No Kane, No Gain? How valuable are Kane and Eriksen?

Mauricio Pochettino has had a tricky start to his Tottenham tenure but in his attack, two players have come to the fore: Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane.  Both are now seen as pivotal to Tottenham's attacking schemes but their routes to becoming regular starters at Tottenham have been very different and each has overcome apparent indifference from certain coaches to secure their spots in the team.  But how effective are they?  Does their hype match their achievement?  Let's find out. Neither player featured heavily under Villas Boas, a coach who favoured physicality and experience over guile and youth but it was Eriksen's performance in a 0-1 defeat against Newcastle last season that stood out on the numbers and made him a player to watch; a performance so noteworthy that it was dissected by Ted here on Statsbomb.  Both Kane and Eriksen featured far more often under Tim Sherwood, Eriksen to such an extent that he won the club's Player of the Season award despite hardly featuring during the early months.  Kane featured later on.  Beyond the point  Sherwood had been told he would be leaving he seemingly ignored status and picked teams featuring players he liked.  500 minutes of Premier League game-time was valuable experience for Kane and he showed good form, notable for two encouraging aspects: shot volume and goals. Another head coach offered new challenges and Pochettino seemingly took to Eriksen quicker than he did Kane; he's the only outfielder to start every league match this season.  Kane's route to the first team this season has been more unorthodox. Initially deployed in Europe & seemingly behind Adebayor and maybe Soldado in the league squad, two obvious factors have fast-tracked his step up: the annual disappearance of Adebayor and yet again, goals. We reach 2015 with Kane & Eriksen firmly established as Tottenham's most effective attackers (a quick check over at the contributions at 'Football in the Clouds' confirms this) but how are their games represented within the statistics? Let's see. Kane comes out shooting Those 500 minutes at the back-end of 2013-14 were the first chance Kane had to play Premier League football on a regular basis and within them he showed great promise.  An ability to find shooting positions was matched by a willingness to shoot and he averaged 5 shots per 90 minutes.  This was enough for numbers watchers to raise an eyebrow in his direction as 5 shot a game guys are scarce, but it came with a caveat: 500 minutes is a small sample.  We can see exactly how a high shot average is appealing by looking at this chart that covers the last 4 years of the Premier League: shotsper90avgA list of the great, good and Mario Balotelli. (As an aside, this chart shows exactly how good Aguero has been this current season. He's splitting Messi and Ronaldo with a rate this high.)  So Kane piqued interest but there were easy criticisms that could be made, criticisms that are also often laid at Balotelli.  He was taking a lot of shots but his decision making wasn't always good: a high proportion of his shots were being blocked and there were occasions where shots on target were tame and easy for the keeper to pick up.  The willingness was encouraging and three goals (two headers and a right foot shot) was a very fair return for a still young player new to the league.  It was also enough for the club and its support to accept that he'd be an option as part of the 2014-15 striking corps, a status many fans had been sceptical he would ever achieve. Kane: from the Europa League to Premier League (We can be justifiably wary when discussing Kane in that he is still a young player and any analysis is shadowed by small samples, however, trends are perceptible.) It's easy to forget that Kane started the season down the pecking order at Tottenham. Coach Pochettino, an advocate of a versatile forward in his 4-2-3-1, saw Adebayor as his best option, an understandable decision based on ability, reputation and team ethic. Yeah I know, team ethic? I contend that Adebayor's languid style conceals an intelligent, team-orientated on pitch persona, it's just his ability to be difficult off-pitch has often caused problems and absences.  Aptly, his semi-mysterious omission from the team in early November was the catalyst to elevate Kane to league starter, a position he hasn't looked like relinquishing. Having scored regularly when used in European and cup fixtures, Kane had an opportunity to show that his late 2013-14 flourish was no one-off.  Two months and 8 goals later fans now fear having to cope without him; his transformation from peripheral squad striker to starter is complete. But how has he improved? Which parts of his game have evolved over time and what can we see in his raw numbers? kane The first issue to look at is a reduction in his shot totals.  Pitching in at a shade over 3.6 per 90 is still pretty decent but it's noticeably down on his prior total.  So where have the extra shots gone? The simple answer implies better decision making: kane2 My earlier criticism was that in 2013-14 a high percentage of his shots were either blocked or weakly on target.  A reduction in both these totals suggests the possibility that these may well be areas that he's been working to improve.  Indeed, despite the reduction in shot totals, his goal rate has continued at a similar and impressive level. The other noticeable difference is an increase in dribbling.  