Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Big Ripple: 26th October Premier League Round Up

Mou' gon' Mou'

And Mou' he did, all the way up until the very last second when his well earnt 3 points were snatched away from him.  After giving Moyes' United team too much respect last year and taking the 0-0, this time Mourinho gave a cursory nod towards winning and his team did nearly everything he would have desired: pinch a goal, keep it tight and give up nothing.  In the match I watched, United could have played until Christmas and they weren't going to score, so I can understand the emotion that was felt on the Chelsea bench as smart pragmatism dissolved into pained frustration.  The game was littered with classic Mourinho cues: bookings aplenty for gifted midfielders, the Oscar for Obi Mikel swap, Drogba showing that 'target-man' is a position as ageless as keeper and Ivanovic being one part brilliant marauder, one part defensive wall and one part off the pitch just when it mattered.

Importantly, the point a-piece keeps Chelsea on this side of the horizon & having finally shown some vulnerability we can hope that they might regress towards the pack to some degree.  Their numbers are good, but so are Southampton and Man City's & these three hold a distinct advantage over the rest of the league & the question is less how superior Chelsea and Man City are (they are) and more how long can Southampton keep this up?  With the chasing pack now headed by West Ham and expected challengers stuttering, the seemingly formidable task of attacking the top 4 positions is not as unlikely as it might have seemed only weeks ago. As noted before, December will be their big test.


After the shot heavy antics of last week we have seen a far more sedate set of figures though this has been driven by a miniscule goals total and terrible shots on target figures.  League conversion rate is a season low: about 9%, although the year-on-year rate is good, currently running at about 11.5% which is distinctly up.

Anyway here's a comparison, for interest, between both the best and worst team figures for goals per shot on target this season and last.  Ideally, you'd like your team towards the top of these tables and interestingly, this is where we find West Sam.  Last year, many models suggested that they were bad enough to have gone down and the fans were outraged: the Big Ham showed otherwise.  This season, they appear to be better than the sum of their parts and are charging up the league.  The Big Ham strikes again?

Rabona Predictions

1.  'The Oxford English Dictionary today announced the words that defined the year and which will be added to their new dictionary for 2015/16...'
2.  Someone will try a Rabona penalty.

All credit Alex Song for immediately supporting this new craze this weekend.

Stat short

  • This week Mile 'The Wall 'Jedinak conceded a crucial last minute penalty so as a mark of respect this section is suspended.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

About a year ago, Erik Lamela starred in Europa League tie before being dropped for a home match against Newcastle.  That match against Newcastle was a bewilderingly one sided 0-1 defeat in which Tim Krul had one of the matches of his life in repelling Tottenham.  Many fans wondered why Lamela had been omitted and the result hid the quality of the underlying performance.

Fast forward to now & we have a similar situation: Lamela lights up the Europa League but this time retains his place, and offers little in a hugely frustrating 1-2 defeat against Newcastle; a defeat that offered many of the hallmarks of that indefinable term, 'Spursy'.  The quality of the underlying performance, in contrast to last year, can't very well be praised.

In a match played at a decent tempo, Newcastle didn't turn up until literally the first kick after half time and  Tottenham will find it hard to understand how they managed to lose.  Earlier in the season, Sunderland forced a 2-2 draw despite having only one shot on target, here Newcastle were efficient, and not before time given their paucity for fortune this year, and scored 2 from 2.  And lo, Harry Kane came to pass but nay, he couldn't create an opening and Spurs sit in a miserably deserved 11th place.

Deserved? Sadly it is. Tottenham aren't decent in any of the metrics i'm tracking and rank between 8th and 14th for the majority.  All the shot numbers i'm using peg them as damned average and we're worrying close to the precipice named 'crisis'.  In a season where only Chelsea, City & Southampton can be content with their early season play, it remains frustrating to have to lump Tottenham in with Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal  and Man Utd as 'teams that should be doing much better' & arguably they are towards the bottom of that group.  Of course the coach needs time but the major problem of instilling grit & mental toughness into a group of players who are lacking general fortitude is not easily solved and many more defeats could offer us that rare beast: an open January chequebook.

