Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The 2013/14 Premiership Defensive Midfielder Awards

'Ballon D'Or', 'Golden Boot', 'Player of the Year'?

Ah the humble defensive midfielder. So rarely understood, yet so crucially important.  Despite the wide acclaim placed in thinking circles upon Claude Makelele during the 'Galactico' era at Madrid, acclaim can be hard to come by for the defensive midfielder (indeed, Makelele himself, the forefather was sold to Chelsea.).
They don't win awards, they don't score many goals & they rarely get the biggest contracts.  Integral to success though? They sure are.  Anyway, I have ratings!  And they have a component that lends itself to defining midfielders by their traits and pigeonholing them into defensive and attacking roles.  As we are focusing on the defensive role, here is an explanation of their derivation:

The defensive element has been initially derived from 6 publically available metrics:
  • Interceptions
  • Tackles
  • Dispossessed
  • Turnovers
  • Dribbled by
  • Fouls
There is also a component derived from the passing stats; ball retention, lack of errors and accuracy over distance are all valuable traits a DM can use in their arsenal. Once data had been collected it's been weighted against league high performers to standardise & then put through a formula to create the figures seen here.

It aggregates, it summarises, it simplifies and it gives us lists.  And I like lists.

Anyway, an ideal defensive midfielder will contribute a high level of tackles, interceptions or both, will be rarely dispossessed, turn the ball over or be run past by opposition players & will commit minimal fouls.  It is appreciated that there are plenty of 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns', such as the value of positioning and organisation, that are hard to pick up within the measured attributes.  At this stage we have to work with what we've got.  As I suggested, the 'busier' a player is, the better they will probably rate.
These are particularly busy players, they often see more of the ball than anyone else on the pitch and include some of the prime 'tempo-setters' in the league.  Midfield defensive work is not a place for the shirker or the superstar with an ego.

(Having learnt a bit about the folly of devising ratings recently (rubbish!) i've decided to focus on what I consider the strengths of my own & their ability to identify how 'busy' a player is, particularly the defensive component.)

The arbitrary cut off point for qualifying is 1000 minutes.

Watercarrier of the Year:
This is a special category.  These guys do absolutely nothing except defensive work.  As such I have ranked them in order of the least amount of attacking contribution.  The average fan doesn't even know that they are on the pitch unless they have a silly hook like Fellaini's hair.
Nevertheless they are clearly vital as the man that tops the list is Javi Garcia, the unsung, ever-present defense marshaller of Man City's title-winning run in.  So defensively orientated is he, that he even spent time at centre back but for his feats in covering for Fernandinho's diminishing fitness, he's a deserving winner.
Interestingly 5 of the highest 10 rated players based on Defensive Power (DP) are on this list.  The trade off is huge: these players leave the attacking to others.

Young Defensive Midfielder of the Year:
Shoring up a midfield is not a young man's game; indeed of the top 40 rated players only five are 23 or under.  Presumably, defensive midfield is a position that requires learning; the enthusiasm and bullishness of youth are hard to harness to such a disciplined role.  Or a spot that players who may have lost some of their zip gravitate towards, leaving a lack of vacancies.  It's also a position that links up the team between attack and defence & is thus a role that often attracts leaders or influential types.
Here are the aspirant watercarriers:
So for a young player to be put in there and to perform well is a big achievement and Bentaleb and Ward-Prowse can be given great praise for playing and performing; maybe Ward-Prowse moreso because he's played all round the midfield and often as a substitute, yet still he posts good numbers. Either way both deserve praise for performing such duties at 19.  Wanyama was widely deemed to have had a mixed year after a reasonable fee was paid for him, but has clearly done just fine.
Is Ramsey a defensive midfielder? Course not. Fact is he has had an exceptional year all round and scores well for everything; this is a rare feat.

All-round Midfielder of the Year
A rare feat indeed as this table shows:
I should add that you don't qualify for this award without a high defensive component (+0.65) but in terms of statistical production both offensive & defensive, the top 4 here are away & clear.
  • Ramsey: does everything well
  • Cabaye: is a big loss to the league & PSG need to build around him if they're smart (maybe not?)
  • Gerrard: has delivered in a reigned in role after looking well in decline the year before; much credit due & especially for putting in a ton of minutes too.
  • Lampard: in c.15 years, to my mind Lampard has never looked like he does anything bar shoot quite accurately.  Plug the numbers in and it turns out he's doing it all.  I will never understand this.
In behind are an interesting breed of defensive midfielder; equally rare: Matic, Fernandinho, Dembele, Barry & Huddlestone all provide a controlling defensive presence but with a twist: the possibility of offensive production.  Very useful if you nominated DM has a shot, a shimmy or a lock-pick pass to call upon.

