Controlling the Game: Risers and Fallers in Dangerous Territory Dominance

Dominating territory around the goal is not the be-all, end-all of evaluating teams. Shooting skill, defensive pressure, set-piece strategy, countering skill, goal-keeping, quality of completion (to the strong foot? is it rolling nicely into the path of the shooter?), shot-blocking skill, and many more are factors I am essentially ignoring in this article. That’s because A: it’s very hard to tell what teams are good at that through 10 games and B: even if you had all those things if you don’t dominate the danger zones you still would be a bad team. This article will look specifically at teams who have seen big changes in how they are controlling dangerous territory this season. First, a quick FAQ on how I am calculating control.

The basic formula involves completions from 0-15 yards and 16-30 yards from goal. This is a semicircle that looks something like this. Crosses are a separate category and another category for completions from 16-30 yards. Converting passing into shots is also factored in for the attack.

Why are 0-15 yard completions treated as 4x more valuable than 15-30 yard completions?

See my previous article. I would have done some things differently if I had to re-write that article today, but the general conclusion holds that a completion from 0-15 is generally about 4x more dangerous than one from 16-30.

Why a sharp cutoff at 15 yards?

Well for one, it’s easier. More theoretically, I believe even an accurate gradient will over-value completions or shots at extremely close range to the goal. I am of the opinion that sharp spikes in models over short distances do not accurately reflect team skill but simply add more noise. I don’t think there is a skill to consistently getting shots from inside 5 yards compared to 15 yards. Willing to be proven wrong as always.

Why are completed crosses valued less?

Michael Caley showed completed crosses are worth only about 50% as much as non-crosses in dangerous areas.

Why do you generally treat offensive stats as more reliable than defensive stats right now? 

Offenses dictate the game to the defense, as I showed here. This means defensive stats in the early going are more dependent on the schedule, if you’ve played bad offensive teams it is easier to rack up superficially impressive numbers. Conversely, in that same article you can see that if you aren’t spending much time in front of your opponents goal by now, it’s unlikely you will the rest of the season (R2=.8 first 10 games vs rest of season deep completion rate).

Why is there a shot conversion factor for the offense but not the defense?

Both previous articles touch on this but the TL;DR is: the value of a pass attempt varies wildly depending on the team who makes it. Completions are turned into shots at consistent rates for attacking teams but there is much less consistency when it comes to preventing completions being turned into shots.

Is what you are about to show us correlated with winning and losing in any way?

It is reasonably successful in retrospective tests I have run, and am currently testing a version in the way every model should be tested: going forward against the bookies. It’s been successful in the early days of the season, I think it’s quick at identifying team quality due to the amount of information it churns through. Whether it will be as great all year long is TBD. But the best use for now is almost surely descriptive, and to use it with a handful of other metrics when looking at a team.

Alright the FAQ is out of the way, let’s get to the teams who have seen big swings in how they dominate dangerous territory. Each team who has played in the big three leagues the 2 last seasons is plotted below.

 

LA Liga dominance

Bundesliga control

EPL Control

Let’s break these down into categories, and remember the baseline is last seasons territorial dominance.

Legitimate Improvement

 

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on October 24, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Arsenal-Sometimes you don’t need to bring in a new player. Arsenal brought back the same team and have exploded offensively. Just look at this chart.

EPL Deep Comp leaders

The gap between Arsenal and 3rd place City in completing passes within 15 yards of the opponents goal is larger than the gap between City and the Los Angeles Lakers (meaning zero). That’s just absurd.

Bayern– Continue to push higher and higher. Sniffing goal has become even more of an accomplishment for their opponents this season. Opponents get just under 14 completions per game within 30 yards of the Bayern goal. Arsenal allow 29, Barcelona 24 for scale.

Celta-A simple look at their rank would cover up the fact that their attack has been nearly as good as Barca’s or Madrid’s in the early going. They are 3rd in dangerous territory control on offense but it’s a very close 3rd compared to last years distant 3rd.

 

Snip20151027_38

Still soft at the back, but this team is a legit Champions League contender. They outshot Barca/Madrid 35-32 in their two home games and smashed Barcelona for all three points.

Dortmund-Have actually passed Bayern in terms of completions in front of the opposition goal. The gap between them and Bayern is not as large as the 5-1 scoreline suggested.

Leverkusen-They were struggling to turn all their dangerous possession into goals until Schmidt rolled out the all-attacking lineup of Chicharito, Kießling, Mehmedi, Kampl, Calhanoglu, and Brandt last week with Wendell blasting forward as well. They are clearly the 3rd best team in the league.

Bremen Stuttgart

Alarm Bells Ringing

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Manchester United-Convert their deep completions into shots at the lowest rate in the league and have just the 6th most deep completions. In 6/10 games they have spent a below-league average amount of time in front of the opposition goal. Are they slowly moving the ball to find the best shot or is there still something significantly off with this conservative, stilted attack? Either way, this doesn’t look like a Champions League attack even if you are really generous and assume they are finding final balls that no one else can. Memphis has been completely silent, helpfully illustrated by Paul Riley’s chance maps.

 

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Stoke-All those big names brought in and they are only ahead of rooted-to-last Sunderland for most completions in the final 30 yards. Not far from being slung into a relegation battle.

Gladbach-Over the 5 post-Favre games (all wins after losing the first 5 games), Gladbach have closed the hole at the back with some players returning from injury but still there are major problems getting the ball in front of goal. They have scored a bunch of goals, maybe this has come from lightning counters or maybe they are just running hot. Overall, the attack still doesn’t seem to get the ball deep enough to score a lot of goals without last seasons off-the-charts passing ability. Hannover

Hoffenheim

Levante

Barcelona-I know Messi has been out for 4 games. Unsurprisingly their attack has dropped off without him (30% drop in deep completions in the last 4 games compared to the 4 games before that). But it’s still pretty worrying overall: look at this Eibar game:

Snip20151027_39

That is just not enough box activity for a team this good at home vs a tiny, should-have-been-relegated-except-for-some-Spanish-financial-craziness Eibar.

That worrying attack slippage is coupled with the fact they have allowed 30+ deep completions to Celta, Rayo, and Sevilla already when they went all of last season doing that just once (to Real Madrid). This isn’t nearly the same team that romped to the Triple last season. They are trying to survive until they can register Turan and Vidal.

Improvement, but wait and see how much

Swansea-It’s come on the defensive side. Last year Swansea’s opponents spent more time in front of goal (39 deep completions allowed per game) than everyone but Sunderland and West Ham, this season Swansea are above average in that category (30 per game). That shows definite improvement but they haven’t faced City or Arsenal yet which could see that number deflated a bit. And again, defensive improvements are always less reliable than those with the ball.

Minor Worries

Manchester City-I assume this is Silva and Aguero injury related. Those two and Yaya were huge standouts on a team full of stars last year when it came to moving the ball forward into dangerous positions. Last season City completed 4.7 non-cross passes per game within 15 yards of goal, this year it’s down to just 2.7. A slight uptick in crosses doesn’t come near cancelling that out and from yards 16-30 there is a drop as well. Those guys will be back and I would guess the stats will pick back up, but it deserves a check in.

Wolfsburg-Last year they had an unsustainable amount of points from their underlying performance and this year they are drifting backwards basically to being an average team. The Super Cup win over Bayern was a false indicator and long forgotten.

Atletico Madrid

Probably schedule related and unlikely to be a huge fall Everton-Toughest schedule in the league but the drops on both sides of the ball made this a tough call between schedule-related and minor worry. For now, the fact they have played Arsenal, Chelsea, City, United, Liverpool, and Southampton wins out.

Augsburg-They over-performed their underlying stats last year into Europe but are under-performing now. They aren’t one of the worst teams in the league this season. 11th-15th is their most likely performance level.

Probably Schedule related and unlikely to be actual large improvement

Deportivo

Real Sociedad-Have played 0 of the top 3 teams in territory dominance, only 3 of the top 10 but have played 3 of the bottom 4. Their increase comes entirely through the defensive side, so expect it to come down. Deportivo has had a similarly easy schedule. These two teams have had opponents spend the least amount of time in front of goal so far, that will change soon.

Is The Middle Class Rising In The Premier League?

Farewell to Tim

More than ever, the cold hard financial reality of dropping out of the Premier League is firmly at the forefront of club owners’ minds, so it is relatively unsurprising to see Tim Sherwood flung onto the managerial scrapheap alongside Dick Advocaat. Both men hit a simple goal after coming in late on last season- to survive- and both oversaw a terrible run of results at the start of 2015-16. That’s the crux here, throughout the history of the game results have been the fundamental currency for measuring success and underlying metrics and strategies run a distant second to losing six straight and eight of ten when gauging a manager’s survival chances. Sherwood’s season win percentage was closer to none than second to none and that was that.

Many were sceptical about his appointment in the first place, such was the negative emotion generated by his brief time in the hot seat for Tottenham. Fans had been overwhelmingly against his retention and this was a man who had earned kudos within the club and had worked for many years in the background, with youth and structure. Yet personality issues were cited and now having had two short tenures in the Premier League and found no great sadness among either fan base he’s left behind, one might presume that he’s had his chances.

This is a shame from a light dramatic perspective. Although we rarely saw the full range of “media Tim” at Villa, the league has lost a character, in the broadest sense. He managed par shot ratios last season and distinctly sub-par ratios this; Villa just haven’t been very good, and haven’t created enough, so whoever takes over has a tricky task. Sunderland having blinked first and played a quick joker in hiring Allardyce, may well have secured a minor edge.