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Big Ripple: 19th October Premier League Round up


No surprise that the totals are up this week, particularly when considering Arsenal, Burnley, Southampton, Tottenham and West Ham all posted season high totals & the matches at the Etihad & Turf Moor are only superseded by week 4's Chelsea v Swansea game for total shot volume (39 to 40 FWIW).

Throw in season high weekly goals totals, season high league conversion rate and an insanely high shot on target rate (+1.3 per team against the season average) and we've got a week that justifies the league's not inconsiderable hype.  And there's still West Brom v Man Utd to come.

Fun, fun, fun.

Unless you're Gus Poyet.


I wonder if Rickie Lambert has got the hump yet?  He signs for his boyhood club just as their star striker is heading for the exit, they've spent much of the previous season playing with 2 forwards and only have Daniel Sturridge left in the ranks.  Despite his age, he's played nearly a whole season leading the forward line at Southampton and has contributed a good tally of goals and assists.

Fast forward to now & despite Sturridge being injured, he can still barely get on the pitch.  Mario Balotelli is playing and has shown a complete lack of intuition & the shooting accuracy of Bullseye's non-darts player.  Even Borini is hovering around the first team squad and Lambert has 127 minutes of Premier League play to his name whilst Liverpool splutter along without conviction.  In a fixture against a fragile QPR he warms the bench throughout! I bet he has got the hump.

In keeping with the weekend's 'Premiership Plus!' motif, the '0-1 to 2-3 in the blink of an eye' scoreline was entirely ridiculous and QPR were good value for a lot more than they got, ie: something rather than nothing.  Liverpool in contrast, probably deserved very little from the game and seem to be suffering from a lack of options; it's not that they don't have players to choose from, it's just nobody has arrived with the flourish and comfort of a Tadic and hit the ground running.  

Lambert looks on, all the while hoping he'll get the chance he craves, wondering 'what on earth happened to 2 up front?'

Villa & Leicester

Earlier in the week I had two conversations:

A non-statistically minded fan said: 'I really fancy Villa can get something at Everton, we've had a good start to the season' .
'They're struggling to create chances a bit' I replied with great sensitivity.
'Yeah, but they've got ten points already.  Pretty good, I reckon.'

I stared skyward and the conversation fizzled out; it was easy to contemplate the deaf ears a barrage of statistics would encounter.  Statistics that after this weekend's stuffing at Everton could now include:
  • 13 shots on target all year
  • 28% shots on target ratio
  • League low shots per game
  • 4 years for Alan Hutton
They've had a daft run of games against good sides, and those aren't the matches that will define their season, but even so, their abject low numbers across the board are going to be of use only to Gus Poyet as a counterpoint to present to a perplexed Ellis Short.

The second conversation was similar:

Me: 'Newcastle must be able to beat Leicester, they're not that bad and Leicester are very bad.'
Other person: 'Dunno, Leicester have shown a lot of spirit and I couldn't fancy Newcastle they've been terrible.'
Me: 'Well, I dreamt that Gabriel Obertan turned into the player Alex Ferguson always thought he was for thirty seconds culminating in a fine finish to secure a much needed three points and save the noble Sir Alan of Pardew who then rode his trusty steed through Newcastle in a full suit of armour whilst chanting 'I am your Oberlord!'

So: 'spirit' is seemingly defined as hoovering up the 'league worst' totals that Villa have left behind?
Hmm... Villa lack an attack; they have a small chance of remedying this with Benteke returning.  Leicester lack a defence and are conceding 19 shots a game so far, come what may.  I don't see any obvious remedy for them, they are horribly porous especially away from home.  9 points may seem okay for now but after only 8 games, the table hides the truth quite effectively.

