Category: Passing

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

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

 

Expected Wins 4

Republication/update:  My intent, this past year, was to update my series on Expected Wins, with EW-5 – that has changed.  After conducting research and analyses, and seeing my work published in London, England I’ve decided to rename this series Expected Losses instead of Expected Wins.

  • Why, because my data analyses is beginning to show it’s easier to track and predict losses as opposed to ‘draws’ or ‘wins’.

But to sustain the integrity of the ‘thinking process’ I’m only going to edit the first part of this article and remind folks about the previous research published:

What follows is the original, unedited post offered in November of 2014.  I think if you read this article below you may find it striking given the current conditions with US Soccer and the US Men’s National Team!

Jurgen Klinsmann made a statement the other week about his preference that players working to make the USMNT play in Europe not in America.

Lots of hoo-haw followed with opinions being thrown out there by just about everyone.

As far as I know no-one has, as yet, come up with a way to quantitatively measure which league, leagues, or competitions are higher quality.

This is my attempt to do that using my Possession with Purpose Analysis.

Be prepared for a few charts – sorry – it is what it is and a statement like Klinsmann’s deserves to have some quantitative analysis thrown towards it.

Finally, if you missed Expected Wins 3 here is a link to give you some history on this quantitative analysis.

Now for the grist, first the array of Expected Wins 4 diagrams for each league/competition I cover, Major League Soccer, English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, and the World Cup of 2014.

Major League Soccer – End of Season:

Major League Soccer Expected Wins Four

 English Premier League after 240 Events (120 Games):

English Premier League Expected Wins Four

La Liga after 238 Events (119 Games):

La Liga Expected Wins Four

Bundesliga after 214 Events (107 Games):

Bundesliga Expected Wins Four

UEFA Champions League after Round 5 – 160 Events (80 Games):

UEFA Champions League Expected Wins Four

World Cup 2014 – End of Competition:

World Cup 2014 Expected Wins FourSo what’s it all mean?

In each of the diagrams I highlighted in green the category that had the highest volume for all my PWP Data Points.

For example, just above, in the World Cup of 2014 the winning team had the highest volume of activity for every single PWP data point.

The same holds true for the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, and the English Premier League.

The conclusion here?  Volume speaks volumes…

Greater numbers of passes both outside and within and into the Attacking Final Third (RESULT) in MORE Shots Taken, MORE Shots on Goal and MORE Goals Scored!

In the case of the Bundesliga (an oft mentioned counter-attacking league) it’s the losing teams that offer MORE Possession and MORE overall Passes but when it comes to the Attacking Final Third it’s the winning teams who do MORE with MORE!

With respect to the MLS – a contrast to be sure.  MORE Passing outside and within, and into, the Attacking Final Third gets you LESS when it comes to Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored.

Why is that?

I’d offer it’s down to playing a game that has less overall ball control from the players – in other words there is less quality on the pitch to take advantage of the MORE for MORE systematic outputs we see from all the other leagues/competitions; others may have a different view.

For me, this is an early indicator that what Jurgen Klinsmann offered is quantitatively accurate!

Before moving on here’s how all the leagues and competitions compare to each other in one diagram for winning teams:

Winners Expected Wins PWP Data Points Four

The UEFA Champions League leads all competitions/leagues in the average volume of Passes Attempted, Passes Completed, Passes Attempted within and into the Final Third, Passes Completed within and into the Final Third, Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored.

If volume of activity (were?) to be a quantitative measure of quality then it’s pretty clear the UEFA Champions League HAS the highest quality of all these competitions.

And what teams comprise the UEFA Champions League?  Teams from Europe…

But there is more to Possession with Purpose than just volume; here’s how the PWP Data Relationships show:

Winners Expected Wins PWP Data Relationships Four

In looking at the percentages here’s where it gets interesting – and reinforces what I’ve felt and thought all along, patience in creating time and space in the Attacking Final Third has value.

In terms of Possession Percentage, Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch, and percentage of Penetrating Possession within and into the Attacking Final Third the UEFA Champions League, again, exceeds all other competitions.

Where the patience virtue comes in is when it comes to the percentage of Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – the UEFA Champions League is lowest (14.98%).

So in returning back to the volume of Shots Taken per penetrating possession.

The UEFA Champions League has the highest volume of Shots Taken but the lowest percentage rate.

So even with the third worst percentage of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken and the second worst percentage of Goals Scored per Shots on Goal this competition still has the highest volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.

For me this is another quantitative means to substantiate what Jurgen Klinsmann offered about encouraging Americans to get better by playing in Europe.

In Closing:

Questions?

Is it better to play on a winning team in a league where there is less overall control of the ball, on the pitch for 90 minutes?

Or is it better to play on a losing team (for 90 minutes), against top quality players, in a league where there is superb control of the ball across the entire pitch for 90 minutes?

Which competition forces you to concentrate more recognizing that the smallest positional error will completely punish your team?

In other words…

If you were a good player and you wanted to get better, would you prefer to play in a league where there are fewer passes and a more wide open play that doesn’t stretch your talent to control the ball?

Or…. would you rather play in a league where the ball is zipping about (by over 100 to 300 passes more) forcing you, in turn, to zip about yourself to try and better manage that game yourself with your teammates?

Answer:

If I were a player in today’s market there is simply no need to consider answering that question any further – I’d play in Europe OR at least strive to play in Europe!

How about you?

If you’re new to Possession with Purpose and this analytical approach read here for an introduction.

By the way – even if you feel or think you don’t need this type of data to substantiate which leagues or competitions are better today – it will provide a great benchmark in looking at how the future takes shape in MLS.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Earthquakes, Shake, Rattle and Roll-Over

Not the best of seasons for San Jose this year – what started as a renewed vision for Mark Watson, this season, has now turned to a renewed vision for Dominic Kinnear next season.

Like Chicago Fire (Candle Burned at Both Ends) and Houston Dynamo (Dynamic Dynamo Demagnatized as Dominic Departs) I’ll be peeling back the good, bad and ugly for San Jose this season with the intent of identifying what positional changes might be needed to help this team get better.

As usual, to set the stage, here’s my Composite PWP Strategic Index for the end of 2014.  

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

There’s San Jose (SJFC), sandwiched near bottom in-between Houston and Montreal.

Before digging into the what’s and why’s of my Possession with Purpose Family of Indices here’s the breakdown on the regular statistics that most people pay attention to; at least those who only focus on results:

All told just .88 Points Per Game (PPG); with Goals Per Game (GPG) at 1.03 and Goals Against Per Game (GAPG) at 1.47.

Not enough goals scored and clearly too many goals scored against.  All told their Goal Differential (GD) was -.44 – 5th worst in MLS.

In Away games PPG was .53, GPG .82, GAPG 1.71 and GD -.88 (5th worst in MLS).

For Home games PPG was 1.24 (2nd worst), GPG 1.24, GAPG was 1.24 and GD was 0.00 (2nd worst in MLS).

All told San Jose were near bottom in every basic results driven statistic this year with the Away record (1-6-10) even worse than their paltry Home  record (5-6-6).

And they are bringing in Dominic Kinnear?  Well I suppose (3-2-12) in Away games and (8-4-5) is better for Home games, from a results perspective.

But how about overall team attacking and defending performance?  And is there a light already shining that many may have missed?

Team Attacking (both home and away):

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Notice that San Jose fall even lower in overall team attacking than either Chicago or Houston, two teams already evaluated.  

If you read those reports you’ll know both were pretty poor in overall attacking.  So if you’re a San Jose supporter brace yourself for some pretty ugly numbers.

Possession Percentage:

Overall 48.81% – almost middle of the road and on its own an indicator that won’t offer much given Playoff teams like FC Dallas, Vancouver, DC United, and New England all slid under 50%.

Is there a difference between away games and home games?  In away games it was 47.40% vs at home 50.22%.

So IF any early conclusions might be drawn it’s this – they had a better record at home and they averaged more possession at home – is it reasonable to offer that the more possession this team has the better they are?  We’ll see…

Passing Accuracy:

Overall 76.86% – dead on average (10th) compared to everyone else.  Again, teams like FC Dallas, DC United, and New England fell below that number and they all made the playoffs.

