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.


Shot Efficiency

28 01 2010

You’ve got to hit the target. It’s a simple truth, and one often repeated during the course of a football game. A shot that’s off-target is a wasted opportunity: all it does is hand possession back to the opposition.

As result, it makes logical sense that a player who can hit the target with relative regularity is a valuable commodity. A shot that is headed for goal forces a save or a block, which can result in follow-up chances or corners if the initial shot doesn’t go in.

With this in mind I decided to see which players stood out from the crowd with regard to shot efficiency. Quite simply I looked at the percentage of shots taken that hit the target, and the percentage that go in. In the interest of simplicity I only looked at players from the current top 3 teams: Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal.

The first thing that became apparent was that both John O’Shea and Fran Mérida have an impressive 100% goal rate this season. They have, however, only taken a single shot each over the course of the 09/10 campaign. Consequently I narrowed it down to players who have taken at least 25 shots so far this season.

The resulting list of 15 players contained all the players you might expect to find. These players accounted for 106 of the teams’ combined 139 Premier League goals this season and an impressive 815 attempts on goal.

The standout player of the group was Cesc Fábregas. Love him or hate him he really contributes. As well as being the only player in the league to have hit double digits for both goals and assists (11 and 11), the Arsenal captain has seen a whopping 20.4% of his efforts hit the back of the net.

In terms of total attempts, unsurprisingly, Rooney and Drogba are leading the pack. It follows that they are also leading the league in goals right now. What was surprising was that, despite taking 29 fewer shots than Rooney, Didier Drogba has hit the target on 2 more occasions. This translates in to a difference of over 10 percentage points in their shooting efficiency.

But if that should be the case, how come Rooney has 19 goals to Drogba’s 14 this season? In fact, despite missing the target far more frequently, Rooney actually scores a higher percentage of his shots than Drogba. Even more extreme is Anelka, who has hit the target with an incredible 50% of his 58 shots. But while over half of Rooney’s goal-bound efforts hit the back of the net, barely one in 5 of Anelka’s beat the keeper.

Which makes you wonder how much benefit there is in hitting the target. It would be interesting to know how many of those saved or blocked shots resulted in goals, whether from the rebound falling to an attacking player or a goal from a resulting corner. At the end of the day, Rooney may be more of an all or nothing striker, but at the rate he’s scoring, nobody’s is thinking too much about the missed shots.

Note: Statistics include league games up to 25 Jan 2010

Welcome to The Technical Area

27 01 2010

Welcome to The Technical Area. More than simply a another Premier League fan blog, The Technical Area hopes to offer an insight into the stats behind the beautiful game. A relatively unexplored domain, the statistical side to football can tell us more about both the teams and the players. While numbers can only show us so much, they can contribute to our assessment of players and teams and deepen our understanding of the game.

Although no substitute for a good game, The Technical Area will hopefully provide fans with an interesting and informative analysis of the Premier League in the down time between games. There should be something for all fans here and comments are welcome. If this blog manages to spark a bit of debate I will have succeeded.

Enjoy the site.