Middle Classes

The new TV deal that kicked in this year has lead to a lot of talk about a rising “middle class” within the Premier League. That Crystal Palace could prise Yohan Cabaye from PSG’s bench, Swansea could pay big money for Andre Ayew’s contract and West Ham could attract an elite chance creator such as Dimitri Payet have all been cited as indications of this new order. That these players were secured from Ligue Un, a familiar yet less prosperous league to raid, is less important than the perception that maybe, in seasons past, these players would have landed at richer clubs.

But things have changed in that regard too. The richer clubs have changed some of their buying focus. Arsenal don’t get involved outside unwanted superstars or teenagers, Chelsea didn’t much bother this summer and Man Utd pay top table fees for talented but available types. Man City finally realised they needed to back-up Silva and did so to the tune of around £100m, Spurs have returned to a more careful approach and Liverpool once more took a chancy dive into the chocolate box.

There simply aren’t very many spaces in these top squads for this second tier of players who are now arriving in the league. But there are plenty of spaces in the squads of these mid-range cash-rich clubs, and so this is where this apparent new breed of “I can’t believe xyz club has signed xyz player….” ends up. So far, so what? This perception of a bubble of improvement in the middle of the league has gained more support based on the early season performances of variously, Swansea-to start with, West Ham, Leicester and Crystal Palace. Swansea’s early season promise involved performing well against three teams that in subsequent weeks have proven to be dodgy, bad or both. Dominating a broken 10-man Chelsea, and beating Newcastle and Sunderland has shown to be less remarkable than it seemed and they’ve quickly reverted to their 2014-15 level and recently struggled for points.  Similarly Crystal Palace’s early promise has taken a more generic turn as they’ve now posted five wins and losses apiece.

So that leaves Leicester and West Ham to fly high on 19 and 20 points and continue to be regarded as the embodiment of this new order. No matter that Newcastle spent freely and have one win from ten games or that Stoke are meandering with a who’s who of intriguingly talented players…

Is this any different to what we’ve seen in other years?

Not really.

The middle class have risen before- at least within the parameters of the early season, and while some have managed to stretch that out across a whole year, the difficulty to maintain any kind of position among the money clubs has been obvious. Take Newcastle’s freak 2011-12, they started 6-4-0 and lay third before holding on for an unlikely 5th place at season’s end. In 2012-13 West Brom had 17 points by now and lay 5th (they finished 8th). Southampton have started the last two seasons strongly, posting 19 and 22 points respectively across ten games and West Ham themselves had 17 points this time last year.

As ever, more focus is put on the early form of a team than at any other part of the season. Good results give a perception of good form when the metrics that may be powering such a run are less sustainable. What links all of those teams just cited was that they were either converting their chances at a notably high rate or were saving the opposition’s shots at a rate far above average.

The illusion of improvement and new found success can be hard to resist in simple narrative terms but the two teams seemingly transcending their mid-range roots and attacking the top order are again doing it via tenuous means. Leicester’s appear slightly more likely to sustain as their shot numbers are above par, but are still running a high conversion, while West Ham have been posting 50% goals to shots on target for a good while now, a rate that would cause vertigo in a lumberjack.

The new middle class is the same as the old middle class. A rotational place in the bottom end of the top seven- variously inhabited by Newcastle, Everton and Southampton- is the realistic limit of their ambition and whether such an achievement could be repeated must be considered unlikely- for now.

Low Points

Linked to this, OptaJoe had this tweet out on Sunday:

On the surface, it might look like this is more evidence of a degree of parity within the league but dive into some shooting numbers and it’s not really the case.  2009-10 Chelsea are still the shots benchmark and Man City, and in particular their shot on target ratio, are currently ranking close behind them.  Arsenal too have strong attacking shot numbers for this stage in the season and the distance between these two and the rest is significant.  I’ll get into this a bit further in a couple of weeks, but for now it’s straightforward to reflect on.

That they haven’t turned these strengths into more than seven wins from the first ten games, isn’t very indicative.

Obligatory Tottenham Untroubled Win

Unbeaten in the league since the opening day and generally undominated are not words one may have presumed to be writing about Tottenham coming into the season.  As it is, the bizarre fortune of finding strength despite injuries continues.  Having lost Bentaleb and Mason previously, midfield options had started to be looking somewhat limited.   Step forward Alli and/or Dembele to fill the gap and prod and poke next to Dier. All of whom have been in solid form.  Rolling over a Bournemouth side who appear to be staring down the barrel of a tough season was as routine as it could possibly get and when we look at some season numbers, we find Tottenham’s performance levels as currently of top four standard.

Indeed, depending on how harshly you want to treat Man Utd for failing to create any high volume shot counts whatsoever, Spurs are arguably performing at a level only behind Arsenal and Man City.  The goal glut against Bournemouth also went some way towards balancing what were underwhelming conversion metrics and it’s been fascinating to see both teams and players gradually-or in some cases rapidly- catching up with a reasonable expectation given by underlying numbers.  As noted last week, Aguero and Sanchez had each seen their goal return catch up, and Tottenham have now done that to a degree at team level.  As each game passes, our understanding of the qualities of players and teams increases and having reached the ten game mark, we are finally in a position to be a little more concrete in analysis than before.

As for Tottenham’s prospects, the continued mediocrity of Chelsea acts as an ever widening door to the top four.  Far be it from me to fuel an increase in fan expectation but the league is at their mercy things are shaping up very encouragingly.

Thanks for reading!

_________________________

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The Wonderful and Unsustainable OGC Nice Attack

  We all like free flowing football right? It’s fun seeing teams express themselves on the ball and do stuff that make your jaw drop; whether it be against a set defense and a team making intricate passes to bypass them (See: Arsenal, Bayern, Man City), or a wild counter attack that tattles the line of functional chaos and rips apart the souls of their opposition (See: Dortmund, Crystal Palace, PSV). Defense is fun and there’s a special place for defensive steel, but in the end we’re some form of degenerates on the inside that love bucket loads of goals. Let’s play a quick exercise: name the teams in Europe’s top six leagues who are averaging 2.5 or more goals per game this season. Okay so you probably would’ve guessed teams like Manchester City, Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund. Maybe if you had a little hipster in you, you would’ve picked Ajax or PSV from the Eredivisie. Barcelona and Real Madrid would’ve been logical guesses as well considering the talent at their disposal. Now what if I said that there was a team that was averaging a goal scoring rate better than the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Manchester City and it’s not a traditional super power, and they play in France as well. No seriously, it’s OGC Nice from Ligue 1. They’re scoring goals for fun this season through a fun mixture of possession football and counter attacks focused on capitalizing individualistic moments. The form Nice are on is equivalent to playing FIFA online against an overmatched opponent and they’re scoring goals for the fun of it. Like this: And this: Nice through ten games so far have been by far the most breathtaking attacking team in France. In many ways, their form is reminiscent of that which Marseille showed during the early stages of last season when the Bielsa effect was at its peak. Before Alassane Plea’s knee injury, the front three of Plea, Hatem Ben Arfa and Valerie Germain was probably the most in-form attacking trio in France. Hatem Ben Arfa’s career at this point could be a great novel about his unrealized talent. There have been bust-ups at training, mood swings whether in Ligue 1 or while at Newcastle under Alan Pardew. Hell, before the beginning of this season there were unflattering pictures of him being woefully out of shape during the suspension put down by FIFA. It was a shame seeing this because Ben Arfa is supremely talented. He is one of the most underrated dribblers of the ball in the last decade or so. The ball is on a string when he gets control of it. In many ways, Nice has been his salvation after the problems he had with Alan Pardew and his horrific tenure at Hull City. I have no idea how much of an effect Claude Puel has had on Ben Arfa but hey, maybe Claude Puel put his arm around his shoulder and had a moment with him like something you would see in a movie and it lifted his spirits. Regardless of what Puel has done or hasn’t done, Ben Arfa is on a run of form we haven’t seen from him possibly ever. He is running circles past the defense, scoring multiple goals from tight angles. It’s the Ben Arfa everyone has wanted for nearly a decade. Nice’s attack isn’t just solely Ben Arfa doing Ben Arfa things. Valere Germain has been fantastic in a supporting role at striker, and he’s so far validating everyone who thought he was a quality striker who just didn’t get the playing time needed at Monaco.  Plea before his knee injury was perfect as well as a shot producing third banana in the attacking three. Their midfield has been instrumental because the likes of Jean Seri and Namplays Mendy have been able to place throughballs onto the feet of the attack. Nice have been a great story this season and it’s always fun to cheer for a free flowing attack. The problem is this level of production will simply not last. Nice are converting over 50% of their shots on target this season. 50! For reference, the league average in Ligue 1 is around the low 30’s. It’s an insane mark to have kept up for this long. In the world of expected goals, I have Nice at 14.85 through 10 games versus the 25 actually scored this season. I wanted to see if we could find any comparable teams that have started as hot as Nice have. The cut off I used for the comparable teams in Ligue 1 were ones that averaged at least two goals per game in the first 10 games and I found that there have been five other teams in the Opta era that have done this:

Team Games Goals Shots per game G/SoT Conversion Rate%
2015-16 Nice 10 25 11.4 51
2014-15 Lyon 10 20 15.1 36
2014-15 Marseille 10 25 16.1 41
2012-13 Valenciennes 10 20 10.9 49
2011-12 Montpellier 10 22 15.9 40
2011-12 Rennes 10 20 13.0 38

Then what I did was look at how the same five teams performed over the rest of the season.

