Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Big Ripple: 31st August Premier League Round-up

There's a transfer deadline a-comin'.

Meanwhile, there was football.


This week we had a decent amount of shots (average over 26 per game; up from c.23 Wk1 & 2) and a weird overcompensated spike for shots on target (an extra +1 per team).  And we got more goals and more saves and it wasn't just the basketball match up at Goodison.

All in all more entertainment this week.  Though not if you're a Tottenham fan eying a miserable 7 shots created against Liverpool or a West Ham fan steamrollered by a stark 18-4 shot-stomping at home to Southampton. Or if you watched the combined might of tens and tens of millions of attacking talent do fuck all against Burnley.  If you were one of this band of followers, you may be finding it hard to be positive and praying to the Gods of transfers to put a shiny edge on an otherwise damned weekend.


Last week, Tadic was the entire Southampton offense.  This week some of his friends turned up too & gave Sam Allardyce a thorough compressing.  Their squad doesn't look too deep at the moment but it seems as if Koeman has at least got the fundamentals right from his talented bunch of players.  They aren't conceding many shots at all and have improved some of their background numbers week on week.  Doing all this entirely reversed the seemingly positive start West Ham had made and has made me think they are well set.

Providing they don't sell Morgan Schneiderlin.


There are good things I can cite about the way Arsenal have started the season.  Whilst they have struggled to get wins, their underlying numbers have been solid.  I've ranked the teams based upon a variety of factors (Shots, Shots on target, goals + the inverse + dominance based on these + small adjustments for possession and ball retention) and well, i've got them top.  Yeah, it's three games, strength of schedule is massive and a stomping will kill you in the list but it seems obvious to me that Arsenal will carry on doing what they always do & crush bad teams.  The Leicester match is a case in point, they gave up very few shots again and had the clear better of things yet couldn't take advantage.

What else Arsenal will carry on doing is carry obvious squad weakness.  Today Sanogo started up front in the absence of centre forward cover & Flamini, last year's stop gap signing, came in at DM.  The attacking midfield corps was as strong as ever and spilled out over half the bench yet neither a screening midfielder or genuine forward option were anywhere to be seen.  I don't know if there's been a functional change in formation from Arsenal but they're being credited with playing 4-1-4-1 this season having spent all last year in a nominal 4-2-3-1; regardless the issues are ever obvious with Arteta and Giroud, respectively aging and limited, absent for now.

Perhaps they will buy Morgan Schneiderlin.

Stat Shorts:
  • No wonder Palace conceded 3, 'Mile the Wall' only put in a shoddy 7 T&Is
  • A young Senegalese fellow named Massadio Haidara played left back for Newcastle & got busy: 3KPs, 2 dribbles, 3 tackles, an interception & drew 5 fouls: a good start.
  • Patrick Van Aanholt got in this section in week 1; he's back with 11(!) tackles this week
  • Sigurdsson with 2 assists from 4 KPs, 3 tackles & 2 interceptions. He's contributed to 5 goals in 3 starts.  Everything you'd expect from an ex-Tottenham man.
  • Diego Costa: 2 goals, 4 shots, 2 KPs, a dribble, 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, a yellow card and an argument.

Obligatory Tottenham bit:

A good match *grits teeth* in which Liverpool played very well & continued their recent form against Tottenham.  By this sign, they will be just fine without El Chompo.  Tottenham found out a couple of things:
Kaboul needs replacing and a replacement is required for Kaboul.  Mercifully, Argentinian enforcer Federico Fazio lurks in the wings & will hopefully be fit & ready to start by the end of the international break.  The errors in the game were understandable; we've seen this from Kaboul all too often this last year, Dier didn't track his man & gave away a soft penalty; forgivable: he's both young and not a right back and Townsend got his pocket picked 5 seconds after coming on.

Pochettino does have a job on his hands to restore confidence in the side for big games though. New players are untarnished but the way Chadli and Eriksen flitted & flickered when faced with a decisive situation was disappointing. Lamela did badly generally but showed tenacity & I personally hope Paulinho is restored to the team rather than moved on.  He is a player who has split opinion but has leadership skills & grit if empowered.