Defensive Midfielder of the Year
You got the highest number of DP points, and by some margin?  You deserve a prize Mile Jedinak, poster boy for statistical representations of defensive midfielders.  He also deserves praise because of sheer consistancy in the face of wildly varying coaching & team performances.  Under Holloway: great numbers, under Pulis: great numbers.  Throughout the year Jedinak tackled and read passes, kept things simple & was the heart of the Palace side:
Arteta and Carrick show why they're liked by their coaches here too.  Never the pure tackling DM: they are passers, an altogether different breed, yet equally important to a team's balance & tactical make-up. Also on this list are players that may have bypassed usual recognition:
  • Mikel seemed to be unfavoured by Mourinho & nobody expressed surprise when Matic was rehired, yet hits a strong number.
  • Delph received a lot of plaudits for his Villa performances, yet his teammate Westwood outperformed him slightly in attack and entirely in defense.
  • Cardiff's midfield was pretty dismal, but Medel was fine.
  • Lucas ended up as kind of first rotation in a good Liverpool side & though he maybe didn't provide a good fit in a side with defensive cover from Henderson and Gerrard, when he did play he was solid.
That concludes this year's awards, well done lads.

Appendix 1 :
As I suggested earlier, there aren't many young players in these roles.  Here's a plot of the ages of the Top 40 DMs in the league:
So there aren't too many older players either.  A reflection of the pace of the modern game? Maybe, but we can allot credit to Arteta, Carrick, Barry, Gerrard & Lampard (!?) once more.
The average age is a shade over 27 & that appears to be the optimum age, at least in this league, this year.

Appendix 2:
Frequency of clubs contributing to Top 40 players:
OK, not too much can be drawn from the raw facts here but scratch beneath the surface & we can ascertain a few interesting nuggets.  Southampton have the most players on the list; so they rotated their DMs? That's fine.  But the interesting aspect here, when matched up with the theory that Pochettino got the most out of his squad, is that anyone who played in Southampton's midfield did a good job (it applies also to his attacking midfielders, who all score well).  That suggests it's systemic & good coaching, which is a promising suggestion for Tottenham fans.  :)

Arsenal have 3, thanks to Flamini deputising Arteta & showing the worth of his resigning & SuperRam.  Chelsea also have three which is indicative of Mourinho's systems & the miracle of Flampard; but where's Ramires?  He spent the year alongside variously Matic & Mikel, but his numbers were below average; he doesn't make the list & nor are his attacking numbers compensatory.

Man Utd played all year with two DMs and poor Cleverley and Fellaini, so variously dismissed as 'shit' and a 'failure' actually provided adequate and solid defensive midfield work.  Somehow the wider media didn't realise that's what they'd been told to do, by Moyes, in Moyes' double 6 DM system. Poor lads.

Liverpool had Allen and Henderson bubbling under to go with Lucas & Gerrard, so no problems for them whilst Man City's vastly strong attacking midfield corps was ably assisted by just Fernandinho & Garcia; the relevance of these guys cannot be understated.

Appendix 3:
Not enough minutes:
Before destroying his knee in January 2013, Sandro was putting up Gerrard numbers.  He's returned this year, been in and out of favour, lacked a bit of discipline & been hampered by niggles.  He's still pro-rata the 9th most effective DM in the league.

Bridcutt, who arrived from Brighton in January has shown promise in limited minutes.

Appendix 4:
The Top 40 Defensive Midfielders in the league
Cos everyone likes looking at numbers? Am I right?


Thanks for reading!

Follow me on Twitter here: jair1970

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Brasil '86: The Mystique of the One-named Warriors & Gene Wilder


There's a romantic idyll attached to the first big sporting tournaments you remember.  The Los Angeles Olympics have a fond place in my memory.  I can recall many of the big stories, although I've no idea if I watched them live or just picked up news stories; Sebastian Coe won 1500m Gold, Zola Budd tripped Mary Decker, Carl Lewis emulated Jessie Owens and my favourite, Daley Thompson dragging himself round the 1500m to win the decathlon.  I think I liked him because he had a moustache like my dad.  For a similar reason Burt Reynolds was my favourite movie star.

I've no recollection of the European Championships of 1984, so my introduction to big football tournaments came at Mexico 86.  By now a keen football fan and fuelled by a fair run at Panini's Football 86 sticker album, Panini's Mexico '86 version was a fascinating resource.  It was full of players I knew nothing about, each with their date & place of birth & the club they played for.  Smaller footballing nations such as Iraq, Morocco & Algeria had players sharing stickers and shinies, team shots and stadiums were sought after.

In an era of colourful but slightly hazy picture feeds and with some of the commentary clarity akin to a medium wave radio transmission, Mexico seemed a world away. Many of the matches were scheduled for 12.00pm local time starts, presumably for European TV audiences including myself, and as such were played in searing heat, a factor that clearly affected the style of play.  Large sections of matches were played at near walking pace, only occasionally punctuated by darts of incisive play.

I am 8, I like Brazil

I was attracted to the Brazil squad, after all some of their players had moustaches too; Socrates, the playmaker and Junior, a rampaging full back cum midfielder, in particular. Nearly all of them only had one name which was intriguing and impressive.  It gave them an elevated position in my mind, as if these were the Football Gods and Socrates even had a name that had something to do with history. And the TV said he was a doctor? It made no sense but added plenty to the notion of heroism i'd attributed to them. Looking at pictures of the stickers now, Toninho Cerezo, who didn't even make the squad, looked a bit like Richard Pryor but Falcao, a midfielder, was my favourite; he had a cool name and reminded me of Gene Wilder, Pryor's long-time comedic partner.  These are logical connections when you're eight.

