Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Championship Week 14: Bristol City's early season woes

We’re more than a quarter of the way in to the Championship season so it’s probably worth taking a look at how the three promoted teams are handling the step up.
And because of the alphabet, I’m reviewing Bristol City’s progress first.

Looking at the league table which never lies*, it appears to have been a pretty tough start for the trio of new entrants, with the Robins, finding the going toughest.
*it does

Pos Team Played W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Brighton 14 8 6 0 19 11 8 30
2 Hull 14 8 4 2 21 8 13 28
3 Burnley 14 8 4 2 20 13 7 28
4 Middlesbrough 14 8 3 3 23 9 14 27
5 Derby 14 7 6 1 21 10 11 27
6 Birmingham 14 7 3 4 19 15 4 24
7 Reading 14 6 5 3 21 13 8 23
8 Sheff Wed 14 6 5 3 19 16 3 23
9 Cardiff 14 5 7 2 15 11 4 22
10 Fulham 14 5 5 4 26 20 6 20
11 Brentford 14 6 2 6 20 20 0 20
12 QPR 14 5 4 5 22 23 -1 19
13 Wolves 14 5 3 6 20 20 0 18
14 Ipswich 14 4 6 4 16 21 -5 18
15 Blackburn 14 3 6 5 14 14 0 15
16 Huddersfield 14 3 5 6 14 18 -4 14
17 Nottm Forest 14 3 5 6 11 15 -4 14
18 Preston 14 2 7 5 10 13 -3 13
19 Leeds 14 2 7 5 12 19 -7 13
20 MK Dons 14 3 2 9 12 21 -9 11
21 Bristol City 14 2 5 7 16 26 -10 11
22 Bolton 14 1 7 6 10 20 -10 10
23 Charlton 14 2 4 8 11 24 -13 10
24 Rotherham 14 2 3 9 15 27 -12 9

To be fair I didn’t have the greatest expectations for Bristol City this season: their promotion was based on a massive PDO score with very nice but not spectacular shot share numbers.
Thus my pre-season caution and initial non-surprise at their league standing had been fulfilled.

But even a cursory glance at the shot metrics being put together across the Championship shows their relegation threatened position is not really warranted.
Admittedly the overall shot share (Corsi/TSR) at 11v11 is below break-even, but the unblocked shot share (Fenwick) and shots on target share are both top ten worthy.
Clearly something is going right at Ashton Gate.

Unfortunately, it is PDO which accounts for their current position.
A below average shooting % (24.24) and an awful save % (second worst at 60.34) giving them a league worst PDO of just 84.

So clearly these positive numbers are down to score effects from being continually behind and when their PDO does turn those impressive shot shares will die away, right?

Maybe not.
For a bit more of a deeper insight, let’s take a look at how Bristol City are playing when the scores are level.
Only one team has played fewer minutes with the scores level (Rotherham), so these numbers need to be taken with some caution.
But, in 482 minutes out of a total of 1,351, the Robins have been quite impressive indeed.

Yet again though, when we get to actually putting the ball in and keeping it out of the net, it gets ugly. Very ugly:

I could show you the “Good vs Lucky” graph for these, but it’d be pointless as Bristol City are so far off the bottom I’d need to extend my y-axes down to hell.

The reasons for this could be many, some of which can probably be answered in part.

Is it a case of shooting from hopeless positions and just trying to get the effort on target?
Well no.

Bristol City have the joint most non-headed shots from inside the six-yard box (10 – Brighton and Hull), and are equal sixth in non-headed shots from the centre of the 18-yd box.
They do not produce headed chances from those locations at the same rate, but I would happily take that situation given the lower conversion rates typical to headed chances.

It seems the only place they are really sacrificing taking shots is outside the 18-yd box. The difference between this total and league average accounts for the whole difference in Bristol City’s shot total from the league average.

So are they conceding a boatload of high quality chances?
Based on pure location data, I would again say no.
They’ve given away a dozen more shots from the sides of the penalty area than the league average, something which should be cautiously monitored, but aside from that everything else is pretty much mid-table.

The only problem I see on the horizon is their shot shares at one-goal up are truly awful – a 0.312 overall shot share being the “highlight” of the bunch.
That does not bode well but is from an even smaller sample size (282 mins) and I can imagine has probably been influenced by a massive tactical decision to hold on to whatever rare leads they have acquired.

Reassuringly most of these numbers back up what I've seen in limited opportunities of watching Bristol City.
The two Sky broadcast games I watched, against Nottingham Forest and the Severnside derby against Cardiff, saw Bristol dominating the games pretty well.
In the Forest game they had the advantage of two early goals, against Cardiff David Marshall and some slightly erratic finishing kept them from taking a comfortable lead.

So assuming the save % improves and the level score shot share stays the same then I would suspect the  Robins will eventually move into mid-table safety sooner rather than later.

PS. Along with the two other promoted clubs I'm hoping to have a closer look at Blackburn soon. Rovers' stats are interesting at the moment.


Here's the 11v11 shot data table after 14 games because I know you can't get enough sortable number fun:

Position Team 11v11 Corsi 11v11 Fenwick 11v11 SoT 11v11 Goals Rate 11v11 Sh% 11v11 Sv% 11v11 PDO
6 Birmingham 0.458 0.414 0.452 0.56 36.54 76.19 112.73
15 Blackburn 0.549 0.584 0.6 0.56 22.22 73.81 96.03
22 Bolton 0.48 0.479 0.429 0.32 17.65 72.06 89.71
11 Brentford 0.459 0.449 0.447 0.46 29.09 72.06 101.15
1 Brighton 0.576 0.566 0.571 0.66 29.69 79.17 108.85
21 Bristol City 0.474 0.516 0.532 0.41 24.24 60.34 84.59
3 Burnley 0.441 0.446 0.52 0.59 29.69 77.97 107.65
9 Cardiff 0.462 0.429 0.466 0.61 29.17 83.64 112.8
23 Charlton 0.434 0.451 0.47 0.35 20.37 67.21 87.58
5 Derby 0.552 0.544 0.565 0.67 30.77 80 110.77
10 Fulham 0.458 0.468 0.483 0.6 37.68 77.03 114.71
16 Huddersfield 0.511 0.496 0.452 0.44 26.92 71.43 98.35
2 Hull 0.544 0.574 0.598 0.72 32.81 81.4 114.21
14 Ipswich 0.483 0.498 0.491 0.43 29.09 63.16 92.25
19 Leeds 0.492 0.458 0.442 0.37 23.91 67.24 91.15
4 Middlesbrough 0.541 0.544 0.567 0.72 31.94 83.64 115.58
20 MK Dons 0.45 0.437 0.354 0.3 25.71 67.19 92.9
17 Nottingham Forest 0.542 0.538 0.508 0.39 14.75 76.27 91.03
18 Preston 0.528 0.558 0.55 0.45 22.73 66.67 89.39
12 QPR 0.54 0.54 0.548 0.51 34.92 59.62 94.54
7 Reading 0.653 0.647 0.653 0.63 30.3 65.71 96.02
24 Rotherham 0.453 0.456 0.422 0.33 24.07 64.86 88.94
8 Sheff Wed 0.47 0.475 0.49 0.55 36 71.15 107.15
13 Wolves 0.492 0.496 0.45 0.44 27.59 71.83 99.42

Friday, 30 October 2015

Championship Week 13: Are Birmingham legit?

This week marks the anniversary of Gary Rowett being appointed Brimingham City manager and with the Blues sitting in the playoff spots it seems the Championship has been awash with articles about how successful Rowett’s tenure has been.
To top it all there's a big West Midlands derby against Wolves this weekend too.

But are the plaudits warranted?

When Lee Clark was sacked Birmingham were 21st just one point off the relegation zone. By the end of the season they were nicely in the top half of the table having secured 10th position.
With relegation successfully avoided and now an apparent push for a playoff place on the cards this season it seems case closed – Rowett is a success.

Let’s have a look at the numbers to see if they back this up. (I’m using statistics under all situations in this instance to be able to compare last season and this.)

Clark left with an overall shot share (Corsi/TSR) of roughly 46% - his teams took 46% of all shots in games they played, and therefore conceded around 54% of all shots.
Most worryingly the shots on target share was worse at below 42%.
Add to that Clark had seen shots scored and saved by his team at a slightly below average rate and the place just off the relegation zone was rather obvious.

So what of Rowett’s tenure so far?
Last season Rowett’s overall shot share actually dipped below Lee Clark’s, but crucially, his shots on target share lept eight percentage points to just below average. These figures have been maintained so far this season, indicating it may well be a product of Rowett’s tactics.
If we look at the per game figures last season we can see Rowett’s team took and conceded a near identical amount of shots per game, but managed to get 1.2 more per game on target, while only conceding one more on target every seven or so games.
Certainly that is a happy improvement to make.

This season, Birmingham have been tighter at the back, but have also been similarly conservative up front.

The other significant difference between Rowett and Clark is the rate chances are being scored and, most importantly, saved at.
Somehow Birmingham’s GK got 10 percentage points better under Rowett’s stewardship last year, and it has continued at the same clip so far this term.
While the scoring rate was largely unchanged last season, the increase in shots on target gave 0.32 goals per game (almost 11 actual goals) more than Lee Clark would have expected.

This season the shooting rate has seen a 10 percentage point increase as well, meaning Birmingham have the second highest PDO in the Championship at present.

Given this it’s no wonder Rowett’s team is almost unrecognisable from the one Lee Clark was regularly fielding.

So is Rowett the greatest thing to hit Birmingham since Tim Sherwood?

I would expect this massive run of form to cool off at some point (above average shooting and save rates are pretty tough to maintain over a long term – indeed it already has done over the last few games) and Birmingham to drop back into the middle of the pack.
But Rowett certainly has improved the team’s shots on target generation while seemingly not damaging its defensive performance, and that deserves some praise.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Championship Week 9: New beginnings

Welcome to the 2015/16 version of The Only Statistic That Matters.
First an apology for my tardiness at putting this out but sometimes life, among other things, gets in the way.

