Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Big Ripple 30th November Premier League Round-up

Bad and Worse.

I've commented over the weeks regarding my view that there are 7 bad teams in the league and whilst West Brom seem keen to add themselves to the list, there are more signs that 3 of the 7 would like to form a special group of their own.  They could be regarded similarly, and without improvements most likely will: 'relegated teams' seems a potentially apt descriptive term. Who are these miserable three, and why?

1.  Hull

Problem: 4 shots.

Old Trafford may not be as intimidating as it once was, but achieving 4 shots over 90 minutes is about as bad as it gets.  Hull pulled the same trick at Arsenal whilst somehow drawing 2-2 but here such generosity from the opposition was not forthcoming & they were so routinely trounced that even Van Persie scored.  Despite results,  Hull's early season numbers were pretty bad & Steve Bruce chuckled his way through a few fortunate interviews, but the joke has now worn wafer-thin.  A rolling 5 game conversion rate of 3% on an average of 1.8 shots on target per game is truly the stuff of nightmares, they've lost 4 straight & are now the worst shots team in the league.  Nowt to smile about, Steve.

2. Leicester

Problem: 32 shots

Real 'run about a bit' stuff at Loftus Road in a match that featured a historically high 51 shots, indeed @Etnar_UK informed me he'd had heard it was an all time Opta recorded high & certainly I can find no higher.  So what the hell was this, a basketball style shoot out?  Could have gone either way?  Well... The chief problem I have with this game & Leicester's 'contribution' is the concession of 32 shots against.  

Concession of 30+ shots in a game occurs on average about 8 times a season, across the league.  Chelsea have an excellent record in the 'for' column here & generally the big clubs have a near monopoly on achieving such high shot totals.  It isn't something that relegation threatened teams like QPR achieve very often at all & not what you'd like to concede against such direct rivals.   As a contrast, bad teams have a strong history of terrible defensive games. In the past, teams like Blackpool '10-11 (twice), QPR '11-12 (twice) & Cardiff '13-14 (once against also relegated Norwich) have each represented a commitment to avoiding defense by conceding 30+ shots.

So: a match against direct relegation rivals & you concede 32 shots? Very, very bad.

3. Burnley

Problem: worse than Villa

Villa, who have shown an abysmal attacking instinct throughout the season, managed to hit year high totals for shots & shots on target against poor Burnley.  Much like the QPR v Leicester match, coming up well short against direct rivals is a clear indicator of deep trouble ahead & in this instance Burnley were playing at home.  They've been a bad team all year but have only reached the nadir of my background scores these last couple of weeks.  Last week they recorded 50% pass success, which is a horrible figure, whilst being outshot 5:1.  This week, they have single handedly allowed the worst shots team in the league to become the 2nd worst shots team in the league.  This is bad.

Week by week league wide shot conversion

The season started with extremely high conversion rates, indeed against a long term league average of around 10% the week of Southampton's 8-0 mauling of Sunderland ran at over 13%, a high, but in line with earlier weeks' overperformance.  Since then, goals have become more scarce & the conversion rate hasn't broken 9% for 5 weeks.  This week was a new low of under 7.5%.  And so steadily it heads towards an expected rate, but it's taken two extremes to get there.

Mini-Regression week

There have been a few storylines this season that have become quickly entrenched; certain teams are in crisis, certain managers have had their day, all praise John Q Manager for his team's fine start and so on.  The media & fans have bedded down & decided whether they're happy or not, all the while failing to notice whether any wider truth might be concealed in amongst the underlying figures.

This week, we have witnessed some truths revealed via those age old football means: goals and results. And so, crises are halted, editorials suspended and fan protests look rather silly.  An entertaining postscript to all this is the raft of games forthcoming over the next 7 days.  Two more full rounds of games may well indicate a quick return to crisis, or maybe, we are seeing the first green shoots of a reversion to the status quo.  All the money clubs bar Chelsea won and this week, officially, Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have all set sail for the top 4. Yep, that's right: the top 4 that won't hold 7.

So where have we found regression?
  • Southampton concede 3, score none and their PDO drops from a very high 113 to a notsohigh 106.
  • Swansea, whilst still riding high in some underlying numbers, managed to draw at home to Palace. A 'meh' result by any measure but far more representative of their actual quality.
  • Chelsea, powered to the top via crazy high conversion rates, specifically those of Costa, manage to score nothing against Sunderland, despite 20 odd shots.  
  • Arsenal, coming off two silly defeats & a season of high opposition conversion got a win their dominance deserved & kept a clean sheet.
West Ham v Newcastle: Battle of the Storylines

Statement 1:
West Ham have been great Big Sam has got them playing alright they made great signings can beat anyone on their day Big Sam knows his onions alright Downing is one of the best creative forces in the league top 6 not out of the question you know, yeah?

Statement 2:
Newcastle are flying doing really well Pards has worked some magic there alright good signings can beat anyone on their day European place there for the taking he's done it before has Alan, yeah?

And West Ham won 1-0, so this week Big Sam is the smart guy & Pardew goes back to the drawing board.  But: so what?   For all the media interest surrounding events at these two clubs i've got them pegged as firmly mid-table teams.  They will not get relegated, they will not challenge for Europe.  They will meander through the season and end up in 10th and 11th place.   Shooting numbers, possession stats, passing figures & all you can derive from these numbers indicate 50% teams.  If we're still hearing about these teams in April or May, I will be surprised.  This isn't to say Allardyce can't be congratulated for improving his team; he has, but they've spent good money & mid table should be expected, indeed, they shouldn't have been as bad as they were for so long last year.  Ditto, Pardew. Newcastle should be comfortable, it's just that they are both league average, and that's as good as it gets. Sorry!

