Chelsea are great but… With a Yaya-free Man City stuttering badly and Chelsea eking out a win against the mighty Villa, there appears to be very little juice left in the title fight. I was prepared to row against the models and say ‘not so fast’ last week when the gap was 5 points, but we can’t be far away from yet another bookmaker payout stunt and that usually means curtains. That neither team played well against moderate opposition suggests that further twists could occur when the Champions League rears it’s head again, but as its stands you’d need to be either brave or stupid or a fan to be actively preferring Man City. A couple of small asides: regarding ‘Chelsea are great but it’s all going their way’ their conversion dominance (the rate in which they convert all shots compared to their opposition) is superseded only by Alex Ferguson’s last two seasons in recent history. That’s as clear a sign that you’re all aboard the happy train to Luckysville as you’ll ever get, those Ferguson seasons were crazy. Elsewhere, if considering ‘Chelsea might be great but possibly unsustainable’, their shots on target ratio (0.682) exceeds their total shots ratio (0.605) by a rate that exceeds the next highest in my data by a huge margin (0.077 to 0.057). In a sample of 120, that’s an enormous difference and will surely reduce over the last 14 games. Logically their shots are going to get worse at some point and maybe then the kind of performance that generates a slight victory over Villa becomes a draw. But time is short and the lead has grown. Quirky mini-stats, sure, but intriguing nonetheless. So, to other parts of the league, where high interest is retained. This chart shows +/- shots and shots on target throughout the league and is ordered by the shots on target side: There are distinct bands of teams here. The top two are joined by Southampton, Arsenal and Liverpool in consuming the majority of positive shot totals in the league. Indeed only 8 teams are in credit for both metrics. Everton have a weird blend of being a minus shots team but 6th best for shots on target and QPR and West Brom have an unenviable record of scoring worse for shots on target that pure shots. Bizarre stuff and something to work on for Tony Pulis and Maybe Tim Sherwood. Sunderland: entertain your fans! Earlier in the season I figured I had defined the ‘bad’ teams in the league. There were seven of them and it seemed straightforward: they barely ever won and were doomed to sink towards the bottom as time went on. Well, there are still seven bad teams in the league and they fill the bottom seven positions. The only caveat is that one team has escaped (Palace) and been replaced by another (WBA). The Pardew honeymoon has given Palace a nice two win cushion away from the relegation zone and ‘Pulisball’ has so far failed to bed in at West Brom. Ah well, we can’t always be right. There really is a grim reality for the bottom seven: none has won more than 5 games, they’ve only won 6 games between them in the last six rounds of matches and only one was against a team other than themselves (Hull 2-0 Everton). None has won a single match in the last three rounds of matches either. QPR have big issues having failed to beat a team outside this group all year (thank you and farewell, Harry) but the reason i’m writing this and you’re reading it is Sunderland. As I trawl the numbers, occasionally something leaps off the page and in this case it wasn’t pretty: Sunderland’s last 5 game shot ratio is 21%. I will admit i’d noticed their miserable shooting totals a couple of weeks ago, but they escaped reporting as they’d played tough games. Now after creating so little against Burnley and Swansea (despite gaining 4 points!) they get the mention. It’s not only very bad, it’s historically very bad: As we can see, being this bad isn’t necessarily terminal, it’s pretty much a coin-flip whether a period in which a team creates barely a thing will relegate them but pity Sunderland fans! They’ve hit a sub-30% TSR period in every one of the last four seasons! That’s a tough sell for season tickets. I don’t watch enough Sunderland games to pin down this lack of creativity but I do have insight into their newest signing, Jermain Defoe. On the plus side, every club facing a relegation battle needs a regular goalscorer and throughout his career and with two goals already, Defoe has been just that. In contrast, despite many great goals and a long career, Tottenham fans were not sad to sell him to MLS. Why? Jermain Defoe has marvellous highlights packages. His further contribution is negligible. Over his career he averages 17 passes per game. In a handful of minutes with Sunderland he’s down to 13.5. These figures include any number of kick offs! Very little is going on elsewhere (he creates very little for others) and this could have repercussions for Sunderland’s future shooting ratios. Defoe is happy to shoot but his lack of team contribution can make it seem like his team has ten men. So a Sunderland team already struggling to create chances has simultaneously reduced the wider efficiency of it’s forward line whilst probably ensuring more goals. It’s quite the quandary! Luckily for Sunderland, even though much of their play has been bad, that’s not been a trait unique to themselves. Three from seven will go and for now, none of them have been impressing. Obligatory Tottenham bit I’ve theorised before that Wenger has switched some of his tactics in big games this season. It has seemed that after the series of chastening defeats his team met last season, he’s decided to be more pragmatic, particularly away from home. The excellent result at the Etihad, though functionally a little flattering, was a strong endorsement for percentage tactics but that and the home win against Southampton have been the only wins against ‘good’ opposition this year. Despite season long underlying shot numbers indicating Arsenal being a strong side, warning signs were loud in the 2-2 draw at Liverpool in which they created little and allowed Liverpool an avalanche of 27 shots. And so the North London Derby came to pass and it seemed a finely poised affair. However, a close game wasn’t what panned out: this time alongside another concession of an avalanche of 23 shots was a second natural disaster: a HurriKane. Tottenham’s season continues to resemble Andre Villas Boas first year: the ‘Bale year’, at least on the surface. Both Pochettino and Villas-Boas started the year 5-2-5 and suffered some very poor defeats. Then, powered by a strong emphasis on fitness and the gradual influence of their methods, both have overseen a good run and dramatic wins powered by star players scoring late goals. At this point Villas Boas’ team had 42 points (12-6-6) and went on to only lose two more games in finishing a point behind Arsenal in 5th. Pochettino now has 43 points (12-4-7) and the confidence of his young team. Under the hood couldn’t be much more different and it’s represented in the play. Villas Boas emphasised control and shooting which gave him great underlying numbers albeit in a strange year. Pochettino has struggled to maintain anything above par shot ratios but has emphasised energy and pressure, which came together to great effect against Arsenal. In the absence of the Europa League, the trajectory is generally up, but still the repeated success in close games tempers expectation. If we refer back to the shot chart from earlier, 5 teams look to be superior in this league, and Tottenham aren’t yet one of them. Still, with one win separating 3rd and 6th and Liverpool looking generally sharp and only a further win away, there is plenty of juice in the Champions League race. Thanks for reading!