Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Man Utd under Moyes: Under-performance & blame culture

There's nothing like the finality of a sacking to add impetus to getting a review piece done & with Utd facing a fairly meaningless Giggs-led four match run in, all the important information is already consigned to record and the Moyes era is bookended for posterity by two mind states: hope and resignation. I personally think the board have had two options and have picked neither.   January would have been a logical out, it clearly wasn't going well, after all. But if not then, allow the man the fruits of his extensive scouting system and give him until next Christmas with a raft of his summer signings; allow the system that he's spent all year setting out for Utd's benefit to do its work... I hope he takes the password with him. 

There's many reasons why David Moyes appointment as Man. Utd manager didn't work out and most of the media will cover this to the nth degree in the forthcoming days, as if they were all knowing prescient creatures that understood all the nuances of managing a football team, nay, managing one of the world's largest football teams.  So why not have a go myself & attempt to offer a bit of nuance? Oh go on then...

Of course Moyes was on a hiding to nothing from day one.  There were a lot of things he could and maybe should have done differently:

  • He probably shouldn't have removed the entire previous coaching set-up, but he made that call and he did.
  • He probably should have thought more about tactical variation, but he knew what had worked for him at Everton and he didn't.
  • He probably should have been stronger in the transfer market and more ruthless with the current squad, but he inherited a Championship winning team & was given the security of a long contract so could have felt he had time & quality.
  • He probably should have been more aware of the impact a torpedoing share price would have on the thought processes of the owners, but he wasn't. 
  • He probably should have realised that trying to be 'one of the boys' out on the training ground would be viewed with suspicion by a group of players used to a remote patriarchal manager like Ferguson but he didn't.
On the plus side, he did actually get to the Champions League quarter finals (City did not) & found good form in Rooney, De Gea & latterly Mata.  Sadly, for him, that was the sum total in the positive tick boxes & so, he left. 

Reasons for failure:
I am going to focus on what I feel are two of the main reasons for Moyes' failure.

1.  To my mind, the clear issue with Man. Utd this season has been player under-performance & specifically under-performance in an area i've been carrying out some study: midfield.  It is no coincidence that this is the area where most observers of Man Utd have historically noted significant under-investment and a lack of creative or dominant quality, and that is something that has been levelled at the club for some seasons.  Some of this issue is likely systemic, for Moyes was rigid in his approach here, but nonetheless, too many experienced & decorated professionals have underperformed. (Ironically, the capture of Mata represents a move to solve this issue and has been a generally positive acquisition.  Moyes clearly thought so: he played him in every match.)

2.  I also feel that Moyes was specifically poor at empowering his players & may have alienated a large part of his team through a blame culture; one I suspect may well have been somewhat subtle & covert and will have engendered a distrust & resentment from an early point.  If some of the players felt unsupported & scapegoated, then their subsequent performance levels will have suffered.  Interestingly, in his typically dignified farewell statement, he made no mention of the playing staff.

This is Man Utd 2012/13, their last title winning year under Ferguson & then 2013/14 under Moyes:

2012/13:   1. Man Utd  P38  W28  D5  L5  F86  A43  GD +43  Pts89
2013/14:    7. Man Utd P34  W17  D6  L11  F56  A40  GD +16  Pts57

Quickly, we see a problem and it's not goal prevention (they are 4th in the league this year, actually better than the =5th from last). De Gea has been generally decent and whilst much of the back 4 is on the way out or purely old, they've acquitted themselves adequately;  Moyes can coach defence and he's used a 2DM variation in his formations throughout.  Indeed as we're about to see, Moyes has had a surfeit of defensive midfield options in his squad.  The problem has been in attack.  2.26 GPG has turned into 1.65 GPG, which is quite evidently, a very poor turn of events.

'But Moyes' system has killed the offense!'

Could be? Good players should be able to perform in any system though and simply put, they haven't.

Attacking Options: 
Here's Man Utd's midfield & forward options & how they've largely been utilised this year:

Carrick / Cleverley / Jones / Fellaini / Fletcher: Defensive midfielders, thou shall not pass
Mata: Playmaker
Valencia: Right midfield/winger
Januzaj: Left midfield/winger
Kagawa: Central attacking midfielder; if there was such a role in a Moyes team
Nani / Young: Versatile attacking wingers
Giggs: Will play midfield for food. Club legend.

Welbeck: Kinda left, kinda forward, kinda striker; for this analysis i've deemed him a forward.
Rooney: Talismanic versatile forward
Hernandez: Poacher
Van Persie: Striker

Out of 3060 available Premier League minutes, this is how many each of Man Utd's midfielders and forwards have played:

When you consider Jones has spent 2/3 of those minutes in defence, it shows that only Rooney and Carrick have played over 50% available minutes. [Mata has been subbed off for a total of 35 minutes since he has arrived]

Carrick, Fellaini, Van Persie, Nani & Fletcher have missed significant time through injury although of these only Carrick & Van Persie can be considered to have had prominent regular starting roles for Moyes.  