This season I’m collecting a whole load more data which I’m still working out what to do with, what is useful and what can add value to understanding how this wonderful sport we so love works.
One of the big changes I’ve made with the data I’m tracking this year is to use 11v11 wherever possible.
I noticed last year that on occasions there seemed to be big swings in shot stats involving games with a red card (Brentford’s 41 shot mauling of Blackpool being the prime example).
In ice hockey, where many of these metrics originate, the power play/penalty kill (where one team temporarily has a player less) are separated out from full strength (5v5 in that case) play.
Yes, it will make for a smaller sample size, but I’m hoping the sample I’m left with will be more accurate as to the real skills of the Championship teams.

The good point about starting coverage at this stage in the season is that many of the metrics have started to settle down – at least they were doing so at this time last season.
We are still dealing with a small sample size in terms of shots though.
The average team will have taken (and conceded) 118 shots so far, meaning a couple of goals here or freak deflections there can still make all the difference in the table and in the numbers.

I’m also recording where the shots are being taken from, at least in broad geographic on-pitch locations.
These are the standard ones that I’m sure many of you will be familiar with already, but just for clarification we have: inside the six yard box, the central area of the 18 yard box immediately in front of the six yard box, the sides of the 18 yard box, and outside the 18 yard box.
The six yard box and area in front of it collectively being the Danger Zone.
Headers are being recorded separately from shots: inside the six yard box and outside (the vast majority of these take place in the central 18 yard box area so there seems little point in also using the sides).

Season so far

So now that’s cleared up, or at least some of it, let’s have a look at where we are so far.

Pos Team Played Won Drawn Lost For Against Goal Diff Points
1 Brighton 9 6 3 0 13 7 6 21
2 Middlesbrough 9 6 2 1 17 5 12 20
3 Reading 9 4 3 2 14 7 7 15
4 Hull 9 4 3 2 12 7 5 15
5 Birmingham 9 4 3 2 14 10 4 15
6 Cardiff 9 4 3 2 13 10 3 15
7 Burnley 9 4 3 2 12 10 2 15
8 Ipswich 9 4 3 2 15 15 0 15
9 Derby 9 3 5 1 10 7 3 14
10 Wolves 9 3 3 3 12 11 1 12
11 Nott'm Forest 9 3 3 3 9 9 0 12
12 Sheffield Weds 9 3 3 3 12 13 -1 12
13 QPR 9 3 3 3 14 17 -3 12
14 Fulham 9 3 2 4 15 14 1 11
15 Leeds 9 2 5 2 9 11 -2 11
16 Huddersfield 9 2 4 3 10 11 -1 10
17 Charlton 9 2 3 4 9 12 -3 9
18 Blackburn 9 1 5 3 10 10 0 8
19 Brentford 9 2 2 5 12 17 -5 8
20 Rotherham 9 2 2 5 11 17 -6 8
21 Bolton 9 1 5 3 6 12 -6 8
22 Preston 9 1 4 4 6 10 -4 7
23 Milton Keynes Dons 9 2 1 6 8 13 -5 7
24 Bristol City 9 1 3 5 11 19 -8 6

Middlesbrough being in the promotion spots will not be a surprise to many. Brighton being top probably will be, but shouldn’t be. I was cautiously optimistic about the Seagulls before this season given their very good shot metrics last year.
With very good shot numbers again it seems this season they’re actually scoring and saving shots that last year they should have been.
At the other end, I had much higher (mid-table) hopes for at least two of the promoted teams.
But while it may make pretty grim viewing for the trio right now, as we’ll see shortly, only MK Dons are making a particularly bad start, with Preston and Bristol City bitten by horrible luck and variance in and in front of goal.

For the eagle-eyed among you, Reading  (0.681 shot share, 97.78 PDO) and Middlesbrough (0.530 shot share, 126.38 PDO) do not fit on the chart.

Again, Reading  (0.714 shot share, 97.78 PDO) and Middlesbrough (0.531 shot share, 126.38 PDO) do not fit on the chart.

Shooting stars

The early statistical stars of the season are without doubt Reading.
They started off at around an 80% shot share but that was never going to be sustainable and are now in the region of 68-72%, depending on which flavour of metric you prefer.
The secret of this is defence.
The Royals have conceded just 67 total shots – almost half the league average.
And while doing that, they’ve also been very nicely above average at taking shots (137, 3rd best).
That is quite simply superb.
There may be other reasons for this such as the fixture schedule so far, but they have played (and outplayed) Burnley and Ipswich, while they matched Derby in shots despite being down to ten men for half the game.
In fact, Ipswich (in that memorable Friday night hammering) are the only team to reach double figures in shots taken at 11v11 and are the only team to out shoot Reading.
I suspect much of that was due to the massive score difference leading to Reading sitting back.
So certainly at the moment, Reading look like legitimate promotion contenders.
There is still a long way to go, but boy do the early stats make positive reading.


Somewhat lost amid the row about a certain West London team was the news that Steve Evans left (by one method or another) the manager’s post at Rotherham United.
While his personality can rub people the wrong way, last season he did a fine job keeping the small budget Millers up and it was only a horrible PDO score that saw them slide towards the relegation zone.
Their shot metrics were give or take mid-table obscurity.

Unfortunately for Evans, in the summer he was forced to sell some key players without being able to replace them sufficiently and the results this year have been rather ugly.
Rotherham are bottom in overall 11v11 shot share (taking just 43.3% of all shots in their games), second bottom in unblocked shot share (again 43.3%) and third bottom in shots on target share (40.7%).
Getting burned a bit by PDO as well (93.94) meant there was nowhere to hide and so Evans left the club.
Perhaps the real killer for Rotherham has been the quality of shots taken by opponents.
The Millers have conceded 40 danger zone shots (most) including nine from within the six yard box.
The next worst teams have only conceded six close in, with the average being three and a combined 25 from the six yard box and danger zone respectively.