Whilst the textbook example is his first goal against Chelsea, in which he picked up the ball on the left flank, headed infield and fired home, my personal favourite 'Kane dribbling moment' is this, from the home game against Man Utd: It also reflects an aspect of Kane's game that didn't register at all last season: creative passing.  I have no idea how he sees this pass to Mason (he got a shout?), let alone executes it with such precision.  Backing this piece of play up, we now have evidence of crossing and through balls, neither of which figured when he was playing in Tim Sherwood's more orthodox 2 striker system.   Pochettino has required him to become more versatile and it shows.  Alongside this, but harder to represent statistically, his ability to hold the ball up and position himself effectively to shield the ball has visibly strengthened over time.  Kane is a consistently smart player. The Lambert Blueprint During a season and a half under Pochettino, Rickie Lambert scored 15 non-penalty goals but more than that expressed appreciation towards his coach for the way he had educated him: “(...) each manager that came in improved me massively and especially Mauricio. He taught me how to be a different kind of player and I think that’s helping now. “(...) He taught me how to be the lone striker and the thing that I was doing wrong most was the fact I thought I had to show for everyone on the pitch. “Whoever had the ball, I felt I had to run over and show for the ball, get on the ball. He was saying ‘take your time’ and ‘wait until the right people have got on to the ball’ like Adam Lallana and others further up the pitch. After that, I had an understanding of how to play that position a lot better.” Harry Kane is known to be an enthusiastic trainer and seems committed to improvement and similarities with Lambert are clear: neither is blessed with pace but both have good footballing intelligence and have now thrived in Pochettino teams.  During his tenure at Tottenham, Pochettino has been demonstrably patient.  None of the summer signings became regular starters immediately and players that returned back late from World Cup duty were slowly reintroduced to the team.  Similarly, one could posit that the sporadic use of Kane in the early months was a deliberate attempt to give him time to learn a role he would be required to play; the lone front man in a 4-2-3-1.  In starting initially with Adebayor, Pochettino not only deferred to seniority and known ability but experience in the role.  It bought Kane some time, he gained experience of the role in Europe, and enabled him to hit the ground running when he finally made the league team. So are there similarities between what Lambert and Kane have brought to each team? kane 3 Anyone would think they've been coached to play the same role!  Beyond the similarities amongst these shooting numbers (a rough 'n ready correlation puts the similarity here at 96%), Kane has a higher rate of dribbles and is scoring at twice the rate (0.64 per 90 to 0.32 per 90) whereas Lambert was more active in the air and in creative passing.  Still, it appears that Pochettino may have found his 'Lambert'. Versatility Kane has also played around a third of his minutes in a more withdrawn attacking midfield role, primarily to accommodate Roberto Soldado, but has generally looked most effective in a forward role.  Whilst his default move may be to drift from the left to create a shot on his right foot, it's notable that he takes all types of shots and scores all types of goals.  This season he has taken 55% of his shots with his right foot and split the rest evenly between his head and his left.  Having turned these efforts into 4 right footed goals, 2 left and 2 headers shows confidence and adaptability.  In this regard he resembles Edin Dzeko, a more pure striker, but also one who year after year consistently finds and takes all types of chances. Alongside his successful integration into the Tottenham first team, it should be noted that Harry Kane is a highly effective 'pro'.  Some players lack the ability to absorb the nuances within the game that might gain advantages for their team; Kane has no such worries.  This trait was highlighted initially with his famed legal time-wasting up at Old Trafford last year, only technically offside when touching the ball he launched it high into the stands, the implication here was clear: the kid knows the rules.  More recent examples include an ability to draw fouls, an ability to draw penalties convincingly and excellent 'lastminutebythecornerflag' work.  And I've not even touched on the statistically hard to quantify quality of his movement and ability to find gaps and spaces; the pros and pundits always pick up on that!  Oh, and he's the size of a house now, which is a new thing too. Harry Kane's early promise has morphed into some realisation of potential and with a game not reliant on athletic speed, his immediate and long-term future should be rewarding. Eriksen: metronome How a player is affected by the tactical variations of their coach cannot be underestimated when looking at performance. In a little over 18 months at Tottenham, Christian Eriksen has had 3 coaches and been required to perform a number of roles based on a single theme: 'attacking midfielder'. That he has come to the fore and stayed relevant is testament to his natural ability and willingness to work for his place. Anyone with any doubts of the Dane's ability need look no further than the 'Crossbar Challenge' recorded some months back as a curio for the official Tottenham site.  It's really well worth seeing:

