Monday, 29 December 2014

The Big Ripple Yuletide Premier League Round Up


 Three teams have won both their Christmas fixtures so far: Stoke, Liverpool and Arsenal, so why would I use now as an opportunity to cast aspersions over their prowess? Mainly becuase there is a newly franked problem at Arsenal & it needs highlighting.  All year long, Arsenal have been posting excellent underlying shot totals.  Their results have lagged behind but it has clearly looked like Arsenal are a strong team who will eventually reap the benefit of posting these strong numbers.

Until recently that is:

The lovely huge initial gaps between the blue & yellow line & the red & green line are 'massive shot domination' AKA 'where analytics types like Arsenal'.  The recent convergence of lines is the opposite.  'But they've had a hard schedule!' shouts someone at the back.  'No they haven't, it's been kind of middling' is the correct reply.  They've won 5/7 but have played at WBA, Stoke, Liverpool & West Ham & had home fixtures against QPR, Newcastle & Southampton & have posted 4 narrow wins.

Are the injuries finally catching up? A busy schedule for a stretched squad may well have impacted here.  Flamini is functional but not the answer in central midfield, even Rosicky & Coquelin got starts which is a real sign of bare bones & the defensive absences have been relentless.  Finally, a recognised back 4 started against West Ham but for now, it seems the early season ability to stop shots has gone. And whilst shots aren't everything, it's fair to say there are concerns.

Trips to Southampton & Man City aren't too far away either, so it's not getting easy any time soon.  

Liverpool appear to be on the opposite trajectory, having spend a good 6-8 weeks living in the doldrums, the Christmas form & just before has shown great promise.  Rodgers, by now many chapters into his 'Championship Manager '01/02 Formations' book, has settled on this 3-4-3 which has alternatively given no role to either strikers or wing backs, of which they have plenty that now sit on the bench, with or without Steven Gerrard.  Has he lucked in?  Possibly, but certainly as I showed HERE a few weeks back, Rodgers has a very good record of getting his teams to improve as seasons progress & the performance against Swansea, whilst showing characteristic vulnerability at the back was blessed with bravura & attacking charm too. Here's their same shot chart:

Mario fuelled some early shot dominance & the bad period was very bad, but lo! Do we see the green shoots of recovery? 77 shots & 33 on target in the last 4 games against 45 & 13, including a non-event against Burnley but matches against Arsenal & Man Utd is exactly what Rodgers wants his team to look like.  And some of the results are following as indeed they really should in the near future as Leicester, Sunderland & Villa lie ahead.


Fulfilling my promise to write about teams i've neglected this season, we find an apt time to talk about Everton.  Rooting around last night, I spotted that Roberto Martinez teams have a habit of posting extremely low PDO scores:
Often this is fuelled by a terrible save percentage & with a league low c.54% rate, Everton are at the back of the pack here.  So much so that they actually rank 120th/120 of all half seasons posted since 2009-10.  Jamie Carragher spoke on MNF about how all year, Everton's centre backs have tended to drop back into their box as pressure mounted & almost invited better than average chances.  They are also very old: Sylvain Distin is 42 years old, Jagielka is more known for thunderbolt finishes these days & Alcaraz lived through every one of the terrible Wigan years & wears the scars well: his and Distin's contribution to Newcastle's 3rd goal was a vision of utter confusion:

So, we're in a situation where Martinez needs more & might not be able to find it.  His expensive striker appears to have wilted, he has excellent full backs & otherwise very young or very old players.  A weird mish-mash that is currently finding it hard to create any solidity.  Weirdly, the save percentage is so low that only Chelsea have saved fewer shots & they have now exceeded Arsenal & Liverpool by having the league worst conversion against from all shots.  It all looks a lot like Wigan & whilst that wasn't what Martinez was brought in to reproduce, it might be what Everton have ended up getting.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

Fan voted man of the match for the last 2 games has been Hugo Lloris, and whilst it's great to celebrate the man between the sticks now & then, it's not often the benchmark of great team performances.  And that's certainly the case but, points are still racking up at a reasonable rate & the scrum of teams below the top 2 still includes Tottenham.  The impending misery of a visit from Chelsea awaits but beyond that there isn't a scary fixture until February. The hope endures! Although it must be mentioned that every single underlying figure still paints this team as meh average. Let us hope a bit of steel can be found & used to keep up with the others.

