Tottenham: Success Awaits?

kan1 Tottenham: Success Awaits? At this precise point in time, Tottenham are hot. Apparently secure in second in the Premier League, and certainly* secure of a top four slot once more, the team’s on field performances have been impressive throughout much of the last two seasons.That a team with a consistently outside top four budget should be entering the conversation for “who is the best team in the league?” is a testament to the significant progress made by Mauricio Pochettino during his tenure. However, as 2016-17 draws to a close and a title bid remains tantalisingly out of reach, we can reflect how this team has become so adept at killing off lesser outfits while repeatedly hitting a clear ceiling that manifests itself against rivals and in Europe. That’s the difference between a solid league team and a contender in any competition it competes in. The latter is something they are not--at least yet--and some kind of trophy would ice a pretty tasty looking cake that has been made under Pochettino's tutelege. Two season overview A slight illusion last season was the final result. Third was more than expected but the 70 points secured was close to level with the better seasons Tottenham have had in recent years under Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas Boas. The health of the squad and the club in general were significantly improved, but the actual output remained similar, in a season when the money clubs took a leave of absence. This season after just 32 games, they have exceeded that points total already, which looks to signify growth and progression, in a season in which they needed to or else fall into a possible hinterland that Arsenal look to be tentatively inching towards. On the surface that review is fine and it’s not untrue, but the method underpinning growth is worth deeper analysis. Shots A lot has been said about Tottenham’s shooting style under Pochettino. The team regularly bombards the opposition with a high volume of shots from all ranges. Across his reign, the team has posted extremely low goal expectancy per shot--I get them bottom of the big five leagues for each of his three seasons, among sides with 50-plus goals. But this is where we encounter interesting questions of volume versus efficiency. Across those three seasons, they have rarely had problems scoring with Harry Kane the benchmark performer, more recently assisted by significant goal volume from Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli. The last two seasons have seen the team average over 17 shots per game and land over six of them on target. These volumes are league leading and mean that even if the skew is towards long rangers, there is still plenty going on from in close. Indeed they take around as many shots as their rivals from within a median league distance of around 21 metres. So in the bigger picture, the overall profile may seem unattractive, but it does mean the team also creates a decent volume of solid chances. Finishing Part of the reason Tottenham’s title bid faltered last season was that they enjoyed very little in the way of a boost to their shooting, in terms of conversion. We see time and again, to win a league, you tend to need a combination of quality and fortune (or at least a non-model defined positive skew). In 2015-16, Tottenham converted their shots at a league average rate. This was good in terms of their imbalance towards longer range shots, but not enough to propel them far enough ahead of an expectation to lead them to compete late into the season. Leicester absolutely flew on this front and it was just one of the factors that helped them home. This season is different--they are well ahead, beyond the flat conversion and an expected rate. This is the kind of skew a team with strong metrics needs to propel them towards a title bid. Only problem being, that it can occur at the exact same time a rival is flying. In 2013-14, Liverpool’s metrics were great and they skewed positively off them--so did Man City. In 2011-12, Man City and Man Utd both did too. This year? Well, no surprises, Tottenham have walked into Chelsea’s heat. Now finishing skill in itself is extremely hard to identify, even career long sample sizes are too small to tease out a reliable signal, so the best we can assume here is that players with a history of overachievement compared to expectation may be above average finishers and Tottenham’s three main goalscorers all show up as ahead of expectation over samples available. Beyond this, and what’s powering the front end this season is that Kane, Alli and Son are all enjoying an extremely good run of finishing ahead of even long term rates: kaneallison Outside the ellipse can be regarded as very likely to be a temporary existence and the fringes are pretty sparse too. Last season’s numbers show quite how variable finishing rates can be, with each within “normal” range. We get information about style here on the y axis; none of Tottenham’s players record a regular high average value per shot; Kane the nominal striker in the system shoots from all areas, and he is no routine poacher.  The team has the shot volume to compete, and they are over shooting expectancy; a potent blend that has meant that they have stayed in the title hunt late into the season. Again: a hot finishing run has nearly no predictive value and because of this, teams and players can only hope that they find themselves in this exact situation, they cannot plan for it. Teams can plan to employ techniques that allow them to control play and outshoot the opposition, and the more successful they are at that, the better placed they will be to enjoy any positive skew that comes their way, as Tottenham have done here. Defence In simple terms, Tottenham’s defence has followed a trend around the top of the table, insofar as they have shed some of the shots they were conceding last year. Indeed it’s down around two per game from eleven to nine. There’s a resulting decline in expected goals against that understandably trends the same way. What influences are running here? One obvious change has been the addition of Victor Wanyama as a defined defensive midfield destroyer, most often in place of Eric Dier, but with the bigger teams in the league all showing extremely low shots and expected goals against volumes this season, it may well be a broader trend. Possession (as defined by Opta) for Tottenham has risen year on year by a couple of percentage points (~57% to ~59%) and the team has added on around 40 passes per game, almost all of which can be credited as short and completed. The light implication here is a combination of patience and control. These are aspects that have not always been part of the Pochettino armoury. In his first two seasons at the club, the team often seemed to lose focus around the 60-70 minute mark, a trend that wasn’t helped by a seemingly stratified substitution rota that rarely adapted in a timely manner to specific on-field issues. It didn’t always create demise, but a 2-2 draw at home to Stoke in the second game of 2015-16 and a 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle later on that autumn are both examples of games in which Tottenham controlled a large portion of the game before wobbling and letting winning positions slip away. If we look at last season’s chart of expected goals by minute, this concern is borne out: Tottenham xg prod 2015-16 Tottenham fans will recognise that pattern, as described. Significantly outcreating the opposition until around halfway through the second half, where from then on in they actually allowed a higher value of opportunities than they created themselves, as the opposition often found their strongest period of the game. Reasons? Firstly, tiredness may well have come into play when factoring in the heavy workload and pressing Pochettino demanded from his players, but also situations in which the team was trying to sit off to protect a lead they may have earned prior. Regardless, being outperformed in that last quarter is not an optimal strategy, should the opposition finish chances, there is less time to respond and points are easily lost. This season appears to have seen a shift in emphasis, as we can see here: tottenham xg prod 201617 A more even spread, but importantly, the late decline we saw last year is gone, while the opposition levels decrease as games get later. Perhaps Pochettino’s hard running strategy has only got about 60-70 minutes of realistic effect? Would certainly be a more logical way to approach strategy to keep it tight to start before turning the screw. (A quick look at game state after 32 games year on year sees Tottenham having spent very similar volumes of time winning (33-34%), drawing (53-54%) and losing (13%), so it feels like that probably isn’t something that has had a significant influence.) One further factor that Tottenham have continued to benefit from is how infrequently they drop more than a goal behind. Last season in the league only in the emotionally empty final round 5-1 defeat at Newcastle did they fall two goals behind in a game, and this time round have only faced such a deficit for four minutes in the 2-2 draw at Manchester City and 72 minutes in the 2-0 defeat at Liverpool. They concede infrequently, but when they do, they rarely fail to respond. Room for improvement? The obvious gaps in Tottenham’s season revolve around two areas; games against rivals and European form. Last season, even allowing for the mixed time some of the big clubs were having, Tottenham went 3-6-1 against “big 6 rivals”. The only two times they significantly dominated the play were in the 2-2 home draw against Arsenal, in which they took 26 shots and landed 11 on target, usually more than enough to win, and in the 3-0 home win against Louis van Gaal’s Man Utd, in which a flurry of goals killed a game in which they dominated. Otherwise, games against rivals have been tight affairs, a trend that has carried on into this season. They have only won two of eight against these teams and all three of their defeats have been recorded against them, away from home. In none of these fixtures have they really shown clear dominance, even the wins came in tight affairs. Two of these fixtures remain; by chance the two fixtures described above, Arsenal and Man Utd at home, and if the team is to transition further, Pochettino needs to identify a way of translating his tactics to tougher games. So effective when able to dominate, they have often faltered against strong teams. The Champions League defeats against Monaco read significantly better than they did at the time, but we can add in the games against Bayer Leverkusen, in which the team were comfortably outplayed. Few teams are able to dominate their direct rivals, but if Tottenham are to continue an upward trajectory, this is the next problem to solve. Still young A return to the Champions League augers well for the future and immediately removes one aspect that could cause players to agitate for transfers, and new contracts have secured key players on long term deals. While the team has benefited from a positive boost this time round, the method in which they have dominated lesser teams does not preclude future success by any means. They are a fit, well bonded unit that buy into their manager’s methods. Christian Eriksen, Son and Kane are all entering their peak years, while Alli remains a unique young talent with a fantastic sense of timing. The defence and goalkeeper look set to remain and are well drilled and attuned to each other. It’s an ideal basis to continue to build from and a little more shrewdness in the transfer market than was seen in the summer of 2016 might well be decisive next season. Once more, Tottenham can see a good future ahead of them, but at some point they need to turn the promise into a trophy winning reality.   _________________________   Thanks for reading   @jair1970       *near as damnit  

Tough times for Paul Pogba?

World record transfer fees demand world record performances. Paul Pogba’s first season in the Manchester United first team took turn for the worse last week after been outplayed by N’Golo Kante against Chelsea in the FA Cup then succumbing to injury in United’s perfunctory dismissal of FC Rostov. He will now get time to rest up on his bed of money, ponder new hairstyles, make videos and reflect upon his disastrous season and how he hasn’t lived up to the demands his fee placed upon him. I mean look at this:

pobga disappearing

Pogba’s outputs this season are around half that he put up for Juventus last year, where he was a big contributor and behind only Paulo Dybala for goal contribution.

That’s what Man Utd thought they were signing, but instead they got half a Pogba.

Would they be in sixth... sorry, er... FIFTH place if he’d have stepped up? No.

Would they have meekly exited the cup if he had stepped up when his nine remaining teammates needed him against Chelsea? No.

Would Ferguson have retired if Pogba hadn’t betrayed the club that nurtured him and disappeared to Italy as soon as the money got waved under his nose? No.

Would Ferguson have built a new team around Pogba, with Paul Scholes playing alongside him, now able to play into his mid-40s because of the energy that Pogba brought to the midfield? Yes.

Would Ryan Giggs be waiting by the phone hoping ITV call over the international break? No.

Would Paul be the most popular baby name in Manchester by now? Yes.

Of course there are other narratives available and if you’ve made it this far vigourously nodding your head up and down until that last bit when it went a bit weird, then it’s possible that you’ve not read a StatsBomb article before.

A bunch of ill-conceived narrative supported by surface stats isn’t our style. So apologies, but here’s the real deal. Parts of Pogba’s game are actually thriving in Manchester. He is no longer part of a truly dominant team in a league, yet while his goal contribution has suffered, his expected goal contribution (from a-shooting and a-creating point of view) looks just fine. Even allowing for some model error, it would be hard to say that his performances have not deserved more:

pogba arriving

How about that? Our old friend variance has stepped in. If this chart looked like the first one then perhaps we would have a problem but, well: it doesn't. If we break it down, he's taking around three shots per game, which across his career is behind only his last season at Juventus, and while his expected goals per shot rate has been on the low side (0.071 per shot), he's never hit a high rate here and that's above last season (0.065).

Indeed, he's a player who may have a decent claim to have earned the right to deploy shots from range, as he's notched 16 times from distance across the last five seasons, against an expectation of around eight. He's never going to be an optimal shooter who focuses on close range--his position dictates that--and may well be good enough from further out to carry on. And he does get in the box, especially as a threat from set plays; he's not Andros Townsend.

