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
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: He's not Balotelli, it won't last.
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