Stat shorts
  • Aguero: 4 goals from 11 shots, 8 on target is as good as it gets.  Robben had a similarly silly game the other week (10Sh, 5SoT, 8 DR, 2Gls & one woodwork)  but otherwise this is Messi/Ronaldo territory.
  • Tadic finally scored (supporting the theory I espoused last time) and had 7 KPs creating 4 assists.  He lacks the profile of Costa or Fabregas but has to be a big contender for signing of the season so far.
  • Alexis Sanchez is trying to do it all himself: 5 shots, 1 goal, 3 KPs, 1 assist & 5 dribbles.
  • Sakho, always scores! And will continue to do so if he gets off 6 shots a game.  Backed it up with an assist from 4 KPs too.
  • Interestingly, most weeks the T&I maximum has been 10+; in this week of goals, shots and wild attacking it's nowhere near. Blog favourite Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak hit 7
Obligatory Tottenham bit

The one thing Tottenham weren't going to do is go to the Etihad and try to match Man City. No way.  The new pragmatism we've seen under Pochettino was here to stay: we were sure to defend and hit them on the break.  Anything else would be suicide.

And with a positive and free outlook leading to a 1-4 scoreline, so it came to pass. Three penalties against, the obligatory red card, none of the breaks and surprise tactics had many of the hallmarks of a Tim Sherwood production.   What couldn't be countered was Aguero having the type of performance that you might see a handful of times a season away from the insane lands of Messi and Ronaldo.  Any team could have turned up here on Saturday the 18th of October and left chastened.  The general media consensus seems to be that Man City 'haven't clicked yet' whilst all the while their underlying numbers have been very, very good.  This time they showed it in the goals column too.

Yet strangely, despite being on the wrong end of another goal glut there was a lot of good stuff to take from this performance from a Spurs perspective:
  • Lloris' form is currently outstanding
  • We finally created a substantial amount of chances in a game 
  • Mason looks a real find; quick incisive passing combined with the Poch work ethic
  • Soldado, despite his penalty miss, offered enough to suggest he has a role to play.
  • This standard of performance will roll over the lesser teams & Tottenham will be favorite for each of their next 5 games until the visit  to Stamford Bridge on December 3rd.
Until this match, the attack had been neutered.  We can now have reasonable hope that that was a temporary situation & a remedy has been found.  Maybe, the players are starting to get it?  One hopes this attacking flair can be married to the defensive solidarity we've seen in most matches so far...


Thanks for reading!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Shots in box: Premier League

Based around a similarity to zone entries, let's look at shots in the box:
  • Surprise, surprise: Chelsea and Man City are dominant.  I keep hearing that City 'haven't clicked into gear' and suchlike; any underlying number suggests otherwise, they're just not scoring 5s and 6s... yet.
  • Man Utd, Arsenal & Tottenham are all suffering here.  None are creating loads of shots in the box and what they are creating, they're shipping at a similar rate.  It's average stuff so far.
  • Leicester, Hull, QPR & Villa all look pretty bad here; Burnley can cling to some small hope: there are teams performing far worse than they are.
  • Sunderland have a poor attack and a good defense
  • Newcastle just need to keep doing what they're doing and catch a break.  They lead the league in 6 yard box chances (16, next best is 11)
  • Liverpool are fine. With this metric stripping out most of Mario, they score pretty well.
  • Southampton give away nothing.
  • West Ham have gone from terrible (2013/14) to very promising (2014/15). If they keep this up, Allardyce will deserve any praise he gets.
Thanks for looking in.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Big Ripple: 6th October Premier League Round-up

Bit of a humdrum week with a raft of expected results and a lack of wow goals & mad drama.  The overall shots total was the lowest since week one with only the Man Utd v Everton game providing a par total of shots & a degree of excitement on the Sunday & Saturday's fixtures failing to fire the imagination.  But none of that will stop us finding interesting vignettes to comment upon, so let's scratch beneath the surface.

League table

Man Utd have had a terrible start to the season and are deservedly... er... 4th? What?
Stoke have been pretty decent so far & have excellent underlying numbers and are deservedly... er... 16th? Say again?