I remarked before that after a slowish 5-2-5 start, Villas Boas only tasted defeat 3 more times that first season & after posting an identical 5-2-5 start, Pochettino has gone 4-2-1, with the only defeat at Chelsea. Maybe, just as it took Villas Boas time to get his ideas fully entrenched, it has taken Pochettino a similar amount of time?  Whilst they've ridden their luck at times (So did AVB), the team is certainly more settled now & Adebayor, Kaboul & Capoue have been largely unsighted since the rumours of bust ups.  Kane & Eriksen have become the focal point of the attack with others rotating around them & this week the media seems to have noticed that Fazio & Vertonghen are doing a decent job behind a sometimes porous central midfield.  As ever the transfer window will provide intrigue in the coming weeks.


Thanks for reading!
Feel free to share if you like!

Other things to read: 

1. Poor old Neil Warnock
In which I decide Neil Warnock was unlucky
2. 'Under Pardew'
In which I hammer a nail into Alan Pardew's Newcastle coffin, I mean, Ashley must've read this, right? ;)

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Poor old Neil Warnock

So finally we have a managerial dismissal & it's one i'm reasonably surprised about given that Neil Warnock achieved about as much as I'd expected him to: less than Pulis would have but probably a little bit more than a Solskjaer-style appointment.  The facts are hard to ignore however, one win in the last 11, three all season & despite being a generally combative and basically functional & gritty team, their chairman obviously feels that someone else could do better.  

And I actually feel that rare emotion: a touch sorry for Warnock.  Whilst the wins were never there & earlier in the season I held very little hope for his team, they had improved generally as the season moved on & it's only 4 games since they outplayed Tottenham at White Hart Lane & drew 0-0.  Not the performance of a doomed or disjointed team at all.

Indeed, when they had 9 points from 10 games & had just lost 1-3 at home to Sunderland, they looked a hell of a lot worse than they do now.  That might have been a good time to call it quits, but I guess 10 games is too short even in the modern game, in contrast, half a season & 15 points? He can't have hit his targets.

But, as ever, the poor run of results had familiar hallmarks.  Their recent conversion rate is well and truly in the bin, as we can see here:

Over the last 5 games it's running at 3%, a terrible number, but just as the 15% conversion rate from earlier in the season was likely to reduce over time, it's highly unlikely that such a poor rate will maintain.  Whilst Palace profited early on from high conversion rates, their totals here are below par but not horribly so at 10% for & 12% against:

And of course, most of us kinda know where this analysis is heading:

Did PDO kill Neil Warnock?

I mean, it's under par pretty much all year but that recent 5 game slope would make Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards think twice about strapping his skis on, it's so steep.  PDO killed Neil Warnock.

Unfortunately for Warnock, Palace have carried too many of Pulis' ways into this season & he's found it hard to put his own stamp on them; they've continued to rank 20th/20 for possession, pass completion and pass prevention & have created low shot totals.  Despite these obvious handicaps to success, 8 teams are allowing more shots & regarding shots on target, Palace have been allowing very few and improving as time has gone on. Here's the rolling shot ratios both total & on target: 

A shot on target ratio exceeding total shot ratio can sometimes be an indicator of a team taking 'smart' shots & is possibly a tactical nuance.  As recent totals have been well over 50%, I suspect that Neil Warnock will be ruing that he hasn't had the chance to finish the season.  Being beaten by Man City & Southampton is no disgrace & if that's what finally did for him then it's again harsh.  Palace's next 4 away fixtures are all classic 'relegation 6 pointers': QPR, Burnley, Villa & Leicester & I suspect that Warnock is aggrieved he's not gonna get a chance to play these games.  

So from having very bad early numbers masked by a shit-hot conversion rate, Palace ended up with pretty par numbers killed by a terrible conversion rate & the Football Gods said 'it shall not be' & out on his ear Warnock went.  I'm leaning towards the idea that they should have given him a bit more time but that's clearly not the Palace way.

The list of possible replacements looks good:

We all want Sherwood, yeah?


Thanks for reading!

I wrote a deconstruction of Alan Pardew for Statsbomb recently, so if you missed it, head on over: HERE Check back most Mondays for the weekly blog, over this festive period it'll be more like this; bits and bobs that take my fancy.  If you like, feel free to promote via social media!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Big Ripple 21st December Premier League Round-up

How 'bout that Liverpool, Arsenal game?

I'm leaning towards believing that Brendan is making up tactics as he goes along but if they create as much going forward as they did in this match then against the lesser lights they'll soon be well on track.  Like a repressed torrent, their shots floweth freely & inflicting such emphatic numerical dominance against Arsenal has been impossible all year, so kudos for that.  Invoking the spirit of last year with his weird 3-4-3 system, we had plenty of good, just no result.  And that's where it's confusing for the Arsenal faithful: this is probably the first time this year that they have a legitimate reason to complain about their performance rather than the result; a solitary point looks underwhelming but when you deserve less, it's all right.  But where the basic numbers of this result are interesting is that in securing a 2-2 draw despite getting creamed on the shot count (7-27), Arsenal now have clear rivals for the 'Highest Opposition Conversion Rate' award as they've sunk quickly to 13% whilst Liverpool are only a clip under the same total.

Areas of concern on both sides & whilst Liverpool's woes don't need to be restated here, most obviously for Arsenal we have another big game in which Wenger was out-thought on the gameplan.   It happened all last season for them & whilst performances have been fundamentally stronger this year, they're still 0-4-2 against last year's top 7 rivals.

The neglected 4

No, not a new subset of teams, but on reviewing these articles with the intention of preventing a degree of repetition (yes, I know I just wrote about Liverpool, again) I have established that i've not written anything this season beyond the odd brief note about Everton, Stoke, Sunderland or Swansea.  So, in a short series of well, probably 4, i'll endeavour to remedy this.  Since they managed a good result this week, we'll start with Sunderland.


The first thing to note about Sunderland's season is that all of their cumulative numbers are wildly distorted by the 0-8 game against Southampton.  Thanks to this result, it appears that they are getting what they deserve; they have a near level PDO, they are struggling for goals but are hard to beat & whilst wins have been rare, they're meandering along just about keeping afloat.

Pull out the 0-8 and the story changes a little, because suddenly they have a high PDO & seem fortunate; something borne out by some of their rankings:
They are teetering rather than meandering.   One figure that concerns me most here is the opposition pass %.  Only Villa & Palace rank lower here & their lack of restrictive play is clearly tactical & is slightly more effective in restricting shots, moreso with Palace admittedly.  Sunderland rank 18th for opposition shots on target and recently their shot ratios have been moving in one direction:

They are not restricting the way the opposition moves the ball & they are not restricting how often they shoot accurately at them.  This is a poor blend!  Under 43% shot TSR is a 50/50 shot for relegation & their shot on target ratio is in a similar realm.  The presence of Villa, Burnley & Hull with similar historically terrible totals offers hope but essentially they need to improve to find safety.  Hull & Villa are big fixtures in the next week before a trip to Man City on New Year's Day.  Rumours of discontent surfaced this week (source: parts unknown) & Gus might need more of his 2013-14 survival miracles yet.

But they beat Newcastle, so today, in the parlance of miserable journalism, it's 'all smiles'.

Busy periods

In any given season, it appears we have a minimum of two but potentially 5 'busy periods' of league matches.  Once at the end of November/start of December, the whole Christmas extravaganza & then maybe more, depending on fixture pile-ups as the season draws to a close.

For the purpose of this partial study, I have deemed a busy period to be either:
  •  3 games in under 10 days or 
  •  4 games in under 13 days
This just about prevents the survey including any period in which games were played a week apart.  We are not interested in periods in which there are matches from other competitions (such busy periods appear all year round) and are intending to identify if when faced with quick league games, do certain clubs prioritise & succeed at a higher rate than others?  Any such period will present extreme demands on the fitness of a squad and may require heavy rotation of players.

With a busy period upon us, I have the figures for only five clubs but will publish & be damned:

What we can see here in the top right hand corner of the chart is that Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool haven't gained points at a lesser rate during such periods in comparison to the rest of their fixtures.  In contrast, Chelsea & Arsenal have noticed a slight drop off.  Are they less well prepared generally? Or are they less focused on the league?  We know that Chelsea have a clear bi-focus with the Champions League each year, could this be reflected here?

It's tough to be dogmatic, as the differences are slight and these figures take place over different managerial reigns for all of the clubs bar Arsenal.  However, some truths are visible:

  • Alex Ferguson, long a proponent of league focus, had an incredible record in the 4 seasons here: 26-5-5 at 2.31 PPG.
  • Man City have not lost the final game (3rd or 4th) of a busy period since losing to Arsenal in April '07, 16 months prior to being taken over by Sheikh Mansour.
  • Chelsea have a very poor final game record of 7-3-7, their sole defeat this season being the 3rd game in a fast turnaround series.
  • In 2013-14, Man City won the title despite playing 16  of their games (42%!) in such circumstances, in the period studied Chelsea are the team closest with 13 in 3 different seasons, including their title win of '09/10.
 In the clubs studied there is a decline in points gained in the later fixtures:
  • Game 1: 1.96 PPG
  • Game 2: 2.03 PPG
  • Game 3: 1.84 PPG
  • Last game (3rd or 4th): 1.74 PPG

Obligatory Tottenham bit

Three wins in a week, and once more all is rosy in the garden.  As a general point, we've seen repeated excellence from Kane (21), Eriksen (22) is becoming more influential by the week, Lamela (22) showed again why everyone should like him & not pine for Aaron Lennon(!?), Bentaleb (20) and Davies (21) have recently cemented starting spots & with Adebayor AWOL the only player over the age of 27 is Soldado (29).

