Leave Off Kane! + Contrasting Arsenal, Liverpool And Newcastle

As ever, the inopportune arrival of the first international week and its dreary procession of less than enthralling matches allows a time for pause and reflection.  Front ended by a possibly chaotic final few hours of the transfer window, we are faced with varying degrees of desperation and contentment as the many hundreds of signings rumoured all summer are finalised or turned into dishonest chip paper.  The coaches will likely herald the end of August as a time to take stock of whatever squad they have retained and plot their future; for some, the early forays have clarified strategy and personnel choices, for others, the view remains foggy.


Harry Kane hasn't scored so far this season, therefore,  "he's tired, he's lacking in confidence, he's not that good..." That's an amalgamated version of what i'm hearing out in the real world and in commentary and it's true that he has failed to score from 13 attempts on goal.  In part, this has contributed to Tottenham's inability to win a game but we can recall Michael Caley noting a lean spell for Aguero immediately prior to the start of City's still continuing win streak in April:


caley city


But what of Alexis Sanchez? He's had twenty shots without scoring so far this season but the lazy narrative hasn't been directed at him because Arsenal have won a couple of games and well, when a languidly styled player like Mesut Ozil is around, blame takes longer to filter down. Or maybe Depay? He got a couple of goals in Europe against inferior opposition so we can ignore the 16 shots for no return in the league.

What conclusions can we draw here then?  It's four games and Depay, Sanchez and Kane are all taking shots at a rate that suggests they are acquiring chances at a rate commensurate with their career totals; as such, it's likely that goals will ultimately follow.   In fact all these samples of shots are so small as to have very little wider relevance and we can see Giroud, Aguero and Benteke have all scored just once from the 16, 15 and ten shots they've taken.  So we find a scenario where if Kane had finished just one chance, even if he'd shinned one in from half a yard, he would have been removed from these cross-hairs.  If he scores for England this coming week, even if it's against San Marino, he will be deemed to have returned to form and "found confidence".  And that is the depth of casual analysis we find time and again from a wide variety of sources. And it's not good enough.

If you want an early story how about Wayne Rooney averaging two shots a game as Utd's starting centre forward? Given a long term decline in his shooting numbers, one might presume his restoration to centre forward might help reverse the trend. It's worth monitoring but does it tell us something about van Gaal's system or Rooney's current ability or Depay's profligacy? Is it something to conclude on now? Nah, that's for another day, when the sample size means a little more.  Regardless, the media storyline is focusing on his lack of goals, which while a function of his shooting, isn't the real issue.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle

As a little case study I present three teams.  Each has scored either two or three goals and their matches have involved between five and seven goals total.  Each team has a strong save percentage so far (81%, 77% and 82%) but we can see that these similar outcomes were gained from very different inputs.


Shots For/90: 20.8

Shots Against/90: 8.8

TSR: 70%

SoTR: 63%

Arsenal have put up extremely strong shooting numbers so far this season.  Over twenty shots per game leads the league and only Man Utd are conceding fewer.  Yet with just two own goals and one from Giroud, they have contrived to score directly from only one of 83 shots.  As a representation of how ludicrously unsustainable and skewed that is, Paul Lambert's 2014-15 Aston Villa team would probably have scored four of those shots.  Andre Villas Boas and his 2013-14 Soldado orientated attack might have got three goals from those same shots.  Ball-park standard league average shooting finds eight goals.  It won't last.  Arsenal fans may feel frustrated by aspects of their start but the pressure is building and there is a team out there that is likely to walk into a cork-popping goal glut at some point.  Seven points underestimates what they've shown so far.


Shots For/90: 13.5

Shots Against/90: 12.8

TSR: 51% SoTR: 52%

I have a few ideas about the transience of Liverpool's playing squad and FSG's attitudes to recruitment that I may flesh out into a wider post at some point but for now we'll look at some numbers. What started as Rodgers' pragmatism in the face of pressure has been punctuated rudely by West Ham's carefree piggy-backing and much like the end of last season, Liverpool now face an enforced break on the back of a bad defeat.  Ironically, their better performance was against Arsenal and they've struggled against the lesser teams they've faced resulting in par shooting numbers.  There is justified concern in the attack, even at this early juncture their shots on target rank is 13th and so far it's looking like a typical slow Rodgers' start to the season may well be forthcoming:




It's been uninspiring so far and goals aren't flowing at either end, a sub 4% conversion rate for is nearly mirrored by around 6% against.  There are a lot of new players to integrate and for contrasting reasons of quality and influence, Sterling and Gerrard left a sizable gap behind them. Seven points is possibly a generous representation of what they've shown so far and those tough away games will keep coming.


Shots For/90: 5.3

Shots Against/90: 19.0

TSR: 22%

SoTR: 20%

I saw a chart last week that claimed that Newcastle were the second highest net spenders in the league this summer after Man City.  I suspect my surprise was shared by many as maybe Wijnaldum apart, Newcastle don't look to have been buying from the "percentages" playbook.  They look like they are gambling on their recruitment, much as they have in previous years and hoping for the best. Mitrovic is the perfect embodiment of this, very young, clearly temperamental but also talented.  The modern game usually shys away from such volatility.  Newcastle embrace it.

And so, with a steady old head to guide them, it looked that surviving August was a primary function.  Two points looks bad, but actually represents a stunning result when shown against horrific shooting numbers.  This week they had one shot against Arsenal, hampered by the enforced absence of Mitrovic and an average of just over five shots per game is remarkable in its inadequacy.  Yet they have two goals, as many as Liverpool, and have conceded five, as many as Palace and Leicester.

So we see three teams with very different stories away from what may seem obvious and once more a warning that firm conclusions made from small samples of games can be mighty risky.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

"Go on my Son!" was the cry from Tottenham fans last week as a player thought hard to obtain landed at White Hart Lane.  At 23, and  coming from a solid role in Bayer Leverkusen's sporadically impressive forward line, Heung-Min Son satisfies a fan and coach desire for quality and a board desire for marketability. That it may signal the demise of Lamela will be mourned quietly in this household should it come to pass.  Hope for further signings still pervades the fan-base and with Dier now a defensive midfielder and Kane looking to play 50 matches this year straight through, "concerns" and "worries" have some foundation and the remaining hours of the transfer window could well be er... vaguely interesting. I am excited about the raw pace and potential of an N'jie/Son pronged attack and I'd like room for players like Alli and Pritchard to play.  It's possibly more fun this way and we've always got Adebayor if things got really taxing. I jest of course.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, gone is the dismay caused by winning matches despite poor underlying numbers that haunted the team so readily last season.  Now we have the opposite! Solid, sometimes impressive shooting numbers powering underwhelming results.  Arguably Tottenham have deserved an upgrade from each of their four results, a loss and three draws could easily have morphed into a draw and three wins but for the hindrance of poor game management and wayward finishing.  Surely a trip to Sunderland will enable the team to find those elusive three points?


Thanks for reading

Follow me on twitter: @jair1970

Saturdays on the Couch, Week 2: Sluggish Wolfsburg

First off, I'd like to recognize Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri for this quote:

Sarri was asked whether Napoli would bring in more reinforcements, but gave a rather damning response. “I couldn’t care less. I have to focus on the players I have and making sure they don’t make the same mistakes again. “The transfer market is for people who don’t want to talk about football, it’s something that bad Coaches seek refuge in.”

I wrote about how he was one of the coaches to watch in my Family Tree pieces but with quotes like the above and his quote in the same presser where he said: “Fundamentally, it is better to lose while playing well in the second half rather than win with the first half performance, as we really did not do enough." he is quickly becoming one of my favorite coaches. He also has one of the

most beautifully pure Italian Manager Wiki pages out there:

Anyway, that was so refreshing from coaches moaning about their inadequate players that I had to point it out. Onto the stats n' stuff from the weekend.   It’s still very early and game states, red cards, strength of schedule and plain flukes add so much noise to all the numbers so I figure it’s best to look at the most robust data we have: passing data. We can try and learn a little stylistically and territorially wise from these opening weeks. Same as last week, as it's been only 2 or 3 games I will flit from team to team attempting to pick an interesting stat or chart to bring out instead of going deep.   Passing Style First up we can see a major difference in how Dortmund, and fellow early dominator Leverkusen, play from the back so far.

Hoffenheim and Hannover’s pressing likely has something to do with it, but Leverkusen are hitting it long instead of playing out intricately. In the midfield, we see the two teams are making very similar passes while long ball kings Darmstadt* blast it forward. In the final third, we see the result of Bayern patience facing blocks of defenders results in an average backwards pass that is likely to be completed (thickness of line) while Wolfsburg are hitting riskier forward balls.   *Quick Darmstadt aside: they are completing almost exactly 50% of their passes and lead the leagues with multiple games played in average pass distance by a significant margin:

and taking a shot every 10 completions, which also leads those same 58 teams by a large margin.     3 of the top 6 look great so far: Bayern, Dortmund, and Leverkusen. Today we will focus on the other 3, all of whom have some early negatives.   Gladbach   It’s very early but there are worrying signs for Gladbach. They generally lead the league in % of passes played close to their own goal, but that has increasing significantly meaning they are spending even less time downfield. They are taking 53 completions to get a shot off, the most across Europe. Last year those stats didn’t matter too much as they excelled in passing, especially close to goal, and hassled opponents as they closed in on goal compared to the open field making. Neither has shown up this season so far:


Those are z-scores, so standard deviations above the average completion %. 14 refers to last year, 15 these two games. Passing numbers generally stabilize somewhat after 6 games so this isn't totally worthless, even though Dortmund will always make your numbers look worse. Right now, Gladbach aren't any tougher to pass against close to goal as they are out in the wild. And they aren't passing better as they get closer to goal either.   Schalke   Schalke have a few early worries as well. Opponents are coming through the center of their defense too easily, a higher rate of final third completions come centrally against Schalke than against anyone else in Germany. To see how this effects the final ball, look at Schalke vs Mainz’s dangerous completions allowed map:

Schalke defense   Mainz defense  

Passes that come from the center are more likely to be turned into shots and goals than those from out wide. Schalke couple this with allowing a quick tempo of shots allowed: 17 completions per shot. This might be inflated by playing Darmstadt, but then again it’s hard to picture the other top teams allowing Darmstadt to get 9 shots off when playing at home. Only Bayern and Stuttgart have taken more shots which sounds like a positive for the Gelsenkirchen side, but Schalke’s are coming from an average of 23.6 yards away, more than 4.5 yards further than the Bundesliga

average. Compare Schalke with Dortmund (closest average shot) below with Schalke in blue:  

Wolfsburg   Last years goal/deep touch rate was unsustainably high so Wolfsburg needed to consistently get the ball deep more to keep their goal total as high as it was. They are not doing so (t-8th most deep completions) and when they do get it deep, they are coming through the wings at a higher rate than anyone else. That’s how they did it last year, but it’s hard to pull off. Most of the best offensive teams are much more centrally based. We can see the wing-focus in where their deep passes come from compared to Werder Bremen:

Wolfsburg offense

Bremen offense  

Two of these strugglers meet in one of the best and biggest games of the early season on Friday: Schalke visit Wolfsburg. That is simply a tasty appetizer for the main course of Bayern vs Leverkusen on Saturday. That game and those two teams will feature prominently in next weeks column.     Research Break

  These two graphs show

the season after a team’s goal rate (GF/GF + GA) varies widely from the expected goal rate. There are 51 seasons in the sample and surprisingly goal rate predicts the next season slightly better. There were a good amount of “underperfomances” that didn't have a year 2 because the teams were relegated. Is this a case of trying to use expected goals for something it’s not suited for? Is it only accurate in-season and it’s not useful to compare year-on-year? Is my model (header vs foot, game state, some team shooting and blocking skills) not good enough and something like 11tegen11’s model or Michael Caley’s that consider significantly more factors can beat goal rate easily. Or is expected goal rate not as useful as we think it is? One of expected goals simplest and arguably most important uses is to identify which teams are lucky or unlucky. If it can’t beat goal rate from one season to another on those anomalies, it opens up new investigative opportunites into what exactly these models are missing.  

