An hour with Jamie Clark – Head Coach – University of Washington

I haven’t done this in the past but I felt and thought that the gem of discussion we had with Jamie Clark was worthy to generate a short article about College Soccer.

If you wish to take a listen to our discussion please click here.

First off – a challenge to the NCAA.

Align College Soccer as a League Division 5 (Amateur status league) so that College teams could play in the US Open Cup.

Imagine the huge breadth and depth of how that new status could really change the shape of College Soccer.

Now ask yourself this question with this consideration…  Soccer is not just about technique – it’s also about mentality – and learning.  

Are some of our top players actually, potentially, digressing, by skipping College —and the growth and development of maturity that goes with it?

Also take note of the anecdote provided by Jamie about the makeup of the US Men’s National Team that got the furthest in the World Cup…

I’m not sure about many others but this discussion has really opened the flood gates on what “inordinately large” value College Soccer can bring to the ‘whole player concept’…  

For me, now………., the unlimited subs and abbreviated schedule are probably more noise than substance… and the NCAA may already be taking steps to limit the number of subs and extend the schedule…

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

Real Madrid and Barcelona – Two Horse Race

For me, it’s not the top two that peak my interest this week, it’s the prime movers from mid-table – downwards while looking at the League Table from Week 12 to Week 19.

Here’s how they stand comparing Week 19 to Week 12:

La Liga League Table Through Week 19The teams highlighted in Green and Red I”ll get to in a bit, for now note the positional changes have been significant for many teams in and out of the lower half.

For those interested the CPWP Family of Indices continue to have strong correlation to the League Table without using Points Earned in the calculations.  Here’s how the Indices show things from a team performance standpoint through Week 19:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 19

APWP Strategic Index Week 19

DPWP Strategic Index Week 19Overall the CPWP Strategic Index has an R2 of .89; while the APWP sits at .89 and DPWP sits at -.81.

For those new to the Indices here’s an explanation on how they are created.  No other publicly created set of Indices comes any closer to the League Table – not even Expected Goals – a popular Predictability statistic.

I should point out that these Indices are not Predictability Indices – they are not built to predict the future based upon past data – but……..  this Index, developed from the PWP Process is a Predictability Index:

CPWP Predictability Index Week 19The caution I offer in using it as a forecasting tool is this – when developing a forecasting model you need at “x” amount of samples to reach 95% Confidence Level in your data and its ability to represent trends for the future.

The “x” amount of data needed for this Index is at least 15 games — since games is the primary sample point.  The twist is that since teams behave, for the most part, somewhat differently at home versus on the road you need 15 games of data at home and 15 games of data away from home.

Since this is only Week 19 that threshold has not been reached to substantiate that this predictability portion of this Index hits the 95% Confidence Level limit…

But, you say, the R2 is .77 – agreed – so yes, I would venture that those who like to gamble might want to rely on this tool to help them pick a winner – I did a test run in Major League Soccer, where the home and away statistics are notoriously different and my test run varied in success – straight CPWP PI # of one team compared to another.

That success ran as high as 75% to as low as 30% week to week for about 8 weeks – your choice…  By the way – the Predictability Index created from PWP is simply my Index outputs minus (missing goals scored for or against)…

Back to the movers in La Liga these last seven weeks…

Recall the teams Espanyol (+6), Real Sociedad (+7) (Nice one Moyes!!!), Cordoba (+6), Levante (-6), and Granada (-6)…

In reviewing the APWP Index for each team, from Weeks 1-12 and Weeks 13-19, only one team has seen their Attacking Index increase, Cordoba – all the other teams have seen their overall attacking performance drop slightly during those two time-frames.

Why has Cordoba shown an increase?

It’s down to improved accuracy in Scoring Goals based upon Shots on Goal – all others have experienced slight decreases in quality; either with respect to percentages of Shots on Goal, Shots Taken per Penetration, or Goals Scored from Shots on Goal.

In reviewing the DPWP Index for each team, from Weeks 1-12 and Weeks 13-19, two teams have seen their Defending Index decrease, Levante and Granada – all other teams have seen their Defending Index improve , with Cordoba seeing the most improvement by as much as 11%.

Cordoba’s improvement in Defending comes from Opponents having less quality in putting Shots on Goal from Shots Taken and Goals Scored from Shots on Goal.

Clearly Cordoba has improved on both sides of the pitch, while with the others it’s slightly more difficult to pin down a specific area…

A few interesting notes here are:

  1. Cordoba were bottom of the table, and even after having to play Barcelona, Villarreal and Eibar during this stretch they still gained 6 places, and
  2. The CPWP Index had Cordoba rated 12 best after Week 12, and that Index rating has not changed through Week 19 – meaning it is likely the CPWP Index really did a great job of accurately representing the true team performance of Cordoba compared to other teams in La Liga…
  3. Finally, the CPWP Predictability Index (PI) had Cordoba rated 12th best, after week 12 as well… (perhaps??) an independent data point to substantiate that the predictability nature of  the CPWP PI has value???

In Closing? 

Cordoba showed improved performance on both sides of the pitch while the others didn’t…  (perhaps???) this means that some of the new positions, for these teams, are as much a function of how others have gotten better, or worse, as it is a function of how those teams have, themselves, gotten better or worse…

Meaning position in the League Table, even when seeing changes by as much as six or seven places, may not mean that individual team is playing better – it may mean that other teams, with less noticeable drops in position are playing worse…

Reinforcing again that predictability is not solely associated with goal scoring – it’s also a function of not scoring because some teams are doing better, however slightly, with improved defending but not improved attacking…

If you are a writer for any team in the Bundesliga, La Liga, Barcley’s Premier League, or Major League Soccer and you’d like to use outputs from my Possession with Purpose Family of Indices in your articles please let me know…

I can provide a broad range of support that may help you better tell the story, (explain) to your readers, what or how well your team is doing compared to others… or even itself given certain time-frames (before and after a coach gets sacked, player gets injured, etc…)

If you’d like an example of the type of support I can provide please read this latest article by @7amkickoff.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp.

 

Tough Time for the Toffies

I didn’t watch the entire game against West Bromwich Albion today but I did get to see the critical part – the build up to Mirallas missing the Penalty Kick.

I’m not sure what a good definition of a teammate is but I’m pretty sure what he showed, in that game, is what a good teammate isn’t!  And it’s on the pitch behavior like that – that never, ever, finds itself in any of the individual statistics folks normally track.

Now I’m not going to go on record that the PWP Family of Indices will directly account for an event like that – but when looking at the tenor of Everton, throughout the course of this year, something just isn’t working… and maybe that behavior is an indicator of some sorts?

However viewed here’s how the CPWP Strategic Index looks through Week 22:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 22Everton sit sixth in the CPWP Index – one of the few oddities and most likely a strong contributor to the Index having a .91 R2 as opposed to .95 or .96…

So what isn’t working for Everton that is for some other teams in the top half of the table?

First off – Attacking:

APWP Strategic Index Week 22

They are a possession-based team – averaging 57.47% Possession per game, with a Passing Accuracy pedigree of 86.65%.

That is 3rd highest in the Barcley’s Premier League in Possession and best overall in Passing Accuracy.

So if they are tops in those two categories it seems reasonable that they’d be up somewhere near the top of the League Table instead of wallowing in 12th place; leading me to this question…

What is Everton not doing that Chelsea, Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Southampton are doing?

When comparing just those five teams Everton is middle of the pack in overall Penetration (26%) compared to 30% for Chelsea, Man City, and Arsenal and 23/24% for Southampton and Man United…

They are creating Shots per Penetration at the rate of 12%, compared to 12% for Man City, Man United, Chelsea, and Arsenal while Southampton sits at 14%

For Shots on Goal per Shots Taken they sit at 34%, Man City has 33%, while Southampton, Arsenal have 35%, Man United his 36% and Chelsea has 39%.

When it comes to Goals Scored per Shots on Goal Everton are lowest again at 33% while Arsenal are 36%, Southampton is 38%, Man United is 39%, Man City is 40%, and Chelsea is 44%.

