Monday, 28 September 2015

Week 7: 10 Points


"A dormant volcano is one which has not erupted in a long time but there is a possibility it can erupt in the future"
This quote accurately describes the standoff between some analytics bloggers and some mainstream journalists. All that is needed to move from dormant to eruption is a juicy, contentious topic. That topic arrived today in the form of Brentford, a club who publicizes it's use of analytics, firing their manager just 8 league games into the 2015/16 season.

Cue defenders of analytics and journo's mildly teeing off at one another. It's pretty tame stuff, as you can see:

As I said, it's all pretty mild. There's no insults. Just disagreement.

Yet I'm fairly convinced that one day things may well be more a lot more tense and tetchy. It may even descend into a little bit of war. Why? 

Just a hunch: as football fans are exposed to more numbers and stats, be it through Football Manager, Sky Sports, 'distance run' metrics, or FPL, they will become increasingly well versed about said numbers and stats surrounding the game. This knowledgeable average fan will eventually demand more context and insight from the media they consume. If the media don't adapt to this challenge, which may well be years and years away, then the fans may well take their eyeballs and clicks elsewhere to sites that do provide that extra context (stats/numbers/tactics/theory or otherwise).

If that scenario does take place and the content that the average fan desires does indeed change, then some jealousy, fear and insecurity among football writers of all ilks will ensue. Kinda like what is happening in hockey:

The adapt or die scenario for journalists is, if it does indeed happen, some years away yet. Today's mini-blowup may was tame, but it may well be seen retrospectively in years to come as one of many border skirmishes, a test of the oppositions line, or a night patrol, if you will, on the way to the Great Fancystats War!

2) More Analytics

Another Brentford-inspired take there. This is a pretty easy argument to shoot down. NO TEAM will solely use stats in decision making. Stats/numbers/analytics (whichever you feel more comfortable with) is just one tool in the tool box. It is just one ingredient in the cake. 

Sometimes analytics will be a major ingredient (think of corner strategy) and sometimes it will be a minor ingredient (decision to sign well-known players).

Analytics, if used correctly, can help teams make better subjective decisions. It can help team X make better bets. Analytics isn't perfect, nor is it infallible. It's just one more tool at hand for the decision makers.

Also, some food for thought:

3) "Write This Season Off"

Rory: "you have to write this season off"

Now, I may be being a little unfair on Rory and taking his tweet out of context, but, correct me if I am wrong, isn't that what twitter is: millions of people responding to words without context?

Anyway, should we write Liverpool off? Let's look:


The assumption is that Liverpool are in such a mess after the first 7 league games that the season is lost and we should simply write it off as some terrible mistake. This doesn't make much sense to me.

In 2012/13 Liverpool had 6 points at the 7 game mark and finished with 61 points (7th)
In 2013/14 Liverpool had 14 points at the 7 game mark and finished with a crazy 84 points.
In 2014/15 Liverpool had 10 points and finished with 62 points (6th).

Liverpool have often started slowly under Rodgers, as @jair1970 has pointed out, and gone on to finish about par in 2 of the 3 previous seasons.

Liverpool are currently tracking to finish with 61 points (6th position based on last 10 years of points to league position) whilst posting strong shots numbers (62.7% Shots on target ratio. League Average is 50%) combined with a cripplingly low PDO (78. League average is 100). Liverpool's shot share may well fall a little with some more time spent in the lead but good God is that PDO going to rise.

When Liverpool's PDO rises, as it surely will, then the results will come. Liverpool will convert more of their own shots on target, they will save more of the oppositions shots on target and the media will talk about how Brendan survived the crisis and turned the team around by the force of his will, or by instilling confidence, or having Henderson return from injury or some other bullshit.

Liverpool can't continue to be this snakebitten by the conversion percentages (PDO), can they?
hover test

4) Media Guide To Reporting Teams In A Positive Or Negative Light

If team is on the left (positive) end of the scale then report them in a positive light. If team is on the right (negative) end of the scale then report them in a negative light.

Some teams on the positive end of this chart (West Ham, Man United & Palace) can do wrong. Man United are top of the league. West Ham have new-fangled tactics to beat the big boys. And Palace are part of that "upwardly-mobile" class of Premier League teams who can aim for europe.

On the negative end of this scale we have teams that are under real and scary pressure! Like Man City, who were brilliant and perfect just 2 games ago. We also have you-have-to-write-it-off-Liverpool, struggling cross-loving Southampton, some dwellers like Bournemouth, Newcastle and fallen darlings Swansea.

PDO exerts an insanely powerful force over teams during small spans of games. And there isn't a small span of games which is scrutinized as much as those in the early part of the season.

Not only can PDO sink a team for a run of games or boost a team up the table, it seems to have an (unknowing) impact on the way some journalists report about those teams. 

A sinking PDO can lead to questions about new signings and the manager (Liverpool) or the mental strength of a squad (Man City). It can also lead to apathy (nobody cares about Swansea or Southampton right now). A high PDO can lead to contentment with a teams budding season (West Ham) and praise for new signings and manager (Martal of United).

PDO is like some strange natural force: You can't see it, but it is exerting it's influence on teams all the time. Propelling teams up the table, sinking other teams, bouncing other teams around. 

Thing is, PDO in most cases regresses.

5) Magic

PDO regression during the 2014/15 season.

Notice how PDO flattens out across the board. Now, there are some exceptions to this flattening out: incredibly good teams who have a talent skew over the rest of the league (Madrid, Barca, Bayern, 86' Oilers, 83' Islanders), very lucky/unlucky teams, or those benefiting/suffering from some extreme score effects. 

Once again, in most cases PDO - in general a check which can tell us which teams may be temporarily over/under performing their underlying numbers - flattens out.

