The phrase “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” is certainly appropriate when discussing football data at a time when data is now readily available to the public should they be inclined to look at it. Manchester City have tried to raise the bar by offering data in the hope that some bright blogger/analyst will be able to add to the debate about improving performance via analysis of the data.
In this article I want to show how important the analysis of data is but at the same time I am hoping to push the boundaries in terms of stimulating interest in raw football data by looking at data from the 2008-2009 onwards including the current season to find out if there is a correlation between conceding and the strength of a team.
If we look at teams that regularly occupy the Championship League spots and the Europa League places we see a level of consistency that the other teams cannot produce. But are there any variables that preclude established sides such as Spurs from considering winning the EPL?
The Top 6 Sides “FightBack” Analysis
We can see that Arsenal and Manchester City have both conceded first 59 times in the sample and Man City have been the team that have consolidated their position as a Top 2 team while Arsenal have declined in status but have maintained their levels in terms of being consistent regarding the the number of games a season where they concede first. We can also see that although Manchester City have drawn a higher % when conceding first (27%) , it is Arsenal who have only lost 49% of games when conceding first, which is much better than Manchester City as they have lost 57% of the games.
Manchester United have conceded the first goal of the game, the least amount of times (45) and Everton the most (76). There are some key issues to discuss.
- Why have Manchester United conceded the first goal so many times this season (11 at just over the half-way point) compared to 8, 8 ,12 and 6 in the previous seasons in the sample?
I could discuss that the Manchester United midfield is not good enough to protect the defence or that this is a random event that I cannot explain but I will leave that to other football bloggers because as long as Manchester United win their games when they concede first, the relevance of this new trend is weakened. It means that in the EPL when Manchester United concede then there is still expectation that they will win but this is dependent on so many factors so we cannot just put a value on Man United beating Fulham when Fulham scored on 3 minutes to lead 1-0.
– What is the expectation of further goals given that Fulham have scored the first goal on 3 minutes and are the away team?
– Will the expectation of goals increase (greater then calculated before the game started) or impede for both the teams or will the early away goal have an effect on just one team?
What value do we put on Carrick having to play as the emergency centre-half in that game or the laughable own goal by Vidic in the game or the fact that Rooney started on the bench due to lack of form and Nani did not even make the bench for the game?
It is easy to put a figure on the expectation of Man United winning at 1-0 down but much harder to justify that figure without the inclusion of several other variables such as the pitch conditions, the strength of the shots, the accuracy prevention of both teams, the weather conditions, the motivation of both teams and the possible under performance of players on the day plus the fact that Carrick had to play in a position that I do not think he is best suited to. But when Carrick has played centre-back what % of games have Manchester United lost compared to the average which also is irrelevant unless you look at the strength of the team that they play each time Carrick has played in the role.
I remember reading in the paper on the last game of the season(2010-2011) to be advised that Manchester United do not score many goals during the last game of the season. The final score was Manchester United 4 Wolves 2 . The flaw of the argument is that the strength and motivation of both teams and the time of the first goal and the goal expectation and any rain or beach balls or referee blunders or freak goals or Red cards could alter the course of the game.
As Man United are winning 72% of their games when conceding first this season then I do not believe Sir Alex will be losing too much sleep. A problem may occur if they are losing 1-0 to a team like Dortmund or Bayern Munich as they will find it rather tougher to get back in the game than they did against teams at the level of Fulham.
Sir Alex Ferguson has acknowledged that the biggest mistake he made was letting Stam go who I would consider to be one of the best defenders in the History of Manchester United.
Do we believe the story that Sir Alex was advised that Stam was tackling less in games and as a result a perceived view that his best days were behind him or was it as Stam has publicly said that Man United were in financial difficulty and needed the cash flow urgently.
At the petrol station he parked his car and got in with me. He told me that I had to be transferred. Then he said: “Will you please move to Lazio quickly?”
If we look at Everton they have consolidated their position as a top 6 side as far as I am concerned, but recently I was listening to the radio to be advised that “Everton have over achieved this season” and that this is a blip and their levels of performance will drop.
They did not offer any data to back up their prediction and I offer the following in the case for the defence of Everton
- Everton have in Baines and Fellani – two of the best players in the EPL in their positions and I would argue the case for Fellani to be player of the season with the qualities that he brings to the game. If Fellani and Baines were sold then I would re evaluate my thoughts on this by waiting to see who Everton Purchased as replacements. Players such as Howard, Neville and Distan have years of experience but I appreciate that the squad does not have youth on its side.
- Historically Everton have been very consistent finishing no lower then seventh since the 2008-2009 season and Moyes is a fantastic motivator of his squad and I can see him in charge at Old Trafford one day.
