. Sure, your argument essentially addresses it from a 30,000-foot perspective — ie, yes conversion rates have been better recently, but they’re unsustainable. The piece would be much strengthened and more difficult to dismiss by stats-haters if you had added a paragraph expressly noting that chances under Sherwood are being converted by Adebayor, while under AVB more chances were taken (or not) by Soldado, but arguing that any explanation which simply reduces the conversion variance to that personnel change is unsound and the difference is unlikely to remain so great, given Ade will not be able to sustain this run of great conversion, and Soldado’s long-term stats suggest he was amid a blip, etc etc.

    • Colin Trainor

      Appreciate you taking the to write that, but people will read what they want to read.

      For example, several times I was told that AVB’s numbers were inflated because Townsend shot from all over the place. I agree with that, and that is why I concentrated on shots from Prime zones in my analysis. By doing this I wasn’t trying to claim that AVB-Tottenham should have score more goals due to these shots as I was effectively discounting them.
      Although I didn’t specifically mention Ade, I did mention Soldado (which is the inverse) in terms of his finishing being very poor. But specific players really wasn’t the point of this piece and hence why I didn’t make it about Adebayor.

      The piece already ran to 1800 words which is a a little bit too much, and it is only with hindsight that we can now see which areas could have had more written.

      • KC_Gunner

        Actually, a ctrl+F shows no mention of Soldado in the piece.

        That said, sure, it will always be difficult to penetrate through the biases of certain people. But good persuasive writing anticipates and confronts head-on likely counter-arguments. And a major difference between AVB-Spurs and Sherwood-Spurs is playing time & goals for Adebayor. A piece that attempts to address whether & how performance quality & results have differed between AVB/Tim without at least mentioning Adebayor is bound to provoke some criticism (unfortunately, much of it misguided). Even if your point is focused on overall issues & not player-specific analysis, these particular circumstances so readily lend themselves to an instinctual or gut belief that player-specific changes (namely, Ade) are what’s driving the difference here. That was certainly my initial belief, but I’m intrigued to read the evidence and understand that Adebayor has benefited recently from a run of exceptionally high conversion rates.

        In any event, I do thank you for the piece. I do hope for a day when fine analysis like this is better received, and I think anticipating and dealing with the likeliest counter-arguments from non-stats people will play a big role in achieving more general acceptance.

        • Colin Trainor

          Apologies, KC you are correct. I had thought I mentioned Soldado in the analysis, but he was mentioned in the comments.

          Thanks for those well measured and constructive comments. Thanks.

  • Shane O’Rourke

    I was blind, But now I can see, Tim’s made a believer out of me, And weeeeeee’re movin on up nooooow…

  • A. Lane

    Excellent piece, I think the partisan and somewhat ignorant comments do raise an interesting point that team level stats are not wholly internally consistent, but the idea that Spurs will continue to convert at 51% rate, Adebayor’s at a 44.4%, absurd. (Wasn’t Giroud doing something similar to start the season.)

    I want to argue that AVB was not that unlucky, last year Spurs’ PDO was 927, 17th in the league, and his offensive system did involve a lot of distance shots against a packed defense, but there is no way to argue that Sherwood has not benefited from luck/team level regression. This Michael Caley’s piece suggests that Sherwood is possibly luckier when you take into account how the shots are created.


  • Dwayne

    not one mention of Paulinho in the article or the comments section. Shame on you all. Townsend is the obvious one, but Paulinho is actualy the guy who had a tonne of shots from great positions under AVB, but to put it bluntly he’s a poor finisher.
    I worked this out by watching games unfortunately, here’s a number though: 4,503.

  • Stuart

    This is like the (sbnation) Chelsea fanboys and Di Matteo all over again.

    Apart from the getting outshot 58-3 and winning part. Spurs had their flaws under AVB but they were certainly not worse than they are now under Sherwood. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest they were a bit better, but that’s another discussion entirely.

  • John Frasene


    Great article, it seems harsh that on a statistics-minded website you have to deal with a barrage of anti-statistics readers. I have a question on your methodology since I tried some of this shot analysis myself. About how far outside of the box do the gray and pinkish purple regions extend? I tried eye-balling it when I was working on shots analysis, but had a hard time judging the scale.


  • http://basstunedtored.com Andrew Beasley @basstunedtored

    A top piece of work, Colin, nice one.
    I guess the acid test for Sherwood will be the three week period where Spurs play Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. As Spurs’ record in the big games has been poor throughout this season (one point from five games in the top five mini league so far). If he repeats his numbers in those matches it’s hard to see them getting too many points.
    Keep up the good work, mate.

  • Matt

    Really good article.

    Sad to see the knuckle draggers are out in full force.

  • Steve Carson

    I’ve just found your site and read a few articles – it is really great work. And I really like the approach in this article.

    I get very frustrated with commentators who mostly by the end of the game or at the start of the next game have completely forgotten what they saw. “The defence held firm” “The manager’s tactics worked” – but no, the opposition attack poured through and took 10 shots from a prime location, had 4 great saves made, 2 hit the woodwork and 4 that they normally would have converted were shot wide. Then when they concede 2 goals in the next game from only 3 decent opportunities created the commenters are trying to work out why the team has gone downhill. No, they are playing better!

    That’s why the stats are useful, people. You can say the manager instilled more confidence, changed tactics, selected a better playmaker in the no. 7 spot, etc. And these things all matter. But this kind of statistical analysis is what is needed to complement that other approach – and help inform on the reality about that other approach. Because in premier league commenting you get 99% of “how the manager has changed things” and 1% of statistics.

    The true role of luck is *almost* completely ignored (misunderstood?) in public commentary on premier league football.
    That’s why I will be reading this blog with great interest from now on.

  • think about it

    Stats are incredibly misleading – The opta scores for Spurs under Sherwood have been less then what Spurs had under AVB. Is it an anomaly? is it just luck as you suggest? Stats don’t take confidence into account. Something that is incredibly important in any player or team. Has Sherwood installed confidence that wasnt there under AVB. Perhaps. Probably. As a Spurs fan that watched every minute under AVB and under TS this season – Under AVB it didn’t look like we would score for love of money. That is indicated by our 17 goals in 22 games (4 of which were penalties – and we went on a run that saw us score 1 goal from open play in about 4 games). However your stats suggest that we were more likely to score under AVB. I didnt see it. Spurs looked completely impotent in attack but equally strong in defence. With only the exception of a poor day at the back (LFC, MCFC, and WHU) but no exception to our lacklustre offence (not a single game won by 2 clear goals). Under Sherwood – although i dont agree some of his tactical decisions – Spurs look exponentially more potent in attack and more likely to score. I think Spurs this season may be an anomaly to this growing stats and probabilities hype. But not the only one… If you say Spurs are maintaining a conversion rate that isnt possible then surely : Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez are doing the same at LFC? Statistically how probable is it that a team would have 2 players with a goals to game ratio lower then 1.0? Not incredibly likely is it? Only 1 player has ever done so in the PL and now potentially there are 2 on the same team…

  • Henry Peacock

    “In fact, I’d wager that the Regression Monster is due to pay another visit to White Hart Lane.”

    FC Dnipro 1 Spurs 0

    Norwich 1 Spurs 0

    Sherwood has produced some extraordinary results from some ordinary performances.

    I think you will be proved right.

  • Henry Peacock

    Spurs 3 Dnipro 1
    Spurs 1 Cardiff 0
    Chelsea 4 Spurs 0

    The pendulum is certainly swinging back with a vengeance.

    Spurs were unlucky to concede the first two goals and to have Kaboul sent off.

    Some tough games coming up too.

  • Henry Peacock

    The bad run gets worse for Tim;
    Spurs 1 Benfica 3

    Next games;
    Sunday Spurs v Arsenal
    Wednesday Benfica v Spurs

  • Henry Peacock

    Unlucky, Tim.

    Spurs 0 Arsenal 0

  • Henry Peacock

    Correction Spurs 0 Arsenal 1

    Benfica 2 Spurs 2
    Spurs 3 Southampton 2
    And today;
    Liverpool 4 Spurs 0

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  • http://www.knowitall.co.uk Raj Bhardwaj

    A really interesting analysis – thank you.

    However, having reflected I think that your analysis misses one key point…Sherwood has picked different players, trained the team differently and used different formations. Hence, we should also allow for improved defence and attacking quality (e.g. Adebayour has a better shot : goal ratio than the strikers who preceded him under ABV).

    It wasn’t just luck that led to better results – they would be fourth in the league if the season had started when Sherwood became manager. Whether another manager could have done better still is another matter altogether!

  • Henry Peacock

    They would be fourth in the league if the season had started when Sherwood became manager…

    and if Sherwood’s luck and Adebayor’s scoring had continued unchanged.

    The point of the article was that this was very unlikely.

    Spurs will start next season with a new manager.

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