What this means is that injuries have had a moderate effect on team selection.  Moyes seems to have struggled to have found players that he felt he could trust implicitly and has regularly chopped and changed his starting line ups; hence a wide range of players with a medium level of minutes.

Impact Values:
If you read my Arsenal piece last week you'll have met my 'Impact Values'.  Here's a brief explanation:
What the hell is an impact value?  Each player has been rated for both offensive power (OP) & defensive power (DP) with a combined figure generated. We can then see who has done well and who has performed not so well.  Doing this has then enabled identification of the offensive & defensive strength of starting line-ups throughout the season. It has also enabled us to see where their midfield has shown effective balance or an over-reliance on either offensive or defensive players.  There is a bit of a chicken or egg situation here regarding inputs & the possibility of almost endless tweaks as a basis for future work, but where we're at is a good starting point. Also, as any model will include user-generated biases, i've attempted to minimise this by normalising the inputs and standing them against the league's top performers.

At the moment, a lot of the value is in how they give separate values for offensive and defensive 'power', which is a good fit for examining midfield players.  I have also started to generate forward values (we'll see these later) and defender values (needs work, we won't see these yet).
(Also these values do not directly compare with those done for the Arsenal piece; more inputs have gone in. The trends are comparable but not the direct figures)

Anyway: here's Utd's midfield values for this season:

So what can we gauge from these figures? Well...
  • Mata was an essential purchase and has done pretty well.  I calculated his Chelsea IV at 0.50 with almost identical DP, so all his improvement since joining Utd has been on the attacking side & he's clearly been empowered.  His number here is elite but it's easy to see where Mourinho was sceptical: his defensive number is low.  He's in a category akin to Eriksen or Ozil insofar as you don't get any defensive work from them, that's the trade-off.  Moyes favoured Mata like no other & it's understandable why.
  • Januzaj is the only other midfield man with even half decent offensive production.  He's a kid; but has started well.  He also has a low defensive number & that could explain why he has featured less upon the purchase of Mata.
  • There is a surfeit of defensive midfielders. Carrick, Jones (when not picked as a CB), Cleverley, Fellaini and Fletcher are all playing as and putting out defensive midfield numbers.
  • Cleverley has been harshly treated by the wider media.  He's been asked to play as a DM this year, pure & simple, & has solid, unspectacular DM numbers. 
  • Why Fellaini? He made a nuisance of himself in 2012/13 as a goalscoring target man cum attacking midfielder.  Moyes has fielded him at DM for Utd & he's been, like the others, unspectacular.  This makes his signing all the more unfathomable.  In a team needing striker support, Fellaini has been neutered further back.
  • The other wide men & attacking midfielders have been woeful.  Young, Valencia, Nani and in particular, poor Kagawa have had dreadfully sub-par seasons on all levels.
  • Giggs has played all over the midfield at times and has the figures of a very, very bad defensive midfielder.  Time waits for no man & if he picks himself, at all, ever again, he deserves shooting.

So with pretty sub-par midfield production, the onus has been on the forwards to carry the burden & generally they've done okay.  Rooney has performed at an elite level this year without scoring a ton of goals & the others have contributed a share of offense, though Van Persie has had limited effectiveness in reduced minutes.  
Indeed, no player has been able to contribute elite levels of goals. Van Persie's 26 from last year was a big contributor to their title run, ditto Liverpool's two strikers this year.  Hernandez has done well in his typical Solskjaer-esque role. Welback has goals to his name but both he and Hernandez have had very sporadic appearances.

Here's the forward IV chart (I should warn that these values do not directly correlate to those of the midfield values, so do not work for direct comparison, yet!):

Underneath the obvious value in the offensive figures, both Rooney & Welbeck contribute a lot to defensive play.  This is possibly because they spend time in more withdrawn positions than the other two who are pure strikers but both have an excellent work ethic for team play.  Welbeck has also spent some time in left midfield this year.


Apologies, in editing I've contrived to lose half this article!

Here's the tables I created anyway:

The crux of the original article was that Moyes repeatedly dropped his players after bad performances.
Each squared tick in the table was an incident where Moyes had seemingly 'blamed' a player for a poor draw or a loss.  By Oct 19th IIRC, 9 of his midfielders/attackers had cause to feel marginalised through being dropped.

No wonder he struggled to elicit good performances when so much of the squad was likely alienated.

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