Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Big Ripple: 28th September Premier League Round-up

Robust fare once more in this ever-entertaining league. The obvious highlight being the Jagielka goal, a more Roy Race effort i've not seen in some years:


In this week last year the top of the table looked like this:

Played Win Draw Loss For Agst Goal D. Pts
1 Arsenal 6 5 0 1 13 7 +6 15
2 Tottenham Hotspur 6 4 1 1 6 2 +4 13
3 Chelsea 6 3 2 1 7 3 +4 11
4 Southampton 6 3 2 1 5 2 +3 11
5 Manchester City 6 3 1 2 14 7 +7 10
6 Liverpool 5 3 1 1 5 3 +2 10

Arsenal going along nicely, Mourinho not cutting loose, AVB a-grinding, Joe Hart a-flapping and a Suarez-free Liverpool eking out results.  Amongst these familiar names, unheralded Southampton had made a promising start, the highlight being a good performance and win at Anfield.  At this point they were producing a strong set of underlying figures but beyond the Liverpool fixture had faced a kindly schedule for a team that would go on to show itself as clearly above average.

This year, they lost that same fixture at Liverpool and have shown greater finesse in their finishing when beating a succession of average to sub-par teams.  Their away form has been better and they've restricted teams effectively more than once but the goal and shot stats speak thus:

They are performing better. But the difference is slight.  Both shot rates for and against are pretty comparable. Their scoring early this season is being powered by a high conversion rate, their defence early last season was powered by the opposition's poor conversion rate:

Conversion Rate % For Against
2013/14 6.67 3.51
2014/15 14.10 8.33

None of this is designed to denigrate their performances so far this year, it's just I feel the likelihood of Southampton being the 6th, 7th or 8th best team in the league is still notably higher than the possibility that they are better than that & I think these comparisons show this.  Their underlying statistics are very good in relation to the rest of the league but I have a suspicion that this is partially due to their schedule and partially due to the continued underperformance of rival teams.  They are also relying heavily on key men such as Tadic and Pelle; two players in very good form and their continued fitness is of paramount importance for this relatively small squad.

Intriguingly, imminent fixtures are unlikely to change the general positive opinion of Southampton.  Beyond visiting their former coach, Pochettino at Tottenham next weekend, they don't face a fundamentally tricky fixture until the last week of November.  It is very likely that they will still be high in the table by then.  However, a run including Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal again between then and New Year's Day will define whether they are able to match and exceed teams likely to be around them such as Tottenham, Everton and maybe Liverpool.

Arsenal's Injuries

Last season Arsenal spent significant parts of the year missing vital players and it cost them any chance of actually challenging for the league, a possibility that was very real (despite underlying statistics) at the turn of the year.  This year, despite better looking numbers, they've drawn 4 of 6, lost Giroud and Debuchy long term already and now Ramsey, Arteta and probably Wilshire are likely casualties from the Tottenham game.

If this didn't happen every year you'd call it unlucky & one wonders exactly what it is that makes Arsenal's squad so consistently brittle & why they are unable to remedy the frequency of their extensive maladies.

Stat Shorts
  • Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak scored again & hit a routine 9 T&Is. Player of the Year awards await.
  • Tadic, so key for Southampton: Woodwork, an assist, 6 shots, 3 dribbles & 7T&Is.
  • Rafael bombing on with an assist from 2 KPs, 5 dribbles & 7T&Is.
  • Willian: 5 shots, 4 KPs and a goal and an assist from them.
  • Drinkwater had the week high 11 T&Is.
  • Sterling powered some of Balotelli's 10 shots with 6KPs & had 4 shots & 5 dribbles himself.
  • Dorrans enjoyed playing Burnley; as 2 assists, a goal, 4 shots & 3 dribbles show.
  • Man City shared their offensive work all around their attackers, which was nice and democratic of them.
  • JAGIELKA because, Jagielka!
Obligatory Tottenham bit

Is a draw a good result?

Hmm... yeah?

It's tricky to get a handle on this match.  There seems to be a fair split amongst the fan base between people who are happy that we set up with a defensive, counter attacking outlook, created some clear chances and had a good chance to win and people (like myself) who preferred it when in previous years we took the game more to Arsenal and went toe-to-toe with them on ability rather than setting up with a strategic defensive plan.  Arsenal weren't a team that walked through us last year; the two games both finished 0-1 and, to my mind, Tottenham had the better of the play and looked tactically better prepared;this despite the second match being under the guidance of Tim Sherwood.  Yesterday, each team looked tactically well prepared but Arsenal looked like the superior outfit. Given that, the 1-1 seems a better result for Tottenham but also feels like another reflection of a slightly lesser level of ability to which we have seen in previous years.

Why so?

Well, after 6 games, this is where Tottenham rank in the league for a few metrics:

GoalF GoalA ShotF ShotOT.F ShotA ShotOT.A Pass%F Pass%A Poss +/-Sh +/-Sot +/-Pass%
Tottenham 11 5 16 14 11 9 9 8 6 15 12 10

^All this adds up to a whole lot of average, which is reflected both by the W-D-L record of 2-2-2 and the subsequent league position.  I can only hope that some confidence can be drawn from the general efficiency of & positive reaction to the Arsenal result.  What better time for Pochettino's former charges at Southampton to visit & test their both their own and Tottenham's credentials?

Thanks for reading!


Check back next week for more high quality content.
In the pipeline, and indeed edging ever closer, is a continental-based player piece; i've built some graphs and tables and have now got to put it all together with some words... COMING SOON, so it is.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Big Ripple: 21st September Premier League Round up

More fascinating and bemusing stuff from the Premier League this week.  Where Saturday's main interest was the unimpressive nature of Liverpool against a vibrant West Ham, Sunday went full tilt with a trio of outsider wins complemented by a new chapter in the 'The Frank Lampard Story' titled 'Denis Law'.  Should Man City pip Chelsea by a point or two at the end of the year, this is a moment that will no doubt be recalled...

Firstly, in what could be this blog's most notable curveball, I will hereby ignore the more obviously entertaining narratives of the weekend & focus on Hull:


Remarking that Jelavic's goal was a thing of beauty is the only positive thing I can say about Hull right now.
And it's not something new, as the hangover from last season seems to be continuing.  After progressing to the FA Cup semi-finals on 9th March, they finished of their season on autopilot like this:

Win Draw Loss Goals F Goals A Av.Shts F Av.Shts A
2 1 7 8 18 9.2 12.7

...which isn't pretty and only saved them by 4 points, a problem that could have been far worse had the other teams not been so irredeemably bad (Cardiff, Fulham), badly managed (Cardiff, Fulham) or sacked their manager far too late (Norwich). Throughout that period they were running an average of -3.5 shots compared to their opposition and in 6 of those games they failed to register 10 shots, which by any measure is very poor.

Now they've started this season superficially well:

Win Draw Loss Goals F Goals A
1 3 1 7 7

A generally par record. So what's the problem?  In the aftermath of the 2-2 draw against West Ham last Monday, Steve Bruce seemed far too satisfied with the point earned & seemed deferential in his assessment of the game, as if a home point to West Ham was a particularly noteworthy result.  Maybe he understood the truth: Hull are still a bad shots team & have been outshot in each and every match this season whilst facing moderate opposition:

Av. Shots F Av. Shots A
10.0 18.0

The 6 points from 5 matches is a generous return when factored against an average of 8 shots less per game than the opposition; the second worst total in the league, behind Leicester, who are also probably bad, but at least have the excuse of facing better teams than QPR, Stoke, Villa, West Ham & Newcastle. 

Their next 8 fixtures feature matches against Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Man. Utd & Southampton & the other matches during that run against Palace and Burnley already hold great potential significance.

No way Jose

I am minded to recall Mourinho sending his team up to face Moyes' Man Utd early last season with an intent to secure a 0-0 draw.  Had he known that Moyes' Man Utd was a weakened 3 legged wildebeast rather than a sharp & vicious Fergulion, he may have cut his charges some slack & tried to win. Ultimately the 2 points dropped weren't crucial & I fancy similar thoughts may have been prominent this week in anticipation of facing Man City.  In a long season, any away points derived from rivals are likely to be sufficient & in this case I think he's probably right to be happy to take the point. 

Amusingly though, being a man and a goal up might not have been part of the plan; to some extent his players appeared unkeen to dominate or stretch City's remaining 10 and the tenacity shown by City in keeping going despite adversity was impressive.  Cue that magical Lampard moment & relief amongst casual fans that Chelsea have been reigned back, even if only for this week.

Score Effects at Villa Park

A woefully small 15 shots in the Villa-Arsenal game & a clear indication of the effect decisive and comparatively early domination from a superior side can have upon a game.  The 5 minute, 3 goal spurge from Arsenal entirely killed the game as a contest, so much so that they coasted through the rest of the game and neither team had a shot from the hour mark onwards.  As such, any statistical conclusions derived from the numbers provided by this game are quite clearly distorted by the very obvious effect that about 1/3 of the game was played at an even score & the other 2/3 with the result already foregone, including a superfluous final 3rd.  Regardless, this result was far more akin to what Aston Villa had been projecting prior to the game & may not be the last time this season they find themselves quickly dismantled.

Conversion Rate

The league conversion rate went up a couple of notches this week, and when we see this table, it makes a deal of sense:

Sh. on Target Goals Opp. Save %
Palace 3 3 0.0%
Leicester 5 5 0.0%
Arsenal 3 3* 33.3%
Newcastle 3 2 33.3%
QPR 4 2 50.0%
Chelsea 2 1 50.0%
*inc. OG

Come on goalkeepers! Earn your crusts.

Stat Shorts
  • Blog favourite Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak recovered from conceding a penalty last week by DISPATCHING one this. 10T&Is was more like it too.
  • Krancjar with a goal, 6 shots, 2 KPs and 5 dribbles
  • Blind, De Laet, Adam and Gardner tied with 'The Wall' at this week's league high 10T&Is.
  • Vardy with a goal, two assists, 6 KPs and TWO penalties won. Crazy!
  • Democracy again for the second week in a row at Man Utd: all their attacking front 5 either registered a goal or an assist.
Obligatory Tottenham bit

Over the course of a week, Tottenham have played twice and had one shot on target.  Too early to panic, especially after the tidy performance at Sunderland, but one of the main problems prior coaches have had over recent years has been keeping a large squad happy.  And right now, the large squad is stuttering & one wonders how a team can put up two very abject performances in a row that do not bear the hallmarks of their coach's ideology: pressing, speed and tenacity.  Plus in a team that lacks useful bastards, both Stambouli and Fazio, recently signed and potentially nasty, failed to make the bench.

Aaron Lennon continues to mystify and I fear now only exists as a horrifying mirror to a future Raheem Sterling of what could occur if he ever lost his nerve.

Arsenal (A), Southampton (H) and Man City (A) is a wince inducing forthcoming schedule too.

Thanks for reading!


Do check back next week and recommend to your friends and enemies.

Other articles will follow.  A continental article is brewing & may come out in parts or even wait for the inevitable misery of the next international week.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Big Ripple: 13th September Premier League Round up

An intriguing round of fixtures!


With Hull v West Ham to come, the shot totals are again on the healthy side this week; the season average is still below that of last year but we're edging upwards with Chelsea routinely doing the shot work of two teams and Leicester allowing their opposition the same courtesy, as we shall see.  They won a match despite having only one shot on target.  So did Villa, who are currently riding high whilst representing the inverse of all common sense.  Sunderland scored 2 goals despite only having one shot on target!  A Spursian scenario if ever we saw one, as was well noted.

The early sparring is now behind us, the squads are set, Europe is a-coming & the first meat course of the season shall be served next.

4 games is nothing

Mid-September is early to be definitive but it does appear that Chelsea have won the title.


Yeah, i'm not going for that either, but a few people are.  Chelsea have faced moderate opposition and the combined forces of 'Assists' Fabregas & Diegoals are shredding all and sundry with an able supporting cast taking turns to do their bit.  Hazard was good this week, which is no surprise, but the Champions League is upon us and the luxury of once a week matches against small teams will soon be a thing of the past.  Still, the solid defensive biscuit base Mourinho cooked up last year now has a delicious swirly attacking topping & it's hard not to nod approvingly at the way they're going about their football.


A heroic effort from Leicester to go away to Stoke and grab all 3 points.


You know that thing where you think everything is fine but it really isn't fine?  That's Leicester right now.  The results and the points look fine, and against decent teams too and when you've got a shot ratio of 1:3 against Chelsea and Arsenal that's okay. But when you carry that ratio over when playing Stoke? That's a big red flag.  They can't even claim they're 'doing a Villa' by scoring early then defending.  They had one shot on target and won the game.  It all feels a bit 'Cardiff' to me.  Seemingly doing reasonably well; terrible, horrible underlying numbers.

Maybe I should credit Stoke a bit?  I could too: they've started as an above average shots team and seem to be one of the better 'middle rangers'.  The Man City match aside, they're having the better of their games and giving up very few chances.  This is where they and Villa resemble each other; organised defence, in the wake of last season's Pulisball miracles may well be the plan de l'annĂ©e for the non-giants.

Brendan's Dilemmas

'We're not like Tottenham.' said Brendan Rodgers in not-so-many words as Liverpool bought a tower block to house all their new signings.  'We're buying a squad.' he said, quite correctly, 'to compete in multiple competitions.'  And people rightly agreed.  So, prior to what should be a routine Champions League tie at home to Ludogorets and missing his star striker, he decided to change things about a bit.

He dropped Sterling.