I suspect, as helmsman for the BBC coverage, Des Lynam was saying great things about this Brazil side, for it featured the aging core of the squad that had enthralled so many just four years before in Spain.  Joining Junior, Socrates and Falcao were Zico, widely regarded as one of the best players in the world and Careca, a lethal striker who became the focal point of the attack, announcing himself as a world class talent.  The goalkeeper, forever the weak point of Brazilian sides was Carlos, but bar one notable moment in the quarter final against France, he was largely solid and he too had Gene Wilder hair.

The primary criticism of this team was that it was too old, indeed the stars were largely in their early thirties by now, but stars they still were and from day one I was rooting from them.

Brazil in Mexico

As it happened Falcao barely made it onto the pitch and Zico spent much of the tournament trying to shake off an injury. In their first game, Socrates followed up a Careca shot that may have crossed the line to give Brazil victory over a decent Spain side, then an early poached Careca goal saw Brazil edge past an Algerian team from which little was expected.  So far, they had done enough but not excited.  The third match against Northern Ireland changed that somewhat, notable as it was for a looping 30 yard thump from entirely unheralded novice full back Josimar.  That became one of the favourite goals of this World Cup but to my mind was superseded by the one he scored in the first knockout round against Poland en route to a 4-0 win; as finally Brazil started to look like a side that could go deep into the tournament:
[I can't describe how much I like that goal, it just makes me smile, especially the way he glides past the last defender to make space for the shot.]

By now, Careca was up to four goals & Brazil had won all four, scored nine and conceded none. They had started to deliver flowing, attractive football and we had new heroes in Careca and Josimar for me to emulate in the garden. Next they faced a stern test in the European Champions, France led by 3 time Ballon d'Or winner, Michel Platini.

France v Brazil, 1986 

Widely regarded as one of the definitive World Cup matches, I remember this with mixed emotions, for though I wanted Brazil to win and was significantly sad when they finally lost, they morally didn't deserve to win the game, at least that's what both John Motson & Jimmy Hill on commentary duties, told me and I believed them.  Briefly summarised, Careca scored a goal early but just before half-time Platini found himself free at the far post and tapped in to equalise.  Brazil had the better of the chances & earned a penalty soon after a half-fit Zico came on.  Tasked with converting, he failed, foiled by Joel Bats & to extra time it went.

Late on, France striker Bellone broke onto a fantastic Platini through ball, into a one-on-one situation and was clearly checked in his run by the onrushing Carlos. This move, was reminiscent in cynicism, if not the violence of Harald Schumacher on Patrick Battiston in 1982.  Similar results followed here as the referee inexplicably waved play on, and the French striker failed to follow up. Within a matter of seconds Brazil had carved out an open goal for Socrates to contrive to miss entirely. Exhilarating fare and in this clip, after those 48 seconds John Motson ends up breathless:

And so to penalties: Socrates missed & so did Platini (indeed, on his birthday), Julio Cesar banged it into a post and so it was left for Luis Fernandez put France through.  I was sad, although I understood Jimmy Hill's outrage.  Even if they hadn't deserved it, I would have liked them to carry on; Zico might have regained fitness & Falcao may have got a start...

And that was the end of Brazil '86.  I never got to see as much of Zico or Falcao as I would have liked, as back then you just didn't see football the way you could now. The team of 1990 was shorn of many of the interesting players of this squad for they were old or retired (Socrates, Falcao, Junior, Zico) or had faded into obscurity (Josimar).

But I still had my sticker book.  And many months after the World Cup had finished, I wrote to Panini with a postal order for a few pence to get my final sticker; Uruguay centre-back Victor Diogo:

Monday, 12 May 2014

Tottenham 2013/14: Stats, disharmony & general craziness

'Well, Saint, it's a game of two halves.'

So said erstwhile Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves to his TV partner Ian St John way back when.  And for Tottenham, the season 2013/14 was a season of two halves; a season of Villas Boas and Sherwood, a season of selling Elvis and buying the Beatles only for them to disband & start staging naked love-ins, a season of transition & settling in & of disagreements & disharmony right the way through to the bitterly disjointed end.

On paper the successes, or lack of them, weren't too dissimilar to seasons prior. Nearly but not quite, although the nearly became 'nowhere nearly' and the not quite became 'not at all.'  A surfeit of organisation countered by a void of goals characterised the early months until the plan went more than awry at the Etihad.  Limping on until a dismantling by an ascendant Liverpool, the departure of Villas-Boas mid way through was nonetheless unexpected & i've maintained since that he was less pushed and more agreeably escorted from his office.  Never before have I sensed a man's fate be so clearly apparent as was his during that game & particularly in the subsequent interview.  Wearing the redundant air of a man choosing to quit before he was fired, I suspect the final meeting was quick & painless, along the lines of 'I'm going' & 'Yes, you are.'

Left with an unforeseen vacancy, Chief Dan Levy cast his net far & wide & found a barren ocean of managerial fish so thawed out a fish finger from the freezer in Tim Sherwood and let things be.  Also thawed out was Adebayor, the mercurial striker arriving with vigour & panache whilst as time went on others were cast back to the sea.  The existence of the elusive 'Lamela Mermaid' remains, to this day, unproven.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a 'Statistical Analysis' rather than a creative writing exercise & i've done plenty of work in trying to piece together a coherent story from the embers of what for many fans was 'another Spursy season.'