In looking at away versus home games; away games 75.94% vs at home 77.78%; a bit higher at home than away – again the same question – does increased possession and increased passing accuracy help plot where San Jose is more successful?

Penetrating Possession:

Overall 21.92% – below average (7th worst).  Only FC Dallas and DC United fell lower than San Jose.

In looking at away versus home games; in away games 21.93% vs at home 21.91%.

Here’s where the rubber begins to meet the road…  notice that with less possession, and less passing accuracy in away games, the Earthquakes actually penetrated more into the opponents Defending Final Third.

This sort of pattern has shown itself with other teams – more often than not it leads to these observations – a more direct attacking style (get in as quickly as you can) and a less impatient approach as the team begins to work towards scoring goals.

In other words their shooting accuracy drops off, as does their goals scored.

Let’s see if this is the case with San Jose.

Shots Taken per penetrating possession:

Overall 16.46% – well below average (4th worst) (or best) depending on a few things – teams with higher passing accuracy usually have lower percentages here, in this case San Jose is on the cusp, if you will.

Their overall percentage seems to indicate more patience when it comes to taking shots – which in turn should mean a higher percentage of shots taken being on goal. That’s not the case though – they are 3rd worst in MLS when it comes to shots taken being on goal (33.93%).

So without knowing the exact locations of the shots taken I’d offer they need a stronger attacking system to generate more time and space to increase their shots on goal and goals scored.

As for away games; their percentage dropped down to 12.81% while at home it was 20.11%.  That is a marked difference in percentage of shots taken per penetrating possession.  It’s almost like Jekyll and Hyde.

Perhaps that is a big enough difference to say that their attack was so basic (simple) in away games, this past year, that they simply didn’t get that many shots off because they telegraphed what they were trying to do?

In other words they didn’t have enough creativity to generate better chances.

An indicator here may be their passing accuracy.

In the opponents Defending Final Third it was 60.72% for away games – 5th worst.  So even though they offered 107 passes per game (10th best in MLS) they could only complete 65 of those passes.

And of those 65 passes completed, only eight of them ended up creating a shot taken!  For me speaking to no time, no space, and/or simply no-one willing to take a shot even if a marginal amount of time and space did become available.

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

Overall 33.93% (3rd worst).

So not only did they take fewer shots per penetration (far fewer in away games) they were also less accurate than most when it came to putting those shots on goal.

Again, speaking to lack of time and space, and perhaps location too?

In away games 33.05% versus at home 34.81%.

In going back to the ‘more means more’ aspect of San Jose.  More possession and better passing accuracy does mean more shots taken and it also means more shots on goal.

In looking at away games less means less – in other words less possession, less passing accuracy, means less shots taken per penetration and less shots on goal.

Not every team behaves like that – some do better with less than more.  In considering this output pattern it’s not the same as Houston or Chicago – it’s different – which means the tactical approach is probably different as well.  More to follow…

Goal Scored per Shots on Goal:

Overall 22.50% (2nd worst).

In tracking the ‘more means more and less means less’ the percentages for this indicator should be lower in away games and higher in home games.

It is – in away games it’s 20.88% (2nd worst) and for home games it’s 24.12% (still 2nd worst) but a better 2nd worst than the away game outputs!

Attacking summary:

More meant more for San Jose when at home and less meant less when on the road – but in both cases neither approach provided consistency in getting results.  

In other words they didn’t have enough “more” to generate “more” and their less meant less…

All told I submit these attacking issues not only speak to San Jose needing better strikers – they also need better midfielders – those with greater vision, greater patience, but at the same time a wee bit more risk.

With all that offered about Attack – here’s the view from how well the opponents did against them in the same categories:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

If there is a good news story here it should be defending – overall their team performance sees them as 9th best in DPWP.

Opponent Possession Percentage:

Overall 51.19% – as noted, possession alone is not an indicator of value without better understanding all the other key indicators to go with it.

In this case it’s pretty clear San Jose is not a possession based team away from home (52.60%) but they are at home – or at least they don’t cede possession (49.78%) for opponents when playing at home.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:

Overall 77.95% – opponents average accuracy is 8th best, against San Jose, in MLS.

In away games opponents average 79.81% (4th highest) and 76.10% when playing in San Jose (8th lowest).

So the Earthquakes cede possession on the road and they also cede a higher opponent passing accuracy – that higher possession and passing accuracy outside the Defending Final Third also translates to having the 5th highest opponent passing accuracy (67.83%) within and into the Defending Final Third.

For home games that opponent passing accuracy drops to 65.40%.

Before moving on – the volumes ceded are quite high as well.

Overall, San Jose opponents average 435 passes per game (9th highest) with 442 by the opponent in road games and 427 for opponents in home game.

As the opponent penetrates that volume equals 124 passes attempted (2nd highest) by opponents visiting San Jose and 124 when facing opponents on the road (5th highest).

So even though passing accuracy for the opponent isn’t that high – the volume, after finally gaining penetration is 2nd and 5th highest in MLS.  More to follow on that…

Opponent Penetrating Possession:

Overall 24.60% (5th highest) with that percentage being 24.15% (7th highest) for opponents on the road and 25.05% (2nd highest) for opponents facing San Jose at home.

With that high percentage of penetration better defending teams will begin to show a higher number of shots taken against percentage but in turn a lower shots on goal percentage and, ultimately, a lower goals against percentage.

In other words the better defending teams leverage the reduced space to influence and reduce time and space for the opponent to strike the ball, put it on target and score the goals.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

Overall 19.71% (5th highest) with that percentage being 21.01% (3rd highest) for opponents on the road and 18.41% (8th highest) for opponents facing San Jose at home.

The pattern holds true so far… how about percentages of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken?

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

Overall 35.53% (9th lowest) – the trend continues – while on the road opponents average 36.12% (9th lowest) and 34.93% (8th lowest) when opponents face San Jose at home.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

Overall 24.92% (2nd lowest in MLS) – again, the positive defending team performance continues to follow the pattern.  In away games it’s 26.11% (3rd lowest) and at home it’s 23.73% (3rd lowest).

Bottom line here (the more to follow from earlier) is that the pattern of strong defending team performance matches that of some of the better teams in MLS – what hurts San Jose are not the overall percentages in execution – it’s the volume that they face in execution.

All told they face the most opponent shots per game (away) at 17.35, the 2nd most shots on goal (away) at 6.24 per game – but only the 9th highest goals against per game.

And when looking at how opponents do in San Jose, it’s 14.65 (highest) shots taken, 5.06 shots on goal (highest) but just 1.24 goals against (9th highest).

Defending summary:

The team percentages are indicative of a healthy defending tactical approach – in other words the performance indicators all point to a solid defending approach with one BIG exception.

Volume – while the percentages are good the volume of opponent activity is high – in other words – more volume up front against San Jose results in more volume at the back end…

BUT not as much volume as might be expected; especially when looking at the volume of shots taken and shots on goal – compared to the volume of goals scored.  What that indicates to me is that the central part of the defending corps is strong – as is their goal keeper.

In Closing:

More means more is a trend and tendency of teams like Barcelona, FC Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea FC, LA Galaxy, and others – but that more is usually where the volumes exceed (in attack) 600 passes per game, 200 passes per game in the opponents defending final third, 16 shots per game, with 6-10 on goal and at least 2 goals scored.

More does not mean “more” when total passes hits just 400, penetrating passes hits just 100, shots taken hits 8 per game with 3-4 on goal and less than a goal scored!

The attacking tactical approach for San Jose was the wrong approach and had the wrong players – will Dominic Kinnear fix that?

Probably – but it may take at least five to six new starters with almost all of them being on the attacking side of the pitch.

On the defending side of the pitch – all indicators seem to point to a healthy relationship.

What is missing, however, is a solution that includes reducing the overall volume of attack by their opponents.

A reasonable way to reduce the volume of attack by your opponents is to increase your own volume of attack; i.e. reduce their possession by increasing your own possession.

But that’s tricky and it’s not always a sure-thing.

We’ve seen that ceding possession can be effective ways of improving defending team performance; perhaps that is the case when the overall technical ability of the defenders lacks compared to a group of four like San Jose have?