Yeah, he dropped Sterling, which was kind of odd. I'm presuming he's decided that Coutinho & Sterling ideally occupy similar centrally attacking roles, so it's either/or, but still, Sterling's form surely deserved the start. It's 4 games in, rests are not yet required.  Lallana started after a good while out & returning to fitness was predictably achieved ahead of returning to form; that will come later. Markovic got the start & Balotelli slotted in for Sturridge. Specifically he put out a team that included only 4 outfielders that were at the club last year.  And this merry blend of virtual strangers lacked cutting edge & created little against a league-savvy, weirdly efficient & functional Villa side.

Too much in one fell swoop, Brendan, is the obvious and clear message to learn from this.  Any team shorn of Suarez, Sturridge & Sterling is a vastly lesser outfit and trying to blend multiple new players into a first team is exactly the thing he accused Tottenham of trying and failing to do.  I guess his frustration at Sturridge's injury is now understandable, he ended up picking a side he didn't want to & got the result he didn't want.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

Tottenham went to Sunderland and thoroughly dominated the game from start to finish.


They drew?

Encouraging signs for Tottenham: loads of possession and control, the system becoming ever more apparent, fluidity in their play, a good performance from the returning Dembele & a neat little 'loads of tackles in 20 minutes' cameo from Stambouli.  On the flipside, 2 goals conceded despite there being only 1 shot on target and the loss of 2 precious road points.  Chiriches returned from oblivion too, to show his usual blend of passing efficiency & harum scarum dribbling leaving more mysteries as to the identities of our first choice back 4.  Dier looked more a centre back than a right back this week, Fazio looked on and Vertonghen was an injury withdrawl.  Kaboul, so easily relegated to last in the queue by most fans at the start of the season, continues to start.

Eriksen was good though and that he Lamela, Adebayor and Chadli appear to have cemented the front 4 spots is encouraging too.  We never saw Eriksen and Lamela together last year & with both possessing such immense promise it's an enticing prospect that they seem now to be first choice picks.  Not something that can be said for the AWOL Paulinho, who may be out of favour and with no injury reported did not even reach the bench here.  It's a long season, but I already fear for his prospects.

Stat shorts:
  • 'Mile the Wall' gave away a penalty & only hit 7 T&Is.  Get it together, mate!
  • Koscielny with the big 14T&Is
  • Wilshire 10 dribbles, a goal and an assist. Better from him.
  • David Silva 6KPs, of course
  • Eriksen had 104 touches in attacking midfield which is very high
  • Rodwell 8 Tackles
  • Victor Moses attempted 22 crosses, hit 7 of them and had 100% pass completion
  • Costa, Fabregas, Hazard: just loads of everything
  • Democracy at Utd with goals & assists & KPs shared around liberally.
  • 5 Liverpool Players and 5 Man Utd players had over 100 touches, resulting in very different results and proving the old Bananarama adage right: 'It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.' 
  • Aaron Lennon came on in the 86th minute & there were 6 minutes of injury time.  He didn't register anything at all statistically in 10 minutes, not even a touch. 

Thanks for reading!

Did you catch my Raheem Sterling career breakdown and comparison to other young stars?
It's worth a read!

Otherwise, feel free to check back next week for another column and indeed every week throughout the season.  More stats articles will follow too, as and when I get an idea about something.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Raheem the Dream & who's good at 19?

As far as roles go, being the newest & brightest star in the England team is a lucrative position.  When combined with both your national and club coaches seemingly building attacks to serve your strengths, then you're clearly set for good times.  Raheem Sterling is currently residing in these enviable positions & it has not taken him long to move through the 'promising' ranks and land where he currently is.  But what type of talent is he? Where are his strengths and how does he compare to other prodigiously talented youngsters that have come before?

Well, let's find out.

Raheem Sterling has been involved in 63 league matches for Liverpool, starting with a few sub minutes at the back end of the 2011/12 season.  Regularly involved at the start of the following year despite being only 17, his season was a curate's egg, hampered by a thigh injury picked up early on during England U21 duty.  The injury was managed, his form wavered and his season was curtailed early.  He started 16 matches prior to mid December and only 3 thereafter, his last full game before the year ended.  Off field issues were also a factor.

Returning for 2013/14, his involvement was modest until December where a starting role & 3 goals in a month signified good form.  From there on he was a regular starter and contributed solidly towards Liverpool's title challenge.  Soon enough came the World Cup where he initially usurped Rooney from the centre & drew praise then onwards to a fine start to this current campaign.

So what's he been doing to draw such praise?

1. Goals / Assists / Shots & Dribbles

Initially, he was somewhat shot-shy but dribbled the ball a lot. His rate of key passes was initially comparatively high to subsequent levels.  All these things could indicate a young player trying to fit into a team and deferring some respect to senior players. 

After this initial period, we can see that two things have been almost constant throughout: his shot rate and his key pass rate, both of whom meander around the 2 per90 mark.  But, despite these steady numbers three things are consistently increasing: his shot on target rate, his assist & goal rate and his dribble rate.  This implies that he is fundamentally playing a similar type of game; he's just now doing it better.  We'll see later, however, a couple of tweaks to his style.  His rate of improvement is consistent with what you might expect from a promising young player.

2. Passes/Touches
Since becoming part of the Liverpool team, Sterling's touch and pass rates have averaged out around 60 touches per match and 37 passes per match.  These averages have been consistent from the very start and again support the thesis that he's now playing a similar version of the game, but better.  More recently his involvement level has been rising, which may suggest he is becoming more confident within the team or indeed his team has more confidence in him.

3. What's his position?
It's fascinating to see how many different positions Brendan Rodgers has played him in; indeed Sterling is a case in point for Rodgers' tactical flexibility and nous in regard to subtly tailoring his formations depending on his opponent.  Sterling's early matches involved an equal fairly spread between flanks and it's only recently he seems to have been used more often in a centrally attacking midfield spot; one in which he has thrived:

  • He is far more effective in the centre or on the left. See both goal and assist rates.
  • He shoots more from the left or centre & he is more accurate
  • He does nothing best from the right bar quantity of crosses.
He really shouldn't be used on the right flank.  This isn't merely a case of transitioning positions through time; he has spent a lot of time on either flank from early on.  He seems to be a classically modern attacker: a right footer most effective cutting in from the left or playing centrally. 

4. Progress

Here i've combined his minutes into rough 5 game buckets to attempt to identify where improvements have been made.  From about the half-way point, as indicated by the line, his improvement and changes in his game are noticable. 
  • His Goal/Assist rate takes a leap forward
  • He's dribbling more
  • His pass% dips (an indication of more variation)
  • He crosses less (probably positional effect, more time in centre)
  • He starts playing long balls and through balls, things he'd barely used prior. See here:
Unsurprisingly, all these rate improvements started to occur from around December 2013.  He finally got a run in the team after missing the latter stages of 2012/13 with injury & making sporadic appearances in the early stages of 2013/14.  It seems to me his time spent out wasn't wasted & whilst being part of a team including Sturridge & Suarez will have no doubt benefitted his progress, i'll suggest that he spent some of his time on the fringes improving and adapting parts of his game.  His passing has clearly become more varied and he is a genuine goal threat.  As we move into 2014/15 and with the likelihood that his value to the team will increase as the Suarez hole is filled, he is shaping up well.  

5. He's as good as... 
Here's a chart of a few other prodigal youths from recent times.  It shows what these players were doing during the seasons in which they turned 19.  (In particular, Sturridge's figure is inflated by playing few minutes.) 
  • Fabregas, Rooney & Sterling can all be commended for playing so many minutes at such a young age.  It is very much a rarity in the Premier League for such young players to be so often utilised by their teams.
  • Rooney is effectively 2 goals better than Sterling was, suggesting they are comparable at this stage
  • Fabregas had a nightmare of a shooting season in his year taking 62 shots to register a goal.  He can be considered unlucky not to rate higher and leads the assist totals.
  • Messi was up to half speed by now, but Cristiano Ronaldo was still doing hundreds of stepovers.
  • The Real Ronaldo suffered a knee injury but was still too good for the Eredivisie.
So is Sterling as promising as Rooney?

Well: these are the two seasons Rooney had preceding his 19yo season (& Ronaldo's 18yo season thrown in for good measure):

^Magic from the boy Rooney there. 
Pure sorcery from Ronaldo.

6. So...?

He's pretty good isn't he?

I'm encouraged that Sterling seems to have a professional attitude towards his craft, is a committed team man & is improving noticeably quickly. There was some consternation when Roy Hodgson picked him in the centre of an AM three in the World Cup ahead of Rooney who was stationed on the left.  To my mind either of them could have interchanged, but it showed the high esteem that Sterling is being held in from within the game.  He is likely to be the next star for England and whilst a very different type of player to Rooney, he's only going to improve and improve from a very solid initial level, something that helps understand exactly why Rodgers & Hodgson appear to be building their attacks around him.

Thanks for reading!

James Yorke 09/2014

Make sure you check back each Sunday/Monday for the Premier League review column & any of the other stats articles i'm likely to churn out as time goes on...
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Cheers! *Stats from whoscored/transfermarkt and other weird depths of the internet.