Stuttgart have been quite the puzzle in the early season. After a few games their underlying stats seemed to indicate a massive jump from last years team that just missed relegation, the only bother was a few unlucky losses. Now we are nearing the break and they are still in the bottom three and still have the underlying numbers that back a very good team. A quick look at several different metrics shows the pieces that don’t seem to fit:
xG is taken from Michael Caley’s great resource.
The worst goal difference in the league with a points total to match despite Champions League level shot and territory statistics. Let’s split it up:
Defense is where they have been by far the worst team in the league. No other team has conceded more than 25. There isn’t really much here to explain: the underlying territorial and shot data suggest a very good team while everything that happens after the shot leaves the foot is horrible for Stuttgart. There is a lot more luck in shot conversion but there are a few worrying signs that suggest that while Stuttgart are not one of the worst teams in the league, they do have holes that are keeping them from performing like the European contender their shot and territory data suggests.
This is a stand-in for defensive pressure. I’ve gone through each and every shot Stuttgart have taken and allowed from under 20 yards to chart the number of attackers and defenders in the box. Judging pressure on shooter, defenders in the way, and goalie position would have been great but I stuck to a basic, easy to count stat, and one that is the least open to interpretation. I’ve only charted around 200 shots but have noticed a big jump in conversion rate between 4 and 5 defenders in the box (not counting the GK). This makes some intuitive sense as if the defense is set enough to have the back four plus someone else in the box, it should be able to get some pressure.
Time permitting, every shot in the Bundesliga will eventually find it’s way into my database and some sort of more statistically sound conclusion can be made but for now it’s safe to say shooting into a packed box is less valuable than a thinly populated one.
This metric is bad news for Stuttgart. When the game is tied, Stuttgart are taking 61% of shots against a packed defense while opponents take just 43%.
This almost certainly undersells the gap a bit as a handful of Stuttgart chances allowed have looked like this:
where the defense had decent numbers but was sliced open for an uncontested tap-in. Stuttgart have gotten one or two of these but their close-in chances tend to look more like this:
These are examples and not every single shot, but Stuttgart’s close shots have been tougher than their opponents.
When their defense is set, they aren’t conceding goals at any crazy rate (except for the 3 tap-ins Bayern created) but when they can’t get set the goals start flying in.
orange=goal, blue=save, gray=block, red=miss.
2. Game State
As 11tegen11 reminded us this week, Game States always affect totals. Stuttgart have shown a huge skew. We know (thanks to Objective Footy) the average team spends a quarter of the time ahead, quarter behind, and half tied. Stuttgart have been behind early and often to the tune of 40% behind, 14% ahead.
So we’ve found why their shot totals are so high, right? Wrong. Stuttgart show a fascinating pattern when trailing that flies in the face of what you expect.
The normal team sees shots for increase, shots against decrease, quality of shot decrease and quality of shot allowed increase when they go behind as they chase the game. For Stuttgart, none of that happens. This is strange and when put together with point #1 suggests that Stuttgart are essentially always functioning as a team who is trailing. They are aggressive with their pressing (only Leverkusen rates higher) from the get go, but don’t turn it up higher when behind. They have the same amount of deep completions/90 when they are behind as when they are even and shots go on target both for and against at rates that mirror each other. This all points to a team that doesn’t have another level to go to when they fall behind and can help explain some of their statistical strangeness. The territory and location numbers that reflect a Champions League contender are inflated through a play-style that provides plenty of opportunities to get the ball deep but each one of those to be a little less valuable than normal teams. They are facing packed defenses more often than their opponents and are caught out of position more, especially at even game states. This leads to bad goal% stats and passing charts that look like this:
Green represents areas where it is easier than average to complete a pass. Stuttgart is a high pressure team in the midfield and in the opposition half but you never want to see green in your own box. It is what you would expect for a team that is out-of-balance and overcommitting. If I could tell the team one thing going forward I would say to relax a bit and do not try to force the opening goal. We can’t give them easy chances early in games in our haste to get a goal.
Now if this isn’t a Champions League quality team is it as bad as the table says? Almost certainly not. You knew that from the shot totals alone though. This is still a team that has had some bad luck, only 3/12 shots from inside 5 yards have gone in for example. It’s a average to slightly above average team that on first glance can fool both the old-school table reader into thinking they are strong relegation candidates and the more advanced stat reader into thinking we are seeing a CL-quality team suffer.
Alexandru Maxim certainly deserves a run of starts over Filip Kostic if we are looking only at offensive statistics. Last season Kostic posted a 0.82 passer rating (a stat that compares actual completion% to expected completion% based on length of pass and starting location) and Maxim posted a 1.00. The non-Bayern attacking players who reached 1.00 were Reus, Kagawa, Kiyotake, Max Meyer, and Didavi. Kostic was near the bottom last year and is again with a 0.85 rating. Maxim has out of this world numbers, his 1.08 rating is in 2014 Robben+Ribery territory. Maxim also is involved much more (15 more passes/90) and takes more shots/90 with the caveat that he has only played 350 or so minutes. Maybe there are defensive problems but when you have a guy passing so well on the bench and the left side of your attack hasn’t passed the ball extremely well:
I’d give it a shot.
Daniel Didavi continues to put up otherwordly shot totals: his 4.8 per 90 only trail Lewandowski for most in the league.
Martin Harnik was taking his shots from an average of just 13.5 yards out before going down with injury. Timo Werner is at 13.5 yards out on average as well over 26 shots. His goal rate should rise if he can continue to get those shots.
Here is the shooting map: size correlates to shots taken, darker color=higher SOT%.
Passing Map. Position indicates average position when they attempt a pass, size indicates passes/90 and color indicates passer rating.