PDO isn't a core or crucial stat, but boy does it tell us if teams are over/under performing during short spans of games.

6) Man United In 1st Place

Top of the pile after 7 games, and already I can hear the chattering among United fans growing louder. The United fans fully in possession of their sanity know it's unlikely that they can win the league with the holes that the squad possesses, but belief can be a powerful persuader.

A reality check: 

Points 16 (1st)
Goal% 70.6% (1st)
PDO 122.9 (1st)
Scoring% 42.9% (1st)
Save% 80.2 (4th)
Time Spent Winning 38.3 minutes p90 (2nd)
Corsi 55.9% (5th)
SoTR 52.8% (8th)
Fenwick 51.9% (7th)


A lot of the shots metrics (stable and fairly good predictors of future goal% and points) aren't pretty for United, though the amount of time spent winning will be deflating those numbers a little. Instead, United's points total has been driven by some very impressive conversion percentages, which may be affected by score effects (this time boosted by time spent winning).

Is there anything in this basic stats line which gives us hope of a long-term title challenge? Er, ummm. Not really. If and (probably) when those conversion percentages cool, United are going to need to find ways of taking more (and better quality) shots. Simply put: United need to better at out-shooting the opposition and find ways of improving an attack that is nowhere near potent enough for a title challenge. 

The defence meanwhile....

7) Prevent D

I may have been a little critical of some of Man United's numbers in the point above, but Good Lord do they possess a strange and effective defensive scheme.

United concede 9.0 shots against per game which is tops for the league (2nd is Man City with 9.6, League Average is 13.5). That in isolation isn't all that impressive. The way United are preventing opponents from entering their territory certainly is, though.

United are conceding 291 passes per game (3rd best, League Average is 347). The really interesting part is in which zones United are forcing the opposition to pass the ball.

Total D Zone Without N Zone Without A Zone Without
Arsenal 28.5 53.6 17.9
Aston Villa 27.6 55.6 16.7
Bournemouth 25.4 53.7 21.0
Chelsea 28.4 51.3 20.3
Palace 32.8 52.6 14.6
Everton 31.1 53.2 15.7
Leicester 23.9 56.8 19.3
Liverpool 27.5 54.2 18.3
Man City 24.8 55.1 20.1
Man United 17.7 54.2 28.1
Newcastle 30.6 56.8 12.5
Norwich 24.6 57.3 18.1
Southampton 23.7 57.6 18.6
Stoke 25.4 59.1 15.5
Sunderland 28.0 55.4 16.7
Swansea 26.8 52.4 20.8
Tottenham 28.7 50.7 20.6
Watford 28.7 56.3 15.0
West Brom 28.2 55.0 16.8
West Ham 32.5 51.3 16.1
LGE AVE 27.4 54.7 17.8

Just 17.7% of opponents completed passes have took place in United's defensive third. Next best is Southampton at 23.7%. This is a big gap and something that would be mighty interesting to study on video.

The interesting details don't end there. Check out the percentage of completed passes United allow in their own attacking third: 28.1%. Next best is Bournemouth at 21%.

So what is happening? I'm not sure. I'm no coach or theoretical tactician, but it seems United have a shape out of possession and a pressure scheme which allows their opponents to complete passes at a really high rate in United's attacking third of the pitch, a league average rate in the neutral zone of the pitch, and a really low rate in United's defensive zone of the pitch (just 55% of the league average).

United prevent teams from completing passes in their defensive third at an amazing rate. It appears to be a genuine skill, a strange tactical quirk that prevents the opposition from passing in any great volume in dangerous areas of the pitch.

Let's see if it lasts.

8) Man City Collapse

I'll be quick with this: it's not really a collapse. It's probably, I believe, just shit that happens. Man City have suffered 3 defeats from their last 4 games and the natives are starting to become alarmed. But losing to a good team in the CL, hammering the hammers but unable to overcome the long range blast and set piece goals, and capitulating to injury and referees in NLD doesn't particularly worry me all that much. 

Maybe I have too much patience.

Aside from some of the set piece variance, offside worries and lack of concentration, Manchester City don't have that much to worry about except an injury list for the ages:

(probably Aguero, who seems way off pace)

This is a real list, and no matter how much Miguel Delaney believes City should have adequate depth, there exists no team in Europe that could coast along and overcome an injury list like that without some issues along the way.

City fans, do not be worried by our shape, or our tactical setup, or the set pieces. Be worried about the injury list which is starting to have an impact on results. Pellegrini is unable to rotate his fullbacks, or rotate his midfield, or rotate his forwards. 

Why? The injury list. 

What happens when you can't rotate with a game every 3 days? Players get fatigued, performances slip, points get dropped. 

Well, that is unless you have the good stuff.

Newcastle (h) and Bournemouth (h) next up in the league.

9) The Others

As Sander said the league is a lot more fun when the better teams are also the unlucky teams.


So what do we see here? We have 6 teams hovering around 60% Shots on target ratio, and just 2 of those teams might be described as traditional powers. May take a good many more weeks before this chart takes on the look or normality.

Chelsea continue to thrash and stagger around suffering an awful fatigue hangover (well, if it that isn't the reason for their 7 game shit-show then I don't know what is).

Newcastle and Sunderland look poor here, but sked and red cards and God knows what else may be factors for poor starts.

Stoke are surprisingly off-pace so far.

Man United and West Ham are about to enter Saturn's orbit.

Give these teams, and this chart, a few more weeks to settle in. Things are slowly taking shape.

10) Goal Of The Week

Breaking the rules a little here, but way back when Zidane did this with his weaker foot.

Minimal backlift. Lordy.