Paul Pogba - Premier League - 2016_17

It is also clear enough that Mourinho is happy enough for Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to take the lion's share of the attacking work in this side. Despite a broadly more defensive role for United than for Juventus,  Pogba to Ibrahimovic (19) is the most common key pass in the league this year, and Ibrahimovic to Pogba isn't far behind (14). This chart also reflects where he is most usually positioned.

pogba to ibra

Creatively, he's hitting numbers ahead of his time at Juventus. His key pass rate of a shade under two per game is career high, and his passes into the final third have risen to around 22 per game ahead of no more than 16 while in Italy.

At least part of this is a function of seeing more of the ball and at times being asked to play a more disciplined midfield role: Man Utd Pogba is getting through nearly sixty passes per game compared to Juventus' Pogba's rate of nearer forty. Both Juventus 2015-16 and Man Utd 2016-17 are 500+ pass per game teams, yet Pogba is now more involved and it hasn't decreased his attacking involvement, the opposite is true. Oh and he's logged more completed throughball shot assists this season than any other player in the big five European leagues too (9).

The only area in which his game has declined is in output, half of which is inevitably outside his control; he can't affect whether his team mates finish the chances he makes. He has three assists in the league--all to Ibrahimovic-- yet the chances he's created can be valued closer to six goals.

Assists can be a notoriously volatile measure and we've seen clear examples before. One being Christian Eriksen's 2014-15 season in which he recorded two assists from 84 key passes in over 3000 minutes of play. Sure enough, his subsequent seasons have seen the outputs to his creativity return, and Pogba's Italian tenure shows him consistently log assists from a decent volume of chances.

On top of that, the whole team has been struggling to hit a positive skew from it's shooting. United take a ton of shots--17 per game--but are the lowest scorers of the big six with just 42 goals compared to Man City's next worst 54. Nobody in the team is running super hot with goals, not even Ibrahimovic who is only slightly ahead of expectation. Antony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are slightly ahead too but each has played limited minutes. Jesse Lingard's net-busting effort at the weekend finally saw him break his league duck this season and it feels like Mourinho's inability to settle on an attacking unit beyond Pogba and Ibrahimovic--except perhaps to reject Rooney--may have had an effect on the impact of his support men.

Other teams have enjoyed the hot form of their attackers; Chelsea have Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, Tottenham have Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Liverpool have Sadio Mane, Arsenal have Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud. All have shown great form this season but have each landed a mile over their expected goal rates. Nobody at United has to that extent.

That's football.

Paul Pogba turned 24 last week.

United paid the premium to get an all round midfielder for his prime years and at a new club with a new manager, his first season has been solid. Expectations of huge output may go alongside his fee, but fail to understand his strengths and what type of player he actually is. He isn't a one man attack like typical world record transfers and he never will be.

The squad is still in transition and it's likely that the summer will see another rash of big money talent through the door. Ibrahimovic may have been a sticking plaster for their attack, but central midfield is locked down with Ander Herrera looking a good bet to continue alongside Pogba in the seasons to come.  Next time an outlet runs a negative Pogba piece, or some stats get listed and distorted, recall that it's probably not his actual performance that is driving the hit, but a wide variety of prejudices.

The truth is he's doing just fine.

__________   @jair1970

Premier League Mega Round Up: Top Six Slowdown? Leicester. West Ham. Burnley

Top six slowdown? The January malaise that has struck towards the top of the table has taken subtle but different form for each club. What? Malaise for the top clubs? Well, perhaps except Tottenham and it might not even matter for Chelsea. Let me explain. Earlier in the season the league had a very clear structure. The big six were annihilating the rest of the league while the bottom sides were posting truly historically dreadful shot numbers (in a variety of forms) and suffering for it (Hull, Sunderland, Swansea) or unexpectedly prospering (Burnley). More recently, results have slowed up significantly for Liverpool and slightly for Arsenal, while Manchester City have been erratic and Manchester United regularly frustrated. Chelsea have come down from their ridiculous peak that involved winning every game, while Tottenham have been pretty consistent. At the other end of the table, there have been improvements. The emblem for this change is obviously Hull 2 -0 Liverpool, but that feels like the first crocus of spring; finally we can see the evidence but the bulbs have been in the ground for a while. To describe, in the first twelve games of the season Hull, Sunderland and Burnley were all taking fewer than 33% of the shots in their games; really poor. The second batch of 12 games has seen the worst three teams via this measure taking between 37 and 41% of the shots and Stoke and Middlesbrough have replaced Burnley and Hull in the bottom tier. The bad teams are no longer bottoming out. Now the top teams are still chugging along at a decent clip and winning a fair share of their games against the rest of the league but changes are afoot. Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea were the top three shot teams in the league in games one to twelve. All were taking 16-plus per game with Liverpool at nearly 19 per game. Since then Manchester City's numbers have held up fine but Liverpool have dropped to 15.4 per game in games 13 to 24 and Chelsea are right down at twelve, with five games against direct rivals having some impact. All the while, the three teams’ defences have remained stoutly resistant towards opposition shot volume. None of them have conceded an average of more than an extremely strong eight shots per game through this recent period, but the detail here is where they differ: Liverpool were able to ride defensive frailty in the autumn while their attack was crushingly strong, but the shots they concede are rated as the third easiest in the league; they allow few but good chances. When the attack dropped off a little, the lack of defensive resolve has severely hampered their effectiveness in securing results. Manchester City have suffered similarly but their porousness has looked more a combination of a dismal run of variance compounded by their invisible goalkeeper, although the shots they concede are very average, a contrast to those that Guardiola’s former teams have allowed; Bayern regularly allowed few and comparatively difficult chances. Chelsea are the one team of the three that appear to have the defensive end locked up; low shots against, low quality of shots against and a small positive variance. They have also been scoring their own reduced shots at a league leading rate, which sure helps. Indeed their whole set-up is incredibly reminiscent of 2014-15, where they rode the numbers somewhat through an extremely hot autumn. Fuelled then by Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas they were latterly shepherded home by Eden Hazard leading some cute but tight games as they failed to hit the same attacking heights beyond Christmas as prior. Meanwhile all the other contenders fell away and with a smart lead secured, they came home relatively unchallenged. This time, Chelsea have the best defence in the league and it is that which has provided the bedrock that their organised and talented attackers have been able to eke further points from. Antonio Conte certainly deserves his credit. He has tuned his team in his image and brought the exact defensive resilience that built his run of titles at Juventus while creating a scenario that gives Chelsea a ton of breathing space from which they should be able to coast home. In a way, the attack, though quieter, hasn't needed to be as fired up as earlier in the season. Along the way, Arsenal have moved slightly in the opposite direction. The early warning signs this year were a lack of shots and their average expected goals per shot were down from last year’s significant peak. Slowly, they’ve found a bit of extra volume (16 shots per game in the middle 12 matches) and slightly raised their total expected goal rate and per shot expectation. Of course this has coincided with a run of 7-1-4 which feels all too familiar, has landed them on the edge of the top four and is partly caused by them matching an expectation of goals against that only ranks 8th during this middle period. Also factors during games 13-24: while they are conceding just ten shots per game, the 41% of them that are landing on target is league high and on average they are from closer than any other team in the league, very much at odds with last season in which their shots against distance was league best. Tottenham have risen to be the highest volume shooters in this middle third of the season but are slightly hampered by the majority of them being relatively low quality. They take under 40% of their shots from inside 18 metres which is the lowest total of any team in the big five European leagues by more than 5%, but that they take so many shots means that they are powering an acceptable expected goal rate. It’s not a study in efficiency but for now it’s enabling them to keep well in the mix. A prevailing narrative that has built up justifiably from the heavy skew towards long range shots is that Tottenham are bad at them. When a team is crushing long range efforts and netting them with some regularity, there aren't many complaints about players attempting them, like, say last season when Tottenham scored ten, at a rate that matched expectation. When a team has scored just one goal all year from long range despite taking a ton of shots--enough say for a reasonable expectation to be seven or eight--the fans get a little riled, despite it largely being one of those things. That's Tottenham this year. Defensively, they ran hot early on but have suppressed shots in recent weeks impressively, all the way down to fewer than eight per game. The big warning for them here is exemplified by the 0-0 draw at Sunderland, the type of result that they have minimised this season but that can be liable when their attack lacks decisive incision and they will also surely start conceding more regularly from open play at some point, seven all year is remarkably low. Manchester United have also managed to maintain extremely solid metrics. Their issue is results, as they are have bounced through a series of headscratching draws against weaker opposition. Across the whole season, they have drawn six matches (five at home, one away including both games against Stoke) that they had significant and clear shooting advantages in with regard volume and quality. That's another vote for "shit happens" but has meant that although their unbeaten run has been noted, Mourinho's genuine progress and solidity with his team is currently looking like it might be for naught, as they sit on the fringe of the Champions League places. Arsenal and Liverpool should probably be most cautious of the strength of their old rivals, though a couple of damaging results for any of Chelsea's chasers will quickly turn the top four probabilities upside down. The bigger picture around this is that it is quite possible that the extremely strong early form shown by the big six, form that was reflected both in metrics and point gathering--coupled with the early ineptitude of the league’s worst teams for both measures--was a kind of bubble that has slightly eased over time. The lack of upset victories from smaller teams was unusual, as was the lack of a team or two from the middle classes skewing positively. Slowly, as attrition affects the league and our old friend random variance meanders along, we’re seeing something that looks a little more normal. The top six don’t usually crush the rest of the league quite as convincingly as they did through the first half of 2016-17, and maybe the second half of the season will see more of these less predicted results. Leicester In this week last year I wrote about Leicester getting a few breaks. At that point, Robert Huth had just scored a brace in a 3-1 victory against Manchester City to add to his earlier late winner at Tottenham. We may now be living in strange times, but the seeds were sown some way back. A year on, Huth's most recent event was less pleasant for him and involved being planted 40 yards up the pitch by Henrikh Mkhitaryan en route to the Armenian's opening goal as Manchester United routinely brushed aside the Champions. I would not be surprised if Leicester's groundsman has been instructed to tend Huth in his new location, to add water, a little plant food, in the hope that he will flower come the spring and bring back beauty in place of the ugliness that currently surrounds his team. huth flower At this point last season they had converted over 14% of their shots, enough to stick them in the top five teams this decade. By season's end it had dropped back to 13% and their defence had secured the dough but that understandable slight drop off was followed by a further move in the season's opening 12 games down to 11%--still above average--while games 13 to 24 have seen the wheels fall right off and their all shot conversion is down to 7% and since the Manchester City win, just 3.1% over nine games. A small irony can be noted here considering a comparable weird freak of variance allowed them to concede just 4.2% of their opponents shots in the second half of last season as they waltzed their way to the title. Two huge non-sustainable skews, one defensive and positive, one attacking and negative and each pointing Leicester at the opposing edges of the league table. Last year they ended up being a 50% shots team, this year it's more like 42% but the skews that are killing them right now are in finishing with their own drying up and their opposition's cantering along happily. That recipe will damage a team because in many circumstances, they won't be doing all that much different to before, when it was working out and it's hard to remedy a problem when it's concealed to some degree in uncontrollable and dare I say it, luck related factors. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez combined to score 32 non penalty goals from an expectation of around 24 last season and added in nine penalties between them. This season they have seven between them at a rate that matches expectation and just two penalties. The Eden Hazard/Mahrez body swap has expired. The N'Golo Kante factor has been repeatedly cited as a driver behind the decline of Leicester and return of Chelsea to form. That's too simplistic for me. Though Kante is clearly excellent, no one player has the ability to drive the extenuating circumstances that have contributed to each team's trajectory. Chelsea reorganised an already very strong squad that massively underachieved last year and always had the potential to regroup into a contending side, while Leicester were inevitably going to find themselves less successful. Talk of regression as a single factor in Leicester's decline misses that they have managed to drift past what might be considered a norm for the team. Usually you would look at this team and say they have enough about them to scrabble away from trouble and this was a blip but 14 games remain and that is a short run. An unfathomable bad run could easily stretch out til season's end and if they don't start finding the net soon, the resemblance to what they contrived to do to the opposition at the back end of last season will become ever more pronounced. Could they get relegated? Now that would be unlucky. West Ham West Ham's dramas this season have been twofold. Latterly the Dimitri Payet situation after initially walking into an odd set of shooting numbers across the opening section of the season. They were taking 53% of the shots at week twelve but just 35% of the shots on target. That's weird. They were also scoring just 8% of their own shots and conceding 14% of the oppositions. These ingredients meant that they didn't win many games (three) and found themselves in a lowly position in the table (17th). This was a lull akin to that which Leicester are now languishing within. The run of games 13 to 24 has found the team taking just 46% of the shots but now 45% of the shots on target, a far more normal distribution. Due to the skew at the top, that seemingly sub par figure is enough to rank 10th and their shot conversions have flipped, they are now converting at a rich 13% and conceding at a still-not-great 11%, but it's been enough to right the ship and helpfully offers a neat counterpoint to the often erroneous "one player can affect results" narrative. Payet was their attack--no team relied more on a single player to create chances than West Ham--but his departure hasn't hampered their progress. The likelihood was that some of these numbers would shake out and they would find a touch of "form" and climb the table, and indeed they have. Burnley Mystery team Burnley have repeatedly defied terrible metrics and a non-existent away record to land themselves safely in mid-table. Expected goals looks at their defence and scratches its head. They've conceded about three quarters of the goals expected and theories abound. Does their deep defense stop the opposition? (maybe?) Are they blocking heavily and above expectation? (Yes, to a degree.) Is this enough to account for ten to twelve goals? (Probably not.) What about their attack? After all they have had to score goals to win nine from thirteen at home. Straight away one stat leaps off the page: Burnley have scored nine goals from over 18 metres or more in 24 games, including seven classed as outside the box. In itself that's not remarkable, but if we recall that Burnley don't shoot much and started the season with terrible shot numbers it starts to raise an eyebrow. If we look at a goal expectation for these shots it comes out around four and on a per shot basis, they are scoring from range at a rate over expectation higher than any team in the Premier League this decade. If I tell you Liverpool and Manchester City 2013-14 are ranked two and three in this list, it becomes clear what kind of attacking overperformance this is: spectacular and unsustainable. This matters not for this season but with eight of those nine goals coming at home and contributing to one goal victories over Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Southampton as well as the 2-0 win over Liverpool, their points value becomes clear. It won't be something they can rely on next season.   _______________________________________   Thanks for reading Not done one of these for a while so it ended up long! @jair1970