Whether anyone else will be able to improve performances given the talent drain at the club it will be tough to do, but I’d suggest they look at the defensive side of things first.

Let’s talk about Brentford

Well nobody else is, so I may as well give the developments at Griffin Park a bit of coverage, eh?
I had actually really hoped to give Brentford a wide-ish berth this season and just let the club get on with what they are doing and see how it goes.
I had not expected to be writing about sacking the manager in my first post this early in the season.
There's been a lot of heat and not much light in the comments that I've seen about the Brentford situation this week. Hopefully this will add some much needed light to the discussion.

Like just about everyone else in the world I have very little idea of the exact reasons why Marinus Dijkuizen was sacked on Monday.
But it seems fair to look at the numbers and see what’s been going-on on the pitch.
And the numbers do not make great viewing.

At the time of Dijkuzien’s sacking, while the all situations metrics looked just below average, these were buoyed by a positive piece of play when up a man against Bristol City.
In 11v11 it was not pretty. In the bottom eight in both overall shot share and unblocked shot share (47.4% and 45.4%), the Bees were third worst in the Championship with a shots on target share of just 39.7%.
That is a quite remarkable turnaround from last season.
When we look down into the raw shot numbers there seems to be a likely dearth of quality scoring chances.
Although there were 27 shots taken centrally in the 18 yard box (above the 22 average at the time), there was just one solitary shot form inside the six yard box. And no headers from inside the six yard box too.
While not damning, those numbers are not exactly warm and fuzzy either.

However, if we look at the shot shares when scores are level in the game, this makes a bad situation look even worse.

Pretty horrific yeah?
Taking 40% (or even worse just 30%) of shots when the score is tied is an awful position to start a game from.
Yes, the PDO score is kind of bad as well, but a team would need a mammoth PDO up around 120 to be surviving that kind of shots performance.
As a result, by the completion of week eight, Brentford had spent as much time at one goal down as they had at level scores.

I cannot say with anything other than guess work that these are the sorts of figures the management team at Brentford would be using to make the decision, but it seems a likely path.
Brentford were not in their lowly position by an awful run of bad luck. This league position was not a quirk of fate. Shots-wise at least, it was fully deserved.

And although it may make some fans or media happy to see the experiment with analytics in Griffin Park apparently fail so quickly, that Dijkuzien was let go at this early point probably says loud enough that there was a realisation that his role and input was not working out.
That is what the analytics should be doing; helping make informed decisions at the appropriate time without reacting to isolated events.
Tuesday’s home defeat by Birmingham was another shots horror show, so it will be interesting to see how Lee Carsley beds-in and if he can turn this poor start around.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Football League Tonight needs more football

A new football league season and a new show for the Saturday night highlights.
First Channel 5 deserve massive congratulations for putting the Football League Tonight show on at 9pm prime time to run up before Match of the Day, rather than the later night slot which BBC used.
It shows a commitment to using the highlights as a prime bit of TV coverage.

Unfortunately that’s pretty much where the praise ends I’m afraid.
Clearly the producers have decided that they need to make the show an entertainment spectacle as well as a football one – and that is its greatest error.
Yes, this was the first episode and like the first week of the new football season it takes a while for things to bed down.
But putting together a football highlights show should, in theory, be pretty easy – put as much football as possible on show and get out of the way.

If you are going to build something around the action then make it insightful, whatever it is: background research, tactical analysis, good quality player or manager interviews etc. Something more than just generic clich├ęs.
Sadly, Channel 5 failed to do this.

The studio audience concept is always a risky one to attempt and this one failed pretty damn well.
If you’re going to have an audience then be prepared to use them and use them well. The best example I’ve seen of this recently was on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight programme. I haven’t watched it in a while, but last time I saw it they got the audience involved in practical demonstrations, asked them intelligent questions (unsurprisingly getting intelligent answers as a result) and gave them a real purpose for being there. The Football League Tonight audience may as well not have been there how little it was used and how poorly coordinated it was – no microphones available for answering the few generic questions that were posed was a particular highlight.

Bringing in Barnet manager Martin Allen to talk about his team’s first game back in the football league was a good move.
Again, sadly he was rather thrown to the wolves with no preparation time and not having seen the highlights before being asked to commentate on them – poor all around.
You genuinely felt sorry for the guy who was trying his best but just had no support in the studio.

So having talked about the show, what about the football.
Well, the approach to splitting up the highlights from all around the leagues seemed confusing and disjointed at best and downright idiotic at worst.
I’m all for giving bigger exposure to the lower leagues, but again, doing it in a way that seemed to have a little more thought or structure put in to it would go down better – maybe changing the order of the highlights each week would work?

If the show is going to be an hour long, then how about a main game from each division? Five-to-ten minutes of highlights for each of those three games would give plenty of time for the rest of the highlights and other discussions.

