Premier League Strength At The Top, Waste Of Bony And Mané Heat

bony3 Maybe? Six weeks in and a few storylines are taking shape: Jose Mourinho is finished, but maybe he isn't, Antonio Conte has fixed Chelsea, but maybe he hasn't, Liverpool are playing like they've got Luis Suarez in the side, but maybe he left years ago and is shredding the Spanish league and so on. Beyond the tales of narrative what interests me is that over the first six weeks, the goals are (comparatively) flying in. Across the league, 11% of all shots have hit the back of the net and 34% of shots on target. This compares to long term averages of around 9.8 to 10% and 30%. Now the likely explanation here is the same as everything right now: it's six weeks, it's a brief skew, these things happen, but there's a tantalising possibility that it's something else and there are two interesting and possibly interlinked ideas that could be impacting here. Firstly, there's a strong argument that the coaching talent has increased in the league this year, and it's not absurd to think that with that increase in quality is an increase in understanding how important it is to derive high volumes of strong location shots. Better tactical nous should include an understanding that creating clearer and closer shots is a desirable outcome to any strategy, so maybe that's what's happened? Maybe? Another theory is this. Cast your mind back twelve months: West Ham and Leicester were 3rd and 4th on twelve points, Tottenham 9th with nine, Liverpool 12th with eight and Chelsea 15th with seven. Some things were the same, Man City were top, Sunderland were bottom, but there looked to a be a middle class rise, and one that miraculously maintained for Leicester. This usually happens to some degree; a mid-range team or two gets a hot start and is in there pitching during the early months of the season before eventually fading or clinging on to a lower European slot. This season looks very different, and a good deal more orthodox. Having played six games each and discounting the five games between them, the six primary top four contenders, City, United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool have only suffered two defeats and managed three draws. That means they're running at 21-3-2 against the rest of the league, only United at Watford and Liverpool at Burnley have suffered defeat. Dive further in and these teams are averaging 18.9 shots and 6.5 shots on target against the rest while conceding 8.6 and 2.7 and this is powering averages of 2.4 goals scored per game and 0.8 conceded. The middle class spent fortunes in the summer (as did everyone), buoyed by the television money, yet so far the league looks strictly tiered; the big clubs got stronger and have clearly represented that by steamrollering the rest. "But," I hear you cry, "Palace are above Chelsea, and Everton are above them and United" and I reply, "Sure, but each has only faced Tottenham of the big six, and didn't beat them." Southampton and an organised Everton should be able to land comfortably in the top half and if Leicester get a little more organised themselves, maybe they will too but the old order looks to have returned. Is this dominance what is skewing these conversion numbers up? Well, a bit? These teams are converting at high rates in these games, but that's offset to a degree by the opposition not doing so; while it accounts for some of the rise, it doesn't account for it all.  The rest of the league is still playing each other and converting shots at 10.4% and those on target at 33%, higher than long term averages. Maybe this is the short term skew and the big teams' dominance, via relatively fresh, shrewd methods of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte, the goals and shots returning to United and the solid attacks of Arsenal and Tottenham, that is representative of change? Maybe. But it's only six games. We shall see. Some things happen, other things don't

  1. Cold foot, hot foot

It's long been a small side project of mine to ponder about players shooting and which foot they use. Building a new kind of analytics isn't easy and this certainly isn't it but that doesn't mean that questions surrounding what might seem simple aspects of the game do not reward investigation. This topic re-interested me just recently and upon looking at some data from last season it struck me that very simple cases of reversion can present themselves. It once again highlights why process rather than outcome is the first place you want to search for answers when reviewing the abilities of players for whatever reason takes your fancy; be it recruitment, fantasy football or just idle curiosity. Separating players' shot totals into three buckets, right foot, left foot and head and filtering to 30 minimum attempts in the big five European leagues, the top five underperforming players by foot were all examples of players who had so with their right foot.  They'd scored few and way underhit an expected goal value, specifically with that body part. Here they are: xg-unders So what have we got here? A mixed bunch. Werner was part of the Stuttgart car crash shots team that skewed so badly that they went down (but unsurprisingly caught the eye of the smart RB Leipzig recruitment team). Pazzini underpowered Verona to 5 wins all year and they got relegated. Dzeko got a lot of shit for missing a ton of chances at Roma, Belotti showed range and scored four with his left foot, a header and some penalties in a respectable 12 goal season that could have been much more, and the versatile Wagner scored 11 times with his left foot and his head in a fine season for Darmstadt. What came next? Well, Pazzini apart--he continues in the data vortex of Serie B, though has scored a couple--lo and behold, they've all started this season well and having scored 8 goals from 141 right footed shots last year, have each already contributed towards scoring 7 from 37 this.* Quick reversion all round. 2. Sadio Mané Anyway, so what? This is a small sample of a subset, but it does once again highlight that the output (last year's goals) was less accurately reflective than the process (shots refined to expected goals). And for the most part, there's useful enactable truth therein. Step forward Sadio Mané. Last season, a four month stretch of not scoring in the league ended in March with a brace against Liverpool. Up to that point he was underhitting an expected goal volume by a league high volume. His cold streak concealed what was still solid process, and by season's end he'd added six more goals and had "caught up" with broad expectation, as we can see here in his high quality location map: lots in the box and close in: mane At no point did he profile like a player who was failing, yet there were people that questioned his move to Liverpool, perhaps remembering the scoreless run. So far this year he's hit the ground running and looks to be an inspired pick for style, process and output, and for that there are similarities with the suitability of Roberto Firmino last year (who also profiled very well, and ironically for a Klopp team too, since he predated him). This is the second summer in a row Liverpool look to have nailed a big attacking transfer. 3. Wilfried Bony Another player to catch the eye when looking at this is Stoke City's loanee Wilfried Bony. Here's a player that got the big move to Manchester City then went into a huge finishing slump and found himself a peripheral member of the team. I was positive about his move to the Potteries, and confident that Stoke had a good deal here, but damn does he need to find himself quickly. A right footer, he hasn't scored with his right foot in the league since May 2015. His overall shot rate remained high last year at around 4.4 per 90, over three of which were coming from inside the box and he played over 1200 minutes but he could not score with his stronger foot. Landing in a Stoke side that hasn't got anything going at all yet, he's currently scoreless again. What if he was a bad fit at City, but it wasn't really his fault? If we look at his right foot shot maps for the 2015-16 aberration and for the months at Swansea, it's revealing: bony-2-seasons   Under Manuel Pellegrini, City ran an attacking scheme that at times required their strikers to drift parallel towards the near post to receive cutbacks-- think about it, you can see Sergio Agüero doing exactly that--and Bony's 2015-16 shot map suggests that's exactly what he was trying to do (Yellow line indicates parallel to post). However, if we check his Swansea 2014-15 map, 7/8 goals he scored with his right foot were from within the width of the frame of the goal and he showed no particular aptitude for shooting from this near post position. Indeed his whole profile suggests he is a player that particularly thrives very centrally and offers nearly nothing beyond.  There may be more to it: Manchester City would have faced more packed defences than Swansea but the flip to that is that he was often a substitute and rates rise and space can increase late in games. Regardless, the upshot was that between his team mates, himself and the strategists, factors prevented Wilfried Bony from getting good quality chances on his favoured foot in areas he had previously been successful from. It looks as though he dutifully rumbled to the near post and struggled. Again you can visualise this. Think of Bony striking the ball. He isn't a dynamic shooter, he has a more careful sometimes punchy technique and his physical strength allows his more languid style to pay off. Bony is also good in the air, yet despite high shot volumes, City were rarely a team that focused on crossing and creating headed chances. A bad fit? Sure thing, and something you might think that could easily have been identified before spending £30m  (back in 2015, this was a large fee...). It remains to be seen if Stoke City can get the best from him, and hindsight sure helps, but do they even know this stuff? Across his three league games for them his seven shots are all right footed, consist of four beneath the yellow line marked, three from outside the box and he is yet to register a header, so maybe not, yet.   __________________   Thanks for reading @jair1970       *before this weekend anyway, Dzeko kindly went 0/3 right footed and 0/8 all in against Torino, while Belotti nailed a header, won a penalty and landed an assist in the same game.