Ten Weeks In The Premier League

HAIYANG, CHINA - JUNE 16: Trang D Huang of Vietnam misses a save during the Men's Beach Soccer Preliminary match between Vietnam and Palestine on Day 0 of the 3rd Asian Beach Games Haiyang 2012 at Fengxiang Beach on June 16, 2012 in Haiyang, China. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) Ten weeks? Fair to say it has flown by. Some things have been very familiar: the usual weekly rotation of "this team could well be set for a title charge" each time a big gun records an impressive result, the bottom of the table becoming less a race to become good but more a desire to be least worst, in which few teams are managing to conceal their ineptitude or Romelu Lukaku reliably scoring goals while grizzled bystanders look on, pipe in hand, sagely noting his inferior first touch. Is anything different? This time last year I was writing about the "rise of the middle order" as usurpers like West Ham and Leicester did the usual thing a couple of mid-rangers do and run hot for a dozen games and get "talk of European places" bestowed upon them. Or course came to nothing as per usual as in my imaginary world Leicester dropped back to a plucky 6th place finish and West Ham blew up completely. This year: nothing. It's too late to describe Southampton putting up decent shooting numbers as anything other than as expected, and Everton, finally rid of the bizarre helming of Roberto Martinez are tidily reverting to their best of the rest role. The ninth best team in the league could be Crystal Palace? Let that sink in. Do or don't write off Leicester? Back here in the odd version of reality christened "2016", it's painfully obvious that Leicester are prioritising the Champions League. Let THAT sink in. They are putting together some genuinely wretched numbers in the league; giving up an extra 2.5 shots on target per game is seriously weak. Expected goals is kinder to them--for all that they are a couple or three goals behind pace-- and it's likely that woeful accuracy (27% of all shots are on target, 3rd worst in league) will pick up over time, but it's less a title defence so far and more a farewell tour. And within the accuracy stats are further insights: Leicester's ability to land their own shots on target and prevent the opposition from doing the same was at "top five teams this decade" levels last year (+7.3%), whereas so far this year it's in the basement (-10%). This is the kind of stuff that bounces around the place and is subject to huge variance, and now, with some aplomb, they've landed on the wrong side of it. Their all shot conversion is flat too, which is novel for them, and the last beacon of positive variance to cling on to is that the few shots they are getting on target are flying in (40%) just like the good old days. Of course, in the bigger picture, this team will be fine and will find a safe place in mid table somewhere, but throw all that into the mixer and it's a different, far more familiar world. Apart from the part where they top their Champions League group. West Ham West Ham, so drunk on the spoils of 2015-16, are also experiencing a huge hangover that no amount of paracetamol, pre-sleep water consumption or fried breakfasts will fix. Like all good hangovers, time should do something to help matters, but something nagged me about Sofiane Feghouli and Simone Zaza jogging onto the pitch late on against Everton and providing as much impact as if i'd have been out there. It felt like witnessing the West Ham of old, when Harry Redknapp used to fill his benches with seemingly random signings and loanees then throw them on late to "try something", and rarely did it work out. Is that where West Ham could end up? They must be better than that, right? I digress: numbers-wise, they are offering a similarly diverse palette to Leicester, except their deficit is at least a handful of goals and their shot stats are plain wonky. They are outshooting their opponents around 15 to 13 per game, yet are registering only three on target opposed to five. Huh? This means that their rate of getting shots on target (19% of all shots) is league low--and comparatively very bad--while the rate their opponents are getting their shots on target (40%) is league high. That is a potent mix which feeds into some odd conversions: those on target are flat--which does you no good when you're outshot there so severely, while the all shot rates are terrible on the front end and also terrible in defence. There is so much that is extreme here for now that they will also inevitably land long term in some comfy middle ground. Their season will have been deemed "challenging" and the ground will get blamed for things it maybe shouldn't be; 14% shot accuracy at the Olympic Stadium means they are exploring every tier. The top Considering a point separates the top four and Tottenham are unbeaten and two points further back, it's only Manchester United who can be considered truly underachieving of the big six teams in the league. Eighth and with a 4-3-3 record  is all a bit Moyes van Gaal so far, but a wee bit of misfortune has been enough to derail them and the reality is not quite so grim. Home fixtures against Stoke and Burnley yielded 61 shots, with twenty on target and only fourteen with seven on target in reply. While I can accept that the huge volume created is at least in part a function of trying to break a deadlock, that kind of total dominance rarely ends up in two draws. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's recent drought has no doubt contributed to the early difficulties, as has a jumbled squad, but if United had turned those draws into wins, as must surely have been probable, they'd be a point off Tottenham and four off the lead. Jose Mourinho would still be smarting at the decency--or lack of-- that Chelsea showed in thumping them 4-0, but they would be in the mix rather than the forgotten ingredient they have become instead. If, but, if but... yes, I know, but the simple truth is performance metrics are far more content with Manchester United than a plus-one goal difference might imply. In fact we can take a tour around shots and expected goals metrics and ascertain quite a lot about all of the teams in the top four discussion. We cannot ascertain the title winner, and i'll leave the probability fiends the impossible task of rating and weighting the league this far out, but we can identify a few strengths and weaknesses so far. Shots All of the big six teams are putting up dominant shots numbers. Liverpool are over plus-ten per game, Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham are all between plus-seven and plus-nine, while Arsenal are on plus-five. None is conceding more than United's 10.5 per game and Liverpool, United and Tottenham are all taking over 18 per game. This is strong across the board. For City, Tottenham and Liverpool, this backs up good 2015-16 numbers. For Arsenal, this top layer--like 2015-16--only tells some of the story and for Chelsea and Man Utd, the need for them to bounce forward from last season was very necessary, and at week ten, they've managed it. Expected Goals There will always be differences across models here, but we can get a general guide to how the shots have manifested themselves. Here, in attack, I have Liverpool only very slightly ahead of a tight pack of Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea while Tottenham are a couple of goals behind them. In defence, Man City and Chelsea are clear best, followed by Liverpool, then Utd, Arsenal and Tottenham. These changes in position from the shot rankings come out if we look at expected goals per shot: Arsenal have a high expectancy (0.113 per shot)--very much like last season--and Tottenham do not (0.081). The other teams are oscillating around average in attack. In defence, the good end has Man City (0.080) lead Chelsea (0.084) and Man Utd (0.087) and the bad end has Liverpool, perennially vulnerable to any kind of ball to the centre of their box, on 0.112 and Tottenham, 0.105. This means, for good or for ill, overall Man City lead Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal with only very small differences between them, enough that one or two good or bad games could completely change the order. Tottenham are a clear sixth here with Everton and Southampton snapping at their heels. Of course schedule will have some effect on all these numbers but at ten games it's starting to shake out a little. Throw all that together and you get this: xg-delta           Again models will vary, but the trends should remain similar. Arsenal are running hot on both ends, while Utd are ice cold for both and the variation between a plus-13 goal difference and plus-one couldn't be more stark. Tottenham's defence is overachieving by a huge margin (5 goals conceded compared to an estimated 10.5) while Liverpool's defence is the opposite. As an aside, save percentage is similarly informative here with Liverpool at 57% and Tottenham at 83%. The two teams that have clear solid profiles and appear to be getting rewarded for this are Man City and Chelsea. Both are enjoying a small skew in attack and are on par in defence. It's a tricky estimation but by looking at all these aspects we can spot trends quite easily: Tottenham's attack is a little too "AVB" at the moment (shots from range, little penetration), Liverpool's profile is a bit "Rodgers 13/14" with the same strengths (attack) and weaknesses (defence). Arsenal look to be once more chasing the god of shot quality, Conte has made Chelsea's defence robust and City are typically good--a positive skew would serve them well, as it has done in previous titles. And Man Utd, well, even when the structure works, fate conspires... What it means is that, by some strange confluence of events, the table isn't actually lying much at the top end. Apart from United's woes, that there's barely a cigarette paper between the rest and it is pretty much in line with expectations. After spending so much time behind expectation last season, it's even possible to give Arsenal a break for bouncing the other way this, and they will always be strong. It's all set up quite nicely.   ____________________   Thanks for reading. More to come this week on site, so stay tuned. I will attempt to write another of these somewhere along the line, but these days i'm a bit busy.      

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.

StatsBomb 2016-17 Round Table

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.


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


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.