Pretty tight – as the Index shows – their percentages are on par with the top teams…  So that’s a look at Quality – what about Quantity?

Total Passes:   Only Southampton has fewer passes, on average, at 467 – Everton averages 514 while the rest fall in higher with Man City the highest at 589 per game.

Total Passes Final Third: Man United and Southampton fall below Everton while Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea all average more.

Shots Taken:  Everton, Man United, and Southampton all average ~13 per game while Arsenal and Chelsea average ~16 and Man City 17 per game.

Shots on Goal: Everton are lowest at 4.32 with Man United next at 4.36, followed by Southampton at 4.4.5, Man City 5.50, Arsenal 5.55, and Chelsea at 6.00 per game.

Goals Scored: Everton are lowest at 1.36, followed by Man United 1.64, Southampton 1.68, Arsenal 1.77, Man City 2.05, and Chelsea 2.32…

From an attacking viewpoint I’d offer ‘what’s not working’ is down to a few things – those who follow Everton more closely could probably narrow it down to 3-4 players…

Lack of creativity in generating more open time and space in order to have roughly the same volume of shots generate more shots on goal – and therefore more goals scored…. or,

Lack of finishing by their strikers – meaning the time and space is available – it’s just not being used effectively.

After today’s game it would appear the selection of who took the Penalty Kick is more down to using the players on the team effectively…

But Attacking is just one half of the game – what about Defending?

DPWP Strategic Index Week 22

I’ll stick with the same six teams….

Opponent Possession:  If they are in the top four of Possession then their Opponent’s are in the bottom four.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:  Middle of the pack – opponent’s for Chelsea average 80% while most everyone else sees their opponent’s average about 77/78% Passing Accuracy.

Opponent Penetration:  Everton allow the greatest percentage of penetration at 28%; while the rest fall in at ~24% or lower.

Opponent Shots Taken per Penetration: Everton fall in the middle of the pack at 15% with Arsenal and Man City, while Southampton is lower (11%) and Man United, along with Chelsea are higher at 16% and 17% respectively.

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken: Everton opponents are lowest at 25.67% while everyone falls in at 26%-38%.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:  Everton sit worst at 43% while the rest all come in at 31% or lower.

In looking at volume:

Opponent Passes Attempted:  Everton are second lowest at 376 per game; Man United are lowest at 368 while Southampton are highest at 435 per game.

Opponent Passes Attempted Final Third: Everton are 2nd highest at 126 per game with Southampton being the highest at 129 per game, all the rest fall in between 123 and 103 per game.

Opponent Shots Taken: Everton are highest at 13 per game while the rest all have opponent’s averaging 11 per game or lower.

Opponent Shots on Goal: Everton are mid-table at 3.41 while Man United and Arsenal are slightly higher and the others lower, with Southampton lowest at 2.64 per game.

Opponent Goals Scored: Everton are highest at 1.55 per game while Arsenal is 2nd worst at 1.14, followed by Man City at 1.00, Man United .95, Chelsea .86 and Southampton .73

In considering the opponent’s successes versus Everton team defending:

Everton cede the greatest amount of Penetration while facing just the second lowest volume of Opponent Passes.

Everton opponent’s have the worst overall accuracy putting Shots Taken on Goal but the highest volume of Shots Taken and the highest volume of Goals Against.

So even with a high amount of possession – it’s more like Possession without Purpose as opposed to Possession with Purpose; especially when viewing them against like teams in overall Possession and Passing Accuracy.

Those who follow Everton more closely can probably tag two or three players that have a larger influence in this poor defending team performance.

For me I’d tag the lack of support in midfielders getting back to support the defenders, fullbacks being to far up the pitch when possession is lost, lack of superb central defending and perhaps a keeper past his prime?  (Many Americans might not like that – but their Goals Against IS an issue).

Of course, teams are getting pretty good at bunkering in, at least teams like West Brom are – and with more games played, plus Tony Pullis leading the charge it’s no wonder West Brom shut down Everton.

In watching the later stages of that game today it was almost comical on how well West Brom simply stymied the Everton attack…

I call it the umbrella defense – everyone get beneath the raining terror of multiple passes outside the box and simply clog the lanes everywhere.

If there are minimal players on the team who can create space, through superb vision or subtle touches, a team will find it very difficult to score against that type of defending; it’s ugly but effective at times…

In Closing:

For now I would offer that there are weaknesses in the tactical defensive approach and the personnel trying to work the attacking scheme Martinez wants.  And I don’t think signing a new striker solves their issues.

Martinez has pedigree and perhaps there are some upcoming tactical changes to try to reduce Goals Against and increase Goals Scored.

I’ve seen it work (statistically) where teams drop deeper in defending, thus driving up the opponent’s possession numbers both inside and outside the attacking final third.  That increase in opponent possession and penetration then opens up some time and space for a team on the counter-attack.

The critical piece to that approach is having players with great passing skills – and given Everton has the most accurate team in passing they should be able to handle that defensive change.

Maybe that is something to look for with Everton over the next few weeks???

Best, Chris

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You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Scintillating Saints Stay Strong…

Southampton continues to stay strong in the Barcley’s Premier League, and for me it’s no fluke… in the first part of my two part analyses of the Saints I’ll peel back how they are doing in Attack.

Before digging in, a diagram and to put things into perspective about Southampton and their ‘team’ concept of consistency:

Southampton Points Earned to CPWP Index

Most of you know by now that the Possession with Purpose Family of Indices are some of the most relevant Indices in modern-day soccer statistical calculations.

So when looking at the combined efforts of Southampton (cradle to grave in both Attacking and Defending Team performance) their should be no surprise they are where they are in the League Table.

To help paint a picture of progress for Southampton through their first 22 games here’s a few selected diagrams that peel back some of my more popular statistical relationships.  Three in quick succession:

Southampton in PossessionSouthampton in Passing Accuracy

Southampton in Penetration

Notice that even with declining Possession, and a slight drop in overall Passing Accuracy, their levels of Penetration remain roughly the same – mathematically speaking the trend-line shown for Penetration is y = 0.000x +.231 – meaning there is a slight positive slope, over the course of 22 games as compared to the negative slope (trend-line) for Possession and Passing Accuracy.

For me, I’d offer this is down to better understanding what areas of Penetration are more vital in trying to defeat opponents than simply the pure aesthetics of the game.

Some additional comments:

Although Possession, on the Aggregate has an R2 of .77 for all teams compared to Points in the League Table, Possession – itself – alone – game to game – through the course of 22 games for Southampton, has virtually NO reasonable relationship to Points Earned – the R2 is .059.

In addition, Passing Accuracy, itself, alone, game to game – through the course of 22 games for Southampton has virtually NO reasonable relationship to Points Earned – the R2 is .29

Finally, you guessed it – the R2 for physical penetration, with the ball, has an R2 of -.18 – again, meaning there is NO reasonable relationship to Points Earned.

In comparing the Saints to other teams in the Barcley’s Premier League they are 8th highest in overall Possession, 10th best in overall Passing Accuracy and 7th lowest in overall Penetration.

After Penetration there remains creating shots, putting them on target and scoring goals:

Southampton in Creating Shots Southampton in Shots on Goal per Shots Taken Southampton in Goals Scored per Shots on Goal

Throughout the course of the season the Saints, like in Penetration, have been very consistent in creating shots per penetration – their variation, across 22 games has been 4% from the mean – a similar variation with respect to Penetration as well.

Notice that with the relative consistency of Shots Taken – their percentage of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken has dropped but yet their percentage of Goals Scored per Shots on Goal has increased.

I put this down to making better use of time and space and perhaps??? a slight change in tactics to work from a more counter-attacking approach.  Recall that both Possession percentage and Passing Accuracy have dropped over the course of 22 games.

In studying other teams, with those trends, in Major League Soccer, the Bundesliga, and La Liga, it usually indicates a slight change in Defending tactics to help open up additional time and space in a counter-attacking based approach.

