Half-Time Team Talk

28 01 2010

There are some things stats can’t tell us. We can measure a player’s output in terms of goals, assists, fouls, anything quantifiable basically. But take flair or footballing IQ, for example, how do you measure that? The short answer is you don’t.

The manager’s influence is an interesting one. We all know how important a good manger is and their effect on the pitch is obvious. But off the pitch is a different matter. The media presents managers in different ways and that forms a large part of our perception of that manager, the manager of your favourite team being a possible exception. But how else can we evaluate a manager’s worth?

First and foremost, results. The number one criterion for judging a manager is how his team performs, and quite rightly so. At the end of the day it’s all about getting the win. However that only gives us a broad idea of his managerial ability, which is all very well and good, but let’s try and look a little closer.

A manager’s ability to motivate his players is vital: it can be the difference between one point and three. At the end of a season it’s easy to look back and point out a few moments where a little more desire or a touch of composure would have bumped a team out of the relegation zone, into a European qualification spot, or simply a few places higher. And with prize money of £761,000 a place last year, every win is important. Since it is impossible to directly measure such an attribute, we need something that is a good indicator of managerial influence.

There’s a reason the saying “it’s a game of two halves” gets overused. For better or worse, a team can emerge from the tunnel at the start of the second half completely transformed from the one that played the first 45 minutes. And it’s all down to the manger. Whether it’s stopping his side getting complacent or instilling the hunger to overturn a deficit, the manager’s choice of words at half-time can be crucial.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the stats from games that go in to the break on level terms. Stoke lead the way in terms of well matched first halves having gone into the break level on no less that 13 occasions this year. But while Liverpool have taken home more points from such games (19 points in 11 games) it is Manchester United who stand out from the crowd. They have 6 wins and an impressive 2.25 points per game after leaving things all square at the interval. In both respects they lead the league.

At the other end of the table 3 sides are throwing away points in the second half. Portsmouth, Wolves and West Ham are all averaging less than a point a game under these conditions. In fact Wolves and West Ham have only ever gone on to win the game when they were leading at half-time. Although, credit where credit’s due, Wolves have won all the five of the games they led after 45 minutes.

A few other interesting facts that came to light from these figures were:

  • In 8 games that were level at the break, Manchester United have not gone on to draw any of them
  • Everton are the only team not to have lost a game this year when it was all square at half-time
  • Where games were not level at half-time, the losing has only ever gone on to take all three points on 9 occasions this season. Only Arsenal have been on both sides of such a score reversal.

While obviously other factors can come into play to affect a teams performance, and these statistics must also reflect upon the players in the team, it is testament to the manger that a team can consistently see out results when from these positions. It is important to remember, however, that this is just one way of looking at a specific aspect of a manager’s performance and should not be taken out of context. The fact, for example, that Sunderland are one of only 3 teams (the others being Manchester United and Chelsea) to go on to win at least half of their games that were level at half-time should not be interpreted as an argument that Steve Bruce is one the top 3 managers in the league, it may well however indicate that he can be highly motivational in the dressing room.

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