Ligue 1 Notes   Marseille allowed 94% completion on passes more than 60 yards from goal to Troyes last weekend, a higher rate than any game from last season. Goodbye Bielsa…I’ll try to convey who is dominating the space, as Brendan would put it, in one graph. This is a extremely rough 3rd order expected goals, based on how often deep completions are turned into goals and also how often a completion leads to a pass which turns into a goal. It's not as precise as it sounds likely or I am overrating how precise it sounds but

here's a look:    

There are large variances between teams when it comes to stopping shots from deep areas or turning deep completions into shots so look at this as more of a “Who is dominating territory” chart, which I am starting to think of as an OBP equivalent for my baseball fans.   Ligue 1 as a whole complete 31 passes per shot, in Germany it is just 24.     EPL Notes Man City are completing 55% of their passes in the Red Zone (final 25 yards or so) while West Ham are at 21%. League average is 35%...Defensively, Watford, Stoke, and Bournemouth are the toughest to complete passes against deep so far. The easiest team to complete passes against within 25 yards of goal are Crystal Palace but right behind them are Chelsea. This won't surprise you if you read James's piece  but it's quite the change from last year when Chelsea were 2nd toughest in this category. This year they have been worn out (blue complete, orange led to shot). The right side has seen the heaviest volume but

passes from their left side have led to more shots:  

Mourinho knows this, as James so clearly pointed out in his excellent comparison of Mourinho-face these last two seasons.   And before you Stoke fans get too happy about your tough defense near

goal, here’s the map of your completions allowed:    

That’s a lot of right-down-Broadway completions to allow in 3 games.   Until next week. Comment below or reach me on twitter @Saturdayoncouch.

Porous Chelsea And Other Premier League Stat Stories: Week Three

zico   We reach week three in the EPL BPL top flight and once more I will add a necessary rider to the week's column insofar as ideas posited are firmly in the realm of suggestions and observations based on a very small sample of games rather than firm conclusions derived from sufficient inputs.  Scything through the data and proclaiming that Riyad Mahrez is the second coming is something that can wait for a wider look at his true level. He's currently three non-penalty goals from 12 shots, 25% and hot, compared to four from 63 last season, 6% and cold. Chelsea's inability to prevent shots Back on 18th October 2014, Frazier Campbell netted a stoppage time consolation to prevent Chelsea achieving a clean sheet in an otherwise routine 2-1 victory.  That goal was only the 24th shot on target Chelsea had conceded in the 2014-15 season, an excellent three per game, and they sat atop the league with seven wins and a draw from eight games.  Jose had a glint in his eye, as we can see here:

jose chuffed
Jose, top of the league, Oct 2014, good times
The 24th shot on target Chelsea conceded this season came as Salomón Rondón tried to force home a late equaliser in the third match of the season.  Chelsea have conceded more shots on target (24) than Sunderland (23), more than Newcastle (19), more than everyone. They now have a win to go with two red cards, some bizarrely shambolic play and Jose's glint has, for now, receded:
jose not chuffed
"What the hell has happened to my team?" Jose, Aug 2015
Now that's a bit of fun there but the early story line is nonetheless fascinating. It's simply rare for one of the top teams to suffer such a blip in performance, and especially given a reputation for uber-pragmatism and defensive shrewdness, a Mourinho team.  In fact, I have to go back to mid 2012-13 to find a top seven team that had a similar three game run of shots on target conceded- both Liverpool, in a bad year and eventual Champions and notable stat outliers Man Utd managed this ignominious feat there.  Once more we saw vulnerabilities down Ivanovic's flank and once more John Terry found a way to make headlines. On the plus side, they effectively restricted West Brom's shooting whilst at 11 v 11 but still contrived to face a penalty and concede a goal.   Pedro's debut and his chance to show that he was more than just Ringo Starr to Barcelona's rotating cast of Beatles was not without promise.  As Sterling has quickly given a more diverse focus to Man City's attacking schemes and balanced well with Silva, it seems possible that Pedro could do the same with Hazard and the perennially underrated efficiency machine, Willian. As we've seen, so far the attack isn't the problem and while one presumes all this will settle down in time,forthcoming matches against Palace, Everton and Arsenal may provide something of a test just at a point when a home fixture against Sunderland would fit the bill. Teams that can have no complaints Man City, obviously. Norwich with 57 shots for and 19 against is encouraging, especially given that this weekend they limited Stoke so effectively whilst racking up 21 shots.  A miserable conversion rate was a big red flag for them the year they got relegated and that they haven't turned this dominance into more points yet is a minor quibble. Swansea, fuelled by a series of analytics regression predictions blu-tacked to the wall of the club bar, have flown out of the traps by outshooting their opposition at a more than 2:1 ratio; after all the strongest reaction to poor shot numbers is clearly good shot numbers. Stick that in yer computer! Sigurdsson, Ayew, Gomis and Shelvey have lead the way with 12, 11, 10 and 9 shots each and that four of them are contributing significant shot volumes is an improvement on the flatter Bony/Sigurdsson axis from last year.  Opposite to Chelsea they've spent a deal of time at 11 v 10 which certainly makes life easier and can be a little peeved that they failed to finish of Sunderland, as the chances suggested.  And so we ponder their inevitable regression.  How good are Swansea? Not this good but three games and three sets of rock solid numbers is as fine a start as any team in the league. Teams that are tending towards horribleness Sunderland, obviously. Newcastle, finally back under the tutelage of a bona fide coach and with exciting new talent like Mitrovic and Wijnaldum, have had a tough start.  Away to Utd and Swansea aren't easy games and nor is a home game against Southampton.  They have two points, which is a big plus, especially when held against league worst shot numbers (20 For-54 Against) and i'm going to err on the kind side and presume that McLaren's sole remit was to survive August without being entirely annihilated.  That next week's fixture is (H) Arsenal, does nothing to deter this view.  For Newcastle, it seems this year the season starts in September. My pre-season speculation that teams collapse upon the departure of Big Sam was initially stymied by their fortunate victory at the Emirates.  Happily, at least for my view, the two shoddy home defeats to teams with similarly basic expectations of survival have pointed the gun firmly back in the direction of themselves.  One of Allardyce's chief abilities at times has been to extract results and thus points in excess of his team's underlying shooting totals. West Ham had horrific numbers in 2013-14 yet stayed up and after their ten game beano at the start of 2014-15, performed with all the enthusiasm that you might expect from a team with a lame duck coach.  The numbers stayed poor, they had enough on board to exist in mid table mediocrity and now with a bit of a gamble in Bilic and the Sam shackles removed they ship four to Bournemouth. I am skeptical. Teams that fans are up in arms about but should probably be given a break The Tottenham section has a new name this week as despite zero wins and a trademark case of switching off after a goal, the raw numbers are okay.  That may seem insufficient for a team thought to want to challenge for higher European places, but given the nature of the youth experiment going on at the Lane these days and reflecting on the underlying horrors of last season, a Villas Boas style point at Leicester despite much controlling but sterile play is bordering on the acceptable.  Delle Alli scored, which was a fillip for those of us hoping to proclaim that he and not Mahrez is the Second Coming, but sadly N'Jie Clinton was nowhere to be seen.  Also absent, and more importantly going forward was Eriksen,  a non-specified "knee injury" was cited and his influence was sorely missed. Without him nobody had the skill or smarts to transition play up the field effectively. It's strange to think that a less successful season than last would be considered progress, but that's where Tottenham are for now.  Work is most definitely in progress. And i've not even mentioned the transfer window. ___________________________ Thanks for reading! Quick word for Paul Riley's excellent expected goals Tableau, give it a whirl if that's your bag. Follow me on Twitter @jair1970   optalogo  

Saturdays on the Couch, Week 1: Dortmund shine

The possibly catchy title gives away my intentions that I am hoping to join James Yorke in providing a regular column talking about key games, emerging teams/players, and interesting stats across Europe. I can't guarantee something every week, but let's see how it goes for now. As more stats pile up, there will be stories that involve deeper dives but for now with the sample sizes still small, I will snippet from many different places instead of diving deep into one place that is still too shallow. Bundesliga The game of the weekend across Europe was Dortmund absolutely steamrolling Gladbach. For a quick glance at just how dominant it was, look at where each player was receiving the ball (attacking from left to right with Dortmund inexplicably in blue):   Gladbach were the best team points-wise in the Bundesliga after the winter break last season and got absolutely run off the pitch. The Foals set or came near to setting lows in their past 35 games for most completions allowed in the “Red Zone” (final 20 yards or so), highest completion % allowed in the Red Zone, most assisted shots allowed, highest Passer Rating allowed, fewest assisted shots taken, fewest Red Zone completions, etc, etc. So it was a terrible game and a bad start for Gladbach while it was a great beginning for Dortmund, but let’s not get too carried away. For Gladbach there was one other game that stuck out as an outlier when looking over last season, it was also away at Dortmund.     While it is a terrible start, Gladbach at least can remember last year and think about where they finished despite being de-pantsed in Dortmund. The Foals center-back pairing made their top-league debut at 19 and 20 and unsurprisingly looked lost on 3 of the goals and are a reminder that it is very hard to play the way Gladbach do. The Foals had great injury luck last season, this season they will certainly need their first choice backline back soon especially as Fabian Johnson is now out for an extended length of time. Offensively, Josip Drmic did not magically transform into the creative player that Max Kruse was. Drmic was the first player pulled and I’d expect to see a lineup featuring Hazard instead of him at some point in the next few games. Speaking of Kruse, his two assists were the highlight for an unimpressive, stagnant Wolfsburg attack.   For Dortmund the territorial and shots dominance was nothing shocking. Their patience was maybe a bit better, they never topped 10 assisted shots last season and only had 1 better passer rating game (against Gladbach) but again, it’s just one game. This simply re-affirms what the underlying stats told us last year: that Dortmund are the 2nd best team in the league.   Daniel Didavi, highlighted in the StatsBomb Bundesliga preview, unleashed 10 shots as Stuttgart got off to an impressive start against Koln. It was a worrying day for Koln, who played at a relegation level last season, and carried that form over to week 1 in this game. Didavi outshot 6 teams in the league by himself, set up 3 shots from his passes and completed 7 passes either into the box or just outside the box in the middle of the pitch. A triumphant return in the first full 90 since last September for the 25-year old.     New boys Darmstadt and Ingolstadt started solidly, but Darmstadt struggled to complete passes. They wound up trying long balls (30+ yards) on 36% of their passes, 6 full points ahead of #2 and completed just 49.2% of their total passes. Hannover were a good defensive team last season and pressed high, but there will be many tougher games for Darmstadt than Hannover at home. They are a great story, back-to-back promotions on a 3.5 million wage bill, a stadium of 16,500 seats, a city of about 150,000 but a solid shot performance in a draw vs Hannover is not near enough to change the strong opinion that they are set for relegation.   Game to watch this week: Schalke v Darmstadt. At home vs one of the worst teams in the league is a perfect time for Schalke to show they are going to be a more proactive and attacking team and start wiping last years disaster from their fans minds.   Ligue 1     The Monte Carlo Method: high pressure?   In their 0-0 draw on Saturday vs Lille, Monaco held Lille to a 67.4% completion rate on passes that ended 60 or more yards from goal. This was 5 points lower than any game from the previous season and over 20 points lower than last years average. In their opener at Nice, Monaco were well below last years average at 83.7%. Monaco have faced just 328 passes in this imaginary “high pressing zone” so far this season, so it’s something to check back in on later but as of now they are way off the charts in Leverkusen territory.   Ludovic Baal Update Last year Rennes were the 3rd-toughest team in Europe to convert deep passes to shots against (Valencia/Atletico the top 2), and they’ve started off in similar fashion (allowed 2nd fewest shots despite facing 5th most deep passes). Attacking-wise they have added left-back Ludovic Baal, who carried an unheard-of load for Lens last season. He led the team in passes/game from left back and helped create probably the most unique completion map in Europe:     The biblically named Baal has assisted both Rennes goals so far. He could be getting help soon as Yoann Gourcoff seems on the edge of signing with Rennes.   Troyes exist Angers have been mighty impressive for a newly promoted team, posting the league's best TSR and taking quality shots against Montpellier and Nantes but it was fellow promotee Troyes who enjoyed the best moment so far. The strangers to Ligue 1 came back from 3-1 down to draw with Nice, spurred on by this truly absurd run and goal from the midfielder Camus. Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday; I can’t be sure. I can be sure that this was the goal of the week.   Game to watch this week: Lyon v Rennes. The afore-mentioned Rennes are the toughest team to get shots off in the box against and Lyon struggled with that final link into the opponents box last year. Valbuena has joined Lyon since I wrote about them in the Ligue 1 Preview, so tune in and see if he can be their missing piece.   Research Break Taking a page from James Yorke's recap, I will try to throw in some interesting chart/table/general stat I have here each week. This week it's the odds of a completion turning into shot by league:   An idea once came to me that if expected goals is better than goals due to the larger sample size of shots, then why can't a larger sample size of dangerous-area touches lead to an expected shots model? This eventually led to my article on converting dangerous passes to shots. As you can see from these graphs, a model for "expected shots" doesn't seem feasible to me currently because of how widely teams and leagues vary in converting these dangerous touches on the surface. Maybe distance, speed of attack, or something else can explain the difference here. If someone can explain this difference or even have any theories, please let me know. Right now, I assume it has something to do with number of defenders in the box but it's a research extra, not something I have looked deeply into the why of.     EPL Arsenal are dominating territory way ahead of the pack in the early going.       Chasing the game against West Ham helps build this total but Arsenal are off to a strong start. As noted everywhere else, Chelsea are not. Leicester have had a very interesting statistical start. They've had a 30-21 shot edge in two victories, and aren't taking potshots to run up the totals, shot map below:   This comes despite their bottom of the barrel 68% completion rate. They aren't trying especially hard passes either, nothing like Darmstadt's crazy 27 yard average length. As with most things this early, it's something to watch. Game to watch this week: Arsenal v Liverpool. Can Brendan Rodgers name the exact same starters for the 3rd straight week simply because they ground out ugly 1-0 wins that covered up glaring weaknesses? Tune in to see, and expect a repeat of last years romp if that happens.   Hope you enjoyed, if you have any theories on the assisted shot/completion mystery let's hear them in the comments below or on twitter @Saturdayoncouch.    