It's seven games and it's clear that position doesn't count for much with 3 points separating the Gaalacticos and Stoke but it's fascinating how the league has clustered together so far  Rest assured, as we move forward, teams deemed to have had bad starts will gravitate towards the top and the Aston Villas of the world will drift south.  Anyway, in week 3 I put up an 'alternative underlying' league table & now that it finally resembles a reality I concur with, I thought i'd wheel it out again.  Man City's one-sided triumph against Villa & Chelsea's victory against Arsenal has tipped the balance in favour of common sense so here it is:

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

Seriously though, one week Man Utd were top, and that just didn't seem right; it was too soon, and probably still is, but we are seeing the better teams consistently put in stronger performances than the lesser teams, entirely as you would expect.  What can we pull out of this table?
  • QPR are bad but not worst.  They deserved a little more from their home fixtures & have created enough to have done better.  Away from home they've been awful.
  • By and large Stoke have a decent defence; they've given up a league low rate of shots on target but have lost twice without making a save.  They're converting shots at 6% though, which is grim & explanatory.
  • Villa were bad when they were winning, now they are losing, they are equally bad.
  • Everton are now a true Martinez team; there is a lot good about them but the results are poor.
  • Tottenham are 9th best?
  • Man City are better than Chelsea. I think.
Obligatory Tottenham bit: are they are 9th best?

Earlier in the week I wrote something examining how Tottenham aren't shooting enough & the main reason for this is that the front 4, who have consistently been Lamela, Eriksen, Chadli and Adebayor, do not have a record of frequent shooting & their historical shot totals bear this out.  Despite their obvious qualities, this fundamental issue is hampering Tottenham's creativity and has lead to their being outshot as a team this season.  Mixed results have followed.

Facing a Southampton team who have been giving up league low shots totals was sure to be a sound test, notwithstanding the STORYLINE about Pochettino.  Halfway through the game, my premise was on shaky ground: Tottenham had taken 7 shots, were leading & were seemingly in control.  For the first time this season, we were reliably witnessing the hard press & the game was being played at a crazy pace, something that was underlined by noticeably low pass completion rates for both teams.  It seemed as though Pochettino, confident that his new team was superior than his old team had decided to simply outgun them, and at this point it was working.

However, the second half was slightly different and rather than attempt to describe, i'll let this tweet from the excellent Cartilage Free Captain blog explain:

There were maybe 2 Tottenham shots in the second half? I say maybe because one was Eric Dier kinda falling over.  Still, the energy was there but it wasn't translating into anything offensively damaging and the luck had to hold out when ManĂ© choked away a sitter late on.

So a good result & 'something to build on', but problems remain; they've been 9th best but should at least be looking upwards & a lot in this performance was better than what we've seen before.  Hopefully the next game will see the good parts of this game translated into a wider dominance but then again, maybe not:  it's Man City away.  I expect us to sit, break at pace & defend. A lot.

Non-scientific method of determining potential goalscorers

During the World Cup I noticed a few players that had taken a ton of shots but had failed to score.  Sure enough, as they played again, a fair percentage of them went on to score. So far, so unscientific.  The current conversion rate for shots in the league is about 11% (unless you are Diego Costa) and by my reckoning 21 players have had 15 or more shots.  Of these players only 4 haven't scored:

Craig Gardner
Dusan Tadic
Lukas Jutkiewicz


These poor souls could all score soon, but before anyone starts wagering on these outcomes, I can tell you it took Cesc Fabregas 62 shots to score in 06/07 and Yannick Bolasie had 48 shots last year for nothing...

I've got a theory about why Liverpool signed Balotelli, beyond the fact that he was comparatively cheap and potentially good:  I think Rodgers wanted a pure shooter in the ranks to replace Suarez.  Both Balotelli & Suarez are 5+ shot a game players & such levels are rare.  Of course, right now with Mario launching efforts from 'Hail Mary' range and not scoring, it doesn't look great, but he's getting a fair percentage of shots on target & is surely due a slice of luck.  Here's his last 3 games, adapted from Stats Zone:
So yeah, go Mario!

