Stoke: invisible but effective
It’s mid-January and i’ve finally written about every team in the league. Last and not least but maybe least interesting is Stoke. That they lie tenth is fine, the Pulis years were expensive and were spent consolidating the club as a mid to lower ranked Premier League team. Last season’s 9th is a fair benchmark and represented improvement. The reason Stoke are less interesting than other teams in and around them is the method in their mediocrity:
A frenzy of goalmouth action is not a hallmark of Stoke matches.
All of this kicks into few saves being made from the few shots on target and indeed they have a low-ish save percentage. With improvement here, it’s possible that they could have been talked of in similar tones to say West Ham, as it is, the woes of Begovic have only added to their invisibility. I’ve tried to find interesting angles regarding Stoke, but they are hard to locate. That they rank 2nd in shots inside the 6 yard box is as positive as I can be, but in truth, none of this matters. Their current blueprint is something that all teams that finish beneath them would like to replicate. There may be little excitement in the Potteries but this is a club that enjoyed Pulisball for multiple years. These are the good times! Occasional wins against bigger teams will highlight their season and safety will be all but assured with many games to play. It might not be much fun, but being Stoke is a comfortable existence.
Tim Sherwood should manage Man Utd
It’s escaped the attention of nobody that Louis Van Gaal has failed to do any better than David Moyes but… sorry? The what? The headline? Ah, the headline. The thing about Tim Sherwood, yeah? Well, he’d do better than Van Gaal has, i’m sure. It’s just an idea i’ve tossed around but Tim Sherwood would get the best of those players out on the pitch: they are world stars! WORLD STARS! He’d play them in their best positions, tell them they’re better than the opposition, that they’re paid a lot of money to entertain and win and to go and do it. I’m not seeing this from Van Gaal’s straightjacket, y’know? Really not seeing it. Tim Sherwood. I know he’d fall out with Van Persie and Rooney. Okay? OK. Agree to disagree.
So, anyway… There are issues with the Van Gaal project and the one i’d like to highlight is where a legendary Dutch coach turns Man Utd into a sub-par shots team. I’ve got data of varying reliability going back to 2000-01 and in none of those seasons does the data reflect Manchester United as being a sub-par shots team, in fact, in the vast majority of those years they are in the top 3.
This season, in a league that is averaging 12.9 shots per team per game, Man Utd are recording 12.4 shots per game. This is entirely unprecedented and quite clearly sub-Moyes. In fact, if we split the season into two halves of 11 games we can see that Louis Van Gaal has committed a graver sin than previously thought: with regards to shots, he has turned Manchester United into Aston Villa:
During this period, Utd have been averaging exactly 10 shots per game and have only an extremely high conversion rate of around 17% to thank for their apparent retained form. Twice, Van Gaal has found his team neutered by his countryman Koeman and overall signs of improvement have been scarce. It’s certain that Van Gaal will retain the good grace of the media throughout the season (he is too intriguing not to) and with his superiors at the club appearing unwedded to a coherent strategy his medium term safety must seem assured. But he needs improvement somewhere. He needs to find a way to create a dominant team from his elaborately assembled squad otherwise a sequence of years tapping at the Champions League window could well be forthcoming.
Obligatory Tottenham section
Christian Eriksen appears to have developed an invaluable sense of timing and occasion and once more enabled a deserved victory to emerge from the clutches of a frustrating draw. And this was generally encouraging even given the low quality of the opposition. Players presumed on the verge of being discarded are now featuring as the squad gets tested for the first time this year by the spectre of injury. Lamela and Mason are most obviously out, Bentaleb is in Africa and issues are just severe enough to warrant the thawing out of Adebayor.
Less encouraging is news from the wider analytics community. Colin Trainor trailed a new measure to assess defensive performances (coming soon?) and placed Tottenham dead last, Paul Riley’s expG measure thinks Tottenham are as good as Swansea and I could but won’t bring up numbers that place Tottenham in amongst the higher mid-table rather than the top 4. This last point isn’t new, and I have spent the entire season presuming that vast strides will be made to nullify earlier insufficient form. But still, the close wins keep piling up (Michael Caley has already shown that this is unsustainable), the hope remains and Tottenham sit 6th, only a good weekend away from ‘the promised land’ of 4th and beyond.
Thanks for reading!