Early Skews, Man City Impress And Other Stat Stories: EPL Week 2

Early skews

We've hit the crucial juncture of two (!) games now and already firm story lines are appearing around the media. Simple hooks are readily available to explain any positive or negative deviation, depending on which direction a team appears to be turning.  Take Southampton; last season they conceded four or more shots on target on 14 separate occasions and yet in only five of those games they conceded twice or more.  In all those matches combined, they ran a pretty much bang on league average 70% save percentage.

This year they've played two matches, conceded four shots on target in each and conceded five goals. Over double the previous rate.  Now what we can't do is make a hard conclusion about where Southampton are as a team after two games, but what we can say is that in the games played they have conceded goals at an extremely high and unsustainable rate; this kind of thing happens regularly in a tiny sample.   Already though i'm seeing the loss of Schneiderlin being called key and analysis homing in on perceived areas of weakness within the team.  The two matches have also featured 15 and 17 shots from Southampton's attack- a very good 25 of which have been inside the box and shows it hasn't been a raft of potshots. It also means the true alarm bells are only humming gently in the far, far distance, almost imperceptible to anyone but the very few people prepared to shrug, make a plea for calm, look at the numbers and say:  "it's early days and it could just be one of those things".

Man City v Chelsea

After the tiresome and miserable events and after-effects around the "doctors" issue, it was refreshing to get back to the football; the two top teams in the land, of course, and for 90 minutes we found a treat of a game that seemed quickly forgotten- at least by the Sky Sports pundits- and replaced by yet another dull narrative surrounding John Terry.

Terry's withdrawal was more interesting when held against the new found defensive generosity that has beset Chelsea so far   Over the last two seasons, Chelsea have conceded eight or more shots on target on only five occasions, it's extremely rare.  Now they've already done just that in both of their games this season.  For all that Aguero remains the most impressive forward in the league, to repeatedly allow him to arrive ball at feet in the centre of the penalty box was not part of the Mourinho plan and we're into the realm of theories: are they worn out? Are they too old? Is it just one of those things?

Now whilst I'm happily giving Southampton a free pass for now, Chelsea's mediocre underlying numbers stretch back over much of 2015.  Rarely convincing, but regularly winning, they put in a string of under-par away performances as last season wound down.  They visited West Ham, Hull and QPR consecutively and contrived to be thoroughly out-shot in each match yet scored five goals from seven shots on target and picked up nine points.  That two of those teams were subsequently relegated and the other showed relegation form throughout the second half of the season makes turning up at Man City and being comprehensively beaten seem a more logical extension than you might otherwise think.

In contrast, Man City who, lest we forget, are a team who many pundits predicted were in decline and would finish fourth or even fifth, have contrived to make a mockery of such half-baked predictions rather quickly.  Stronger in defence than they are often credited, they have now won eight straight games in the league scoring 24 goals, conceding just four and regularly take double the amount of shots of their opponents.  Criticism of the Sterling signing seemed to be more about the nature of the transfer than the talents of Sterling himself and having pruned their attackers by letting Jovetic and Dzeko move on, they now have the extremely attractive options of Nasri and Bony as first change attackers.  With the possible promise of further strengthening to add to what is already the most intelligent attack in the league, there is a distinct possibility that they just may be able to sneak a few more wins.

Bonus content




Having spent a deal of time really trying not to make snap judgements based on two games it's time to take a small diversion. Over the summer I finally put down on paper a little starter on some research i'd done on footedness in shooting and as a further hors d'oeuvre to a meal that admittedly may never be served, we have this:

foot head used

The sample is sized as such as it represents an average of six players per team, or realistically a starting midfield and forward line and there was a requirement of a certain volume of shots to ascertain which foot preference a player had.  In this instance I used a 60% cut-off as a definition: a player that took 60% or more of their footed shots with a certain foot was deemed to favour that foot, and in between were deemed two-footed.  This gave 70% of players as right footed, 8% as two footed and 22% as left footed.

What can we take away here?

Well, it seems that left footed shooters are more predominantly left footed than their right footed counterparts are right footed.  They take 77% of all shots with their left foot compared to 68% for right footers.  Left footers also make fewer headers than both two footed players and right footers.  In fact, two footed players appear to show greater versatility with regard headed attempts too.

That left footers may favour their dominant foot to a greater degree seems to chime with recollections of significantly one-footed players.  Erik Lamela's rabona is just one extreme example.  Historically, fans have regularly eulogised about the qualities of left footers- "he's got a wand of a left foot"- to a degree that seems to exceed that of the far more common right footer.  Maybe that's a partial comment on scarcity but to think of special dribblers such as Barnes, Giggs, Maradona and Messi is to evoke a thrilling aspect of the game.

Another type of left footer can also find favour: the "Hammer" left foot of Branco, Stuart Pearce, Roberto Carlos or Christian Ziege through to more modern players like Riise, Kolorov, Podolski or Bale.  All players extremely and vividly biased towards their stronger foot.  Maybe this is a function of position? The left footer is more obviously sent to his wing as a balance- although less so in the era of inverse wingers- and again do we recall due to uniqueness?

Anyway, that's just a few thoughts, i'm sure people have many more and I'll return to this in future.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

I noted last week that the seemingly improved defensive performance against Man Utd was likely to be as much about how Man Utd structure their game as to a genuine example of problem solving and in a fairly grim fashion, Tottenham proceeded to concede 16 shots at home to Stoke in the course of snatching a draw from the clutches of victory.  An hour of the game was good: solid play and a couple of goals but much like this fixture last year, Stoke came on stronger as the game wore on and Tottenham visibly shrank.  By the finish Tottenham were so devoid of control and nous that you'd have found fresher ideas in a new episode of the Simpsons and the lack of a Schweinsteiger figure to come on and steady the ship, much like er... Schweinsteiger had done for Utd the previous evening, was telling.

This is an inexperienced side, and it really showed here.  The exciting but also young Clinton N'Jie has arrived and will at least provide some sorely needed forward options and further deals may need to be made.   A visit to the Mahrez inspired Leicester beckons.

Thanks for reading!


Follow me on Twitter:  @jair1970

2015-16 Bundesliga Preview: Variety at the top, goals all the way through

The Bundesliga was my gateway drug into the high-flying, groupie-gathering, time-sucking, spreadsheet-staring, decimal-point debating, fantastic world of soccer analytics. I was your run-of-the-mill World Cup and EPL viewer before deciding one day I wanted to know more about the soccer world elsewhere and simply chose the Bundesliga to follow for a year. I put $200 in a betting account and began working to beat the bookies. I read Colin Trainor here on expected goals and built my own model. I manually input shots from all these different zones and adjusted for schedule.

After three weeks, I was ready to go and bet on Freiburg to draw with Bayern Munich. When Freiburg equalized right at the end of the game I knew I was onto something. The secret to soccer was in my spreadsheets! Of course, as the sample size got larger through each Konferenz I watched I realized that one: manually inputting shots into a spreadsheet for a few hours did not reveal underlying patterns no one had found before and two: it was really hard for me to tell Stuttgart and Frankfurt apart. Every few weeks I'd find something else: I wasn't giving shots on target enough credit, blocks seemed to have some skill, what the hell were Gladbach doing? They are costing me money! That year might not have made me rich but it was a great entry level course into studying how analytics can be used in soccer.

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this league, which I feel has become the lone challenger to England in terms of entertainment. The Bundesliga features top atmospheres, league-wide countering speed that floored Pep Guardiola, the most goals per game, and a variety of styles among the best teams that you can't get anywhere else. Bayern, Gladbach, Leverkusen, and Wolfsburg play very distinct styles and Dortmund and Schalke are big question marks under new managers. Mid-table teams like Augsburg and Hoffenheim have distinct, fun identities and the bottom of the table featured a team that was in 2nd place in total goals, between Real Madrid and Barcelona. This preview will briefly dive into some of that to prepare for Friday's opening kick.

1. Bayern Munich

Bayern are a team that draws you in as a viewer. Pep’s work ethic and creativity means you might see something new tactically and the teams quality means there is a chance to see something jaw-dropping every game. Last season they held Werder Bremen without a shot the entire game. The year before Schalke didn’t get out of their own half for 20 minutes and we all remember those 3 minutes without Man City touching the ball in Manchester. Inverted fullbacks, diagonal chips, full-field man-to-man marking at the Camp Nou, you never know what will come next.

However, for all the quality in Munich,when Ribery and Robben were out Bayern were simply very good, not out of this world. You can see this in their shots per game:

but the point is really driven home when you see their deep completion maps. The first is away games against Augsburg, Mainz, Frankfurt and Hertha with both healthy:


the second are the home matches against the same teams when both were missing due to injury:

The size of the circle corresponds to the distance of the pass, with shorter passes getting a larger circle. Orange means goal, light blue a shot and darker blue a normal completion. Without those two it was harder for Bayern to move their passing game toward goal. The gap between Ribery and Robben and the rest is reflected here:


No one is even in their area code. Ribery completes almost twice as many as any non-Robben player and Robben essentially renders the percentiles on player cards useless.

(for explanation on player cards see below)

When those two guys click, Bayern are untouchable. Defensively, Bayern are outstanding. They completely stifle the opposition, limiting them to 200 completions per game. They don’t have the soft underbelly some pressing teams develop either, teams struggle even when they break through the high lines. This is a deep completion map of their 3 home games against Wolfsburg, Dortmund and Leverkusen.