Spurs Crossbar Challenge - Christian Eriksen Masterclass!

Under Villas Boas, Eriksen on completed 90 minutes in the league once, the aforementioned game against Newcastle. He was then injured and left out of Villas Boas final game, so was never given an early opportunity to settle.  What promise he'd shown was seized upon by Tim Sherwood, who'd reportedly lobbied for his signing, and he spent much of the rest of the season drifting in from the left to good effect in Sherwood's lopsided 4-4-2.  Cue 2014-15, he's started every game and played often but not exclusively in the centre of the 3 in Pochettino's 4-2-3-1.  So: plenty of variation, his relative twofootedness allowing him to be moved around the team, and no small amount of success.  He spent the entirety of 2014 averaging around 0.4 non-penalty goals per 90, an enviable total for an attacking midfielder.  But how else does he contribute? eriksen The most obvious thing to take from this is his consistency. Despite different roles, little in his game has varied over 18 months and he repeatedly hits a shot contribution of over 5 per 90: eriksen2 This makes him a fixture in the top 20 in the league in this metric, Tottenham's chief contributor and one of the higher rated creative types. In fact, he's managing to maintain his rate despite the fact that Tottenham are recording an average of 2 shots fewer per game this season compared to last.  His influence is increasing and he deserves to be mentioned in a similar breath to other feted creators such as Silva, Di Maria, Fabregas, Nasri, Hazard and Ozil. He also possesses a refreshingly small on-pitch ego.  Close attention to his game shows a true team man who contrarily appears uncomfortable with the nature of football stardom: he has no patented goal celebration and often looks bewildered when scoring.  He generally makes very good decisions and this can sometimes make it appear that he isn't attempting to dominate.  This lack of obvious externalised tenacity can frustrate but it misses his intelligence, he continually hits his marks and has this season found himself a repeated match winner. This year and beyond... In yet another season of rebuilding and transition, Tottenham have found themselves with two reliable and young attacking talents.  With other players such as Chadli enjoying their on-pitch roles in the Pochettino regime and the tantalising promise held by Lamela, Tottenham's creative core has high potential.  Issues remain in central midfield, an overpopulated but under-par position and striking depth is a work in progress with aging, huge earners under-performing (Soldado) or disappearing (Adebayor).  The defence is also proving more porous than is ideal but has suffered from an inability to get a regular line-up in front of the often busy Lloris. Most reassuring for the longer term is the age of a large portion of the squad: Bentaleb (20) Kane, Dier, Davies (21) Lamela, Eriksen (22) Mason, Townsend (23) Walker, Rose (24) Chadli (25) All these players are entering their best years and are well established squad members.  The centre back duo of Fazio (27) and Vertonghen (27) also have some time left and Lloris (28) despite the repeated fears of fans, appears well settled. Long term, whether this base will be strong enough to challenge for the top 4 is likely to depend on how many of the creative talents are retained and progress as hoped.  The league gets no easier but in an era of Financial Fair Play, Tottenham appear to have a solid foundation on which to build upon. It is to be hoped that Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen will be key in this process.   ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks for reading!

