Championship 2015-16 Preview: Part One
Another relatively football-less summer is finally over, and having subsisted on transfer rumours and Copa America, you've finally made it to the promised land of Proper Football. The Championship is a tight league and as a result is difficult to predict even for the experienced. Last season's bookies' top picks for promotion failed to make it into the playoffs (Wigan were even relegated). Likewise, the analysts' go-to metrics for evaluating underlying performance (TSR, SoTR and the like) are much less stable from season to season that in the big leagues. Nonetheless...
2014/15 Championship Overview: Teams 13 to 24
Last season finish: 12th (60 Points)
Bookies' rank: 22nd (Rough ranking based on aggregated outright odds)
At first glance, it may seem odd that to have the team finishing in a seemingly comfortable 12th place to drop 10 places in the rankings for next season. However in 14/15, Charlton's bad shot ratios were masked by favourable (and likely unsustainable) conversion at both ends of the pitch. They even managed to post the lowest TSR (0.387) in a division which they shared with a club "run worse than a pub team", both taking the fewest shots per game (10.3) and conceding the most (16.3). With this in mind, things don't look so rosy for Charlton in 2015/16.
However, over the summer, Belgian boss Guy Luzon has bulked up the squad both figuratively and literally (the average height of their incoming players is 6 feet) with a number of young players including 6' 7'' forward Simon Makienok from Palermo. Likewise, they evaded Aston Villa's acquisition of numerous Jordans to tie down Player of the Year, Jordan Cousins (21) until 2019. Charlton fans will be hoping for a repeat of next year's mid table finish but last season's numbers support the bookies' assertion that Charlton will struggle this year.
Last season finish: 15th (56 Points)
Bookies' rank: 16th
In a similar situation to Charlton Athletic, Leeds posted poor shots numbers in 14/15 but nonetheless achieved a relatively safe mid table finish. Taking 11.5 shots per game and conceding 15.3, Leeds were unimpressive at both ends. Compounding this is the fact that they took the second highest proportion of shots from outside the box (49.3%). This weakness in the underlying numbers along with a fanbase who can be particularly demanding when it comes to expectations suggests things don't look great for the latest player in Massimo Cellino's managerial musical chairs, Uwe Rösler.
However, there are a few promising signs for new manager Rösler. For one thing, Cellino appears to have ceded more control to his manager than in previous years. Rösler has been allowed to bring in some of his own backroom staff in Rob Kelly, Richard Hartis and Julian Darby. Likewise, Leeds' player recruitment also has Uwe's stamp on it with former charge Tom Adeyemi arriving. Leeds fans will be hoping former IBWM 100 inductee Chris Wood can improve their attack, too.
Rösler's may manage to coax the most out of the Leeds squad; however, despite Cellino's talk about his love for the club, Leeds are likely to struggle without more significant investment than he's currently given.
Last season finish: 16th (56 Points)
Bookies' rank: 23rd
After last season's horror start, winning only one game until Chris Powell oversaw a 2-1 home win vs Millwall on September 27, the bookies have predicted a tough season for Huddersfield Town. On the one hand, Huddersfield's defence was particularly leaky last season; with 75 goals conceded (1.63 per game), they had the 4th worst defensive record in the league. Meanwhile at the front end, they also had the 4th worst scoring % (Goals / Shots on Target) contributing to a PDO of 0.89. However, with an above average SoTR of 0.528 and a middle of the road TSR of 0.510, the football statistics' rule of thumb would suggest mid table as the mist likely destination for Huddersfield come May 2016.
Though it would perhaps be generous to ascribe all of Huddersfield's difficulty in converting their shots on target to luck, there are some reasons to be optimistic for the season ahead. For one thing, Player of the Year Jacob Butterfield looks set to remain at the club in 2015/16. Michael Caley has pointed out that Butterfield completed the second most passes into the danger zone behind only Alex Pritchard. Significantly, almost all of those passes were made from less dangerous positions.
The bookies' odds seem harsh given decent, if unspectacular, shots numbers and Butterfield's creativity will be crucial for Huddersfield in proving them wrong this.
Last season finish: 21st (46 Points)
Bookies' rank: 24th
What to say about Rotherham United? A team whose squad nationalities and names look just as exotic as you might expect from a team nicknamed the Millers, have been chosen by the bookies as the most likely to go down following a 21st placed finish last season. Predicting an unfashionable side to go down is understandable, but last season's shots numbers were pretty much bang-on average... which is about as much optimism as I can find myself mustering for Rotherham at the moment. To top it all, the loss of Ben Pringle looks like it could be costly.