You can get a few shots targeting Dante and Bernat on the left, but not enough to really call it a weakness. This is a great defense.

Robben looks healthy, but Ribery remains a major doubt for this season. Douglas Costa is a Ribery replacement and was terrifying in the Super Cup for stretches. Bayern will likely win the league even if he doesn’t turn out to be a similar force as Franck but Costa replacing Ribery is important for the long-term dominance of Bayern in the Bundesliga. With Thiago back fully, Vidal joining, and Hojberg returning from loan Bayern should dominate the midfield even more in the next few years but to keep rolling to titles the wide quality is crucial.


2. Borussia Dortmund

It was almost as hard to get the ball deep against Dortmund as it was against Bayern. In lots of pretty important metrics including xG, Dortmund looked second-best to Bayern. They were far from that in last years table. These three graphs help describe Dortmund’s season:


Adjusted deep completion means the closer to goal a completion is the more weight it has.

Dortmund dominated territory at elite levels but yet were right behind relegated teams Paderborn and Freiburg and when it came to converting deep touches to goals. On the other end, they were well behind wide defense-optional teams in Stuttgart and Frankfurt in allowing completions to be turned into goals. A terrible defensive backline might explain the defensive side, but that’s wasn’t the case. Passes were still very tough to complete basically everywhere.

Maybe that one green spot in the center of the pitch explains it all, but I think there was some historically bad luck here. A deep completion was 3.5x more likely to turn into a goal vs Dortmund than it was against Gladbach. Just normal conversion rates on both sides of the ball would have turned them into a +40 GD team instead of +7. Thomas Tuchel comes in for Klopp (read my thoughts on him here) and there might be some bedding in time even if I am optimistic long-term. He has two of the best attacking midfielders in the league in Reus and Mkhitaryan along with the best deep midfielder in Gundogan. Gonzalo Castro from Leverkusen gives Dortmund the chance to have a very dynamic midfield. Controlling the center of the pitch was the major constant with Tuchel at Mainz as he switched between systems, Reus/Mkhi/Castro/Gundogan will let Dortmund control it going forward. Tuchel seems to prefer the youngster Weigl to control it defensively, maybe until Sahin returns from injury.

3. Wolfsburg

Last year was great for the Wolves, finishing second with a +34 GD in 2nd place comfortably but I think that will be tough to reach again, even if De Bruyne stays. Let’s take another look at how teams turned deep passes into goals

Wolfsburg are nearly off the charts, 9 points ahead of 2nd place. Even if they finish at the level of the second place team they could lose 15+ goals this season. Bas Dost won’t keep up his impossible 38% shooting percentage (see map below with orange as goals)

But that’s ok as Wolfsburg have improved at the striker position, getting Max Kruse from Gladbach. Kruse is one of the best passers at the forward position, Dost one of the worst. The idea should be that while the efficiency will drop the improved involvement of the striker will create a higher volume of passes and allow them to shape a few more involved attacks instead of lightning strikes though the wings. I worry Dieter Hecking will chase Dost's goal total and give him first crack at the striker role while Kruse plays off the bench.

Outside of Atletico Madrid, Wolfsburg were probably the best team to focus attacks to a large extent down the wings.  This can be seen in a sampling of where there creative players receive the ball.


De Bruyne is clearly the main playmaker but is generally receiving the ball out wide. He's not a heavy usage guy so even with him returning Wolfsburg’s attack still feels a little formless, but if he leaves there would be serious worries about Champions League. I expect a significant slip from last season, mostly from scoring fewer goals.

4 and 5, opposites attract: Gladbach and Leverkusen

Gladbach and Leverkusen make a beautiful pair. Essentially everything one does, the other does the complete opposite. These two are the ones that make the Bundesliga the beautiful, unique league it has become.

First, with the ball. Here is a map of Leverkusen’s passes from just inside the opposition half. Color and shading shows how far forward the pass is going, red=backwards.

And Gladbach’s.

Leverkusen is rampaging forward while Gladbach is taking their sweet time. The 26-4 difference in passes through the endline really highlights that. Shooting, it's the same story. Leverkusen are firing a shot every 17 completions, with Gladbach at twice that.

Without the ball

Here are ease of passing maps for the two teams defenses.


and then Gladbach

Gladbach are generally despised by shot-location or volume-based models and this make them one of the most important teams for stat-guys to watch. I’ve written extensively on them and how they beat models repeatedly and badly. They exposed my first manual xG model 2 years ago, and made light work of a more advanced model last year.

So go there if you want a full breakdown click the link, but even if you don't go there watch Gladbach this season: they are an important case study in the soccer analytics world. I’ll show two quick charts here:


They are extremely patient on offense to pick out passes that have a high likelihood of being turned into shots and on defense stick close to goal, making everything easy elsewhere but tough inside the box. The Foals will move into the Champions League and lose one of their elite strike pair in Max Kruse, making this a fascinating season to join in and watch. Lars Stindl, in from Hannover, is an excellent offensive midfielder to pair with Xhaka giving Gladbach a base that can create as well as any outside of Bayern or Dortmund. Drmic is not the type of involved player Kruse was, which means the incredible offensive efficiency might take a different form, one that might see more Hazard and Traore. As long as they continue to shatter xG models through their unique style of play, Gladbach remain a must-watch team.

Leverkusen are a must-watch team for the sheer speed of the game. The pressure they apply without the ball is unmatched and unrelenting (see map above) and offensively no team remaining in the top flight of European football shoots as quickly. Stefan Kiessling plays up top but is the 4th option really when it comes to taking shots, the 3 attackers in Son, Bellarabi, and burgeoning superstar Hakan Calhanoglu all take more than the striker. The “90 minutes of Hell” strategy leads to lots of incomplete passes from both teams, making the loss of their one smooth-passing midfileder Gonzalo Castro a big one (until they signed Charles Aranguiz). They were good enough last season to comfortably grab the UCL playoff spot, defeating Lazio and then getting back to 4th in what should be a fierce race would be a successful season. The non-stop drive doesn't always help, their midfield passing was very poor and you wonder if slowing down a bit on offense might help.

Leverkusen home shot map:

6. Schalke

Schalke are a bit of a head-scratcher. They are coming off a very poor season where they focused on limiting the opposition to poor chances and then forgot to create any of their own. Andre Breitenreiter replaces Di Matteo as the manager but he isn’t the most important addition, that is Johannes Geis. Schalke had a very stagnant midfield last season with Hoger, Neustadter and Kirchoff not adding much to the attack. (biggest size=goal, next biggest=shot, smallest=completion)



Geis brings a huge improvement in dynamic passing (see below map) and took more shots per game than the other 3 combined.


Last years midfield was also easy to cut through (12th in Bundesliga) but the backline was 2nd best in league in preventing shots on dangerous passes. I’d expect a much more proactive Schalke this season. Geis could very possibly be the signing of the season but Schalke still are the least likely of the big 6 to crack back into the Champions League.

Top 6 Predictions

Bayern, 80 points

Dortmund, 72 points

Gladbach, 60 points

Leverkusen, 58 points

Wolfsburg, 57 points

Schalke, 54 points

Extra Graphs

I’ve plotted deep pass to shot conversion on the Y-axis here, with midfield passer rating on the X. Both of these are from previous articles (here and here). The TL;DR of it is: the higher up the Y-axis you go the higher the rate that passes in the final 15 yards are turned into shots, the further right on the X-axis you go, the easier it is to move the ball closer to goal in the midfield. This is a general look at which teams contest or pass well in the midfield and convert or stop deep passes from being converted. It's not necessarily a strong midfield, weak backline or vice versa, there are plenty of tactical reasons why the numbers could not reflect the talent level of a group.

First, the defenses:


Dortmund looks extremely strong here, the problem was just a huge amount of those shots turned into goals. Leverkusen and Gladbach, those mirror images, are at each end when it comes to toughness in the midfield.

The offenses:


Leverkusen’s frenetic attack did not reliably generate enough offense last year and that’s the main concern as they try for a 4th straight top 4 finish.


Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim


In between Barcelona and Real Madrid atop the goals/game charts we find Eintracht. Unlike those two, the goals come equally from both teams in Eintracht games. This comes from having the best average chance both for and against in the Bundesliga.

Hoffenheim are top 10 Europe-wide in both goals and shots per game and as you can see from the midfield map, play a high-risk defensive game that lends itself to great viewing.

Augsburg and Hamburg are two strong arguments against the deterministic theory that wage bill=league position.  Despite having a bottom 4 wage bill, Augsburg finished ahead of Schalke and Dortmund in 5th and will play in the Europa League this season. Augsburg feature a high press and a quick trigger to shoot when they have the ball. Hojbjerg returning to Bayern and poor attacking players make another top 6 finish unlikely. I’ve written about Hamburg before but they desperately need to awaken one of the worst offenses in all of Europe. One of the richest clubs in Germany, they have escaped two relegation playoffs the last two seasons. I wrote more about last years problems here.

Something to possibly cling onto for Hamburg fans is their horrendous goal/SOT rate. This generally has no correlation from year to year with the big caveat that relegated teams generally have the worst numbers each year but don’t show up again so don't count in those correlations.

Players to Watch 

I will try to avoid repetition from those listed above. A fuller explanation of the player cards comes in my Ligue 1 preview but the short version is: Passer Rating is how well a player passes taking into account difficulty of pass, deep comps are within 25 yards of goal, involvement is basically how many completions a player gets and how central he is to his team. All are per 90 and compared to players in same position.

As usual, the caveat remains that these players are the ones who performed best in these metrics, choose different metrics and you get different players. Also performance does not always equal skill level or talent. There won't be Bayern players in here as you can assume essentially everyone (except Weiser) comes out very strong in these types of measurements. The three to watch out for outside the very biggest names: Hojbjerg, Badstuber and Thiago.


Marco Reus, Dortmund

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dortmund

Hakan Calhaonuglu, Leverkusen

Daniel Didavi, Stuttgart

Big year returning from injury.

One youngster to watch

Kevin Volland, Hoffenheim No player had a higher % of their completions come within 25 yards of the opponents goal. Here's his completion map with estimated pass difficulty represented by circle size.

With Firmino gone, you figure he will be able to get more involved in Hoffenheim's play.


Raffael, Gladbach

No Bundesliga striker passed the ball better than Raffael. The patient attack of Gladbach surely helps their forwards rack up good passing numbers, as more options are available when the ball is moved slowly. It's kind of strange for a Brazilian striker to play this well on a Champions League team and be so unknown, but hopefully he has some big games in the UCL to get his name out there this season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, Dortmund

Solomon Kalou, Hertha Berlin

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Schalke

Eric Choupo-Moting, Schalke

Haris Seferovic, Frankfurt

Barely beats out last years league top goal scorer Alex Meier due to his edge in passing. Also only 23.


Ilkay Gundogan, Dortmund

Granit Xhaka, Gladbach

Zlatko Junuzovic, Werder Bremen

Junuzovic was the top non-Bayern player as far as deep completions go and was just behind di Santo when it came to top shots-taker on Bremen. The entire Bremen offense revolved around him.

Luiz Gustavo, Wolfsburg.

Milos Jojic, Koln


Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg

Paul Verhaegh, Augsburg

Augsburg lost a great young prospect in Baba to Chelsea, but kept their best fullback.

Wendell, Leverkusen

Bastian Oczipka, Frankfurt

Daniel Brosinksi, Mainz

Final Words

Hopefully this has you ready for this Friday's opening kick. Tune in and enjoy the goals, the counter-attacks, the high pressing, the atmosphere and the high level of play. My final piece of advice is to learn from me: don't repeatedly bet against Bayern and Gladbach because they are due for regression in your personal xG model. Best to sit back, enjoy, and investigate the different flavors of soccer they bring us.