Scouting Ligue 1: Bordeaux's Adam Ounas

It’s almost become a mini tradition within Ligue 1: over the past couple of seasons a young attacking player between the age of 18-22 makes a leap towards mainstream stardom with a highly successful season. 2014-15 was Nabil Fekir under a resurgent Lyon. 2015-16 was Michy Batshuayi under a floundering Marseille and Ousmane Dembele with Rennes. Before that were the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eden Hazard, players who have gone on to become international stars at Dortmund and Chelsea respectively. Ligue 1 has gained the reputation for being a league where high upside players can be had for affordable prices. Because of the wayward finances of some clubs in France and having to abide by the rules of DNCG, there have been instances where pretty talented players have been sold for rather cheap prices. Dembele for example went to Dortmund this summer for only a reported 15M despite some signs that he could be a genuine top tier player going forward. You would think that level of hype would demand a higher transfer fee but combine the factors of Rennes not being the greatest financially and limited time remaining on his contract and what you got was a value fee. Adam Ounas from Bordeaux could be the next one to join the list. In his age 19 season, he produced 0.44 goals per 90 which isn’t too shabby a rate on a club that was managed by Willy Sagnol, who from all accounts looked overwhelmed at the position. Highlighting the next exciting attacking player is not an exact science but let’s give it a shot: Is he a shot monster? Well he shot 3.1 times per 90 as a winger at age 19 so that’s promising. Are those shots coming from good locations? Well not quite but some of the shots that are inside the box are higher quality so there’s something to work with. ounas-1 Can he dribble? Well 6 attempted dribbles per 90 at least tells us that he tries a lot to run at them How about as a playmaker? Nothing of note really yet but forgivable seeing as he’s still 19 on a mediocre Ligue 1 side ounas-2 How about his decision making? Well let’s get to that. So here’s the thing. Adam Ounas profiles quite well statistically especially considering Bordeaux are a club without a recognizable star like Lyon have or being on a super team like PSG are. As a shot taker, the ability to create semi decent shots consistently is a skill and to this point Ounas’ skill set would dictate that he can grow into being that type of player. Taking over 3 shots per 90 and accumulating a decent xG90 rate is promising stuff, and again, he’s only 19. This is the type of profile as a team you would love to get cause the upside is massive. But yet I can’t shake off this feeling of not totally being in love with him despite the numbers. To be clear, Ounas is a very talented prospect but perhaps it’s the amount of times he settles for long range screamers or how many times he would cut into the final third with throughball opportunities or opportunities to recycle possession, but ignore them. While the talent is massive, I don’t think he uses it anywhere near as efficiently as he could. Some of it is due to environmental factors surrounding him (poor coaching, shaky roster etc..), some of it is also due to him being 19 years old, but it also as well comes down to a probable contrasting idea of what a good shot is versus what isn't. Good There’s the old saying of players being worth the price of admission because of how electrifying their dribbling can be. Dembele last season was the perfect example because he made fools out of everyone last season, plus those dribbles at times led to him either creating good opportunities for himself or for his teammates. While Ounas isn’t quite adept at doing the latter, his ability to shift and juke past multiple defenders is quite frankly fun as hell to watch: https://streamable.com/z3wg There’s a value to be had for a winger who can constantly get his team from the middle third to the final third by himself. With a better attacking structure, this can lead to creating high quality chances on enough occasions that it would become a massive boost for a club. Hazard was arguably the best player in the PL in 2014-15 because of his insane ability to do one man dribbling crusades into the box and create for others. Riyad Mahrez won plaudits for his ability to do both that and also be a threat to shoot. Ounas right now is somewhere in between: he can get into the box decently enough but it’s mostly for him to shoot first and pass second. Where he thrives as with most pacey attackers is in transition. There are very few players in Ligue 1 who can keep up with him in non structured scenarios even if his decision making isn’t quite there yet. https://streamable.com/a0h8 https://streamable.com/1be0 This is Adam Ounas at his best. Even if it's not always efficient, the volume of these opportunities can tilt the scale towards his favor. Bad The same ability to create a shot out of very little can be Ounas’ worse enemy as well. Take for instance this play ounas-3 Now yes, a throughball pass to Khazri could very well end up being a shot from the wide space of the penalty area or even a cross. In the hierarchy of throughball chances created, this would be much lower down. But still that opportunity carries a considerably higher chance of something good happening than just launching a shot from Ounas’ location. Those type of distance opportunities get connected at around a ~3% clip. So what happens? https://streamable.com/w41g Oy Vey! Now if this was something resembling a one off then it would be fine enough. The very best teams in the world can create systems where they can repeatedly take good-great shots and well, he doesn’t play on one of those teams. As an inverted wide man on a Ligue 1 club with very little attacking structure, that role can at times lead to wayward shots. The thing is that these moments aren't few and far between and games featuring Ounas have these groan inducing shots. Here’s another example: ounas-4 In fairness, there isn't much in the way of throughball opportunities here as Lyon congest the pitch. Really there's only two options: recycle the ball to a nearby teammate and continue to probe for a better opportunity (which does carry the risk of nothing good ever emerging) or pray that a shot in that scenario does anything of worth. What happens here? https://streamable.com/nxtt It's situations like this that give you a greater appreciation for teams who train their players to value possessions and not give defenses an out, especially defenses that generally defend deeper. Ligue 1 is a league where generally teams defend with lower blocks so what they're looking for is crosses from further out and bail out shots like this. The more teams probe around and carry the threat of goal, the better. Of course there's a billion factors that go into being able to construct that type of offense but the point still stands. I would also guess that Ounas is also one of numerous players who have a higher opinion of the probabilities of these type of shots going in. Soccer in the end of the day is about probabilities; the more times you can create high quality chances, the better chance you have in winning. Instances like this don't help with that. How he stacks with his peers The obvious comparison is with Nabil Fekir, both in terms of their body composition and their general style of play. Both are left footed who in a perfect world like to cut into the middle all the time. It can even be argued that when it comes to athleticism, Ounas has an advantage over the Lyon starlet. During Fekir’s breakout season, he got to play the majority of it as a second striker which allowed him more freedom to roam around and dictate at his pace. He’s more cerebral than Ounas and used it to maximize his shots from open play. At times it feels like Ounas is just rushing possessions for the sake of it, ending up with 23 yard shots that had minuscule chances of going in. It can’t be denied though that there is also statistical merit towards the comparison between the two. In fact, even with all his flaws in structured scenarios, Ounas production stacks up quite well compared to some of the young attacking talents that have plied their work in France over the past two seasons:

Players Minutes xGxA p90 NPGA p90 Shots p90 xG per shot Dribbles p90
Fekir 14-15 2877 0.51 0.69 2.75 0.11 3
Carrasco 14-15 2922 0.45 0.49 2.34 0.09 2.71
Silva 14-15 2390 0.43 0.45 1.28 0.19 1.51
Batshuayi 14-15 996 0.67 0.81 3.25 0.19 1.9
N’Jie 14-15 1603 0.61 0.79 2.75 0.16 2.13
Dembele 15-16 1702 0.53 0.85 2.85 0.12 4.87
Ounas 15-16 1241 0.45 0.44 3.12 0.09 3.19

It’s an accomplished list. Fekir looked like a budding superstar before knee problems got in his way, Carrasco has gone on to do well with Atletico Madrid, and Dembele was the brightest thing in Ligue 1 last year before hitting the jackpot by going to a manager like Thomas Tuchel. Plus, this list doesn’t even include the likes of Thomas Lemar and Maxwell Cornet, who so far profile quite well going forward. The only player in this list who has the potential to not look so great is N’Jie and even his development since leaving Lyon could be explained away through unfortunate timing, injury, and now having to play for the worst Marseille side in decades. It's a credit to his talents as a player that Ounas can produce this level of results even if the process behind it isn't the most cerebral. It is interesting that in his first two starts to the season, Ounas played much more on the left side in something resembling a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2, a staple of new manager Jocelyn Gourvennec. Playing a naturally left footed player on the left side does eliminate some of the bad habits of taking the type of bad shots that have made Andros Townsend a household name, but it could also make it hard to get traction in the middle of the park and Ounas’ crossing isn’t really a strong suit. To this point it’s been a mixed bag: an encouraging performance versus Lyon but an infuriating one against Angers a week later. Conclusion In relation to players such as Batshuayi or Fekir, Adam Ounas is possibly more of a risk. There are a lot of rough edges to his game but  he’s not turning 20 until November and to this point has not even played 2000 career Ligue 1 minutes. Plus, with all due respect to Bordeaux last season, he didn’t play with a lot of talented attacking players. This time around they’ve signed attacking talents like Francois Kamano and Jeremy Menez alongside an accomplished passer in Jeremy Toulalan so that excuse can’t be used. Plus, their January signing in Malcom so far this season looks like a genuine talent. The hope for both him and the club is perhaps with the elevated talent and better structure, it can lead to more opportunities for higher quality chances which in turn will produce results. There are a number of talented wide players who if you could fix their shot locations to an acceptable amount could become stars. Ounas is one of the poster boys for that. His gifts technically are superb but they go to waste when he settles for hopeful shots. The good thing though is he’s young enough as a player where he could absorb the teachings of coaches who tell him to knock it off with some of his habits. If he can find a happy medium between creativity and efficiency, Adam Ounas could be the next Ligue 1 starlet.