There seemed little awareness about another major story which played out in injury time of the Doncaster vs Bury match which saw Jamie Forrester accidentally score for the home side when returning the ball after an injury.
After some form of scuffle the football gods were eased by Bury walking the ball in to the net for the unopposed equaliser.
The incident has been viewed one million times and while that shouldn't be the judge of every news worthy event, it's a pretty good start.
But aside from referencing Forrester's tweet apologising, no further  mention was made - no interview with one of the managers or Forrester himself. Nothing.

The final damning and rather bizarre error came with the very last set of highlights.
This included the Birmingham vs Reading game where Reading had a potential equaliser disallowed after a shot hit the crossbar, bounced down and out.
At first (blurry) glance it appeared the ball may have crossed the line, but it was difficult to say.
On returning to the studio the first words we heard were from George Riley saying: “It looked in, that Reading goal.”
Kelly Caites replied: “I’m going to have to see it again.”
Which prompted Riley to add: “We’ll watch it later.”
"NOOOOOOOOOO!" I (and I suspect hundreds of thousands of other fans) screamed.
This is the whole point of a football highlights show. You’re the ones with control of the footage, show it again.
Can you imagine the Match of the Day or Sky Sports crew just passing over a major incident like that?

To be honest, there really is no competition to Sky Sports News’ Goals Express for football league highlights right now.
Channel 5 could learn from that by just sticking to the football.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Cardiff City season preview 2015-16: A defence of Whittingham and Le Fondre

A messy start

Last season was a bit of a mess for Cardiff.
This time last year the club was still in the midst of the colour change debacle while Ole Gunnar Solskjar was bringing in half of Europe to play.
And there was of course the aftershock of a pretty awful solitary Premier League season.
Using shot statistics to explain Cardiff progress last season is actually reasonably straight forward.

For those not familiar with shot share measures, they are a pretty good indicator of which teams are most likely to be successful over the longer term (ie a full season). While individual games can have significant variations and “luck”, being able to consistently outshoot your opponents is a good predictor for future success.

As an indication of this, in last season’s Championship five of the top six total shot share teams (this includes all shots which are blocked, miss the target, are saved or scored) finished in the top six places.
And using only shots on target (shots which were either saved or scored), all the top six performers in this category finished in the top six of the table.
The league average for both these measurements is 50% - for every one shot you take, your opponent takes one.

OGS’s team started the season with a curious split in shot metrics.
Solskjar had a truly awful overall 39.5% shot share (ie of every 100 shots taken in games played, Cardiff took 39.5, and the opponents took 60.5).
But the shots on target share was a good looking 52.9% (this time, for every 100 shots on target taken in games played, Cardiff took 52.9, but only faced 47.1).
But that difference was not sustainable and it was a falling shots on target share which saw results slide quickly and soon after prompted OGS’ departure just seven games into the season.

Russell Slade eventually took over and with some pretty average football righted the ship, at least taking it to mediocrity with a league average 49.9% shot share during his 37 games in charge.
So while it was not pretty, Slade at least got the job done, to a certain degree.

Slade’s tactics got Cardiff taking 12.91 shots per game – a noticeable improvement from OGS’ 10.43 mark but still only more than Wigan, Blackpool, Leeds and Charlton. However he also cut the shots conceded substantially, from 16 under the Norwegian to just 12.97.

That one statistic alone shows how poor Solskjar’s defensive planning was – a competent lower league manager came in and knocked four shots off the total conceded per game.
The shots on target share settled at 48.4% over Slade’s time too – below average but not hideous.

The chart below shows the cumulative total to that point in the season of three key shot metrics - shot share, shots on target share, and PDO. PDO is a strange beast, but can be used as an approximation to natural variance and/or "luck". Sure OGS got killed by a massive PDO slump finishing at game number seven (his last) but this just emphasised the falling other metrics.

So if these numbers stay true to form for the coming term then it looks like another season of mid-table mediocrity for the Bluebirds, unless some special players can drag the team forward.

Pondering Le Fondre

Speaking of which, player management has been questionable in many respects, particularly up front.
Adam Le Fondre was brought in with much fanfare, played out of position, given poor service, substituted, slagged off and then sent on loan to Bolton – where put in the right position he succeeded.

Indeed, in 23 appearances totaling 1,640 mins with Cardiff (an average of 71 mins per appearance) Le Fondre took just 1.6 shots per game – with only 1.2 coming inside the 18 yard box. In contrast, at Bolton in 17 appearances totaling 1,414 mins (average of 83 mins per game) he basically doubled his output to 3.1 shots per game with 2.2 coming from the area.

Perhaps unsurprisingly his non-penalty goals scored went from 0.1/90 at Cardiff to 0.4/90 – on par with Callum Wilson, Troy Deeney and others in the top twenty Championship forwards. So hence, in all their wisdom Cardiff have sent Le Fondre back on loan for the season – this time to Wolves.

Something I missed in my first draft of this post was Le Fondre’s non-shooting contribution. In his time at Cardiff he also contributed 1.3 key passes per 90 – good for fourth best at the club last season.

So even though he was largely played out of position, Le Fondre was still creating chances and generally being a positive influence. Unsurprisingly this number dropped at Bolton when he was the one on the end of the key passes, taking the shots and scoring the goals.

Key players

More encouragingly Slade seems ready to give Joe Mason a decent run in the side. At 24 Mason should now be ready to make his mark and has had a good pre-season.