Premier League Round Up: Tim Sherwood Should Manage Manchester United

Stoke: invisible but effective stoks ranks It's mid-January and  i've finally written about every team in the league.  Last and not least but maybe least interesting is Stoke.  That they lie tenth is fine, the Pulis years were expensive and were spent consolidating the club as a mid to lower ranked Premier League team.  Last season's 9th is a fair benchmark and represented improvement.  The reason Stoke are less interesting than other teams in and around them is the method in their mediocrity:

  • Only once have they followed up a victory with another victory; only once have they followed up a defeat with another defeat. This is fine for them but is media unfriendly: they are never in crisis or ascendancy.
  • Only Villa matches feature less goals.
  • They haven't featured in a match in which either they or their opposition has managed over 6 shots on target. Chelsea are currently averaging 6.2 shots on target per game and QPR are conceding an average of 5.7 per game, so 'over 6' is a rough way of identifying high or low quality performances, as we can see in this unique 'FUN' index:funnofun

A frenzy of goalmouth action is not a hallmark of Stoke matches.

  • Despite being an average shots team both for and against, their ratio of shots on target per shot is league worst and their rate of concession in the same metric is 3rd best. This creates a horribly non-enticing mix; they shoot inaccurately & cause inaccurate shooting:stoke shotsshoke shots b

All of this kicks into few saves being made from the few shots on target and indeed they have a low-ish save percentage.  With improvement here, it's possible that they could have been talked of in similar tones to say West Ham, as it is, the woes of Begovic have only added to their invisibility.  I've tried to find interesting angles regarding Stoke, but they are hard to locate.  That they rank 2nd in shots inside the 6 yard box is as positive as I can be, but in truth, none of this matters.  Their current blueprint is something that all teams that finish beneath them would like to replicate. There may be little excitement in the Potteries but this is a club that enjoyed Pulisball for multiple years.  These are the good times!  Occasional wins against bigger teams will highlight their season and safety will be all but assured with many games to play. It might not be much fun, but being Stoke is a comfortable existence.   Tim Sherwood should manage Man Utd   It's escaped the attention of nobody that Louis Van Gaal has failed to do any better than David Moyes but... sorry?  The what?  The headline?  Ah, the headline.  The thing about Tim Sherwood, yeah?  Well, he'd do better than Van Gaal has, i'm sure.  It's just an idea i've tossed around but Tim Sherwood would get the best of those players out on the pitch: they are world stars!  WORLD STARS!  He'd play them in their best positions, tell them they're better than the opposition, that they're paid a lot of money to entertain and win and to go and do it.  I'm not seeing this from Van Gaal's straightjacket, y'know?  Really not seeing it.  Tim Sherwood.  I know he'd fall out with Van Persie and Rooney. Okay?  OK.  Agree to disagree. So, anyway...  There are issues with the Van Gaal project and the one i'd like to highlight is where a legendary Dutch coach turns Man Utd into a sub-par shots team.  I've got data of varying reliability going back to 2000-01 and in none of those seasons does the data reflect Manchester United as being a sub-par shots team, in fact, in the vast majority of those years they are in the top 3. This season, in a league that is averaging 12.9 shots per team per game, Man Utd are recording 12.4 shots per game. This is entirely unprecedented and quite clearly sub-Moyes.  In fact, if we split the season into two halves of 11 games we can see that Louis Van Gaal has committed a graver sin than previously thought: with regards to shots, he has turned Manchester United into Aston Villa:Utd FA During this period, Utd have been averaging exactly 10 shots per game and have only an extremely high conversion rate of around 17% to thank for their apparent retained form.  Twice, Van Gaal has found his team neutered by his countryman Koeman and overall signs of improvement have been scarce.  It's certain that Van Gaal will retain the good grace of the media throughout the season (he is too intriguing not to) and with his superiors at the club appearing unwedded to a coherent strategy his medium term safety must seem assured. But he needs improvement somewhere.  He needs to find a way to create a dominant team from his elaborately assembled squad otherwise a sequence of years tapping at the Champions League window could well be forthcoming.   Obligatory Tottenham section   Christian Eriksen appears to have developed an invaluable sense of timing and occasion and once more enabled a deserved victory to emerge from the clutches of a frustrating draw. And this was generally encouraging even given the low quality of the opposition.  Players presumed on the verge of being discarded are now featuring as the squad gets tested for the first time this year by the spectre of injury. Lamela and Mason are most obviously out, Bentaleb is in Africa and issues are just severe enough to warrant the thawing out of Adebayor. Less encouraging is news from the wider analytics community.  Colin Trainor trailed a new measure to assess defensive performances (coming soon?) and placed Tottenham dead last, Paul Riley's expG measure thinks Tottenham are as good as Swansea and I could but won't bring up  numbers that place Tottenham in amongst the higher mid-table rather than the top 4. This last point isn't new, and I have spent the entire season presuming that vast strides will be made to nullify earlier insufficient form.  But still, the close wins keep piling up (Michael Caley has already shown that this is unsustainable), the hope remains and Tottenham sit 6th, only a good weekend away from 'the promised land' of 4th and beyond.   Thanks for reading!