- If we look at Everton conceding first which is an excellent indicator of the strength of the team. I am not personally concerned by how many times a team concede but by how they react to the event.
Everton have conceded the first goal in 76 games during the sample but the levels remain very consistent and it has not impeded them from a high finish as they have only lost this season 9% of games when conceding first and in the sample overall they have drawn 34.66% and avoided losing 53.94% of the time. Only Manchester United in the sample of games can boast a better % which is 60.
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Mid-Table Sides “FightBack” Analysis
Having looked at the Top 6 teams, it is appropriate to look at the teams which sit outside the top six but which were expected at the beginning of the season to find a mid table berth and have no fear of relegation but no thoughts of getting into Europe.
I have written extensively about Newcastle this season and they are a very interesting in terms of the phrase “yo- yo’ on the basis that they are a team that goes up and down the EPL table.
Focusing on their inability to fight back when conceding first should have given some doubt in the ability of Pardew to get Newcastle into the Top 6 again this season.
Pardew was awarded the League Managers Association award for last season which is voted for by fellow professional managers and Sir Alex won it in 2011 and this is a prestigious award. In effect this cemented the 8 year contract that Pardew signed to give him time to deliver the first trophy since they won the fairs Cup in 1969.
My question is do we take at face value that Pardew did an excellent job or do we add raw data to the mix to show that last season Newcastle over achieved and a drop in positions was an expected outcome this season with potential that Newcastle could easily drop out of the EPL in the next few seasons again?
If I advise that Pardew does not have the ability to micro manage players you could rightly counter and say that Newcastle finished 5th last year so obviously he must have the mindset to lead his squad and motivate the players on and off the pitch with a solid team behind him.
I would argue that under Pardew, Newcastle have only won 37% of games and that he has had success with regard to getting teams from the Championship into the EPL but not been able to consolidate on the progress.
It is also a well known fact that at West Ham, Pardew was given media training to be able to connect with the fans more and I express the thought that how well does he communicate with his own players after the BBC described him as a …”distant animal”. I have watched a number of games this season (mainly recorded) looking at the body language of Pardew and apart from writing notes, I have not seen anything to suggest that he commands the loyalty of the players as in too many games this season, Newcastle have given up as soon as they have conceded first and they are also showing an inability to hold onto leads having won just 50% of the games where they scored first this season which is not top six form and astonishingly since Pardew joined, Newcastle have not won one game when conceding first and their last win was against West Ham in October 2010. Newcastle conceded an early goal scored by Carlton Cole on 12 minutes to “fightback” and Newcastle dominated most of the game under Hughton who I consider to be far more capable as a Manager then Pardew.
Football blogging is at a stage where if it does not fit the model then it must be a random event such as playing snakes and ladders which has zero skill value but I think this is a dangerous route to take as one of the biggest academic arguments is over sample size but in football past performance is not an indicator of future performance although there is no reason to think that Newcastle will become a “fightback” team in the near future.
We are only limited by our interpretation of the data presented. When Spurs beat Wigan 9-1 we can clearly see that this is a random event as there was not expectation at Half Time that Wigan would concede eight second half goals. Newcastle coming 5th last season cannot be explained as a random event but can show the limitations of the understanding of data as we are now in a situation where Pardew is now publicly blaming the players(survival analysis) when he is the one who should be blamed.
Compare this to Sunderland conceding first exactly 17 times over the previous four completed seasons. Is this consistent behaviour random or explained?
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Relegation Threatened Teams “FightBack” Analysis
Looking at the relegation battle we see that Norwich have had an excellent season as they have consolidated on last season. I wonder if they will consolidate further next season or will they be seen to have over achieved this season.
The limitation of football models is that last season predictive models around the country gave Wigan a 81% probability of going down but they stayed up. I have not read any explanation of how they raised their game for the last few months against tough and motivated teams.
I believe that Reading (1.2) and QPR(1.58) will be relegated but the third relegation spot will be contested between Wigan (2.92), Southampton (2.3) and Aston Villa (2.90) and it could be a battle till the final whistle of the last game of the season. I personally would have Wigan as my choice as I cannot explain how they avoided relegation last season and nothing to indicate that they can avoid the trap door again.
In conclusion I leave with the thought that apart from shot strength, all the other data is available, but the problem is interpretation of the data as Newcastle season ticket holders may find they will be looking up road maps of Blackpool in the not too distant future. As a a writer of football articles I now realise that quoting figures that people cannot quantify does not help to broaden the appeal of raw data so in this article I have attempted a more user friendly approach and I hope it has worked.
Lastly here are a few graphs to show how consistently teams have faired in terms of their positions in the Premier League since 2008/09: