That big chart you can see in your peripheral vision, that ugly monster of a chart… I promise, I PROMISE YOU that if you give it a chance, you won’t regret it…
For those still reading, it’s a chart of how all the Premier League teams rank against each other in both defence and attack. Take the window in the top left hand corner. That thin blue line represents Sunderland’s defensive performance over the first 19 games of the season. So for example, by week 10 the Black Cats were a dead average defensive team compared to the rest of the League. The thin red line represents offensive performance. At the same point in the season, Sunderland were a bottom 3 offensive team. You can tell that by looking at it because that thin red line intersects with the light blue bar that represents relegation (worst 3) standard, at the bottom of each chart.
The ExpG values used to construct the charts were very kindly provided by Michael Caley whose work you’re probably familiar with – but in case you’re not, go check it out.
So there you have it… Cutting edge ExpG data at your fingertips to do with as you wish. Without further ado…
Morgan Schneiderlein and Olivier Giroud clearly have better things to do with their New Year’s Eve than to spend it watching film of one another. Both of the suspended Frenchmen are vital to the way their respective teams play, but Schneiderlein will be a bigger loss for Southampton when they play the Gunners tomorrow.
When he plays, Schneiderlein turns this team into a defensive nightmare. Chelsea, the best offensive team in the league, managed just one solitary shot on target against Southampton. ONE. That’s not an entirely accurate representation of what last week’s match felt like – particularly in the second half – but it’s still impressive.
This team has a lot of smart, young players and the numbers seem to think they’re the real deal. I can’t disagree. They’re in the top 3 defensively, and they’re right up there on offense. With no European competition to worry about, the Saints can focus fully on the League (FA Cup be damned). They have a good chance of being the inverse of last year’s Liverpool team – superb defensively, and just good enough in attack. Unfortunately, they also have a chance of turning into this year’s Liverpool team when Schneiderlein leaves for Real Madrid, and their small squad gets torn apart by injuries and extra games… But that’s next year!
Speaking of… The Reds look to have begun a GaalVanisation of their own. Brendan Rodgers has finally shifted Mr. Liverpool to the bench, but ‘The Ageing Steven Gerrard’ – now his legal name – still has a big part to play this season. If Rodgers can actually convince him to start as a substitute, Gerrard will be coming on against tired legs that more resemble his own (sub effects!). He’ll be fresher when he starts and he’ll offer a nice tactical change of pace on big European nights…
Overall though, this team looks more effective without Gerrard in the starting lineup. It turns out that replacing a human turnstile with an actual defensive midfielder will, you know, make your defence better (Arsene take note). But to reduce the tactical changes to a simple Lucas for Gerrard replacement is a mistake. Rodgers, last year’s diamond formation evangelist has, it appears, converted again (isn’t that always the way). Now he’s a believer in the 3-4-3, and you can see why. It means he doesn’t have to worry as much about Alberto Moreno’s penchant for upfield capers and it allows him to put the versatile (and good) Emre Can on the pitch.
Earlier in the season, Rodgers called Can a “footballer”, which was disconcerting for Can’s parents who thought he was in medical school, but a relief to Liverpool fans who thought Rodgers had paid £10 million for one of those fictional FIFA players. Monday’s win against Swansea City proved that Can is indeed a footballer, and he looks like a good one too.
On top of that, Liverpool have Daniel Sturridge’s return to look forward to. And that’s good news for Raheem Sterling who might finally be able to take a break from the constant running Brendan Rodgers has been having him do since the start of the season.
Back on the treadmill, Raheem!
Varying Degrees of Flawed
Plenty of teams have managed to get into the top four defensively this season (see charts), but it’s a testament to the Black Cats’ gradual progress that they first entered this realm after the 18th round of matches.
Gus Poyet has found something in Santiago Vergini, a 6’ 3 utility back signed on loan from Atletico Fenix in Uruguay. The talented but nervy Argentine meshes well with the cool heads of veterans John O’Shea and Wes Brown – Man United’s former backline of the future. Sebastian Coates is certainly nice to have around on hand in case things need freshening up, as is the evergreen Anthony Réveillère . Of course everyone looks a little better with Lee Cattermole patrolling the edge of the box. Cattermole has been out and back into the Sunderland lineup more times than Arsenal players can say “ouch”. He’s a specialist destroyer with a yellow card addiction, but this year he’s only getting booked for the right things (i.e. not fighting or swearing at the ref). Still only 26…
The Wearsiders look like a poor team when judged by TSR, (0.435 – better than Swansea, worse than Crystal Palace), but that’s a trick of the light. Poyet’s team allows lots of attempts from low value positions outside the box, but stifles teams in more dangerous areas. Cap that off with height across the back line and a basketball player in goal to deal with set pieces and you get a picture of a team that does a lot of things well defensively.
The problems, of course, lie on the other side of the ball. Despite names that would suggest otherwise, fullbacks Vergini and Réveillère offer little going forward, Jozy Altidore hasn’t suddenly blossomed into a Premier League starter and Adam Johnson is consistently inconsistent. Connor Wickham’s a nice player and Sebastian Llarson is a set-piece savant, but that’s not a nourishing enough diet for a healthy attack.
That said, this team has an identity on one side of the ball, and that’s more than you can say for most Premier League teams. As for transfers? The right offensive player could make a big difference for this team, but good luck finding Dusan Tadic in the January window. And since there’s no chance of European competition, what’s the hurry?
Newsflash: It’s time to stop giving Roberto Martinez a free pass. Oh wait, everyone stopped doing that weeks ago? Hmm… Never mind.
I thought the Toffees might regress on the defensive end this year, but I never expected them to look so… stilted going forward. Defensively they’re above average – although if you watch them in the last five minutes of close games, it’s hard to tell. Gone are the salad days of weekly Michael Cox articles and with each passing match, the Lukaku signing looks less like a statement and more like hubris.
The Gareth Barry signing looks downright dopey.
It’s not that he’s been that bad this season, but he’s lost a step (see Gerrard, Steven), and that can make all the difference in the helter-skelter Premier League. At 33, he’s just not the week in, week out player he was last season. And unfortunately, that’s kind of what you want from a £55,000/week player. Especially from one on a three year contract… Yikes. There are other points to make, but I’m tired of being such a misery guts.
On the bright side, Roberto Martinez is a very good manager and there’s a good chance that he’ll find/stumble into something that works a bit better tactically. The other nice fillip is that Everton’s Europa League form has been irrepressible – Steven Naismith is deadly as false nine and Lukaku is a willing runner when he’s shunted onto the flanks. It feels like a long road back, but with Arouna Kone fit and ready to make up for lost time and with Ross Barkley looking like a young Blake Griffin – sorry, cross-sports reference, never mind… Anyway, this squad is chock-full of talent, and talent usually figures things out. Who knows, maybe we’ll see them in the Champions League next season! (Via the back door)…
“Oh Dear…” Teams
This is a direct quote from Mr. Caley, “Hull suck.”
Thanks again to Michael Caley for being so generous with his insight and ExpG numbers, and to those reading from home – Hi Morgan! Hi Olivier! – have a Happy New Year!