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

Premier League 2015-16 Stat Round Up: Shots, Disappointing Giants And More

lamela kante And so we reach the end of another season of “The Premier League”, the wildly popular and occasionally thrilling sporting serial transmitted to viewers around the world. The scriptwriters had work to do to improve on the 2014-15 season which in truth meandered at times, and boy did they deliver. Kindly, genteel Italian Claudio Ranieri returned from a long hiatus to take all the plaudits and in a delightful twist we waved farewell to familiar villain “JR” Mourinho, who once more got his comeuppance; an unforeseen and controversial plot this time found him failing to embrace feminism. Last year's entertaining entrant Louis van Gaal had a quieter run this time and the joke wore thin quickly for “Tactics” Tim Sherwood and Brendan Rodgers. Mauricio Pochettino brought some Argentinian grit in his second year at Tottenham and brooding Slaven Bilic brought intensity to the Hammers. Jurgen Klopp wore a dazzling smile throughout and was loved, and Roberto Martinez just smiled and was not. Nobody really knew who was managing Swansea and rather preposterously, another familiar face in Rafa Benitez taught Andros Townsend to shoot, for all the good that did. Killed off at the end of season 2014-15, Sam Allardyce was soon to make a lazarus-like return but the big story was what was organised in advance for the show's 2016-17 run. Superstar coach and all round hipster idol Pep Guardiola signed on for a big fee and expectation was tangible: could he build a team without centre backs to beat Tony Pulis' team of all centre backs? A ridiculous conceit surely, but when one is a fan of the Premier League, it's worth remembering, anything can happen, it already has and it won't again. Leicester that is. Roll on August. Shots shotttt Last season we saw a significant drop in the shot volume in the league from the few seasons prior and the lower rate has continued into 2015-16, with a further though very slight decline. Over three shots per game have vanished from matches compared to the free and easy days of the early 2010s and it’s interesting to speculate why that might be. With our analytics hats on we might posit ideas around shot quality theories taking hold and we could cite Arsenal, particularly this season, as a team that focuses on this. Maybe the Dutch connection of Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman who preside over the 1st and 9th least shot-involved matches are influential here, or Mourinho, gone but with impact not forgotten? In truth it’s hard to know as if we look longer term these rates tend to oscillate up and down depending on fashion or styles. Where 2014-15 was a lull for both shots and conversions, 2015-16 has at least picked up in the latter: conv rates 1516 We can see that while goals and shot rates are at the low end, the rate in which shots or shots on target are being created is high when compared to the seven seasons nominated. Accuracy is also at the higher end too. Over the course of these seasons, wider perception of the quality of top Premier League teams has changed, the best sides in Europe are now seen to be elsewhere, so it’s interesting to note that across the whole league, there seems to be a slow but distinct trend towards teams becoming more efficient in their attacking play. Even with such broad strokes we can see an evolution and that Leicester, the ultimate low volume, high conversion team should triumph is a wry reflection of wider trends. Swansea and identifying the mean - or not While the Leicester story has mischievously run roughshod over most of the world of prediction and expectation--while offering mortgage paying joy for pub liars across the nation-- other teams have behaved almost entirely as expected, a case in point being Swansea. Across four previous seasons in the Premier League, Swansea have managed to become reliable performers; never worse than 12th and peaking with an 8th last year. This year they stared down the spectre of the bottom of the table before slowly righting themselves and now stand 13th, with anywhere from 11th to 15th seeming the most likely outcome. Bobby Gardiner dug deeper than most into them at the end of March and there isn’t too much to add but suffice to say, Swansea’s baseline has been almost identical throughout their time in the league: swans graphic Some years, say 2014-15, they get a few more breaks than others and they look like they might be better than previously thought. On other occasions, namely this year, it takes time for them to get close to their true level-- around mid-table-- and all manner of chaos can ensue in between.  As ever, unless managerial relationships have broken down entirely, which may well have been the case with Garry Monk, it’s probably smarter to play the long game and see how it pans out.  That they have created a halfway house with the appointment of first Alan Curtis and then Francesco Guidolin at least allows some room to make a bigger decision in the summer, if required. The real point here is broader. Sometimes it’s reasonably straightforward to predict long term movement for a club when you have access to performance statistics, be they expected goals, shot numbers or more. In this case, Swansea’s 8th in 2014-15 caused positive reflection, raised expectations and may well have contributed to the reaction from the board in removing Monk, when in fact, this last autumn they were simply going through a period of reversion, to a pretty long term and solid mean. Identifying such a mean is a problem that continues to test analytical practitioners and gamblers and we have a few teams this season that may provide a larger challenge than is often the case. Various shot metrics and expected goals peg Leicester as around the 4th or 5th best team in the league, and while fortune has beamed widely upon them in the shape of injuries, penalties and periodic conversion rates, it’s also true that they look to have improved as time has gone on.  A broad analysis of their entire season would show one level when a trajectory will slightly differ; this season’s Champions must be good, right? Well, up to a point yes, but with few confident of their future likely performance levels, beyond the idea that they will fall off to some degree, it’s hard to get a clear idea of where they might end up, or indeed what their true talent level is. Claudio Ranieri, refreshingly seems happy to once more play down expectations and should be respected for doing so, even if it’s just part of his schtick. See also West Ham. Very similarly to Leicester they have spent much of the year defying their sub-par shooting and expected goal figures. With a new coach in Bilic and a slow move towards improvement as the season has gone on, we are once more left pondering which aspects of their performances are likely to prove repeatable, and which could be remedied or stymied by personnel changes or simple skews. I make West Ham three season overachievers on their defensive end and the quandary here is do we give credit to Sam Allardyce and his methods and accept a skew this year, or do we assume in a league of twenty teams, that at least one team will at any one time be experiencing a skew lasting this long at any given time? We know little about Bilic’s methods to be able to make strong measurements and gauge his influence, but maybe he is adept in similar ways to Allardyce? It can't be ruled out. Interestingly Johannes Harkins placed these two in the same group in an analysis he performed last week on the Optapro blog and they currently share both style and over performance, and the question going forward remains how much or if even these things are interlinked. Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea Also notable in that analysis were the co-grouping of the three traditional giants of the modern league: Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea. All good passing teams, generally decent at controlling play and (usually) dominating shot counts yet each has firmly underperformed expectations this year, and in different ways. Arsenal’s external mean seems to find them landing 3rd or 4th in any league they compete in and that they haven’t managed to challenge longer and harder for the title can largely be attributed to struggling to match expectation at home. In winning only 11 of 18 homes games so far, and scoring only the 9th most goals in the league in their home stadium, the problem here has been clear. Both expected goals and shot analysis show their attack has left a ton of goals behind there and while their defence has been fine at home and their results have more obviously matched their metrics away from home, the Emirates is where it’s gone awry. The latter half of the season, Santi Cazorla apart, has not even been affected by a typical injury malaise. They got largely fit and then since beating Leicester on Valentine’s Day have gone 4-5-2. Perplexing stuff. So it’s still hard to peg Arsenal’s true level: same as they ever were or foiled by a cold streak? Manchester City have oddly continued to underhit against their strong shooting numbers and with an aging squad and a lame duck coach, only the Champions League run has kept the season alive, until now. Their defence is in line to concede the fewest shots per game in the Enlightened Era (2009-10 onwards) yet it feels as though Alexis Sanchez’s equaliser this last Sunday was all too representative of the shots and goals they have conceded; the back line shredded and concession all too easy. Again, like Arsenal they have failed to win seven home games--far too many for Championship contenders-- and in losing five times at the Etihad, they match the home loss record of Swansea and Newcastle. All the while expected goals only prefers Arsenal and shot metrics prefer Tottenham, they are not a bad team but are currently facing down a potential 5th place; that's a skew downwards about as large as Leicester has up. Baffling stuff.  It’s highly probable that Pep Guardiola has a little more to work with in his squad than current perception suggests, but further large transfer investment, with little opportunity to sell, seems inevitable. Surely their trajectory must be up? And Chelsea, who careered through the autumn with declining performances and acted too late in removing Jose Mourinho to save their season. On the ball they still look like they could be a decent side, but even a generous expected goals model will struggle to value them above seventh or eighth and their shots numbers are no better than par.  Guus Hiddink has had a nice run of balancing out his team’s conversion rates but they look to be a reasonable distance away from a title shot and even top four may be a tricky task next year. Antonio Conte, much like Guardiola, is sure to want new recruits to galvanise his squad and the spine of 2014-15, so strong in the early part of that title winning season, looked to have slipped a disc this time round. Maybe Eden Hazard will stick around and build upon the flashes of form we are now seeing, his injuries behind him? Regardless, if any team can benefit from the “No Europe” skew, then it’s Chelsea, but they will have to improve on their baseline, for during 2015-16 there simply wasn’t enough there. Newcastle’s Transfer Window Trophy wasn’t enough Newcastle vs Villa had a fascinating shape from a shots perspective. With a combined 11 shots, only the strange nine shot 1-1 draw between Bournemouth and Leicester back in August has had fewer this season. In isolation, Newcastle’s limitation of of Villa to two shots in total is admirable but it seems as if Rafa Benitez’s natural pragmatism may well have finally cost his team a place in the league.  The Match of the Day analysis from Ian Wright noted simply how Newcastle were offering no pressure to Villa in possession and you can’t escape the fact that Newcastle absolutely had to win this game, given it was against the league’s clear worst team and they face Tottenham to finish. By ensuring that not getting beaten was his team’s primary aim, Benitez clearly offered Villa too much respect. Since joining the club, it seems clear that he has focused on reducing events within the game. The last nine games of Steve McClaren’s reign featured roughly 26 shots per game (across both teams) and under Benitez that has dropped to around 21. But why? What has this achieved? Not a lot. McClaren had tangibly improved Newcastle from Christmas onwards, albeit from a horrifically low base, but was getting annihilated in the shot conversions. Benitez has supervised a zero goal difference but has taken away three shots a game from his attack over these periods and where McClaren posted a differential of +7 shots on target in those 9 games, Benitez is basically the same with +8. Can we identify a slight increase in efficiency? Maybe. Expected goals suggest a little but probably without effecting enough real progress to save them. Two wins hasn’t been enough and Newcastle aren’t a good team. Their squad looks to have been bought erratically and while they have talent in among their individuals, there are weaknesses throughout. They spent a fortune in January and it looks like it will be to no avail but regardless, if you’re playing Villa, you must be looking to create more than nine shots in a game. Volume will always have a huge importance, and it seems Benitez and Newcastle are going to find out to their cost that you need to do more than try and edge games against the league’s bottom team. What else? (and apologies to any omitted teams)

  • Manchester United continue to be straitjacketed by Louis van Gaal’s methods, yet could find an unlikely late run into the Champions League, Expected goals or shots don’t paint a kind picture (7th-8th) yet they remain in the hunt, and should they win the FA Cup or land in the top four, it’s going to take a brave man to tell Louis to go away.
  • Southampton’s solid rise continues. They’ve now had four years of extremely competitive defensive numbers and have consistently failed to miss their departing stars. The Team Most Likely To Get Among The Big Boys title may have been handed on to Leicester for now, but i’d happily bet that they will be in the mix for the European spots once more next year.
  • Stoke rode their numbers for half a season, were extremely erratic and then had spells of utter dreadfulness from there on in. It’s hard to think that Mark Hughes has taken them forward and beyond the fact that they’ve never been in any serious trouble this year, it’s been largely forgettable.
  • Liverpool might end up in the Champions League yet if they do not will surely rue that they did not collect a handful more points and pressurise the top four. If this Manchester United team can go into the final week of the season still in contention, that Liverpool are not is a poor reflection. At times they have been irresistible--everything except their save percentage and the resulting goals against look like a top four team-- at times entirely baffling, but that their near future rests on a pivotal coin flip of a cup final against the owners of the Europa League is a fascinating gambit.
  • Everton have had a curate’s egg of a season, the metrics say they’re okay, as in mid-table, but the post Christmas malaise has been entirely poisonous and it looks as though Martinez’s position has become untenable. The weirdly timed signing of Oumar Niasse continues to baffle and bringing in an attacking reinforcement when their defence needed help seemed ill advised. Farhad Moshiri looks on, and one wonders how much influence he will have going forward. Everton do have talent in their squad, it feels like rigour may be needed to harness it.
  • Aston Villa are in clear contention for having created the worst Premier League season of the decade and I use that cut off to spare them comparisons to the legendarily bad Derby 2007-08 team. In particular their attack has been utterly bereft of quality and their rate of shots on target per game (2.9) now interrupts a three season Tony Pulis Stoke City salvo at the very bottom of the seven season chart. They have also conceded all shots at a rate (14.9%) only superceded oddly by Bournemouth this year (15.1%) across the same period.