Maybe they should have signed Morgan Schneiderlin.

Alternative underlying league table, Week 3:
[Goals, Shots, Shots on target + the inverse + related dominance + small passing/possession adjustment]

1 Arsenal
2 Man City
3 Chelsea
4 Southampton
5 Liverpool
6 Swansea
7 Man Utd
8 Stoke
9 Everton
10 Newcastle
11 Tottenham
12 West Ham
13 Sunderland
14 Aston Villa
15 WBA
16 Burnley
17 QPR
18 Hull
19 Palace
20 Leicester

 Villa in 14th makes more sense.

(Slightly different to the table I tweeted out earlier after a few adjustments; that's models for you.)

Thanks for reading!


Check back next week and indeed every week for more.
In fact, with a transfer window and international break coming up, I may have to get inventive.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Big Ripple: 25th August Premier League Round-up

Week 2 and a late update due to (officially) waiting for the City-Liverpool game or (unofficially) having a rare & severe hangover.


Last week's reduced shot numbers continued (23PG vs 27PG last season) and tight games between mediocre sides have been a hallmark of the first two weeks.  Hull and Villa have both got 4 points despite twice posting the lesser numbers.  Hull at least had the excuse of a red card this week, but Villa are creating very little right now and are already flattered; they've had two shots on target in 180 minutes of football

It's not inconceivable that there's a recognition amongst the lesser sides that not losing is a greater priority than attempting to win, especially in away matches. Of the potentially vulnerable teams West Brom, West Ham, Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland are all running at 10 or under shots conceded per game and only kindness leads me to omit Man Utd from that list.  Even at this early stage it's possible to see these teams entrenched in the comfort of mid-table rather than battling relegation.

Bad start:

Horribleness surrounds Selhurst Park.  It feels now that the late defeat at Arsenal was less about Palace's tenacity and more about Arsenal's profligate use of their talent and a stomping at the hands of West Ham made grim reading.  Pulisball had strengths that were difficult to identify & praise via statistics and the magic potion he doused his side with last season has already evaporated.  Two defeats & Pulis-esque league worst numbers without Pulis equals bad times.  A new coach is required very quickly & it may well simply be a case that their talent gap is too large. #PrayforPalace.

City v Liverpool

We've seen this kind of display from City before (say, last year's 3-0 at Old Trafford?) It's almost as if they know that by simply playing for 90 minutes, in the normal course of events they will score more goals than the opposition.  And that's not to fault Liverpool who for large parts provided plenty enough encouragement themselves but this was a game between two good teams, only one of which has pretensions to become truly great.  Obviously for Liverpool the loss of Suarez is tangible & they are a lesser team without him, and I feel that Balotelli could be a smart move, if only for talismanic reasons.  He is a world star, enigmatic & wayward but a star nonetheless & that seemed to be the difference here.  City's squad is already full of stars, so much so that their bench sees little downgrade in quality from whatever eleven starts.
I've got City as big favourites for the title & from what i've seen so far in two games, I think they are better equipped this year than last.

Stat shorts:
  • Aguero currently running at 6.2 NPG90 after 2 goals in 29 minutes of play which shows all the fun and failings of small samples!
  • 7KPs, 6 dribbles and a goal for Hazard
  • Only 10 T&Is for Mile the Wall this week
  • Tadic was the only guy attacking for Southampton. He had 41% of their shots/dribbles/key passes.
  • Youssouf Mulumbu with the season high 15 T&Is (9T,6I)
  •  There were 140 long balls in Hull v Stoke (73v67). Must've been a tough watch.
Obligatory Tottenham bit:

Harry came back, as did Glenn and Pochettino's system made them look like the relics they might well be. Fluid attractive play was the order of the day and whilst there was less pressing going on than was anticipated, nobody had a bad game and the match was wrapped up well before half time.  This was a tantalisingly clear display of what many fans have hoped could be achieved with this set of personnel if only somebody coached them properly & after what should be a routine home European match in the week, Liverpool are arriving next time; a genuine test.  Intriguingly with the transfer window closing very soon, Dawson, Townsend, Paulinho and Sandro didn't even make the bench and to my knowledge none was injured.
With centre back Fazio rumoured to be coming from Sevilla, a busy week can be expected for Chief Levy providing he recovers from his Ice Bucket challenge; his nomination of Florentino Perez 'who owes this club a lot' provided intrigue during this rare example of fan engagement.

And yeah, Lamela :)

Thanks for reading.


Did you see 'Comparing Schneiderlin' ?

I played with numbers & compared Pochettino's midfield and forward options at Southampton with what he has now at Tottenham.
And the Tottenham season preview is still floating around here .

Check back next week for another Premiership Review, between now and then a lot could happen: transfer insanity.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Comparing Schneiderlin

It's been widely reported since Mauricio Pochettino started his job at Tottenham that he'd like to secure the services of Morgan Schneiderlin.  At Southampton last season he largely partnered Victor Wanyama in a predominantly defensive pairing although he had greater license to move forward and was key in their system.

Tottenham are extremely well stocked in central midfield & superficially it's difficult to see why the purchase of Schneiderlin would be deemed entirely necessary.  Having looked at the derived statistics for players from both teams last year, i'd noticed a significant similarity between the numbers provided by Nabil Bentaleb and Schneiderlin; to me it seemed as though a ready made Schneiderlin-style player already existed at the club in the shape of the 19 year old Algerian.

So in order to 'prove' my contention, I made an attempt to show a correlation between the statistics for each player & whilst I was doing this, it seemed logical to compare the midfielders and forwards for each team.  In doing this I hoped it would enable me to 'see' what type of player Pochettino would need or favour to implement the systems he used successfully with Southampton at Tottenham.

Here is a table of Southampton's midfielders and forwards from last season matched and compared to Tottenham's:
I've tried to split them into rough sectors: DMs/CMs, AMs/Wingers and pure Forwards [Ward-Prowse doesn't fit well anywhere, he played all over] and the key thing to remember here is that this is NOT a measure of quality, it is merely a measure of how alike players are based on their statistical output.
Quickly: RED is which Southampton player most resembles a given Tottenham player (ie. of Southampton players, Cork is the player whose statistics most resemble Dembele) and the BORDER represents which Tottenham player most resembles a Southampton player (ie. of Tottenham players, Bentaleb is the player whose statistics most resemble Cork). With regard numbers, higher represents greater similarity.  


So what can I posit from this table?
  • Bentaleb is the most similar player to both Schneiderlin & Cork; he started the first game of the season, to some surprise from sections of the Tottenham support who are cynical towards him due to his perceived association with Sherwood.  Indeed, and pleasingly for the purpose of the article, the correlation between Schneiderlin & Bentaleb is the strongest in the whole table. :)  Pochettino picked the guy who most resembles Schneiderlin.
  • ...and played him alongside Capoue, who strongly resembles Wanyama (Sandro scores higher, but is reputed to be leaving the club)
  • Workrate & resultant defensive awareness are key tenets in Pochettino systems & we can see that Lamela, Lennon & Holtby score high numbers when held against Southampton's DM core. In contrast, Eriksen and Townsend do not.  This supports a possible view that Eriksen & Townsend do not work hard enough in defensive areas to satisfy systematic needs.  We know Lennon has kept his place in the team before due to his positioning & workrate, Sherwood said as much & he started Pochettino's first game.  I'd rather not be too definitive here but it's an intriguing aside nonetheless.
  • Linked to this, Lennon is most similar to Lallana & he started in a similar role. Townsend & Chadli also resemble Lallana and with Lamela seemingly booked for the right forward role (albeit with plenty of interchange across the attacking midfield three), it could be interesting how these players are rotated.
  • Kane resembles Jay Rodriguez.  This pleases me as I have high hopes for Kane & feel he is able to play an advanced left forward J-Rod/Welbeck-esque role, in the absence of J-Rod or Welbeck, who ironically have both been linked with transfers to the club.
  • To many people's chagrin, Sherwood tried to turn Chadli into a central midfielder.  These numbers unsurprisingly indicate he is an attacker.
  • Dembele is unique here.  He's quite unique in the league as a dribbling defensively orientated midfielder but concerns about how he fits into a Pochettino system are probably valid.
  • Paulinho does a bit of everything.  Michael Caley showed how Paulinho had repeatedly got into excellent scoring positions last season and was let down by poor finishing, so bearing that in mind it's not a great surprise he's 'most similar' to J-Rod and other attackers.  Currently his reputation amongst the fan-base is low after a seemingly abject first season followed by a humdrum World Cup and again it's hard to place him in this system, but he does have an all round quality that is scarce in the league.
  • Holtby may well be a jack of all trades, master of none. I may be letting bias creep in.
  • Soldado maps onto Lambert more strongly than Adebayor does.  This is contrary to general opinion, although Soldado has shown small signs of improved form in pre-season.
So do Tottenham need Schneiderlin? 