Stat shorts

  • Unlike recently, Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak was not a match winner this week & hit a season low 6 T&Is
  • Milner 8KPs
  • McArthur 8 tackles
  • Ivanovic with the week high 11 T&Is
  • Big week for Wenger: 1 push, lots of complants & a sour expression
  • Di Maria ran the Man Utd attack with a goal & an assist from 6 shots and 5KPs plus 4 dribbles, 3 interceptions and 19 crosses.  He's a welcome addition to this league.
Thanks for reading!


The horror of international week is upon us once more so why not give yourself something to do by reading my Adventures in Football Data 1: Fabregas and assists hopefully the first in a new series of numbersy blogs or if you missed the link in the text, why don't you let me tell you why Tottenham's shot count is so low?

And make sure you check back regularly for more content!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Shooting helps: Tottenham

Tottenham's season has so far been characterised by its sheer averageness and their ability to create good and regular shooting chances has been poor.  After a promising start in which they won their first 4 competitive matches, they have only recorded 1 win in 7.  Apart from the tame defeat against Liverpool, they have been reasonably difficult to beat but have struggled to create clear opportunities.  There was a similar complaint charged at Villas-Boas at the start of last season but the reason for a paucity of solid chances is very different.

As part of his tactical straightjacket, Villas Boas encouraged shooting & during his season and a half at the club, he coached a series of players heavily inclined to shoot.  And shoot they did, usually from distance & with a low goal expectation. He latterly gave a lot of minutes to Soldado, Paulinho and Townsend who all contributed heavily to the shot count.  Goals became scarce & without the uber-skills of Bale or the nous & timing of Dempsey, Tottenham's conversion rate fell in a hole. Nevertheless, throughout, Spurs were a significantly dominant shots team. 

Sherwood coached a more organic style encouraging his players to play with freedom & his shot counts were significantly lower than Villas Boas'.  His empowering of Harry Kane in the late season gave a boost to his attacking numbers and Tottenham remained a dominant shots team.

Meanwhile, on the south coast of England, Mauricio Pochettino was coaching a club that exerted shot dominance.  Improving a group of relatively unheralded players with a pressing style, he seemed a likely good fit to meld the disparate personalities of Tottenham together, whilst maintaining the superiority that Tottenham had become accustomed to.  Sure enough he was employed & the project began.

Only so far, the message isn't getting across.

The hard pressing seen at Southampton hasn't arrived at Tottenham.  The shape of the team is the same but the pressing has been employed only sporadically, and the counter attacking set-up  in the Arsenal game was as far away from what you'd expect from a Pochettino team as you could get.  Ironically the only goal came via an all too infrequent high-up press.

In six league games, Tottenham are a negative shot team.  Three times Tottenham have failed to have more than 7 shots in a game, which is an extremely low total.  European matches featuring a back-up team have been no better.  A terrible minus 15 shot defecit was recorded against Besiktas and this followed a complete attacking washout away to Partizan.  Crumbs of comfort are hard to find.

So, why?

Here's a chart showing shot rates per 90 minutes for attacking players over the last 3 seasons (i've split Villas Boas & Sherwood's season in two):

Shots per 90 AVB 12/13 AVB 13/14 Sherwood 13/14 Pochettino 14/15
Bale 5.08
Kane 4.95
Townsend 4.48
Defoe 4.03 3.92
Sigurdsson 3.86 3.22 2.03
Dempsey 3.16
Paulinho 3.13 2.17
Holtby 1.76 3.07
Soldado 2.53 2.95
Chadli 2.03 2.05 2.68
Adebayor 2.37 2.15 2.46
Eriksen 1.9 2.26 2.26
Lennon 0.92 0.8 1.14
Lamela 0.88
  • Green are players no longer at the club, all historically high rate shooters, even beyond their time in an AVB system.
  • Red is this season's starting front 4; the preferred attackers in Pochettino's system
  • Purple shows high rates of shooting above 4 per game, dark orange shows above 3 per game
  • Blue are players in the current squad, historically high shooters.  
So the upshot is this:
  • Tottenham have let a series of shot heavy players leave the club
  • Those in blue, historically shot heavy players, have played a combined 167 league minutes this season. They're not playing and as such not shooting ('other attackers' averages 1.10 shots per90)
  • Of the starting attackers (red), NONE are historically high shooters.  Chadli, Adebayor and Eriksen all average about 2-2.5 shots per 90 over many, many games.  This is their consistent level of contribution.  Lamela averaged over 3 at Roma but is under 1 per 90 this year.
  • Lennon just doesn't contribute in shooting, never has done.
So: the front 4 can be relied upon for an average of about 7 or 8 shots a game. This is simply not enough.