There is potential here!

Thanks for reading


Christmas is quite obviously a complete mess for many reasons, so I will try and get out articles and columns on an as and when basis until it settles down after the New Year.  I am still , and seemingly always will be, working on a manager appraisal & have 101 other ideas to go with too.  If you like what you read, please share freely on Twitter or in your forums or wherever.  Thanks again & roll on Boxing Day! ;)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Big Ripple 14th December Premier League Round-up

Man Utd are gonna win the PDO Cup!

Every year you seem to get teams that ride a high PDO number in the early stages of the season to create an artificially high representation of their true ability, and I know a few of you will be thinking 'Southampton' & you would be right.  It was going very well but not only have results fallen in a hole but the drivers behind them have entirely reversed.  We can contrast this with a team that has an honest manager, a man who continually expresses pleasure with results but disappointment with performances:

Where these two teams differ is that Southampton now only have a 'normal' kind of PDO of 1.02, Man Utd in contrast have something Southampton had until week 12, the same thing Arsenal had last season until they were annihilated by Man City 6-3 and that is a crazy high running PDO.  They're at 1.16 now, almost all of which has been powered by their last 4 games; such games include where they have the least amount of shots in their recorded history yet still win 2-1, where they score both their shots on target to win, or even 50% of them to win comfortably, all the while their goalkeeper is saving shots at an unbelievably high rate(87% over the last 8 games against a league average of 68%), gaining all the praise in the world & probably driving himself closer to a return to his homeland.  Just see here:

So we can feel a little sorry for Southampton as they plummet back into the pack & it becomes apparent that their average bench wouldn't look strong in the Championship; they're still a decent if fragile side, but any smidgen of luck has left them for now and congregated round at Louis Van Gaal's house, a fact he knows only too well.  His conversion growth is so extreme that it looks exponential and the sound you can hear faintly in the background is that of the Man Utd club brakes locking, in advance of a skid, a screech and the conversion rate slamming into a wall.

Either that or Van Gaal is a magician.*

Stat shorts
  • Arsenal finally got something their shooting prowess deserves with a 4-1 tonking of Newcastle.  A quick count suggests they've been sufficiently dominant to post a clear win about 8 or 9 times this year and have managed to win by more than one goal only 4 times.  So it had been coming & to my mind they are locks for the top 4; that they're in good contention despite posting a league worst opposition conversion rate is testimony to their attack & options even in the face their usual array of injuries.
  • Hull's horrible run of form continues, they've now posted 9 shots on target in 7 games and only scored twice.  In facing Chelsea, they joined an unimpressive group in recording zero shots on target in a complete match:

Apparently there's a metric called 'Noll-Scully' that has the intention of  'measuring competitive balance in sports.'  I read about it a bit & some people figured it was a great way of working out if a league within a sport was competitive & others weren't so sure.  One of it's advantages seemed to be that you could compare different sports or leagues via one figure & one of it's disadvantages was that that same figure was forever pegged to the size of a schedule; the smaller the schedule, the smaller the returned figure. Regardless it seemed logical that in this season of West Ham & Southampton, of Newcastle but not Liverpool, Tottenham or Everton & inspired by a notion of possible increased competitiveness within the Premier League, to use the metric to see how this year stacked up against previous years.  Many examples use 'wins' but in this i'm going to use 'points', hopefully this will reduce the impact of draws in the sample.

As a measure, an entirely flat equally competitive league should return a measure of 1.0 & seemingly premier League football isn't too flat, the average end-season figure is a shade under 2.0; of the US sports only NBA exceeds the numbers i've generated (ie: is broadly uncompetitive).

What this shows is that this season is pretty average via this measure.  We're not accounting for who is winning the points but how they're distributed & 2014-15 is fairly generic.  One can speculate on other figures; '07-08 was the year of 1 win Derby County whilst '10-11 featured a notably low winning total.

Anyway, just something I did.