Well, i'd say no.  But then i'm entrusting the fate of the 'Schneiderlin role' to a 19 year old, and that may not be smart.  I'd like to play Paulinho in there, but his form isn't there right now.  It may well be that Schneiderlin will not get the move he craves, and the noises from Southampton suggest the deal is not at all near being done but with 8 days left until the window shuts, nothing would surprise.  His fitness has been strong over a number of seasons and if the coach sees him as a player who can regulate the tempo of the game & become key then i'd be reluctant to disapprove of his potential recruitment.


Thanks for reading.

*Just to say, this was an experimental piece of work that I enjoyed doing, but i'd be reticent in endorsing it's findings too strongly.  The results were sufficiently explainable for me to believe that the methods involved were sound enough for an amateur piece of work but there's every possibility that some statistical rigour is lacking; I am as it were, learning on the hoof.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Big Ripple: 18th August Premier League Round-up

In which we learnt little & few impressed
'Bit of a miserable start isn't it? Do you want people to read this?'

'It's not my fault not much happened, it's the World Cup, there's always a hangover after a World Cup.'

'What do you mean?'

'Spurs & Arsenal fielded squads shorn of World Cup stars, Man Utd are already half injured or shipped to Italy, Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham & Arsenal ground out perfunctory wins against theoretically inferior opposition and Aston Villa won away.'

'Villa won away? Good one.'

'No, they did.'

Last season, there were a shade under 27 shots per game in the Premier League.  So that's 13 or so per team.  This week we've seen an average of about 11 each, which is on the low side & interestingly some of the shot shy teams have pulled off good results.  Top of this list is Swansea who registered 2 goals and a win from a paltry 5 attempts.  Aston Villa also converted 7 shots into a win and the WBA v Sunderland game involved a mere 17 shots yet 4 goals and a point each.

There's been a definite lack of verve amongst the so-called top teams & though all but Man Utd got going with points, none have generally impressed.  City's prevention of any shots on target is admirable, but in parts against Newcastle they looked a little leggy and vulnerable; in other parts they looked efficient & comfortable with their 1-0 lead, but like Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, they ended up on the favoured side of a closely contested game.

The Transfer Window:
The transfer window hangs heavily over the league right now, these games almost feel like a passing interlude before the business of tabloid sensationalism takes back over & gossip & craziness ensue.  City & Chelsea claim to be finished for the time being & both look well set, but a lot of squads seem to have problematic weaknesses and more obviously an excess of soon to be unwanted players.  Tottenham and Man Utd especially seem to have a list of high-earning but available players waiting to find out whether their next few months are to be spent in the reserves, Turkish football or a relegation battle.

'I'm happy to stay and fight for my place.' has become the byline for knowing you've got as good a contract as you're gonna get and i'm expecting a  loan tsunami to hit soon enough.  Until that wave rolls out, the league has an untidy feel to it, so, not a good time to drop points or give a start to rivals prior to the settled period immediately after the window... wait for it... 'SLAMS SHUT'.

Man Utd, not so bad?
The reaction to the Utd defeat from fans & media alike has been entirely unsurprising, after all a home defeat against perceived lesser opposition is all too Moyesian & familiar, but the numbers weren't too bad.  Limiting Swansea to so few attempts is a decent endorsement of what Van Gaal will bring & if replicated will bring a lot more positive results than not.  His experiments are currently hampered by widespread injury & disillusioned squad bloat & the pressure is seriously on Ed Woodward to get his shit together, and soon.  When young players such as Tyler Blackett are getting PL starts not because of their immense promise but because you've not replaced 3 veteran stalwart defenders & have no options, you need to act fast.  