Obligatory Tottenham bit

Last week, I was positive.  Flying in the face of fan consensus, I thought there had been significant improvements in the numbers that weren't quite translating into the results & here we are a week later with a delighted fanbase, the best performance of the season, players in from the cold (Chiriches, Lennon, Paulinho), a team with an average age of about 15, full of homegrown talent and even a goal for Roberto Soldado.

Good times!  Exactly the right time to go to Stamford Bridge then. Tsk.

Still: noted underperformers Kaboul, Adebayor and Capoue are 'injured' and we have seen a clear change in 'philosophy' from the coach.  It looked like a 4-4-2 variant out there today, and that might have been just because Lennon played but the pressing, by god! It was like watching Southampton last year, and that is something we'd not seen until now.  Pochettino appears to have decided to trust in youth, follow the same blueprint he did at Southampton and take control.  Bentaleb, who only days ago turned 20, returned for a first start alongside Mason & looked every bit the old hand he did last year.  Suddenly the CM2 was working & two kids were at the controls.  Kane, a man whose game smarts belie his young age, was again excellent.  Davies seems to have developed real tenacity & Fazio no longer looks the Dawson clone his early performances indicated.  Hell, even calamity Chiriches looks a player, reformed in at right back.  Indeed for 10 minutes we had the tantalising prospect of Lamela and Chiriches as our right side: just pure flair.  And Eriksen! Totally embroiled in the work ethic & nifty as ever.

The only complaint I can put forward here is that the performance was a little too much like Southampton '13-14: they ran out of puff & offered less as the game wore on.  Despite this, the win was well deserved & even if Everton had managed an equaliser, only the most cycloptic of fan could deny the very obvious improvement that has been forthcoming over the course of the last 3 matches.  Villas Boas splutted intially & started 5-2-5 then lost only 3 more games over the course of the season.  Pochettino has also started 5-2-5 and appears to be on the right track.   

Thanks for reading!


Earlier this week I wrote an article that was published on Statsbomb about Southampton & their excellent start.  By allowing Man City to destroy them, they will have enabled some easy dismissiveness but I think they've still got a lot going for them.  City are still a dominant force & some mild regression against them was inevitable.  Read it HERE

We also have midweek Premiership games this week which may well allow a BONUS column and I'm also working on a manager profile, so keep alert & check back regularly for more content. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Southampton at 12 games

I've been monitoring Southampton's underlying numbers this year and I was disappointed that they failed to annihilate Villa as any boost from that game would have sugar-coated their already historically impressive totals.  As it is, it's possible to show that they have had a start to the season that ranks very high in the pantheon of 'Great Starts to the Season' as recorded in the 'Enlightened Stat Era' (2009-now).  This era is defined as such because it covers the public availability of shooting numbers that can be built into metrics that are highly insightful & which can also be toyed with to create weird mini-stats that show that what Southampton have done is indeed extraordinary.

Excitingly, this article is now being kindly hosted at Statsbomb, so if you'd like to read the rest of it then follow the link  HERE  Big thanks to Ted Knutson for allowing me the chance to put something up there & to Ben Pugsley for the initial inspiration to write any of this stuff at all.

And if you're a regular reader of the blog then fear not, the weekly round up will continue, here on 'The Big Ripple'.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Big Ripple 23rd November Premier League Round up

Arsenal good, Man Utd bad.

Chelsea, Man City & Arsenal all went into this weekend with great hope that eminently winnable home fixtures would yield 'the three points' and each performed a fine job in dominating their opposition.

20+ shots? Check
Vast dominance in shots on target? Check
Stifle opposition? Check.

So, Chelsea won comfortably, Man City gradually exerted their dominance to win out & Arsenal? Well, damn, they managed to lose a game in which they thoroughly deserved to get something.  The whole match was a microcosm of their season insofar as they were afflicted by injuries, failed to turn spells of extreme dominance into goals or a result and allowed their opposition to convert freely from restricted opportunities.  Knee-jerk merchants aplenty are now calling for Wenger's head, seemingly oblivious to the idea that Arsenal's problems are predominantly solvable given fair luck & the course of time.  Whilst Ramsey has reverted to being a merely good rather than great midfielder, there are signs that Oxlade-Chamberlain & Wilshire are outliving their early potential & becoming real players & Sanchez has been genuinely excellent; tenacious, skilled & hungry.  The injuries are relevant yet just part of Arsenal now, nobody is even surprised any more, so regularly and consistently they befall the squad.

I'm distinctly less enamoured with Man. Utd's offering.

As ever, the wider media are focusing on 'Who won this week?' amongst the smear of teams below the top 3 & Utd (& Newcastle) are currently 'good' but there was great horridness in the performance masked only by a degree of tenacity when ahead & swift counter-attacking as Arsenal chased hard.  Excuses about defensive injuries are fine, but to offer so little going forward for so much of the game was a stark pointer of Utd's new level.  This was no tactical bravura from Van Gaal.  This wasn't Mourinho setting up smart & playing for one point whilst looking to sneak the three.  The strange 3-4-3 formation, abandoned once but now regurgitated in the absence of a recognised right back failed entirely to match up against Wenger's long-telegraphed & consistent 4-2-3-1.  The enduring love for Van Persie must surely wane soon; here he served penance in a kind of forward right role, in danger of becoming a player without a position, barely seeing the ball wherever he plays & now a seemingly speedless 2 shot per game forward that doesn't create.