A toolbox for football analytics

noahs_ark My article "Towards a new kind of analytics" published on this site several weeks ago has received a lot of attention, for which I am very grateful. Most feedback I received though was along the lines of "this is all well and good, but how do I go about doing this kind of stuff?" This follow-up is designed to answer this question in a narrow sense, by listing some of the basic computational and statistical tools that I found indispensable in "proper" analytics work.  As I argue in that previous article, the lowest-hanging fruit in football analytics has been picked and basic tools aren't sufficient anymore. To put things bluntly, the vast majority of analysts active in the public sphere today need to make a qualitative methodological leap forward or lose contact with the state of the art forever. The narrative link list below is divided in three parts: databases, programming and statistics. *** Databases *** You must kill every thing you love, and that includes Excel, because a well-organised data store is critical to your analytics pipeline. It ensures that you have a single cross-linked source of data that you can curate and keep up-to-date, and it minimises the time required to extract and prepare datasets for analysis. In practice, this means a relational (SQL) database. SQL is an industry standard language for extracting ("querying") data from highly optimized databases. It was designed to be relatively easy to use by people without programming background, and I would say that this goal has been achieved -- I have personally converted several non-technical people into able SQL query-writers. To use SQL you must operate an actual database containing your data. There are two basic questions here: what database variety to use, and where to run it. Starting with the latter, it is certainly possible and an entirely reasonable initial step to maintain a database on your personal computer. However, having it in the cloud is the superior option, because you don't need to worry about setup, backups or power failures. Amazon Web Services (AWS) offer a year's worth of free database hosting, so you can start with them and after a year either pay to continue or move to another solution. As to what flavour of SQL to use, I recommend MySQL if you have no previous relational database experience, and PostgreSQL otherwise. My impression having used both is that  PostgreSQL is vastly superior to MySQL in a number of aspects, but trickier to tame without experience. If you go down the MySQL route, the MySQL Workbench is the leading front-end to MySQL databases. *** Programming *** In an ideal world, analytics requires little actual programming: the right data emerges from the database in the right form for a machine learning algorithm to analyse it and report the results to you. The practice makes a cruel mockery of this vision, and as an analyst I spend most of my time programming rather than designing models and analysing results. The three most common programming tasks that I have to perform are: loading raw data into databases; transforming the data extracted from a database into the form required by statistical software; and validating and reporting the results of my analyses. I suspect that the experience of other analysts is broadly similar. Thus, unless you work in a team or have a programmer accomplice, you need a decent grasp of a programming language to do football analytics well. Two languages are the overwhelming  favourites of the community: Python and R. My general advice on which one to choose is this: if you know basics of one of these, stick with it and put in the effort to learn it to a good standard. If you don't know either, learn R. Personally, I believe that as a programming language, R is an abomination and it really ought to be banned; but it is also the pragmatic choice for football analytics, because of the breadth of statistical methods available, and because two truly game-changing packages due to Hadley Wickham, dplyr and ggplot2 can take care of 95% of your data manipulation and visualisation needs. RStudio, also from Wickham, is the leading environment for R development. The Advanced R book (guess the author) is in fact not that advanced in the first few chapters and is a decent guide, unless you're truly starting from zero. If you go down the Python route, install the Anaconda distribution, which pre-packages Python 2.7/3.5 (either is fine) for data science, including the scipy, numpy, matplotlib, statsmodels and scikit-learn add-ons essential for data analysis. PyCharm is a wonderful, feature-rich Python editor. An added benefit of Python is that you can use it to structure and query your SQL database using so-called ORMs, that is a technology that integrates the database with the language so closely that database records appear as variables directly in the code and you can manipulate them without SQL (I have no doubt that R has ORMs too, but the mere thought makes me shudder). The two leading Python ORMs are Django and SQLAlchemy. I use the former, which is actually a complete framework for database-driven websites, but SQLAlchemy is a perfectly fine choice too; Soccermetrics use it, and you can find plenty of code samples in Howard's repos. Lastly, whether you end up with R or Python, version control software (VCS) is essential. VCSes let you move easily between multiple versions of your code and thus make sure that nothing you ever write is lost and also help you understand how your code evolved over time and why. There is no better VCS than Git. If you can afford it, pay GitHub 7 money/month and they will host your code in private repositories, and you can use their excellent web interface which adds tons of genuinely useful features on top of Git itself. If you'd rather not pay, Bitbucket will host private repos for free, but the interface is atrocious. The last option is GitLab -- it is free and the interface is perfectly decent, but you have to host the code repository yourself. In all cases, you will have to learn Git itself, which is a command-line program of considerable complexity, but understanding the basic commands (checkout, status, add, commit, push, pull, branch) takes no more than a day and is all you are going to need. The official Git webpage linked above has plenty of good educational resources. *** Statistics *** Perhaps my main complaint with the public analytics today is that the analysts do not use the proper statistical machinery to tackle their questions. As I have said before, all progress on the key analytics questions than can be achieved with counting and averaging event data has been achieved. Football is complex and football data is noisy, and to derive robust insight, powerful, specialist tools are necessary. Unfortunately, learning advanced statistics on your own is a challenging and long process, and despite having been engaged in it for the past several years, I have only scratched the surface. Perhaps the more efficient way of doing it would be to attend an online course, or follow a general statistics textbook. I can't recommend any particular course but I can't imagine that a randomly chosen one can do harm. As to textbooks, Cosma Shilazi's draft is very decent, as is Norman Matloff's (Thom Lawrence's find), and they are both free. Gelman et al.'s Bayesian Data Analysis is a comprehensive, advanced treatment of, erm, Bayesian data analysis, and if you google hard enough there is a PDF of that on the web too. One concrete statistical method that I believe is simple enough to get a grip on very quickly but could instantly improve a majority of your analyses is Generalized Linear Models (GLMs). GLMs generalize linear regression in two ways: first, the dependent (predicted) variable doesn't have to be a linear function of the predictors variables anymore, and second, the distribution of errors is not necessarily Gaussian. Because of these two areas of added flexibility, many of the common football analytics models fit in the GLM framework. An expected goals model can be a GLM but so can a score prediction model or a power ranking, and so on. R has the in-built glm function, which allows you to specify GLMs with a single, powerful command, and the payoff is great: you get the coefficients, statistical significance and fit diagnostic all for free. *** My objective in this article is to enable budding football analysts to build a platform from which they can analyse the game in the most efficient way possible, meaning maximum insight for unit of time spent. Unfortunately, unless you're already half-way there, this entails a heavy initial time investment. In my view it is not just worth it; is it a necessary precondition for serious work. If serious work is what you have in mind, do not hesitate for ask me on Twitter (@statlurker) for further pointers.   Many thanks to Thom Lawrence for his feedback on this article.

NEW TECH and A Little Story About Neymar, Andros, and Eden Hazard

Football Analytics has a learning curve. That's great, because learning is a fun, though occasionally painful process. This summer I did a review of my past work, and there's some cool stuff in there from the early days along with some really boneheaded mistakes. It doesn't matter how smart you are - your work is not going to be perfect when it comes to something new. The trick is simply to get over it and do better next time. Today, I wanted to talk a little more about what I learned regarding player evaluation while going from zero knowledge in 2013 to running worldwide recruitment for two clubs in 2015. As part of that, I'll introduce the new attacker radars in print for the first time, and I'll talk about three of the most famous players in the world: Neymar, Eden Hazard, and... Andros Townsend?!? Learning Curves One of the first things you do when looking at a new data set is immediately boil it down to the important stuff and focus on that: What is correlated with [important stuff?] What causes [important stuff] to happen? In football, we care about goals. In fact, for some pundits, that's all they care about. The only number that matters is the score. Imagine a classroom of ten-year olds talking through the data. Alright children, today we are going to talk about football. Match of the Day and legendary England striker Alan Shearer said we care about goals more than anything else. So the first thing we have to ask is, what causes goals? "Shots, shots cause goals!" Excellent, Timmy. You're too young to remember, but Alan scored an awful lot of goals back in the day. Now if we take a step back and say we care about "scoring", which is actually a superset of goals, what else might we care about? "Assists! Assists are passes that created a goal. They should count too." Great. Now we have goals and assists. And let's find one more element to look at here - what do exciting players do a lot of when they attack? "They uh... elbow people in the head?" I know you like Diego Costa, David, but that wasn't quite what I was going for. "They dribble?" Outstanding Samantha. So lets see if shots, assists, and dribbling are a great start to finding players who score more goals. End Scene It's a bit forced, but this is literally what most people do when they start analysing football, which is great, because it's an excellent, logical process. There's one missing step in here going from assists to key passes, which is the functional equivalent of going from goals to shots, but that's it. Want to find interesting attackers? Look at shots, key passes, and successful dribbles. Do this and good players start to magically show up at your doorstep. For instance, take the numbers for these two guys... andros_v_neymar_crop We've isolated what we care about in attackers, and these two young guys stick out like sore thumbs. They are similar ages, and even play for bigger clubs in good leagues, so there are no worries about league translation or anything like that. Indicators are that Andros might actually be a slightly better player than Neymar, but they are both very good for their age. Plot them side by side on the original forward radars and you get this. andy_and_neyney Given our earlier conclusions about certain stats driving scoring outcomes, this begs the question... townsend_frustration Looking at this objectively, there might be a flaw in our process. These two players have a lot of similarities in driver stats, but the thing we actually care about - scoring - is massively different. Were either of the players lucky/unlucky in their output? Is it a teammate problem? A coach problem? You can think of a million different possible reasons why scoring might be different, but guessing is unacceptable. So we now go back to the drawing board to find more clarity. There are lots of ways to do this, but one of the simplest, most effective ways of going about it stems from one of the most important lessons you learn as a data scientist. Always plot your data. Here we take locational data for shots and add it to the MK Shot Map format... and you get this. andy_neymar_shotmaps (click to embiggen. Made with Opta data) Oh. Oh my. That's... I mean... It's as if someone put a force field around the danger zone shooting ring for Townsend, and he's not allowed to have the ball in that area. Meanwhile, almost every shot Neymar takes is from prime real estate. The reason for potential problem we flagged up earlier immediately becomes clear. So using numbers and visualizations, we have gone through a three-step advancement in the player evaluation process. Step 1: These are numbers we care about. Let's look at those and see what happens. Step 2: Visualizing them on the radar charts while normalizing them for the population shows that we might have a hole in our basic process. Was Townsend unlucky not to score from all those shots? How do we get more clarity on this? Step 3: Visualizing the data on shot maps makes the problem crystal clear. Neymar takes great shots. Andros takes terrible shots. In fact, Neymar's expectation of scoring on an average shot is more than five times greater than Townsend's. This in turn has an absolutely massive impact on their probability of scoring a goal from any particular shot. Other Holes in the Process - The Eden Hazard Problem Obviously with attackers we care about scoring, but what about players we know from watching have a huge impact on the game, but for whatever reason don't show up very well in traditional scoring stats? To put it another way, how do you find players like Eden Hazard? Hazard might have been the best attacker in the Premier League in 14-15, but his scoring stats weren't close to overwhelming. eden-hazard-2014-15 What can we do to tease out more data and find elite players who don't always directly contribute to goals or assists? For me, the answer was to take another step back in the process. We look at key passes and shots and they matter, but what about the ability to generate successful touches inside the box? And since football is fundamentally a passing game, what about players who are able to make successful passes into the penalty box, which might be one of the rarest skills in the game? So I created two new metrics:

  • PINTO = Successful passes in TO the box
  • TINDA = Successful touches inside 'DA box.

It turns out when you start to isolate players by this particular combination of skills, you get a useful additional perspective on players who contribute to scoring, both directly and indirectly. pin_tin_scatter Thus a new format of attacker radars was born. eden-hazard-2014-15_predictive I called the new template "predictive" because at this point in my head, I was thinking of the old template as "narrative." The new template took a step back from narrative stats about what happened (goals, assists, goal conversion, etc), and started to use a few of the advanced, more predictive measures we'd developed since I created the early versions. The new format more clearly illustrates what a monstrously talented creative player Eden Hazard was that season compared to the population of attackers. (Note: OP stands for 'Open Play' which I get asked constantly on Twitter) Finally, circling back to our initial comparison, this is what those Townsend and Neymar seasons look like on the new template. andy_ney_ney_predcitive_radars Conclusion Learning how to use football data better is a process, but it's a worthwhile and rewarding one. The new radar format came about from continually asking questions on how to analyse the data better. Can we iterate and improve on old metrics? The old format was good as a starting point, but the new format shows player value much more clearly. It also contains years of work and improved understanding about how both the data and the game operate. It's also worth noting that even this "new" tech is 18 months old. If you are a club and interested in seeing some of the new stuff we've developed in the intervening months, drop me an email at mixedknuts@gmail.com. The latest tech is both cool and extremely useful in helping your club make better decisions, both on the pitch and off. --Ted Knutson @mixedknuts

StatsBomb 2016-17 Round Table

excalibur2 Welcome to StatsBomb’s belated 2016-17 round table. We’ve assembled some of the sharpest minds from around the public analytic sphere and asked for opinions. No modelling here, just hunches, feelings, inevitable bias and varying levels of seriousness. And of course, being mostly real stats men, it turns out our opinions are a lot like those of real football men, from the heart and er... often quite similar. 14 questions, so without further ado: who thought what?

  1. Who wins the PL?

Ted Knutson: Pep. Marek Kwiatkowski: Man City. They have the best players and the best manager, and they seem to have hit the ground running. Will Gurpinar-Morgan: Manchester City. Plenty of good numbers under the hood last season, even though the results didn't follow plus a lot of new talent brought in or back from injury. Also, some guy called Guardiola. Dustin Ward: If I had to bet at current odds: Chelsea (Man City a bit more likely) Paul Riley: A team from Manchester. They have the best managers who can blend both defence and attack and they bought pretty well. Pete Owen: Manchester City James Yorke: Nearly everyone has said City and I agree. I thought that beforehand and still do, but then I said that last year and they promptly turned to shit. Pep won’t let that happen. Mohamed Mohamed: Manchester City. It's a bit scary that already the team is starting to pick up his positional principles in different phases. Sterling looks great and Gundogan hasn’t even played yet. There's still some worries with their defensive personnel particularly their creaky fullbacks Flavio Fusi: I was asked the same question before the start of the season and I said Manchester United. Now that I have seen how fast Guardiola managed to implement his principles at City and the Manchester Derby, I am less confident about my prediction, but I still think that Mourinho’s team could outclass pretty much any other team and so even if they won’t win I don’t think they will finish worse than a close 2nd. Clarke Ruehlen: Man City. Now my prediction model had Spurs top but it doesnt calculate all the money spent and Pep coming in. So I overruled my model and and I am picking Man City. Benjamin Pugsley: Who wins? Seeing as Arsenal's true level seems to be last years shot volume, not last year's locations of shots then… Okay, an admission: on the eve of the 16/17 I was a little jumpy/edgy/grumpy about just how quickly the Man City players could take to Guardiola's complex, and very different, system. Could the aging dogs be taught new tricks quickly enough for City to be good in the first 10 games or so? I was skeptical. It seems those doubts were misplaced, sort of. City are 4 from 4 and have looked great in spells, although we wait for a complete 90 minute smackdown that is surely just around the corner. With only Spurs (a) and Chelsea (h) to cause any real worry over the next 10 games it is reasonable to project that City may have a sizeable points lead at the top before they have really, truly, fully grasped Guardiola's system in its entirety. City's #1 D (Kompany), #1 Mid (Gundogan) have yet to feature. Add incredibly exciting prospect Sane and Jesus to this squad and it is difficult to see past a Man City team that should gradually improve for the rest of the calendar year. So much for tear-down rebuilds, hey?

  1. Top Four?

Knutson: Too soon to say. 2 Manchester clubs, Chelsea and X. Kwiatkowski: City and Arsenal for sure. United, Chelsea and Tottenham to fight for the remaining two spots. Gurpinar-Morgan: Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal/Liverpool (Head/Heart). Ward: Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool Riley: United, City, Chelsea and Tottenham are posting strong numbers already. Arsenal are lagging behind a bit. Could they finally miss out? Let’s be brave and say, yes. Owen: City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool Yorke: Arsenal and City are certs to my mind and I think Chelsea have already shown that they will fend off the crap teams with ease and that might be enough for them. Obviously Spurs for the last slot Mohamed: Arsenal, Man City, Man United and Tottenham in some order Fusi: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea (the fact they won’t take part in European football will be a big boost for them) and Liverpool. Ruehlen: Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal. Given how Chelsea have started it seems mad to not put them in the top4 but I am not so now they will probably win the league. Pugsley: City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool. I can't put United in here, not with squad, not playing this.