But, beyond this, they posted a fair attacking number here & can consider themselves unfortunate to lose with a 3:1 shot ratio.  Of course, the mirror is always held against Ferguson's ferocious and hungry, swarming teams who were characterised by a sheer will to win & a relentless commitment to driving forward in the face of adverse scorelines; one feels Van Gaal will instill different values that may well be similarly effective in achieving good results in time.  After all, calculated & regulated systems are the 'in' thing these days &  Ferguson's hubristic style is now a part of history.

Obligatory Tottenham bit:
Exam question:  Tottenham, having appointed a new coach and appearing to have a settled squad, are looking forward to a new season.  Following a steady but successful pre-season, how would you imagine they will fare in their first match?

(a)  A comfortable victory
(b) A well organised and impressive display
(c) A clusterfuck from start to finish

Please provide supporting evidence for your answer

(5 marks)

Half a team deemed unready due to late returns from the World Cup, a red card and a penalty conceded within half an hour causing strategy to fly out of the window, a red card for West Ham evening things up and a last minute winner from a novice centre back (playing right back) charging through into a striker's position.

A lively cameo from Townsend has made me think 'impact sub' might be a good role for him and nobody could be disappointed with Dier's debut; he's already showed in 90 minutes that he's likely to get loads of game time this season & this was no 'Sun Star Man he scored so he's the best' performance, he showed good maturity & played well.  Given Big Sam has been a banana skin for both Pochettino (this was his first victory against him) and Tottenham (last year... ugh), it was very pleasing to leave the Boleyn Ground for another year without any damage.

Onwards now to a two-bit Europa League play-off where the real interest will be personnel choices and trying to read between the lines as to who is becoming unwanted, and who will become core to Pochettino's system.

Individual stat highlights of the week
  • Early signs that Raheem Sterling may become more focal in the absence of Suarez; his performance including 5 dribbles, 4 shots, a couple of KPs, an assist and a goal certainly had a bit of everything that matters.
  • Same match & Wanyama made 9 tackles whilst Fonte hit 13T&Is.  Pochettino may have moved on but it appears Koeman is to keep his legacy of hard work.
  • Jedinak put in 14 T&Is, so no change there from 'Mile the Wall' & Alexis Sanchez & Cazorla both had strong offensive games for Arsenal.
  • Patrick Van Aanholt got an assist to go with 13 T&Is
  • 6KPs for Joey Barton
  • 8 dribbles for Eden Hazard

Thanks for reading!

Make sure you check back next week and indeed every week for the 'Weekly Round up' and in between i'll be looking to incorporate some more varied and detailed stat articles and probably some Spurs stuff too.

Til the next time,

James @ 'The Big Ripple'

Friday, 15 August 2014

Modelling marries opinion and creates what? Premier League 2014/15: Prediction Table

Simon Gleave put out a request the other day for any model-based Premier league predictions (or indeed fan or journo opinion guesses) so armed with a spreadsheet load of last season's statistics, I set about building a model and got predicting.

The model was based on identifying & compiling a number of factors that predicted finishing position (eg. the relationship between goals scored & league rank and others), deriving their relative effectiveness, then blending them together proportionally to create one master figure based on last year's numbers.

To this heady mix, I then added or subtracted a percentage based on 3 factors: managerial change, personnel change and participation in Europe.  This bit was, well, subjective.

At this point Man City were projected for 160 unit points so a degree of levelling was incorporated (based on historical points totals) to allow the prediction to actually look like a functioning and viable league table.

And, hey presto:

1 Man City

2 Chelsea

3 Man Utd

4 Arsenal

5 Liverpool

6 Tottenham

7 Everton

8 Newcastle

9 Swansea

10 WBA

11 Aston Villa

12 Southampton

13 Sunderland

14 Stoke

15 QPR

16 Crystal Palace

17 West Ham

18 Hull City

19 Leicester

20 Burnley


At this point, I should probably state that I'm not wildly enamoured with the model's results, they're too dull!
On the positive side of things, a large part of this resembles the betting market for the league so, I must be in good company if I can model something that looks similar to the pro-odds compilers.  But, for me there's not much fun in that.