And so a lot rests on Di Maria & Rooney.  And Fellaini!  Reborn, robust & rudimentary as always, but at last in favour, all the while reminding us that there is more Moyes in this team than Ferguson.  It's now a different challenge: past guarantees no longer exist, an elite position will need to be earned & results will scarcely be as fortuitous as this one.

Man Utd are 4th.  Arsenal are 8th.

Liverpool have become Tottenham

No, not in the sense that they spent the proceeds from their sale of a world star on £100m worth of not-so-great, that's been done to death.  They've turned into a different type of Tottenham; the Tottenham that was pegging league average numbers throughout the early weeks of the season.  Witness: over the last 5 games they are a 49% shot ratio and a 44% shot on target ratio team.  This is as concerning as the results; Arsenal have had the excuse that they aren't getting rewards for their play, Liverpool are currently are getting everything they deserve, something one shot on target against Palace richly embodies.  I wrote recently that Rodgers has an excellent record of getting his team to improve over the course of a season, but by god things are getting grim for him now.  In a season of wide mediocrity, Rodgers' Liverpool  are the last of the 'big 7' to sit in the lower half and he's not being helped by making perverse selection decisions.  An attacking midfield 3 of Lallana, Coutinho & Sterling sounds great, but to my mind each of them is best served playing in a left sided role with the ability to drift inside.  So Liverpool now have 3 players for one position & lack on the opposite side.  Solution? Sterling moves across & is ineffective.  I may have mentioned this before!

*promises not to write about Liverpool every week*

In more positive news, blog favourite Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak scored a 30 yard free kick that flew into the top corner.
What a guy!

Quick points over last 5 games

  • Everton are riding their schedule at the minute, but doing a good job of it (3-2-0 against lesser teams) & restricting their opposition well (2.2 SoT PG, 70% SOTR).
  • West Ham are currently conceding a lot of shots (average of 17PG)
  • Arsenal, 5 games: +12.6 shots per game, +4.8 SOT. This is good.
  • Leicester have stopped conceded daft amounts of shots but have stopped scoring.  This is bad.
  • West Brom have taken somewhat of a pounding on the shots count recently & 29% SOTR last 5 is woeful.

Obilgatory Tottenham bit

Most interesting occurances are going on off the pitch with big rumours around of player unrest, something that appears to have been reflected by an 18 man squad that included 2 kids plus Paulinho, Chiriches, Lennon and Stambouli, all of whom have struggled to even get a bench slot this year.  Indeed it has largely been presumed that the first three are all surplus to requirements.

So what is occurring?

There is talk of 'malcontents' who are reluctant to train as hard as Pochettino wants them to.  They trained hard, results were average, now they don't want to train hard.  Or so the rumours go. Pochettino was notably non-committal towards potential injuries at his pre-match press conference this week & only later did talk of Rose 'struggling' leak out.  Capoue & Adebayor, each of whom has had issues with coaches in the past did not figure today & nor did Captain Kaboul.  All of this lives in the realm of speculation but seasoned club watchers will not hear these stories & be surprised.  The club seems firmly behind Pochettino & his vision & it can be expected that any fall out could take some while & lead to a lively transfer window.

On the pitch: opposition brain-farts continue & another tenacious 'keep going' performance saw a late winner for Eriksen.  In the numbers, and despite disappointing defeats recently, things are picking up.  No longer are Tottenham entirely average across all metrics; their recent numbers are improved.  Over the last 5 games they have a 60% shot ratio & 55% shot on target ratio, which is perfectly acceptable for a team attempting to look upwards.  Their concession of goals is at an unsustainably high rate, hence the polarised results but this disguises some positivity; they may have conceded 6 in 4 games but Lloris has only made 3 saves in that same period.  The defence is doing something right & maybe, just maybe, they are on the right track.

Thanks for reading!


Southampton playing tomorrow has found a nice gap in my schedule for a short article & hopefully they will hammer Villa & make the points i'd like to make ever more compelling.  Check back sometime on Tuesday for this and maybe a '12 games' thing too.  I've been a-collatin' & I may look at some historical precedents in comparison to this season.

Also hopefully coming soon is a manager focus & as ever check back next week for this column.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Liverpool will wake up, it's a Brendan thing

Brendan, you need to start faster!

After 11 games, there are choppy waters surrounding Capt. Rodgers' Liverpool ship.  After a modest return of 4 wins, there are a litany of reasons to describe the 'why' of what's been happening.  There's been a raft of new signings that have collectively failed to be better than Luis Suarez was on his own, not least the poster boy of wild shooting, Mario Balotelli, who appears mildly willing but functionally broken and Dejan Lovren, who may have reverted to the player he was prior to joining Southampton notably quickly.  The system has been tinkered with continually and having lost 'El Chompo', the ever-hungry Uruguayan, their other World Class Striker, and for sure he is, has spent most of the season injured & in the stands.

Combining all this with a dismal Champions League return has created a groundswell of opinion that maybe, mere months after the failed assault on the Premiership summit, Brendan Rodgers might not be the man to lead Liverpool forward long term.  In this article I will attempt to examine some of the statistical nuances of Rodgers' management tenure & see if there is justifiable hope that things will improve. Surely they must, right?  We shall see.