It's Only One Game... Premier League Review

isss New Season, New Data As I fire up my spreadsheet, And stare at the shot count, A story line falls away, Here: a different truth, It's too soon for all the answers, Much more will transpire, Empty rows await their fill, Engorged they will inform James Yorke (Aged 37, nearly 38)   First game bullshit A lot has been said about the results and performances in this first weekend of fixtures and a hell of a lot of it has been utter nonsense.  Having seen a summer of football from the far flung regions of the world, or at least mainly the Americas, the return of the big European Leagues is welcomed with an ever increasing fanfare combined with a cavalcade of previews and opinions, some high quality, whilst others appear to have been plucked from the sky- mainly the "Man City will fail" brigade. As the transfer window grumbles on in the background we see unfinished squads take the field and quelle surprise, a strange result or two.  These results, that would be disregarded if they sat on the tail of a mid season winning streak, take on entirely overstated positions and will likely have little bearing on the wider picture as we move forward.  Arsenal losing to Villa in 2013-14 then winning 8 from 9 is often wheeled out, Man City lost to Cardiff the same year in week two and also to Stoke in week three last year.  It can happen and with the season now starting in mid summer and the new fad of resting players thought exhausted by summer tournaments, August and the matches prior to the first and unwelcome international break are a slightly bizarre precursor to the season bedding down. Flame_of_fire Man Utd v Tottenham I've noted repeatedly that Pochettino and van Gaal favour a prescriptive and strict formulation for their football and after yet another "tactical battle" in which each team cancelled out the other, we should probably be glad that every team doesn't play in this fashion, regardless of any success that is derived from it.  But what do I mean? Since van Gaal's arrival in the league, he has now faced Tottenham and Pochettino three times and on each occasion we have seen a minimal exchange of shots and little to thrill.  Utd's win at Old Trafford last year at least offered three goals, but also killed the contest quickly and if we look at the shot counts from the three games and consider the average Premier League match contained a shade under 26 shots last year, we can see that when the immovable object encounters his twin, the results aren't pretty: van gaal vs pochDull stuff, huh? 18, 16 and 18 shots in total.  Particularly underwhelming from the Spurs end of things too with zero goals.  So: what's interesting to me here is we have a quick opposition to an early take.  Tottenham's defence shaped up quite well against Man Utd yesterday and a perfunctory analysis might presume that Eric Dier in central midfield is a winning idea or that Alderweireld is the answer to Spurs' defensive woes.  These things may in time show to be true, but we can see that in the games against Man Utd last year, the rate of shot prevention was similarly effective.  Even the 0-3 could be explained away somewhat if we recall Fellaini sprinting clear to finish- a rarity, or Carrick's annual goal and the fact that three goals were scored from three shots on target.  In fact, we come full circle if we want to take anything from the game, Van Gaal and Pochettino have teams that play prescriptive and restrictive football, they played it last year and they're already playing it this.  Is more of the same enough for Man Utd to challenge and Tottenham to go for the top four?  It looks a stretch to me. What have we learnt? Maybe less than is generally thought, after all it's one game. Stoke (v Liverpool) It's possible I should be careful what I say here given the kerfuffle some analysis of this game has already caused but again, it looked to me that despite time passing and players being purchased, the intrinsic personalities of the two teams remain from last season too.  In other words, Stoke are better than most people generally think and Liverpool are a work in progress.  Here we found another game in which the two teams cancelled each other out; an extremely understandable scenario given Rodgers' need to avoid defeat and with the 1-6 defeat remaining fresh in the memory. Stoke were a pretty solid team last year and their defence was a strong point. They ranked 6th in Goals Against, 7th in Total Shot Ratio and 9th in Shot on Target Ratio.  Indeed, if they could just get something going on the front end they have a strong base to build on.  They struggled with their rate of getting shots on target last year in a big way (ranked 20/20) and that's something that can be reasonably presumed to improve.  With the interesting signing of players that were perhaps expected to make it at bigger clubs like van Ginkel and Afellay pitching up alongside the hopefully returning, similarly statused Bojan and maybe even The Xherdan Shaq Attack, we have a level of talent and diversity many worlds away from the arse end of a Rory Delap throw in.  I think they are the club most likely to "do a Southampton" and grasp onto the coattails of the contenders and Hughes has done a solid job of improving them and changing their style.  And maybe the talent level has stepped up a notch? I am also in rarified company: Robbie Savage has predicted a 7th place finish for Stoke.  That he blotted his copybook with a 5th slot for Man City shall be overlooked here.   Oh by the way, Arsenal had 22 shots to West Ham's eight. Shit happens. _____________________________   Thanks for reading Follow me on Twitter here: @jair1970 This column will appear every week after a set of fixtures throughout the season, so make sure you come back and also take a look at our season previews, a diverse and talented collection of writers contributed fine work and they are really worth your time.  

EPL 2015-16 Season Preview – Manchester City

In years past, on warm summer nights and with a new Premier League season upon us, one could close their eyes and easily imagine a scenario in which Manchester City would be crowned champions for the upcoming season. One could picture swashbuckling attacking football, goals-a-plenty, the thoroughbreds of Agüero, Silva and Toure destroying opposition defenses: a winning team.

This was certainly the case in 2011/12 where Agüero's arrival and Silva and Toure's 'year 2' seasons were enough to believe City could go supernova. The squad additions of 2012/13 felt like enough to ensure Manchester City would retain their crown. And 2013/14 with the addition of battle-ready peak players like Negredo, Fernandinho and Navas. Plenty were optimistic that City could win the title in 14/15.

Yet, it's not so easy to close the eyes and imagine Manchester City winning the title in 15/16. Things feel different somehow. Confidence in a Manchester City title win in 15/16 is low. The great unwashed don't think Manchester City can win it and neither do the pros. Just 2 of 11 Guardian journalists predict a title win for City, 1 of 14 Daily Mail journalists, and 2 of 10 Telegraph journalists. This a vote of no confidence by the men paid to write about football by national newspapers.

Why the lack of confidence? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Well, I can guess. And I'll get to it in the reasons for pessimism section.

What Happened in 14/15

Manchester City were a very good team in 14/15, but there was streakiness throughout the season. A very strong first 20 games, a flawless last 6 games and a shit show in between those two points. To illustrate:


(scrollable on mobile, click and use arrow keys on desktop)

That dip between game 20 and game 32 was severe: 15 points in 12 games. That ain't good nor is it in any way title form. This dip cost Manchester City a chance at the title. That dip in form is even more perplexing considering Manchester City posted numbers like these:

2014/15 Team Metrics


(scrollable on mobile, click and use arrow keys on desktop)

Link to actual stats table

That table runs across the whole spectrum of stats from TSR to SoTR to expected goals methods, and hell, even crazy PDO is in there. Whichever way you slice it Manchester City were a dominant team and score effects weren't an issue in Manchester City padding shots numbers. Excellent performance in underlying numbers doesn't mean the team was without problems. Folk said:

  • Pellegrini seemed to be stumbling through parts of the season locked-in to a stubborn twin striker system.
  • The midfield, when bypassed, exposed a shaky looking defence (this is more of a systems issue with City being a dominant territory team).
  • Mangala was a mess.
  • Kompany's injuries and hyper-aggressive style appeared to finally catch up with him.
  • Full-backs looked old.
  • Toure struggled with a multitude of issues.
  • The team is old.
  • Scored 19 fewer league goals year-on-year.

That is a lot of bad narratives and despite all those issues it was a team who finished second and posted extremely good numbers across the board.

Transfers In

Raheem Sterling £47m

Fabian Delph £8m

Patrick Roberts £4m plus £7m in futures

(Kevin De Bruyne £40+ *this probably happens at some point)

Promoted from the youth team: Kelechi Iheanacho (fwd), Jason Denayer (cb) and Marcos Lopes (am)

Transfers Out

Dzeko, Jovetic, Milner. Maybe some others.

Evaluating The Summer Window So Far

Raheem Sterling addresses a need for speed and trickery in the left midfield position. His creativity, intelligence and an ability to break lines was needed. If Sterling is this good at age 20, then what will he be by age 24?

Delph is an excellent pickup for that price: a depth midfielder who can cover the ground quickly, is good in transition and offers left/right balance to a midfield pair.

Roberts is a future consideration. Extremely talented and in possession of a familiar gait. 2 or 3 years down the road we should hopefully see him start to push through.

The promoted youths are exciting: City's depth gets younger (but probably worse) with these moves.

Denayer and Lopes both project to be starters of varying quality, given time. Yet it is Kelechi Iheanacho who is the jewel in City's youth setup: quick, aware, and a finisher who is also more than able to create. Kelechi is only 18 years old, but he doesn't look the slightest bit out of place with City's first team players. Kelechi is pegged to be the #3 striker for 15/16. There will be good days, and bad days, no player develops in a straight line.

As for player sales. James Milner decided to leave for first team football, thus saving Manchester City from themselves and a soon-to-be 30 year old depth player on a big 4 year contract. Dzeko will be remembered as an important player for City; as talented as he was frustrating. Jovetic: forever injured, never trusted.

Current Needs

Manchester City have a talented and deep squad, but there are still holes. A shiny new center midfielder would have been nice, as would a solution to the center back issues. The future of the full-backs will be addressed at some point in the near future.

Reasons to be positive

Manchester City posted excellent underlying numbers in 14/15 and there isn't much evidence to suggest that this improved squad of players are going to fall off a cliff and start posting terrible numbers in 15/16. Greater pace and creativity in attack (Sterling and possibly De Bruyne), an improved midfield (Delph as depth, Toure rested), a more aware Mangala, and a permanent switch to a 4-2-3-1/-4-3-3 one striker system should, hopefully, see City improve upon the 79 points they posted in 14/15.

More firepower means a greater ability to score their way out of problems.

Reasons to be negative

There are real concerns about Manuel Pellegrini's ability to coach this team to success in the Premier League and the Champions League and until this very morning there was a concern that in entering the last year of his deal he could have become a lame duck coach whose players down tools at the first sign of trouble.  The new contract at least on the surface addresses this issue and provides a needed perception of stability.

The age of the squad is a concern also. The great core of this City side over the past few years is aging and we should be near the point where we start to see some performance levels dip slightly. Rest and rotation will be key to getting the very best out of what these players have left to offer. It is also worth noting that world class players will age at a very different rate to league average players (a 32 Toure looks very different to a 32 year old Joey Barton), so dismissing the likes of Toure, Silva or Fernandinho the moment they edge past 29 may lead to some crazy-eyed evaluations. The team isn't getting younger, the window to win is shrinking rapidly and a lot of these guys will need replacing in the next year or two. All that said, it doesn't make them terrible players.

The defense has problems: aging full-backs, a captain who appears to be morphing into peg leg, and an expensive junior partner who doesn't appear to be comfortable playing in this system. Ah, the defensive system! When a team plays possession football and they dominate the territory to the extent that Manchester City it comes with a cost. That cost is a high defensive line that can, at times, be exposed by pacy counter-attacking football.

Manchester City were the best territory team in 14/15 with the ball and the best territory team without the ball. This was a team whose games were mostly played in the middle third or the oppositions third and when that happens that leaves a lot of space at the back to be covered by few defenders. This means fast attacks by the opposition can cause chaos in the defensive zone. Chaos makes people look bad. Man City's whole defense looked bad by eye last season, and if difficult questions are repeatedly asked of defenders with a ton of space to guard then quite often those defenders will get some of those questions wrong. Defenders can look bad when asked to do too much.

Pellegrini's system can be hard on defenders (Kompany wouldn't look nearly as bad in Chelsea's deep block) but what his system does is create tons of offensive chances for the team whilst being effective at suppressing shots against; sometimes those shots against will be of high quality and sometimes the defense will look like hell. This is the balancing act of Pellegrini's system.


This should be, if all things break right, be Manchester City's power lineup.

What does it all mean?