Over the last two seasons in limited minutes split between Cardiff and loan spells at Bolton (again) he’s hovered around 2.2-2.6 shots/90, with around 2/90 from inside the area. He averaged 0.5 NPG/90 in 1,016 minutes at Bolton in 2013/14 and 0.4 NPG/90 in 852 mins with the Trotters last season.

I wonder what a Le Fondre-Mason strike force could do for a well organised Cardiff attack?

In terms of those players who played at least 1,000 league minutes at the club last season, it was Anthony Pilkington who led the way with 2.8 shots/90, although 1.6/90 came from outside the 18 yard box. Kenwynne Jones (2.4/90), Craig Noone (2.2/90), Eoin Doyle (2.1/90) and the aforementioned Le Fondre rounded out the top five.

Let’s talk about Whitts

For some reason Peter Whittingham is one of the most controversial figures at Cardiff City. As far as his attacking, creative play goes I cannot see why.

Yes, we’d all love a Yaya Toure in his prime: tackling everything that moves, playing killer throughballs and scoring stunning free kicks. But this is the Championship and those players generally are not here.
But Peter Whittingham is - and we should be thankful for him.

Last season Whittingham led Cardiff in key passes by a country mile – creating opportunities at a rate of 2.2/90 minutes. (Second place went to Noone with 1.6/90. That combined with his shot numbers underlines Noone’s importance to the team.)

As might be expected Whittingham’s key pass rate was an improvement on the previous season in the Premier League (1.8/90).
But so was his tackles per 90 (1.7 vs 1.3).

Indeed of all the defensive metrics available only clearances (1.5 vs 2.3) dropped from the Premier League season, and that is likely due to Cardiff not being hemmed in their own end for the vast majority of play.

Perhaps the other notable statistic is that Whittingham took fewer shots last season (1.2/90) compared to the top division (1.6/90). Was this a trade-off reflecting a different on-pitch role – playing more key passes setting up others rather than taking shots?

Whitts’ key pass rate was also the 19th best in the division – not a bad showing at all especially as Wes Hoolahan (33) and Craig Conway (30) were the only other over 30 years old players to crack that list.

It is hard to explain why Whittingham is such a divisive player in the stands, but the numbers on the pitch tell a very different story.

Here's hoping for a less eventful but more successful season than the last one.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Bundesliga 2014/15: Klopp's finale and who deserved relegation

I’ve dipped in to the Bundesliga a couple of times this season, mostly, it has to be admitted, to gawp at the goings-on at Dortmund.
But I also spent a bit of time actually watching the Bundesliga too this season and it was just about the only one of the five major European leagues to have any real form of race on the last day of the season.

Position Team Played Won Drawn Lost Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Points
1 Bayern Munich 34 25 4 5 80 18 62 79
2 Wolfsburg 34 20 9 5 72 38 34 69
3 M'gladbach 34 19 9 6 53 26 27 66
4 Leverkusen 34 17 10 7 62 37 25 61
5 Augsburg 34 15 4 15 43 43 0 49
6 Schalke 04 34 13 9 12 42 40 2 48
7 Dortmund 34 13 7 14 47 42 5 46
8 Hoffenheim 34 12 8 14 49 55 -6 44
9 Ein Frankfurt 34 11 10 13 56 62 -6 43
10 Werder Bremen 34 11 10 13 50 65 -15 43
11 Mainz 34 9 13 12 45 47 -2 40
12 FC Koln 34 9 13 12 34 40 -6 40
13 Hannover 34 9 10 15 40 56 -16 37
14 Stuttgart 34 9 9 16 42 60 -18 36
15 Hertha 34 9 8 17 36 52 -16 35
16 Hamburg 34 9 8 17 25 50 -25 35
17 Freiburg 34 7 13 14 36 47 -11 34
18 Paderborn 34 7 10 17 31 65 -34 31

Indeed, the chaos around the relegation places made for gripping viewing on that last afternoon.
In the end Stuttgart completed their great escape by winning at Paderborn in a result that also relegated the hosts.
Stuttgart actually came from behind to win both their last two games – vs Hamburg and Paderborn.
But did Paderborn and Freiburg deserve to be relegated?

Position Team Shots for total Shots against total Corsi/TSR shots on target for total shots on target against total Shots on target share Shooting % For Save % PDO
5 Augsburg 458 458 0.5 150 170 0.469 28.67 74.71 103.38
1 Bayern Munich 583 257 0.694 238 95 0.715 33.61 81.05 114.66
7 Dortmund 567 288 0.663 190 112 0.629 24.73 62.5 87.23
9 Ein Frankfurt 426 430 0.498 171 195 0.467 32.75 68.21 100.96
12 FC Koln 362 463 0.439 126 161 0.439 26.97 75.16 102.13
17 Freiburg 385 515 0.428 158 200 0.441 22.79 76.5 99.29
16 Hamburg 364 494 0.424 114 189 0.376 21.92 73.55 95.47
13 Hannover 384 458 0.456 145 161 0.474 27.6 65.21 92.81
15 Hertha 297 425 0.411 107 156 0.407 33.62 66.67 100.29
8 Hoffenheim 501 453 0.525 171 157 0.521 28.65 64.96 93.61
4 Leverkusen 554 299 0.65 192 128 0.6 32.3 71.08 103.38
11 Mainz 437 482 0.475 145 175 0.453 31.04 73.15 104.19
3 M'gladbach 424 522 0.448 174 151 0.535 30.46 82.78 113.24
18 Paderborn 454 492 0.48 140 177 0.442 22.15 63.28 85.43
6 Schalke 04 418 537 0.438 153 174 0.468 27.46 77 104.47
14 Stuttgart 411 472 0.466 138 179 0.435 30.43 66.47 96.9
10 Werder Bremen 415 499 0.454 170 163 0.51 29.4 60.14 89.54
2 Wolfsburg 522 418 0.555 205 144 0.587 35.13 73.6 108.73