So by way of a rider, I thought i'd add that personal bias (and knowledge!) predicts a far less average season for Tottenham, i'm not as convinced as the model that Man Utd will emerge so freely from their slump and I think Sunderland are better than I've predicted.  I personally think it'll be tighter at the top too, the model loves Man City and isn't too enthusiastic about Arsenal.  My view is that they will be a lot closer with Chelsea right beside them.  Also, pity Palace: Pulis leaving has taken them from looking up the table to very firmly looking down.

Anyway: it was a fun project & i'll be interested to look back on it in 9 months time.

Thanks to Simon for the impetus.

James @ The Big Ripple

Monday, 11 August 2014

Tottenham 2014/15 Season Preview: Pochettino to the rescue?

Tottenham have a great chance to improve on an ultimately chaotic and frustrating 2013/14 season but problems of a bloated squad and unresolved transfers threaten to hinder initial progress.

Building blocks:

The obvious improvement is the hiring of Mauricio Pochettino, fresh from his impressive tenure at Southampton.  Last season was a mess for many reasons but significantly, the loss of Gareth Bale and difficult integration of the many players signed with the money received for him was a task beyond Andre Villas Boas, who erred beyond the side of caution & played a straightjacketed, non-dynamic form of controlling football.  Results were OK but goals were scarce.  Reported to have been asked to loosen the shackles, things quickly went into freefall & his 'mutual departure', although unthinkable mere weeks before, was all too inevitable in the wake of a chastening home defeat by Liverpool.  He'd had enough & his system had hit the wall.

Quickly parachuted in once it became apparent no viable options were available, Tim Sherwood started on a wave of statistically fortunate results before hitting his own wall when faced with tactically astute coaching & superior teams.  His time as coach was characterised by 'refreshing honesty' (AKA 'not being media savvy'), a string of rumoured fall outs with various players but an encouraging emphasis on blending players from the academy; something he achieved with good results as both Bentaleb & Kane now look to permanently join the first team squad.

But his tactics were shit. And the drubbings continued whilst all the underlying statistical figures were inferior to that of his predecessor.  'Apart from points!' he cried, which was true, but by now nobody cared that Sherwood's 'Points Per Game' were superior to any other Spurs manager because his abrasive personality had so enraged the wider fanbase, that nearly nobody had any wish whatsoever to see him continue.  Levy was thankfully wise to this & 'Interim Tim' wended his way into a world of candid insights and failing to interview well for other jobs.

Brief flirtations with Van Gaal came to nothing once the Man Utd job became available, so a two-horse race ensued seemingly between the successful and celebrated Ajax coach, Frank de Boer and the celebrated but trophy-free Pochettino.   With distinct rumblings of discontent from many in the fanbase, Pochettino was hired.  Thought not to be a big enough name & to have proven little in spells at Espanyol & then Southampton, many felt underwhelmed by his appointment.  Others, like myself, were intrigued by his systems, encouraged by the love his former Southampton charges seemed to have for him and entirely hopeful that Pochettino's hard-work ethics & inclusiveness could blend the disparate bunch of personalities in the Spurs squad into something they only rarely achieved last season; namely to be at least the sum of their parts.  

Happily, the general reports coming from the squad are positive and amusingly a number of the training pictures released show clearly tired players.  Their fitness will not be in doubt come the start of the season; they've worked hard for it.

Personnel: how to turn 34 into 25

The World Cup is likely to cast a shadow long into this season for many teams & Tottenham are no exception.  By virtue of the extended & needed breaks given to players involved in the latter stages of the tournament, only Lloris and Bentaleb have been seen on the pitch of the 6 Spurs players that featured there.  Paulinho, Dembele, Vertonghen and Chadli are all functionally AWOL at the moment & question marks remain: we don't know if the coach rates them, at all.