Manchester City remain an elite side. They control the territory and play like few other teams can, they rack up shots at a terrifying rate while suppressing shots against. Nothing that happened over the summer in terms of personnel or coaching should change Manchester City's excellent processes.

If the excellent processes continue into this season and Manchester City enjoy a dollop of luck in terms of conversion percentages and injuries then this team may well, once again, win the Premier League title. If Chelsea enjoy another season of near-perfect health to their core players, then I am unsure if any team could wrestle the title from them. But if injuries catch up with Chelsea and Manchester City's forward group clicks then City should well be close.

Manchester City possess the deepest squad in the division, but it's an aging squad and this season may well represent the last chance for this core to win it all, together.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Championship 2015-16 Preview: Part Two



Derby County

Last season finish: 8th (77 Points) Bookies' rank: 1st It seems odd to have the team ranked 1st to have finished outside the playoff spots last year. On the one hand, they were unlucky not to get into the playoffs given their points total. On the other, their conversion rates were running red hot all season and there was probably a good serving of luck in their points total. With a surprisingly average SoTR of 0.523, their strong results were driven by a high conversion rate (that said, their late season collapse was equally unprecedented). derby Over the summer, Derby have replaced Steve McClaren with Paul Clement and significantly strengthened the squad (and riled up Sean Dyche) in their quest to play against the likes of Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez and John O'Shea in the Greatest League in the World. Having finished with respectable points totals the past two years, with financial backing and a talented, it's easy to see why they are one of the favourites. It seems probable that they will do a better job of dominating the shots next season; however, even if they continue to focus on making high quality opportunities rather than quantity, it is unlikely that their aptitude for converting shots into goals will remain so strong.


Last season finish: 4th (85 Points) Bookies' rank: 2nd Last season, Middlesbrough’s promotion campaign was built upon a solid defence. They conceded the fewest goals and shots on target in the league. Perhaps unsurprising from a team coached by Mourinho’s ex-assistant and complemented by a rolling cast of Chelsea loanees. This meant that despite a slightly above average tally of 4.65 shots on target per game, Boro recorded a strong SoTR of 0.588 (3rd in the division). However, if there is one cause for concern it is their save %. Last season, Boro’s opponents converted their shots on target at the second lowest rate in the league. It’s easy to suggest this is just good goalkeeping, but generally, save % and scoring % are known to be extremely variable and so a feat like this is unlikely to be repeated. Nonetheless, last season’s losers in the Richest Game in Football at Wembley last year are back. Only this time without forwards Player of the Year Patrick Bamford, part-time hashtag Jelle Vossen and Lee Tomlin. Sound bad? Well probably not when it comes with the return of Stewart Downing to Teeside. Oh, and a spare 4.4 shots per 90 striker kicking about (Kike-ing about?). Middlesbrough will be a strong side again this season. They face a tough August schedule and could be in a misleadingly low position come September. Likewise, less depth in attack than in 14/15 is a slight concern; however, put simply, that is not the foundation on which Middlesbrough’s successes last year were based.

Hull City

Last season finish: 18th in the Premier League (35 Points) Bookies' rank: 3th Hull City were 2014/15's victims to Sunderland's almost inexplicable anti-relegation voodoo and it seems cruel that out of Lambert/Sherwood's Villa, a spectacularly calamitous Newcastle team (can we even call them a team?) and Sunderland, Hull were the ones to go down. Having recruited two Arsenal loanees, two right backs (one from the Premier League and one of Premier League quality) and Samuel Clucas from Chesterfield, Steve Bruce has covered for the loss of a bunch of his squad players. Rplot07 Despite this, Hull City still have one of the strongest squads in the league and ought to be deep enough to withstand most injuries, too. One of the favourites, the aggregated odds give them a roughly 1 in 5 shot at automatic promotion and they have a decent shot at getting back into the Premier League.

Brentford (By Tom Worville @Worville)

Last season finish: 5th (78 Points) Bookies' rank: 4th Considering you've found yourself on Stats Bomb, you're probably familiar with Brentford's status as every numbers-nerd's second team. This summer has seen some interesting moves, that will shape how the team plays in the 15/16 season. For a start, they've upgraded the front line with the signing of Lasse Vibe and Philipp Hoffman, giving Andre Gray some much needed competition. Vibe was excellent with his previous team in Sweden, with his scoring contribution per 90 (goals + assists) of 0.9. Hoffman is a German Under-21 international, whose greatest asset is his height - 1.95m. Hoffman's height will be useful for Brentford's numerous set piece routines, which they and sister club FC Midtyjlland are starting to become known for. Gianni Vio, a set piece magician formerly with AC Milan and Fiorentina, has also been brought in this summer to perfect these further. It is this signing which is arguably the most exciting. If Brentford can turn the odds in their favour in dead ball situations, they could become a very dangerous team from all over the pitch. Their TSR last season was 0.53, with the signings of Andreas Bjelland and Yoann Barbet aiming to reduce the shots against numbers. Bjelland is the stand out name and probably a Premier League quality player, but Barbet could be used from dead ball situations alongside new-joiners Ryan Williams and Akaki Gogia - who both look like your classic "dead ball experts". Overall the influx of these new personnel does not raise questions about the quality of the team - as they are one of the better sides in the Championship - but how quickly all of the new coaches and players can gel together as a team. If they can get that right quickly, it could be a very good season. Read more about Brentford's season on Tom's blog here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Last season finish: 19th in the Premier League (33 Points) Bookies' rank: 5th Having lost Jason Shackell, lured to Burnley by the offer of higher wages, to a team offering higher wages, Sean Dyche was not happy. It was a loss that probably stung all the more following the departures of Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier, replaced by Jelle Vossen and Matt Lowton, respectively. These three players contributed a high proportion of Burnley’s league minutes in the Premier League last year and their losses will likely be felt accordingly. Rplot03 Sean Dyche has continuity on his side, having been manager since 2012, and the fact that Burnley spent responsibly (or as responsibly as paying 2 million Great British pounds for Lukas Jutkiewicz can be) in the top flight, which should serve them well for the long term. Their last season in this league in which they escaped through automatic promotion was a bit of an outlier for Burnley; in both Points and Goal Difference, they’ve been pretty consistent throughout their Championship seasons. Rplot04 Given their squad turnover and year-to-year volatility of the Championship, I’m wary of placing too much importance to these historical results. They ought to be a good team, and the aggregated odds imply a roughly 40% chance of a shot at promotion come May; however we ought to be equally wary of raising our expectations based solely on their presence in the top flight last term.


Last season finish: 7th (78 Points) Bookies' rank: 6th Like Derby, Wolves were pretty unspectacular by the numbers last term. However, like Derby, they are rated fairly highly for this year’s competition (though not quite as highly). Hitting an almost bang-on league average (202) shots on target for (198) and against (203), it is the talented forwards in their squad who will be expected to make the difference. Rplot08 Unfortunately for Wolves fans, Bakary Sako has departed but the remaining two prongs of their attacking trident, Benik Afobe and Nouha Dicko remain. Benik Afobe, contributed an impressive 0.90 Goals + Assists per 90 in his time in the Championship last year. Though his shot contribution (shots + key passes) of 3.4 per 90, wasn’t earth shattering, it is encouraging that 1.9 of the 2.4 shots p90 he took himself came from inside the box. At 22 he will be expected to improve, too. Meanwhile, Adam LeFondre and Ojo have arrived on loan to compensate for the loss of Sako. A finish in the automatic spots will probably be too much for Wolves; however, they ought to challenge for the playoff spots, an exciting prospect given the outlook a couple of seasons ago.

Queens Park Rangers

Last season finish: 20th in the Premier League (30 Points) Bookies' rank: 7th The latest stop on the Harry Redknapp Road to Financial Ruin Adventure got relegated (again) last year in a turn of events described by many a 'pretty predictable' and 'wholly unsurprising'. Thankfully, transfers have taken a different tack; the squad has been revamped with some of the oldies being swapped for younger models. Tjaronn Chery is the star among these, plucked from the Eredivise during this summer's ransacking of the Netherlands. QPRplot Given the talent they've picked up from their recent yoyo years (and wages they can offer), it feels unlikely that they won't end up in the playoff spots. However, things could easily take a turn for the worse (just ask Derby) and as the bookies' odds suggest, (aggregated odds give them a roughly 1 in 20 chance if taking the top spot) they aren't one of the favourites.

Ipswich Town (by Ravi Mistry @Scribblr_42)

Last season finish: 5th (60 Points) Bookies' rank: 8th Ipswich are entering a record 14th straight season in the Championship, and last season’s performance was a surprise for all, including many fans who were pleasantly surprised by the team’s affluence and flirtation with automatic promotion – a story which starred a 32 year old Irishman in the form of his life. Daryl Murphy scored left, right and centre, finishing with an impressive 0.71 Scoring Contribution (NPG+A) per 90 (0.577 NPG p90) & 27 goals firing him to the top of the goalscoring list. However failure in the play-offs against Norwich has not dampened any of the hopes of the Blues following who are certain that Mick McCarthy's men can be surprise promotion challengers once more. What does this season hold for Ipswich? Transfer Business The most notable departure was Tyrone Mings, departing for newly promoted Bournemouth for a sizable £8m, with Ryan Fraser joining the East Anglian side on loan as well as Brett Pitman joining for 'no fee'. This was an incredible piece of business for all involved; Fraser will be able to kick on from his impressive 2.58 Key Pass + Assists per 90 whilst Brett Pitman featured as a potential  ready-made replacement were Daryl Murphy to leave. Read Ravi's full length Ipswich preview here: https://marginalscribbler.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/squad-development-signings-a-new-season/

Sheffield Wednesday

Last season finish: 13th (60 Points) Bookies' rank: 9th Sheffield Wednesday were a solid, if unspectacular team in 2014/15 and (ex) manager Stuart Gray had them playing at a level above what many would say was their intrinsic talent level. A TSR of 0.514 and SoTR of 0.478 are fairly average. However, they equalled a club record of 17 clean sheets in the league and conceded fewer goals than everyone bar Norwich, Bournemouth and Middlesbrough. Given this stingy defence, it would be easy to use it as a reason for their away form; Owls scored more points on the road than at home. However, from season to season this doesn't appear to be a very repeatable trait and could regress this term. ShefWed1 Of course a stingy defence and roughly 50% shot and goal share means a weak attack. Only Leeds, Charlton and Blackpool took fewer shots on target last season. Now Gray has been replaced by Carlos Carvahal and fans will be hoping his compatriot Lucas Joao, one of two attacking minded players brought in from Portuguese cub Nacional, can hit the ground running.


Last season finish: 17th (52 Points) Bookies' rank: 10th For a team in such spectacular disarray it seems amazing that Blackpool came second in both Shots on Target conceded and Shots conceded. What's even more amazing is that neither of the teams besting (or worsting I suppose) Blackpool in these measures were relegated. One of these teams was Charlton (1st for Shots conceded) the other, as you have no doubt guessed by now, was Fulham. Fulham narrowly edged out Blackpool in the Shots on Target stakes thanks to one of the leakiest defences in the league conceding 4.20 Shots on Target per game and 1.80 Goals per game. Since 2004/05, only three teams have conceded more goals and not been relegated (in fact, only 8 teams have conceded more). Of those three, two were relegated the following season. fulham2So, can Fulham channel Barnsley 07/08? (See, it seems that much more achievable already) The bookies seem to think so; the aggregated odds give them just over 90% chance to avoid the drop. This is backed up by some decent moves in the transfer market. Fulham have already picked up Cairney, Pringle and O'Hara, who managed a 3.67 Key Passes per 90 at Blackpool (2.33 excluding set pieces) to add to their midfield; this should add some creativity and help with the attack, which has also been less than stellar. In particular, Fulham have been reliant on few players for a high proportion of their shots. fulham That said, the big worry remains the defence and although Jazz Richards and Luke Garbutt have arrived, it is still unknown whether Kit Symons can remedy this in his first full season as head coach.

