Losing three games in a row and scoring zero goals is rubbish, but it happens.
Reality has started to bite for one of 2015’s form teams. A string of impressive wins driven by improved attacking play seemed to indicate a team clicking and finishing the season with a dynamism unseen prior to Christmas. Now uncertainty has returned. A run of three defeats in a row with zero goals scored has raised a few questions. Has the change of manager worked? Has progress been made year on year? It’s hard to know but one imagines that…
…Crystal Palace (!) will probably reflect on this season as having been more successful than they had anticipated. With dynamism and flair installed, Pardew love has been prominent and the simple regression fueled by miserable goal-free home defeats against West Brom and Hull was lightly endorsed by Chelsea. Those positively inclined towards Pardew’s management skills will be banking on next season not containing one of his trademark trenches of poor form but not to worry, for now the holidays are here.
Meanwhile! A remarkably similar run of results (loads of wins followed by three goalless defeats) has inflicted doubt amongst the Man Utd faithful. The return of treacle-footed former hitman Van Persie made scapegoating an easy job here but by my reckoning, in a sample of well over 2000 matches since 2009-10, I can only find four occasions in which a home team had at least as many shots as Man Utd did on Saturday, failed to score and lost. This was a freak result in the finest Pulis tradition and although it appears that Utd’s positive skew from the run of big match wins has faded a little, their underlying numbers still reflect a very solid team that has improved over time.
Utd’s defense has lead the way throughout, they have now surpassed Southampton and conceded league least shots (9.9 per game) and over the second half of the season, this total has lessened (8.8) and their shot on target concession is now league best (2.9 per game). During this latter period, they have also achieved shot ratios in excess of 60%, a solid benchmark for a top four challenger. Also, whilst less predictive and more indicative, their possession rate leads the league, as does their pass percentage and their ability to disrupt the opposition’s passing. Foundations are there and maybe next year, Van Gaal will choose not to play Rooney and Van Persie off Fellaini, for all that it should have worked. Now if only they can scrape together a few quid for transfers.
I suggested QPR and Burnley were “probably doomed “ last week and this probability, entirely obvious though it was, surely came to pass, and in exactly the fashion envisaged. Burnley lost 0-1, their fourth such defeat in a row and have only scored twice in ten matches. To no end whatsoever, those two goals earned them four points in matches against Chelsea and Man City: no matter, their offensive inadequacy has killed the impact of their reasonably solid defense and down they go. QPR, facing a large club in an away match, lost, as they have in all other similar games this season. It is possible to empathise with Chris Ramsey, given little time and a big problem, but his points return has been as dismal as Redknapp’s was prior, and shot rates and fortune factors have not improved.
Two are gone and Sunderland will join them, right? That was my firm suggestion last week but the victory against Southampton has forced me to wonder: is Dick Advocaat making a difference? Again, little encouragement in the numbers but at this late juncture, seven points from four games is hot stuff and they remain well and truly alive. In contrast, their neighbours, Newcastle, are existing now only in spirit form, having evaporated from the surface of the King Power Stadium as Leicester swept through their residue in a matter of minutes.
I had intended on writing on Everton this week, but Tim Sherwood put that off for now with his “winning” team duly winning despite ever crazier goal scoring rates at both ends. Average league scoring and save rates are 30% and 70% yet the last five games for Villa has seen Villa posting 50% for and saving at 54%, vastly overachieving at the front end and colander-like at the other. These levels are in excess of an already very high longer trend and regression will need to map together or else the results could turn ugly. Still, Villa create chances, and have learned a bit about how to take them. It’s daft, won’t last and there are issues here that would cause sleepless nights for a Mourinho or Van Gaal but one presumes Sherwood relaxes with great ease, content that football is a simple game that is easily solved.
Conversion Rates, For
Metric behaviour can be fascinating if, like me in full party mode, you spend enough time staring at them. Certain metrics are reliable and consistent year after year, or at least they are in the Premier League, metrics such as shot ratios and the many iterations of expected goals. Others regress hard over time and have no such repeatability. Things like PDO will happily tell you a story but wave goodnight when prodded for more information. Yet sometimes you spot mini-metrics riding particularly high or low and whilst more detailed analysis is required to nail the “why?”, story lines exist amongst them. One example is “conversion rate, for” (all shots to goals) which has in the past offered almost zero insight (2010-11 especially) but can often enlighten. This year, it looks like this:
As we can see, this matches up quite strongly with what we know about the league, both in reality and projections, and it explicitly highlights an issue with Liverpool this year: against a league average of 10%, a conversion rate of 9% is sub-par, and it isn’t just Mario. We have a simple take-out from a pretty simple measure: Liverpool, despite decent shot totals, have failed convert their shots at a sufficient rate to compete. It also emphasises just how much impact Sherwood has made, Villa were adrift and scoring at historically terrible levels (under 5%) in this measure until he arrived. Bottom no more, their place is now taken by Burnley, with an inability to take chances clearly endorsed.
The opposite side of this metric “goals per shot against”, as is often with “against” measures, hasn’t tracked so well, though Chelsea, Southampton, Swansea and West Ham; four teams that have largely met or exceeded expectations lead the chart here. Newcastle, in contrast, score awfully (14%) and their predicament (ably described on objectivefootball last week) gets ever worse.
Bye bye, Big Sam?
Having pulled out the numbers from games 20 onwards, it is possible to identify a few shorter term trends that could impact clubs going into the summer. Quite obvious amongst this, and something Big Sam is no doubt well aware of but keeping quiet about, are the numbers being generated by West Ham. Their goal rate (0.8 per game) is around league low and their shot concession rate has been up around the “Knutson Line” of 16 shots per game. This projects very badly (ie. relegation standard) and if the owners, already skittish with Allardyce and his expiring contract need any reason to cut him loose, there is plenty enough there. Allardyce will no doubt point to a history of overachievement in comparison to projection combined with his league position but actual points gained since halfway are exactly one per game: again, not good. His salvation likely rests entirely on the positive start to the year, which all seems a long time ago now.
Well done Chelsea
The neutrals and non-Chelsea fans amongst us will bemoan the lack of pizzazz from Chelsea since the turn of the year, but their achievement in winning the title having lost only two games is nonetheless praiseworthy. Whilst shot laden attacking displays gave way to classic Mourinho pragmatism as the season wore on, a combination of the right signings, extreme efficiency and the failings of others have led to a straightforward amble over the line. A top striker on a super hot-streak (Costa) fueled by a top, top creator (Fabregas) was enough to sit them steadily at the top early on and when City imploded and they themselves tired, the Mourinho smarts came to the fore. Hazard took prizes and probably deserved them, if for nothing else than consistent quality but as ever the defense was the true star. Even whilst coasting in, over the last 6 matches, they have only allowed over two shots on target once: formidable stuff. Only Southampton and Man Utd posted defensive numbers in the region of Chelsea and neither of them had a reliable attack to back it up.
It’s hard to see too much different next year. With little required in terms of team strengthening and plenty of peak age elite players, this team will go again with justified confidence. City, possibly in transition, will surely be strong but need the type of signings Chelsea made this last year and Arsenal will, as ever, rely on fitness to direct their chances but there is every chance that Mourinho’s second Chelsea stint could match or exceed his first, with the failings of others enabling a very clear path.
Thanks for reading!
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