Well, it seems Paderborn at the very least can consider themselves unfortunate and arguably fully undeserving of relegation.
Certainly their overall shot share was a very respectable 0.48 (only ninth worst in the division).

And while their shots on target share throughout the season was less impressive, it only dropped to sixth worst.
However, the kicker is, of course, that Paderborn had the worst PDO in the league.
That mark of 85.43 was a full eight points below their nearest relegation contender (Hannover) and ten less than the next (Hamburg).
I’ve not watch much of Paderborn to suggest any of the reasons for this awful PDO.
According to WhoScored Paderborn did take the third highest percentage of shots from outside the 18 yard box (47%), and the joint fewest (along with five others) inside the six yard box (5%), and were fifth worst at taking shots from central areas (59%).

Combine that with being the equal second worst (with two others) at allowing shots from within the six yard box (8%) and eighth worst at allowing attempts from the centre (62%) and we begin to see some of their problems.
But still, Hamburg were worse in their own six yard box (9%) with Stuttgart not far behind (7%).
Either way you splice it, it seems that to me that Paderborn were at least a little lucky to go down.

A similar, though slightly weaker argument, can also be made for Freiburg who will be plying their trade in Bundesliga 2 next season too.
However, the real beneficiaries from this are Hamburg and (to a lesser extent) Hertha Berlin, who both posted some rather poor shot share numbers.
Indeed were it down to me I might have relegated Hamburg just for their 37% share of shots on target. But that was only “good” enough to earn them a second successive relegation playoff, which they duly won, beating Karlsruhe 3-2 on aggregate.

Further up the table Borussia Monchengladbach certainly rode their luck and the second highest PDO in the league to get in to the Champions League places. With rather average shot share and shots on target share numbers (certainly for a top three team) unless great strides are made with either the playing staff or tactics (or possibly both) it seems unlikely BMG will cause too much trouble in the Champions League next season.
And they could even slip back considerably in the Bundesliga.

But of course the real story of the Bundesliga season was the aforementioned adventures in Dortmund.
It’s quite remarkable that despite owning a PDO score just two points better than poor Paderborn that BVB still managed to finish seventh.
Is that the cost of one departure (Lewandowski) too many?
Perhaps more remarkably, Dortmund continued to improve their shot share and shots on target share numbers throughout the season - moving from 0.645 and 0.583 respectively in week nine to 0.663 and 0.629 by the end. Wow.
But their PDO remained stubbornly sunk well below 90. 
If Dortmund had managed to reach a PDO over 90 they surely would have easily finished in the Europa League spots. And somewhere near 100 may have even seen them recovering sufficiently to battle with Leverkusen for fourth.
That would have completed a quite remarkable turnaround from the mid-season horror show that was the Bundesliga table.

But it was not to be and Klopp’s intended fairytale ending is, while not quite a nightmare, certainly a bittersweet one.

So as we can see, from the Bundesliga season, while a shorter schedule has the advantages of generally being less demanding on players, it certainly does not help with the sample size and leaves the possibility for a greater effect on natural football variance to take effect.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

League One: 2014/15 the (un)luckiest teams in the Football League

While League Two was reasonably well behaved according to shot metrics, League One, or at least the bottom half, decided to throw most of that out of the window.
If we start at the top, Bristol City locked up the title a good few weeks early but finished the season with an astronomical PDO of almost 120 – the highest in the whole of the football league.
Bristol’s shooting % and save % were both 10 percentage points above average and of course each was the highest mark in the division.

Position Team Played Won Drawn Lost Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Points
1 Bristol City 46 29 12 5 96 38 58 99
2 Milton Keynes Dons 46 27 10 9 101 44 57 91
3 Preston 46 25 14 7 79 40 39 89
4 Swindon 46 23 10 13 76 57 19 79
5 Sheffield United 46 19 14 13 66 53 13 71
6 Chesterfield 46 19 12 15 68 55 13 69
7 Bradford 46 17 14 15 55 55 65
8 Rochdale 46 19 6 21 72 66 6 63
9 Peterboro 46 18 9 19 53 56 -3 63
10 Fleetwood Town 46 17 12 17 49 52 -3 63
11 Barnsley 46 17 11 18 62 61 1 62
12 Gillingham 46 16 14 16 65 66 -1 62
13 Doncaster 46 16 13 17 58 62 -4 61
14 Walsall 46 14 17 15 50 54 -4 59
15 Oldham 46 14 15 17 54 67 -13 57
16 Scunthorpe 46 14 14 18 62 75 -13 56
17 Coventry 46 13 16 17 49 60 -11 55
18 Port Vale 46 15 9 22 55 65 -10 54
19 Colchester 46 14 10 22 58 77 -19 52
20 Crewe 46 14 10 22 43 75 -32 52
21 Notts County 46 12 14 20 45 63 -18 50
22 Crawley Town 46 13 11 22 53 79 -26 50
23 Leyton Orient 46 12 13 21 59 69 -10 49
24 Yeovil 46 10 10 26 36 75 -39 40