Bristol City

Last season finish: 1st in League One (99 Points) Bookies' rank: 11th The differences between sustainable and unsustainable conversion rates become rapidly murkier as you descend the league system as talent skew and player churn hammer the correlations of fanalysts' favourite metrics. That said, Bristol City converted their shots on target into goals at just under twice the rate of their opponents last season. Though score effects will have had some impact, this is something they are unlikely to repeat in the Championship. Rplot06 Having brought in few signings, they are primarily sticking with the core that brought them promotion. The aggregated odds imply a roughly 11% chance of relegation, a touch below the historical precedent of roughly 14% as demonstrated by Ben Mayhew. There may be 3 teams worse than them in the league although with a small squad and sketchy conversion last season, things could easily turn sour.

Nottingham Forest

Last season finish: 14th (59 Points) Bookies' rank: 12th Earlier on in part one, we wondered whether Bolton were the most numerically boring team in the league; however, that title could quite easily be shared with Nottingham Forest. In 14/15, Forest’s full-season TSR, SoTR and GR all just under 0.510 and PDO a nice, average 0.996. Though to look at these figures alone ignores their high initial PDO which caused some to accuse Stuart Pearce of competency. Rplot02 This season, with Dougie Freedman (formerly at Bolton) at the helm they look set to trundle into another season of probably mediocrity. Although they have a decent squad, it is by no means one of the strongest in the league and their managerial appointment hardly smacks of inspiration. It can’t be fun for fans to see Derby predicted so highly in the off-season and Assombalonga’s return can’t come soon enough.  

Part one (featuring all the other teams):


___________   Find me on Twitter @stats_snakeoil

Another Title For Chelsea? EPL Preview 2015-16

Jos--Mourinho-010 Given a widely presumed desire for thrilling football, there was no small irony in the fact that when the Champions League fell Chelsea's way it came via defensive cautious football. Similarly Roman Abramovich's quest to regain pre-eminance in the Premier League, has come via the re-employment of his most successful but pragmatic coach. Mourinho at Chelsea mk2 took a year longer than mk1 to return the top prize but fuelled by two of the most well targeted and specifically relevant signings in recent league history, Costa and Fabregas, they steamrollered the league for half a year then coasted or limped to the title, an opinion split depending on your affiliation, and thus triumphed with minimal fuss or challenge. Any team that completes a season having lost four games in total across major competitions deserves a ton of respect, however they achieved it. Even allowing for there being a slew of meaningless fixtures in each of these numbers, by way of comparison, Barcelona lost six, Real Madrid nine and Bayern Munich eight. And that's the table that Chelsea are endeavouring to dine at. They had thought that they were booked up and being shown to their seats before they found Paris Saint Germain usurping them at the death and their Champions League hopes vanished. In that very same movement, the remaining hopes and challenges of Arsenal and Man City, by this point adrift and praying for fatigue were extinguished. Why was it so easy? Chelsea's season was so obviously partitioned into two halves as to be quite strange. After 12 games, they were unbeaten and flying based on extremely high conversion of both their overall shots and shots on target (16% and 41%). Their general shot rates were good if not spectacular (15.3 shots and 6.1 shots on targets per game) and their defence wasn't giving up much at all (10.1 Sh, 3.1 SoT). All the good stuff on the front end revolved around the burgeoning bromance between Fabregas and Costa. Rarely has such kinship flowered so instantly. So much so that the phenomenal rates they were achieving were highly unlikely to sustain; and so it showed: costa Once this combination cooled the defence started to dominate the storyline. After 19 games, this Chelsea team was now conceding an average of 2.5 shots on target per game and 0.7 goals per game: the lowest and second lowest recorded totals of the entire Enlightened Stat era (2009-10 onwards). The early promise of this being one of the great attacking teams had regressed to something altogether more Mourinho-like; a defensive and ruthless, strong team. And that was how the team continued throughout the rest of the season. Between February and clinching the title against Palace in May, they won nine matches and drew three. Of these wins, eight were by a single goal margin, the exception a 3-1 victory at Leicester. The numbers that drove these efficient results were underwhelming, at least with regard a Championship contending team: a 53% shot ratio and 56% on target ratio. Chelsea dropped from being a 16 shot per game team at the halfway point to a shade over 13. The defense, despite becoming the main focus, also gave up more shots, nearly 12 per game, up from ten. But the key lay in the save percentage during this latter period, a super high 76%. The shots Chelsea were conceding were seemingly less dangerous due to their extremely low block defense. I made an attempt to look at the numbers Chelsea's defense created by way of looking for similarities, and the primary takeaway was how similar each defenseman looked; Azpilicueta and Ivanovic profiled almost identically to Terry and Cahill (or Zouma). In functional terms, Chelsea played much of last season with a wall of Pulis-esque centre backs spread across the back four. That's not to criticise, it's highly effective and may well have been a reaction to the chastening defeat at Tottenham, the last meaningful league fixture they lost all season way back on New Year's Day. In fact Chelsea project fairly similarly for both Mourinho's returning seasons. The primary differences in the outcomes is that in 2013-14 both Man City and Liverpool had an incredibly positive performance skew that they and indeed no other rival managed to reproduce in 2014-15. In fact, in terms of over-accrual of points in comparison to underlying metrics, Chelsea were the team in a challenging position that skewed most positively. By my reckoning only Swansea exceeded this degree of over-achievement. Despite this, the real increase in points year-on-year was only five, but significantly it was more than enough with Arsenal, City and Liverpool declining by four, seven and 22 points respectively. Fitness Ben Pugsley noted early on how many minutes Chelsea's core played in 2014-15. Mourinho's use of a small squad and a lack of rotation seemingly borne of a lack of trust in his replacements lead to the majority of the team playing a high percentage of minutes. The whirling dervish Hazard apart, energy levels dipping may well have contributed to the change in tactics and performance levels after the New Year. It is with this in mind that it is surprising that Chelsea haven't strengthened more obviously in the off season.  Clearly Chelsea were extremely fortunate to suffer a lack of key injuries last season, and it seems a risky bet to rely on that happening again.  Very few teams have adequate cover for their better players, that's the nature of a natural pecking order, but you could reasonably expect that Chelsea would be better served than most, and well, they aren't. In particular the drop in quality behind Costa, Hazard and Matic is pronounced- their fitness is essential- and centre back is a a little light.  Can John Terry complete a whole season again at 34/35? The pursuit of Stones at least recognises this issue. Transfers Falcao for Drogba is a simple exchange of seats on the bench as is Begovic for Cech. Chelsea's first team is undoubtedly strong enough to compete with anyone but it is surprising that few moves have been made to improve and cover. When considering the club's extreme wealth and volume of younger players on the books, it seems an oversight to not have sufficiently trusted options in the squad. It remains to be seen if Bertrand Traore is considered by the club hierarchy as forward enough to play a part but he is thought to be as close as anyone to the first team squad and was well rated in Holland last year. I had hoped Patrick Bamford might have been given a role but a bus across town to Palace will likely do him no harm. And the strange to-ing and fro-ing of long term bench men or loanees Salah, Filipe Luis, Moses and Cuadrado offers little assistance either. Prospects Bookmakers have chalked Chelsea up as favourites for the title- no surprise that's almost a default position for the previous year's league winner, and have Man City and Arsenal priced closely in behind.  I wrote on Man Utd earlier in the week and feel they are overrated as contenders, not necessarily a view shared widely, but to me the title is a clear and close three way battle.  Chelsea's ability to avoid defeat served them extremely well last year, but on a number of occasions- most notably i'm thinking Hull (A)- they looked unconvincing yet found a way.  That's par for the course and straight out of the Ferguson playbook and we can be confident in Mourinho's ability to extract the maximum from his squad. The Champions League could well be decisive.  I felt Mourinho prioritised it in 2013-14 with the league still winnable and with another title safe in his back pocket and the bigger prize no doubt high on the owner's priority list, it will be interesting to see how they approach the latter stages, if they reach them as is expected. Generally though, we know exactly what we're getting with Chelsea: stoic, winning football sprinkled with an occasional smattering of brilliance.  The seemingly indestructable Hazard- still just 24- continues to light up the league, nobody carries the ball so frequently or effectively and both Oscar and Willian are super efficient and talented cogs in a well drilled midfield.  We can see here in Ben Torvaney's age matrix from last season that the core of the first team is within their peak age and likely to stay together over the coming seasons too: age utility Time and again their success has been built on firm defensive foundations, although a look at Mourinho's full seasons reveals an intriguing little quirk: mourinho seasonsOne season apart, remarkable consistency with goals for and a continual increase in goals against.  With an 11 year spread on this chart, one wonders if that represents a change in defensive effectiveness against ever quicker, fitter and more tactically drilled oppositions; or it may simply be one of those things.  Room for further investigation... Another one for the to-do list! Chelsea will no doubt contend. Since Abramovich took control of the club, they have finished in the top three in all but one season (2011-12) and have on average lost only ~5 games per season. Their position at the head table in the Premier League is rock solid and they have managed to negotiate the squad issues that blighted their low period and emerge on the other side as a strong unit once more.  Whether that is enough for the title again remains to be seen, but if anyone finishes ahead of them, it will be with a trophy to collect.   ________________________   Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter here: @jair1970 Be sure to check out all our other previews too    

EPL 2015-16 Season Preview - Everton

Well...one great season, one bad season so far for Roberto Martinez. Which means the jury's firmly out on the man who had a dream to build a football team.



A 72 point haul followed by a 47 point haul. It's a monumental drop-off, but the underlying xG numbers suggest that Everton under Martinez is a 55-60pt team. Which is exactly the same level the club was at under David Moyes.

It shouldn't be surprising considering 10 of the 15 players that played over 1000 Premier League minutes last season played under Moyes too. The differing styles perhaps means Moyes steady, structured, percentage football regularly got you those steady 55-60pt seasons, whereas Martinez' ocassional football jazz mixed with sterile possession is capable of searing heights but also some minging lows.


The graphic below shows all the shots on target Everton took last season (blue) as well as the ones they conceded (red).  The bigger the circle, the bigger the chance of scoring:


Everton SoTs For and Against 2014_15


The black rectangle pinpoints Everton's main problem last season - simply conceding more high quality chances than it created. As discussed here at Statsbomb last summer, Everton got away with conceding these high quality chances in 2013/14 but it was never going to continue. The 50 goals shipped last season was more like (although still not quite) the horror show some were fearful of when Martinez arrived at the club.

But the volume and quality of shots faced are pretty constant over the last 5 years - the Catalan has kept Everton's xG against numbers stable. I've simulated the shots conceded over the last two seasons 10,000 times. The most likely outcome was to concede 85 goals. Therefore 89 goals against all told is only slightly below par but does tally with Martinez's overall lack of efficiency in sorting out defence.

The big question is whether he can continue to keep the lid on the number and quality of shots against. I'm not sure he can. My reasons are not on tactical or style of play grounds. Ultimately, how Everton managers approach the game on the pitch will not define their stay. How they spend limited resources will be. My twitter followers will know that I've been a huge critic of Martinez' squad building since day one.


For several years, the centre back pairing Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin were excellent but relied a great deal on their mobility to hold a high line before dropping back to defend the scoreline late in games. Jagielka was approaching the age of 31 and Distin was 35 when Martinez arrived. You didn't need a crystal ball to think one of them might fall off a cliff sooner rather than later. You certainly didn't need one to see that a bad way to deal with this was to sign a slow, injury-prone, 30 yr old Antolin Alcaraz.

So now with both Distin and Alcaraz having gone to the great mobility scooter in the sky, Everton find themselves with just two first team-ready centre backs. And Chelsea want to get their mitts on the youngest one. Martinez has had two years to prepare for this but here we find ourselves.