I’m not sure but it seems reasonable Dominic Kinnear will shape his team to his style – what will be intriguing is to see if ‘his’ style changes next year compared to how he worked his style this year.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

Hammers hurdle forward and Villa vanquishes backwards

A tale of two teams!

The last time I dug into the English Premier League (Week 6) the League Table had Chelsea 1st (16 points), Southampton (13 points), followed by Man City (11 points), then Aston Villa, Swansea City, and Arsenal all tied for fifth on (10 points).

And here’s how the Composite PWP Index looked at that same time:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 6 EPL

Five of the six teams in league table were part of the top seven teams in the CPWP Index; note how far down the Index Aston Villa was; even on 10 points and tied for 5th place!

Was that an indicator that their early season run was more about luck than strong team attacking and defending across the entire pitch?

I’m not sure – but I’ll take a peak at both West Ham and Aston Villa, in a few, to give you a picture on how those teams performed in the first 6 weeks versus the last 5 weeks.

For now, fast forward to the end of Week 11 and here’s the lay of the land in the League Table:  Chelsea sit on 29 points; Southampton 25 points; Man City 21 points; West Ham 18 points; and Swansea City  18 points.

Moving up from 7 points after week 6 (tied for 13th) to 18 points was West Ham.

While Aston Villa took a complete nose dive (sorry Tom Hanks) to 16th with 11 points.

Here’s how the CPWP Index looks after Week 11:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX WEEK 11 EPL

In looking at the Index West Ham is 8th best, compared to 11th best five weeks ago.  

Southampton and Man City have both shifted past Chelsea (probably related to defending and not attacking) while Swansea has dropped below Man United, Arsenal, and Everton.

I won’t go into the details on those moves this week – even though I probably should given Swansea City just beat The Arsenal 2-1…

I’ll save that for later – just like the mystery about Southampton.

In regards to Aston Villa, they’ve not moved an inch in the Index – suppose one wouldn’t expect it seeing as they’ve only taken one point and it’s hard to drop lower than Burnley or QPR.

Nevertheless – be prepared – there is some grist coming up that may surprise you.

First Off – Attack – Aston Villa (weeks one through six, and weeks seven through 11):

Key Strategic Attacking Indicators Aston VillaObservations:

Clearly the amount of possession has increased (considerably) during these two phases – a 9% jump is considerable in my opinion.

Whether that is a result of the opponent or an internal tactical move is hard to determine at this stage but it should be noted there was a bump (increase) across the board in all the key PWP indicators with one exception – goals scored divided by shots on goal.

In looking at Major League Soccer for two years now the explanation usually goes along the lines of this.

1) The opponents decide to cede possession somewhat by playing deeper against the attacking side… both Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union did that this year and both organizations substantiated (in one shape or another) that tactic.

To reinforce that position – their average total Attacking Final Third passes, per game, in games 1-6 were ~89; that number vaulted to 120, per game, between games 7-11.

Clearly the opponent looks to have taken a different approach in defending against Aston Villa – OR – Aston Villa has tried to step up penetration based upon overall possession; if Villa has attempted the later of the two I’d suggest they revisit their tactical attacking approach.

2) The trend for teams who don’t pass as accurately as the other teams in the league (Villa are in the lower half) seems to be that more possession sometimes includes more penetration and more shots taken, but that volume and percentage increase does not translate to goals given a somewhat higher potential for impatience.

When checking out West Ham there can be an economy of scale – but I think it’s probably more to do with the type and skill of the current players available as opposed to the normal course of events.

Aston Villa in Defending:

Key Strategic Defending Indicators Aston VillaThe change between both phases, in defending, almost seems to match the attacking pattern of West Ham, with two exceptions.

Overall opponent possession did drop, as did passing accuracy, but penetration increased, as did shots taken per penetration, shots on goal per shots taken and goals scored per shots on goal.

Pretty much indicating to me that the opponents worked hard to trap Aston Villa going forward, ceding possession in order to gain critical time and space in quick, purposeful counterattacks!

That may sound a bit early as an observation – but these same trends have shown themselves in the MLS for the last two years – and after awhile it does appear that generic patterns are showing through.

Next West Ham in Attack (weeks one through six, and weeks seven through 11):

Key Strategic Attacking Indicators West Ham

In this diagram there’s almost a direct contrast; where Aston Villa’s numbers pretty much increased across the board, with the exception of Goals Scored – it’s almost the opposite for West Ham.

For West Ham their passing accuracy decreased, possession remained the same, while penetration, and shots on goals versus shots taken decreased.

Only two increases, the percentage of shots taken per penetrating possession and goals scored.

When studying teams in MLS this year – a pattern like this seemed to indicate a team leaning towards a more direct attack in nature.

The primary indicator supporting that, given lower passing accuracy and lower shooting accuracy, is the percentage and volume increase in shots taken per penetration.

For some teams that percentage works better when lower – especially when they have a higher passing accuracy.

But in the case of West Ham, it is likely they are simply looking to take more shots, quicker, and with less penetration.  Working off the philosophy that more is better.

In La Liga we know that more was better, the same held true for the World Cup as well – so this approach may be Sam Allardyce’s way of getting more with less.

When looking at the two separate phases, West Ham averaged 15.20 shots taken per game in games 7-11 versus 13.33 in games 1-6.

In addition, in games 7-11 they averaged 106.4 passes within and into the final third, versus 121.5 in games 1-6.

The other interesting note is that as passing accuracy decreased so did the volume – again speaking to perhaps? harder/longer balls being played in order to move the ball quicker into the final third when the opportunity presented itself; below are the average volumes during these two phases to confirm that.

West Ham total passes attempted (446.83 = 1-6) and passes completed (300 = 1-6)

West Ham total passes attempted (411.80 = 7-11) and passes completed (262.80 = 7-11).

As seen between phases I and II the volume of passes attempted AND passes completed decreased.

In looking at the end results – the percentage of goals scored per shots on goal went up by 18%; that huge increase in percentage only equates to an overall increase in goals scored, per game, of 1.67 to 1.80.

Given that it would appear that the defensive performance has also improved during this stretch.  Here”s the info for West Ham:

Key Strategic Defending Indicators West HamWhat appears to me is the same thing type of pattern that I’ve seen with Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union this year.

The defending tactics seem to indicate the opponent has been ceded time and space outside, and moving into, the defending final third a bit more.

In turn the percentages of penetrating possession and shots taken increase – but with reduced time and space (given a tighter/deeper line) the shots on goal and goals scored percentages have dropped.

When looking at the volume of opponent passes across the entire pitch, it was 446 total passes in the first phase with 363 completed; versus 411, with 262 completed, in the second phase.

Again, it appears the data supports West Ham ceding time and space a bit higher, or, the opponent attacking habits were different compared to the opponents faced in the first phase?

When looking at the volume of opponent passes within the defending final third, the average was 120 passes attempted and 78 completed  in the first phase and 126 passes attempted, with 80 completed, in the second phase.

Not that much of a difference – but in saying that the goals against in phase I was 1.67 per game, while in phase II it was .80 goals against.

All things considered, I’d offer that Allardyce has changed some tactical styles during the first 11 games.  Whether I’ve nailed the time period probably doesn’t matter – the more important thing for West Ham is that they’ve done something of value to increase goals scored and decrease goals against.

In the analyses I’ve done these past two years it would appear to me that the back four is playing a slightly deeper line and with that the attacking tactics are now sharper, and perhaps quicker.  All that going on with a draw to Stoke City and a win at home against Man City.

In Closing:

What may be troubling to the West Hammers is that their other games, in this five game stretch, included matches against Burnley and QPR; teams they should beat if a ‘should win’ is a reality in the English Premier League!

As for Aston Villa; their last five have included Man City, Everton, and Spurs, as well as QPR – a team (perhaps?) they shoulda beat???  and the draw with West Ham.

For all intents and purposes, it does appear that the PWP Key Strategic Indicators have pointed out some items of interest that may point to teams taking different tactical approaches.

The patterns seem to hold based upon what has been seen in MLS.

I wonder if those same patterns will begin to take shape in La Liga and the Bundesliga?

If so, kind of makes you consider that soccer, on both sides of the pond, is not that different at all – (perhaps???) it’s just what money gets spent to purchase top quality players and top quality managers???….