Obligatory Tottenham Finale It would be remiss of me to finish without at least giving a few words to Tottenham. Benefitting from the vague ineptitude of the larger teams in the league and finding the top four would have been a great achievement in any other season, but to do so as a dominant team bouncing forward from the weird chaotic systems of 2014-15 has been fascinating to see. Second or third place are secure, meaning the Champions League, and while Tottenham are well built for European competition, it’s refreshing to feel that the upgrading required is mainly in the squad. With a fit first 11 to rival any team in the land, it seems highly likely that they will be able to build on this season’s fine efforts in the coming years. Shooting metrics loved them, expected goals loved their defence and volume was their biggest friend throughout at both ends. Too many draws, rather flat conversion rates driven by ranged shooting and Richard the Third’s malign influence finished their title bid but coherence was finally achieved and they even learned to fight when things didn’t go their way. In among the metrics of small concern, both they and Leicester managed to create shots on target and prevent the opposition at historically super high rates: they rank 1st and 3rd here over the last seven seasons and it's a measure that is prone to regression. When you see them in and around Liverpool 2013-14, Chelsea 2014-15 and Manchester United 2012-13, all teams that fell dramatically out of the top two after skewing positively here, it's worth noting. Unlike these teams and Leicester though, Tottenham had no attacking boost in their shot conversion, so are perhaps better set to maintain than some of those mentioned. Player wise it was all good: Harry Kane continued to score, Christian Eriksen kept them ticking over and it’s been many, many months since a “waste of money” Erik Lamela article. All the while Eric Dier and Dele Alli found love in the midfield, Mousa Dembélé showed that his skills are entirely unique and useful, Danny Rose came of age, Kyle Walker reminded us how he won a Young Player of the Year Award, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen remained steady and largely impenetrable and Hugo Lloris stayed on his line.  Between Tottenham and Leicester, it was hard to find a first team starter that had disappointed this year. It’s been a good one.   ______________________________________________________________________________ (This season wrap is a week early because i'm going on holiday, so you either got this now or nothing 🙂 ) Thanks to everyone who has read this column this season and before, to all who have shared it, promoted it, criticised it or ignored it: it's always fun to write. Meanwhile, here at StatsBomb we will aim to continue to bring you quality content from the smartest analytical writers over the summer, so keep checking back. The season may end but there are always new angles to pursue and stories to tell. Find me on twitter @jair1970      

Into the Stats: What's Going On In The Premier League?

The first week of April might seem a strange time for a football team to go on holiday, but it seems we already find those stranded in mid-table doing just that; or at least some of them. Bournemouth continued their terrible record against this season's top four, they've managed two draws against Leicester but lost all their other six fixtures, scored three and conceded 22 and Watford, seemingly coasting home, have fared even worse having lost 7/7, while scoring three and conceding 16. All this poses the question: how good are these teams? Bournemouth, despite offering nearly nothing against the top four, have been a superior team outside of these games. I'm not going to suggest that it's been strategic to maximise their play in more competitive games, but it sure would make sense to expend more energy at 1-1 against West Brom or Crystal Palace than go hell for leather when 4-1 down to Tottenham. In more balanced fixtures, they have been defensively strong while putting forward a league average attack. That's good stuff for a newly promoted team and explains why despite some genuine awfulness in those higher profile fixtures, they are sitting comfortably in 13th with the comfort of no more top four fixtures to come. For the whole season, Watford's defence is around league average and their attack is slightly below par, but since the half way point, their attack has been pretty woeful; they are scoring an average of half a goal a game. Why? They are taking under ten shots a game and getting under three of them on target. Who? Odion Ighalo has one league goal in 2016. Not to call Watford a one man team but, well, in attack, they largely  have been. We've seen this before, a player lands in the league, gets hot quickly, scores a ton, attracts transfer talk and sometimes achieves one, then fades. All the more reason to work out if a player has been on a streak or is prone to streakiness before you part with the cash and why goals are merely the icing on a cake: ingredients are all important. For some reason a variety of Newcastle United associated players (Andy Carroll, Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cissé) are coming to mind here. Again though, criticism of a newly promoted team should be tempered against the fact that they aren't getting relegated; this is literally page one in the "What to do when you reach the Premier League" playbook. And it's entirely possible that the hat-trick could be secured after Norwich City overcame Newcastle in a huge game this weekend. That the three teams under greatest threat of demotion, Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa have all suffered from varying degrees of hapless leadership over multiple years, both on and off the pitch, is probably the most positive indicator to have come out of this strange and turbulent season. I filled one of the many empty seats at Villa Park this weekend (and wrote about it), and the deficiency in the standard of the team put out was clear to see as Chelsea's reserves brushed them aside with next to no fuss. They had miniature midfielders, a back four full of yesterday's men and one tactic that seemed only half conceived–fire it up to the big man, but don't follow up. Of course the league's bottom team is likely to be bad, but that degradation of quality has taken place over a number of years and this relegation could well have occurred before. That it has not, and that Sunderland have survived so long in similar circumstances, has lead to wrongs left without being righted and with the Championship beckoning Villa particularly could be vulnerable to a long stretch. Back to the point about teams being on holiday, we find West Brom having reached the Pulis Line: 40 points. Oh West Brom are on holiday? No chance, this was possibly the most Tony Pulis performance of the whole season. Three shots in total, none of which were on target meant the seventh on target blank of the season, five of which have been away from home and the fifth in the last ten games. Enough for a point though? Sure, because repelling twenty two Sunderland shots is easy– if you are managed by Tony Pulis. Begrudgingly accepting the inevitable With their fifth 1-0 victory in six games, the reality of a Leicester title is genuinely upon us.  I have noted all season the various benefits of skew that the team has enjoyed but at no point did I truly expect them to hold out initially for the top four and once that became impossible to deny, the title. While their likely achievement should be applauded as possibly the biggest odds ever defied in a sporting event (5000/1), that those odds were so long accurately describes the unlikelihood of this coming to pass. The twin powers of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez powered the first half of this season and only latterly has the team's focus on defence and the skills of N'Golo Kanté and the defense garnished praise. Will Gurpinar-Morgan is writing on Leicester for StatsBomb this week, so I won't labour a point but in a points estimation I created I have them about plus 17 points compared to where you might expect given their shot profile. That's huge and they have excelled and overachieved where all others have failed to do the same. The perfect storm. In particular, the weird incongruent nature between Arsenal's reality and the expectation formulated by their focus on shot location has created a scenario in which despite underachieving, they will probably end up in a similar position to usual. Maybe a bounce up to second place will actually reflect a step forward and technically successful transition towards their tactic of more selective shooting, but even with the benefit of skew, to have failed to mount a sustained challenge at the very top goes down as a disappointment. Similarly for Manchester City, stymied largely by combinations of luck and injury, they will probably look back in May and wonder how they failed to build on their exceptional start and contend. Less is wrong with these two giant clubs than the simple narrative will lead many to believe. Mass clear-outs will not be necessary and both teams will probably be able to regroup and compete next year with just a couple of core signings, probably fewer at Arsenal, as is Arsene's way. Tottenham should reflect on a season of great steps forward and to mourn the title that never was would miss the point. Young, dynamic and full of shooting boots, they should be able to maintain this level of performance going forward and challenge towards the top end once more. It doesn't look like their starlets are going to get picked off but that's the one note of caution worth adding. If Daniel Levy is smart, and evidence suggests he probably is, then he'll put his moody hat on this summer and concentrate on enticing to a top class central midfielder, a forward option and leave his phone on silent. Non Usual Scoring Charts Couple of charts to take a look at player stats. Important to remember that these are all, in the scheme of things, short term skews in fields that do not necessarily indicate future outputs. However, particular extremes may be considered more likely to revert to individual means than not. First the "traditional" shot conversions, with penalties stripped out: conversion 15-16 Hmm... three West Ham players in the top ten? That's interesting. Moving along by way of contrast, from an early iteration of an in-house model, we have the expected goal over/under achievers per shot: xgshot 15-16Well, how about that, it's those three West Ham guys again! We're looking at similar things, so that's not the greatest surprise but there are notable other entrants in these lists. Shinji Okazaki's all shot conversion of 14% is superficially decent, but when matched up against his expected goals, he's undershooting by a fair margin. Being the point on the front of Leicester's attack and most notably having Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez serving up your chances means you should be scoring more than five goals. Ramsey and Walcott's presence on the naughty list is no surprise to those of us up to speed with Arsenal but it's interesting to find two players who may well attract the attention of suitors in the summer on there too. Aleksandar Mitrović and Sadio Mané both look ripe for a transfer, Mitrović having shown more than enough promise to feel that a Championship demotion would be too much at this stage of his career (wait, another Newcastle striker!) and Mané having possibly stayed a year more than anticipated at Southampton. Each has clear room to improve on this year's numbers, as Mitrović notably showed at the weekend and Mané, frustratingly, did not. The goals may have been less plentiful than desired but the quality remains. Roberto Firmino is a tricky one to get a handle on. His first big season was in 2013-14 where he scored 14 non-penalty goals for Hoffenheim and overshot his expected goals numbers significantly. This was quickly countered with the opposite in 2014-15 and now after taking a little while to settle down and struggling to nail a definite position he's back to overshooting expectation once more.  He looked to be a solid acquisition in the summer with clear potential to grow into a top player and i'd still err on the side of positivity going forward. As with many things Liverpool, Firmino looks to be on the cusp of something good, a theory advanced eloquently by Dustin Ward here on StatsBomb mere days ago. So the title is won, relegation is decided, the top four looks locked down. Not much left to say really? Ha, forget it. Plenty more to come, i'll bet. ___________________________________________________ Thanks for reading! Tons has gone on here recently: Site owner Ted Knutson returned from the wilderness of real football with a suite of work:

and a must-read mailbag:

Dustin Ward hit the high notes with a Liverpool breakdown:

And I guested on the Anfield Index: Analytics podcast:

We also have plenty more to come this week so keep alert and don't miss out.