[Throughout this article I shall make extensive reference to my 'Impact Values'; these are a set of values i've created with the express intention of rating the players.  The midfield values have been littered through my previous Arsenal & Man Utd articles & consist of clear Offensive (OP) and Defensive Power (DP) values.  The forwards have a similar structure but with greater emphasis on the OP.  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.

*NEW FOR MAY 2014* I have wrestled long and hard creating defensive values for the defenders, problems arose during the writing of this article for whilst Villas-Boas had a better general defensive structure, the nature of his play dictated that his teams performed far fewer defensive actions that Sherwood's & in a ratings system initially derived with a 'the more you do, the better you rate' ethos, adjustments had to be made to reflect team effectiveness.  Can of worms! Yup. It's been a journey.]

I should add that I am a Tottenham fan and one way or another i've watched the overwhelming majority of their games this year, so i'm not just some guy with a calculator here.  This is my team & I damn well care!

Now let's start with a question a lot of people wondered way back in early September:

What exactly did Spurs buy?
And immediately replace it with a different question.

What exactly did Spurs sell?
They sold one of the best attacking forces in the league, Gareth Bale.  This shows how he compares with the pre-eminent attacking non-striker in the league, David Silva (Silva is a useful comparison because he represents a player who isn't necessarily a goalscorer):
Yeah. Elite. Scoring over 0.90 OP is exceptional & these guys are off into the sunset.

I'll ask again: What exactly did they buy?
A like for like replacement? How about *shakes head remorsefully* Erik Lamela?
*through gritted teeth* Lamela is producing fantastic numbers at a very young age, I think they speak for themselves and show that signing him was a very good idea.*sighs*

Who else?
World renowned elite striker Roberto Soldado!
Here's what he looked like in Spain, with by way of arbitrary comparison: Chelsea's motley bunch from this season, an elite striker playing well (Sturridge) and a guy having one of the great seasons (Suarez):

'Chief Levy!'
'Quiet please, I need to concentrate while I write out this cheque for £26m.'
'Mr. Baldini!'
'Mr. Baldini is in Spain today, please be quiet.'
'But... I have been doing some research on Soldado...'
'ELITE STRIKER Roberto Soldado, you mean? Yes? What is it?'
'Nothing, Chief Levy, sir.'

Capoue had good numbers. Anything around 0.80 DP is a good benchmark for a DM and quite often a pure DM will rate quite negligibly in the OP column. I'll compare him to Arteta who posts very solid numbers for a pure passing DM & Matic who appears to be that rare beast, a rock solid DM with attacking talents too:

Due to not featuring in leagues without (to my knowledge) widely available data, I can't analyse the other purchases in this manner but I can say a few words about each:

Eriksen: young, widely praised, talented attacking midfielder. probably Denmark's best player.
Chiriches: young, ball playing centre back, probably Romania's best player.
Chadli: enormous winger/forward, great technique & scores goals, full Belgian international
Paulinho: widely decorated, well liked starting Brazilian international central midfielder.

Soldado apart, as I've attempted to show, the transfer business looked very good on paper.  Even Soldado's claims were superficially seductive, being a free-scoring, often coveted player of great perceived nous and experience. 

From Villas Boas to Sherwood via the road of discontent
The lazy version is as follows:

'AVB? Couldn't score! Bloody useless, no penetration, just passing it around then give it Townsend & he'll larrup it into the stands. Sherwood got 'em playing, give 'em their heads and crack on, get at them, give it Adebayor-he'll score & Eriksen's a little maestro.  Still got stuffed by City.  And Liverpool. Twice.  Each.  And Chelsea.  Lost to Arsenal 3 times.  And West Ham 3 times.  Beat Man Utd though. That's it. Bollocks, really.'

The season can be characterised as a whole quite simply.  Tottenham performed miserably against the teams around them in the league and had a good general record against the rest of the league.  A piece of analysis based on that sentence (^) places them as 6th/7th in the league and sure enough that's where we find them, alongside the other flailing failures, Man Utd.

In terms framed around their win record and goals against the two tiers of opposition (Top 7 & the rest) Villas Boas & Sherwood have similar records:

Most fans have been able to perceive the differences between the approaches of the coaches.  Villas Boas favoured strict possession football, a fixed formation, a high defensive line & encouraged long shots but above all his team attempted to exercise control. Contrasting entirely with this has been Sherwood's varying formations, non-committal to defensive midfielders or indeed any assistance to the defence from midfielders, fluid positions & star focus (Eriksen, Adebayor).  Throw in a large portion of injury malaise & squad disharmony & you have a potent blend.  

But underneath the bonnet, how's this Tottenham car been ticking over? Are Villas Boas or Sherwood master mechanics?

Sherwood's teams:
  • Take less shots
  • Make less shots on target
  • Concede more shots 
  • Concede less shots on target (!)
Villas Boas' teams:
  • Dominated possession more
  • Kept more of the ball via passing
  • Restricted the passing efficiency of the opposition.
The varying importance of these individual statistics is less important that the overall trend here: Sherwood's teams have provided lesser underlying numbers against all types of opposition than Villas-Boas' have.
In particular, the shots for totals have seen a huge drop-off during Sherwood's tenure.