  1. Top goalscorer?

Knutson: Etienne Capoue or Leroy Fer. (Agüero) Kwiatkowski: Sergio Agüero. He's been the best striker in the league for many seasons now, and City will batter quite a few teams on their way. Gurpinar-Morgan: Agüero. Ward: Agüero Riley: Agüero if he stays fit, if not, Ibrahimovic Owen: Zlatan Yorke: Agüero remains the one peak age top class forward in the league Mohamed:  As long as he stops elbowing people in the head, seems like it's Sergio Agüero's award to lose. Fusi:  I accept the risk of sounding banal and I say Sergio Agüero. A more adventurous pick could be Diego Costa, but he need to increase the amount of shots he takes inside the box (2.6 p90 so far), or to over-perform in terms of conversion rate to become a serious contender. Ruehlen: Ibrahimovic - He may play every minute of every league game as Jose claims he will play a different 11 in Europe as to the league. Pugsley: James will say Lukaku.....tough to look past Agüero, unless Pep overplays him and his legs go. Too many setup high-skill setup men at City for him not to score shitloads.

  1. Relegation?

Knutson: Sunderland because they get relegated every year. Kwiatkowski: Hull, Burnley and I'd love to say Sunderland, they've had it comingfor a long time, but actually I think that Moyes will keep them unflushable comfortably. Watford? Gurpinar-Morgan: Hull City, Burnley. Poor starts from Swansea and Stoke after underwhelming numbers last year - could come down to managerial firing and hiring decisions? Ward: Hull, Burnley, Watford (West Ham most likely to bet at current odds: want it noted this was written before the loss to Watford) Riley: Burnley already look horrific on the numbers. Bournemouth and Watford aren’t far behind and I don’t get the way they re-shaped staff and players this summer. Bournemouth needed to shore up a porous back line. They haven’t. Watford needed to open out more and they hired Mazzarri. Owen: Burnley, Hull, West Brom Yorke: Bournemouth are the one bet I placed and it’s not much of a stretch to add Hull and Burnley, but as ever the title of least worst will be keenly fought, with Stoke and Sunderland looking terrible so far too. Fusi: I do not think that Hull and Burnley have the qualities to survive in the Premier League. Sunderland are my third relegation candidates, but Bournemouth will be in the mix too. Ruehlen:  Burnley, Hull, Middlesbrough. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Lots of relegation candidates out there. Pugsley: Burnley, Sunderland (finally) and fuck it, West Brom (Pulis doesn't belong in the PL anymore)

  1. Best transfer? (PL or otherwise)

Knutson: Looking back a few years from now it could be Rob Holding. This year it's hard to see past Sadio Mane's huge impact at Liverpool. Kwiatkowski: Hojbjerg to Southampton? Tremendous player by all accounts (including me watching him for like a total of 90 minutes in his entire career). There a few quieter buys that look like spectacular value. Bravo to City and Holding to Arsenal for example. I'd go as far as to say that none of the "marquee" signings stand out as particularly inspired, though I love both Xhaka and Musafi for Arsenal - near world-class quality at good price. Saido Mané has looked great for Liverpool, he fits their style very well. Gurpinar-Morgan: Martin Škrtel for actual money. Ward: Paul Pogba, sometimes you just forget the financial side as a fan and decide getting one of the best players you can is a good thing. Riley: Batshuayi (young, eager, ability, top tweeting too) or Ibrahimovic (presence, character, still able) Owen: Definitely a biased Liverpool fan's perspective who's recently been spending too much time justifying transfers. But for transfers that improve a team the most for the cheapest I'd have to go with either Karius and/or Matip providing much needed help sorting out Liverpool's defense at a cost of next to nothing. Yorke: To get on the analytics hipster hype train, if Tottenham had signed Naby Keita, Timo Werner and Oliver Burke, i’d have been well excited, so credit to RB Leipzig for paying for fun. Back in the Premier League, Sadio Mane is about the closest you get to a zero risk transfer. Mohamed: Idrissa Gueye to Everton. He's by far not the best player, but Everton truly needed a ball winning midfielder with legs to stop the leakage of shots coming against their goalies. Combine that with his paltry transfer fee and Everton got a good player who fills a pressing need. Fusi: Ilkay Gundogan for €27 M is a serious piece of business. Even if he is quite fragile, you could have not picked a better midfielder for that money. Regarding the Serie A, the best transfer is either Banega to Inter for free or Bruno Peres to Roma on loan with an obligation to buy based on performance, for a total reported fee of €13.5 M. It’s true that after the deals involving Ljajic and Falqué the Giallorossi have a special relationship with Torino, yet in the current market, his cost should have been around € 10 M more. Pugsley: No idea....Isaac Success? I can't look past Gundogan for £19m, if fit. I didn't pay that much attention to transfers this year after I quickly realized that everyone was gonna blow their brains out on meh talent  

  1. Transfer you hate? (PL or otherwise)

Knutson: Non-Sissoko/Bolasie edition? Probably Andre Schurrle, though I understand Tuchel might view him as the player who was immense at Mainz instead of the more average guy who has been around since then. Kwiatkowski: Ibrahimovic. Overpriced, overrated and older than me. I had hoped he'd do a full Falcao, but seems to be doing alright for now... very annoying. Gurpinar-Morgan: Martin Škrtel for actual money. Ward: Not sure if hate is the right term here as I think Pep can mold anyone but Leroy Sané's price seemed really inflated Riley: Hate’s a strong word. Ibe for £15m and Ayew to West Ham for £20m take some beating, though. Owen: Bolasie. Actually think Everton get worse with this transfer since Bolasie will be taking minutes off Deulofeu's playing time. Yorke: Barcelona spending fortunes on sub par backups Mohamed: To be honest I could've picked some of Everton's transfer but let's go with Jordan Ibe to Bournemouth. Bournemouth paid a steep steep price at £15M for a player that no one knows if he's any good. Then combine that with the buyback/sell-on clauses, Bournemouth will probably not even get the high upside of Ibe becoming a real player for them because Liverpool will snap him up. This is why you don't generally give managers this level of control in the market Fusi: Moussa Sissoko to Tottenham and Yannick Bolasie to Everton, because their output does not justify such expenditures. If you follow me on Twitter you would know I am not a fan of Antonio Candreva, so I was also disappointed to see Inter splashing €22 (+3) M on a 29 years old winger who wastes hundreds of possessions a season with loads of inaccurate crosses and shots. Pugsley: Sissoko, depth guy who adds a different element to Tottenham's midfield but is nowhere near worth the bounty. Honourable shout to Islam Slimani and Jeff Hendrick. tom-sword-statsbomb

  1.  Player of the year? (PL or otherwise)

Knutson: GINGER FREAK Kwiatkowski: Kevin De Bruyne Ward: Eden Hazard Riley: A Hazard resurrection? Owen: De Bruyne Yorke: Maybe someone will score 25-30 goals, juiced by penalties and get the gig Shearer style, while the Ozils of the world watch on in disbelief but I dream of a world in which Erik Lamela hits a world class ceiling. Mohamed: Sergio Aguero. If you're the starting striker on a Pep team, you will get loads of high quality chances coming your way. Fusi: I am still undecided about the PL player of the year, but I am pretty sure that Paulo Dybala will be the Serie A player of the year. Ruehlen: De Bruyne Pugsley: Kevin De Bruyne: Durable, versatile, huge skill, scores, sets up, killer movement, set piece wizard. Lots to like.