Graphic by @StuieHayllor


On top of this you have 34 yr old Gareth Barry hubbing in front of them. He's signed up until he's 36. Again, Martinez has had two years to sort out this position for the long term but reports are that Darron Gibson (Barry's direct replacement) is in line for a contract extension. Gibson is possibly the best midfielder at the club and certainly the most progressive passer, but he is also completely unable to stay fit (again, no crystal ball needed to figure this out).

Muhamed Besic was signed last summer but has been unable to nudge out Barry or James McCarthy. He'd played just a handful of senior games as a defensive midfielder at that point. He'd played most of his football as a centre back or full back for Ferencvaros.




According to a Tim Lewis piece in The Guardian: 'Martínez, and his chief scouts Reeves and Brown, find the suggestion that they would buy a player because of their numbers pretty funny. "You need to see a player and fall in love with a player," says Martínez. "When you see a player, you'll watch his warm-up, the way he speaks to the referee, the way he speaks to other team-mates after missing a chance, the way he celebrates a goal, the way his team-mates react when he scores. Data might help you narrow the margin of error, but the decision is still a feeling. It's a gut instinct."'

Now, I'm no fan of judging players by bog standard on-ball stats at all, but wow, I hope Martinez was playing to the crowd with some of the sentiments in that statement. I'm not convinced he was. Had Besic been thoroughly scouted beforehand, or did Martinez fall in love with him on the back of one overrated performance against Argentina? Whatever the situation, Besic found himself out of favour at Everton by March. His manager at first club Hamburg reportedly tried to strangle him due to his indiscipline. Having continued to watch Besic play in midfield, I can see why. While centre back is an issue, why not try him out there again? His centre-back style fits what we think Martinez is all about.

To top it all off, the club is wrangling with James McCarthy, its most reliable defensive midfielder (and a solid Martinez signing) over an improved contract. Meantime, the media continually link him to Spurs. Once again, despite the ridiculous amount of money flowing into the Premier League from television, Everton don't appear to have a pot to piss in.

All in all, alarm bells should be ringing on the defensive side of things. It's difficult to see how those stable underlying expected goals against numbers continue to remain steady without new signings. Get yer cheque book out, Bill.


As Bobby Gardiner suggested a few weeks ago, Everton's attack went missing last year. In a Roberto-esque show of positivity I was confident in the preview last summer that Everton would continue to do well going forward. Despite all the evidence I was still thinking it would get better in November. Well, that'll teach me. Everton have a major creativity problem. I picked on Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley last year regarding their output. Time to do so again. Below are graphics (Everton attacking left to right) showing where every successful open-play pass made by these two last season in the Premier League ended up:


Mirallas successful passes Barkley successful passes


Between them they made well over 1600 successful passes, yet look at the lack of penetration into the box. Watch Everton for any decent amount of time and you'll see Romelu Lukaku arms outstretched pleading to be played in. He rarely is.

Martinez made public his desire for a new No.10 about 5 minutes after he declared that No.10 was Boss Ross's best position. Martinez insists on playing with a No.10 despite not having had a real one at his disposal for two years. We're still waiting.

What he has signed is yet another player who overruns the ball, doesn't look up enough and frustrates as much as he delights. To come up with a comparable graphic for Gerard Deulofeu I had to bolt both his seasons in senior football together:


Deulofeu Successful Passes


You'll see that Our Ged is different to the other two. He's taken less than 400 passes to match Mirallas and Barkley's combined passing penetration into the box. Despite Deulofeu frustrating the hell out of coach Unai Emery at Sevilla, he actually started to walk into some increasingly successful output.

To the eye, this kid doesn't look up from his boots and he's the greediest player you've ever seen. But 8 assists in 1700-odd minutes of senior football across two top leagues is crazy for a 21 yr old. The probability of the average player doing that is miniscule. Like less than 1% miniscule. Over time, that's going to regress.

But when I watch him play I don't see a Barkley-esque 'never going to truly get' it lack of football intelligence. Deulofeu seems to display a willful lack of obedience, like he's conciously revelling in showing off what he's capable of. I'm not sure Barkley could conciously do anything on a football pitch if his life depended on it.

The other thing to like about Deulofeu is his shooting. His xG90 is 0.30 so far in his career. Last season, Mirallas was at 0.19 and Barkley was at 0.09. This is despite the fact it's harder for him to create good shooting angles due to being a right footed player mostly playing wide right.

Maybe even better still for the coming season, Deulofeu only has 4 career goals when xG says he should have 6. In fact, there's a 58% chance the average player would have scored 6 or more by now so I'm pretty hopeful of some 'good' regression here. If he was English, there is no way on earth Everton would have got their hands on a young player with these numbers at a price of around £4m.

Talking of chance creation and xG90s brings us to nicely to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian scored 10 league goals last year and was only assisted for 3 of them. The other 7 were from penalties or shots that deflected into his path.

It seemed like Martinez was trying to turn him into a more all-round striker, and more of a target man. The graphics show the volume of passes Lukaku has received in each area of the pitch in the last two seasons. First 2013/14, then 2014/15. You can see the increase in Lukaku coming short into the left hand channel to receive the ball:


Lukaku Bubbles 2014 Lukaku Bubbles 2015


Lukaku's non-penalty xG was down from 0.58 in 2013/14 to 0.32 last season. On average, each shot on target has gone from a 1-in-3 chance of going in to a 1-in-4 chance. To put this in perspective, both he and Hary Kane took a similar amount of shots (105-112) and shots on target (42-47) but the simulation for each players set of shots say that Lukaku had 15% chance of scoring 15 goals while Kane had an 80% chance of scoring 15 goals. Clearly, Lukaku is suffering from spending the extra time in non-threatening areas and from the lack of creativity around him.


Based on last years numbers, the model says Everton will finish 7th. But this means the defence has to hold up its side of the bargain. As discussed above, I can't see how this happens unless the squad is improved. Cleverley and Deulofeu are decent business - good ages, sell on value, and first-team ready but they don't help here. They should help improve that creativity problem, though.

My best guess is that Everton finish about 10th or 11th again. Depending on ins and outs between now and the end of the window, it could be a bit better or a whole lot worse.

EPL Season Preview 2015-16: Swansea

  Swansea's next season will be eagerly watched by the stats community, though not with the hipster adoration with which they will watch, say, Brentford, but rather a more vindictive expectation of statistical schadenfreude. In case you've somehow missed the news, Swansea's 'underlying numbers' last season were depressing. I covered most of the retrospective analysis in a surprisingly popular piece here on StatsBomb. The piece was actually referred to in the Racing Post's Season Preview pull-out, as can be seen below. I'll try to not just repeat what I said in there, but look at a few other things about the Swans' upcoming season. Racing Post   Repeatability Much of my last piece focused on repeatability - broadly speaking, the repeatability of ExpG over-performance relies on the repeatability of the particular things that were fueling it. For Swansea last season, that was FabiansKI: Fab's unreal danger-zone save percentage and Ki's ridiculous conversion rate. But what if Swansea had a history of Expected Goals over-performance? This is something I couldn't really look into until Paul Riley released 5 years of team-level Expected Goals data recently, so a huge thanks to him. Using [Expected Goal-Difference - Actual Goal Difference] as a measure for ExpG over-performance, something very interesting showed up: Swansea1   Swansea out-performed ExpGD by more than 10 goals in 3 of their last 4 seasons.  This would be worth little, in itself, if ExpGD wasn't as good of an indicator of GD as it is: Swansea2   And, given that there's a standard error of around 6 goals either way over that time, Swansea's consistent over-performance is significant in the sense that it drastically increases the likelihood that, rather than a hugely lucky one-off, their 2014-15 season might have been another of their seasons in which they out-perform statistical metrics. Again, we're talking in likelihoods. What would bolster this claim is if Swansea's repeated over-performance was fueled by the same thing every year, which would show up in their type of over-performance. If we separate the performances (relative to ExpG) of their attack and defence, we can see what has been fuelling Swansea's over-performance: Swansea3   Apart from a bumper attack in the 13/14 season that off-set huge defensive under-performance, Swansea's defence has been the main driving force of their over-performance. As each one of Swansea's seasons in which they over-perform came as a result of over-performing more in defence than attack, it remains increasingly likely that Swansea may be doing something that the model can't pick up. Not certain, or even probable, but 'more likely'. What makes this a bit more confusing is the change from Laudrup-Monk during the 13/14 season, perhaps a factor in that season's anomalistic stats. Anywho, enough on this I think - I'm swiftly surpassing my own statistical abilities. If someone else has looked into ExpG over-performance (I know Dustin Ward did with Gladbach) and has any opinions, do let me know. But, in a minor conclusion here, it may be less of a simple case of luck than even I made it out to be. Expected Goals Models find it harder to predict defence than attack, generally, and they may have a problem analysing what could be an idiosyncratic Swansea defence. Did I phrase that carefully enough? You get the picture. The over-performance, then, might be repeatable (he says, gleefully, but apprehensively aware of the ever-looming confirmation bias problems here). The Player Level Last Season's Stars: Attack Arguably the biggest success of Swansea's off-season was holding onto their star players. Their real strength is in the midfield that Monk began to cater to in the second half of the season with a midfield diamond. - Jack Cork (signed in January), Ki Sung-yueng, Jonjo Shelvey and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Gylfi is the main attacking force, managing 10 assists and 7 goals in the league last season. Swansea4 His P90 numbers were pretty good, though they would have been better had his form not dipped in the second half of the season. The general fan narrative has been to blame the switch to a diamond for Gylfi's drop in form, but I actually think the diamond suits him. His drop in form, to me, could have as much been about losing Wilfried Bony, who he'd developed a devastating connection with, halfway through the season. On top of that, Gylfi was a bit-part player at Spurs and may have naturally tired out. Although he behaved pretty poorly when Bony was in front of him, Bafetimbi Gomis came into his own at the end of the season, scoring 5 in his last 6 appearances. His 0.41 ExpG P90 is above average but not quite elite, while his actual NPG90 of 0.38 implies that although he may not be finishing everything, his actual output is roughly in line with what is expected. I'm quietly optimistic about Gomis this season - I don't see any reason why he couldn't score 15 league goals if he stays fit. Last Season's Stars: Defence

An interesting stat, that. But not really worth anything in itself. Swansea will want Williams to keep up his form from last season, though I'd wager metrics that prioritise on-the-ball actions less like Shapley values would rate Williams higher than looking at his raw output (I could be completely wrong there). Last season's signing Fede Fernandez settled in well bar a horrific showing against Chelsea, which bodes well for the first game of the season. Kyle Naughton was surprisingly good before being injured, and will surely hold onto a starting spot over Angel Rangel when fit. Obviously, the real hero of last season was Fabianski. I wouldn't bet on him keeping up his obscenely high danger-zone save percentage, but he is still undoubtedly better than the general impression of him before he moved to the Liberty. Recruits Andre Ayew. What a signing - the player I was always going to waste my radar wish on: Ayew Radar   Ayew has been described as a 'coup' a lot, but considering the general level of player acquisition in the Premier League's midtable, I'd be wary of calling him that. He is a very good player, though, and arrives off the back of a good season in the madness of a Bielsa team. He interestingly has a high defensive output for a winger and Monk will like this. Where he will play depends on the formation: left-wing in a 4231, just off Gomis in a 41212. Swansea also signed Eder, Franck Tabanou and Kristoffer Nordfeldt. Tabanou is the only one with a real possibility of breaking into the first team over Neil Taylor, while the other two will likely deputise for Gomis and Fabianski respectively. These squad signings mean that Swansea's 25-man arsenal will be as strong as it as ever been in the league. Prediction Anywhere from 8th-14th, really, depending on whether or not any players have a great season. It's hard to see Swansea getting dragged into a relegation battle, but it may be a tad optimistic to hope for another record breaking campaign. Monk summed up his own plan for the season in a typically pragmatic fashion: 'Get to 40 points as quickly as possible, and push on'.     I'm on Twitter @BobbyGardiner. A big thanks to Paul Riley, Per Linde and @stats4footy whose data I used.