I.e. – if you spend enough money, in any league, it looks as if the tendencies of teams that don’t have higher quality players (spend the same amount of money) is to cede possession and play counter/more direct.

Best, Chris

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You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Dynamic Dynamo De-Magnetized as Dominic Departs

In the next installment of my End of Season analyses here’s my look at the Houston Dynamo. 

Last week I offered my End of Season analysis on the Chicago Fire (found here:) Candle Burned at Both Ends.

Previous to that I offered up my two part series on the Portland Timbers here (Defense) and here (Attacking).

This is the second article I’ve offered up on Houston this year – my earlier article can be found here:  Disheveled Defense has Dominic’s Dynamo in Disarray.

After working through the info I’ll offer my thoughts, for consideration, on some changes that may need to happen to make this team more competitive.

Like every installment I’ll lead with this Diagram – my Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Index:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

If you see a pattern in my approach this year – you’re right – I’ll be working from worst to first excluding the eye-sore – Chivas USA.  No point in my view – Wilbur Cabrera no doubt did the best job he could but since the organization is toast it’s best this black-eye of the MLS Franchise is laid to rest as quickly as possible.

Note that Houston (HDFC) finished third bottom in the Composite Index – pretty much meaning that both their attacking and defending team performance was weak.

The correlation (R2) of this Index to average points earned in MLS is .85.

Now for the Grist… points per game both home and away for Houston this year.

On the Road Houston averaged .65 Points per Game (PPG) 4th worst in MLS  – at home 1.65 PPG  10th best in MLS.

Overall – Houston averaged 1.15 PPG – 6th worst in MLS.

So from a team performance standpoint – dead on average when it came to performing at home this year – the killer, in putting them near bottom, was their road performance.

When looking into the team performance indicators of PWP I’ll make it a special point to peel back home and away outputs.  For now they had eight wins at home with three wins on the road.

It would appear that their inability to get a draw on the road was a stumbling block – just 2 draws to go with three wins – otherwise they lost 12 road games this year…

In those 12 road losses they scored just four goals, in their two road draws – they didn’t score any goals.

Even more pear-shaped is that four of their 12 goals, on the road, came in one game against Chivas USA!  They simply didn’t get results on the road!

Can you say new strikers for next year?

Perhaps – but it’s not all about just striking the ball, there’s passing accuracy, penetration, and as things are beginning to show, patience…

Bottom line here, they really couldn’t score or win on the road…  

Team Performance – first up – given their inability to score goals on the road – Attacking PWP:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Given just four goals scored in their 12 losses and only .71 Goals per Game, on the road as a whole – it shouldn’t be surprising that they fell that low in the Attacking PWP Index.  Kind of makes you wonder about San Jose (2nd worst) and them bringing on Dominic Kinnear to turn that attacking ship around?!?

However viewed there’s six team performance indicators that make up this Index so were they all bad, across the board, or just in finishing?

Possession Percentage:

All told – 48.95% – (9th highest) with Home possession 50.61% and Road possession 47.34%.

Not enough information to really pick out if their home and road styles were different – but enough information to warrant a closer look at volume both inside and outside the final third.

The overall volume of passes offered up at home was 417 per game – while on the road 397 per game – about 20 passes per game fewer.

That 20 passes per game more, at Home, only translated to 6 more passes per game in the Attacking Final Third (117 at home vs 111 on the road).

Again – not a great difference so more data is needed. 

Passing Accuracy:

All told – 76.54% – (11th highest) with Home accuracy 77.41% and Road accuracy 75.68%.

Overall their passing accuracy appeared to suffer on the road versus at home; but neither were particularly good compared to the rest of MLS.

We already know their volume of passes decreased on the road as well – so as their volume decreased their accuracy decreased.

That doesn’t usually follow but I think we saw that trait with Chicago as well – as volume decreased accuracy decreased…

For the Portland Timbers the opposite was true – as volume decreased accuracy increased.

So that relationship seems pretty pear-shaped to me…

I suppose there can be any number of reasons why this might occur – for me, I’d offer at least one observation – with decreased passing and decreased possession they may have been playing more difficult (longer) passes given less control of the game; i.e – showing less patience.  

Penetration per Possession:

All told – 23.82% (5th highest) with Home penetration 24.38% and Road penetration 23.25%

For the most part, in doing this analysis for two years now – a higher percentage of penetration per possession is not that good with a lower passing accuracy percentage.

What that higher number appears to indicate is less patience (with lower overall passing accuracy) and with that less patience in penetration their is usually a corresponding increase in the volume of shots – but the accuracy of those shots is usually lower.

Which then translates to fewer shots on goal and fewer goals scored.

For now, I’d offer that Houston attempted to penetrate with more frequency compared to having less possession – some might say this indicates a more direct attacking style as well.

When looking at the percentage of passes completed, in the Final Third, the Dynamo were accurate 62.44% of the time on the road (7th worst), 67.43% at home (7th best) and 64.94% overall.

Given the lower passing accuracy, and lower volume, as we know from earlier, I’d offer the Dynamo looked to play more direct on the road, and slightly less direct at home.

Put another way (perhaps?) – they were less patient on the road than at home.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

All told – 18.83% (5th highest)  with Home at 19.72% and Road at 17.93%

So 5th highest in both penetrating possession and shots taken per penetration.

As noted above then, the first two trends match other low performers – more penetration usually means more shots per penetration when passing accuracy is on the lower end of the scale.

What’s also interesting is that these last two indicators were lower for Road games than Home games.

And, at the same time, Home games saw the Dynamo more accurate in their passing.

Meaning, it’s likely there is more to their road attacking weakness than strikers; the question taking shape for me do those weaknesses also include lack of good midfielders, or worse yet, a completely pear-shaped away game tactical style?

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

We already know that the magic number for most teams, to win in the top leagues, is at least 5-6 Shots on Goal; (read here if not convinced).

For Houston they averaged 33.05% (2nd worst) in this category with Home 34.80% and Road 31.30%.

So the pattern of, less percentages from gaining possession, on-wards, means less percentages all the way through when the Dynamo are on the Road, compared to Home.

And with that percentage being 2nd worst in MLS it’s worthy to check what the average volumes are as well.

Shots Taken (13.29 – Home = 14.49 – Road = 11.65) 10th best overall.

Shots on Goal (4.53 – Home = 5.18 – Road = 3.88)  12th best overall.

Let’s not forget they won eight games at home – so that target of 5.18 seems reasonable.

A couple of things here – if it’s just strikers then chances are the target of 5.18 shots on goal at home is not reached and with 3.88 shots on goal on the road as well, it’s pretty likely that the – so I’d offer it’s more than just strikers.

Bottom line here; before looking at the Goals Scored I’d offer that the consistency in poor passing accuracy, overzealous approach in penetration and shot creation is down to poor midfield play and poor team tactics as opposed to just weaknesses in strikers.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

With over 5.18 Shots on Goal per game at Home the Dynamo should have averaged over 2.00 goals per game – but they didn’t.

So for me that does mean strikers are also accountable for the poor attacking performance.

All told their team performance percentage was 22.14% – the worst in MLS.  Home was 30.19% (8th worst) and Road was 14.08% – a full 16% points below the league average.

In summary:

They not only had poor performance when it came to striking (even at home their overall performance was below average) they were horrendous on the road.

Team road performance percentages (REGULARLY) were lower (in percentage and by volume) across the board, in every single category.

Clearly pointing, in my opinion, to a tactical strategy that was wrong – never-mind the perceived or real weaknesses in their strikers.

If Dominic Kinnear thinks he’s going to be able to take a failed tactical attacking road strategy, in the East, and expect to have it win out West (in a far tougher conference) he needs to rethink.

And San Jose really need to consider what investments will be needed to have Dominic Kinnear transform the 2nd worst attacking team in MLS, when their new Head Coach just completed a year in Houston where his tactical approach led to the third worst attacking team performance in MLS.

Now with those brutal thoughts out of the way for Attack – here’s how the Dynamo performed in Defending PWP:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Not quite as ugly on the defending side of the pitch – but still 6th worst, overall, in MLS.