Premier League Round Up, 12th January

Queen's Park Basketball As you diligently copy in the week's numbers for further analysis, it's sometimes impossible to avoid noticing trends and one thing that repeatedly stands out is how often QPR games seen to turn into basketball style shoot outs.  They've often contributed to this offensively but primarily they are conceding more shots (and shots on target) than anyone else in the league. And they have done this consistently throughout the year: they haven't had two consecutive matches in which they've conceded under 15 shots or under 5 shots on target.  Their defence hasn't functioned effectively, home or away and only the team's ability to outshoot at home has given them a fighting chance of staying in the league. Amongst their games we've seen a league leading 51-shot brawl against Leicester, last week we saw a 49 shot punch-up against Swansea and this week a 35-shot tussle at Burnley.  The average amount of shots per game in QPR matches exceeds the rest of the league by some margin: shpergamejan15 But is this necessarily a bad thing? After all, one of the main problems for a promoted team is often goalscoring and QPR have outscored all their relegation rivals. Well, having manipulated the numbers to account for a general league wide drop in shots most recently, we can see that teams with the highest combined shot totals tend towards two places: the top and the bottom of the table: shttotalprop09-14 So far, so not good.  Harry Redknapp has historically been happy to share his recovery at Tottenham when rescuing them from '2 points in 8 games' but the similar '4 points from 12 games' Houdini-act proved too much at QPR in 2012-13. They were very bad that year and Redknapp had an excuse of an inherited squad stuffed full of disinterested journeyman big-earners.  That team averaged 0.8 points per game under him, had sub par shot ratios (46% TSR and 41% SoTR), had a 0.6 goal per game deficit and were relegated by 14 points having never got to better than 5 points from safety.  He won 4 games from 26. More bad news comes in the form that although this QPR team is a self-selected Redknapp 'joint', their numbers are barely better than when previously relegated, but this time there is no excuse: 0.9 points per game, again sub-par shot ratios (48% TSR and 41% SoTR), a goal deficit pushing towards 0.7 and now a point from safety.  He has won 5 games from 21.  We can even look to history and simple goals against to conclude our case against QPR: they're 4 clear with 37 and the last team to clearly concede the most goals and survive was Crystal Palace in 1989-90. And yeah, losing all your away games? That's bad too. It's still highly competitive in the lower ranks and QPR seem to have less to recommend than others. If we refer to the previous graph, the low averages recorded by teams that placed 11th-16th suggest that it may be better to be involved in low-shot match-ups and eke out points similar to the manner Aston Villa have than throw caution to the wind and go for broke Redknapp style.  Defence is often said to win titles, but it might just be the difference in repelling relegation too. Southampton: still 3rd, life gets easier Back at the end of November, Southampton were 2nd, had only lost 2 games and I wrote an article in which I was reasonably positive about their prospects based on historical precedent.  The obvious rider attached to their efforts was the fact that their good form had been assisted by their relatively soft early schedule. Seven points clear of 5th, these were clearly good times. With a viciously tough set of games for the team throughout December and over the New Year, many pundits were sceptical about their future prospects and their reticence was borne out by a run of 4 quick defeats. I mean, they even lost to Burnley, the one game they could have expected to get something from; the wheels had come off. Wait up! Four wins from five over Christmas and beyond and the horror schedule is no more! And they are 3rd, so are they still good? Were they ever bad? These still good times, right? After 12 games they ranked as follows: Goals against? 1st Shots against? 1st Shots on target against? 1st After 21 games they rank as follows: Goals against? 1st Shots against? 1st Shots on target against? 1st Their save percentage has held up pretty well too, it's dipped a couple of points (76 to 74%) but still ranks a close 3rd in the league.  The uncommonly extreme advantage they had at 12 games in their raw conversion rate was +8 percentage points and although it has cooled to +5 percentage points, it still measures them as historically 'good'.  