Team Games Goals Shots per game G/SoT Conversion Rate%
2014-15 Lyon 28 52 13.3 33
2014-15 Marseille 28 51 14.3 38
2012-13 Valenciennes 28 29 11.9 26
2011-12 Montpellier 28 46 15.6 28
2011-12 Rennes 28 33 15 26

Marseille and Lyon are the only teams to come close to match their own conversion rates from the first 10 games for the remaining of the season, and their conversion rates during the first 10 games didn’t come close to Nice. Valenciennes had the closest conversion rate to Nice through 10 games and it cratered back to normalcy. Montpellier and Rennes also saw a drop in conversion of 12%. Nice will regress, that’s not really in doubt. No team can sustain a G/SoT rate that even sniffs 50%. The question is to what degree their conversion rate drops. Nice are in the top five in terms of big chances created in Ligue 1 and it’s made up around 17% of their shots this season. Since big chances are usually converted at a ~40% clip, One could argue that their opportunistic offense will keep their conversion rate at a fairly high clip, similar to Marseille last season. I do like Nice as a team that can have a top 3-5 conversion rate this season, the type of one to beat expected goals by 5-7 goals. There’s genuine talent there and so long as Ben Arfa can hold up as an attacking hub for them, they could create a high volume of big chances and have their conversion rate nestle around the mid-high 30’s while still being this fun swashbuckling side. Just savor their current audacious form because don’t expect them to come close to replicating this for the remainder of this season.

Decision Making And Expected Value

In the 69th minute of the most important derby in English football (that’s still the case right?) Manchester United lead Liverpool 1-0 with the game obviously still very much open.  An average team in Liverpool’s position would still expect to draw or win the game about 21% of the time, not ideal but nowhere near a lost cause. With United on the attack and the ball in the final third Carrick plays a weighted ball through to Ander Herrera who latches onto it on the edge of the penalty area. Right here Gomez has a decision to make, he  can accept that his positioning wasn’t great but just try and track Herrera as quickly as possible,  or he can try and redeem himself with a last-ditch tackle near the byline.

Unfortunately for Liverpool Gomez attempted to make up for his poor positional play with a rash tackle on Herrera, fouling him in the process, and greatly diminishing Liverpool’s chances of getting anything from the game. It’s alright saying it was a stupid decision to dive in with hindsight, but let’s try and put a value on the decision Gomez made.   Say there are two different options for a defender in this position, he can either:

  1. Act aggressively – Attempt to win the ball, or block the ball by sliding in.
  2. Act conservatively – Stay on his feet and apply as much pressure to the forward as possible without possibility of fouling.

We can have a look at the possible outcomes for each scenario and try and evaluate the value of each action. We’re going to define value as the probability of a team scoring from a certain event, adjusting for the possibility of the opposition scoring as a result of the event’s outcome when possible.


Aggressive defending: Going to try and split this up into 2:

  1. Value of a penalty
  2. Value of every other possible situation

Value of a penalty

  • Penalty given away- in the past 15 years in EPL 80% of penalties have been scored so

Value of a penalty = 0.8

Value of other situations

  • Player shoots – Shot conversion from wide penalty areas are converted about 5.6% of the time , more pressure probably reduces this probability, especially if the block rate is higher, so let’s say 4-5% 
  • Player crosses – Let’s assume high pressure on cross makes cross more difficult. A cross inside the box is converted about 5% of the time but let’s be generous and say pressure causes value to be about 4%
  • Player is tackled before he takes an offensive action – Three things could happen here
    • Tackle goes for a corner – 3%
    • Offense retains possession – about 2-3%
    •  Defense obtains possession – 0%

I’m going to assume they all happen at a similar rate and take the average of these at 2% I haven’t got data on the probability that each of these events occur but they’re all within range of a value around 2-5%. Based on what seems right, just from a spectators standpoint, I’m going to assume again that these all occur at a similar rate and just find the average to get a value of 3.5%. Obviously I’m making pretty loose assumptions but I’ll show why this isn’t too important in this particular situation later.

Value of everything else = 0.035


Conservative defending If a defender is conservative the possible outcomes are:

  • Player shoots – Shots from this area are converted about 5.6% of the time, let’s say 7% when not pressured.
  • Player crosses – Crosses in the box are usually converted at about 5% similar to shots from this area, let’s assume slightly more and again say 7% in box when not as pressured

Value of conservative play = 0.07

Since both possible outcomes have about the same chance of conversion the total value is equal to the conversion rate. We are assuming that being conservative makes the opposition twice as likely to score compared to when defending aggressively, I’d like to think this is an assumption which , if biased, is favoured towards aggressive defending.


 

Expected Value Okay then let’s do some math. The expected value of each decision is the number of goals the opposition would expect to score given a certain defensive strategy. In this instance (defending) we would want the lowest number possible.   So the  expected value of playing aggressively is p(0.8) + q(0.035) where “p” is the probability of giving away a penalty, “q” the probability of not giving away a penalty, and therefore p+q=1. The expected value of playing conservatively is 0.07. pen 4.6

From an expected value point of view it only makes sense to defend aggressively if p(0.8)+q(0.035)<0.07, or the chance of the opposition scoring is less than 7%.  It turns out that this is only true if “q” (probability of giving up a penalty) is less than 4.6% which seems extremely low. Even if we assume aggressive defending decreases the value of attacking play to 2%, whilst reserved play increases it to 8% you’d need to have a less than 7.6% chance of conceding a penalty in order for being aggressive to make sense. So even when scoring is 4 times more likely when being conservative (which seems pretty extreme), you’d need to be very confident of not fouling in order for this to make sense

pen 7.6

To endeavour to find an approximate value for the proportion of tackles that end up as fouls I decided to collect data for tackles attempted, tackles made, and fouls for premier league defenders over the 2014/15 Premier League season. Now not every foul made is during a tackle, although a foul is an indicator of aggressive defensive play so I decided to include all fouls. With these assumptions I calculated proportion of fouls as.

Foul% = Fouls / (Fouls + Tackles attempted)

Foul

 

This worked out as 23.7% for Premier league defenders last year, Tackle success rate was 56.3% and defenders were dribbled past without committing a foul 20% of the time. From this it’s quite obvious to conclude that defenders should probably never be aggressive in the wide areas of the penalty area since the value of a penalty is far too high to make it worth risking a foul. Even if you take into consideration referees swallowing the whistle, meaning refereeing calls are usually given less frequently in high leverage situations or in this case fouls in penalty area, it still doesn’t make sense. In order for the foul percentage to fall from 23.7% to less than 7.7% there’s got to be some serious whistle swallowing going on. If we go back to our original expected values of 0.8, 0.035, and 0.07, and assume the probability of a foul to be 23.7% we can work out the expected number of goals this would cost a team.

pen 23.7

You can see from the table that attempting a tackle in the wide areas of the penalty box on average costs the team 0.146 goals (0.216 – 0.07 = 0.146), which may not sound much, but that’s about half of the goal advantage that an average team playing at home has over the away team. Managers should be telling their defenders not to dive in or stick a leg out when opposing players are in the wide areas of the penalty box as it never seems to be worth the risk. I think the reason many defenders are too aggressive in this situation is that since defending is reactive compared to attacking being proactive, defenders may feel they need to be risk-seeking in order to make an impact, and in this case it isn’t the optimal choice. It’s quite strange that this is the case because teams are usually too risk averse, although maybe attackers are risk averse and defenders are risk seeking, but the proactive attackers have more influence on the game overall, just spitballing but it’s an interesting discussion. Just as I was writing this a perfect example of reckless decision making popped up on my twitter feed from the Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano game, although I’m not even sure if you can class this as decision making. https://vine.co/v/e9qAlF2t5uW There are many other situations like this where decision making can be analysed based on expected value and although this may seem like an obvious one from a spectators standpoint defenders still play aggressively in the wide sections of the penalty area. More accurate data will be needed for decisions less obvious than this one but it can still be done and can inform teams where they are losing goals based on decision making. If a team can save themselves .15 goals a game based on simple decisions like this they would save themselves 5.7 goals over the course of the season. In the end that really could be the difference between the club having a successful year and an unsuccessful one.

After Gradel, Martial and Payet: Who is Ligue 1’s Next Starlet?

  Ligue 1 has gotten some play in the English media this season for the talent that teams have bought this summer. Anthony Martial is scoring at a unsustainable rate but he’s exactly the type of striker that Manchester United need with Wayne Rooney’s continuing decline. Dimitri Payet has arguably been the best #10 in the league this season, Max Gradel before his knee injury was a perfect fit in Bournemouth’s system. Even N’Jie Clinton with his spare appearances has been a spark plug for Tottenham when he’s gotten the chance. This trend might very well continue next summer with the likes of Sofiane Boufal, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva. Full disclosure: I am a Marseille fan and I have a special attachment to last year’s team for a number of reasons. Whether it was Andre-Pierre Gignac continuing his renaissance as a quality striker, or Dimitri Payet turning himself into the best #10 in France or even Giannelli Imbula somehow averaging over three dribbles per 90 despite being a central defensive midfielder. It was this weird, talented team that under the stewardship of a mad scientist like Marcelo Bielsa became this high pressing offensive juggernaut that for a while looked like genuine title contenders before collapsing in Bielsa like fashion. He was a supporting character in the wacky Marseille sitcom, but I was quite enamored with Michy Batshuayi. Batshuayi was handled greatly by Bielsa as a change of pace striker whenever Gignac was tired or Marseille simply needed a jolt of energy with his athleticism. He was a goal scoring machine when he got playing time and was a great statistical darling. https://twitter.com/mixedknuts/status/580039888042520576 Of course there were red flags with Batshuayi’s production last season, the main one being that around 47% of his 881 league minutes came as a substitute. There’ve been previous studies on the statistical effect that being a substitute has on scoring rates, and the evidence suggests strikers playing as subs get a very nice inflation on their goal scoring. With teams as high octane as Marseille were, it’s also a worthwhile discussion to ask just how much artificial boost a player can have on a player’s statistical output. Visually, Batshuayi was very good but he was still very much an unknown when you combined sub effects with potential team effects as well. With the mass exodus in the summer (11 players from last years’ team who played regular minutes are gone), Marseille are rebuilding their squad mainly through youth; whether it be the holdovers from last season, loan acquisitions etc. It’s no secret that Marseille don’t have anything resembling a backup striker (unless you really want to make the argument that Lucas Ocampos is a backup striker) so Michy Batshuayi has been relied upon even more in a turbulent season. The good news is that through 10 games, Batshuayi has essentially replicated his production from last season on a less high octane squad with also lesser talents around him.