Perhaps??? another thought is that as more teams become aware of Southampton’s ability to ‘win’ consistently the Saints are having to revert to other tactical approaches, outside the standard possession-based approach, used more often by teams like Man City or Chelsea.

In speaking of those two teams – against Chelsea they had 40% possession and took one point while going up against Man City they had ~52% possession and lost.  In the case with those two teams —> less was better…  as it was when they took three points from Arsenal while only having 41% of the possession…

I suppose I sound like a broken record here but time and time again the soccer pundits on TV continue to harp on about Possession (more possession) being a good indicator that a team will win… it simply isn’t true!

In terms of overall averages, compared to the rest of BPL, the Saints are 8th lowest in Shots Taken per Penetration, 3rd highest in Shots on Goal per Shots Taken, and 5th highest in Goals Scored per Shots on Goal.

So even with the marked decrease in Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (diagram above) they are still 3rd highest in average compared to the rest of BPL.

Quantity, as opposed to Quality… As indicated in this article (Busting the Myth of Moneyball) the best single indicator for Southampton, in attack, is Goals Scored – here’s the look at their volume of activity, in the Final Third leading to Goals Scored:

Southampton Attempted Passes Final Third Southampton Completed Passes Final Third Southampton Shots TakenSouthampton Shots on GoalSouthampton Goals Scored

Pretty obvious that there is a downward trend across the span of 22 games for Southampton, yet they continue to earn points – in an ideal business environment the best word to represent this type of activity is “efficiency” – getting more with less… and it’s not all about quantity – it’s about quality!

So when viewing Total Shots Ratio and even Expected Goals the trends for Southampton (by volume) are not best represented without first understanding that in order to maximize these attacking outputs the defending approach has changed…

More to follow later this week on the Saints and their quality and quantity in Defending team performance.

Best, Chris

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You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics?

Over the past month or so Tim, @7amkickoff, and I have been having some great discussions about soccer, statistics, and the ways or means in how to use statistics to better communicate what may be happening on the pitch outside of what may normally be seen by supporters.

I’m not sure we’ve cracked the nut completely but these discussions have spurred me to come up with some other ways to show the strengths and weaknesses of statistics in soccer and what key indicators may better tell the story of a team exclusive of Goals Scored or Goals Against.

My article today is an attempt to do that.

In setting the stage, I feel it is worthy to reinforce that the pioneering of soccer statistics is not just about one or two people; I’m aware of many folks trying to help others better understand the nuance of soccer in a variety of different ways.

But with all that hard work, by people across the pond, and now here, recently in the US, I think  some of the well-intended efforts have strayed off the mark.

Why?  As much as it pains me to say this I blame Moneyball.

Soccer is not a game played in series it’s a fluid game played with continuous, sometimes random decision making, all with the intent to possess the ball, retain and move the ball, penetrate, create, take shots, put them on target and score goals.

And at any time, be it a Coaching decision, Referee decision, Assistant Referee decision, or a split second decision, by any player, either with or without the ball, can influence the outcome of a game.

Therefore, statistics, single statistics, simply miss the mark on translating the nuance of soccer to the general supporter, and as such, are – on the surface – flawed if used (alone) to evaluate the market value of a player.

To put this into perspective, ignoring Coaching or Referee decisions, here’s a rundown on the Correlations (R2’s) of the three best Attacking R2’s for each team in the English Premier League.

Caveat:  The statistics are either measured by volume (quantity) or by percentage of accuracy (quality) to Points Earned in the League Table over the span of 21 games, one game at a time; these are not Aggregate R2’s.

Said another way, this is NOT a measurement relative to winning or losing… it’s a measurement relative to winning, drawing, or losing (points earned).

  • Chelsea: Goals Scored (.46) Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.30) Shots on Goal (.18)
  • Burnley: Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.46) Goals Scored (.44) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.40)
  • Man City: Opponent Total Passes (.59) Goals Scored (.58) Opponent Total Passes Completed (.54)
  • Newcastle: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.60) Goals Scored (.52) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.49)
  • Southampton: Goals Scored (.58) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.58) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (.46)
  • Liverpool: Goals Scored (.66) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (.52) Opponent Possession Percentage (.43)
  • Crystal Palace: Goal Scored (.67) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (.62) Shots Taken (.53)
  • Arsenal: Goals Scored (.60) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.41) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final Third (.20)
  • Spurs: Goals Scored (.67) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.65) Shots on Goal (.46)
  • West Ham: Goals Scored (.76) Shots on Goal (.44) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.43)
  • Sunderland: Goals Scored (.61) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.40) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.38)
  • West Brom: Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.45) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.45) Goals Scored (.44)
  • Aston Villa: Goals Scored (.76) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.46) Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.41)
  • Stoke City: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.81) Goals Scored (.68) Opponent Possession Percentage (.50)
  • Hull City: Goals Scored (.63) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.59) Shots on Goal (.36)
  • QPR: Goals Scored (.68) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.56) Shots on Goal (.44)
  • Everton: Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final Third (.71) Goals Scored (.60) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.34)
  • Leicester City: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.74) Goals Scored (.53) Opponent Possession Percentage (.31)
  • Swansea: Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.52) Goals Scored (.48) Shots on Goal (.40)
  • Man United: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.69) Goals Scored (.62) Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.28)

What’s that mean?

For the most part what this means is that no two teams show the same consistency of pattern in what single (game to game) quantity or quality indicators best represent team performance in Attacking.

Therefore – the individual player statistics behind these values have a different meaning (amount of influence) in whether a team wins, draws, or loses.

In addition, while Goals Scored (in bold) appears as a relevant indicator it is not the most relevant indicator for every team.  Reinforcing that teams, in attacking, behave differently with respect to earning points in the League Table.

Of additional note is that the R2 for eight of those teams is less than (.60) and only two teams show an R2 greater than (.70).

Finally, the single indicators (either by volume or by ratio) that fit into the top three, exclusive of Goals Scored, are:

  • Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (thirteen times)
  • Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (six times)
  • Shots on Goal (six times)
  • Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (five times)
  • Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (four times)
  • Opponent Passing Percentage (three times)
  • Opponent Total Passes (once)
  • Opponent Total Passes Completed (once)
  • Shots Taken (once)

What’s intriguing is that three Defending Indicators appear; Opponent Passing Percentage, Opponent Total Passes and Opponent Total Passes Completed.

With all those variety of different attacking R2 values, it’s pretty clear it simply isn’t all about scoring goals (getting a man on base and moving them forward)… therefore the market value used to assess that players value should be questioned if it doesn’t consider outside factors that influence output…

In other words, it’s about a variety of different ways and means to do well – even (in a small way) about not possessing the ball so even passing accuracy is influenced – somewhat – but a head coaching tactical decision.

But wait, there’s more:

All those indicators above show the top three R2’s for a team when attacking.

There’s a whole side of the game that is missed with those – and that’s defending.

So here’s the top three, best negative (inverse) R2’s compared to Points Earned in the League Table, for each team in the English Premier League:

  • Chelsea: Opponent Goals Scored (-.51) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.43) Opponent % of Success Passes Final 1/3 (-.42)
  • Burnley: Opponent Goals Scored (-.59) Total Passes Completed (-.55) Total Passes (-.54)
  • Man City: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.67) Opponent Goals Scored (-.53) Opponent Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (-.43)
  • Newcastle: Opponent Goals Scored (-.57) Passing Accuracy (-.44) Total Passes (-.43)
  • Southampton: Opponent Goals Scored (-.72) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.63) Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.35)
  • Liverpool: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.67) Opponent Goals Scored (-.60) Passing Accuracy (-.46)
  • Crystal Palace: Opponent Goal Scored (-.42) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.37) Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.41)
  • Arsenal: Opponent Goals Scored (-.86) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.64) Opponent Shots Taken (-.47)
  • Spurs: Opponent Goals Scored (-.52) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.43) Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.42)
  • West Ham: Opponent Goals Scored (-.66) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.50) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.48)
  • Sunderland: Opponent Shots Taken (-.50) Total Passes Completed (-.40) Total Passes (-.39)
  • West Brom: Opponent Goals Scored (-.80) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.64) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.57)
  • Aston Villa: Opponent Goals Scored (-.60) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.55) Passing Accuracy (-.37)
  • Stoke City: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.70) Total Passes (-.60) Total Passes Completed (-.60)
  • Hull City: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.60) Opponent Goals Scored (-.57) Opponent Total Passes (-.40)
  • QPR: Opponent Goals Scored (-.55) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.42) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.35)
  • Everton: Opponent Goals Scored (-.57) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (-.56) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.52)
  • Leicester City: Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.54) Opponent Goals Scored (-.47) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.42)
  • Swansea: Opponent Goals Scored (-.72) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.66) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.59)
  • Man United: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.57) Opponent Goals Scored (-.47) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (-.36)

What’s that mean?

