Over the Christmas period the boards of Crystal Palace and West Brom decided, probably wisely, that they needed a change at the top. Alan Pardew flew home from his North East exile and Tony Pulis got the call he’d been waiting for since August. On January 1st, Palace stood 18th and West Brom 17th. Both teams were seemingly facing the very real prospect of fighting against relegation. A little under two months on, they now sit 13th and 14th, each 5 points clear of safety and whilst it is still early days for both men, and the samples are therefore small, analysis seems to show both men are doing well in their new roles. Let’s have a quick look at some of their numbers:
Pardew has benefited from 4 of his first 6 games being at home, but has so far managed to turn Palace into a positive shots team. There’s nothing much going on in the raw conversion rates but the Finishing +/- (PDO) numbers are revealing. Under Pardew, they are enjoying a favourable run and whilst it may or may not continue (Pardew’s priors make me sceptical), one thing is for sure: the ten points gained quickly here have given Palace an extremely strong platform to repel the threat of relegation. I stuck up for Warnock a bit when he went, but with Pardew making an instant and strong impact, his tenure has been quickly forgotten.
I imagine Tony Pulis to have a whimsical poster on his office noticeboard that says something like ‘An away point is always a good point’. How else to explain creating only five shots against this Sunderland team? Pulis teams always have sub-par shots ratios, and that’s quickly taken hold again. Intuitively, this is a bad thing, but as Pulis has shown repeatedly, his schemes are effective and every point earned from a drab draw seems part of the wider plan. Pulis teams always score goals at below league average rate, under 10%, and that’s happening too. Pulis teams always concede goals at less than league average rate? Yep, we’re there. And Pulis teams always run a positive Finishing +/- (PDO) number. All present and correct.
In only 6 games, Tony Pulis has successfully attached his stringent blueprint to West Brom and gained 9 points. Like Pardew’s efforts, this has given his team an excellent platform to repel relegation.
Southampton: no middle ground
It has been widely discussed that Southampton season has exceeded even their wildest expectations. Koeman’s recruitment now looks a shrewd continuation appointment and the predicted mid-season slump hasn’t quite appeared. In fact, they are still doing the the things well that they were earlier in the year. Their defense is formidable and still tricky to breach, nobody beats them easily and they are still firmly in the mix for the top 4. Though this weekend’s defeat to Liverpool was certainly a blow, it was not as chastening as the result may seem. Since drawing with Villa in late November, Southampton have played a further 14 games. Their record over that period is 6-3-6 but arguably, of those 9 drawn and lost games, 6 of them they can consider themselves somewhat unfortunate not to have generated more points. Their inability to convert their chances has cost them in each game:
I’ve got some unpublished research that suggests that the value of those shots that Southampton left on the table combined from a game to game basis is a minimum of 4 goals and simple average conversion rates for both shots on target and all shots suggest 6, so when you consider how many points these invisible non-goals could represent, it’s a grim tale. And it’s not as it their misfortune has been leveled out elsewhere. Only once have they won a game that they’ve been significantly dominated on shots, the 2-1 win at Newcastle. They also have a weird trend of blowing either hot or cold with their opposition in raw shot conversion rates:
As we can see, they’ve fallen in another hole, just as the opposition has climbed out. Their achievements this season make criticisms seem harsh, but it genuinely appears that securing further back up for Pelle would have been a shrewd January decision. His form, which has decisively cooled since his early hot streak, is currently vital to them but largely absent. If they continue to get positive results between now and the end of the season, yet come up just short, they may have every right to feel frustrated, despite their best league finish in more than a generation.
Obligatory Tottenham bit
With a cup final on the horizon and a fierce London derby to contest against West Ham, it was exciting to see the players putting in extra effort and a dashing performance to further stake their claims for a place in the big game. Or not. That this match came after a Thursday night Europa League tie will have escaped nobody’s notice and nor will the meandering non-performance that came with it. With the Fiorentina tie in the balance, it’s a difficult situation to analyse. Pochettino quietly seems to not care for the European ties, quite rightly understanding that his long term achievement will be measured by league performance. A cup along the way? Why not? But let us not allow it to divert too readily from the case in hand: the league. And that is why it was so disappointing to gift West Ham a nearly decisive advantage. Big Sam can load up a tactics bus, but he can’t always drive it to it’s destination and as has frequently occurred recently, they gave up a ton of shots. Tottenham’s minor statistical surge continues apace, but when married with chasing a game and the ugly lure of score effects, it appears less admirable.
Harry Kane showed his fallibility by proving he’s not the dead ball genius he thinks he is but quickly redeemed himself by gobbling up a heap of rebound flavoured fortune. Worryingly, moving into a busy period, Eriksen appears to have slid from an earlier peak and Lamela still looks like the most extravagantly gifted workhorse you’ll ever see. Goals from him are long overdue.
So, a relaxing break in Florence awaits, punctuated by a football match and it’s all systems go for a Cup Final, a match that will seem vastly different depending on the result. A win will define it as glory and success and fun and adoration, a loss will look like an unnecessary addition to the fixture list.
Thanks for reading!
Find me at @jair1970