Further reading can be found HERE and a firm rebuttal can be seen HERE with a ton of interesting comments too.

Obligatory Tottenham bit 

Wilfried Bony used this game to show how you do not need to look frenetic or dynamic to appear thoroughly dangerous at all times.  Fazio, previously complimented here, had a tough time today & only a degree of wastefulness stopped Swansea edging this game.  As it was, the equally languid Eriksen seemingly freed from a tactical straightjacket via the unusual method of pretending not to understand the desired role after a few subs, plonked himself in a free role & scored another fine late goal for the '2-1 last minute winner travelling Spurs' club.

Again, much like against Palace, Pochettino got his substitutions right & in beefing up midfield late on via Stambouli & Dembele, a game that was drifting away became winnable & was duly won.  Where the whole performance wasn't great, Kane was & Eriksen is showing signs of becoming a 'go-to' player much like Bale did in that final season.  The comparison may seem fanciful but Eriksen's technical ability has never been in doubt, more his tenacity & psychological ability to lift or carry a team.  Another key contribution testifies positively towards his growing stature.

The potential for revenge against Newcastle in Some Minor Cup comes next & offers a good chance of CUP GLORY!

[*may not be a magician.] -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks for reading!

Remember to check back each week & if you like, share!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Big Ripple 7th December Premier League Round-up

That's 3 games in a maximum of 9 days for everyone except, oh look, surprise, Man Utd who will have had 3 in 10.  Classic Ferguson that. And it's been a wild ride for some & costly for others but regardless, 9 available points has been enough for us to redraw season storylines.  Our sovereign leader King Allardyce vanquished the Welsh & Midlanders & edged his battle against Crown Prince Pardew to continue his charge up the table.  Formerly strong armies have faltered & a power vacuum is sucking unlikely candidates towards its centre.

Good Job

Man City

Three wins out of three including potentially tricky ties against Everton & Southampton & suddenly the world has remembered that yes, City are good, and no, Chelsea haven't won the title yet.  So Chelsea drop points, not through playing badly I might add, more likely the kind of pure variation you associate with a naturally low scoring game like football and some of the stats line up too.  Stats like PDO:

Chelsea meet Man City, Man City meet Chelsea.

Which is all good for the neutral bystander.  A three point difference, no more weird interlopers like Southampton to block the way and a straight shoot-out from here on in for the title.  Should be good.

West Ham

They still peg at pretty average to me but as we all know: THIS IS A RESULTS BUSINESS and there's nothing shabby about three wins in a week.  Crazy to think that an in-form Andy Carroll gives them three form strikers to choose from; most teams would be happy with just one.  And they've had 12 different goalscorers!  It's all been coming up roses really & Big Sam is well able to organise a disparate group of players who show a good deal of back-class.  Hell, that's all he did at Bolton for years. He'll always split opinion & for a number of reasons large parts of last season were horrible but he's been capable of maximising his team's efficiency in the past & is doing it very well here.


I put up a long scree against QPR in midweek (here) based mainly on them being utterly useless away from home and it was only yesterday when they beat their second relegation rival of the week at home that I saw Redknapp's semi-logic.  Never much of a long term planner, he will have seen this week's fixtures & thought 'If we get 6 points from 9, it's job done.'

And that's exactly how it played out.  They are still a generally bad team; after all they've conceded a league high number of shots on target but like a football version of Porridge they will continue to look for the little victories & hope to keep their noses fractionally above the relegation water line.


In playing a series of teams you'd like to play, Villa are unbeaten in 5 and no longer look bloody awful.  Even their shot totals are creeping upwards, so much so that over those last 5 games they are dead level in shots on target (F/A).  They were really bad for much of last year but kept finding a result just when they looked likely to be drawn into trouble & similar is occurring here.  Perhaps the departure of Roy Keane has brought back a hitherto repressed joie de vivre.

Bad Job

It is considered bad form to encourage the sacking of managers, akin to waking up your child as you deliver their stocking on Christmas Night uncostumed & reeking of cheap whiskey, but as December continues apace it seems amazing that not one manager has lost their job during this current season.  In truth, the fluctuating successes of many of the teams have led to few candidates.  Entrenched or successful managers at Arsenal, Liverpool or Everton have built up enough goodwill to weather significant turmoil whereas Tottenham & Man Utd are starting new projects once more.  Many of the mid-range sides are doing just fine & real thumb-screwing pressure is happily absent in many clubs.

Amongst the lesser lights there are two teams who appear to have coaches or managers that are more noticeably vulnerable than the others and for differing reasons:

West Brom
  • One goal in five matches
  • Progressively worse form
  • Those shot totals:

Alan Irvine has a short contract, little experience of this level and big problems.


Nigel Pearson's achievement in bringing Leicester to the Premier League should not be understated but his lack of achievement whilst in the Premier League is a stark contrast.  There appears to be no 'unlucky' in Leicester's numbers.  They are as bad as they seem to be, they've lost 7 in 8, they are bottom of the table, they are entirely porous and their next game is against Man City.

I have some sympathy, Pearson seems like the uncle who sorts out tickets for you and all your mates, but in this brutal world, Leicester just aren't doing enough & if they want to survive they need changes & fast.

Obligatory Tottenham disappointment

A week is a long time in politics/football/Tottenham: 
  • Run like maniacs to beat Everton.
  • Run like hell despite being 2 down against Chelsea
  • Have no legs for Palace
Pochettino has yet to prove he can cope with 3 games in a week & this week was a case in point. The fast press would tire 11 Rafa Nadals & by game 3 a few looked out on their feet.  With the squad in a kind of weird flux due to injuries and 'injuries', there is suddenly a lack of clear rotation & a ton of matches in the near future.

In more positive news, Fazio is an absolute find; he's had a good week & had a great game against Palace; he literally headed everything, was composed throughout and the numbers back that up. In a young team, his solidity and experience is absolutely what is needed, but whilst there are areas of defence that are settling down, the attack is still misfiring.
Credit Pochettino: whilst his substitutions don't always seem smart, he knows as well as the fans who isn't performing well & Lamela, Mason and Soldado can have no complaints at their replacement. I'm becoming sceptical whether Mason is gonna last out, he's been very lightweight this last week & the passing central midfield slot is still a problem position. Paulinho may well be pushing for a start here which is something that would have appeared entirely impossible mere weeks ago.

And so 4 points from 9 is about right and still says more about the season than any promising but false dawn.  Surely it's as many kids that are qualified in the Europa League squad away for a dead rubber against Besiktas in the week & hopefully a refreshed first team for the trip to Wales on Sunday.

Thanks for reading!


I waded into the 'What the hell was with Alex Ferguson's last Man Utd team?' debate with a detailed piece; worth a look numbers fans!  And now i'm quite tired so the long trailed, still unfinished 'unnamned manager piece' may have to wait.  But! Please feel free to share anything you like around forums, twitter, wherever.  It's always appreciated.

Alex Ferguson's Last Stand- Man Utd 2012-13

It has long been held in statistical circles that Man Utd's title winning effort of 2012-13 was Alex Ferguson's crowning achievement. A cursory look at the shooting statistics suggested that this team was merely average in comparison to the many fine teams he'd managed to titles before. Yet somehow they scored a ton of goals, had it sewn up in April & finally finished ahead by 11 points. I would contend that a blend of two factors caused this stat-defying dominance, one is clear and provable: the inadequacy of others, and one remains shrouded in mystery: the Ferguson special sauce.

In a season in which they lost 5 games overall and only failed to win 10, they went top of the league on 24th November, a lead they would never relinquish & at this point had a record of 10-0-3. Between that point and finally securing the title exactly 5 months later on 24th April, their record was an astounding 17-3-1. They ended the season with 28 wins which is a total that nearly guarantees the title. I say nearly as there is one notable exception: Man Utd 2011-12 and we'll get to that later.

2012-13 might be an outlier, but not to Ferguson

One of the core complaints regarding 'how' Man Utd win the 2012-13 title was their comparatively average shot totals and ratios but this wasn't a trend purely in that season, Ferguson's later Utd squads often failed to impress here:

Good but not great totals: but clearly, this did not preclude competitiveness as their finishing positions indicate. Indeed, a shot on target ratio higher than pure shot ratio is quite a Ferguson hallmark & suggests possibly a team that takes smart shots.

Interestingly, we can see that whilst there was a drop off in pure shot dominance in over the preceding years & in 2012-13 it did not convert into a substantial drop in shots on target:

The left graph shows a clear compression in the difference between shot totals whilst the right graph shows how this had very little impact on shots on target. So it appears that Man Utd were taking less but smarter shots. Where they had a clear and consistent advantage in shots on target, they also had extremely high rates of shot conversion dominance: they were converting shots at a high rate & their opposition was not. This is how those two factors look when shown against the rest of the league in 2009-14 & against other league winners:

Ferguson's teams consistently occupy the same part of the chart, and do so in relative isolation. The other league winners are labelled & we can see they generally appear to have high totals for both measures.