Given the tight nature of the league and the individual talent level of Rotherham's players, it's hard to disagree too strongly with the bookies damning verdict of relegation in 15/16 (aggregated odds give them a roughly 1 in 3 chance of going down).
Brighton and Hove Albion
Last season finish: 20th (50 Points)
Bookies' rank: 14th
For a while last season, Brighton seemed like the Dortmund of the Championship; while consistently scoring highly on shots based metrics, they continued to fail to pick up points. While score effects will have had some effect, the evidence tends to point towards last season's finish being a bit of a false position. For instance, in Ben Mayhew's e-ratings, Brighton scored the 5th highest in the league. The shot domination cooled off after a while and Brighton avoided relegation, but not before Sami Hyypiä was axed and replaced with Chris Hughton. In truth, after two successive (but not successful) years in the Play-Offs, 14/15 will go down as one to forget (or maybe just easily forgotten) for Brighton fans.
As for 2015/16, despite making positive moves in the transfer market to strengthen the defensive side of their game, some fans will have been left disappointed by a perceived lack of progress so far in livening up the attack with new additions (although in fairness the addition of Jack Harper from Real Madrid ought to go down as a positive). Given the less than exciting football played under Hughton last season, the bookies' suggestion that the most likely finish will be mid-table seems reasonable, though given the cumulative shots differentials they were posting in parts of last season, a play-off push isn't out of the question (is it ever in this league?).
Last season finish: 19th (47 Points)
Bookies' rank: 17th
Reading's 2014/15 season is a bit of an outlier in the context of their previous seasons. In previous seasons, Reading's PDO had been pretty consistently high. In fact, over their previous 7 seasons, they had a mean PDO of 1.11. This season, it was just 0.92. I don't know whether Reading were doing something specific to score these high conversion rates (and personally I'm sceptical) but if there was something, it looks like it's certainly gone now. Along with an unimpressive SoTR of 0.476 it would be difficult to suggest that the Royals deserved much better than lower mid-table last season.
This season, Steve Clarke will be hoping for an improved performance with the benefit of a full preseason to mould the team in his image. Will Jones's tactical preview suggests that Clarke has continued to establish a solid defensive base and is starting to introduce more variation to their attack next year.
Last season finish: 9th (67 Points)
Bookies' rank: 15th
You're under a transfer ban and unable to sign players for a fee (though allegedly close to lifting it). You've also lost a host of players including Rudy Gestede, Tom Cairney and Josh King. On top of this, your other striker, Jordan Rhodes, continues to push for a move away (though with figures up to £14 million being quoted
maybe you should just take the money and run?). But hey, you've been linked with Adam Le Fondre so who are the real winners, right?
Given how tight it was at the top of the league last season, it could seem harsh to call Blackburn's 9th placed finish disappointing, but Blackburn had some talented players in their squad and failed to really reach the sum of their parts. And now a lot of those parts have left for greener pastures. These losses are sure to hurt Blackburn's decent shots tally of 14/15 where they came 4th in the league with just over 15 shots per game. Furthermore, this figure comes with the caveat that Blackburn took the most headed shots in the league with 4.1 per game (this is surely a factor in whey they came only 7th in Shots on Target).
When you pair this with a relatively poor ability to restrict opposition shots (7th in most shots and 6th in most shots on target conceded) a consistent promotion or playoff challenge in 15/16 seems unlikely. While for the current season at least, there ought to be at least 3 teams worse than Blackburn; however, it feels like they're more likely to be found at the bottom than the top of the table.
[Editor's note: Owain runs an excellent Championship fancystats blog "The Only Statistic That Matters" ]
Last season finish: 11th (62 Points)
Bookies' rank: 13th
It’s probably fair to say that last season was a bit of a mess for Cardiff. This time last year the club was still in the midst of the colour change debacle while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was bringing in half of Europe to play for the not-so-Bluebirds. OGS’s team started the season with a curious split in shot metrics – a truly awful overall shot share (Corsi/TSR) of 39.5% but a good looking 52.9% shots on target share. Instinct suggests those two could not remain so disparate and it was a falling shots on target share which coincided with a slide in results soon after OGS’ departure.
Russell Slade eventually took over and with some pretty average football righted the ship, at least taking it to mediocrity with a league average 49.9% shot share during his 37 games in charge. Slade’s tactics got Cardiff taking 12.91 shots per game – a noticeable improvement from OGS’ 10.43 mark but still only more than Wigan, Blackpool, Leeds and Charlton. However he also cut the shots conceded substantially, from 16 under the Norwegian to just 12.97. The shots on target share settled at 48.4% over that time too – below average but not hideous.