Brendan Rodgers has spent 4 full seasons in club management at two clubs, Swansea & Liverpool.  Prior to this he had short managements spells at Reading & Watford having cut his teeth as part of Chelsea's backroom staff during the early years of the Abramovich era. For the purpose of this article I'm going to look only at the full seasons he has managed to gauge if there are any discernible trends in his history; crumbs of comfort, if you like, that Liverpool fans can carry forward as the season continues.


Of the four seasons, three can unequivocally be classed as successful:
  • 2010/11- Promoted from Championship via playoffs with Swansea
  • 2011/12- Mid table finish with promoted Swansea
  • 2013/14- Second place finish with Liverpool
One cannot:
  • 2012/13- Seventh place finish with Liverpool
Here are the result & goal breakdowns:

...and some per game numbers:

Rodgers' systems do not preclude goals against

The only outlier with regard to goals against is his season in the Championship.  A strong showing at home leads to the only season in which he averaged under a goal a game conceded.  Beyond this, there is clear consistency throughout, with intriguingly, 2012/13, the one bad season, noticably better:
  • Total goals conceded; around the 1.3 per game mark
  • Home goals conceded; a shade under 1.00 per game 
  • Away goals conceded; 1.6-1.8 per game
Over this period, an average Premier League side conceded 53 goals a season & both the Swansea season & the 2013/14 Liverpool season are very close to this total, so, is it fair to conclude that Rodgers' teams generally run an 'average' defence?  Recent evidence suggests this to be true, it's been a common complaint even since the title challenge & with goals drying up this year, is ever more noticeable.  His first season in a big job, he managed to comparatively minimise goal concession but failed to hit targets.  Did he then attempt to refocus on attack?

Slow starts?

Quite obviously, Liverpool have had a slow start this year but is this a common occurrence for a Rodgers side?

First 10 games Season Win Draw Loss GoalF GoalA GoalD Points
Swansea 2010/11 5 1 4 14 12 +2 16
Swansea 2011/12 3 3 4 12 15 -3 12
Liverpool 2012/13 2 5 3 13 15 -2 11
Liverpool 2013/14 6 2 2 17 10 +7 20
Liverpool 2014/15 4 2 5 13 13 0 14

By and large, yes.

Let's look at each season.

2010-11 Swansea, Championship 
Lost first 4 away matches.
2011-12 Swansea, Premier League
Lost first 4 away matches, didn't score a goal or win until 5th match
2012-13 Liverpool, Premier League
2 points from first 5 games, only 2 wins in first 10.
2013-14 Liverpool, Premier League
Won first 3, all 1-0
The team initially lacked Suarez & dynamism, results were good but underlying numbers were very average compared to later in season, as we shall see.
2014-15 Liverpool, Premier League
Lost 3 of 5 early away games & mixed home form.

Shot Ratios:

Here is the progress of total shot ratios for Rodgers' seasons:

In each of the Premier League seasons the early shot ratios are less than the final totals, most starkly in 2013-14.  Fundamentally, this means that as each of these seasons progress, Rodgers' teams take a greater proportion of the shots in a game.

We can see this if we pull out the shot numbers at various given points during a season:

The tangerine boxes show the difference between Total Shot Ratio & Shot on Target Ratio at various points (after 10, 15, 20 & 25 games) and the final season ratios.  In every example, the ratio at the end of the season is higher than at the points preceding it.

His teams consistently exert a greater degree of shot dominance over time.

Ironically, given the perceived lack of success this year & in 2012-13, both seasons have had extremely healthy shot ratios.  In this next chart we can see how they didn't translate into goals, wins & thus points & how the converse was true in 2013-14...

Conversion rates

It's widely accepted that generally, conversion rates fluctuate heavily & are not repeatable one season to the next & indeed this chart does show that.  What it otherwise shows is revealing:
  • Each year, Brendan Rodgers' teams, regardless of the level of their early rates, have increased their conversion rates over time; their finishing, for whatever reason has become more efficient.
  • In contrast, no trend can be perceived in opposition conversion.
  • The near constant rise from the start of Rodgers' Liverpool tenure until it tops out as the title challenge falters nearly 2 years later is a fascinating insight. Should the credit go to the effectiveness of Suarez & latterly Sturridge during this period or a system that allowed them to thrive?
  • The similarity between 2012-13 & 2014-15 is again clear; both have suffered from dreadful gaps between opposition & home conversion rates; It continued in 2012-13 but the gap progressively closed; there is nothing to suggest this will play out again, more a hope that opposition numbers could revert to league average, around 10%.
  • 2013-14 makes sense seen through this lens; goals flowed readily & the opposition was well off the pace.  Some correction, to any degree, was inevitable in 2014-15.
A season of two halves:

 In every season, Rodgers' teams have gained more points in the second half of the season.

Q. Will results improve for Liverpool this year?

Whilst what Liverpool have produced on the pitch has been underwhelming so far, it is almost certain that their results will improve over the course of the season.  It's probably too late to consider aiming for the highest places in the league, and last season's 13 match win streak is unlikely to be repeated by any team soon, so what remains is the task of turning a poor start into a top 4 spot & endeavouring not to replicate the disappointing season of 2012-13.