Fundamentally, what I've tried to show here is that what Man Utd did in 2012-13 did not exist in a bubble, and they managed to achieve a similar output to other seasons. This is superficially obvious given their goal totals & wins but 2012-13 was the only season in which they destroyed the league & won with clear ease, so how did that occur?

2011-12 was the blueprint

In order to understand 2012-13, I feel it's necessary to look at 2011-12, the famous season in which Man Utd were pipped deep into the last moments of stoppage time of the whole season by Man City & Aguero-o-o-o-o. In this year, Man Utd were very good but their path to the title was blocked by the fact that Man City were 0.0001% better One key component of this was the high conversion rates both teams enjoyed combined with the low conversion rates achieved by their opposition:

As we can see, throughout the season, both teams maintained a significant dominance in this metric. We can see from other club seasons how helpful this can be when challenging for the title; each of the last 5 title winners has benefited from a significant conversion advantage (and indeed, with older data, I can see that it is almost a requisite). These are the crazy high conversion rates and dominances that powered that memorable duel. Only one team could replicate that the following year.

2012-13 was very different:

Man Utd's raw conversion here was about 15%, Chelsea's was 12% and City's around 10%. Usually, more than one championship contending team records a high conversion rate, as we saw in 2011-12. Liverpool & Man City both were charged by this last season & it holds nearly every season. Man Utd's 3 percentage point advantage in 2012-13 is without precedent here and when factored against actual goals creates significant dominance, despite their reduced overall shot totals.
Projected goals at different conversion rates

So, smart shooting & Ferguson-brand conversion was worth 30 goals against league average, 20 goals against the effort City were putting in and 11 against Chelsea. But what of league average? In 14 years I have numbers for, Utd only dipped under 10% once in '04-05 and that was the only year they had a conversion dominance of under 4 percentage points. And that's part of this issue here: whatever Ferguson had his team doing be it smart shooting, using world class finishers or stopping the opposition, he had his team doing it each and every year, not just 2012-13. And in that year, nobody else had their soldiers lined up correctly, he signed the most prolific striker in the league who stayed fit for them & had a great year & they won it unopposed.

It's possible to criticise the goals they conceded, 43, but even that total is fluffed by 8 conceded after the title had been won, including the daft 5-5 game against West Brom.

And so...

The 2012-13 season will be remembered chiefly in terms of Ferguson's skill. What came after under Moyes was somewhat inevitable although it's possible he inadvertently magnified the comedown. However, it's important to remember that over-achievement in relation to underlying statistics is commonplace, it's just this example resulted in a title. I suspect Liverpool's run in 2013-14 would be equally revered if it had ended up with a title, their relentless attack & conversion dominance had different but similarly extreme facets. Even lower down the league there are good examples, the West Ham side of the same year ran numbers like a relegation cert yet ended up 13th.  Factor in that a football season of 38 games is forever a small sample...

Equally the near identical form of the 2011-12 season appears forgotten in comparison, maybe because City achieved similar. By nature an outlier lives alone, in a pair it seems less uncommon.

To my mind, the truth about Ferguson's methods remains mysterious and there's probably a bundle of informative truth dotted around the autobiographies of his many former players. But he really nailed it those last two years and it's interesting that they coincided with what may have been Rooney's peak aged 25-27. So often underrated by overstated expectation he was top scorer in the first year & had a different role with Van Persie in the team the second.

I think i've shown that his last achievement can be viewed in the context of his other work & that the inefficiency of others contributed strongly to that final win. In the final analysis it was just another title to go with the other twelve but here was a man who's methods often won out & his motivational abilities, to steady his team from that 2011-12 defeat and go again, were likely peerless.


I've had this article in mental limbo for ages & part written it before so thanks to Dan Altman and his article on the same subject for getting the ball rolling, to Max Odenheimer for picking up the ball on Statsbomb and forcing my hand :) and to the usual suspects for poking me a bit into writing it.  Hopefully you enjoyed it, and if you did, share freely!
Check back Monday morning for the weekly blog and then again for other musings.

Thanks for reading

James Yorke 12/14

( *nb.  I compiled/defined a rudimentary shot efficiency ranking in the course of writing this article & the top ten looked like this:
I've little to say about this; it's got a relegated team in the top 10 but it put Utd 12-13 top and that Liverpool side 2nd so, hey.)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Bonus Midweek Big Ripple Premier League Round Up 3rd December

God damnit QPR

Mere days ago, I pretty much wrote off Burnley, Leicester and Hull and in very typical fashion, QPR and Palace arrived this midweek & put in unpleasant performances to put themselves right back in amongst it.