Player management has been questionable in many respects, particularly up front. Adam Le Fondre was brought in with much fanfare, played out of position, given poor service, substituted, slagged off and then sent on loan to Bolton – where put in the right position he succeeded. Indeed, in 23 appearances totalling 1,640 mins with Cardiff (an average of 71 mins per appearance) Le Fondre took just 1.6 shots per game – with only 1.2 coming inside the 18 yard box.
In contrast at Bolton in 17 appearance totalling 1,414 mins (average of 83 mins per game) he basically doubled his output to 3.1 shots per game with 2.2 coming from the area. Perhaps unsurprisingly his non-penalty goals scored went from 0.1/90 to 0.4/90 – on par with Callum Wilson, Troy Deeney and others in the top twenty Championship forwards. So hence, in all their wisdom Cardiff look set to send Le Fondre back on loan for the season – this time to Wolves.
More encouragingly Slade seems ready to give Joe Mason a decent run in the side; over the last two seasons in limited minutes split between Cardiff and loan spells at Bolton (again) he’s hovered around 2.2-2.6 shots/90, with around 2/90 from inside the area. He averaged 0.5 NPG/90 in 1,016 minutes at Bolton in 2013/14 and 0.4 NPG/90 in 852 mins with the Trotters last season. I wonder what a Le Fondre-Mason strike force could do for a well organised Cardiff attack?
Last season finish: 10th (63 Points)
Bookies' rank: 21st
Looking squarely at the results for last season, a clear narrative emerges: Lee Clarke is sacked with Birmingham in 21st place. Gary Rowett is appointed head coach following an 8-0 home mauling at the hands of Bournemouth and guides Birmingham to a 10th place finish. Welcome our new managerial overlord?
On the one hand, his results were impressive and he's outperformed bookies' expected points at both Burton and Birmingham. On the other,
I'm always a bit suspicious of someone who claims their favourite book is 1984 a PDO hop from 0.90 to 1.03 muddies the water somewhat. To make matters more confusing, while TSR remained similar with and without Rowett (0.43 and 0.46, respectively), SoTR leapt from 0.378 to 0.503.
While I think it's fair to say Rowett improved the side, the numbers seem to suggest that the upturn was exaggerated. Shots on target conceded per game dropped from 6 to 4.72 but Goals conceded almost halved from 2.00 to 1.13.The bookies' seem equally sceptical of Birmingham's improvement; the aggregated odds imply odds just over 18% of relegation, level with Preston.
Last season finish: 18th (51 Points)
Bookies' rank: 18th
TSR: 0.445, SoTR: 0.444, GR: 0.446, PDO: 1.00 and 5 players signed on free transfers. Are these the most boring stats in the league? Is that the most boring question asked in a football season preview? Well, here at Statsbomb, we aren't afraid to ask these questions. The bookies' odds suggest another similar season is on the cards. Meanwhile. the underlying numbers don't disagree.
With an unspectacular attack last term and few major additions to the squad, it feels unlikely that they'll improve significantly. However, so often in football, treading water will leave you trailing in the wake of your competitors and Bolton could find themselves slipping into the relegation mix.
Preston North End
Last season finish: 3rd in League 1 (89 Points)
Bookies' rank: 19th
Despite cruelly missing out on automatic promotion, Preston are back in the Championship. Evaluating teams changing division is especially hard; however, for what it's worth, Preston's underlying numbers were very strong last season. They achieved a SoTR of 0.628 and a Goal Ratio of 0.664. The aggregated bookies' odds give Preston a relegation probability on a par with Birmingham. It's worth noting that their season gets off a to tough start, as Ben Mayhew points out, playing Middlesbrough, Hull and Ipswich in August. This could leave them lower down in the table come September than their true talent level would suggest they ought to be in May.
Last season finish: 2nd in League 1 (91 Points)
Bookies' rank: 20th
Type into Google, "MK Dons most" and see autocomplete suggest "MK Dons most hated club". Perhaps unsurprising. However, as is often the case, hatred of opposing football teams is only intensified by competence. And competent MK Dons are. With a successful youth system in place and having stuck by manager Karl Robinson, you can't help but wonder how they might be perceived were they not associated with the obliteration of AFC Wimbledon.
Though they have lost Dele Alli, they still ought to be able to compete somewhat in England's second tier. As with Preston, they rated highly in SoTR and GR last term (0.656 and 0.697 respectively). The aggregated odds suggest a relegation chance of just over 17%, though the most likely place for the MK Dons is in mid-table, with a push into the playoffs unlikely but not totally out of the question.
Part two will focus on the likely playoff contenders and will be available later this week.
...and find my work here on Stats Bomb or on my own blog