Year Shots per 90 Shot Accuracy % Key Pass per 90 Dribbles per 90 NPG per 90 Conversion %
2014-15 3.4 41.2 0.9 2.1 0.7 20.6
2015-16 4 55 1.1 1.4 0.5 20

Averaging four shots per 90 in a slower pace league like Ligue 1 is no small feat, especially considering the shot accuracy at play. Of course that will go down as the sample size gets larger this season. It’s almost impossible to have a 55% shot accuracy rate on such a high volume, even if the shot location profile is as economic as it is with Batshuayi (78% of his shots have come inside the penalty area this season). But so far, Batshuayi is producing at a level which would put a lot of high profiled teams on notice this summer. The stigma with players such as Batshuayi is they’re mostly super athletic players with no nuance to their games. That’s painting a pretty broad brush on Batshuayi’s talent. Yes he lends towards an individualist who likes to create shots for his own and sometimes even go 1v2/1v3, but he’s not someone of the Ross Barkley/Andros Townsend family tree where it looks like he has a case of repeated headless chicken syndrome. For only being 22 years old, Batshuayi has shown flashes of being quite multidimensional. I wrote about this three weeks ago for 13StepsCo (Yes us analytics guys with our air conditioned rooms do in fact watch the games), the performance Batshuayi had versus PSG was quite mature for someone of his age. Whether it was creating shots for himself, playing as a reference point on the counter attack, or even running through the channels in-between the PSG CBs when Marseille had sporadic moments of possession. He vacillated between different kinds of players; playing at times like Romelu Lukaku and other times like a younger, much friskier version of Gignac. There are some rough parts to his game. Yes the stigma of players of Batshuayi’s type is lazy analysis, but once in a while lazy analysis has an air of truth to it. Batshuayi will sporadically try near impossible galloping efforts that end up in groans from his teammates. He’s not an expansive creator for others, which is similar to what Gignac was with Marseille. Another problem is he’s not a full-fledged target man like Graziano Pelle or even Olivier Giroud. He performed admirably versus PSG as a reference point of attack but that wasn’t done aerially but with passes coming into him on the ground. For all his physical gifts, Batshuayi is only around 6 feet tall and I fear that teams who don’t do their research on him will just assume that he’s great with hold up play when that isn’t the case and they’ll repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. Where Batshuayi goes next after Marseille will be interesting. Though I do think Batshuayi isn’t a target man, Marseille are a team that’s heavily dependent on crosses from wide areas and he’s a great header of the ball (again, just like the incumbent Gignac!). Whoever gets him would be best served to have an attack that isn’t primarily focused on playing through the center of the final third unless it’s on the counter, which would best served Batshuayi’s runs through the channels. He also likes to have possessions where he tries to dictate the play on his terms. In theory, a team with the style of play like Crystal Palace would be a remarkable fit for him cause they like to play counter attacking kamikaze football which Batshuayi would feel quite at ease with. Hell, let’s skip the middleman. I think Batshuayi would do wonders on Crystal Palace and they have enough financial clout that they could make a worthwhile offer to Marseille with the money coming from the EPL TV deal (yes, we live in a world where Crystal Palace have the money to make a convincing offer for the only French club to have won the Champions League). As a Marseille fan, it’s sucks knowing that Michy Batshuayi will probably not be with the club next season because of the financial problems that Marseille have. Putting that aside, he’s so far shown that last year wasn’t a fluke and that he’s a dynamite prospect who could become one of the best strikers in Europe very soon. In comparison to players who are considered diamonds in the rough (like a certain Cameroonian in London), Batshuayi is considerably more closer to a finish product. He has to improve on his ability to be a bit more creative with the ball and not just go 1v1 even though he has the tools to win a lot of those battles. Going from 1.1 KP per 90 to say even 1.3-1.5 would do wonders for his game and possibly having more space to work with up top. Being pretty much the only striking option for Marseille will also help Batshuayi in handling a large workload for a possible move to the Premier League next summer. Michy Batshuayi has gone from the best striker in the Belgian League to a super sub extraordinaire with Marseille to a now tantalizing workhorse in less than 15 months. Euro 16 could be the ultimate breakout party for Batshuayi and have very big clubs open up their wallets to sign him. With the way his career has exploded, don’t be surprised if by the next World Cup, Batshuayi is talked about as one of the best strikers in football.

Fun, Order And Klopp

Leicester Remain Fun

To week nine! We’re tantalisingly close to be able to make some reasonably confident conclusions from the fare we’ve seen and the early winners and losers are starting to shake out a little.  One of the early winners- Leicester- produced a real sit up and take note performance in retrieving a two goal deficit at Southampton.  With a relevant caveat about the effect of the score, to bombard Southampton with 22 shots in the final 52 minutes was some effort, especially given Southampton’s prior efficiency in rebutting opposition shooting and they duly got their just rewards with a late equaliser.  As we will see later, sometimes styles clash and teams neutralise each other, sometimes the opposite occurs and you get an open game and sometimes shit just happens.  Predicting this is not always straightforward.

It’s still hard to be entirely positive about Leicester but the plus column is beginning to stack up quite well in their favour. It’s now a full half season since they suddenly discovered how to score goals in a 3-4 defeat at Tottenham and in 14 of those 19 games they have scored twice or more.  Across the tenures of Pearson and now Ranieri, they have been a 52% shots team, which is more than adequate to stay competitive in this league and a similar rate was enough to earn praise from this quarter for Tim Sherwood late last season.

The basketball stylings of their games have led to a huge average of 3.6 goals per game across the same period, a full goal a game more than league average and leads to an obvious kicker- they haven’t kept a clean sheet this season.  They’ve also come from two down on three occasions this term and got points, a scenario that is unlikely to continue.  Other quirks highlighted by the numbers are related to their style of play: only once in these 19 games have they exceeded the opposition’s pass completion rate- against the attritional Pulis-led West Brom, and only twice have they seen more of the ball.  While not aspects that specifically correlate to success they do clearly indicate- with the pace of Vardy and the trickery of Mahrez, who appears to have moved to the special teams corps recently, that an invitation for the opposition to play onto them creates the space for their rather direct game.

The Expected Order Of Things

Once more we again see things settling down among the established order of last season’s top four.  Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd and even Chelsea eventually recorded routine victories against lesser opposition.  A weekend in which these four teams fashion a combined 27 shots on target for a total of 13 goals and their opposition manage only six on target for one goal will only ever lead to a straightforward outcome.

Beyond that simple premise, the four teams occupied familiar roles within: Arsenal and Man City both recorded for them, slightly off pace shot totals- 15 each compared to a year average of 20- but were entirely unperturbed. Man Utd pretty much drew stumps as soon as they hit 2-0 and coasted through the game recording a moderate shot total of ten and Chelsea- with one eye on midweek or playing selection roulette?- brought the “wait for errors” methodology so famously employed up at Anfield 18 months ago.  Though the scoreline and tactical set-up may have been similar, one can’t help but be drawn to the difference in quality of the opposition and nine shots at home to a punch-drunk Aston Villa side is not the stuff of dreams.  The reformatting of Chelsea appears far from complete, for all that this victory will divert the pressure towards limbo.

Having recently warned of the perils in Bournemouth’s near future, it was interesting to see that they had this week succumbed to the “Lambert Effect” of contract renewal.  Far be it for me to suggest that Eddie Howe did not deserve a new contract, I know nothing of the details, but congratulations to his advisors who have secured such a deal exactly prior to the moment that his record could possibly decline.  Starting a very tough run with a stuffing at the Etihad can’t be helped but, it must be hoped that Glenn Murray can continue his goal getting or else the point-per-game rate could well be hard to maintain, at least in the short term.  The transition from eight points in October to not that many more in December could well have thwarted any stalling contract talks.

For now Eddie Howe is secure but how secure Eddie remains…

Newcastle Jolt Awake

There can’t be too many instances of a team conceding six them scoring six in their very next game, in fact i’d wager that it’s nearly as unlikely as the other feat Newcastle achieved in scoring all six of their shots on target.  I’ve got no record of such a feat among my Premier League records but in a strange coincidence it was found that Wijnaldum was involved in an identical scenario for PSV a year or so back:

And again we see the impact of one game in a small sample and another good reason why using small quantities of games for anything other than identifying trends is a dangerous precedent.  Newcastle scored half their season’s goals in this one freak game and superficially, despite very poor underlying shot numbers, may now appear to a casual viewer of the league table to have a well functioning attack.

Similarly while there may be reason to think that Norwich are vulnerable defensively, the hammering their save percentage and goals against took here is not reflective of their wider play.  The skew caused by this one game is huge.  When we look at our chosen method of shot recording far stronger trends are maintained.  Both teams are likely to face long and difficult seasons but one blowout does not condemn either team to anything more than a change in external perception.  Nine games is not even one quarter of a season.

There is all to play for.