Each of these front 4 is talented and noticably creative but do not shoot often enough.  Any central midfield combination of Capoue + AN Other is going to barely register on the shot charts, so it is up to the chosen front 4 to create chances and take shots. So far this isn't happening & it seems that only Lamela is contributing at a lower level than you might expect.  As such, these levels are unlikely to change with these personnel. 

The obvious solution to this problem is to involve either Townsend or Kane more often.  Having shown a far keener eye for a goal or a pass, Kane seems the more logical option.  He has played a limited number of minutes for Tottenham but has always managed to find shooting opportunities.  He is young, improving and takes up good positions whilst also being flexible with regard his starting position. Otherwise, it was mentioned in commentary for the Besiktas game that Tottenham were 'exploring attacking options' ahead of the January transfer window & it seems relevant that despite a large squad, such options may well be pursued, especially given the lack of league time given to expensive but underperforming players such as Paulinho or Soldado, neither of whom has impressed in some while.

Maybe it's systemic?  Possession levels have been high, much like under Villas Boas, but where his tactics appeared to encourage a shot whenever a clear view was attained, it seems Pochettino favours continued recycling of possession until a clear opportunity beckons.  And so, with a forward line of reluctant shooters, the shot count remains low.  There is an argument that Pochettino needs time to get his methods across but his impact on Southampton was nearly instant & he's now been at the club 3 months.  Another factor may well be that the World Cup did not help player reintegration but it can't be used as a long term excuse.  There are also rumours around the club that suggest the players are responding well to his training methods but are failing to follow instructions when out on the pitch.  Regardless of all these theories, this issue needs a solution.

Shooting is currently Tottenham's most obvious problem; without remedying their malaise here, they are unlikely to be challenging effectively for the European places and the Champions League will remain a distant dream.  It is hoped that Pochettino, who seems a fairly shrewd & likable character, will be able to solve the current problems and the match against his former club on Sunday will be an interesting test of his methods.

Thanks for reading


Weekly round-up coming Sunday night, check back then! Plenty more articles to come too.
This week we had 'Adventures in football data 1: Fabregas and assists' which looked at problems in sourcing reliable data and had footage of Robbie Savage being made to look silly. Worth a read.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Adventures in football data 1: Fabregas & assists

Cesc Fabregas was something of a prodigy; from the age of 17 he played regularly for Arsenal & over a period of 7 seasons became a key component in their midfield. During this time he played in 212 league matches and scored 35 goals.  These facts are not in dispute; check any source you can find and they will give you these numbers.  And that makes sense: participation in a game and the scoring of goals are the two most rudimentary statistics recorded in football.  From school level upwards, throughout many an amateur team, all the way to the top tier of the professional game, these numbers are recorded.  But what about secondary numbers? For example, given his skill as an excellent passer, how many goals did Cesc Fabregas create during his Arsenal tenure?

How many league assists did Cesc Fabregas create at Arsenal?

Source: Fabregas Assists 2004-2011
A 76
B 77
C 72
E 68*
F 71
*First two seasons not given, so estimated from most common total sources.

Okay, we have a difference of opinion! I have no idea who is transcribing the information for each of these online resources & it is not my intention to criticise anyone for providing that service, merely to highlight discrepancies in data collection, so for that reason i've anonymised the sources. Moreover, the differences are quite large.  So is it a matter of a specific outlier? Maybe the data becomes more unreliable as you go back in time?  Theoretically, given the increased interest in the use of football statistics you might presume the most recent numbers would be more consistent:

Fabregas Assists 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011
A 4 5 12 19 11 15 10
B 4 5 13 20 11 13 11
C 2 5 6 20 10 16 13
D 4 5 13 20 8 13 11
E NA NA 11 16 8 13 11
F 3 4 11 18 8 14 13

Hmm... not the case.

Are there any two sources the same?

No.  Sources B & D concur on all years except for 2008/9, which is encouraging; or at least it is until you realise that source B is Wikipedia, so basically regurgitated information derived from elsewhere.

The most baffling season is 2006/7. One source gives a mere 6 compared to 11-13 from the other sources.  I decided to try and ascertain the truth.  Having squinted pointlessly at blurry Youtube videos, the method I resorted to was to look at the post match write ups, which are conveniently available on the BBC website.  They do a pretty decent job of describing the action during a match and the events leading up to a goal.  Here's what I came up with:

Opponent Result Scorer Fabregas Contribution Assist?
@Man Utd 0-1 Adebayor 'forced error, threaded pass' Y
v Watford 3-0 OG 'free kick flicked by Adebayor forcing OG' ?
@Reading 0-4 Henry 'precise pullback' Y
“” “” Henry 'brought down for penalty' ?
v Liverpool 3-0 Flamini 'crossed low to near post' Y
@Wigan 0-1 Adebayor 'through ball' Y
v Blackburn 6-2 Flamini 'beat Savage by corner flag, keeper parried' ?
@Blackburn 2-0 Henry 'return pass' Y
@Tottenham 2-2 Toure 'free kick chipped to far post' Y
“” “” Adebayor 'free kick chipped to far post' Y
v Fulham 3-1 Adebayor 'through ball' Y

Before you read on, I implore you to enjoy this clip from the Blackburn game:

So the upshot is, I count eight clear assists and three others that could be counted depending on how you define 'assist'.  FIFA attempted to define what they considered an assist after producing a Technical Report for the 1986 World Cup & revised one element after the 1990 tournament.  They say this:
  1. An assist was awarded to the player who had given the last pass to the goalscorer.
  2. In addition, also the last but two holder of the ball could get an assist if his action had decisive importance for the goal .
  3. After goals from rebounds those players were awarded an assist who had shot on target.
  4. Where goals resulting from penalties are concerned, the player who is fouled in the area receives an assist point (unless, that is, the player who is fouled subsequently executes the penalty himself)
Given these rules, we land on 11 for Fabregas with an addition on one each from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th categories. Two of our sources concur.  Of course, i'm equally liable as any source of making an error in data collection, particularly as i'm here 7 or 8 years after the fact.

So what is the point?

Data collection within football is not new, but the extent to which it is being collected has accelerated during the Premier League era, especially in recent years as public resources have cropped up.  What concerns me is that beyond simple measures such as goals or appearances, there are inherent flaws in the collection of any other data.  Specifically i've looked at assists here as beyond goals and appearances, they are the next level of detail in statistically describing a game; they are necessarily rarer than goals so shouldn't take much counting, yet in the example shown there is great variance within a small sample.
The example I have used is historic, I didn't seek it out, I just found it in the course of research & was actually surprised at the variance I found when trying to look for a definitive number. I do appreciate that both public and private data recording is ever-improving & these examples are now historic.  (Although it seems crazy to think of 2007 as a historical backwater, but comparatively, it was).  The hope is that eventually, football will realise the value of standardising some of it's metrics across the resources that are available and when an assist is declared an assist it's as fixed as any goal or appearance.

Thanks for reading.



Not all assists are born equal; this got charged to Karim Benzema the other day & is probably not one for his highlight reel:

PPS: I was reminded to finish this article by Ted Knutson's irritation that Fabregas' wiki page had no assists credited to it, whereas Thierry Henry's did.  Well, a couple of weeks ago they were listed & for some unknown reason, now they are not. Maybe the most recent wiki editor found it as difficult as I did to create a definitive total?

PPPS: I appreciate that plenty of what i've written here will be a case of 'WE KNOW' to some people and that  greater detail could have been incorporated, but i've tried to keep things generally light and uncontroversial with the aim of making a point rather than driving a wedge.