Leicester And Liverpool: When Things Work Out And When They Don't

When it goes your way... In losing to Leicester this weekend, Manchester City not only gave away crucial points to a title rival, they once again failed to record consecutive victories, a run that goes all the way back to October. This only weeks after handsomely leading the league by recording a string of victories without conceding.  Since their impressive start they have gone 9-5-6,a good deal less than title form and have failed to win more often than they have won.  Given their fantastic wealth and extremely talented squad, this is a disappointing return; not quite Chelsea, but nonetheless below expectation.  In advance of Guardiola they appear to have gone lame: injuries have bitten hard, with Navas, Nasri, De Bruyne, Mangala, Kompany and Bony all missing this game and a slew of kids on the bench.  Options were limited and the sight of Martin Demichelis facing the energy of Shinji Okazaki and raw pace of Jamie Vardy looked potentially troublesome, and so it was. Robert Huth continued his goalscoring form, Riyad Mahrez put another bat-signal up to Spain and it felt that we learned a lot more about City's lack of youth integration and declining legs than anything else. For Leicester, when you're a team having a season for the ages and your journeyman centre back scores three goals in two matches to secure away victories against top four rivals, it's certain that things are going your way. Leicester spent the first half of this remarkable season winning matches featuring a ton of goals. Their defence wasn't particularly effective at repelling shots or goals but high rates of shot conversion and the wonderful form of Vardy and Mahrez were enough to propel them towards the top of the league. Going into the tricky section of their fixture list, starting with Man Utd at the King Power back at the end of November, they were converting all their shots at a high rate of 15% which had effectively powered their 8-4-1  standing. During the tougher looking 12 games since–including two matches against Liverpool and Manchester City, plus games against Chelsea and Tottenham– they have converted shots at 14%; only a marginal decline. This has helped them go 7-4-1 but the biggest factor powering their run has been their save rate for in these games is that they only have conceded seven times from 40 shots on target, a crazily high rate of 82.5%. Spin that out to all shots and Leicester's opposition since December have been converting under one in twenty against a usual league average of around one in ten.  All these rates tend to fluctuate through a season and rarely sustain for too long at either extremely high or low levels. For Leicester, so far, large parts of them have. When you base a season for the ages on year long super high conversion rates then ride a tough schedule with an extremely high save rate, it's clear that things are going your way. For now Leicester's 14.2% all shot conversion rate places them 4th in a list of teams during the era for which data is public (2009-10 onwards). The teams above need little introduction, each well known for attacking prowess that propelled title challenges: 2013-14 Manchester City and Liverpool and 2012-13 Manchester United. Two titles and a second place finish for these three, yet the following season found a second for City, a 6th for Liverpool and a 7th for Moyes' Manchester United.  Leicester are in good, but unsustainable, company here. Each team brilliant in its own way, yet also at the absolute top end of conversion. And Vardy and Mahrez? One imagines legions of scouts bulking out non-league attendances looking for wayward teenagers with an eye for goal, or caravan tours around Ligue 2 grounds looking for players with a magic left foot.  That is a legacy will run long into the future and will likely have no yield.  Little to add to the last time I mentioned them, they have been brilliant, Mahrez especially; but to be an unheralded smaller team and find one break out player of the year candidate? That is a pleasant benefit to enjoy, but to have two? Yep, things are going your way. Regarding squad depth, there is still a huge gap between Mahrez and Vardy or indeed, Kante or Drinkwater and any replacements, one that long term will not be bridged by either of their sale or injury. The continued fitness of the key men in a comparatively small squad is of paramount importance, as it is for any team, but whoever replaces them is sub-par for Leicester's current level.  Having maintained a steady team, and been free from injury, this is yet another aspect in which things have gone Leicester's way. But what of the money clubs in this league? These teams are usually on the sharp end of title runs. Surely, they couldn't all show vulnerabilities together, in the same season? Vast wealth has been spent by not only Manchester City but Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle. With such investment surely one or more of these teams could manage a sustained run at the title? Well...

  • Chelsea imploded like no other Champion before
  • Arsenal have suffered traditional injuries and undershot expected goal numbers by heroic volumes, see this from Will Gurpinar-Morgan for detail
  • Manchester United continue to be stuck in transition, pootling along in minor European positions
  • Weird chaos for Liverpool

When did this last happen? It's been a while: the last time a team would have been five points clear of one of the traditional big clubs with a mere 53 points after 25 games was 2001-02. Newcastle had 49 points then and Manchester United and Arsenal 48. For Leicester to lead with 53 points is unusual too; go back to 2002-03 to find Arsenal on 53, three points clear of Manchester United.  Over the last ten seasons the average points taken after 25 games is 59.4, the average for second place is 54.1. For the league to be so compressed points-wise has become an unusual event, yet here we are; beyond rational prediction. Yet when things are going your way... Nothing here is intended to denigrate Leicester's achievements, but their success will generate a ton of analysis attempting to look at the makings of a success story and a keenness from other aspirational clubs to mould a similar run. If Leicester were backing up this run with top notch shooting or expected goal numbers, there would be every reason to mimic them, but they aren't. Is it likely that we shall reflect on this in years to come as the birth of "anti-taka" with half the league adapting their style by gluing a couple of Olympic sprinters onto an eight man defence? One suspects not. There has been much pleasure gained from Leicester's ascent to the top of the table. It has provided a fascinating new twist to a league that had in recent years become largely predictable. The true praise for them can be reserved for Ranieri's skill in improving them; not to their current status at the top, but from being a genuine lower half team last season to legitimate European contenders this.  For that is likely their true level; with this team, with fitness and a slight element of surprise, this team is above par in the league. Their shots and expected goal numbers peg them as lower tier European contenders, but if they fall to 3rd or 4th, to chastise them for failing to maintain a lead will be misguided; they will still have hit a very high mark. If they start next season and find themselves in the top half but a mile behind the top four, they will still have found a significantly improved level.  Liverpool in 2013-14 learned that special players can power long runs deep into the season, but they also learned that without them and given reversion over time, it can be very different. But when everything goes your way, it's best to enjoy the ride before it stops. When everything doesn't go your way... For Liverpool, it's not even funny any more. Fans with other allegiances may disagree but the slump that Liverpool have found themselves mired in has been deep, repetitive and familiar. This weekend found a new low, with the law of sod taking full effect as they blew a two goal lead against one of the league's worst teams, Sunderland, within minutes of a fan walkout. Sometimes, stupid stuff doesn't go your way, like for example this:

All the while their head coach is suffering with a suspected bout of appendicitis? Soap operas would reject this serious of events for implausibility yet this and further defensive woes have been enough to undermine a reasonably encouraging numerical base.  A lot has been written about the low quality of shots during Jurgen Klopp's reign, but regardless, they have taken a good volume of them: nearly 17 per game. The on target rate is comparatively poor at around 4.4 per game (26%), which reflects the lack of success from range but where the silliness occurs, where things haven't gone Liverpool's way, is at the other end. The positive side is that they have conceded very few shots. In twelve out of seventeen Klopp games, they have allowed nine or fewer shots. Only defeats against West Ham and Leicester have seen the opposition create a good volume of shots and shots on target and otherwise, for volume, they have been superb at suppressing the opposition. The trouble starts when you refer once again to how many of these shots have been kept out of goal. Season long, Liverpool have saved 57.6% of the on target shots they have faced compared to a league average of 69.4%. This is a lower rate than Bournemouth, who have had a horrific season preventing chances and goals and is lower than any full team season recorded over the last six years.  We can make it look worse by looking at Klopp's era (56.0%) or taking it just to Anfield (48.5%).  No wonder home fans are frustrated; they are witnessing it right now and in front of their very eyes. While these figures are truly dismal, to endure it is also to this degree is unfortunate and extremely incongruous with the excellent repression of shots.  Despite the poor goalkeeping and individual defensive errors that have effected this misery, a rate this low just will not sustain in the long term.  Repression of opposition shots is an important trait to aspire towards as it is reflective of team quality, an inability to keep the ball out of the net is far more beholden to fate. The positive takeaway from all this is that some aspects of Klopp's methods are working and project positively for the future. Some personnel tweaks in the summer, with obvious weaknesses up front and in goal, could well create some solidity where for now we see just mush.  Comparisons have been made with the aspects of Andre Villas Boas' project at Tottenham: high shot volumes, suppression of opposition shooting and wonky conversion rates at both ends tick all those boxes. However, where Villas Boas' sticky personality and stubbornness eventually saw his tenure fall apart, Klopp should be able to maintain enough charm to design a team capable of contending for top four next year. The last Liverpool season to get royally screwed by variance was 2012-13. They were an excellent shots team at both ends that year yet found a way to win only 16 games and finished 7th.  Of course that was the precursor to the Suarez-led rampage towards the title the following year, and while such ambition may seem out of range, this season the unexpected and unforeseen qualities of both Tottenham and Leicester were built from far lower bases. If they can do it then why not Liverpool? If only things could go their way... Ah hell. I warned against this kind of nonsense: using Leicester as a blueprint for another team's future? An example of how each team should dare to dream and that anything is possible? That lazy comparison is something we may have to get used to.   __________ Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter: @jair1970