Again, for the most part, no two teams show the same consistency of pattern in what single (game to game) quantity or quality indicators best represent team performance in Defending.

Therefore – the individual player statistics behind these values have a different meaning (amount of influence) in whether a team wins, draws, or loses.

In addition, while Opponent Goals Scored (in bold) appears as a relevant indicator it is not the most relevant indicator for every team.  Reinforcing that teams, in defending, behave differently with respect to earning points in the League Table.

Of additional note is that the R2 for eleven of those teams is less than (-.60) and only four teams show an R2 greater than -.70.

Also, Opponent Goals Scored does not appear in the top three single defending indicators for two teams, Stoke City and Sunderland.

Finally, the single indicators (either by volume or by ratio) that fit into the top three, exclusive of Opponent Goals Scored, are:

  • Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (fourteen times)
  • Opponent Shots on Goal (eight times)
  • Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (four times)
  • Total Passes (four times)
  • Total Passes Completed (three times)
  • Passing Accuracy (three times)
  • Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (twice)
  • Opponent Percentage of Successful Passes Final 1/3 (once)
  • Opponent Shots Taken (once)
  • Opponent Total Passes (once)
  • Opponent Passes Completed Final Third per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (once)

A few thoughts here to go with some of these indicators:

Most recognize that a negative R2 means there is an inverse relationship – in other words you get more with less or you get less with more.

What is intriguing is that Attacking Total Passes appears four times while Attacking Total Passes Completed and Attacking Passing Accuracy appear three times.

Meaning, as those teams have less overall Passes Attempted, Passes Completed or lower Accuracy they are more likely to earn points.  Imagine that sort of logic applying to baseball – where a team who, sometimes, puts less men on base is more likely to win!

Finally, with the variety of defending R2 values this also seems pretty clear that earning points is not just about putting a man on base and moving them forward, and in some cases it may even be about not possessing the ball!?!

In Closing:

Single statistics have value – but they should be offered up, in context, with relation to other things that occur in the game of soccer.

Not enough writers do that – they simply offer up individual statistics as if they are the panacea of greatness… the more they do this the more ingrained most soccer supporters become in individual statistics that over-value a player.

And the more the media does it the more likely the supporters will become disenchanted with front office decisions that don’t make sense based upon those high-visibility individual statistics…

I’m not a Moneyball guy for soccer – never have been – and to me that line of thinking is flawed (as it applies to individual statistics in baseball).

What’s that mean??? (Editorial)

After a great question offered up in the comments section I think I should clarify what I mean by that with respect to soccer.

When I read Moneyball I was more focused on the individual statistics part of the game that were used to generate market value than the ‘economic state’ of buying and selling players that might lead to more wins…

That being said, I am not saying that you can’t measure the value of a player in soccer – it can be done but it needs to be done after considering teammates, opposing players, and at least the Head Coach of the team the player plays for.

Modern day soccer statistics, for the most part, don’t measure the appropriate level of influence teammates, opposing players, and Head Coaching tactics – as such when I say I’m not a Moneyball guy when it comes to soccer it really means I don’t buy all that crap about tackles, clearances, goals scored, etc…

I value players relative to team outputs and I strongly feel and think the more media and supporters who understand this about soccer the less frustration they will in blaming or praising one individual player over another player.

I hope that makes sense???

Anyhow, an example if you will…

A player with many tackles or clearances is simply a player with many tackles or clearances – it doesn’t mean they are better or worse than another player with fewer tackles or fewer clearances.

And… actually, I could make a reasonable argument that a player with many tackles or clearances is actually a worse player… why?

For one reason – if an opposing head coach knows that a player on the other side is weak – what do you think that head coach will want his players to do?

Drive or pass the ball towards the weaker player – as such – that increase volume of tackles or clearances will naturally increase that weaker players defending statistics simply because of increased volume!!!!

Bottom line here is that individual tackles or clearances can be over-valued or under-valued – as such – as an individual statistic it’s relevance to a player being better or worse than another player is flawed…

However viewed…

I would offer more individual statistics need to be created for players that better reflect how those statistics relate to points earned.

It’s that type of reporting and analyses that should help others better understand the nuance of soccer and that it isn’t just all about scoring goals.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Chelsea sits atop… Saints continue to March…

For most, the stunning team this year continues to be Southampton – worthy view as the Saints continue to march towards Europe.

I’m not on their bandwagon yet as nearly half the season remains – but if they keep up their team performances, as they have the first 21 games, it is likely they squeeze out either Man United or The Arsenal…

Wouldn’t that shake up things up a wee bit?

As for now, here’s my CPWP Index and how the teams compare, in overall performance without using points, after Week 21:

CPWP Index English Premier League Through Week 21

General thoughts:

There appears to be a four tiered level of performance so far – with Man City and Chelsea at the top; Man United, Southampton, and Arsenal next – followed by Everton, Liverpool, and Swansea – while West Ham and Spurs continue to stay in the race.

Even here Southampton are near the top – it’s no fluke they are where they are in the League Table.

As for West Ham and Spurs – those two London sides, along with The Arsenal need to pick things up a bit or they may be stuck in Europa League next year.  Somehow for The Arsenal I don’t think that’s a goal… Allardyce and Pochettino —> maybe?

But Wenger, no – it would likely lead to many dissenting voices and the unwise move of sacking him.  Personally I think he’s one of the best Head Coaches, ever, in Soccer…

So you know – since Pardew was sacked by Newcastle, prior to Game 21, I will be able to do a compare and contrast later this season – especially since he’s now coaching Crystal Palace… I wonder how those two teams will look at the end of the season?

I’ll also poke around West Brom too; now that Pullis is in charge.

Correlation – R2 = .92; continues to remain relevant and strong.

Attacking PWP Index:

APWP Index English Premier League Through Week 21

Defending PWP Index:

DPWP Index English Premier League Through Week 21A few thoughts…

The two teams at the top of the table are the two teams at the top of both the APWP and DPWP Index.

If I were a betting man I’d bet Newcastle brings in some defensive support rather quickly – if they don’t perhaps they fall as far down as the relegation zone?

Liverpool clearly need more support up top – they lack goal scoring and there is the Capt. Obvious that Suarez is missed – clearly Balo-telly is lacking.

West Ham continues to punch way above its weight – can they sustain that approach?

I’d imagine Allardyce will be shopping for another defender to two to strengthen his bench for a sprint run to the finish…

I’d also imagine Spurs will look to do the same thing – they are surviving because Kane scores goals – but as seen this last weekend – they are also taking it in the shorts because they can’t prevent goals against.

Giving away two goals to Crystal Palace is shameful…

Wow – might DeAndre Yedlin get a look in soon?  He had 60 minutes with the youngsters the other day but may need another few weeks to get adjusted; time will tell.

CPWP Predictability Index:

CPWP Predictability Index English Premier League Through Week 21

I include this for others more than myself.

In a trial run for the MLS, going strictly with this Predictability Index, I varied from 35-70% accurate (week to week) on picking the winning team based upon the “home and away PWP Predictability Index”.

But since home teams won 155 times in MLS, as opposed to losing just 77 times, it’s a good bet the home team wins or draws every single game regardless of any predictability model.  For more details on that information read here:  The Comforts of Home in MLS.