What is also impressive is that during this tough period (and remembering they've faced Arsenal and Man Utd twice, Chelsea, Man City and er... Everton) they've outscored their opponents 11:9, maintained a 52% shot ratio and continued to score a very similar percentage of their shots on target as prior.  They have competed well and with nothing particularly scary in their schedule until they face Liverpool in late February, they could well be sticking around. Swansea swansea ranking I've not written about Swansea this year and given that their star forward, Wilfried Bony looks to be joining official NYCFC feeder club, Manchester City, it seems a good time to take a look at how they've been doing.  Between him and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea's attacking has been simply effective: get the ball to these guys and let them work their magic.  Gylfi, who struggled to nail down a regular spot at Tottenham, is a good 'numbers' player.  His 90 minute contribution can fluctuate dramatically but he's an intelligent player with a good shot who will always get his share of measurable attacking contributions.  Bony, more versatile than many goalscorers, cannot be faulted for his contribution since leaving behind a goal-laden season in Holland and heading to South Wales. Indeed, if we refer to an excellent section of the innovative footballintheclouds website, we can see that both players are responsible for over 40% of Swansea's shot contribution when on the pitch.  As a measure of a player's importance to a team, over 40% is likely key.  Di Maria, Eriksen and Aguero are a few others who contribute so strongly.  So for Swansea to lose a player such as Bony mid season is a) bad for them and b) great for Man City. But are they already covered? Gomis has started the last two games and had 14 shots (admittedly one of those games was against QPR).  He's a career 3.5 shots per game forward and although a little on the old side for an ideal signing, could well be a plug and play replacement for Bony.  Certainly, Swansea will not be changing their style and having had half a season of bit part play and watching on, his abilities will now be tested. What may well not pan out for Swansea is that a portion of their relative success this season has defied the average to slightly sub-par numbers they have produced.  Weirdly, they have scored exactly one goal in 9 out of their last ten games and that is a level that will not win many matches.   Along with West Ham, Newcastle and Stoke, i've got them pegged in the 'best of the rest' category but when their shot rankings put them anywhere between 12th and 15th, there is always the concern that a bad run could knock them into no man's land: not going down thanks to early successes and on their holidays by March. Utd/Tottenham get found out, Liverpool raise an eyebrow Almost inevitably given fine margins, Tottenham and Man Utd got found out.  Both teams have been on good runs in recent weeks and have picked up a lot of points in close games on a number of occasions.  Most obviously, Utd's 3 shot miracle win at Southampton, which was successfully vanquished in the return fixture.  Tottenham, so impressive against Chelsea, again found themselves in a tight battle against a perceived weaker club, but unlike when playing at Villa and Hull and Leicester and Swansea, they came out the wrong end of a 3 goal match.  Both teams can consider itself slightly fortunate to be as well positioned in the race for the top 4 given underlying weaknesses in performance levels. But! The hope lives on! It's still early days for Projects Van Gaal and Pochettino and plenty of time for each side's array of disappointing but expensive purchases to come good/get shipped on/be replaced by youth players. In contrast, Liverpool are showing signs of life and continue to be shot heavy despite Super Mario wildly boosting the numbers with his long iron shots.  Dominating Sunderland has recently become a rite of passage for a developing team but they passed this test well and look reasonably capable of going on a run.  Rodgers' teams are prone to slow starts and whilst this season's slow start became a slow middle too, the recent upturn in form has given hope that the top 4 race might not be over.  Undeniably, they will need some good results against their peers (and the prompt return of Sturridge) but the gap to 4th is currently 5 points and is not insurmountable.  The main problem is that 4th might be all that is available, given the cluster of teams well capable of joining the mix.  If Southampton maintain consistency, then one spot between Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd and any other interloper is going to look like a very narrow fit. -------------------- Thanks for reading!  

Who's Good and Who's Bad in the Premier League (by ExpG)?

That big chart you can see in your peripheral vision, that ugly monster of a chart… I promise, I PROMISE YOU that if you give it a chance, you won’t regret it… For those still reading, it’s a chart of how all the Premier League teams rank against each other in both defence and attack. Take the window in the top left hand corner. That thin blue line represents Sunderland’s defensive performance over the first 19 games of the season. So for example, by week 10 the Black Cats were a dead average defensive team compared to the rest of the League. The thin red line represents offensive performance. At the same point in the season, Sunderland were a bottom 3 offensive team. You can tell that by looking at it because that thin red line intersects with the light blue bar that represents relegation (worst 3) standard, at the bottom of each chart. xg ranks The ExpG values used to construct the charts were very kindly provided by Michael Caley whose work you’re probably familiar with – but in case you’re not, go check it out. So there you have it... Cutting edge ExpG data at your fingertips to do with as you wish. Without further ado... Elite Teams

  • Chelsea (14W–4D–1L)
  • Arsenal (9W–6D–4L)
  • Manchester City (13W–4D–2L)
  • Southampton (10W–3D–6L)

Morgan Schneiderlein and Olivier Giroud clearly have better things to do with their New Year’s Eve than to spend it watching film of one another. Both of the suspended Frenchmen are vital to the way their respective teams play, but Schneiderlein will be a bigger loss for Southampton when they play the Gunners tomorrow. When he plays, Schneiderlein turns this team into a defensive nightmare. Chelsea, the best offensive team in the league, managed just one solitary shot on target against Southampton. ONE. That’s not an entirely accurate representation of what last week’s match felt like – particularly in the second half – but it’s still impressive. This team has a lot of smart, young players and the numbers seem to think they’re the real deal. I can’t disagree. They’re in the top 3 defensively, and they’re right up there on offense. With no European competition to worry about, the Saints can focus fully on the League (FA Cup be damned). They have a good chance of being the inverse of last year’s Liverpool team – superb defensively, and just good enough in attack. Unfortunately, they also have a chance of turning into this year’s Liverpool team when Schneiderlein leaves for Real Madrid, and their small squad gets torn apart by injuries and extra games... But that’s next year! Improving

  • Manchester United (10W–6D–3L)
  • Liverpool (8W–4D–7L)

Speaking of… The Reds look to have begun a GaalVanisation of their own. Brendan Rodgers has finally shifted Mr. Liverpool to the bench, but 'The Ageing Steven Gerrard' – now his legal name – still has a big part to play this season. If Rodgers can actually convince him to start as a substitute, Gerrard will be coming on against tired legs that more resemble his own (sub effects!). He’ll be fresher when he starts and he’ll offer a nice tactical change of pace on big European nights… Too soon? Overall though, this team looks more effective without Gerrard in the starting lineup. It turns out that replacing a human turnstile with an actual defensive midfielder will, you know, make your defence better (Arsene take note). But to reduce the tactical changes to a simple Lucas for Gerrard replacement is a mistake. Rodgers, last year’s diamond formation evangelist has, it appears, converted again (isn’t that always the way). Now he’s a believer in the 3-4-3, and you can see why. It means he doesn’t have to worry as much about Alberto Moreno’s penchant for upfield capers and it allows him to put the versatile (and good) Emre Can on the pitch. Earlier in the season, Rodgers called Can a “footballer”, which was disconcerting for Can’s parents who thought he was in medical school, but a relief to Liverpool fans who thought Rodgers had paid £10 million for one of those fictional FIFA players. Monday’s win against Swansea City proved that Can is indeed a footballer, and he looks like a good one too. On top of that, Liverpool have Daniel Sturridge’s return to look forward to. And that’s good news for Raheem Sterling who might finally be able to take a break from the constant running Brendan Rodgers has been having him do since the start of the season. No? Back on the treadmill, Raheem! Varying Degrees of Flawed

  • West Ham United (9W–4D–6L)
  • Sunderland (3W–11D–5L)
  • Crystal Palace (3W–7D–9L)
  • Queens Park Rangers (5W–3D–11L)

Plenty of teams have managed to get into the top four defensively this season (see charts), but it’s a testament to the Black Cats’ gradual progress that they first entered this realm after the 18th round of matches. Gus Poyet has found something in Santiago Vergini, a 6’ 3 utility back signed on loan from Atletico Fenix in Uruguay. The talented but nervy Argentine meshes well with the cool heads of veterans John O’Shea and Wes Brown – Man United’s former backline of the future. Sebastian Coates is certainly nice to have around on hand in case things need freshening up, as is the evergreen Anthony Réveillère . Of course everyone looks a little better with Lee Cattermole patrolling the edge of the box. Cattermole has been out and back into the Sunderland lineup more times than Arsenal players can say “ouch”. He’s a specialist destroyer with a yellow card addiction, but this year he’s only getting booked for the right things (i.e. not fighting or swearing at the ref). Still only 26… The Wearsiders look like a poor team when judged by TSR, (0.435 – better than Swansea, worse than Crystal Palace), but that’s a trick of the light. Poyet’s team allows lots of attempts from low value positions outside the box, but stifles teams in more dangerous areas. Cap that off with height across the back line and a basketball player in goal to deal with set pieces and you get a picture of a team that does a lot of things well defensively. fergie crosses The problems, of course, lie on the other side of the ball. Despite names that would suggest otherwise, fullbacks Vergini and Réveillère offer little going forward, Jozy Altidore hasn’t suddenly blossomed into a Premier League starter and Adam Johnson is consistently inconsistent. Connor Wickham’s a nice player and Sebastian Llarson is a set-piece savant, but that’s not a nourishing enough diet for a healthy attack. That said, this team has an identity on one side of the ball, and that’s more than you can say for most Premier League teams. As for transfers? The right offensive player could make a big difference for this team, but good luck finding Dusan Tadic in the January window. And since there’s no chance of European competition, what’s the hurry? Boring Teams

  • Stoke City (7W–4D–8L)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (9W–4D–6L)
  • Newcastle United (7W–4D–8L)
  • Swansea  (8W–4D–7L)

*Yawn* WTF Teams

  • Everton  (5W–6D–8L)
  • West Bromwich Albion (4W–5D–10L)

Newsflash: It’s time to stop giving Roberto Martinez a free pass. Oh wait, everyone stopped doing that weeks ago? Hmm... Never mind. I thought the Toffees might regress on the defensive end this year, but I never expected them to look so… stilted going forward. Defensively they’re above average – although if you watch them in the last five minutes of close games, it’s hard to tell. Gone are the salad days of weekly Michael Cox articles and with each passing match, the Lukaku signing looks less like a statement and more like hubris. The Gareth Barry signing looks downright dopey. It’s not that he’s been that bad this season, but he’s lost a step (see Gerrard, Steven), and that can make all the difference in the helter-skelter Premier League. At 33, he’s just not the week in, week out player he was last season. And unfortunately, that’s kind of what you want from a £55,000/week player. Especially from one on a three year contract… Yikes. There are other points to make, but I’m tired of being such a misery guts. On the bright side, Roberto Martinez is a very good manager and there’s a good chance that he’ll find/stumble into something that works a bit better tactically. The other nice fillip is that Everton’s Europa League form has been irrepressible – Steven Naismith is deadly as false nine and Lukaku is a willing runner when he’s shunted onto the flanks. It feels like a long road back, but with Arouna Kone fit and ready to make up for lost time and with Ross Barkley looking like a young Blake Griffin - sorry, cross-sports reference, never mind… Anyway, this squad is chock-full of talent, and talent usually figures things out. Who knows, maybe we’ll see them in the Champions League next season! (Via the back door)... “Oh Dear…” Teams

  • Burnley (3W–7D–9L)
  • Aston Villa (5W–6D–8L)
  • Leicester City (3W–4D–12L)
  • Hull City (3W–7D–9L)

This is a direct quote from Mr. Caley, “Hull suck.” Oh dear... Thanks again to Michael Caley for being so generous with his insight and ExpG numbers, and to those reading from home – Hi Morgan! Hi Olivier! – have a Happy New Year!