Opponent Possession Percentage:

All told – 51.02% – we already know based upon their attacking possession percentage the opponent possessed the ball more often than the Dynamo.

That’s not a bad thing for some teams – New England, Vancouver, DC United, and FC Dallas all made the playoffs where the opponent possessed the ball more than they did.

In that, I’d offer the rubber will meet the road a bit later as we dig in on the defensive end.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:

All told 78.47% (4th highest) with Home 77.34% and Road 79.59%.

Not much to draw on without looking into some volumes – so Total Passes faced was 426.03 per game; 9th fewest in MLS – at Home opponents passed 401 times per game – versus when on the road – that number increased by almost 50 passes per game (448.94).

Pretty much indicating to me the Dynamo ceded possession as well as a considerably higher number of overall passes; especially when facing opponents on the road.

Still not enough to draw a conclusion, one way or the other, about weaker play or tactics.

Opponent Penetration per Possession:

All told – 22.19% (12th best) with Home 20.78% and Road 23.59%.

When playing on the Road the opponents (at home) penetrated roughly 3% more of the time than visiting Houston.

The percentage of passing within and into the Houston defending final third was 67.26% on the road and 62.68% at home.

More penetration by opponents when Houston played on the road and better accuracy for the opponents as well.

In considering the opponent volumes, the average number of passes, within and into the defending final third, was 112.65 per game.

Opponents visiting Houston averaged 102 per game. compared to 122.63 when Houston visited them.

An increase in volume by nearly 20 passes per game when on the road.

So far, that means both the volume and accuracy of the opponent, when entertaining Houston got better the closer they got to the Houston goal.

With that I’d expect Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession and Shots on Goals percentages to drop somewhat – reinforcing that as teams did gain penetration they were more likely to show more patience in shots taken – resulting in increased goals scored.

However viewed, I’d offer that the tactics on the road, against the opponent, were not the same as those employed at home.  By volume alone, I’d offer that Houston played slightly higher up the pitch (defensively) at home, and slightly deeper on the road.  My rationale for that comes after doing my analysis on Philadelphia and Portland this year – both teams showed these trends, in volume, and percentages, when playing deeper versus more shallow.

Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

All told 19.91% (4th worst) with Home 22.16% (2nd worst) and Road 17.67% (13th worst).

In other words the opponent’s were taking more shots per penetrating possession than opponents against other teams.

What’s interesting is that the percentage for opponents, when Houston played them on the road, dropped – in other words the opponents took fewer shots per penetrating possession.

This is an indicator that the opponents were more frugal with their shot selection – meaning, usually, they sought more time and space in order to increase the end results – accuracy in having shots on goal – score goals.

The higher percentage at Home could mean that the Dynamo were more likely to hurry their opponent into taking shots – with eight wins at home that shouldn’t be surprising.

However viewed, the trends indicating a different tactical approach, given opponent outputs, still continues to show itself in the data.

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

All told 34.90% (6th best) with Home 34.25% and Road 35.55%.

Their average volume of shots on goal, against, is 5th highest in MLS and the average Goals Against was 1.58 (6th highest in MLS).

So regardless of what tactic was employed the opponent’s were finding ways to put their shots on goal.

When on the road, the opponent averages 1.81 goals against Houston – 3rd worst (highest) in MLS.

Meaning, even with decreased shots taken (by percentage) and decreased shots on goal (by percentage) the opponents were pretty accurate.

So in the case of Houston, a perceived deeper line in defending (in away games) did not reduce goals against – it increased goals against.

So the tactic successfully employed by both Philadelphia and Portland did not pan out for Houston.

This could mean any number of things but I’d offer at least two thoughts; 1) the defensive tactic on the road was the wrong defensive tactic (all year), and 2) adding both a central midfielder and left fullback did not heal the wounds, meaning more player personnel moves are likely when viewing the defending side of the pitch.  And yes, I did take a look to see if there were differences in volume or percentage from game one to game 34 – I didn’t see any either viewing the total or just away/home games.

In Closing:

I’d offer the move to change Head Coaches was probably going to happen even if Dominic Kinnear didn’t show his intentions of moving to San Jose.

I’d also offer there could be at least 4-6 new starters for this team next year.  At least one new striker, two new midfielders, two new defenders, plus, we already know, there will be a new Goal Keeper.

I’d also offer there are indicators showing that the overall tactical approach, on the road, was pear-shaped – if Dominic Kinnear expects to use that same approach in San Jose, without some minor upgrades in players, compared to this year, he may have issues.

And he certainly needs to reconsider what road attacking style he adopts as well – with San Jose being 2nd worst in these same categories, across the board, he may have major goal scoring issues.

Finally, some teams seemed to have improved their goals against by playing deeper – while with Houston that does not appear to be the case.  What appears to work for some, might not work for others; it’s a funny game this is.

Best, Chris

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Chicago Fire – Candle Burned at Both Ends

I’ve heard rumor that the Chicago Fire are looking to add two Designated Players to their squad this off-season – in my view – it’ll take a whole lot more than that.

In my End of Season analysis here’s some statistics, key indicators and observations for your consideration.

In case you missed it – it should model my previous article on the Fire much earlier this year:  On Fire – or a Candle Burning at Both Ends.

After working through the info I’ll also offer my thoughts, for your consideration, on some changes that may need to happen to make this team more competitive.

To set the tone here’s my standard Index rating for Chicago (CFSC) compared to other teams in MLS:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Note where Chicago line-up in my Index – near bottom – alongside that team who was relegated (erh… disbanded).

If you haven’t seen this Index before here’s a link to some simplified explanations.

If you are a statistics type person know that the Index has a direct correlation to average points earned in the MLS League Table (without using points in the calculations) {R2} of .85.

Now for the Grist… points per game both home and away for Chicago this year.  

Chicago earned 1.06 points per game (PPG) this year – 5th worst in Major League Soccer.

Results like that when Porter came in to replace Spencer saw at least 14 players moved out (quickly) and eventually 9 new starters – is it likely the Fire JUST bring on two new DP’s?

When playing at home – the easiest place to play in MLS – their PPG was 1.35 – tied for 3rd worst in MLS.

They had four wins at home, 11 draws, and two losses.

In the big scheme of things – home teams in MLS this year won 151 games – out of 19 teams – the number of wins Chicago had at home represented just 2.65% of those victories.

When playing away from home – their PPG was .76 – tied for 4th worst in MLS.

In their ten losses they averaged .90 goals per game (GPG); in their 18 draws they averaged 1.11 GPG; and in their six wins they averaged 2 GPG.

All told they averaged just 1.21 goals per game – eight games with 2 goals, 1 game with 3 goals, and 1 game with 5 goals – shutout seven times with 17 games where only one goal was scored.

Bottom line here – they really couldn’t win at home or on the road.

Do you even want to know how things looked from a Goals Against standpoint?  Probably not so to simplify (save space) – their overall Goal Differential was -10, with it being a -12 on the road.

Now for the team Attacking and Defending performance indicators with the Defending PWP Strategic Index first:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

For me this is where the real grist is offered on just how poor the Fire team performance was compared to others in MLS. 

In walking through this information will there be just one key indicator that spells out the reason for bad results, or will there be multiple indicators?  Let’s find out:

Opponent possession – 54.66% – 2nd highest in MLS (in away games 55.71% – at home 52.92%).

Pretty much either way you cut it the Fire ceded possession, either by design of by default.

Not a negative indicator, by any stretch, as many teams ceded possession and did well this year – but given the low PPG – it should be a concern that there may have been many gaps in this team besides one or two DP’s.

Opponent Passing Accuracy –  78.05% – 7th highest in MLS (in away games 78.76% – at home 77.33%).

So, with a good amount of possession the opponents also seemed to be pretty successful in completing their passes across the entire pitch.

What might help shape that opponent possession is this – outside the final third opponents averaged 82.67% passing accuracy – while inside the Fire, final third, they averaged 63.79%.

It would appear that the Fire, regularly, and systematically, in both home and away games ceded space outside their defending final third.

Unlike the Timbers, when they got their defense in gear, it did not translate to a lower goals against.

Given that, it would seem reasonable that there are more issues in the defensive supporting cast in the midfield as well as in the back four itself; more to follow.

Opponent Penetration per Possession – 20.90% – 4th lowest in MLS (in away games 21.86% at home 19.93%) both 4th worst in MLS.

Overall it would appear that a higher line was employed to try to minimize initial penetration – we have seen that tactic used by Hackworth (before being sacked) and by Porter (before realigning his defensive tactics).

In looking at both home and away games spread throughout the season it does not appear that the Fire changed tactics.

So keeping in mind the terrible Goals Against this year – this information continues to reinforce that even with minimal penetration the opponents were still able to put the ball into the back of the net.  

Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – 17% – 6th lowest in MLS (in away games 18.41% – at home 15.58%).

In studying other teams this year – those that have higher passing accuracy percentages seem to have lower percentages in this category – intuiting patience in creating time and space to score goals.

What is intriguing here is that this same pattern showed itself with Philadelphia before they dropped deeper.  In other words – once penetration was gained the opponent wasn’t likely to lose it and a result of that shows taking more time to offer up a shot as opposed to systematically looking to hurry the shots.

I’d offer that if the opponent was hurrying their shots they would take them more frequently and be less accurate.  So were the opponents more or less accurate in putting their shots taken on goal?

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 38.76%- 2nd highest in MLS (in away games 37.95% – at home  39.58%).

It would appear that the opponents were more accurate…

As anticipated – based upon other team outputs – their defensive tactics (in probably playing a bit higher up the defensive side of the pitch) didn’t work.

Is that down to player selection, player availability, player talent/skills or the Head Coach?

Hard to say – but in considering the length of time Frank Yallop has coached in the MLS it would seem reasonable that some adjustments might have been made along the way like you can see with the Timbers in this article – or the Union in this article.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – 37.18% – 3rd worst in MLS (in away games 38.53% – at home 35.82%).

So the tale of the tape is the Fire ceded possession outside their defending final third – appear to have played a high defensive line to try to minimize damaging penetration and while minimizing penetration it also opened up their defense for an even worse overall team performance.

That doesn’t even address what communication issues/tactical issues occurred between their Goal Keeper and back four.

In summation – like the wholesale changes the Timbers made when Porter replaced Spencer – I’d expect wholesale changes for the Fire on the defending side of the pitch.  In my opinion they probably need two DP’s, alone, on the defending end of the ball and a completely new tactical approach as well…

That’s probably been pretty painful for the Fire supporters and I hesitate to offer up team performance in attack; but alas – this is an End of Season analysis – so chocks away on the Attacking PWP Strategic Index:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Not as depressing as the defending side of the pitch – but to be real here – they were 4th worst overall in team attacking.  

So without further ado how good were Chicago in the same categories against their opponents were against them?

Possession – 45.68% – 2nd lowest in MLS (in away games 44.29% – at home 47.08%).

As noted in DPWP; the Fire ceded possession, either be design of by default.

Given both home and away games are below 50% it is likely the Fire did not really alter their attacking style (like Seattle has shown) when playing at home versus on the road.

Again, not a negative indicator, but additional attacking performance information should shine more light on whether they altered their tactics playing in different locations.

It is interesting to note that their average (home) possession percentage against Houston was 56.23% – and even against DC United it was 53.86%.

So it does appear some tactical things were occurring in playing those two teams – whether that was driven by Chicago Or Houston/DC United it hard to say.

But I would offer that both Houston and DC United averaged less than 50% possession this year – so it’s not unreasonable to assume that the change in possession against those two teams was more a function of those teams and not the Fire/Yallop.  Others may have a different view?

Passing Accuracy –  74.03% – 2nd worst in MLS (in away games 72% – at home 76.07%).

So an increase in passing accuracy at home; in looking at total passes offered.

The difference in passing accuracy is pretty much down to the Fire offering up more passes outside their attacking final third.  In other words – their average passes in the attacking final third are the same for both home and away games.

Which means the increase in passing accuracy is attributed to passes completed in a less dangerous area – i.e. – those of smaller value.

I suppose it needs to be said here, first, a low passing accuracy usually means one to three things – the team looks to offer longer passes that are less likely to be completed – or – the team doesn’t really have the skilled players or head coach direction to play a shorter, quicker passing game.  For now I’d offer it’s a combination of the three without knowing additional information.

Penetration per Possession – 23.20% – 8th highest in MLS (in away games 23.29% – at home 23.11%).

Their percentage of penetration is pretty high here; mixing with Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, and New York.

So it would appear that the Fire looked to match penetration with the bigger boys in attack – that does seem to indicate that the attacking midfield was doing a pretty good job – but – it can also be deceptive as we know some teams looked to play a bit deeper in order to tighten space within their final third.

That deeper play results in the attacker having a higher percentage of penetrating possession at times.

Those better attacking teams were usually more accurate in their passing once they entered the final third – and that accuracy then translated to higher success rates in shots on goal and goals scored.  Meaning – they had forward talent to match the midfield talent in penetration and creation.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – 20.48% – 3rd highest in MLS (in away games 17.45% – at home 23.50%).

Their home percentage was the highest in MLS – In considering outputs from other teams, this year, it would appear that the Fire were far less patient in generating shots taken given their overall penetrating possession.

Another factor here is the passing accuracy within the final third – for the Fire it was 61.28% (the 2nd lowest in MLS).

This information, coupled with a higher than normal shots taken per penetration, seems to support a more direct attacking approach – one that is less patient and more concerned about getting the shot off instead of taking a bit more time to create that extra time and space.

In looking back to my last observation, about having forward talent to match the attacking midfield talent, they might have that, but it would appear that the tactical approach to play more direct may have had more influence?  I suppose the lights will shine a bit better if their ability to score is higher…

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 35.95%- mid-table in MLS (in away games 37.02% – at home  34.87%).

The 34.87% is the 7th lowest in MLS – and that coupled with the lower than normal passing accuracy, plus the higher rate of shots taken per penetration seems to point, again, to a team playing more direct and taking less time on the ball.

In other words, (perhaps?)  the skill level of the players, or the tactical approach by the head coach, simply didn’t get the job done in putting shots on goal.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – 29.55% – 8th worst in MLS (in away games 31.96% – at home 27.14%).

An intriguing piece of info here might be this – when playing away from home, they had 6% fewer shots per penetration, and they put more of those shots taken on goal (31.96%) and had a much higher percentage of scoring a goal based upon those reduced penetrations (31.96%).

That is a similar pattern to many good attacking teams – except when it came to actually scoring the goal…

All told, they also had the 8th worst Goals Scored on the road (1.12) – which could be reasoned to (perhaps again?) three things, either a poor tactical approach in looking to score more goals on the road – not having good enough players to execute the tactical approach of the head coach, or three – having the wrong tactical approach for the players on the team?

In Closing:

Like the wholesale changes the Timbers made when Porter replaced Spencer – I’d expect wholesale changes for the Fire on the attacking side of the pitch too.

In my opinion they probably need at least one DP on the attacking end of the pitch to go with the two defending DP’s on the other end of the pitch.

This will cost money, big money – and I’d also expect to hear about 10-15 changes in the roster – a similar outcome to the Timbers a couple of years ago.

This (could) probably include a new goal keeper, three new defenders, two to three new midfielders and perhaps a new striker; for starters.

I offer the potential for a new Goal Keeper based upon considering the actions taken by Portland during the Spencer to Porter shift – there was a house cleaning of sorts and although Troy Perkins was a popular player – he was moved – and I think at that time, Perkins had  a better Save percentage then (69%) than Sean Johnson did this year.

Finally, in 2012 Sean Johnson had a 76% save percentage, in 2013 that had dropped to 70% – and this year it has dropped even further to 64%.

I wonder if the team makes up more ground next year by adopting a different tactical approach and trying to make better use of the talent they currently have.

And here’s a $4 Million Dollar question – if Yallop continues to play (apparently)  more direct, as opposed to the shorter, quicker passing game others are using exactly where is he going to get 2-3 DP’s who work more in a direct style attack than counter-attacking, quicker, shorter attack?

It’s my guess that the Chicago Fire Front Office did not expect, nor bargain, to have to completely rebuild this team under Frank Yallop.

And I’d offer they should have known something like this might happen given the poor run of success his tactical approach had in San Jose before he got sacked.

Best, Chris

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Road Warriors – Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Sounders have one of the most advanced statistics programs in Major League Soccer. 

And while I don’t have a specific gauge that tracks the effectiveness and efficiency of their statistical analysis it’s a good bet their approach has had some level of influence in how their organization performed this year.

NOTE: Given recent developments this article has been offered up on the SB Nation Blog, as a Fan Post, for the Seattle Sounders.

To read the article, in its entirety, click here.

As always feel free to offer comments here or on the Sounder at Heart SB Nation Fan Post site.

Best, Chris

Valencia – Formula Won… La Liga

Most of the Headlines speak to the Real Madrid victory over the vaunted Barcelona; mine obviously don’t.  

For me Valencia is showing strong, and in my view, seems to have struck a great balance in attack and defense as they continues to impress.  And even though this early season run of form  might not last I do think it’s worthy to dig a bit deeper into their overall performance to see exactly why they are doing so well.

To begin – my standard Composite PWP Strategic Index:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 9

Why are Valencia so high in their overall team performance?

Is it their overall team attacking or defending performance?

At first glance you may think it’s their Attack – to review that here’s the latest Attacking PWP Strategic Index:

APWP Strategic Index Week 9

Even higher than Barcelona – one of the best attacking teams in the World!  Valencia are:

  • 7th best in overall possession – 51%; a full 17% less than Barcelona
  • 3rd best in overall passing accuracy – 85.97% – still less than Barcelona by 3%
  • 17th best (4th worst) in penetration per possession -19.71% – a full 13% below Barcelona
  • 9th best in Shots Taken per penetrating possession  – 15.84% – this time ~6% higher than Barcelona
  • 9th best in Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 34.87% – roughly 5% lower than Barcelona
  • Finally, and perhaps the single greatest graphic difference is Goals Scored per Shots on Goal; at this point Valencia have scored a HUGE 60.83% of the time they’ve put a Shot on Goal – by comparison Barcelona sit at 31.68%..

In a phrase – Valencia ‘are’ the best team in performing the key indicators in possession with purpose.  They may not have the glitz and glamour of a Barcelona or Real Madrid but steady is good.

But before moving on to Defending I think it’s worthy to note their volume of activity not just the percentages above:

  • They match the league average in passes attempted (410) what skews that average is Barcelona and Real Madrid.  All told only six of the 20 teams in La Liga exceed the league average.
  • As noted above their passing accuracy is 3rd best in the league – with that their total completed passes across the entire pitch is 5th best at 349.
  • So by volume they are not what would be considered a dominating possession based team.
  • And in looking at their overall penetration into the final third Valencia average 107 passes per game – 13th best.
  • In other words they’re not really a possession based team, they are more of a counter-attacking team who simply wait for some extremely superb moments to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses in order to create ideal time and space conditions.
  • And to reinforce this view they are slightly lower (10.78 per game) than the league average (11.45) in Shots Taken – but slightly lower in Shots on Goal (3.78) versus the league average of (4.03).
  • And that ‘finishing touch’ sees them average 2.22 Goals Scored per game compared to the 1.34 for La Liga and just slightly lower than Barcelona’s average of 2.56 per game!

All told – Valencia are simply a team that is performing at an optimal rate.

But that’s not the complete answer for Valencia – here’s how they stand in the Defending PWP Strategic Index:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 9

They are 3rd best in La Liga in defending team performance; here’s how the key indicators compare to others as well as Barcelona:

  • Opponents average 48.68% possession – pretty much meaning the opponent has the ball as much as Valencia – opponents of Barcelona possess the ball just 31.18% of the time.
  • Opponents average 77.62% passing accuracy – and I’d offer that is more down to the amount of space Valencia cede outside their Defending Final Third – we’ll take a look at that when reviewing the volume of opponent activity.
  • In terms of penetration and shot creation from that penetration their opponents are 10th best at penetrating 24.09% of the time they possess the ball while also generating shots taken 16.21% of the time.
  • All told that leads to an opponent accuracy shot rate on goal of 35.53% with 21.67% of those shots on goal scoring a goal.
  • Bottom line here is that with average penetration (compared to others in La Liga) and average shots against, Valencia are 4th lowest in facing shots on goal and 4th lowest in seeing those shots on goal score goals.

It would appear they have a very organized defensive system and a very good Goal Keeper.

So how about the volume of attack faced from their opponents?  

  • At this stage they have faced, on average, the 8th fewest passes per game (388) compared to Barcelona at 300.
  • In terms of overall penetration, the opponents have offered up 117 passes per game in the Valencia Defending Final Third – with that being the 10th most in La Liga.
  • Statistics would seem to indicate that they do make it easier for their opponents to penetrate – which in turn appears to support what was offered up earlier.
  • When it comes down to shots faced they are 9th lowest in that category – while translating that to just 3.78 shots on goal (tied 8th best).
  • All told that added volume of penetration sees Valencia with a .89 goals against per game – 3rd best in La Liga.

Bottom line here – like what the percentages offer – Valencia cedes time and space outside the Defending Final Third while doing a great job of closing up shop as the opponent finally gains entry.

Is that the right mix to minimize the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla?

Hard to say at this time – but clearly – going into Week 10 against Villarreal it is likely they should get another three points.

Which brings me to my last Index – the CPWP Predictability Index.

In MLS this Index averaged a 55-65% accuracy in identifying the winner of upcoming games – at times the outputs were pear-shaped while others were spot on.

I have no idea how this will play out this year in Europe but here’s the Index itself and then a quick blurb on how to understand it:

CPWP Predictability Index Week 9

As noted Valencia take on Villarreal this weekend – note that Valencia has a higher number than Villarreal – simply meaning, with the law of averages considered, and the teams perform as they have in the past Valencia should win.

So in looking up the schedule for next weekend; Getafe should edge Deportivo; Real Madrid should defeat Granada; Atletico Madrid should defeat Cordoba; Barcelona should beat Celta de Vigo; Real Sociedad should defeat Malaga; Athletic Club should beat Sevilla; Levante should lose to Almeria; Elche should lose to Espanyol; and Rayo Vallecano should beat Eibar.

By the way – the Predictability Index is made up of all the PWP Data Point Relationships excluding ‘goals scored’ and ‘goals against’ – you really can’t develop a worthy predictability index using goals scored.

That should help explain why Celta de Vigo are higher up the prediction table than Valencia… based upon their overall run of play performances Celta should probably score more goals than they do.

All for now…

Best, Chris

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You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

FC Bayern Bullies Werder Bremen and the Bundesliga…

When a team is simply the best a picture speaks a thousand words…

CPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 8

Rarely do I ever focus on just one game in my analyses but I think it’s worthy to spend just a wee bit of time on the Bayern – Bremen match to really drive home what my Family of Indices can show.

Here’s how the two teams matched up in Week 8 using my PWP data array:

Possession with Purpose Data Array Bayern vs Bremen Bundesliga Week 8

I’m not sure the obnoxious dominance of FC Bayern Munchen can be pictured any more clearly than this without some creative graphics.

So is Werder Bremen really as bad as this one game shows?

Before Week 8 here’s where they stood in the CPWP Strategic Index:  

CPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 7

Sixth from the bottom, so in the space of one week they’ve gone from 6th worst in overall PWP to worst…  

I’ll call that the Bayern Bruise…  both Stuttgart, FC Koln, Paderborn, and Hamburger have felt that to some extent as well…

That being said, Bremen have played all the top teams in the Index apart from FSV Mainz and Mochengladbach – so is it any wonder their near bottom?

Hmmmm… not so sure but they have yet to play Hamburger, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Paderborn, Augsburg, or Dortmund. Most likely meaning, with the exclusion of Dortmund, some points are to be had.

Can they get them though?  I’m not so sure.

APWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 8

After Week 8 they are sixth bottom in the APWP Strategic Index – and yes, they have played most of the top teams in the Bundesliga – and when peeling back the attacking team performance data it’s not anemic by any stretch.

They are 7th best in converting Shots on Goal to Goals Scored (>35%)… usually that means a bit of patience to go along with a bit of time and space to get goals.

They are 10th best in having their Shots Taken be Shots on Goal (>35%)… another indicator that time and space is being created to generate accurate shots – even against some of the better teams in the Bundesliga.

They are 7th lowest in taking Shots per penetrating possession (>17%) – for the most part a lower percentage here is not a bad thing – it usually indicates patience, along with taking a bit more time to create space.

Indeed, the top team in having the lowest percentage of Shots Taken per penetrating possession is FC Bayern (11.55%).

They are also 5th best in their percentage of possession resulting in penetration (24.45%).

Where things go pear shaped is overall Passing Accuracy and Possession; they are the worst team in the Bundesliga when it comes to Passing Accuracy (64.39%) and only Paderborn has less possession (37.68% to 43.93%).

So what’s that mean?

From an attacking standpoint in and around the 18 yard box all seems very good – usually meaning they have at least one good midfielder with vision and at least one good striker who can score goals.

But, with the poor passing accuracy and overall possession it may also mean there are some defensive weaknesses bleeding over to impact that attack, like having too many turnovers in their defensive half, or/and

Playing the ball a bit too quickly out of their Defending Half, or/and

Their back line may be defending too high, or/and

Their central midfielders just aren’t good enough to control the run of play between the Defending Final Third and Attacking Final Third…

So in considering potential Defending issues bleeding over to impact the Attack here’ how they compare to others in the Defending PWP Strategic Index:

DPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 8

Dead last – of course some of that may have to do with the Bayern Bruise syndrome – but even after Week 7 Werder Bremen was still 2nd worst.  So the Bruise is there but not as deep based upon Bayern as one might think.  

In terms of overall performance here’s a few observations for consideration:

Opponents average 73.25% Passing Accuracy – in other words the opponent is doing better at completing passes than Werder Bremen – weaknesses, it would seem reasonable, exist in the overall talent of this team compared to others…

We already know they are second worst in overall possession.  Now is that down to how the Coach likes to run a specific system – or is that down to simply having weaker players than the opponent?

Not sure yet – but it’s a good bet that Werder Bremen is looking to play counter-attacking football and that style, coupled with poor passing accuracy is compounding the issue.

In terms of goals scored against – even when you take the six goals out of the equation that Bayern scored – Werder Bremen still average 2.29 goals against per game.

The worst in the Bundesliga – so now only do they have a lower skill level in overall passing it would seem to be that they also have a back four – and goal keeper – who simply aren’t good enough at closing down the time and space the opponent needs to score goals.

A similar pattern appeared with Philadelphia Union this year in Major League Soccer – the solution to stop that goal rot was simply a move by the new Head Coach to have his defenders drop deeper – about 10 yards deeper to be exact.

When that happened the goals against for the Union went from 1.71 to 1.25…

In closing:

It’s still early days but eight weeks are gone and trends ARE forming – Werder Bremen is NOT showing the team indicators that point to a side who’s had bad luck – they are pointing to a side that aren’t that good…

But it’s not too early to remember that the best indicator for a team taking a nose dive in overall performance is defending – and right now Werder Bremen is not defending as well as a team should do if they expect to finish near mid-table as they have in the past.

If things continue like this it is likely this team gets relegated – and an offering up of that after just eight weeks should be enough time for the organization to make the appropriate changes to right the ship…

It’s a tough hill to climb but if 13th or 14th is to be realistic again this year then things need to change pretty bloody quick.

Best, Chris

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MLS – Week 32 – Down to One Battle (Portland or Vancouver)?

The Playoffs are all but settled barring the final team to advance out of the Great Northwest… is it Vancouver or Portland?

Given that I’ll spend a few minutes on each team offering up some strengths and weaknesses but first; as usual the Possession with Purpose Family of Indices beginning with the Composite Index:

CPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

Note that like last year the teams with a positive CPWP Index rating are all in the Playoffs.

In addition – the correlation (R2) of this Index to Average Points in the League Table remains .85…  better than last year’s .77.

The pear-shaped anomaly is Portland versus Vancouver, at this time…

If Portland squeak in then the Index is ten for ten…  that’s two reasons why I think Portland still advances; the other is I just simply love following and watching the Timbers play… apart from when their defense melts.

Anyhow – I digress…  the main reason why Portland is so high in this Index comes down to one thing – Attack – and like last week and for the better part of this season they are third best in their overall attack as seen below:

APWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

The most obvious reason for this high rating is down to Goals Scored – but:

They are also 6th best in overall possession (52.12%) compared to Vancouver who are 7th worst.

That is deceiving though – worst is probably the incorrect word and here’s why.

Paul Robinson plays to a different style than Caleb Porter… Paul likes to run counter-attacking a bit more and is willing to cede possession in order to generate time and space based upon the opponent making mistakes.

On the other hand Caleb is more willing to let his more aggressive attacking scheme generate that needed time and space a bit more…

With respect to passing accuracy – not much between these two teams… Portland averages 67.35% while Vancouver averages 67.00% – that’s after 33 games and 6513 passes for Portland and 6534 passes for Vancouver…

In looking at Possession with the intent to Penetrate – Portland sits at 23.80% while Vancouver sits at 23.47% – so that pretty much means – with two different styles both teams penetrate roughly the same amount based upon almost exactly the same amount of passes.

And the differences aren’t that much as the teams look to score either; Portland takes shots 37.66% of the time they penetrate while Vancouver takes shots 35.15% of the time they penetrate.  And if you read this article you may see why the Timbers didn’t score against Real Salt Lake last Friday.

So here’s where the big difference takes shape – and the real attacking talent of the Timbers separates itself from Vancouver.

Portland average 36.33% of their Shots Taken being on Goal – while Vancouver average just 26.32%.

That difference, in overall shooting accuracy, sees Portland averaging 1.79 goals per game while Vancouver averages just 1.24 goals per game.

Yet… Vancouver are on the leading edge of making the Playoffs – why is that?  Defense.  And here’s the DPWP Strategic Index to begin to highlight the difference:

DPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

So what are the details?

We already know that opponents of the Timbers possess the ball less than opponents of the Whitecaps – so volume of possession is not the issue here.

In terms of passing accuracy, opponents of the Timbers average 76.09% passing accuracy while opponents of Vancouver average 77.48% passing accuracy.

What’s that mean?

Well one view, my view, is that with added possession, the opponent for the Whitecaps is seeing an increase in their own passing accuracy because they have more time and space outside the Vancouver Defending Final Third.  Those passes are easier and perhaps more frequent than those inside the Whitecaps Defending Final Third.

What about penetration?

Opponents of Vancouver penetrate 23.33% of the time they possess the ball while opponents of Portland penetrate 26.95% of the time they possess the ball.

Realistically what this is indicating is the Whitecaps yield possession outside their Defending Final Third (FAR) better than Portland.

Portland opponents have less possession, by almost 4% points compared to Vancouver opponent’s, and yet the Timbers also cede penetration by as much as 3% more…

In other words Portland’s line is probably playing too high… or their defenders are too exposed given their higher rate of attack?

There may be other reasons but those two are usually worthy ones to consider… perhaps others have a different view?

As an example… on altering the defensive line and how it can alter Goals Against can be found here: Philadelphia Union.

So how about Shots Taken per penetrating possession?

Opponents of Portland also generate more shots taken per penetration (18.16%) versus Vancouver opponent’s at 16.97%.  So, again not only is the volume higher the percentage is higher…

In addition, the opponent’s are more accurate against Portland (35.32%) in putting those shots on goal.

Whereas Whitecaps opponents put just 32.10% on goal.  And likewise here – not only is the percentage higher but the volume is higher – a lose-lose situation for Portland in comparison to Vancouver.

Finally, the Timbers opponent’s end up with 29.32% of those Shots on Goal scoring, for a Goals Against of 1.58.  While the Whitecaps are again lower with an opponent success rate of 26.17% with a Goals Against of 1.21.

In Closing:

I’m not sure the picture can be any more clear than that…

Sadly, or happily, depending on who you follow – the Vancouver Whitecaps, at this time, reinforce that a team who defends better will go further in a Championship run than a team who attacks better.

And given that complete dominance in defensive difference it’s highly unlikely that just one or two players have fixed the defense compared to how bad it was last year.

However viewed, Rosenstadt Til I Die!

Rosenstadt Til I Die

Best, Chris

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