Anyway, a digression: a long time ago, I took two combined maths exams & there was a pass requirement for both.  In one, Pure Mathematics, I scored 5/12 which was good enough for a low pass. In the other, Mechanics, I scored a touch lower: 0/12.  Something similar is going on at QPR.  This week Harry Redknapp commented that he was lucky that he had a 'good group of lads' this year, so good that they appear to be attempting a feat as yet unseen in the Premier League. By forfeiting half of their games, they are attempting to avoid relegation via the means of collecting points from only Home matches.  A novel twist on the usual survival technique of trying to win in each match regardless of venue, they are making a good fist of it. We can see this here with some per game figures:

Okay, maybe you skipped the numbers? I can understand that. Have another look.  Each and every section is a) pretty good at home & b) abysmal away.
  • They don't score goals away & they concede them at a heroic rate.
  • Away they are 10 (TEN) shots worse off per game
  • Their shots on target are dead level at home: Competitive! Fighting! Great bunch of lads! -4.7 away.
  • It's bad luck?  Their conversion rate is in the bin away & the opposition are walking it in at will? Yeah, well nothing looks good here.
Being at home generally affords an advantage of about +4 shots and +1 shots on target which isn't a world away from QPR's home record.  That's an average.  To be an average team you would ideally like the converse to be true away from home.  It quite clearly is not and a miserable away record is the calling card of many a relegated outfit. 

The result of my exam was indicative of the amount of preparation I put into it: not enough.  QPR, underpowered by Redknapp's laissez-faire methods are in great danger of finding out that when a test has two parts you need to prepare adequately well for both or you will, just like myself, fail.

City are great

So that Man City, eh? Pretty good i'd say. Ben Pugsley did an article the other day exploring, amongst other facets, what Chelsea or City need to do to in the title from here on in (see HERE ) and he concluded that for City to have a chance not only do Chelsea need to falter, but City need to win a minimum of 19/25 games, which is something they managed last year but is undoubtedly a difficult task.  Well, after dispatching Sunderland tonight, they need 18/24 and I think they're well capable.

Why so? Put simply, their attack, quite clearly fuelled by Aguero drinking Suarez juice, is totally irresistible.  Here's a table to show where the number of shots and shots on target conceded by teams AGAINST Man City ranks compared to all other fixtures. So '1st' shows City as being the best shots team faced by the named opponent:

Basically, City's attack turns up every week, and when it fails on shooting volume, it's because it's weighed in already with goals (Liverpool, Sunderland).  Stoke are the only team to limit City all year, and that's the crux here; it makes no difference who they play, City bring high shot volumes and a goal threat.  And this is where they differ from Arsenal or Chelsea who also score highly in this measure, they both have excellent records in dominating and crushing lesser teams but have a mixed record in more competitive fixtures.  If i'm to reign this in a bit, then it is to praise Chelsea who are the kings of 'doing only what you need to' and put in a textbook example of such skills against Tottenham.

City's near schedule is about as fearsome as an Aaron Lennon 30 yarder & they face a bunch of teams that routinely concede high volumes of shots.  Burnley, Leicester and Palace are all provably bad, West Brom have recently become so and only Everton have any recent form to speak of.  It's quite possible that Man City could go into the second half of the schedule requiring 13 wins from 19 games, which is back at 78 point pace. The only obstacle in their way would remain the same: Chelsea.                                                

Obligatory Tottenham Capitulation

I'm not too distraught with the 0-3 misery inflicted by Chelsea.  Lloris had his worst game in quite some time & after the team looking awesome for 10 minutes the game was well & truly gifted away.  Chelsea like 2-0 scorelines, it means they don't have to exert themselves too much, but we again saw a tidiness & energy in amongst Tottenham's play.  In the near future, bad teams will suffer at the altar of Kane and whilst Mason appeared a little lightweight in a big game, Bentaleb again looked a natural & Fazio looked  like a Europa League winner. 

We also won the passing convincingly.


Palace, Swansea, Burnley & Leicester to come.

Thanks for reading!


My well timed Southampton article is expiring quickly as they've stopped scoring, winning & have started getting injured.  All the things they didn't want to happen, but hey, it's a good read & lives on HERE .

Current 'in the works' projects are changing constantly but i've the makings of a manager deconstruction & ideas on a familiar theme in the offing.  Check back here & maybe elsewhere soon.  Feel free to submit ideas via my twitter or the gmail address.  Like I haven't got enough to go on with.  ;)