Obligatory Klopp Section

 

kloppppp

 

There will not be a football column in the land that fails to mention Jürgen Klopp this week, so it was somewhat amusing that a clash of what could now be the two hardest working teams in the league should serve up a 0-0 such as this and get the Match of the Day graveyard slot.  A “fascinating clash of styles” is the kind of tosh generated by television companies reeling from a lack of goal mouth action for their highlight reels but for a game of high energy and low thrill, it was refreshing to hear Klopp admit that whilst the effort was there, the quality was lacking.  We can also recall the sterility of matches between the league’s other “squeezers” Man Utd when facing off against Pochettino, then shrug and remain unsurprised for the next time it occurs.

Still the “run around a bit” stat was happily bandied about; that Liverpool out ran and out sprinted Tottenham, and were the first team to do so this season,. We can take that as reflection of a quick adoption of his methodology, indeed, what other choice do his charges have?  Beyond that it is a stylistic point and little else. With the same raw materials as Brendan, can the sum of the parts increase?  That is of course the big challenge, but as mentioned prior to Rodgers’ dismissal, aspects of Liverpool’s game are not too far from being converted into a positive return.  They are a 55-60% shots team so far and have been undone by miserable conversion numbers- albeit with a side order of Coutinho shot selection- and have been hard to beat.  There is plenty to work with going forward and it’s a difficult appointment to deny.  Sorry, our Bren!

For Tottenham we find another game in which the balance of play favoured them but the result did not. A fifth draw in nine matches is underwhelming as is a total of three wins- the same as er… West Brom.  Having spoken far too frequently on Kane’s goal lull it’s unlikely that further evidence is required but upon seeing Paul Riley’s expected goal chart we see how it has now become slightly extreme:

With Sanchez, Aguero and even Sterling leaping with gay abandon like water nymphs bounding from the cold lilipad of goal shyness to the warm nest of netbusting, we await further news from our intrepid hero Kane.  The excellent Football In The Clouds site can round out the story, using the unique 11 v 11 numbers from there, we see that Kane’s goal contribution lags significantly behind his overall shot contribution:

 

fitcds

 

He’s not Balotelli, it won’t last.     ____________________

Thanks for reading   Remember to check out all the Chance Creation Maps and xG charts stored in the top menu

and take a look at our other articles while you’re here.

Find me on Twitter @jair1970

European Chance Maps and Taking a Look at Some Early Extremes

  After such a draining international break for us Americans, there will be no hard-core analysis here this week. It’s a nice time to introduce and use a few new tools to take a look at some of the more extreme early teams as far as chance creation. Following Paul Riley’s lead, I’ve opened up chance/deep completion maps for the big 4 European Leagues (he’s taken care of the EPL quite nicely). It’s a tableau workbook with every pass ending within 30 yards of goal for every team with all kinds of filters available. If you want to see only long-balls that wind up incomplete tried by Sassuolo, you can. If you want to see only chances created from the left half-space by Koln, go ahead. These will ideally be updated every two weeks.   The other new tool I will use here and hope to rollout customizable ones soon are the full-pitch passing maps. They can add a little context at times, like you can see Swansea’s completions remain mainly in their own half as they still struggle to reach goal or that Monaco (as nicely profiled by Mohamed) allow completions in their box at a shocking rate. All of these maps show the attacking team moving from left to right, so in Monaco’s defensive map they are the defending the box on the right side of the screen and in Swansea’s offensive map they are attacking the box on the right side of the screen. Snip20151013_160       Snip20151013_159 This post is mainly to introduce those tools by showing a few extreme examples from the early season and then post the links to play with, skip to the bottom if you want that, but be warned.  If you do skip now you will know much less about Celta Vigo’s preferred direction of attack. Are you willing to forego that? I didn’t think so. We will start with a look at the two teams who are most one-sided in the chances the chances they allow. Madrid’s softer left side Real Madrid right side On this map Madrid’s opponents are going from left to right. So Madrid’s left side is where you see them allowing above-league average completion numbers. Just inside the halfway line and moving toward the box we see 1.18 and 1.13, which means Madrid allow 18 and 13% more completions than the average La Liga team does in that area. You can see from those areas, the half-space and even in the opposition half that Madrid’s left side is where opponents like to play. No one in Europe is more left-sided (compared to right) in the deep completions they allow than Madrid. The fact it starts further upfield makes me think Ronaldo’s lack of defensive work might be a reason for this. Juventus The opposite of Real Madrid is Juventus. Using the Serie A Chance map we can plot out all their deep completions and see the staggering difference between the left and the right. Juve have apparently used several different formations and I’ve only seen them play once so no real theories, but it seems to me the magnitude of this difference clearly points to something pretty stark going on. Not that this is necessarily bad, but interesting and something the opposition should heavily scout going into a game. Juventus Left Side D [Legend: Blue=Complete, Pink=Shot from Cross, Purple=Key Pass, Orange=Assist] Others who are very one-sided in defense: Right, like Juventus: Swansea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Stuttgart Left, like Madrid: Koln, Valencia, Sassuolo, Angers   One-sided in attack Right: Real Betis, Eintracht, Reims, Norwich, Granada Left: Celta (our cover-boy Nolito!), Rayo Vallecano, Empoli, Chelsea, Arsenal Snip20151013_149   Longest Average Pass to Create a Chance On defense it’s Bayern Munich who force teams to complete long passes to set up chances. In general you see the best teams making the shortest passes to set up shots and in general shorter passes lead to a higher shooting percentage. So in general it’s a good thing to force long passes, though there are other more important variables on defense. It’s rare to see a team with multiple players forward in the box playing one-two’s against Bayern, so this comes as no surprise. Snip20151013_155 Others in this category: Fiorentina, Rennes, Torino, Borussia Dortmund. Torino and Rennes are some of the best at sitting back and soaking up pressure and it shows here.   The shortest average pass length allowed is an interesting case as their defense has impressed in the early going. Bournemouth have allowed the 4th fewest shots per game in the entire league but have allowed a ton of short passes to be turned into shots. Not sure what that means in total but they will be an interesting study going forward. Bournemouth Chances Allowed From Paul’s map where blue=key pass, yellow=assist.   Others allowing short passes: AC Milan, Sunderland, Roma, Juventus. An interesting mix of teams that shows it’s not a death notice to allow short key passes.   The team who has the longest average pass to create their own chance: Real Sociedad. The cross-heavy system favored by David Moyes can lead to this. Snip20151014_169   Others who have long key passes: Bastia, Getafe, Granada, and surprisingly Lyon.   Those with the shortest key passes: Atletico, Empoli, Nice, Roma, Manchester City. Real Sociedad’s key passes average 28.3 yards while Atletico’s average 17.4 yards, a nearly 11 yard difference.     Chance % This is simply the percentage of passes in the final 30 yards that are turned into shots. The lowest is Juventus at only 8.2% of passes in this area. Here’s a sampling. Snip20151013_158 Juve passes ending in final 30 yards (minutes 30-45)   The 2nd-highest chance% allowed is a team I’ve written extensively about, Gladbach. This is extremely different from how they have played in recent years and was one of the big causes of their early season collapse. Snip20151013_157 Same filters as Juventus. A lot less red and more blue (completions)/pink (shots off crosses)/purple (key passes). Ahead of even Gladbach, the #1 team in terms of highest chance% conceded so far: Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. 15.7% of passes turn into shots in the final 30 yards. Yet another stat on the what-the-hell, Chelsea? never-ending train of stats. Last year the highest rate in the Premier League was QPR at 14%. That’s a short introduction and a glimpse at some of the more extreme maps, go ahead and build your own now.   Chance Maps Ligue 1 La Liga Bundesliga Serie A Like Paul Riley’s visuals, these links are also housed in the menu bar at the top of the page, for easy reference.  Enjoy!

Monaco’s Frankenstein Turn

  For a good portion of last season, Monaco weren’t fun to watch. It was a weird team that had loaned out a broken down striker to Manchester United, and sold its best player in James Rodriguez to Real Madrid. People talked about the slow start from Lyon but Monaco were probably worse than they were during the first two to three months. Their Champions League performances were even more grim; dour 1-0 or 0-0 scorelines in which shot generation was suffocated at levels that even Louis Van Gaal would be impressed at. This slowly started to turn and by the beginning of February, we started to see Monaco 2.0: a really stout defensive side that would sit relatively back and could counter attack with high efficiency. In many ways, they were what Caen are so far this season (which is a sentence I thought I would never say but here we are). Some would say a key moment came against Arsenal in the CL, which is kind of true. I’d argue moreso that their first leg performance versus Juventus was a better showing of how far they had come. What happened last season makes what’s going on so far this season that bit more interesting. Monaco have become both a better attacking team and a much worse defensive side. I’m quite surprised as to just how good Monaco have been in attack. Monaco’s shot data is pretty much the same as it was last year. Shots per game has a 0.2 difference, shots on target is also around the same. But go further and deeper and you’ll see the big difference. Monaco rank 2nd in expected goals for, 1st in big chances for and are in the top 3-4 in shots in the danger zone. These are elite numbers and again, this is quite surprising. I’m very high on Anthony Martial both as a talent and what he produced when he did get to play last season. Before the mega transfer, I thought he would continue his progress from the second half of last season and have a nice second season playing around 2500-3000 league minutes. Without him, the striker position has basically been Guido Carrillo and rotating attacking midfielder X. Selling Layvin Kurzawa as well didn’t help things as he’s probably the best attacking left back in Ligue 1. There is genuine talent in the roles behind the striker: Bernado Silva is super clever, Thomas Lemar is looking more and more like a dynamite prospect, hell even Nabil Dirar has been solid this season. But if you told me Monaco would be this good in attack without their once future ST and LB, I would’ve probably snickered and walked away. Perhaps the best representation of how well oiled Monaco’s attack has become was their first goal versus Guingamp two weeks ago. It ticked off a lot of things that you would want from your attack.