With days to go before the season starts, Pochettino admitted he had 'too many players' and emphasised a desire for a squad of 25.  With Benoit Assou-Ekotto seemingly cut entirely adrift and the signings of Ben Davies, Michel Vorm & Eric Dier, that leaves a clear squad of 32 without the mooted recruitment of Mateo Musacchio or Morgan Schneiderlin, two potential transfers that may occur, particularly likely the purchase of the well regarded Villareal centre back.

Held against this backdrop, possible sales become essential and young players can be sure to be entering the loan system.  Tom Carroll & Ezekiel Fryers are young & have been fringe players in pre-season so seem certain to be sent out but where do the sales come from?  Ryan Mason has returned from oblivion to look decent when tried but is old enough to be in the 'now or never' bracket & plays in a position that is well over-staffed.  Personally, I believe there to be enough noise around the idea that Vertonghen is staying & has signed a (thus far unreported) new contract for it to be true & despite some early summer rumours, Paulinho doesn't appear to be for sale.  But Dembele and Chadli, along with Holtby, Naughton, Kaboul, Chiriches, Sandro and maybe Capoue, maybe Townsend are all potentially vulnerable to bids & Dawson, despite 9 1/2 years of service, is thought completely surplus to requirements. 

Maybe 4, 5 or even six of these could be leaving and pre-season hasn't very well cleared the picture with Capoue and Holtby (both rumoured to have had problems with attitude last season) having featured to decent effect.  Naughton and one or maybe both of Dawson and Kaboul must be available, with the  incoming reinforcements being notably defensive thus far, but with Walker injured to start Naughton becomes required & Dawson is rumoured to be reluctant to go.

Sandro has hit the '2 years on his contract' point that alerts Levy to selling & is rumoured to be poles apart regarding any potential new deal so is vulnerable & Chiriches' future, despite a good deal of hope for him from fans, appears entirely dodgy.  Who knows what goes on behind the scenes...

Who plays:

This is simple, Lloris, signed to a new long term deal starts, Vorm, new in, backs-up & plays Europa League whilst Brad does a bit of coaching, a bit of punditry & cheerleads for the club in the States.

Walker is the nominal first choice & distinct back-up is thin on the ground if, as expected, Naughton leaves. Kaboul & Dier are unsatisfactory but plausible cover players and maybe young Fredericks will get time, he has a lot of energy! For all that it could be that the hoped signing of DeAndre Yedlin will look functionally necessary come January.

Left back:
Ben Davies' signing was thought to spell the demise of Danny Rose, who surprised everyone by signing a new contract and declaring himself happy to compete for a place; indeed, he's looked effective in pre-season and may have edge the starter spot for the season's opener against West Ham. Either way, finally there's depth here.

As stated earlier, it's presumed that Vertonghen is happy to stay, he has said as much & he could well be partnered by Pochettino's countryman, Mateo Musacchio, a well regarded 23 year old thought to be signing imminently.  Beyond that, though young, one presumes Eric Dier has signed with the promise of some game time, leaving Kaboul, Chiriches & Dawson looking like 2 players too many for one squad spot.

Central/Defensive midfield:
Pre-season has seen Mason, Capoue, Carroll, Sandro & Bentaleb play here and Holtby is versatile enough to play anywhere across midfield. However, arguably last year's starting first choicers Paulinho and Dembele have been away & with the potential addition of Morgan Schneiderlin, who Pochettino sees long term playing in his central 2 is a question only he can answer.  I think Bentaleb deserves time this year & personally would like to see Paulinho alongside Capoue but it's hard to be definitive.

Attacking midfield/wing forwards:
One thing that seems very apparent this year is that Chief Levy's £30m investment is the prodigious talents of Erik Lamela will be given every chance to be realised.  Pochettino seemingly favours a fluid, interchangable 3 behind his main forward and whilst there are concerns about his workrate in this system, Eriksen deserves the chance to kick on from his excellent debut season.  Beyond these two the third place is quite open; it's possible Harry Kane could drop back from a forward role to nominally a left forward role and Lennon, ever the coach's darling but eternally frustrating to the fans, has figured thus far.  Both Townsend and Chadli could be either sold, loaned or key, there's simply no way of knowing right now.

Seemingly a straightforward situation here with Adebayor staying.  He and Soldado rotate or compete and Kane backs up.  Adebayor is still better than anyone likely available on the open market and could well, like Lambert before for Pochettino, be key.