I make no case that this IS a solid betting tool but many bet on soccer and the usual predictability products vary in accuracy with a reasonable model offering up 30% accuracy.

I’d be more inclined to offer that this model is probably more accurate for some teams as opposed to other teams – my research continues to indicate that some basic statistics for some teams have little to no relationship on what some basic statistics are for other teams…

In other words, one team may show a reasonable (game to game) correlation between possession and winning while another team may not.

A good example – Stoke City averages roughly 48% possession – their game to game correlation of possession to points earned is (R2) -.52 – meaning — over the course of this season so far Stoke City are more likely to earn points if a particular games’ possession is less than their average.

On the other hand a team like Chelsea – who averages ~58% possession has an (R2) correlation of .13…. meaning their is simply NO RELATIONSHIP between possession percentage and taking points in the league table – they can pretty much take points by either falling above or below their league average of 58%.

I will be doing a new article on Possession in the very near future – it’s an intriguing statistic that is abused in a big way – an aggregate R2 of .77, for a league, does not mean Possession is the overwhelmingly best indicator for team success.

But it does mean it’s a good indicator that one system of football is consistently being used to garner more points earned then another system of football… that would be ‘possession-based’ versus ‘direct-attack-based’…

In Closing:

It’s the winter break for me just like it is the teams – plenty going on to include co-hosting a podcast with Stephen Brandt (@Yellowcardedpod).

Our upcoming guests, in the next two months, include Commissioner Peterson from the North American Soccer League, Jamie Clark, Head Coach for the University of Washington, John Galas, Head Coach Lane United FC (USL PDL), and someone from the Portland Timbers organization – to be determined.

A new article, to be published by @7amkickoff, will speak specifically to how The Arsenal is performing in some key (game to game) areas.  This is hopefully the first of many articles where my PWP approach will be leveraged by other highly respected writers…

To set the stage for future articles leveraging PWP @7amkickoff provides his introduction to this approach as well as a great synopsis other Soccer statistics in general, to include Total Shots Ratio, published by Grantland, and Michael Caley’s discussion on Expected Goals.

So if you’re a writer, with an interest in leveraging my analytical approach, as part of the overall product you provide your readers let me know how I can help with that.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Commissioner for a Day in Major League Soccer

Part of being an analyst includes asking questions…. it’s not just all about statistics.  With the advent of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement I felt this a worthy topic for your consideration.

Before doing so I first want to caveat everything offered with these sentiments.

There is NO question that the efforts, up to this point within Major League Soccer, have led to more folks better recognizing this beautiful sport.

The owners of Major League Soccer took a chance, a big chance, in investing their hard-earned money.

And, as time has passed, they “are” taking steps to further the advancement of soccer in this country.

But it is time for change.  In no particular order here are some questions I would offer, as Commissioner today, if I were sitting at the head of the table with all the current MLS owners in front of me.

  • Do we need to institutionalize Free Agency?  Be it after seven, five or even three years of service, players within this League NEED to have the right to competitively bargain their skills within Major League Soccer.  How do we manage that?  If we don’t do this is there a risk that the players will strike?  And given that no other sporting franchise, anywhere in the United States, limits player movement like we do isn’t it likely the fans will support that strike?  Isn’t it time we created a Free Agency clause for players?
  • How can we better appreciate the activities on what the North American Soccer League can bring to the United States of America, and our product/service, when it comes to promoting and advancing this sport and, in-turn, what we provide our supporters?  Tell me why do we have such a conflict oriented relationship with NASL and can we fix that?
  • How can we seek out new ways to integrate all salient ownership bodies (inside and outside of NASL) so that Major League Soccer reaches an ideal membership of 40 teams; 20 East of the Mississippi, and 20 West of the Mississippi?
  • When we convert to 40, 1st Division teams, that gives us two Conferences, with 20 teams each that play a complete, symetrical schedule of 38 games.  Don’t you feel or think that the real value of a televised Playoff system emerges where one team is crowned as a ‘symetrical champion’ of a league that has 40 clubs?
  • How high should we raise the Salary Cap?  Don’t we need to increase the Salary Cap by a substantial margin in order for clubs to build a competitive ‘team’ that doesn’t have to rely on just 2-3 players to be successful?  At the end of the day – Soccer is a team sport – the best team sport in the World – and while success can come from having one or two stars do we really want to try and convince our customers that we are doing our best to create the right conditions to field the best possible ‘teams’ to ensure competent competiveness?
  • Do we need to institutionalize that all profits a team generates through their own Academy systems are the profits of those teams and those teams only?  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the greatest opportunity to generate the best profit margin is through the development of players that can 1) lead to championships or, 2) be loaned or traded/sold to another team?  Wouldn’t that really open the gates for advancement of soccer in this country while also helping us sustain and manage expenses?
  • Don’t we need to lift the lid on the number of International Players a team may own?  Doesn’t a lower limit of International Players hamstring our ability to compete with other Professional Soccer Leagues across the World?

Of course, I’m not imagining that all of these questions would ever be asked, but in order for an organization to improve, the intent and determination to ask tough questions is critical.  I think those questions are reasonable – what do you think?

In Closing:

If I were an owner, who had invested a considerable sum of money to create a sports franchise, that not only speaks to my own love of the sport but to that of others across this great country, then I think questions, tough questions, need to be asked on a regular basis in order to sustain improvement as this league matures.

By the way – would I, as an owner, really want to see potential owners, outside of MLS, purchase clubs overseas or would I want to see those same investors purchase clubs in MLS in this country?

Indeed, another example — Steve Ballmer just bought the Clippers for $2B – as an owner I have to ask myself this question – why didn’t Steve Ballmer consider purchasing a soccer club in MLS (at far less of a cost) than a franchise in the NBA?

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Bundesliga – Winter Break is here…

No European team can match the league domination that Bayern Munich has shown this year in the Bundesliga.  However, in spite of Die Bayern’s efforts to run away with the title, the German premier division is still awash with fascinating stories.

The race for the remaining Champions League spot could not be closer – five teams are separated by a mere two points.   And no, that excludes Dortmund, who are floundering in the relegation zone.

To set the stage here’s the five teams vying for that third and final spot:  Bayer Leverkusen; Augsburg, Monchengladbach, FC Schalke, and TSG Hoffenheim.

Here’s where they compare with each other in my Composite Possession with Purpose Index:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17All five teams in the top half (positive side) of the CPWP Index.  Meaning all five of those teams are, on a regular basis, outperforming their opponent’s in PWP attacking and defending.

From this it would seem pretty obvious that Bayern Munich also stood out way above all others in the CPWP Index.

In addition, it’s good to see the Index also shows a marked difference, in overall team performance, between Wolfsburg and the other five teams battling for the final UEFA Champions League spot.

Of all the leagues I evaluate, using my Possession with Purpose Family of Indices, this League usually shows the best overall correlation.

Meaning, for some, it may be far more predictable – in other words perhaps the Bundesliga is a great league to bet on game results?

If you do that sort of thing here’s what the CPWP Predictability Index looks like:

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17

A reminder – the CPWP Predictability Index was developed after I had some great discussions with folks at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014.

Myself, Ben Knapper (Arsenal FC Head of Stats) and others at PROZONE sports all agreed that the Index ‘could?’ have value as a predictability model if Goals Scored/Against data was removed.

The teams with Green Bars are the five teams battling for the third and final UEFA Champions League spot – the Purple Bar, Borussia Dortmund, is highlighted simply because they ‘should’ be winning – given their talent – but they aren’t!

But… could this be a model to actually reinforce Borussia Dortmund still remain a team who can make UEFA Champions League next year even though they are 13 points behind Bayer Leverkusen?  I wonder what the odds are on that?

If you missed my presentation at the WCSS of 2014 here’s a link - in the seven months of this blog it has been my most viewed/read article.

Attacking PWP:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17

Here again the top two teams are tops in the Index.

For those thinking the best in attack is what drives success it appears FC Schalke and then Bayer Leverkusen are best situated to push forward – while Augsburg slides way back towards Borussia Dortmund.