  • Quick transition from defense to the midfield? Check
  • Quick transition from midfield to attacking third? Check
  • Throughball creating a big chance? Check

At this time last season, it wasn’t fun to watch Monaco in attack. It was basically a practice in masochism. It’s different this time around. Monaco are fun and they have mitigated their carousel at striker with a surplus in creative midfielders. When Monaco lost Aymen Abdennour, Geoffrey Kondogbia and later on Kurzawa, it was fair to think that they would be a little worse off defensively. This was before the sales of Abdennour and Kurzawa, but in my Ligue 1 season preview I figured they would be about as good. My theory was this: Kondogbia is an all around better player than Tiemoue Bakayoko and probably by a good margin, but Bakayoko could do the destroying parts of Kondogbia’s game at a similar level and the likes of Jeremy Toulalan and Joao Moutinho would allow Monaco to still have enough juice to pick out passes. It hasn’t worked. Monaco have been one of the worst defensive teams in Ligue 1 this season. Whether it be expected goals, big chances conceded or shots coming from the danger zone. It’s almost as if the growth of their attacking play has had an inverse effect on their defensive play. Of course this isn’t entirely true, because correlation doesn’t quite equal causation, but the steep decline in Monaco’s defense is notable. We can try and pick out some of the reasons why. First off being the departure of Aymen Abdennour. I can’t tell you analytically how good Aymen Abdennour is, because I basically know jack about how to truly quantify CB play (I once thought Dejan Lovren was good, in case you wanted to know failed CB thoughts from yours’ truly). Analytics has come a long way in football but CB play arguably is even more of a dark cloud than goalkeeping (at least publicly, because who knows what goes on in clubs). It’s still such a subjective eye test with how little reliable and interpretable data we have, because interceptions and tackles pretty much equate to fart noises. That being said, I think the fact that he’s not there anymore has probably had a sizeable effect on their defense. Particularly considering that Monaco have become more of a pressing team this season. Again, causation doesn’t 100% equal correlation, but we are staring to see how as Monaco have become a team that’s looking for quicker attacks, they’re pushing their CBs higher up the pitch instead of sitting back.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if Monaco’s CBs weren’t as uninspiring as they are currently. Wallace is 20 years old and learning on the job, Andrea Raggi is a body but I have no idea if he’s worth a damn, and Ricardo Carvalho is old enough to have remembered the Cold War. In the tiers of slowness, there’s “slow” and then there’s “Ricardo Carvalho slow”. I keep coming back to Monaco’s game with PSG and just how easy PSG picked them apart. Granted, PSG are so much better than anyone else in France but they just exposed the offside trap Monaco were trying to play against them. Numerous times PSG were looking for home run long balls over the defense or throughballs that split open Monaco and two of the three goals they scored fit one of those two things. How could Monaco fix this? Well, that’s for much smarter people to decide. It’s a difficult balancing act because Monaco are very good going forward and their attacking qualities are stuff you want to harness. Monaco have been playing either a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 between Ligue 1 and Europe. Two striker systems are probably out of the question unless you play a 4-4-2 diamond and someone like Stephen El Shaarawy plays as the left sided forward, which I guess is possible considering the one season El Shaarawy was healthy in Milan, he had a pretty healthy shot and goal scoring profile. More than likely the rebound defensively will just have to come with finding the right mixture of guys in the midfield. It hasn’t helped that Bakayoko has only played 180 minutes this season. A 4-3-3 with a midfield of Silva/Bakayoko/Toulalan or Silva/Bakayoko/Moutinho is interesting. Silva tracks back quite high for a attacking midfielder, Bakayoko would provide the protection and either Moutinho or Toulalan would spray passes around. If that doesn’t work, maybe going to such extremes as playing Bakayoko at CB would be a thing to consider (but that’s more so a “in case of emergency, break glass” type of thing). It’s going to be interesting to see how Monaco look the rest of the season, because Champions League qualification is a must for them and preferably in the two automatic spots. There’s no way on god’s green earth they’ll catch PSG but that second spot is wide open. Their attack is CL level quality but their defense has been more pub league. It’s quite the Frankenstein turn and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Reading, Middlesbrough And More Early Championship Stat Stories

With all this talk about crises, coefficients, Kloppomania and various balanced pieces on the increasing role of analytics and air-conditioning in modern football, you could be forgiven for forgetting about England’s second tier. However, a little further away form the media spotlight (unless you’re the most vocal advocates of analytics sacking your manager, in which case…), the Championship has been chugging along just fine. Blue Boys One team this season has conceded far fewer shots than the rest and it’s not even close.

Blue: Automatic promotion spots; Green: Playoff places; Yellow: Midtable; Red: Relegation zone
Blue: Automatic promotion spots; Green: Playoff places; Yellow: Midtable; Red: Relegation zone
  Yep, Steve Clarke’s Reading have conceded way fewer shots than the rest of the league. To put this into perspective, we can look at where conceding 7.3 shots per game would put Reading if they keep it up over the whole season versus the distribution of the league in general: ReadingProjection   So, uh, pretty good, right? And it’s not like this is versus weak teams, either. They’ve taken on Middlesbrough, Derby, Ipswich and Burnley, winning all of those but one (1-0 to Derby County). Can they keep it up? Well, this lack of shots so far looks to be driven by high defensive efficiency; they are conceding far fewer shots than they are allowing completed passes. In other words, the data suggests they are stopping opponents from shooting, as opposed to stopping them from entering the final third of the pitch (a definition for ‘deep completions’ used here is outlined at the bottom of the article): Reading Deep Comp   Clearly Reading are an outlier here, and their suppression of opponents’ shots isn’t driven by domination of territory. So are they lucky? Is it their system? Both? These are questions I’m reluctant to give definitive answers to without consulting more video evidence (sorry). However, we can reframe the question slightly to make it more testable: Do teams maintain extreme performances in this type of defensive ‘efficiency’ (i.e. is Defensive box efficiency over the first 10 games a significant predictor of box efficiency over the remaining games)? Rplot09 This first (tentative) look at whether this kind of efficiency tends to be sustained isn’t promising. The preceding plot shows the same box efficiency mentioned here (Box shots divided by Box completions conceded) before and after the 10th October over the past 2 full seasons. Nonetheless, simply taking the ratio remains a fairly crude way to look at shot suppression. For instance, one improvement I would suggest would be to look instead at chains of passes and whether they end with a shot, and using this to look at teams’ defence above and below expectation; however, I don’t have access to the requisite data for this. Furthermore, if we narrow our focus to the penalty area (which generally is where teams want to be getting the ball and shooting from), Reading’s shot suppression continues, though not as extreme as above: Rplot11 However, the difference here is that box shots are have been more repeatable over the last two seasons than just shots alone. More pertinently, over the past two full seasons, box completions were more predictive of box shots over the rest of the season than box shots over the first 10 games. To me, this would suggest that Reading are likely to start giving up more shots, given the number of completions they’re allowing in these areas. Still, I think the early signs suggest Reading are doing something right. Though they might not keep shots conceded down to 7 per game throughout the season, I think it’s reasonable to suggest they’ll be one of the better defensive teams this season. At the very least, their defensive performance so far marks them out as one to keep an eye on over the coming weeks. It’s not you, it’s the system Over the summer, Middlesbrough sold Lee Tomlin for a fee around £3 million. At the time, I was a bit disappointed by this, as I think is reasonable, having seen him do this last season. Part of this disappointment was that I felt as though the closest thing for a like-for-like replacement, Diego Fabbrini wasn’t quite up to the same standard and didn’t quite fit the same role. For instance, if we put a rough filter on the 14/15 player data to see who’s a close match with Tomlin (minimum 10 90s), Fabbrini doesn’t show up (in particular his key-passes didn’t meet the 1.50 per 90 used to filter) : Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 18.10.03 I was feeling pretty smug about my scouting nous, so I applied the same filter to this year’s data, with the minutes played limit lowered to half the max available (5 90s), to see who else came through: Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 18.17.57   Ah, right. This isn’t the most star-studded list, admittedly, and it will change over the course of the season (for instance, Ryan Mendes misses out having played just under the requisite minutes, too). Nonetheless I think it nicely illustrates the effect team quality and system can have on players’ output. Fabbrini’s output at Millwall didn’t quite match Tomlin’s, but is a lot closer when playing with better players in Karanka’s system. Goalscorers This is what the top 10 for non-penalty goals per 90 looks like (again, filtered for half max minutes played): Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 17.38.18 It’s probably too early to draw many conclusions here, but we can see a couple of things. Both Boro payers in the list are coming off the back of low shots numbers, and I’m wary of this continuing without them taking more shots. Expect this list to change throughout the season, but it’s encouraging to see the bigger names like Austin and Rhodes already on there. Tommer (Tomer?) Hemed is also the only player with more than three 90s played taking more than 4.00 shots p90. Last season, four players with 10 or more 90s played matched this: Forestieri (on loan at Sheffield Wednesday), Kike (behind Nugent in the pecking order at Boro), Gestede (now playing under Uncle Tim at Aston Villa) and Paul Taylor (0 goals in 14/15, now on trial at Nottingham Forest) _________________________________________________________________________________ Deep completions are defined here as completed passes in the highlighted area: Rplot07

What’s New On Stats Bomb?