The Robins had enjoyed a high PDO 115 all season but far from regressing over the closing weeks (see County, Derby) they actually increased their PDO – that’s what happens when you stick six past Bradford and eight past Walsall in two of the last four games. But the Robins were only sixth in shot share (Corsi/TSR) and fourth in shots on target share over the season – both around ten percentage points off the top team, MK Dons.
Indeed, while MK Dons are not well liked around the football league for their move away from south west London, it is hard to argue that they do not deserve promotion. Preston and Swindon (in that order) round out the top three in both the shot share categories and so it is gratifying to see that one of them will be promoted via the playoffs.

Position Team Shots for total Shots against total Corsi/TSR shots on target for total shots on target against total Shots on target share Shooting % For Save % PDO
11 Barnsley 437 506 0.463 177 222 0.444 35.03 72.52 107.55
7 Bradford 469 446 0.513 205 169 0.548 26.82 67.47 94.29
1 Bristol City 573 479 0.545 240 185 0.565 39.99 79.45 119.45
6 Chesterfield 551 419 0.568 225 192 0.54 30.22 71.36 101.58
19 Colchester 499 545 0.478 216 237 0.477 26.84 67.52 94.36
17 Coventry 484 439 0.524 180 169 0.516 27.23 64.49 91.71
22 Crawley Town 369 660 0.359 134 285 0.32 39.57 72.28 111.85
20 Crewe 356 660 0.35 171 269 0.389 25.15 72.12 97.27
13 Doncaster 537 446 0.546 225 177 0.559 25.79 64.99 90.78
10 Fleetwood Town 464 603 0.435 193 213 0.475 25.38 75.59 100.97
12 Gillingham 438 583 0.429 180 233 0.436 36.11 71.67 107.78
23 Leyton Orient 514 466 0.524 234 201 0.538 25.22 65.67 90.89
2 Milton Keynes Dons 673 366 0.648 288 151 0.656 35.07 70.88 105.95
21 Notts County 477 642 0.426 203 260 0.438 22.17 75.78 97.94
15 Oldham 459 451 0.505 182 188 0.492 29.67 64.35 94.02
9 Peterboro 503 509 0.497 206 203 0.503 25.74 72.42 98.17
18 Port Vale 476 542 0.468 193 234 0.452 28.49 72.21 100.7
3 Preston 631 404 0.61 254 150 0.629 31.1 73.33 104.43
8 Rochdale 483 469 0.507 202 201 0.501 35.65 67.18 102.83
16 Scunthorpe 476 543 0.467 204 235 0.465 30.38 68.07 98.46
5 Sheffield United 508 432 0.54 203 167 0.549 32.52 68.26 100.78
4 Swindon 590 422 0.583 255 180 0.586 29.8 68.32 98.11
14 Walsall 523 445 0.54 181 198 0.478 27.62 72.71 100.34
24 Yeovil 455 468 0.493 160 192 0.455 22.51 60.93 83.43

At the other end things got a bit uglier.
I have genuine sympathy for two of the relegated teams – Yeovil (yes, Yeovil who finished dead last by a country mile) and Leyton Orient.
Both these teams had respectable (in Orient’s case, very respectable) shot share numbers but got burned by PDO and what I can only presume is a series of horrible coinciding results.

I have genuine sympathy for two of the relegated teams – Yeovil (yes, Yeovil who finished dead last by a country mile) and Leyton Orient.
Both these teams had respectable (in Orient’s case, very respectable) shot share numbers but got burned by PDO and what I can only presume is a series of horrible coinciding results.

As PDO giveth in the form of Bristol City, PDO taketh away – in this case Yeovil suffered the worst PDO in the entire football league. (Yes worse even than Blackpool.)
So even some reasonably lower mid-table shot share numbers (Yeovil were almost dead even on shots on target share) could not save them from a horrible ending.

But the real violin lament is saved for the east London side. Orient were ninth best in both overall shot share and shots on target share.

Think about that for a minute… the ninth best team in the division got so badly burned by PDO (a whisker away from having the second worst PDO in League One) that they ended up in the second relegation spot.
The final table lies, and does it to a significant extent.

With those two unfortunate victims of luck, variance and awful coincidence taking the bottom two relegation spots, it meant the likes of Gillingham, Barnsley and (most frustratingly) Crewe all survived. Indeed, if you need another example of how powerful PDO can be, Crawley Town, the worst team in the entire football league, were a last day win away from safety.

And despite Crewe battling Crawley for that title, Notts County just couldn’t wriggle free of the relegation zone themselves and Crewe escaped.

Looking at the wider picture, it is good again to see the division as a whole taking greater effect from shot share and shots on target share than PDO – but that will be of little comfort to a handful of teams at either end of the table whose futures could have been so different.