In my search to standardise the player defensive ratings and with a fair degree of mathematical manipulation, I generated some team defensive contribution figures (TeamDefCon) based around the amount of defensive actions a team is required to perform, the simplified theory being  that a better team will commit less defensive actions through dominance.  Here a LOW NUMBER is best:

Sherwood: 0.87
Villas Boas: 0.66

Big difference. 

The Players
Roy Walker (for it is he): You've chosen Tottenham Hotspur season 2013/14, so Question One: What do Adebayor, Holtby, Vertonghen, Eriksen, Paulinho, Capoue, Lamela, Chiriches, Dembele, Townsend and Sandro all have in common?'
Contestant: 'Looks like a list of quality players to me, Roy'
RW: 'It's good but it's not right'
Contestant: 'Hmm... have they all been marginalised or fallen out of favour at some point this season?'

RW: 'OK, Question Two: What common factor links Rose, Sandro, Adebayor but only maybe, Lamela, Dembele, Vertonghen, Townsend, Capoue, Chiriches, Kaboul, Dawson, Lennon & Walker?'
Contestant: 'Fucking injuries, Roy.'
RW: 'You're lucky this isn't live TV, sonny.'
Floor Manager: 'It is...'
*cut to commercial*

Same old Tottenham, always injured.
Here are the minutes played by each of Tottenham's squad under each manager:
Lloris is literally the only player to have a) not been injured for a long period of time or b) spent time out of favour.  Of the 7 summer signings only Paulinho and Soldado found instant approval, fitness & ubiquity under Villas Boas & under Sherwood only Eriksen.  This tallies pretty accurately with who were perceived to be distinct influences behind the transfers of each of the three. Villas Boas seemed entirely reluctant to trust other new players, particularly Eriksen & Lamela, arguably the two most potentially exciting young players in the squad and both were bit part players under him.  The contrast in their fortunes under Sherwood couldn't be more pronounced.

Dawson, Walker, Rose & Vertonghen have all found favour under both coaches & have generally played when fit, however, all 4 have missed chunks of time due to injury, giving time to Kaboul, Chiriches, Naughton & Fryers. In midfield, an area with many options, injuries permitting, Villas Boas was more democratic than Sherwood, a situation brought on by a surfeit of players at points during the autumn, so much so that on occasion, Chadli missed match day squads though simple omission, which at the time seemed harsh.  In time, the large squad size was needed with the demands of Europe and continual injury worries having great impact.

Sherwood claimed to be content that the club signed nobody in January but quickly promoted two players with differing backgrounds; the untried Bentaleb & the formerly AWOL Adebayor. In contrast, and not helped by injuries, both Sandro & Townsend quickly fell out of favour & Holtby, never fully trusted in 18 months at the club, was farmed out to Fulham.

On the whole season only Walker, Dawson & Paulinho played over two-thirds available minutes.  This is a damning statistic & suggests both coaches had very different ideas about the qualities of the players, injuries have impacted strongly & a first choice XI has been difficult to maintain.

Underneath all this, rumours of player dissatisfaction under both coaches have been rife with whispers about transfer requests (Vertonghen, Capoue), public disagreements (Sherwood/Sandro) & private disagreements (Villas Boas/Adebayor).  Indeed as we reach the end of the season there are potential question marks & gossip surrounding the futures of Lloris, Vertonghen, Sandro, Paulinho, Lamela, Soldado, Adebayor, Townsend and Capoue.  The camp remains divided but any agents looking to move their players on will do well to remember that these player's price tags are likely to be at the higher end of the spectrum and non-negotiable.

This excellent resource here: Tottenham minutes & injuries shows exactly how commonplace time in the treatment room has become.

Who did well?
1. Defence

Kaboul, despite somewhat limited minutes, has been Tottenham's most effective defender.
Yep. I wasn't expecting that either.  But any which way I plug the in the inputs it comes out that way. I've not adjusted for the 2 red cards he's received (Kompany gets reds, Sktrtel scores at both ends), which will have impacted on the effectiveness of his team mates in those matches & nearly all of his playing time has been under Sherwood but he simply does a lot of defensive things often.  Having being largely injured for the last two seasons, there had been talk of premature retirement or his leaving.  I'd suggest that's a little hasty.  Dawson, who deserves credit for surviving Villas Boas' reign & indeed cementing his place in the face of fan criticism is a good second.  Again, he's a player who does a lot, he heads the 'raw DP' figures under both coaches & has played more than anyone else.

Chiriches has had a decent enough first season despite at times seeming like an easy scapegoat but beyond him and especially on the flanks there is clear room for improvement.  Rose and Naughton's figures are adequate enough for back-up players but both have spent long periods of time in the first team, especially Rose.  First on the shopping list for many fans is a new left back & i'm undecided whether Rose deserves the benefit of the doubt due to age & Sherwood's less disciplined tactics; a matter that will surely be addressed by a new coach.

I'd expected better figures from Walker as the general fan view is that he's had a good season, but he was a mainstay in the team throughout the many poor defeats at the hands of top sides.  Vertonghen's figures are both dismal and disappointing.  After an excellent first season, it was thought he would star this year, but continual surliness, often due to being played at left-back, coupled with a lackadaisical general manner has been unimpressive.

More concerning from the figures is the decline in defensive standards under Sherwood.  The blue figures show that Chiriches, Walker, Vertonghen & Rose have all recorded far lesser numbers & as I stated before, Tim's teams have had a hell of a lot more defending to do; indicative of the reduction in control in games.

2. Midfield:

Attacking Midfielders:
Eriksen is the star here. Sparsely used by Villas Boas, his form under Sherwood has been nothing short of exceptional.  His DP number is low & I can only presume this is why Villas Boas was reluctant to use him; he was running an attack that emphasised hard work & defensive duties for all & that doesn't come into Eriksen's field.  It's the same issue Mata had at Chelsea but Sherwood has incorporated Eriksen as the core of his attack & maybe this is why the continually underperforming but tactically disciplined Lennon has been often played on the opposite flank?

Based purely on the Sherwood tenure, as a pure creative midfielder Eriksen has been only superceded by Silva in the whole league.  He has become the standard of player it was hoped Lamela would & represented fantastic value at £11m.  Surely one of the signings of the season.

Townsend's strengths & weaknesses have been well discussed by many this year, his wasteful shooting a negative & his ability to run & run a positive.  He was doing fine under Villas Boas who seemingly saw a touch of Bale or Hulk in him & gave him the license he denied Eriksen.  Still young & with improvement possible he remains an interesting option much like Chadli, who has taken time to settle, has played all across the midfield and shows decent promise, his strength & technique the raw tools that could be exploited & he has improved as the season has progressed.

Lennon's season has been miserable.  Feted by both coaches, he has consistently baffled fans with typically speedy but ineffective performances yet has  remained largely undroppable.  His figures under Villas Boas are that of a bad defensive midfielder! Under Sherwood, he's been under par all round. I can only presume his positional discipline has acted as a counterpoint to the attacking whims of variously Townsend & Eriksen.  Surely the time has come, arguably years late, to realise he'll never be a starter in a top 4 side.

Lamela? Reportedly injured since the turn of the year, he simply hasn't been on the pitch enough to generate a reliable rating.  A real shame & I can only hope he's persevered with next year; he surely will as with a question mark over his head, for now, his potential fee will be too high for any suitor.

Defensive Midfielders:
Capoue rates highest off limited minutes.  He has spent time at centre back, with limited success & been blighted by injuries & seemingly fell right out of favour under Sherwood, although rumblings of discontent around his attitude surfaced under Villas Boas too.  When he's been on the pitch, especially in the first matches he's played, he was dynamic & committed & performed well.

Sandro has also been blighted by injuries & seemingly fallen out with Sherwood.  When on the pitch he has rated like a solid defensive midfielder.  I've been concerned that his level of discipline has gone down & he's not performing at the level he had in the 2012/13 season; indeed he's not: he had crazy numbers then (OP 0.78 DP 1.06 Total 0.92, this is Ramsey/Gerrard level).  If his injury has caused long term damage it's a real shame, cos he was shaping like one of the best midfielders in the league until he blew his knee out.

In what is becoming a recurrent theme here, Dembele has been blighted by injury & may well have fallen out with Sherwood.  His performances have been slightly mixed; he still waltzes past players with ease & struggles to find a final pass & his skillset is different to anyone else in the squad but a hip injury that has reputedly been 'managed' hasn't helped.  He probably needs an operation but with a World Cup coming, it must be doubtful whether he's gong to have one any time soon.  Unconfirmed rumours persisted around his relationship (or lack of) with Sherwood.

Bentaleb has not fallen out with Sherwood & has shown great promise in a tough role for a young player.  He too rates as a solid defensive midfielder and shows a tactical maturity that belies his 19 years.  A hint of temperamental issues can hopefully be calmed in the future & credit is due to Sherwood for recognising he had talent & could step up. 

All-round Midfielders:
Holtby did fairly well from a limited run of minutes.  Never entirely trusted by Villas Boas, he was quickly cast out by Sherwood with rumours about attitude & was only this week the subject of a stinging rebuke from his current manager Felix Magath.  He had done OK at Fulham too (OP 0.65 DP 0.52 Total 0.58) but where his future lies must be uncertain.

Paulinho, from which big things were expected after a successful Confederations Cup, has had a curate's egg of a season. At times looking very good and at times looking pedestrian, he has put up numbers that suggest just that: average.  He's neither done anything particularly well or badly but has retained the faith of both coaches almost throughout.  Villas Boas played him too often & he looked tired in parts but the only time he spent benched was under Sherwood.  Following an expression of dismay in the press, he was quickly restored to the starting line-up.  A taster for what Brazil loves about him was cut short by the recklessness of Charlie Adam, who curtailed Paulinho's involvement in the one match he looked a world beater, leading to weeks out.

Sigurdsson has all the hallmarks of a squad player & hasn't impressed with his general play.  His goal record is good, his frequent anonymity not so good.


A greater contrast could not be found between the Villas Boas and Sherwood reigns both in terms of personnel and performance.  Villas Boas fell out with Adebayor & entirely trusted Soldado, who failed to thrive in his disciplined system, was often isolated & cut a frustrated and lonely figure.  Defoe provided substitute minutes before his North American transfer & the strike force was entirely ineffective.

Cue Adebayor: in from purgatory to provide a run of goals & more energy than had been seen since the Redknapp days.  An Adebayor with a point to prove is a more effective player than a comfortable one & he duly delivered plenty of goals whilst supplying good but not outstanding numbers.

Kane, an England U21 international, showed good promise when partnered with Adebayor in late season & had significant strength in finding positions to shoot and subsequently shooting. His actual finishing & decisions need work but the raw tools are there.  It is to be hoped he has played his way into the squad full time next season, he certainly deserves a chance.

Poor Soldado came good under Sherwood. Really?  Well, if you recall the numbers he put up in Spain from earlier in the article that weren't as elite as one might have hoped, they bear a close likeness what he has contributed in 2014.  This level of form, whilst better than under Villas Boas, is likely as good as he is, and whilst he's a likeable player, his pretense towards the elite is unbacked by the numbers.  A quick sale back to Spain might sadly be the best outcome for all parties.

There is room for improvement in the striking corps.


Lloris missed one match this year after barely surviving a meeting with Romelu Lukaku's knee.  His form has been generally decent, but I lack statistics to back this up, so you'll just have to believe me.  I'm well aware that he's perceived to have a weakness regarding shots across his body and his sweeper style will always cause concerning moments, but particularly in recent months his standard of keeping has been very good. He has regularly impressed with his agility although his distribution has been varied.

Future plans?
I would recommend a versatile full back, a young striker and like for like replacements for any first teamers that choose to move on. Plus a back up keeper, cos Brad is er... very old.

By the time you read this Sherwood may well be managing Norwich or something & it's a difficult choice for Levy to find the right new man.  As I think i've shown during this article, Sherwood's greatest failure has been failing to maintain the general underlying standards of Villas Boas' tenure.  Goals have been more forthcoming but rarely has the team looked coherent and organised, the defence has often been left uncovered & tactics have seemed largely arbitrary.
His interactions with the media, at total odds with Villas Boas cautiousness, have been painfully naive & unnecessarily honest & there have been far too many rumours of player discontent throughout.  I've no doubt that Sherwood's intent was positive but he's not been able to implement a strong tactical system & came up very short when faced with better opposition.  He can be credited with bringing through Bentaleb & Kane and introducing Vejlkovic & Pritchard to the first team squad & this youth focus is likely to be his legacy, and a very positive one at that.

What is to be hoped is that any future appointment has experience, a discernible style & an inclusive nature.  The squad currently appears fairly disparate & could do with coherence & motivation.  There is plenty of talent within & the right manager has an excellent chance to bridge the gap to the top 4, although we all know that will never be easy.



Players that departed:
Parker & Huddlestone departed last summer as the midfield was reshaped, here's how they and Livermore (loan) have performed in their new, less successful teams:
Not bad? Huddlestone has probably been Hull's most effective player & Parker is doing what he's always done: pirouette & release.  Livermore has done OK but his hopes of a future in the Premier League most probably lie in remaining where he is.


I wouldn't even be writing this were it not for my consumption of all at the STATSBOMB site. Go have a scout around and read!
I can also heartily recommend these two articles if you've enjoyed what i've written; these guys are waaaay ahead of what I can do statistically:

Michael Caley: How AVB and Sherwood failed Tottenham
Ben Pugsley: Don't give Tim Sherwood the Tottenham job

Thanks for reading!


Feel free to check back here over the summer.  I've been writing a weekly Premiership review since mid-March & intend to continue that next season.  In the meantime, i've got a world of data to process & will aim to get a few articles up during the summer to pique the interest.

Thanks for visiting 'The Big Ripple'

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Premier League Round Up: 5th May + The best attacking midfielders in the League

Finding angles & points of interest since March 2014 

I've written enough of these now to realise that predictions are dangerously vicious: they often come back to bite.  Sunderland are down, for instance & Poyet has failed to get any belief into his flailing team, whereas General Magath has stiffened his unit to such an extent that a 4-1 defeat at Stoke is unthinkable. Yep. That's how it will go.

Cardiff are dreadful & deserve to be relegated too.  This one came true!

So weirdly in the space of under a week, what looked like an exciting 'nothing is certain' league has become the opposite & we now know that:

1st: City
CL qualifiers: Liverpool, Chelsea
4th place title winners: Arsenal
Squad too small for Europa League: Everton
Squad big enough for Europa League: Tottenham
No Europe & squad far too big for next season & all on big wages so tough to ship on: Man Utd

17th place Champions: Sunderland
Shit: Norwich
Worse: Fulham
Thanks for coming, you needn't have bothered: Cardiff.

OK, it's not certain but surely even Sam Allardyce can't frustrate City to deny them, can he?

1. City go for home
Everton away is a tough place to have to try and cement title hopes, and i'm not giving any credence to the fan-biased 'they'll chuck it to stitch Liverpool up' theories.  City's performance here, much like their pro-standard victory against Palace owed a lot to spirit & tenacity & they are now in the driving seat of the Premier League car.

Look at the game & a couple of things become apparent. All of City's 5 attacking players either scored or assisted in the match.  Coaches must dream of such footballing communism, utterly justifying their selections.  The only midfielder not to contribute in such a manner was Garcia, who has played a lot recently.  Fernandinho, previously thought untouchable, has dropped to the bench & City have started to grind & compress rather that flatter & flail.  In some stat analysis I did, Garcia was almost the king of DMs with stats akin to that of such players as 'The Wall' Jedinak & suchlike.  Just NOTHING in the attacking sense & massive defensive numbers.  Fernandinho was far more of a midfielder-of-all-trades & maybe that extra stiffening has benefitted City.  Kudos to Pelligrini if this has been a conscious part of his plans.

Everton, as previously discussed, had ridden the shot count in quite a few recent games. Again they were out shot here(9 to 18), and this time it made a difference, but hey, they stitched Liverpool up so are probably delighted with losing & missing out on win bonuses... Yep? Ok, nope.

2. LOL @Giggs
Never underestimate the possibility that two former Man Utd centre backs & a ex-Arsenal keeper might be motivated to play at Old Trafford.  In years gone by this would have, of course, been irrelevant but not now. Under the tutelage of Alan Shearer, Man Utd reverted to type against supposedly lesser opposition.  I've tried to work out what is firing Sunderland to this Martinez-esque run of form (10pts in 4 games), but apart from noting they're playing a 4-1-4-1, there doesn't seem to be much new going on.

When they came to Tottenham in early April they played 3-5-2 and left after a truly abject 1-5 defeat.  Since that match, they narrowly lost to Everton in a crazy 44 shot shoot out, were unlucky not to pinch 3 points from City in a well contested but tight game, got annihilated by Chelsea but won, simply dispatched poor Cardiff & now shut out Utd.

The only consistent part is an average of 2pts a game & beyond divine influence, their safety is determined.

And as for Giggs.  Well.  He got away with dodgy team selection last week by rolling over Norwich but this week, an unfathomable Nani/Young wing axis provided predictably little & you almost felt he played people he'd left out last week as some kind of democratic gesture.  Maybe places were up for grabs at the midweek golf day that I suspect was organised...

Anyway, the CLAMOUR FOR GIGGS should shut right up now and sense may prevail; sense in the form of employing Van Gaal.

'Sense' & 'Van Gaal'. You read that correctly.

3. Manager Personalities 
I was mean about Solskjaer briefly last week but it's clear to me that he never had the force of personality to effective transform his team's fortunes.  Ditto Chris Hughton. Ditto 'Uncle' Martin Jol.

These are nice guys and these nice guys have contributed significantly to the relegation of their teams.  Is your manager a bastard?  It could well be the key indicator of success.

Just ask Ferguson.

4. Passports at the ready, lads. 
Villa 3-1 Hull
Newcastle 3-0 Cardiff
Swansea 0-1 Southampton
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom

This week, both Newcastle and Villa won football matches.
This is a rarity.  Trouble is we're so far down the road that half the league has got one foot firmly on a jetski in the Caribbean. The Arsenal match was particularly non-eventful and next week's matches could end up being even more futile and pointless.  What does this all mean?


But the World Cup is a bout 6 weeks away. So let's get excited about that instead. :)

5. The best attacking midfielders in the League (who may or may not be lazy)
Is Mourinho right?

This week he rounded on Eden Hazard a bit and the implication was clear: 'Stop skiving off, keep running.'
So has he got a point?  As anyone who has read some of the articles on here will have seen i've developed *drum roll* Impact Values (IV)!  They're player ratings benchmarked within the league and devised to examine strengths or expose weaknesses or just tell us who's good and who is not so good.  Like ratings do.  So far i've put most work into the midfield ones and one of the intriguing parts of these ratings is that the have an attacking (OP) and defensive (DP) component.

As such, you can see which players are either a) bone idle or b) haven't been charged with so many defensive responsibilities because they are amazingly good.

Here are the attacking midfielders:

What do these figures mean?
  • Silva is by far and away the best pure attacking midfielder in the league
  • Eriksen has had a very good second half to his season
  • Ozil is particularly not defensively minded
  • Lallana is OK but probably not £25m worth of OK.
  • Mata has been very good at Utd.
  • Mirallas has had an effective year
  • Players like Coutinho & Nasri offer a lot going forward & a little more in defense than other pure AM types
  • Sterling, Januzaj and particularly Deulofeu offer immense promise beyond their obvious hype
  • Ben Arfa is on this list. Hmm...
And... Mourinho is right.  Hazard's defensive numbers are comparatively poor, unless he's been given license to play without recourse to defensiveness, which under Mourinho seems unlikely.  
When Hazard was out against Sunderland, Mourinho employed Willian in the creator role and he did everything & had a monstrously big game.  Willian's first year has been slightly compromised* by playing a more disciplined role with Hazard in the team, but Mourinho started with him as the hub vs Norwich, flanked by pace in Salah and Schurrle, with Hazard benched.  Again his contribution was solid, and maybe this is how Mourinho sees his future line-ups, theoretically with a lethal Costa-esque striker in front.

(*Willian's figures are OP 0.65 DP 0.51; more rounded & defensively more solid)


That's all for now.

Still working on a Tootenham seasonal round-up. Wrestling with the fact that Villas-Boas' team figures are superior to Sherwood's but Sherwood's individual performance figures are superior to Villas Boas' (could be a -scoring/+ball retention issue) and i'll try and get a few snap articles like this attacking midfielder one out soon.

All the best!