Here at Stats Bomb we remain committed to sourcing and providing high quality statistical and analytical work.  So much time can go into this that occasionally you can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to how the site looks.  Thankfully there are smart visually inclined people on hand to nudge you in the right direction and as a result we now have a sparkling new theme. Around the site As it stands, the site’s offerings are categorised in the top menu. “Articles” holds a grid of the site’s articles with the most recent at the top and is also the landing page if you arrive fresh on the site. “Authors” holds a list of all the authors that have contributed to the site since its inception and by clicking on that author’s name, you will find a tiled display of their work.  So if you’re looking for the work of Colin Trainor, Ted Knutson or Benjamin Pugsley who all contributed enormously to the early iterations of the site, there is a huge archive in there.  More recently, Dustin Ward, Ben Torvaney, myself and now Mohamed Mohamed have contributed regularly and throughout a rotating cast of guest writers have put work up here too.  It’s a treasure trove, and all exists in an easily accessible format. “Podcasts” contains er… pages linking to podcasts. And the “Glossary” contains information about terms used within the site and though ripe for a rewrite (on the list!) has been a useful check point for people new to the site. But so what? The interesting part– the NEW part– is contained within the blue writing in the top right hand corner.  Aided by the groundwork of Paul Riley has worked extremely hard in building his Expected Goals (xG) Dashboard and Chance Creation Maps and we’re only too happy to provide a permanent link to his work.  The intention is that these charts will be updated throughout the season and will provide an accessible location for information that had previously been tricky to view- information that will benefit analysis. Expected Goals Dashboard Is Ross Barkley getting smart shots on goal? Take a look: barkley Are West Ham converting an unsustainable rate of their shots on target? hammers It sure looks like it. These charts can be separated for and against, by player, by shot type and more. It is also hoped that bloggers who want to write on these subjects should see this as a resource that they can use.   Chance Creation Maps How are teams creating their chances? That sounds like a pretty useful thing to know, right?  Styles vary as we can see when contrasting Palace and Man Utd.   pr passes Man Utd Very little from wide, lots of horizontal shuttle passes and only one chance from a corner? Louis van Gaal’s ideas show through clearly.     pr passes 2Crystal Palace Direct, work to the flanks, few passes to the centre until you reach the box. A huge contrast to Man Utd’s style. Defense Tottenham’s full back areas. pr passes 3Crosses coming from Kyle Walker’s area, Ben Davies’ side vulnerable to the vertical pass? We have multiple ways to categorise the search, something that will become ever more powerful as the season continues. What is actually happening on the pitch?  Here we can see. Again, it is hoped that bloggers intending to write on subjects covered by these maps should consider them a resource to use. ___________________________________________________________ Going forward, Paul is hoping to contribute analysis with reference to these tools as and when stories emerge. For the rest of the site we have a core of contributors that will continue to provide work on all the major leagues, from player to manager to team analysis and we actively monitor the wider blog community in order to try to give a platform and outlet for the best work out there. Nearly everyone starts on a personal blog so if you have an idea, grab some data, learn some analytical techniques and put your work out there. We have a distinct interest in increasing the wider understanding and acceptance of statistical and analytical concepts around football- from fan to club to media- and in order to grow we need more people doing more and better work. There is much to do. Enjoy the site!

A Look at the Wild Title Race in Italy

Maurizio Sarri is a former statistics student and current Napoli coach whose quotes make him easy to pull for. Last year at Empoli he had his tiny team playing like big boys. In a cluster analysis I ran Empoli showed up alongside Manchester United, Roma, Spurs, Juventus, PSG, and other teams one of the poorest teams in Europe had zero business being among. He and Eduardo Berizzo (Celta Vigo) became two managers I greatly respected simply from computer scouting. Watching their teams certainly confirmed that opinion. Sarri the stats-man has also helpfully provided the checklist he looks for when he analyzes his team (he also has mentioned deep touches as a stat he looks to judge performance on in his post-game interviews). We start with Napoli in our look at the early going in what should be a fascinating and enthralling season in Serie A.  

  1. Vertical passes played from midfield to forward

When it comes to chances created originating in midfield, Napoli is running away from the pack. They have 40 and 2nd place has just 30.   For this we can give Sarri and Napoli a check.   This doesn’t mean Napoli rely solely on midfielders playing long passes to forwards to create something, no team plays a shorter average pass to enter the final 30 yards. This implies if the quick long strike isn’t available, Napoli get players forward and play short passes to attack. To show how they do use long vertical balls to create chances here is a map of every chance created by Napoli (blue) vs Juventus (black) where a pass got the team 10+ yards closer to goal. The difference is pretty stark.    

  1. High defensive line

Napoli’s opponents average pass is played further from goal than any other team in Serie A, up from 4th last year.   3. Defenders get the ball to their playmaker   The midfielder Jorginho leads Serie A in passes/90 with 107. Last year he averaged 77.5 per 90.   Now this is nice and reflects very well on Sarri getting the players to fit his ideas but doesn’t tell us if his checklist is actually leading to performance and wins. They are a very good team but haven’t made a huge leap from last season. They are getting the ball in front of goal and keeping opponents from getting in front of goal at similar rates to last season. Shots and shot quality are reasonably similar. The ends have been similar despite means changing. A few more examples of means changing: the high completion % allowed in the final 30 yards. Last year under Rafa Benitez, no team was tougher to complete passes against than Napoli, this year they are easier than league average. Maybe this is just a transition period to Sarri’s eyes-on-ball approach, but it’s more likely a feature of his system to not have stiflingly low rates close to goal as Empoli’s main weakness was also how easy it was to complete deep passes against them (partially why they linked up with PSG and Manchester United in the cluster analysis). Napoli press much higher than they did last season which unless you are Bayer Leverkusen or Bayern, makes it tough to totally shut down the opposition close to your own goal. There are always tradeoffs in tactics. The effectiveness with which Sarri has changed the teams style to reach his stated goals make me confident he is more likely to take this team to a higher performance level as the season goes along. Right now they are probably still a step behind Roma and Juventus but it’s not too far. It will be exciting to see how they evolve.   Juventus, still the best? Short version: probably yes. Long version, showing my work: Juventus are taking the most shots, spending nearly the most time in front of goal (“Red Zone” in my Americanized lingo), and taking the most shots from inside 10 yards. They allow the 2nd fewest shots and the 2nd fewest Red Zone completions. They still have the strongest claim to be the best team in Italy right now. Things are not completely fine: they have slipped a bit in terms of shot quality. In 13/14 and 14/15 Juve forced the longest average shot in Serie A, now they are just 15th. The passes that get their attack reaching dangerous positions are coming from crosses a bit too often as well. The teams crossing more than Juve are Atalanta, Carpi, Chievo, Palermo, Udinese, and Verona. Not great company for a title contender. These aren’t crippling slips but Juve is already 10 points behind and the the margin last season was much finer between Juve and the rest of the league than the table portrayed. Their shot and territory numbers were never near Bayern/PSG levels and the preseason title odds of around 60% reflected the fact this wasn’t a true runaway league. This similarity in top teams talent combined with the early season dropped points from Juve is the reason Italy is set up for the best title race in recent years. I’d guess that no league in recent times has had 5 teams at above 10% odds at this point in the season and that no league has had a “favorite” at just 31% to win the league.   Just look at that. The normal European soccer complaint that you know the teams that will win the title is totally out the window here. It feels open like an NBA season, not a soccer season.   Current Favorite The current favorite is not Juventus. Leaders Fiorentina are not favorites either. It is 4th place Roma who the bookies tip by a hair to win the title. Roma have cranked up their offense significantly from last season. They are way out in front of the pack with 7.1 shots on target per game after taking just 4.6 last season. This is not because of an unsustainable touch-to-shot conversion rate, it’s mainly fueled by simply spending way more time in front of goal.   This is an enormous change. A chunk of it comes from a single game where they completely dominated territory against hapless Sampdoria (and lost in the final seconds) but there would still be a 6 completion per game rise without that 55-completion game. Last year they didn’t have any games with at least 50 completions in the final 30 yards.   The big individual riser in the shot category comes up front where Dzeko has taken 4.6 per 90, 3.2 inside the penalty area. Last season no one took more total shots than Totti’s 2.7 and Ljajic’s 1.6 per 90 was the teams leader inside the box. As you’d expect with such a rise in shots, there are lots more players chalking up >1.5 in-box shots per 90 and >2 key passes/90.   This year 27% of Roma’s passes come within 45 yards of goal, last year it was just 19%. This can partially be explained by their increased pressing, they break up opposition-half passes right near the top of the league this year, leading to better field position to start their attack. When you don’t have to make 3 or 4 passes to bring the ball up the pitch, it’s easier to get into dangerous positions. That’s not the whole explanation and there are other telling signs (both more aggressive passing and more accurate passing moving into the final 45 yards) but a more thorough analysis certainly beckons if Roma continue to play like this.   Opposites in Milan Last year the two Milan teams finished close to each other in the mid-table but played nothing alike. Inter played like some of the best teams in Europe in many categories, while Milan often played like legitimate relegation candidates.   The fact they had similar odds in preseason was one of the rare total misses you’ll see in the betting markets. Inter now have the 4th best title odds, just barely behind Napoli. They are pressing high, getting the ball deep, keeping teams from seeing much of goal and pretty much doing everything they did last year, just seeing better results points-wise. They have a similar look as far as territory dominance to Napoli but haven’t been quite as impressive when you look at the nitty-gritty. Inter get nearly twice as many of their deep completions via cross while Napoli are less reliant on the least effective attacking tool there is. I’d say this is the one place where the bookies might be wrong, Napoli should be valued a bit more highly than Inter. I say this hesitantly, knowing that in general you should look to the bookies when rating teams. Most of us stat guys are not millionaires yet from beating the lines, always remember that.   Milan, poor Milan. At least they have improved slightly. Last year they had the 19th most deep completions, now they are up to 16th. They have the 16th fewest shots from inside 20 yards (only 2 ahead of 19th) and they still can’t get the ball to the center of the pitch at all. They aren’t even a league-average side.   The league leaders Fiorentina lead the league and have the best SOT rate. They have the 5th best title odds right now, around 10%. How do those two things make sense? A lot of it is their early season schedule has been very soft, with games against Carpi, Bologna, Milan, and Atalanta. They also haven’t put up stunning shot totals against those teams: 6th most total and 10th in shots inside 20 yards. They’ve been great at stopping opponents from coming upfield and taking shots, but defense is much more opponent-dependent than offense. Without an overpowering offense and with a defense yet to come through the fire, I can’t sign off on Fiorentina being any better than the bookies skeptical take.     Other Bits Torino have started really well with their patented mix of passing backwards in their own half a lot (27% backwards pass rate there is 3 standard deviations above league average), and heavy central focus (2nd in league, actually a bit down from last year). A 6th place finish certainly seems feasible if a bigger team in front falters… Sampdoria were in Europa League qualifiers this year after last years 7th place finish and got crushed 4-0 at home by Serbian side Vojvodina. Things haven’t got better in the league. Sampdoria have allowed 27 completions inside 15 yards from open play. The next highest is 16. Their attack is near the bottom when it comes to deep completions as well. They’ve taken the 18th most shots and allowed the 2nd most. They are currently playing like a team who deserves to be relegated. Last year says they probably won’t keep doing this but it’s ugly right now. One factor that might explain some of their underlying numbers is the fact they have bunkered their way to good results against top teams. Napoli, Inter, and Roma all completed 40+ passes inside 30 yards against Sampdoria (a feat which has only happened in 2 other games in the entire league) but Sampdoria got 5 points from those matches. Maybe they are just fooling the underlying numbers by West Hamming it and trying to concede 85% of the pitch but stop high quality shots? At least they have that bad-ass logo… Frosinone are playing like relegation favorites but they have that Burnley-esque attacking verve plus openness at the back that is nice to see. Games involving Frosinone see a staggering 36.7 shots per game. League average is just a hair above 26… Lazio are basically a poor man’s Fiorentina at this point. They have less impressive numbers boosted by a weak schedule but got hammered by Napoli in their one big game. You’d back them to finish top 6 but not compete at the top.   Bonus Sarri love is this great set piece goal (goal #3) that uses an off-ball screen to free up Mertens for an open shot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtY8Yok7IiY