West Ham: Untied

bilic2 It's easy to imagine that back in May, Sam Allardyce packed up his laptop, prised his name off the office door and swung his Range Rover out of the Boleyn Ground content that he had eked out every last drop of ability from his squad. After all, in four years he had brought them up from the Championship and firmly deposited them in mid-table. Three seasons of finishing 10th , 13th and 12th represented a job well done but for long periods, fans and increasingly the owners were not content with the style. In a results business, he nailed a sensible remit only to get discarded for an idealistic one. All a rather familiar scenario for Allardyce who left both Blackburn and Newcastle mid-season having found new ownership desiring more than a lick of paint. The problem for both these clubs was that his departure set in motion an hourglass of failure; new coaches produced lesser results and each team were relegated the next season. Combine too a rudimentary study of shooting statistics and it shows that the teams Allardyce managed at West Ham consistently created sub-par numbers in comparison to their finishing positions.  While maybe not as extreme as the undisputed master of such strategies, Tony Pulis, the methods Allardyce employed were effective and similarly less than scintillating. Knowing all this, come August,  I was fairly confident that the challenges West Ham were obliviously idling towards would be tricky to overcome and that once more, a team shorn of the protective bear hug of Allardyce would freeze its way through winter and struggle to survive; indeed I have the betting docket to prove it. The Manager, The Player On paper, the recruitment of a passionate former fan favourite player with zero experience of the league from a managerial perspective looks a little speculative. Slaven Bilić arrived in the early summer fresh from two years of par results at Beşiktaş, a job he took after helming Lokomotiv Moscow's worst season in the post-Soviet game. With his managerial reputation residing almost entirely from work in the international arena as coach of his native Croatia, he represented something of an risky choice, one possibly more borne of emotion than Allardycian reason. A more logical move was the signing of Dimitri Payet. It was one of the more notable signings of a summer that showcased a newly rich second tier of European football residing in the mid to lower echelons of the Premier League. £10.5m wasn't a vast sum but in securing a player who had created more shots than anyone in Europe in 2014-15, West Ham pulled off a neat scoop, surely in years gone by he'd have been a cert for one of the Italian giants? His age was the one potential downside with any contract liable to carry well into his 30s and potential decline. No matter: he's been their standout player and in averaging a goal contribution of 0.68 per 90 minutes from a total shot contribution of 5.70 (per 90) he's placed himself among the league's high performers.  Indeed, that he has maintained his rate of shot creation across the last two seasons: 3.9 (per 90) both years suggests that he has not been limited by the higher standard in England. This is where the 28 year old signing can pay off, a career to learn game smarts plus eminent transferable skills and an instant impact.  The slightly older player can sometimes lead a team where the 21 year old starlet may shrink. The Start, the Luck During the early months of the season, West Ham benefitted from a peculiar run of scoring. They scored from their first shot on target, then their second on four occasions, a scenario unlikely to repeat–indeed it hasn't–and found themselves spending long periods of time fending off the opposition and holding for good results.  Little about the team, bar the excellence of Payet, looked as though it was of sufficient quality to mount a European challenge but in their first ten games they were full of goals: only once did they fail to score at least twice. A superficial look at the results makes it appear that the entire attack revolves around the fitness of Payet, they only scored five times in the seven complete matches he missed but if we scratch a little deeper we find that West Ham's shot profile is almost indistinguishable whether he has played or not: west ham wowo payetSo: this is important and in some way quite impressive, West Ham's form has little to do with Payet's fitness, when he played they were riding an enormous wave of shot conversion (red) that was inevitably going to decline (blue), which it did during the period he didn't play. Bilic's system survived the loss of his best player with little alteration in fundamental shot rates.  Next time it is presented that West Ham's success has been based around the form of Payet, anyone reading this will know better.  Is he their best attacking player? Probably yes. Are they a better team with him in it? Not necessarily.  There is scope for further pulling this apart based on schedule, but that is unlikely to move the dial too far away from the clear point here. Less impressive among these numbers, at least for their medium to long term potential is that West Ham have been a sub-par total shots team and a roughly par on target team. But they're sixth The expected goals models don't deviate far here, both Paul Riley and Michael Caley peg them in 11th and i've got a couple of simple shot-based models that have them 11th or 12th yet they are sitting happily in 6th place having lost only five times. After coming off their conversion fuelled peak in the autumn, they have settled onto an average around 1.6 points per game, with little deviation. They simply haven't had a crippling run of results; even their eight game winless streak involved six draws, enough to keep them ticking along and out of the range of any tabloid powered crisis flashlight. There are genuine problems among their shooting numbers; only Crystal Palace have conceded twenty shots as frequently as West Ham: eight times, and that average of nearly sixteen per game is more often associated with relegation threatened teams. Also an early positive skew towards time spent winning has declined as the season has worn on. Indeed shot rates are not good when faced with a deficit, they rank 13th in shots for (11.4 shots/90) and dead last against (17.6/90) suggesting recovering deficits is not a strong suit. Regarding personnel, given this inability to limit opposition shooting, it seems odd to see that the core of the team that has played most consistently is defensive. Kouyaté, Tomkins, Noble, Cresswell and Adrián have all played over 80% of available minutes and Ogbonna, Reid and Jenkinson have all played 55% or more.  Forward options seem to have been less consistent and at least from a numerical perspective the sale of Zarate, a solid shot contributor from limited minutes, seems slightly odd. Lanzini has contributed when fit, but a lack of goals has characterised the play of the chosen forwards: none have more than four all season. Going Forward It's easy to presume that West Ham are at the top of their curve and that a reversion is inevitable.  I calculate that they are about four points ahead of a general expected total which is certainly in the realm of likely variance and the nature of a 38 game season means that it's perfectly reasonable to assume that they could continue to overhit an expected level til season's end. It is less likely that they skew any further upwards, and a slight drop down the table is the smart call, certainly Omar Chaudhuri's collation of Sporting Index's predicted points lands them in 8th position but within only three points of 11th. So what do we think of Bilic? In truth it is hard to know; 23 games characterised by a big positive goals skew for at least half of them is masking shooting numbers that aren't far away from those created last season. Much like Allardyce he has so far come out on the right end of them.  With relatively little change in the squad year on year, it could be possible that we are seeing a similar situation to that which occurred at Everton after David Moyes 11 year tenure ended. That first season after, 2013-14 under Roberto Martinez, Everton performed solidly, almost as if the Moyes blueprint had carried over into the new man's reign. Last season and this, Everton look far less secure and more like the team that Roberto built.  It's possible that it will be next year when we see the true character of a Bilic team, and it is hard to know whether that will be enough to stall the Allardyce hourglass. ___________________________________ Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter here: @jair1970  

The Premier League Half Season Stat Review 2015-16

alli modricFeaturing:

  1. Goals
  2. Position
  3. Wins/Losses
  4. League wide shot trends
  5. Home v away shot dominance
  6. Man City
  7. Tottenham
  8. Newcastle
  9. Aston Villa
  10. Sunderland
  11. Man Utd
  12. Shot/On Target Chart
  13. "You didn't really mention Arsenal"
  14. Save Percentages in the bin
  15. Hidden in plain view

When the Premier League designed it's schedule, it had little if any thought for half season analysis. With the final 19th game finishing late on a Wednesday evening and the next round of fixtures kicking off the following Saturday, week twenty is upon us and gone before we've had time to reflect. But halfway is a good point to take stock: at no other point prior to the end of the season do we find anything resembling its parity in fixtures fulfilled and even if a team has had a tough run of games away from home (say, Liverpool) or the opposite, as Omar Chaudhuri noted during the autumn, perceived imbalance here pretty much evens out. Tough away fixtures mean easier ones at home and vice versa will play out throughout the second half. It is what it is. So as you read this the twentieth round of fixtures are behind us, with a Cup weekend forthcoming prior to a rare midweek set of games. No matter, the points of interest still stand and one game does not wipe out the longer trends seen over the course of five months. In the Enlightened Era (2009-10 onwards) of publicly accessible data, we now have 140 team samples of first 19 games and i've looked for a few other trends in more general measures. General trends Goals Part of the reason we are lacking a truly dominant team in terms of results is down to goal scoring. This season is the first since 2006-7 that has found no team in the league scoring two or more goals per game at this point.  Both Leicester and Man City have come up one short (37) and nobody else is within five goals.  Over the last six years, only one team scoring 1.7 goals per game or more has subsequently failed to qualify for the top four, Man City's 2010-11 side.  This mini-stat is sure to break this year as in addition to Leicester and Man City, Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham are all at or exceeding this mark. Part of the reason for this is that of the strongest shot volume teams: Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Southampton, none are converting at over 11.5%. Normally by this point, one of the major contenders is skewing very positively in their conversions yet weirdly only Everton and Leicester are converting at a significantly above average rate (13 and 14% all shots, 39% on target). Everyone else in the league is noticeably behind.  Part of Leicester's success is fuelled by their own positive skew off reasonable numbers, and part of why they are so close to the summit is that other contending teams have not been running hot.  They are an interesting case, as Simon Gleave reflected, but nothing about them suggests they will continue to be worth such a lofty position. A plus 14 goal difference is usually enough to give a top four platform, only Southampton 2014-15 have failed since Everton in 2007-08, Tottenham, Man City and Arsenal are all well set here. Position Five of the last six Champions were top after 19 games, the one team to fail was Arsenal 2013-14, a team that notably exceeded it's underlying numbers during the first half of that season and duly dropped back. In the same period Arsenal (7th in 2012-13) are the lowest placed team to improve into the Champions League positions. Leeds in 2001-02 were the last team to drop from a position in the top three to outside the top four (a run of 42 consecutive qualifiers), which is a tick in Leicester's box. Wins/Losses Another tick in Leicester's box is 11 wins, at least the last 18 qualifiers have kept on for top four. Aston Villa's one win/thirteen defeats combination maps extremely badly. Indeed thirteen defeats is only recently exceeded by Bolton 2011-12; so Sunderland are also historically bad here. League wide shot trends In recent seasons, we have seen a distinct reduction in the volume of shots taken in the league and that has continued so far this year: shots per seasonWe shall see what the departure of Mourinho does to these numbers going forward! Home v away shot dominance A lot has been said about a recent bias towards away results.  Taking a wide look at shot rates, we can see this: shots plus minusBeyond this, there are no pronounced trends in shot conversion, which typically oscillate around a long term mean. It is also amusing to note the predominance of home wins in the week twenty fixtures. The Good Man City At times it can be frustrating when balancing the wider perception of Manchester City against the cold, hard facts of their quality. Simple facts like finishing position show that this is the league's predominant team of the decade; a 3rd place finish in 2010-11 pre-empting four alternate first and second places. Yet despite a record that is superior to all of their rivals, it seems as if their qualities are undervalued when held against a broad look at modern football. Maybe the lack of recent European success from themselves or their English-based peers has left the casual fan underwhelmed, or a lack of an extensive and successful heritage creates resentment or new found success, or more likely an ingrained distrust of huge foreign investment and the inevitable displacement of more established sides. Possibly the straightforward media and fan view will never be able to see beyond Yaya Toure's languid style and understand the dominant force he has been. At times even I have become frustrated as once more I cobble together some numbers and find myself looking, yet again, at what looks to be a superior team, which, yet again, is finding a way of hiding itself. At the 12 game point City were putting up extremely strong numbers, so typically they promptly got utterly crushed by the sheer weight of Jurgen Klopp's charisma. They lightly wobbled through late autumn going 3-1-3 with 11 scored and the same conceded. With a raft of key injuries underpinning this more mortal run of form, the simple narrative turned quickly to skepticism but they have still managed to put up overall solid shot numbers and their run of top two finishes looks highly likely to continue. In our half season sample, they rank 2nd/140 in total shot ratio (66%) and related shot plus/minus (+8.6 per game), 6th in shots on target for (6.5 per game), 9th for shot on target ratio (65%) and first for all shots against (8.8). Yes: this Man City side, shorn of Vincent Kompany for long periods of the season has conceded fewer shots per game over the first 19 games than any other team in the Enlightened Era. All these aspects are good. But what is limiting their progress and contributing to their non-dominant position? City's shots conceded may be few but those that get through have landed on target at a very high rate, 40% (2nd /140) and opposition shot conversion rate is also high at 12% compared to a league average of around 10%. Over a goal against per game is a poor rate from so few shots. Usually to win a title, you need a combination of excellent shooting numbers and a positive skew from your conversions; City had that in 2011-12 and 2013-14, where they won, they didn't in 2012-13 and 2014-15, where they finished second and so far they don't this season either. But in a year in which their viable rivals have changed, they still look extremely strongly placed to battle it out with whoever can best exploit a base of the first 19 games. City are still huge players with only a potential drift in focus caused by Pellegrini's inevitable departure or a focus on the Champions League looking like challenges the squad needs to overcome. Otherwise they still look to have the most guns and will surely go very close, at least. Tottenham A huge aspect of Tottenham's season isn't just how well they have been playing and how good their numbers look, but how different it looks from the chaos of last season. Throughout last season they were a 52% shots team with a slightly lower on target rate.  Par stuff that maintained across each half of the season.  Based on any analysis, it looked like major challenges were ahead, but with a mass clear out and what now looks like a well bonded and youthful squad, Tottenham have recorded a huge leap in their underlying numbers with a particular focus on their on target rates. The good part here (volume) lands in the realm of strong sustainable quality but there's a side order of caution alongside (rates). Let's take a look. Their overall shot ratio has increased from 52% to 57%, which is impressive in itself but their shot on target ratio has gone from 50% to 66%, a huge increase.  Teams posting rates that high, in fact everyone posting 64% and above, have gone on to qualify for a top four slot on 10/10 occasions since 2009-10 and understandably, the components reflect well too.  Tottenham's "For" rate ranks 10th/140 and their "Against" rate 11th/140. There has been some debate around where Tottenham's true rate lies, and the most likely answer appears to be somewhere in between, but towards which end may well determine whether they are hovering around third or fourth or pushing for more. Where further caution comes in is in the rate in which all their shots are landing on target.  Tottenham's all shot numbers are fine, good but not spectacular, and the divergence between these and those on target is revealing. Over 42% of Tottenham's shots have landed on target, a full 2% higher than any other team in the sample and the difference in this rate and that of their opposition's rate (29%, so a full 13 percentage points) is significantly higher than the previous highest: ten percentage points.  As such, there is a huge likelihood that Tottenham's rate will revert as the season wears on, but it is worth noting that often when a metric such as this skews so positively, it's reversion will likely still maintain it at a high rate. This advantage Tottenham are enjoying may reduce but should not disappear.  Indeed it is more likely that any skepticism borne of noting such positive skews is likely only to see effect longer term, and depending on how these metrics tally come season's end,  2016-17 may well be a more interesting test of the "new" Tottenham's true ability. Often it takes a long time for these things to shake out.  Chelsea 2014-15 are the prime example here. The positive skew they enjoyed prior to Christmas was enough to give them a basis for league victory and the some of the reversion that took place over the second half of the season was predictable, that they cut the cord on the bungee this year was a step well beyond and envisaged by none. Regardless, this is strong team within this league and the foundations have been laid for long term prosperity, something that looked to be a year or more away back in August. Bad The trio of bad from the twelve game review have manfully clung on to their pitiful titles. For Newcastle, Aston Villa and Sunderland, this truly has been the half season of nightmares and that they sit in the bottom three is apt. Newcastle For Newcastle to have accrued seventeen points from such utterly terrible shooting numbers is quite a generous achievement.  Everything shot related reflects on them badly: they have taken the fewest shots of any team in the sample (9.0 per game), have the worst total shot ratio (35%), the second worst plus minus for shots (-7.8) and the sixth worst shot on target ratio (36%). As if to add fuel to the fire, the shots they are conceding are going in at a high rate (13%). A major concern looking forward is how in recent years as a club, they have been reliant on building a mid-table points total by halfway then coasting in.  Pardew's 2013-14 team fell in a huge hole after Christmas and John Carver's tenure from last season had nothing go right.  It's simply vital that in some way, Steve McClaren averts a similar malaise, which, given that this team is tangibly worse than those that have failed before could well be a tough job.  Luckily for them Aston Villa have reserved a relegation spot already and they are close enough to rivals to have some hope. But it does not reflect well on a team that spent good money in the summer to be so distinctly bad. Villa I reflected on Villa recently but mainly their conversions are abysmal, all shots are 7% for and 14% against (5th/140).  The rate in which the opposition is troubling Brad Guzan is extremely high (38%, 10th/140) and they are bad at winning games (one, joint 1st/140) and really good at losing games (thirteen, joint 2nd/140). Sunderland Things based around shots on target are horrible for Big Sam's red and white army, all of these are bottom five worst/140: Against: 6.4/game Ratio: 35% Plus minus: -3.0 Opposition shots on target per shot rate: 40% And they also concede a high rate of their shots received (12%) and have a high "games lost" total (13, =2nd/140) In normal circumstances, all this looks like prime relegation fodder, and quite possibly that will be the case, but in Allardyce, they now, and probably for the first time in years, have a coach that should be able to squeeze the absolute maximum out of not only the squad but also the inadequate numbers they have been and most likely will continue to produce.  Plus they are Sunderland and far too many "Sunderland relegation" predictions have miraculously failed over multiple years to make anything like a dispassionate judgement on their survival chances. But: they are bad, that much is true. More is needed. Though not as historically bad *in the numbers* as the three, both Norwich and Bournemouth have vulnerabilities that need to be overcome to prevent getting involved and West Brom are doing it Pulis style off sub-par metrics.  When margins are so small a couple of fortunate bounces converted into wins can make the picture look very different. With half a season to go, I would posit that only Villa can be reliably discarded. Others: Manchester United It is rare we see an entirely new attempted method of deriving results in the league and under Louis van Gaal, we have found Manchester United largely eschewing shot volumes and relying on defence first to drive his consecutive top four bids. The 8.9 shots conceded per game is only beaten in the whole sample by Manchester City's current similar rate; this team is highly effective at repelling opposition shots.  However, the new and different output is based around their attack. Their 11.2 shots per game ranks only 118th/140 and their on target rate (3.6/game) ranks 106th.  Top four contenders simply don't take eleven shots per game.  Arsenal 2013-14 qualified for the top four despite starting with a first half 14.0 shots/5.6 on target and van Gaal's first bid incorporated 12.8/4.7.  It's new and different to have decisively mid-to-lower table attacking numbers glued onto a first class defence. A rate of 3.6 shots on target per game is so low that it has been exceeded by twelve of the last eighteen relegated sides and an average top four qualifier takes over 5.9 per game, so to be anywhere near these positions with such a neutered attack is either an endorsement of van Gaal squeezing as much as he can from a limited squad, or a reflection of his defensive wizardry.  It's counter intuitive from an entrenched perspective of creating attacking dominance as the primary method to win, and it may not work long term, but it is at least an intriguing technical experiment. A glimmer for Manchester United fans, starved of energetic displays can be found in the increase in rates and form that van Gaal oversaw during parts of the second half of last season.  They survived a similar late autumn lull in 2014-15 by riding a few of their conversions, fortune that deserted them throughout this December but eventually found some form as winter drew on.  Already under external pressure, at least, van Gaal still has over three months to go to exceed the duration of his Bayern Munich tenure.  Parallels are easy to draw. Movers, shakers, contenders, losers 2015-16 sotr tsr Certain teams look more like usual top four contenders than others. "You didn't really mention Arsenal" Arsenal look like Arsenal usually do: strong top four contending numbers.  They have dipped from a strong position at 12 games and their own fitness and the failure of others, or specifically Manchester City, are likely to be the greatest drivers towards a title run. Neither of these are insurmountable, both may be outside their control. Save percentages in the bin Bournemouth's all shot opposition conversion rate is an astronomical 17% which is a full 3% higher than any other team in the sample. Their save percentage is a little better off though also bad at 55% (3rd worst) and the opposition is finding 38% of it's shots reaching the goal (11th worst/140). Considering these huge handicaps, their accrual of points is fairly impressive, indeed, general shot numbers are solid for a promoted club. Liverpool are posting reasonable shot numbers but getting turned over by conversions at both ends, their 61% save percentage is 2nd in the league behind Bournemouth's and they are only finishing 7% of their shots; also bad. We have seen familiar errors at the back and an inability for either coach to get a functional attack working. Hidden in plain view The only two teams that didn't register in any category as either notably good or bad, sustainable or not were Watford and Southampton. A clear demarcation between thumbs up and thumbs down here for the two clubs.   ______________ Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter here: @jair1970