How are they going to play?

Pochettino teams are renowned for being hard working & high pressing who take chances with quick transitional passes between the lines and adhere to fairly strict but fluid tactics.  Tottenham are well set to adapt to these tactics with most of the squad having playing a vaguely similar system initially under Villas Boas. The in vogue 4-2-3-1 formation is the starting point and general feedback from the squad has been that training sessions have thus far been 'hard but enjoyable'.  Whilst Tottenham's media is less open than Southampton's was, it is to be hoped that the excellent squad bonding sessions seen under Pochettino at Southampton have been replicated at Spurs and it is with this in mind that it has been frustrating that the coach has been unable to incorporate a full squad until very recently, with notably Paulinho having been given an extended break after the World Cup.  None of the World Cup players toured the USA, which will have been a very good squad bonding opportunity & that was a real shame.

As such, it would not be too much of a surprise to see Pochettino start the season using a base of those players who have worked longest with him, though with many transfers yet to be finalised, personnel could change very rapidly.

Pochettino's Southampton team ranked in the league last year thus:

2nd:  Offsides won, (most) Turnovers, (most) Dispossed
3rd:  Tackles, Offsides, Crosses
4th:  Fouls, No. of attempted passes
5th:   Assists, No. of successful passes
7th:  Goals, Shots per Game

What some of these numbers show are a team that passes the ball a lot, takes risks with it's passes & general play, is direct and combative.

The pre-season matches have shown these traits in abundance & Pochettino's style has been evident immediately  Particularly, directness and work rate have been easy to identify and an increase in runners from midfield being caught offside has implied quick transitional play.  The ever energetic Holtby has shown the way in harassing & hustling whereas Capoue has shown  a good range of passing from his withdrawn midfield role..
Full backs have joined up with play high up the park, centre backs have split wide and the attacking midfield 3 have constantly rotated positions and worked hard to look for quick passes in behind defences.

The biggest contrasts I can identify is that Tottenham 2013/14 were not much of a crossing team nor were they particularly combative in relation to tackling or fouling being generally more disciplined, especially under Villas Boas.  Pochettino seems to accept a degree of fouling in his team's play & indeed accepts the trade off between trying to get a player in and the inevitable slew of offsides this invokes.

The main concern I have for the season is that which plagued Southampton.  The energy required to adhere to Pochettino's system often left them tired late on and vulnerable to a late opposition surge.  By this stage he seemed tactically stoic and had no obvious solution or alternative.  Maybe the strength of Tottenham's bench will allow him to mix substitutes more effectively to allow his system to remain effective for longer into the game?
Whatever- fitness will be paramount and last season's fitness record of the squad was terrible; this is a clear area of concern & one which may need addressing if injuries become prevalent once more.  It is hoped Pochettino & his team have some fresh ideas on injury prevention & effective rotation to avoid too many unnecessary absences and mid-season burnout.


As ever, I have high hopes of a top 4 finish!

Whilst recognising that the better teams in the league become ever stronger and the gap between the regular European contenders and the rest becomes ever larger, it is entirely feasible for Tottenham to match or exceed their points total from last year.  Regularly dispatching the lesser teams wasn't the problem, total capitulation against the better teams was.  Better form after Europa League matches is imperative as is more control in big games.  Hopefully, the fact that Pochettino is patently more organised than Sherwood and more open than Villas Boas should be a good blend.  He is an inclusive and positive coach tasked with getting more out of an undoubtedly talented group of players.  Remedial work has been done on the defence and there are many options going forward.

Most likely is a battling 5th (indeed a model I devised for the season suggested 6th :(  ) but whilst it's easy to presume that all the big teams are strengthening and improving, it's hugely unlikely to be plain sailing for all the big teams, because well, just because!

Thanks for reading.


Thanks for visiting 'The Big Ripple'!

Make sure you check back throughout the season as i'll be continuing my WEEKLY ROUND UP of stats and points of intrigue (usually posted Sunday/Monday), throwing out a few statistical articles as the season wears on and generally trying to provide entertaining, vaguely original commentary because, well, it's good fun.

All the best!