  1.  Breakout star? (PL or otherwise)

Knutson: Raheem Sterling. Again. *Plays Redemption Song* Kwiatkowski: Jack Wilsh--just kidding. Kelechi Ihenacho, if he qualifies for the title? Ward: Nathan Redmond Riley: Does Batshuayi count? Owen: Deulofeu or Iheanacho depending on if they get the minutes. Mohamed: Adam Ounas from Bordeaux Fusi: I see Sadio Mané as a player really suited to Klopp’s Liverpool and I seriously think 2016-17 could be his breakout season. Ruehlen:  Nathan Redmond - Finally getting a legit shot as a starter at Southampton. Pugsley: I hope this is the year that Lukaku gets his mainstream dues, but I doubt it. Mane could be a decent shout in a high event Liverpool offense.

  1. Who wins the CL?

Knutson: Not Pep. Kwiatkowski: No idea, and don't really care. Gurpinar-Morgan: Barcelona. Ward: A fully healthy Bayern with Robben, Ribéry and Thiago all at full speed vs a fully healthy Barcelona is all I ask. Would have been more fun with Pep but I still think Bayern would edge it Riley: Bayern? Owen: Barcelona Yorke: Leicester Mohamed: Bayern. Carlo loves him some cup competitions Ruehlen: Bayern Munich. Strong squad, great manager and will likely walk their league allowing them to focus on the CL. Pugsley: Bayern could well land this under Ancelotti although I wonder if their window is slipping away. Madrid added bench depth but I'm not sure Zizou can pull off the trick again. I'm not sure Barca are good enough at the back, or if that even matters!

  1. Team most likely to break into the top seven/eight?

Knutson: Not Southampton... or Leicester... or Hull... are we allowed to pick Everton? Manager upgrade there should propel them back up. Kwiatkowski: Liverpool. Gurpinar-Morgan: Everton. Good numbers and results against the fodder so far. Ward: Bournemouth Riley: Everton under Koeman. Decent start made already. He’ll improve defence and there’s a lot of pace, power and options to change it around up front. Midfield may be a problem, though. Owen: If they'd have signed a decent number 8 I'd probably have Everton battling for the top 6, fortunately for them though Southampton, Leicester, and West Ham have all started poorly so I think Everton should beat them all out for 7th place. Yorke: The league looks pretty set already with only Everton moving from the shit group to the good group Mohamed: Everton reclaim their rightful spot of being "okay" and finish in the top 7-8 Ruehlen: Looking like Everton early and really no one else seems up to the task. Pugsley: Everton? though a soft schedule may be colouring my view so far...... Southampton or Everton.....there's nothing else there after those two.

  1. Player you’re most looking forward to seeing this year? (PL or otherwise)

Knutson: Last time I did one of these I chose Kevin De Bruyne who played no time at all and was sold by Jose to Germany in January. I'm too afraid to pick another one. Kwiatkowski: Granit Xhaka. But mostly I am looking forward to seeing a functional Arsenal midfield again, without Coquelin or Flamini or Wilshere or even Cazorla. Xhaka-Ramsey-Ozil, with Elneny for rotation. Gurpinar-Morgan: Loving watching Roberto Firmino Ward: Naby Keita and Ousmane Dembele to see what all the hype is about and Julian Draxler to see if he can keep up his climb toward superstardom Riley: I’m gonna name an XI and they’re noted for all kinds of reasons: Butland, Mustafi, Stones, Smalling, Brad Smith, Fellaini, Gundogan, Rodwell, Mirallas, Negredo, Ibrahimovic Owen: Looking forward to Benteke 'redeeming' himself after all the stick he's been getting this past year. Without a decent striker I probably would've put Palace in my bottom three, but with Benteke I can see them finishing 10th-15th Yorke: Hopefully Mkhitaryan doesn’t get lost at Utd and i'll always have an extra bit of support for Eriksen and Lamela Mohamed: Gianelli Imbula. He's the next Moussa Dembele and so far Marcelo Bielsa has been the only manager to realize this. Mark Hughes if you're reading this, starting creating a system revolving his amazing press resistant dribbling. Fusi: I am looking forward to see if Edin Dzeko will improve his finishing. Last season he was the only Roma offensive player who underperformed in front of the goal with a meagre conversion rate of the 7.4%. Was it a consequence of variance and of an increasing lack of confidence™ or he is stepping towards the twilight of his career? Well, so far he leads the league in xG and has scored 2 goals. Ruehlen: Dimitri Payet - just a brilliant player. Pugsley: Pogba intrigues, mostly so I can see if he can change my mind about the disconnect I have between his reputation and what I actually see when I watch him play. Is he just a physical freak with bang average processing of the game and not enough craft/skill in f3rd? Positive player: Gundogan

  1. Can anyone overturn PSG/Juve/Bayern?

Knutson: PSG look vaguely vulnerable, but I would guess that's just part of the adaptation to Emery. The other two? Sadly, no chance. Kwiatkowski: Not really. Juventus the most gettable of the three, surely. Gurpinar-Morgan: Ward: No to PSG unless they just stop playing hard like they did 2 years ago. Napoli, Dortmund, and Leverkusen all could be good enough to take advantage of serious stumbles but it would still take a serious stumble. Riley: Probably not. Zzzzzzzzzzzz Owen: Nope/ Maybe Napoli? / Nope Yorke: No. Mohamed: Lyon have looked amazing at times in attack but it's worrying that both the attack is so reliant on Alexandre Lacazette, and Nabil Fekir's knee is starting to give him some trouble again. Assuming both their health concerns go away sooner rather than later, I still believe in the high upside that Lyon have to give PSG a run for their money. Fusi: I think that the gap between these three teams and the rest of their leagues is too big to have an underdog winner. Even without Ibra, PSG is on a total different level if compared to Lyon and Monaco. Juventus is the usual defensive monster and considerably got better on offence by purchasing Higuaín and Pjanić, depriving Napoli and Roma of their two best players. Bayern lost Guardiola, but Ancelotti is another top-class coach and with Hummels, Gundogan and Mkhytarian Dortmund Tuchel has lost three keystones of his team and will likely face Leverkusen competition for the 2nd place on the table, rather than questioning Bayern’s leader in German football. Ruehlen:  Lyon or Monaco could push PSG. Juve and Bayern will likely walk their respective leagues. Pugsley: No

