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.

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