Southampton Were Never Bad

koeman Once more as we enjoy the plot and intrigue surrounding the league boiling up to a deliciously non-tepid level, the all important momentum is halted by the intervention of a wholly undesired and largely trivial wander into the international arena.  That said, the time off gives plenty of time for recruitment and sadly i’m going to have to rule myself out of the running for the Sunderland job; the threat of relegation is simply too great a risk at this stage of my managerial career and I feel the organisation has not sufficiently embraced the modern analytical methods I espouse… Chelsea Southampton “After a slow start, again Koeman’s doing a magnificent job.” The words of Alan Shearer there. Given the prevailing story around Chelsea, the actual merits of Southampton’s performance at Stamford Bridge played a distinct supporting role in all coverage. From newspapers to television to the sharpest minds on social media, the apparent and continuous decline of last year’s champions has been the dominant story this early season.  Again, their defense proved easily penetrable, to an extent that it isn’t even notable and more interesting to me in this game was the ineptitude of their attack.  Zero shots on target from the 25th minute onwards while supervising a score changing from 1-0 to 1-3 is the stuff of nightmares and the hallmark of a team with problems. Shorn of Costa, and once more relying on Willian’s weird run of ranged free kicks, this was another example of last year’s key men failing to lift their game.  To some extent, any team can carry players out of form but when nobody is shining and the return of Ramires is the headline news for your goal threat, there are issues. See here: contribution chelsea And what have I done? The same as everyone else.  Talk about Chelsea. Anyway… Southampton’s performance does not exist in isolation and Shearer’s view is easy to equate with their early results and a widespread reticence to believe that they could once more withstand the removal of some of their perceived better players.  I’ll admit to having had my doubts here too, but so far it looks as if the system in place is stronger than the parts that fuel it. Last season I wrote about how facets of their start marked them out as a team likely to make a sustained challenge for the top four; their underlying numbers implied this and were backed up by good results.  Their defense remained impressive all year– conceding a league low 3 shots on target per game– and but for a tough run mid-season and a scoring slump after Christmas as squad strength became an issue, they may even have exceeded an objectively impressive seventh place. This season once more sees impressive underlying numbers.  Despite the departures of Clyne and Schneiderlin, seen as big influences in the continued repression of opposition shooting, and the unfortunate non-arrival of Jordy Clasie, the numbers have continued to be stable.  Once more, no team concedes fewer shots on goal and the chances created at the other end have, for now, increased.  In fact their defense hasn’t conceded more than 13 shots or four shots on target in any one game, an extremely impressive and consistent run of form. That Southampton can visit Stamford Bridge and secure victory against a wobbly Chelsea is far less surprising than prior reputations suggest.  The only problem for them was that this year, their early results did not match their underlying numbers, so casual commentators presumed that things were different.  It’s more a case of ” as you were” and having made a few depth signings in the summer, their position in the upper echelon of the league looks secure. Sunday And so it came to pass. In the year of our Lord 2015, his chosen representative on earth Mr Brendan Rodgers was thus relieved of his duties as chief shepherd at Liverpool Football Club and lo, many reams were filled with memories of “that season”, and there was hope that a new guide would heed the words of the “Parable of a Consistent Formation” and return with the spoils of victory so readily found in former times. I wouldn’t have sacked him but now he’s gone we are left with an enthralling game of “Catch Klopp!” that if unsuccessful could lead to an even more entertaining game of “What if not Klopp?”– a puzzle that lacks a ready answer. And that was the big story on Sunday, so much so that Arsenal trouncing Man Utd seemed almost a sideline, especially as the match was over as a contest within less time than an average weather report.  Arsenal’s victory was so straightforward that their total dominance early on killed the game stone dead and gave a marvellous example of “issues with shot modelling”.  With all the relevant action inside twenty minutes, what took place beyond that point was superficial at best. Similar comments could be levelled at Arsenal’s victory at Villa last year, in which the second half was a perfunctory non-event and also Man Utd’s own victory against Tottenham back in March.  The comparatively rare occasions in which a team races into an unassailable lead generate non-representative chance rates and underline the big impact we see in score effects. That the three goals came from the first three shots on target was remarkably similar to a medicine that United themselves had been prescribing in recent weeks, so a certain schadenfreude surrounded the game. In a hallmark of van Gaal’s reign, a scythe arrived at the exact moment that belief arrived in the fan base and presumptions of genuine superiority were starting to take hold. However, Arsenal’s precision passing and ability to bypass the fast press employed is not something that Man Utd will face very often this season– on current form this was arguably their second toughest fixture– so one might presume that the controlling sterility will resume next time.  They just aren’t set up to recover deficits against good opposition and like any team are vulnerable to the effective use of pace. Bournemouth Despite courting more injuries than Wile E Coyote, Bournemouth have made a steady start to their time in the Premier League.  Existing in an inverse universe to the “QPR model” of survival, their defense has made a solid job of resisting the opposition’s sorties and ranks fourth least for shots faced while only Southampton have faced fewer shots on target. Their attacking numbers aren’t quite up to par but this blend this may well be a van Gaal style trade-off that is keeping them in games for as long as possible and an attempt to manage leads. In this instance they have spent the 5th most amount of time leading and there is no one game in which they’ve been stomped on shots-wise; the Liverpool game was worst in this aspect—they conceded 18 but only two troubled the goalkeeper. Their chief issues that I see are variably solvable or problematic. Firstly half of the shots that reach their goal are going in, which is miles over league average and unlikely to continue. Seventy percent is a long term save rate to aspire towards and they won’t stay at 50% for too much longer. Less encouragingly, Liverpool are the only one of last season’s top seven that they have faced, and they haven’t effectively cashed in on a favourable start to the schedule. Eight points from eight games is the kind of rate that only John Carver considers adequate and benchmarks the team as one that needs to maintain and build on their generally positive early numbers. Man City, Tottenham and Southampton are their next three games and if they retain a point a game pace through that schedule they will have a short run of more apparently winnable games to follow. That they seem not irredeemably bad, in contrast to at least three more established Premier League clubs bodes well for their survival aspirations.  “Least bad” is often enough in this league and throw in the other promoted teams and it looks like long term we may have three from seven to go. Obligatory Tottenham section Two defeats in eleven and rarely a bad performance seen.  It’s looking just dandy for Pochettino’s devoted soldiers as another dominant draw was secured in Wales. Eric Dier channeled his hitherto concealed Roy Keane and the general performance gave Fabianski an opportunity to spend the afternoon repelling accurate long range shots. At least up to a point, as Christian Eriksen found some form back from injury and showed that the first thing a free kick needs to be is on target and then maybe the rest will follow. In fact in ending the game with Clinton, Eriksen, Townsend and Dembele as a nominal front four, some depth has been found.  Kane continued his run of refinding the net and there looks to be a functioning meritocracy in amongst key attacking positions.  Such is expectation against anyone beyond the traditional powers, some fans were disappointed to only secure a point but after recent seasons’ repeated post-Europe League capitulations, this was probably good enough. Sure the save percentage is still on the high side and the scoring percentage on the low side but shot creation isn’t a problem so far and Spurs are currently pleasing most number watchers.  This is a far cry from last season and is to be welcomed. The visit of an Allardyce-inspired Liverpool could be an intriguing test next time. _______________________________ Find me on Twitter: @jair1970 Thanks for reading!