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:
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
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
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
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