Short term gains would be more likely given the return of Sturridge, but it needs to be noted that Liverpool's fixtures are notably easier between now & the New Year than they have been until now.  Half their matches are against teams likely to be threatened by relegation & their underlying shot numbers imply that they should be able to improve results.  Both the home loss against Villa & draw versus Hull were not representative of the shape of the game & it is unlikely that their conversion rate is going to continue to beat them down in similar matches.

A. Liverpool will improve

Transfers & selection issues

Whether the money spent in the summer was wisely invested remains a moot point.  I suggested at the time that it appeared to me that they had spent a lot of money on players to flesh out the squad but not necessarily improve the first team & none of the new signings have particularly shone thus far.  As I alluded to earlier, defense remains an issue for Rodgers; in fact it's been an issue tossed about repeatedly throughout the league, the modern game appearing to isolate centre backs & invite pressure & ultimately mistakes.  The role of Gerrard has been extensively scrutinised in relation to this problem but maybe it's just a Rodgers hallmark to get used to? He has never had a defensively solid team; he may have studied under Mourinho but he has his own ideas about how to get a team to succeed & it's clear that it predominantly relies on his attack functioning.

Markovic, Can & Moreno all look promising signings for the long-term and it is well known that Liverpool use modern analytics in their recruitment process, so: there is common sense behind these purchases, although they will need time.  It won't always work out as we've seen with Tottenham who's similar recruitment drive looked equally good on paper but has thus far not yielded dividends.  Balotelli was a gamble that may eventually pay off, I still feel Rodgers decided to sign him to mitigate against the loss of Suarez' shot volume & a potential partnership with Sturridge could well prosper; in the best performance of the season against Tottenham, they looked dangerous.

There is an issue surrounding Sterling & Coutinho, who it appears both find a left forward role to their liking, so much so that Rodgers' appears reluctant to start them both & when he did against Newcastle, he relegated Sterling to an ineffective wide right position.  I feel Lallana is a bits and pieces players, unable to strongly influence a game but some grace should be given at such an early juncture and Rickie Lambert must wonder how he can get on the pitch.  On signing, Rodgers suggested he would work well with Sturridge, then promptly bought Balotelli & promoted him ahead.


Were I a fan, my chief concern would be that last year appears to have been a perfect storm & is a clear outlier when set against the rest of Rodgers' promising but trophy free career.  Currently his CV includes Manager of the Month awards & a promotion.  In a volatile business, he has earned the right to work through this season but Fenway Sports Group will be highly conscious that although last season's heights are unlikely to be matched, a degree of consolidation is a necessary target.  Aspirations will include regular Champions League qualification & given high investment, that will likely remain a minimum benchmark.  Long term, Rodgers' needs to balance his teams' performance over a season.  He appears very effective at getting his team to perform strongly as the season progresses but is continually hampered by slow starts.  

What I think i've shown here is that Liverpool are currently at a low point that is unlikely to continue. Some of their underlying numbers (4th shots, 4th shots against, 6th Shots on Target, 5th pass%, 2nd pass%against) indicate that long term, they are a team that are likely be challenging for the top 4 places but with Man City & Chelsea total locks & Southampton showing few signs of let-up, it is going to be a mighty squeeze for the last remaining spot.  Even an implosion from Southampton will leave a list of suitors; improvement is likely but also necessary, and needs to be quick.

Thanks for reading!

Share freely! Take this to the forums! Forward to your mates! Cheers

James Yorke Nov 2014

Every week I write a Premier League blog, so if you like what you read here, check back.
If you are a Liverpool fan, then you might like the article I did on Raheem Sterling too: here

(nb. The early SoTR numbers include blocks, it's impossible to find a public source without, but for the purposes of this article, they are included)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Big Ripple 9th November Premier League Round up

Palace & Leicester

This week, two of the league's lesser lights, Palace & Leicester faced nominally tricky away fixtures.  A trip to Old Trafford has long been a low priority for a struggling club & this season a visit to St. Mary's has provided more more despair than otherwise.  So, with little expectation, both clubs turned up, took part, were duly beaten and now head off into the international break with  a defeat ringing loudly in their ears.

I say 'loudly' because I suspect that Neil Warnock & Nigel Pearson will have spent a degree of post-match time bellowing at their respective teams and demanding to know why they were unable to create anything at all positive over 90 minutes.  The numbers are grim: Leicester couldn't manage a shot on target & haven't scored in 4 games whereas Palace backed up a horrifically stark 1-3 defeat to Sunderland on Monday night, in which they scored their only shot on target, with a solitary shot on target again & duly lost.

Warnock's chummy semi-snide media act isn't going to get him very far if his side is entirely unable to compete & the days of sub-30% possession are back: 4 times this year & they are now 5 games without a win.
Bad times indeed.  Palace's schedule isn't going to come to their rescue either; from here until the 19 match halfway point, they only play 2 of their direct rivals; their fixture list is tricky.

This is where Leicester have a little more hope, at least in the near future.  Their forthcoming tough fixtures are all at home whereas before halfway they face 4 relegation rivals.  Things look bad for them but they have more room for manoeuvre than Palace.

What we've seen here is not a unique phenomenon, week after week lesser teams are outmatched and create next to nothing against better opposition, but who has been suffering most?

How often does your team turn up?

Here we are at week 11 & I thought I'd look at what i'd call 'non-performances' & I thought i'd put up a couple of tables to show where each team stands here.  My method is arbitrary, but i've decided that a non-performance is either:

a) taking 8 shots or less or
b) making 2 or fewer shots on target.

If this is what a team is producing on a regular basis, then unless it is managed by Tony Pulis, it is likely to be facing some tough times:

Took 8 or fewer shots
Managed 2 or fewer
Shots on target
___FOR___ AGAINST __+/-__
Aston Villa 5 0 -5 Aston Villa 8 2 -6
Swansea 5 0 -5 Leicester 4 0 -4
Hull 3 0 -3 QPR 4 0 -4
Leicester 5 2 -3 Hull 4 1 -3
Sunderland 4 1 -3 Palace 4 2 -2
Palace 4 2 -2 Swansea 4 2 -2
Burnley 1 1 0 West Ham 2 0 -2
QPR 1 1 0 Burnley 3 2 -1
West Ham 1 1 0 Sunderland 3 2 -1
Newcastle 2 2 0 WBA 4 4 0
Stoke 3 3 0 Everton 1 2 1
Tottenham 3 3 0 Liverpool 1 2 1
Everton 0 1 1 Man Utd 2 3 1
Man Utd 2 3 1 Newcastle 3 4 1
WBA 4 5 1 Tottenham 3 4 1
Chelsea 2 4 2 Arsenal 1 4 3
Liverpool 1 4 3 Stoke 3 7 4
Man City 0 3 3 Chelsea 1 5 4
Southampton 2 6 4 Man City 1 5 4
Arsenal 0 7 7 Southampton 2 8 6

What can we see here?
  • Villa have failed to get more than 2 shots on target in 8/11 games. This is very bad.
  • Swansea have regularly struggled to create shot volume.  They have a very high & likely unsustainable conversion rate (15%)
  • Stoke are good at frequently restricting shots on target.
  • Southampton's defence has been super effective
  • The 'Bad 7' congregate towards the top.
  • Who the hell are the 'Bad 7'?
The Bad 7 

Last year Simon Gleave identified the 'Superior 7' and the 'Threatened 13' as an example of 2 tiers within the Premier League with the Superior 7 including the 4 Manchester & Liverpool clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal & Tottenham.  The 'Threatened 13' were the rest.  Remembering this, I've been looking at my numbers & tossing around ideas for how the league is partitioned this year.  What i've noticed is that whichever way I cut the cake I end up with a gap beneath my 13th best team and the 'Bad 7' who are as follows:
  • Hull
  • Leicester
  • Palace
  • Burnley
  • QPR
  • Sunderland &
  • Villa
If i'm looking for signs of life in this bunch, it's:
  • QPR (who are shooting a lot, are decent at home & may be improving)
  • Sunderland (who 0-8 mauling apart have an okay defence) 
  • and maybe Villa (killed on the schedule, easier fixtures lie in wait)
  • Palace (who have progressively worse shot numbers)
  • Hull (have had awful shot numbers all season)
  • Leicester (ditto)
  • Burnley (ditto, but mainly it's that they've converted at a similar rate to goal kicks)
At the other end of the league, the 'Superior 7' looks more like a 'Functioning 4' consisting of Man City, Chelsea, Southampton and er... a barely functioning Arsenal.   How are Arsenal in that list? Well, they have league leading shot dominance of nearly +10 shots per game.  Their problem right now is the deficit in their conversion rate and some research I've done suggests this isn't a new issue.

Arsene: why do you concede so readily?

An obvious problem for Arsenal, that they concede too easily, hasn't been remedied by not purchasing any defensive midfielders or centre back cover but i've a suspicion there are weird systemic issues. See here:

Year Pos. Team Shots Ag/90 Opp. Conv rate Goals conceded GC per90
2009/10 3 Arsenal 8.2 0.13 41 1.08
2010/11 4 Arsenal 8.7 0.13 43 1.13
2011/12 3 Arsenal 9.6 0.13 49 1.29
2012/13 4 Arsenal 10.6 0.09 37 0.97
2013/14 4 Arsenal 11.8 0.09 41 1.08
2014/15 6 Arsenal 7.7 0.15 13 1.18

A season long conversion rate of 13% is high; indeed over the seasons shown above, a sample of 100, Arsenal's figures from 2009/10 to 2011/12 are amongst the 15 worst for the whole league.   What's strange is that Arsenal's seasons are the only ones of those worst 15 to involve teams finishing in the top half.  They are distinct outliers.  Over the last two seasons, the opposition conversion rate has been quelled, but the shots conceded have gone up creating a situation where however effective Arsenal's defense are at minimising the opposition's shooting rates, their rate of conceding goals remains largely consistent.

And so far this season it's following a familiar pattern: excellent opposition shot repression hampered by a bad conversion number.  By and large, conversion rates are likely to fluctuate throughout a season and usually you'd not want to read too much into any pattern they seem to show but here over the course of multiple seasons there appears to have been a definable trend in Arsenal's rates.

I suspect Arsene Wenger would like to know why.  I also suspect fans would point to a lack of a dominant defensive midfielder and strength at centre back.  Bafetimbi Gomis' late winner this weekend is just the latest in a long line of frustratingly conceded opposition goals.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

Last week I finished this section by saying that I didn't actually know whether things were going badly or well.  This week, we are under no illusion that the frowns are upside down as the defeat against a solidly drilled and effective Stoke side has well and truly deflated the balloons of hope and belief.  Alongside this, the reactionary side of the fan base now fears relegation and is calling for regime change.

Of course relegation is as likely as Daniel Levy fronting a 'Head & Shoulders' campaign & the sane people are calling for time and patience.  If we're going to apply a little shine to our recent turd-like home defeats, it's that they've each occurred after Europa League matches & have been against teams that aren't anywhere near as bad as many have thought.  Sure, a team with top 4 aspirations would like to be beating Stoke, Newcastle & West Brom at home but each of those teams are solidly 'mid-pack'; ironically the exact same status that Tottenham's performances this season would grant themselves.

Beyond this, some concerns are distinctly valid.  Pochettino has clearly discarded some players and  Paulinho, Chiriches & Lennon all appear fringe, so it's clear he has some idea as to what he wants from his men.  Yet week on week, he appears to have a mixed grasp as to who his best team is.  Early consistency in selection has given way to weird chopping and changing between league and Europa league fixtures.  Some examples include:
  • Lamela is now first change, special teams.
  • The half-time substitution, often a sign of things going badly, has become very frequent
  • Stambouli, supposedly a clear Pochettino pick, can't buy a league minute
  • Kaboul, long a concern for fans, is now captain & undroppable
  • Vertonghen is in & out of the team
  • The horrible, horrible 'Take your DM off for a forward because you are chasing the game' tactic
Added to this, the fabled pressing from his Southampton days is largely absent & the presumption is that the players aren't listening to instruction.  Villas Boas also failed to implement parts of his style when in charge but ran a tight disciplinary ship & for all he is remembered for dreary football, control (of players or on the pitch) was rarely an issue until very late on.  Pochettino's squad has been regularly & rightfully castigated by the media for lackadaisical tendencies, popular examples including not being ready from kick-offs, Ade messing around with his boots and awful casual passing & defensive work.

Villas Boas was also reluctant to put Eriksen & Lamela in the same team & just recently it appears Pochettino has followed his lead.  By far the two most skilful players in the squad, it appears coaches find it hard to fit them both in  & ultimately favour more industry or solidity.  Whether this is the case when replacements include a an off-form Dembele or a childishly enthusiastic Townsend, one wonders why?

The positive inclusions and promotions of homegrown players like Rose, Kane & Mason are pleasing to the fanbase but run contrary to a purchasing policy that finds itself with £80-90m of players on the bench & a further £30-40m worth beyond that & unseen.

So where now?

1.  Soon to finish Europa League fixtures for a while (yay!)
2.  To face 4 of the 'Bad 7' in the next 8 games. Tottenham have had a relatively tough early set of fixtures, the near future is easier.
3.  A highly entertaining transfer window

Daniel Levy won't settle for mid-table mediocrity for very long.  I suspect he will give the coach grace this season but will demand improvement as the season moves on.  Anything less than a trophy and/or a European place will not be enough for him & Pochettino will need to effect a change in culture as much as an enhancement in the style of play.  His task is difficult & he may well fail but he deserves at least this season to try.

Thanks for reading!

James Yorke 9/11/14

REMEMBER! Check back each week for more of this column & in between for more numbers based articles.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Premier League conversion rates drive media storylines

I was going through my rolling 5 week conversion rates this morning & it was fascinating to see just how many of the general season storylines can be defined with reference to these numbers.  It being week 10 now, I can split the start of the season into two halves & show where teams were after 5 and 10 games.  We're on a similar path to PDO here but it's informative to split the two sides of for & against conversion.  In this case I'm going to use just goals to all shots. By season's end we would largely expect the better teams to have a rate somewhere between 0.11 & 0.17 'for' and dominance over the 'against' numbers.  A bad team can expect something like 0.06-0.09 'for' and a higher figure against.  This is not definitive but a good general guide.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.13 0.14
2nd 5 0.08 0.16

Mixed results throughout considering their general dominance in games.
Why? Their opposition are converting at a higher rate than they are, dramatically so in recent games.  This can be the difference between a draw and a win as the Hull game amply demonstrated.

Aston Villa:

5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.11 0.07
2nd 5 0.02 0.14

A good start followed by no goals & no points.
Why? To start, their average conversion rate dominated the opposition's sub-par conversion rate. Latterly, not only have they stopped scoring but the opposition conversion rate has doubled.  Result? No wins, not even any draws.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.02 0.07
2nd 5 0.07 0.14

It's bad, and it's still bad.
Why? In this league, they are bad.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.19 0.12
2nd 5 0.16 0.06

League domination followed by league domination.
Why? These are extremely high rates 'for' and are likely to regress over time.  Regardless, until this point Chelsea have a significant advantage in their shooting efficiency over their opponents


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.17 0.22
2nd 5 0.12 0.06

A poor start & a recent upturn in results.
Why? Terrible early opposition conversion numbers couldn't overcome their own high number.  More recently, they are converting at twice the rate of their opponents and lo and behold are getting better results.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.14 0.08
2nd 5 0.14 0.08

Listen to Steve Bruce & you get the feeling he's pinching himself each week.
Why? Because he's riding a consistently positive +/- conversion rate & eventually, backed up by poor shot totals, they are likely to get found out.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.18 0.08
2nd 5 0.04 0.13

Leicester had a great start & looked well set, recent form hasn't been so good.
Why? Scoring 5 against Utd helped their early numbers but we can see they were well in credit early on.  Since the Utd game, it has been Burnley rate bad.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.10 0.17
2nd 5 0.07 0.09

It's been a struggle.
Why? No dominance here. The opposition number has come down but has been followed by the 'for' totals.  Liverpool haven't managed to get ahead of the count yet, most notably poor Mario.  This will probably change soon; they aren't suddenly a bad team.

Man City:

5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.12 0.10
2nd 5 0.12 0.09

'They aren't firing yet' and such and such.
Why? Well, they're doing just fine.  All criticism is measured against last season's stream of thrashings dealt out which were powered in part by great conversion numbers.  This year is less flashy, as witnessed in the 1-0 derby win.

Man Utd:

5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.14 0.16
2nd 5 0.10 0.11

Mixed results for Van Gaal, a tough start.
Why? Like Liverpool, there is no dominance here & no dominance can equal hard times.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.07 0.20
2nd 5 0.09 0.08

'Newcastle were rubbish but they're getting their act together now.'
Why? They were never that bad, it was just their opposition conversion numbers were super high & they were converting nothing.  Things have settled down now & over the last 5, they're edging it.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.16 0.13
2nd 4 0.15 0.11

Nobody is talking about Palace.
Why? Maybe the first thing Warnock said was 'What did Pulis tell you? Do that.'   As it stands they're ahead of the game, most probably at an unsustainable level & these great numbers haven't powered that many points. They aren't safe by any means.

edit: some quick regression vs Sunderland, they now stand at 0.12/0.15 for the 2nd 5, no longer ahead of the game?


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.04 0.15
2nd 5 0.11 0.12

'QPR are so bad, almost laughably so'
Why? Well, they were, at least away from home & throw in 4% conversion early on and hey presto, storyline.  More recently they've shown more 'fight'... also known as improved conversion numbers.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.15 0.08
2nd 5 0.16 0.04

This season's surprise package.
Why? All their underlying numbers are good but, and this is a big but, they aren't going to sustain a 4:1 ratio shot conversion like the last 5 games.  That is a silly number and backs up a 2:1 ratio from the first 5.  They have tougher games ahead, most notably in December & there is no way both these numbers don't regress, the question for their long term prospects being, how much?


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.09 0.09
2nd 4 0.05 0.16

Lots of draws, lots of 'pluckiness' followed by a trouncing.
Why? Early parity is reflected here, and being slaughtered by Southampton skews the latter 'against' number.  Nevertheless, they aren't converting chances & that needs to change.

edit: so an impressively efficient 3/8 goals to shots v Palace? Palace scored their only SoT?
They're now at 0.11/0.19 for the 2nd 5, which at least sorts out the 'For' section.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.06 0.08
2nd 5 0.09 0.10

It's Stoke; not a lot going on.
Why? They struggle to score but are solid in defense.  Nobody converts at a high rate in Stoke matches.  Once more the ghost of Pulis looms.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.17 0.07
2nd 5 0.11 0.06

Fast start, slowing recently.
Why? They've spent the year taking their chances & their opposition hasn't.  The fast start was very fast due to a very high 'for' number but the 0-0 at Everton whilst creating little & being slightly fortunate not to concede is a clear indication of what's going on now.


5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.12 0.10
2nd 5 0.09 0.13

All very average.
Why? Two sets of 7 points in 5 games, with the latter 'against' figure skewed by the Man City game, as with all their other underlying numbers, Tottenham need to improve all over to hope to climb the table.

West Brom:

5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.05 0.14
2nd 5 0.16 0.08

No wins in the first 4 then a better set of results.
Why? Initially they couldn't score but since getting going, their conversion has taken off, despite worsening opposition shot numbers that have intriguingly inversely followed the conversion rate, which is unique in this study. 

West Ham:

5G Conv Rate F A
1st 5 0.13 0.14
2nd 5 0.15 0.08

'They're flying! Big Sam is God!'
Why? Headline making wins against Liverpool and City have cemented the storyline but recent results and the surge up the table have been largely powered by a lovely 2:1 conversion ratio.  People have short memories: West Ham were fine but unremarkable until they beat Liverpool, but now expectation is high.  Most likely the 2-2 at Stoke is a more accurate reflection of their ability and expectation this year.


As I think i've shown, the conversion rate has had a pretty strong impact on creating the storyline for most clubs in the league.  The teams most obviously doing well here are likely to find their dominance reducing over time, with the majority of the better teams retaining or achieving long term dominance and the lesser teams fading away or remaining inefficient.  The truth here is that these rates aren't predictive in themselves but do inform the storylines the media seize upon, alongside the obvious hooks such as actual results, league position or an eye-catching win or two.

Systems can affect the efficiency as well as obvious team power; we might expect a Mourinho team to be effective at minimising the opposition but could not predict that Diego Costa would convert so freely and obvious outliers can be expected to fall back within expected norms in time.

Last season Liverpool and Man City both converted around the 15-16% mark & exerted a +0.05 dominance overall.  In contrast, Norwich converted at 0.06 over the whole season which was significantly lower than any other team.  The three relegated teams ran at -0.03, -0.03 & -0.05, not intrinsically season defining but along with other inefficent teams, amongst the season lows.  As a loose view of shooting efficiency, these numbers are an interesting guide.

Thanks for reading!

(PS: I've not factored in own goals for this, you could and they would have an impact, but the general emphasis would remain.)

Have you read this week's round up? Check it out here . It's got chat about Liverpool and Tottenham's strange weekend formations, a criticism of quarterback Rooney & more.
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