Premier League Round Up, 12th January
Queen's Park Basketball
As you diligently copy in the week's numbers for further analysis, it's sometimes impossible to avoid noticing trends and one thing that repeatedly stands out is how often QPR games seen to turn into basketball style shoot outs. They've often contributed to this offensively but primarily they are conceding more shots (and shots on target) than anyone else in the league. And they have done this consistently throughout the year: they haven't had two consecutive matches in which they've conceded under 15 shots or under 5 shots on target. Their defence hasn't functioned effectively, home or away and only the team's ability to outshoot at home has given them a fighting chance of staying in the league.
Amongst their games we've seen a league leading 51-shot brawl against Leicester, last week we saw a 49 shot punch-up against Swansea and this week a 35-shot tussle at Burnley. The average amount of shots per game in QPR matches exceeds the rest of the league by some margin:
But is this necessarily a bad thing? After all, one of the main problems for a promoted team is often goalscoring and QPR have outscored all their relegation rivals. Well, having manipulated the numbers to account for a general league wide drop in shots most recently, we can see that teams with the highest combined shot totals tend towards two places: the top and the bottom of the table:
So far, so not good. Harry Redknapp has historically been happy to share his recovery at Tottenham when rescuing them from '2 points in 8 games' but the similar '4 points from 12 games' Houdini-act proved too much at QPR in 2012-13. They were very bad that year and Redknapp had an excuse of an inherited squad stuffed full of disinterested journeyman big-earners. That team averaged 0.8 points per game under him, had sub par shot ratios (46% TSR and 41% SoTR), had a 0.6 goal per game deficit and were relegated by 14 points having never got to better than 5 points from safety. He won 4 games from 26.
More bad news comes in the form that although this QPR team is a self-selected Redknapp 'joint', their numbers are barely better than when previously relegated, but this time there is no excuse: 0.9 points per game, again sub-par shot ratios (48% TSR and 41% SoTR), a goal deficit pushing towards 0.7 and now a point from safety. He has won 5 games from 21. We can even look to history and simple goals against to conclude our case against QPR: they're 4 clear with 37 and the last team to clearly concede the most goals and survive was Crystal Palace in 1989-90. And yeah, losing all your away games? That's bad too.
It's still highly competitive in the lower ranks and QPR seem to have less to recommend than others. If we refer to the previous graph, the low averages recorded by teams that placed 11th-16th suggest that it may be better to be involved in low-shot match-ups and eke out points similar to the manner Aston Villa have than throw caution to the wind and go for broke Redknapp style. Defence is often said to win titles, but it might just be the difference in repelling relegation too.
Southampton: still 3rd, life gets easier
Back at the end of November, Southampton were 2nd, had only lost 2 games and I wrote an article in which I was reasonably positive about their prospects based on historical precedent. The obvious rider attached to their efforts was the fact that their good form had been assisted by their relatively soft early schedule. Seven points clear of 5th, these were clearly good times.
With a viciously tough set of games for the team throughout December and over the New Year, many pundits were sceptical about their future prospects and their reticence was borne out by a run of 4 quick defeats. I mean, they even lost to Burnley, the one game they could have expected to get something from; the wheels had come off.
Wait up! Four wins from five over Christmas and beyond and the horror schedule is no more! And they are 3rd, so are they still good? Were they ever bad? These still good times, right?
After 12 games they ranked as follows:
Goals against? 1st
Shots against? 1st
Shots on target against? 1st
After 21 games they rank as follows:
Goals against? 1st
Shots against? 1st
Shots on target against? 1st
Their save percentage has held up pretty well too, it's dipped a couple of points (76 to 74%) but still ranks a close 3rd in the league. The uncommonly extreme advantage they had at 12 games in their raw conversion rate was +8 percentage points and although it has cooled to +5 percentage points, it still measures them as historically 'good'. What is also impressive is that during this tough period (and remembering they've faced Arsenal and Man Utd twice, Chelsea, Man City and er... Everton) they've outscored their opponents 11:9, maintained a 52% shot ratio and continued to score a very similar percentage of their shots on target as prior. They have competed well and with nothing particularly scary in their schedule until they face Liverpool in late February, they could well be sticking around.
I've not written about Swansea this year and given that their star forward, Wilfried Bony looks to be joining official NYCFC feeder club, Manchester City, it seems a good time to take a look at how they've been doing. Between him and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea's attacking has been simply effective: get the ball to these guys and let them work their magic. Gylfi, who struggled to nail down a regular spot at Tottenham, is a good 'numbers' player. His 90 minute contribution can fluctuate dramatically but he's an intelligent player with a good shot who will always get his share of measurable attacking contributions. Bony, more versatile than many goalscorers, cannot be faulted for his contribution since leaving behind a goal-laden season in Holland and heading to South Wales.
Indeed, if we refer to an excellent section of the innovative footballintheclouds website, we can see that both players are responsible for over 40% of Swansea's shot contribution when on the pitch. As a measure of a player's importance to a team, over 40% is likely key. Di Maria, Eriksen and Aguero are a few others who contribute so strongly. So for Swansea to lose a player such as Bony mid season is a) bad for them and b) great for Man City.
But are they already covered? Gomis has started the last two games and had 14 shots (admittedly one of those games was against QPR). He's a career 3.5 shots per game forward and although a little on the old side for an ideal signing, could well be a plug and play replacement for Bony. Certainly, Swansea will not be changing their style and having had half a season of bit part play and watching on, his abilities will now be tested.
What may well not pan out for Swansea is that a portion of their relative success this season has defied the average to slightly sub-par numbers they have produced. Weirdly, they have scored exactly one goal in 9 out of their last ten games and that is a level that will not win many matches. Along with West Ham, Newcastle and Stoke, i've got them pegged in the 'best of the rest' category but when their shot rankings put them anywhere between 12th and 15th, there is always the concern that a bad run could knock them into no man's land: not going down thanks to early successes and on their holidays by March.
Utd/Tottenham get found out, Liverpool raise an eyebrow
Almost inevitably given fine margins, Tottenham and Man Utd got found out. Both teams have been on good runs in recent weeks and have picked up a lot of points in close games on a number of occasions. Most obviously, Utd's 3 shot miracle win at Southampton, which was successfully vanquished in the return fixture. Tottenham, so impressive against Chelsea, again found themselves in a tight battle against a perceived weaker club, but unlike when playing at Villa and Hull and Leicester and Swansea, they came out the wrong end of a 3 goal match. Both teams can consider itself slightly fortunate to be as well positioned in the race for the top 4 given underlying weaknesses in performance levels.
But! The hope lives on! It's still early days for Projects Van Gaal and Pochettino and plenty of time for each side's array of disappointing but expensive purchases to come good/get shipped on/be replaced by youth players.
In contrast, Liverpool are showing signs of life and continue to be shot heavy despite Super Mario wildly boosting the numbers with his long iron shots. Dominating Sunderland has recently become a rite of passage for a developing team but they passed this test well and look reasonably capable of going on a run. Rodgers' teams are prone to slow starts and whilst this season's slow start became a slow middle too, the recent upturn in form has given hope that the top 4 race might not be over. Undeniably, they will need some good results against their peers (and the prompt return of Sturridge) but the gap to 4th is currently 5 points and is not insurmountable. The main problem is that 4th might be all that is available, given the cluster of teams well capable of joining the mix. If Southampton maintain consistency, then one spot between Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd and any other interloper is going to look like a very narrow fit.
Thanks for reading!