  1. Who wins La Liga?

Knutson: I don't care? Kwiatkowski: Barca or Real. Maybe Atletico. *shrug* (see CL above) Riley: Barcelona. Difficult to see past that forward line, innit? Owen: Real Madrid Yorke: Gary Neville Fusi: I expect Zidane to improve Real from a tactical POV, but I think Barcelona will win again. I believe Atlético is more suited to knockout tournaments and needs something really special to contend. Ruehlen: Barcelona - Messi, Suarez, Neymar Pugsley: Everything screams Barcelona. Both giants have better benches this year which gives them more opportunities to rotate which neither of them will full maximise. Barcelona and el tridente should just about win out

  1. Any other comment?

Kwiatkowski: We really need a new kind of analytics. Riley: I’m feeling the numbers bug again. Watch this space  

StatsBomb: Premier League Round Up, Week 4

We're four games in and have a little more to chew on. Statistical categories are a fair way off providing strong answers and schedules are masking plenty of truths but the hints are getting stronger and even at this early juncture the new order is starting to look a hell of a lot like the old order, or at least the order we used to know before all the cards got thrown up in the air last season. Let's have a quick spin around the league and see what we can pick up. Chelsea It's fascinating to see that Antonio Conte has predominantly laid his faith in Mourinho's team. Swap out Cesc Fabregas for N'Golo Kante and more or less this is the same Chelsea team that both landed the title in 2014-15 and utterly failed to defend it the following season. Freshly installed in Manchester, it could indeed be argued that less has been made of Mourinho's abject failure last season than it could have been, and he's already blaming players again in his new job. But for Conte, to rely on proven players feels symptomatic of an Italian football temperament, and so far beyond that we can see further aspects that are entirely in line with what we might have expected when the Italian took the helm. His Juventus sides were built on strong defences, they conceded very few shots and subsequently, few goals. While Chelsea may rue the goals they have conceded this season, the process is extremely good. They have played four moderate to bad teams and are yet to concede more than seven shots in a game and seven shots on target in total. So what? Chelsea should beat these teams. Well, yes but in outshooting them 3:1 and entirely dominating the ball and resultant opportunities they are going to continue to rack up wins in these types of matches. We do not know how they will be able to fare against better teams and Friday's match against Liverpool will be a good test for both sides. Liverpool Fans are justifiably getting excited about the vigour in Liverpool's attack. It's been noted that Liverpool have scored more goals this calendar year than any other Premier League side and in particular, the addition of Sadio Mane to a revolving attack of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and an Adam Lallana who is currently punching way beyond his long term averageness is proving exciting. Jurgen Klopp's entire tenure is characterised by free scoring matches and having failed to pursue a dominant central midfielder in the transfer market, it remains to be seen if the high energy "we'll score more than you" style has enough about it to avoid banana skins. The flip side is the defence--in 2016 they rank 13th for goals conceded--and errors and a 50% save rate for on target shots this season are familiar woes and still impacting. But then, if the onus is on overall improvement, and if Klopp's emphasis is attack then who knows how far it can take them? It nearly worked for Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14 but it's too early to say. This league looks tough. Styles, Manchester City That links into a broader point about football. While there will always be revered styles and methods that excite the more cerebral football fan, the various tenets of successful football are not fixed. Manchester United's fixture against Manchester City provided a marvellous spectacle but it was impossible to say that beyond the first half hour, in which Manchester City were hard to resist, it was a coherent match of dueling strategies. As each team tore forth into one another, I was reminded that the random factor--where two teams end up unable to exert true dominance over one another--often provides the finest entertainment, and that talent, or mistakes, will divide the best. United and City will no doubt move forward and comfortably defeat many inferior teams by adhering to well theorised strategies, but in the heat of a well contested derby game, fine uncontrollable margins persist. So far City are a slightly chaotic but joyful mess of attacking talent. They look like they have the most potential of the larger teams in the league and having set up with 5:5 attackers/defenders and been largely successful so far it will be interesting to see how their shape evolves once Ilkay Gundogan recovers from injury. Numbers wise, they're running a little on the hot side off solid totals: they're taking two thirds of the shots in their games but their own shots are going in at a generous rate, but have navigated these early games and a new system pretty easily. The bookies have bounced them into odds on for the title and I for one am ruing the bet I never placed at around 5/2. Stoke "Stoke have had a tricky schedule and tend to start slowly" is something I've heard. It mildly masks that Stoke's schedule has been a little bit tricky and they've started appallingly. Through four games, seven shots on target is league low (with Burnley) and when you factor that the two goals they scored were a Bojan penalty and a Xherdan Shaqiri free kick it means they are yet to score from open play. To some degree, they overshot expectation last season and were pretty abject for large swathes, supported by sub par numbers. This year, all of their shot rates are so far bad and all of their conversion rates are so far poor. You can't be bad at everything for long in this league before you suffer consequences and Wilfried Bony is going to need to start scoring quickly, or else Mark Hughes' tenure will begin to look rather frail. West Ham Yet another team that overall overshot expectations revealed by probing numbers last year were West Ham. Their autumn was a string of great fortune and while they generally improved as the year went on, many of their later games turned into goal filled shootouts and they never projected to be quite as high up the table as they finished. That this new season has found a little early strife is not a huge surprise. The bad defensive numbers have continued, but this time round the opposition is finishing it's chances, and when you ship four in a home match to stoic Watford, it's probably time to take stock. There are concerns about creating "home" in a new stadium, but i'd be more worried about the potential integration of  a hatful of new signings into a team primed for a bit of reversion. Leicester Already some cheap points are being scored by Liverpool and Hull fans having "beaten the reigning champions" and the hangover from 2015-16 will continue this week with the strange sight of Leicester and Tottenham both Champions League bound and inhabiting prime roles in defence of the coefficient. The gods of fortune never really caught up with Leicester last season and unless N'Golo Kante was a one man repellent, it looks as if they may be happy to descend on the East Midlands fresh for this autumnal run. Leicester's process--being shredded by Liverpool apart-- is so far quiet good. Leicester's ability to run hot at both ends of the pitch, is not. A cursory look at some early expected goals numbers suggests that after four games, Leicester are the team least close to expectation, which continues to leave a tasty open query as to how good they will be this year. It's a funny old game. _______________________________   Thanks for reading! (I'll likely write this column less frequently this year, but keep checking StatsBomb for content, plenty to come, moreso as the season progresses and the storylines take shape.) @jair1970

StatsBomb Podcast: Post Summer 2016 Transfer Window Wrap

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/281047716" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /] James Yorke and Ted Knutson take a look at summer transfer stories with a statistical angle. Downloadable on the soundcloud link and also available on iTunes, subscribe HERE If you like, we'd love it if you shared it. Thanks!