Arsenal, Home or Away And Same Old Pulis

Kim-Kallstrom   Arsenal Interesting turn of events down at St. Mary's as what remains of Arsenal's squad finally walked into one in the form of Shane Long having a game for the ages.  I noted way back in the North London Derby how weak Arsenal's bench looked and seven weeks on their options are still Oxlade-Chamberlain, some defenders and some kids.  It's to their credit that they have managed to retain a reasonably decent run of results in the interim, but performance levels have certainly dipped since the giddy heights of early autumn as we can see here: Arsenal 1516Small samples of course, but hard to get away from the difference in what a reasonably fit Arsenal can put up and one shorn of half of its creative talents.  Herein lies their eternal problem and partially why they are on a run of ten consecutive third or fourth place finishes.  Good Arsenal has regularly put up superior numbers and regularly reached the halfway point in seasons looking like genuine contenders, injured Arsenal limps through sections of every season at a reduced rate putting up roughly par numbers and hampering the more lofty ambitions of good Arsenal. Of course the reduced firepower at Arsenal's disposal these past weeks offers an interesting slant towards their performances. In beating Villa, once a sufficient scoreline had been attained, they shut the game down and offered very little going forward. Consciously preserving their legs in front of a busy period? Similarly against Man City, they hung onto the game until two quick goals secured a solid lead then created very little there on in.  It seems to go against Arsene Wenger's typical philosophy of playing the same way regardless of game state or opposition but the Southampton loss was the first wide margin league defeat since the chastening hammerings that characterised the 2013-14 season.  There have been signs since those games that he has adapted his tactics in bigger games.  Maybe Southampton's victory was magnified with the knowledge that they had a two day turn around with a small fit squad? This year the title race is shaped differently and it seems plausible that only Man City stand in their way. City themselves are only now emerging from an injury induced lull and it's plausible that the long term difference between these two sides might come down to fitness and squad management.  Entering January with title chances is familiar to Arsenal, but so is exiting January without new players.  This one year it might be worth making an exception, if only to allow for more rotation and a well populated bench. Over to you Arsène. Home or Away? To the irritation of this writer, after 18 games we have unequal splits between home and away games and having checked the Christmas schedule, this isn't going to be righted any time soon.  Last time I complained about this @_Peteowen told me it was unavoidable at times but still... City have played ten at home and eight away whereas Leicester have the opposite. Yet City play at Leicester next so probably wise not to read too much into it.  Nevertheless, the split does offer some interesting comparisons.  Man City, typically dominant at home have an 8-0-2 record with a ton of goals yet are 3-2-3 on the road having scored and conceded eight a-piece. So on the surface we have a simple narrative: take Yaya and co out of the comfort of their own surroundings and they just aren't up to it. Now hold your horses just a minute.  If we actually look at some shot numbers we have a different story: city 1516A few numbers for reference there but we can see where the problem has arisen in those highlighted: nothing is going in away from home. Beyond that City have been slightly less effective outside the Etihad, but probably not to the tune of 1.9 goals per game, or any reasonable expectation in between. Stoke have picked up thirteen points both at home and away, and superficially look to be running at par; indeed they are at home as a 49%/46% shots/on target team. Take them away from the Britannia and it's a different story; pushing a miserable average of 18 shots against and only the heroics of Butland and an 86% save percentage rebuffing all advances. Which makes me think... Learning Pulis Tony Pulis doesn't care what I think about him and he doesn't care what you think about him either. One imagines he doesn't care what anyone thinks about him, his methods or his interchangable army of giant centre backs. And he certainly doesn't care that any attempt to quantify his outputs makes his team look terrible.  It was the same at Stoke; bad numbers, sufficient points, and at Palace too.  Either you begrudgingly respect him, I guess, or you join an ever-growing chorus of usually dispassionate viewers in hoping that one year his methods don't work. I'm ambivalent towards West Brom, so it's unfortunate that they have become embroiled in this but he has created yet another sub-40% shots team, one that relies on strength and set pieces, gives up all the territory yet somehow comes out slightly ahead of what is required. Once more there is a big focus on the dead ball; last season his short tenure had West Brom leading the league in set piece conversion and this year they are third. Conversions are generally in the realm of non-repeatable metrics, but it's at least worth considering, given how specifically focused Tony Pulis teams are, that it is at least intended that they should profit from such events. Similarly there's information in and around scorelines that seems relevant. This season West Brom have been a 33-34% shots team when drawing or ahead yet this has leaped to around 50% when behind, a not unexpected trend but with an extremely strong bias.  Split the home and away games and you spot an inkling of attacking intent at home but none away and only er.. Stoke's away games have featured fewer goals than West Brom's, yet we see the same trend as with Stoke,  a super high save percentage (81%), and a high volume of shots conceded (16+). Each of these teams appears to have the clear intent to secure away points via either maintaining a level position or once attaining a lead, protecting it at all costs. In averaging over a point per game away from home, West Brom have so far just kept themselves at arm's length from the relegation spots but with the gap at three points there is no room for error in the land of Pulis.   Thanks for reading! ____________________________________ Don't forget the site is full this week with the "StatsBomb recommends..." series: Jack Butland by @footballfactman Hatem Ben Arfa's inevitable drop off by @MoeSquare Nathan Redmond and Watford by @footyinthecloud and @WillTGM The return of 4-4-2? by @deepxg More work to come in the next couple of days from @SaturdayOnCouch and @FlaFu_tbol too... And @MoeSquare had a recent look at 10 Ligue Un attacking talents. Plus there was a podcast: [soundcloud url="" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /] ...which is also now available on iTunes. Follow all those guys on twitter, get reading anything you missed out on and enjoy! You'll not be bored this Christmas. Happy New Year and all that.