In taking a look at FC Schalke versus Bayer Leverkusen what separates them in this Index seems pretty interesting.

  • Schalke average more total passes by volume (452 to 399) but within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third Leverkusen average more passes (155 to 120).
  • To go with that, Leverkusen averages more possession (52% to 50%) but lower overall passing accuracy both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (68%/57% compared to Schalke at 76%/61%.
  • Meaning Schalke offer more passes, accurately, prior to entering the Final Third while also offering fewer, more accurate passes, once they’ve penetrated.

Looked at from a Leverkusen viewpoint – Bayer actually possesses the ball more – but is less accurate in that possession.  In addition they also look to penetrate far more frequently than Schalke.

When digging into the shots area – Schalke show more patience in taking fewer shots by volume and percentage but both teams end up with roughly the same volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (36% for Leverkusen and 34% for Schalke).

  • Put another way – each team shows different statistical trends in possession, accuracy, penetrating, creating, and taking shots but their overall results are the same.
  • Reinforcing, at least in my view, there are a number of different systematic approaches that will get you to the same place.

Before moving on to Defending PWP I think there is value in taking a look at Augsburg.  Earlier this week I did an article on Major League Soccer called “Getting More from Less“.

The intent was to see who did better last year, in MLS, in getting better results with lower team performance.  My gut-check example to quantifying the results in MLS was West Ham and their Direct Attacking nature.

What I determined was a team who averaged fewer passes than the League Average (both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third) with less than 50% possession could be reasonably called a Direct Attacking Team.

In looking at Augsburg here’s their attacking data as it fits that mold.

Overall dead on average in Possession at 50%.

Passing Accuracy (entire pitch), 73% – less than the League Average of 74.25%.

Passing Accuracy within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (56%) – less than the League Average of 57%.

In looking at volume – Total Average Passes for Augsburg was 413 – the League Average was 435

Total Passes within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third for Augsburg was 114 – the League Average 126.

So on the surface it would appear that Augsburg shows the tendency to play more Direct Attacking, as opposed to a Counter-Attacking ‘tactic’, within a Possession-based game.

For Augsburg – they’ve had eight games that have followed the mode of Direct Attacking – they’ve won five of those games.  Pretty solid in getting more from less – but can they sustain that?

The West Ham review showed they have won 7 games out of 11 games where their team averages fell into the Direct Attacking mode.

It would seem Augsburg are almost as successful (percentage wise) in matching West Ham when it comes to winning games where their performance falls below League Average… (63.63% for West Ham versus 62.5% for Augsburg).

Defending PWP:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17

Augsburg, like West Ham, are pretty high up in the Defending PWP Index (Hammers are 6th best in the EPL DPWP Index versus Augsburg who are 4th best here).

So the value of a higher team performance in defending helps sustain success with the lower volumes offered up in attack.

Meaning the will of Augsburg rides more with a collaborative approach, in overall team play, than strictly an attack dominated performance.

Monchengladbach is next highest here, while TSG Hoffenheim doesn’t seem to shine in either Index.

I’d expect some long odds on TSG making that third and final UEFA Champions League spot…

So what separates Monchengladbach from TSG?

  • Goals Against – for Monchemgladbach their GA is .94 – for TSG it’s 1.47 – is that down to Mochengladbach simply having a better Goalie?
  • Maybe… their opponent’s actually average more Shots on Goal (5.35) compared to TSG, whose opponent’s average 4.5 Shots on Goal.

Opponents for both teams average total passes, both within and outside the Defending Final Third, greater than the League Average – so by and large most opponents are playing possession based attacking against these two sides.

Where it gets interesting is the volume of successful passes by their opponents after they’ve entered their Defending Final Third.

  • In the case of TSG, the opponents average 20 fewer successful passes, with almost the same amount of shots taken and shots on goal.
  • Meaning, to me, TSG are finding themselves out of position more often as the screws tighten – hence the greater Goals Against.

In other words one team may be playing more man-to-man while another team may be playing more zonal?

I’m not sure which – those with video or access to X,Y coordinates may know that better?

Anyhow – clearly the data points towards one team having a different defensive scheme that may also include Mochengladbach simply having a much better Goal Keeper.

In Closing:

Half the season remains and while Bayern is basically blowing the Bundesliga away there are others who are still making this league worthy to watch.

Will it be the West Ham of the Bundesliga (Augsburg)?  Can Borussia Dortmund pull it back?  How about the other challengers who appear more steady, like FC Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, or Monchengladbach?

And does TSG Hoffenhein really have a chance as well?  For some I bet UEFA Champions League is the goal for next year – but others might also be shooting for Europa too.

And this doesn’t even broach the topic about who gets relegated – Might that Borussia Dortmund ends up in that race instead?  Wow…….

Jürgen Klopp would get clobbered if that happens!

More to follow…

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

 

Getting More from Less… Major League Soccer

If you’ve read my previous article on Expected Wins 4 (Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer) you’ll know that there are teams out there who can, and do win, ‘without’ exceeding 50% possession.

In my next evolution of analysis, using the Family of Possession with Purpose Indicators on Major League Soccer, here’s some more granularity to go with that observation.

The filters set up for this effort are pretty simple – five of them to be exact:

  1. Teams who won games in MLS last year with less than 50% Possession,
  2. Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in overall Passing Accuracy (77%) and,
  3. Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in Passing Accuracy within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (66.8%),
  4. Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts fall below the League Average (428.01), and
  5. Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts, into the Opponents Defending Final Third, fall below the League Average (117.54).

Why this approach?

To highlight what teams, and what volume of games those teams won, where ‘CONTROL’ of the game would most likely be interpretted as ‘minimized’ given a poorer ‘team performance’.

In addition, I also sense it may be a good way to differentiate between teams who use a Counter-Attacking “tactic” as part of their Possession-based game versus a team more inclined to play a Direct Attacking style/system.

The really hard part here is I’m not using video and I don’t have access to X,Y coordinate data – this is all put together using public data.

However viewed I hope you find this interpretation beneficial.

In setting the stage for the teams who did best getting more from less here’s the raw data to consider:

There were 234 games last year where a team won in MLS.

Of those 234 games, 122 of them the winning team had lower than 50% Possession.

In other words, 52.14% of all games won last year saw the winning team possess the ball less than 50% of the time.

Of those 234 games, 70 of them the winning team had less than 50% Possession and less than 77% Passing Accuracy.

In other words, only 29.92% of all games won last year had the winning team performance fall below League average in Possession and Passing Accuracy.

Of those 234 games, 53 of them the winning team had less than 50% Possession, less than 77% Passing Accuracy (across the entire pitch) and less than 66.8% Passing Accuracy in the Opponent’s Defending Final Third.

In other words, only 22.65% of all games won last year had the winning team performance fall below League average in Possession and Passing Accuracy (both within and outside the Opponents Defending Final Third).

By the way, for those curious, in only 19.66% of all games lost this year (234) did the losing team EXCEED the League Average in Possession and Passing Accuracy (both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third).

So more teams got more from less than teams who got more from more…

Here’s the teams who got more with less, and how many times they were successful in that effort:

MORE FOR LESS BY TEAM 2014

The Red Bars signify Eastern Conference Teams while the Blue Bars show Western Conference Teams (last year).

For now it should be noted that DC United took 24 of 59 Points where they performed far below league average in passing.

In addition, New England also took 21 of their 55 Points in games where they performed far below league average – and six of those seven wins came after Game 25 – in other words after they signed Jermaine Jones!

With respect to Philadelphia – five of their six wins, using this filter, came after Jim Curtin replaced John Hackworth.

In looking at Toronto – all of their five wins, in this fashion, came in the first 11 Games of the season – two things perhaps to consider from this:

  1. Other teams in MLS figured out the counter-attacking/direct attacking nature of the team and changed their defending habits accordingly, or
  2. They had an injury or two that impacted this style of play and, under Nelsen, were unable to recover from a key attacker being missed.

Of note – Chicago recently brought in two DP Strikers – is that a signal to the rest of MLS that Frank Yallop really intends to go all out in this type of attacking approach?

Finally, FC Dallas appeared to be the more counter-attacking/direct attacking team in the Western Conference – and this data appears to substantiate that.

Oscar Pareja’s approach was good enough to make the Playoffs last year – but with Houston (under Owen Coyle) and Sporting, another possession-based team, set to join the Western Conference, might we expect to see Pareja take a different approach next year?

East meeting West:

MORE FOR LESS BY CONFERENCE 2014

Pretty telling if you ask me…

A marked difference in volume of teams that got more with less in the Eastern Conference.

This provides some pretty good evidence to support those having the belief or feeling that the two conferences played different styles…

Now what?

Well, for me, over the past few years I’ve found it pretty hard to differentiate between a team that works towards Direct Attacking, as a style, as opposed to Counter-Attacking.

And to be honest I’m not sure what the difference is; at least up until now.

Here’s my draft definition on how to define a team that Counter Attacks (as a tactic) as opposed to using Direct Attacking (as ‘the’ tactical system/style/approach).

  • The league average for passes attempted across the entire pitch is 428.01.
  • So for the purposes of this effort all teams that fall below that average will be viewed as Counter-Attacking teams until I see that their volume of passes attempted in the Opponent’s Defending Final Third also falls below that League average of 117.54.
  • My rationale is this – a consistent trend of low volume in passes attempted both within and outside the final third indicates to me that the team is attempting to play longer or quicker balls into the final third – that have less chance of being completed – in other words looking to penetrate with less overall control of the ball.
  • I welcome any additional thoughts on this…

In looking at these 52 games:

  • Only one game did the volume of Pass Attempts exceed the League Average of 428.
  • In that one game the volume of Pass Attempts within the Opponents Defending Final Third did not exceed the League Average.
  • DC United had that game.
  • Only 11 games saw the volume of Pass Attempts in the Opponents Defending Final Third exceed the League Average of 117.
  • New England had five of those games, Seattle had one, DC United one, Vancouver one, and Philadelphia three.
  • Therefore in 40 of the 52 games played, using this filter, it would appear that the team that won played Direct Attacking Football.
  • Meaning the teams that performed best in Direct Attacking football were DC United (7), Toronto (5 under Nelsen), Dallas (5), and Chicago (3).

Gut-Check on my Direct Attacking hypothesis – a pretty well known/attributed Direct Attacking team in the English Premier League is West Ham.  

Of their 19 games this year every single game saw their total Pass Attempts fall below the League Average of 426.73.

In 11 of those games their Pass Attempts, within the Opponents Final Third, fell below the League Average of 131.82.

They won seven of those 11 games.

In conclusion, the gut-check pans out – it appears that the outputs from West Ham match those developed based upon what is seen in MLS.

The data also confirms that Sam Allardyce, and his Hammers, are doing a pretty good job of executing that system as well.

In closing:

Doing more with less had a significant advantage for DC United, New England, Philadelphia, and Toronto – all those teams, tops in this filter, are in the Eastern Conference.

This information also supports the views, by many, that the two Conferences are different; the Eastern Conference has more teams that were successful in doing ‘more with less’ and more teams, who were more successful, in their Direct Attacking style/system.

It seems reasonable to me that this is a way for me to better quantify the difference between a team that counter-attacks as a ‘tactic’ versus a team that prefers to play more direct.

Best, Chris

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Seeing Red!!! Toronto FC

The Toronto Front Office made a decision to sack Ryan Nelsen, on 31 August 2014, after winning just three of his last 13 matches.  I don’t know the rationale for that – other than what was offered on the surface – the team wasn’t getting results.  

That’s a clear enough reason for most but not for me…  I’m a firm believer there is more to this game than just scoring goals; for me it’s about the opponent not scoring goals as much as it is about scoring goals yourself.

To be sure – this isn’t me taking the position that playing negative football is ‘the’ solution – on the contrary – I love attacking football; but part of attacking means great defending.

However viewed I will continue to let the statistics tell me what they offer and not the other way around.

Before digging into Toronto here’s links to my other End of Season Analyses and what Possession with Purpose is all about:

Chicago Fire – Candle Burned at Both Ends

Houston Dynamo – Dynamic Dynamo De-Magnetized as Dominic Departs

San Jose Earthquakes – Earthquakes, Shake, Rattle, and Roll-Over

Montreal Impact – What went Wrong in Montreal?

Colorado Rapids – The Loss of Drew Moor was More or Less?

My Revised Introduction to Possession with Purpose

For statistical purposes, Ryan Nelsen was sacked on 31 August – that means Games 1-24 were under Nelsen and Games 25-34 were under Craig Vanney.

I’ll include how the team did using those two filters as well as an overall picture on where Toronto finished compared to the rest of MLS.

In closing, I’ll offer up final thoughts on team performance under the leadership of Nelsen versus Vanney – some opinions on that and then opine what positional upgrades may need to be made in order for Toronto to make the Playoffs next year.

To begin, as usual, the CPWP Strategic Index:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINEDThere’s TFC; 7th worst in the CPWP Index (between the Union – PUFC and Colorado – CRFC).

Bottom line here they weren’t that good; from Games 1-24 they earned 1.38 Points Per Game (PPG); from Games 25-34 they earned .80 PPG.

In terms of Goals Scored, under Nelson they averaged 1.46 Goals Per Game (GPG) – under Vanney that number dropped to .90 GPG.

From a Defending viewpoint their Opponent GPG went from 1.63 under Nelsen to 1.50 under Vanney.

So while the Vanney led Reds did see a slight decrease in Goals Against – that didn’t make up for the significant decrease in GPG produced in Attack and clearly played a huge role in them dropping more than .5 PPG under Vanney – compared to Nelsen.

From a purely statistical (results) standpoint the sacking of Ryan Nelsen did not appear to give the Reds what they needed to make the Playoffs!

As noted, my viewpoint there is more to soccer than Goals Scored and Goals Against – given that here’s my Family of Possession with Purpose Indicators to see what else is available to consider.

Attacking PWP:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

All told, 8th worst in overall Attacking PWP – note that the R2 is .79 – not nearly as high as the overall CPWP Index (.85) but still very strong.  Meaning, for me, the parts that comprise this Index have value.  So on to the pieces… 

An explanation about the following new diagrams below — each PWP Indicator is offered in a Game to Game view with a different colored ‘trend line'; the trend line is offered so that you can see how the team changed, from start to finish, in each area of evaluation.

For the statistical folks I have also included the slope.  I won’t reference the slope but some folks have used the slope to predict future expectations.

Possession Percentage:

TORONTO APWP POSSESSION PERCENTAGE 2014

Clearly Toronto changed their pattern of possession as the season progressed.

Under Vanney their average Possession was 55.84% – with Nelsen it was 46.08%.

Overall they were 10th in MLS – if they had stuck with Nelson the entire season it is likely they would have been 4th or 5th lowest overall – with Vanney at the helm for a full year chances are they would have finished 4th or 5th highest.

I’m not sure a more diametrically opposed tactical approach could be seen given this information – it will be intriguing to see what impacts there are as we dig deeper into team performance.

Passing Accuracy:

TORONTO APWP PASSING ACCURACY PERCENTAGE 2014Passing Accuracy increased as Possession increased.

And when looking specifically into the Attacking Final Third Passing Accuracy increased by almost 2%.

Overall, their volume of passes, per game, also increased from 382 under Nelsen to 463 with Vanney.

Finally, team Passing Accuracy increased from 74% to 81% under Vanney.

Recall that under Nelsen they had a higher GPG and PPG than with Vanney.

So… while they increased possession and accuracy they didn’t increase control of the game in attack.

Penetrating Possession and Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

TORONTO APWP PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

TORONTO APWP SHOTS TAKEN PER PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

Perhaps two of the more difficult PWP Indicators to interpret.

For the Barcley’s Premier League, La Liga, and the UEFA Champions League we already know that Less means Less and More means More.

In other words the less you possess – the less likely you are to take shots, score goals and get points – and the more you possess the more likely you are to take shots, scored goals and take points.

That is not the case, at least for now, in MLS nor in the Bundesliga.

In these two Leagues the less you possess and less effective you are in passing the more likely you are to win.  Read here if not convinced.

So bottom line here – these two indicators can be very tricky – for now I’ll just offer that an increase in possession and passing accuracy only led to a very marginal increase in penetration but a marked decrease in shots taken.

Under Nelsen, Penetration Percentage was 22.03% and with Vanney it was 22.96%.

Overall they were 12th highest for the year compared to the rest of MLS.

Under Nelsen, Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession was 21.96%, with Vanney it was 16.09%.

Overall they were fourth highest in MLS at 20.23%.

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

TORONTO APWP SHOTS ON GOAL PER SHOTS TAKEN PERCENTAGE 2014So the ugly picture takes shape – as Possession, Passing Accuracy, and Penetration increased, the percentage of Shots Taken and Shots on Goal decreased.

So the publicized bottom line, by the Front Office, was all about Points won or lost (results) hmmm……..

Under Nelsen their team percentage was 35.64% – under Vanney it was 30.98%.

To put that in perspective – that percentage (under Vanney) was worse than Chivas USA for all of 2014 – and Chivas USA had the worst Shots on Goal per Shots Taken of any team in MLS…

Is it stating the obvious that under Craig Vanney, the Reds were worse, in finishing, than Chivas?  Let’s check again their Goals Scored per Shots on Goal.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

TORONTO APWP GOALS SCORED PER SHOTS ON GOAL PERCENTAGE 2014Last and surely the least…

With Nelsen their Goals Scored per Shots on Goal was 34.35% – with Vanney it was 23.67%.

To put this one in perspective – that 23.67% is 8% worse than Chivas USA were the whole year – and yes Chivas USA were worst in all of MLS.

All told they scored just nine goals under Vanney – three of them against Portland in the wild come from behind meltdown by Portland (3 goals in the second half) and three goals against Chivas USA.

Attacking Summary:

Recall the very first diagram on Possession Percentage – bottom line here is while the team itself appeared to control the game more under Vanney – they didn’t.

They actually possessed the ball more but failed to execute that possession with purpose.

In rounding out what positional upgrades may be needed, for me, is pretty clear.

They need an upgrade in strikers and supporting attacking midfielders so that Bradley actually has some talent to work with.

And yes, I got it – the tactical attacking system changed and the new Head Coach will want to bring in ‘his players’ to play ‘his style'; thought Toronto had already been down that road a few times already.

For me, players are players – some are gifted in some areas while others are even more gifted in other areas.  But any Head Coach knows that if the intent is to WIN – then the intent should be to develop an attacking tactical system that will help the team win.

In this case Craig Vanney didn’t…  so how about Defending – did Craig get it right on the defending side of the pitch?

Defending PWP: 

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Fifth worst, overall, in MLS… so were things better or worse under Vanney, versus Nelsen?

Not a great place to start but we already know their Goals Against per Game was lower under Vanney’s leadership than Nelsen’s – so it can’t all be bad.

But 5th worst in MLS does give the indication that although Vanney’s approach helped the team get better they still ceded 1.50 goals per game and that single statistic is still 4th worst across MLS.

Opponent Possession Percentage:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT POSSESSION PERCENTAGE 2014

Since we saw that the Possession Percentage of Toronto increased as the season wore on it’s only reasonable to see that the Opponent Possession Percentage declined.

As a reminder – team possession for Opponents under Nelsen was 55.84% while under Vanney it was 46.08%…

So for some that means the opponent had less control over the game than Toronto – but we already know the goals against only dropped marginally – leading me to sense that major upgrades are needed almost across the entire back-four.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT PASSING ACCURACY PERCENTAGE 2014Through the course of the season the one, pretty consistent statistic for Toronto, was Opponent Passing Accuracy.

Under Nelsen it was 77.06% – while under Vanney it was 74.80%.

Overall the opponent’s were 5th worst in completing passes against Toronto – their opponents averaged 76.39%.

Of note is Opponent Passing Accuracy, within their Defending Final Third, was 63.07% under Nelsen and 64.90% under Vanney.

Put another way – Nelsen ceded possession and passing accuracy to the opponent ‘outside’ the Defending Final Third.

Opponent Penetrating Possession and Shots Taken per Penetration:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT SHOTS TAKEN PER PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

Like in attack these two indicators can be the hardest to interpret – as such I’ll just offer the statistics with one caveat.

Under Nelsen, Toronto ceded their opponents 25.02% penetrating possession while with Vanney it was 25.06%.

Not much difference here between Nelsen and Vanney led teams – overall they ceded the 2nd highest percentage of penetration in MLS.

With respect to Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession, the Nelsen led team had opponents execute this step at 15.25% – while opponents with the team led by Vanney saw that number increase up to 20.02%.

Overall, their opponents had a success rate of 16.65% – 4th lowest in MLS.

I should add an observation here – low does not mean good sometimes.

What I have found over my two years of analysis is that when the opponent is a bit more patient, in taking their shots, they have a tendency to be more accurate (regardless of location).

This is amplified even more if the defending team plays higher up the pitch – meaning, even with less patience, the opponent is still getting more time and space (given midfielders are caught out of position on quick transitions) – thereby leading to more effective shots on goal.

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT SHOTS ON GOAL PER SHOTS TAKEN PERCENTAGE 2014

What’s interesting here is that under Vanney the opponent percentage was 42.82% – while under Nelsen it was 32.52%.

One would think that the Goals Against would be lower under Nelsen.

Perhaps, in time, it may have been but for that stretch it wasn’t.

In looking at volume; the number of Shots on Goal also increased (Vanney – 5.20 SOG/Game versus 4.17 SOG/Game under Nelsen)!

Yet Goals Against decreased?

Well I ask that a bit tongue in cheek since they were 10th best/worst in this category at 35.55%; meaning however viewed they have plenty of room for improvement.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT GOALS SCORED PER SHOTS ON GOAL PERCENTAGE 2014So… when it came to the bottom line – with Nelsen, at the helm, Toronto’s opponents averaged 40.71% when it came to Goals Scored per Shots on Goal; with Vanney that bottom line was 29.33%; a clear difference.

That could be heartening for Toronto supporters – if viewed as a glass half-full – that 29% (over the course of a season) would have been 7th best in MLS.

With a glass half-empty the volume and accuracy of the opponents was very high – leading to an overall 1.59 goals against – worst in MLS.

Defending Summary:

I think it’s reasonable to offer that the overall team performance in defending was not up to scratch under either Head Coach.

While Craig Vanney got the team to reduce the opponents possession – the opponents were still blindingly successful in taking points from Toronto.

Bottom line is the Goals Against got better but the points didn’t…

In Closing:

If the intent is to make the Playoffs, as it has been for over five years now, then I think the Front Office probably needs to suck it up just as much as the team does on the pitch.

Inconsistency, across all facets of Football Operations, is what I see and hear.

And to be brutally honest I think this team probably needs at least 6-7 new starters – three defenders, two midfielders and at least one striker.

Hindsight has some value in soccer – as reviewing video’s to not repeat mistakes on the pitch is an everyday thing…

As such, I submit the Toronto Front Office should review their own decision-making videos, over the course of five seasons, and LEARN from their mistakes too…

If this was an independent club, in a purely capitalistic business model, (promotion/relegation) this team would be down in Division 3 by now… wow!

By the way…  in all the games managed by Ryan Nelsen (Games 1-24) Toronto won five games in their first 11 games where they did not exceed 50% Possession, they did not exceed the average Passing Accuracy of 77% and they did not exceed the average Passing Accuracy within the Opponents Defending Final Third by 67%.

Between Games 12 and 24 the other teams in MLS had figured out their approach – and Toronto won zero games, with those same ‘ceding time and space tactics’…

So another view in hindsight might suggest that it really didn’t take too long for the opponent’s to figure out Nelsen’s strategy and beat it…

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark