English Premier League – Possession with Purpose – Week 2
Two weeks in and Manchester City pretty much throws the gauntlet down against Liverpool and walks away with a dominating win.
Three other teams have also begun the season with six points (Spurs, Swansea, and Chelsea) but do those four teams show the most consistency with purpose in possession, penetration and creation of shots taken that result in goals scored?
And, do those same four teams show the most consistency in preventing their opponents from doing the same thing to them?
What about the early season dogs (QPR, Burnley, Crystal Palace, and Newcastle) – where do they fit?
I’ll try to answer those questions without too much detail given the season is just two weeks old.
So to begin; here’s the Composite PWP (CPWP) Strategic Index after Week 2:
- A quick look at the table sees the top four in the Index as being the top four in the Table – not specifically in order but there it is.
- In looking at the bottom end of the Table the bottom four teams in the Index match exactly the bottom four in the Table.
- I doubt very much the level of accuracy will match the League Table that well throughout the year.
- Of note is that Arsenal, Hull and Aston Villa are next up in the Table but Villa seems to drift down a bit in the CPWP; perhaps the APWP or DPWP might explain that drift compared to Arsenal or Hull City?
- As a reminder – the End State of the Index is to provide an objective view of team performance indicators that don’t include Points in the League Table – in other words it’s a collection of data points, that when combined, can provide value in what team activities are occurring that are directly supporting results on the pitch – sometimes results on the pitch don’t match points earned…
- In leveraging this Index last year in the MLS it was very accurate in reflecting why certain Head Coaches may have been sacked – in a League like the EPL (where everything is expensive) perhaps this Index might have even more value to ownership?
- Movement in the Index – in the MLS, this last year, I have seen teams move up as many as 12 places and down as many as 11 places – after the 4th week – so the Index is not likely to stay constant – there will be changes.
I do not quantify Index outputs specific to individual player acquisition or performance – there is no intent to do this. It’s my belief, good or bad, that even with individual star performances a team is a team is a team – you win as a team and you lose as a team… but this Index isn’t intended to stop others from doing that.
I leave that individual analyses for others who are far better at digging into the weeds than I – for the EPL I’d imagine many folks gravitate to @statsbomb or other @SBNation sites – I respect their individual analyses as I hope they respect my team analyses.
Whether the consistency of value shows itself in assessing team performance in the EPL like it has in Major League Soccer I have no idea – we will follow that journey, in public, together…
Now for Attacking PWP (APWP):
- In recalling Villa’s drift (it is still early) perhaps it’s an early indication that Villa are playing slightly more direct (given past indications analyzing Major League Soccer) – or with a greater lean towards counter-attacking and quick transition?
- In taking a quick look at their average volume of passes per game (305) compared to the rest of the EPL (456) it would seem to indicate Villa are playing more direct football.
- The team with the highest APWP while falling below the average number of passes attempted, per game, is Leicester City; they average 308 passes per game compared to the 456 average of EPL. For me that’s an early indicator that they are making the best use of a direct attacking scheme – others may have a different view?
- The team with the lowest APWP while showing higher than the average number of passes attempted, ~(500 per game), is Stoke City – that might indicate the Potters are looking to possess the ball more with the intent to possess it as opposed to penetrating with it. Folks who follow Stoke a bit closer might be able to add to that as I’ve yet to see them play this year.
- In terms of early form, relative to the six team performance indicators, Chelsea are tops with Everton, Arsenal, and Man City close behind.
- With respect to bottom feeders QPR are bottom in CPWP and bottom in APWP as well; most figured they’d be early favorites for relegation – the PWP Indices seem to lean that way already as well…
- Perhaps the early surprise in APWP is Newcastle? Not sure about that one – last time I lived in England Alan Shearer was their striker and probably the best one in the country at that time… others will no better about what Alan Pardew is up to…
Next up Defending PWP (DPWP):
- Leaders here include Spurs, Man City, Swansea and Newcastle – is this an early indicator that Newcastle has experienced bad luck already? Not sure but three of the bottom dwellers here are three of the four bottom dwellers in CPWP.
- Although not real clear here it might be easy to forget that Arsenal had a blindingly great first game and then eked out a draw against Everton in the last ten minutes; in considering that this data still just represents two games…
- Recall Stoke City – and the potential view that they might be possessing the ball with an intent to possess more-so than penetrate – even with just 1 point in the League Table their DPWP exceeds West Ham, Liverpool, and others who are further up the table.
- Man City showed great nous last year in winning the League and it reaffirmed for many of us the importance of defending – Liverpool were close last year given an awesome attack – players have changed but it’s likely the system/approach has not varied that much. And after two games Liverpool are embedded firmly in the middle of the DPWP pack.
- Can they push higher up the DPWP? And if so, will that climb in the DPWP Index match a climb in the League Table; or vice versa?
Far too early to look for trends but these first few weeks will provide a baseline for future trends.
As noted in my most recent articles on Possession – the more accurate soundbite on whether or not a team is more likely to win has more relevance with respect to Passing Accuracy (>77% in MLS usually means a team is more likely to win) and not Possession.
The margin of winning and losing in MLS is far to muddied when looking at Possession – so as the EPL season continues I will also make it a point to study what ‘soundbite’ has more relevance; Passing Accuracy or Possession.
Other links that may be of interest to you include:
My presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer
New Statistics (Open Shots and Open Passes)
Thanks in advance for your patience.
COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved. PWP – Trademark
Passing – An oddity in how it’s measured in Soccer (Part I)
In my passion to better understand how soccer is statistically tracked I’ve come across what I would call is an oddity about the general characterization of “passing” in the world’s greatest sport.
Here’s the deal – go to Squawka.com, whoscored.com, reference the “Stats” tab on mlssoccer.com, or review Golazo information, and you’ll notice they all provide passing information.
My intent is not to dig deep into passing details – not yet, anyway. We’ll get there in another article to follow after I get permission from OPTA to reference their F-24 definitions within their Appendices. For now here’s a simple question I have as a statistical person working on soccer analysis.
What is the number of passes I should use for teams and which denominator is the right number for total passes by both teams to help determine possession percentages?
In the MLS Chalkboard you can clearly see and count passes – here’s an example from a game this past week.
An important filter to note – the major term ‘Distribution’ is not to be clicked in creating this filter – all that is clicked is ‘successful pass and unsuccessful pass’; note also that some details are provided on the types of passes – we’ll get there in another article.
Bottom line is that the MLS Chalkboard identifies 309 successful passes and 125 unsuccessful passes for a total of 434 passes attempted.
On the MLS Stat sheet – one tab over but linked here the number of passes for Chivas = 369; that number doesn’t match the Chalkboard in either total, unsuccessful or successful.
For Golazo, for that same game here’s their total: 369 Passes total with 75% accuracy meaning the total successful passes was 277 and unsuccessful passes totaled 92. Not the same either.
For Squawka.com here’s their total:
Successful = 270 /// headers (8), throughballs (2), passes (239), long balls (21) and supposedly crosses (0)
Unsuccessful = 86 /// passes (52), headers (14), long balls (20), no unsuccessful crosses or throughballs logged here?! Yet the MLS chalkboard indicates 26 unsuccessful crosses!
All told that is 356 passes; those figures don’t match the other data sources.
For whoscored.com here’s their total: Short ball = 323, Long ball = 52, Through ball = 2, Cross = 35, for a total of 412 passes – again that figure doesn’t match the other data sources.
So what’s the right total? Here’s a table to compare showing the source of data and the total passes submitted for statistical folks like us to leverage in our analysis.
|Golazo (same as MLS Stats)||369|
I have no idea what ‘right’ looks like here but here’s what I’ve done to work through this issue.
I chose one source, the MLS Chalkboard, to gather and analyze statistics on passing and possession and all other things available from that data source – where other information is not offered there I reference the MLS Stats tab and Formation tab.
Why did I choose the Chalkboard? Because it provides additional detail that shows more clarity on all the other types of passes that occur in a game.
For example; if you scroll down on the Chalkboard link and select Set-Pieces you’ll see that Throw-ins are included in the successful passing totals – by definition a Throw-in is a pass as it travels from one player to another.
So my recommendation, if interested, is to track Major League Soccer statistics using the MLS Chalkboard first – it’s harder but seems to be the best one at this time.
I’m not sure why the MLS Chalkboard, Golazo, Whoscored and Squawka all had different team passing statistics; given that it is likely they all have different individual player statistics as well… but in asking a representative from OPTA about that – their response was provided below:
“The difference between the different websites could be down to a few things. Either they take different levels of data from us, or they take the same feed but only use a chosen set of information from each feed to display their own take on each game.”
By the way – I did try to find a reasonable definition of what a pass is defined as for soccer; here’s some of that information before final thoughts… note: they are all different and Wikipedia proves, by its definition, why it’s a pretty useless source for information… for them a pass in soccer must travel on the ground – no kidding – here’s their definition up front:
“Passing the ball is a key part of association football. The purpose of passing is to keep possession of the ball by maneuvering it on the ground between different players and to advance it up the playing field.”
Other definitions get pretty detailed – it is what it is apparently – complicated…
Passing Definition: About.com World Soccer.
When the player in possession kicks the ball to a teammate. Passes can be long or short but must remain within the field of play.
Soccer Dictionary: Note there are numerous definitions provided in this link so offering up a specific link is troublesome so I will cut and paste those definitions below:
Cross, diagonal: Usually applied in the attacking third of the field to a pass played well infield from the touch-line and diagonally forward from right to left or left to right.
Cross, far-post: A pass made to the area, usually beyond the post, farthest from the point from which the ball was kicked.
Cross, flank (wing): A pass made from near to a touch-line, in the attacking third of the field, to an area near to the goal.
Cross, headers: 64% of all goals from crosses are scored by headers.
Cross, mid-goal: A pass made to the area directly in front of the goal and some six to twelve yards from the goal-line.
Pass, chip: A pass made by a stabbing action of the kicking foot to the bottom part of the ball to achieve a steep trajectory and vicious back spin on the ball.
Pass, flick: A pass made by an outward rotation of the kicking foot, contact on the ball being made with the outside of the foot.
Pass, half-volley: A pass made by the kicking foot making contact with the ball at the moment the ball touches the ground.
Pass, push: A pass made with the inside of the kicking foot.
Pass, sweve: A pass made by imparting spin to the ball, thereby causing it to swerve from either right to left or left to right. Which way the ball swerves depends on whether contact with the ball is made with the outside or the inside of the kicking foot.
Pass, volley: A pass made before the ball touches the ground.
Passing: When a player kicks the ball to his teammate.
Through pass: A pass sent to a teammate to get him/her the ball behind his defender; used to penetrate a line of defenders. This pass has to be made with perfect pace and accuracy so it beats the defense and allows attackers to collect it before the goalkeeper.
Ducksters.com offers up a Glossary and Terms for Soccer; here’s what they define a pass as being… this one is geared more towards teaching players about various types of passes they will need good skill in order to execute them.
Direct Passes – The first type of soccer pass you learn is the direct pass. This is when you pass the ball directly to a teammate. A strong firm pass directly at the player’s feet is best. You want to make it easy for your teammate to handle, but not take too long to get there.
Passes to Open Spaces – Passing into space is an important concept in making passes in soccer. This is when you pass the ball to an area where a teammate is running. You must anticipate both the direction and speed of your teammate as well as the opponents. Good communication and practice is key to good passes into space.
Wall Passes (One-Twos) – Now we are getting into more complex passing. You can think of a wall pass as bouncing a ball off of a wall to yourself. Except in this case the wall is a teammate. In wall pass you pass the ball to a teammate who immediately passes the ball back to you into open space. This helps to keep the defense off balance. This is a difficult maneuver and takes a lot of practice, but the results will make it worth the effort.
Long Passes – Sometimes you will have the opportunity to get the ball up the field quickly to an open teammate. A long pass can be used. On a long pass you kick the ball differently than with other shorter passes. You use an instep kick where you kick the soccer ball with your instep or on the shoelaces. To do this you plant your non-kicking foot a few inches from the ball. Then, with your kicking leg swinging back and bending at the knee, snap your foot forward with your toe pointed down and kick the ball with the instep of your foot.
Backward Pass – Sometimes you will need to pass the ball backward. This is done all the time in professional soccer. There is nothing wrong with passing the ball back in order to get your offense set up and maintain control of the ball.
Now that’s probably not ‘every’ definition available but they pretty much say the same thing apart from ‘on-the-ground’ by Wikipedia – a pass is a transfer of the ball from one player to another…
As noted earlier – I’m not really sure what right looks like but I remain convinced that all these organizations are well-intentioned in offering up free statistics for others to use, be it for analysis, fantasy league or simply to check it out.
In my own effort to develop more comprehensive measurements and indicators a standardized source of data for the MLS would be beneficial – if the intent for MLS is to endorse OPTA then there remains a conflict as Golazo clearly does not use the same data filters as the Chalkboard.
My vote, is and will remain, keep the Chalkboard and then, MLS, consider ways, as OPTA (Perform Group) is now, to improve it for more beneficial analysis.
Here is Part II – where I peel back a wee bit more – consider these phrases, successful crosses, launches, key passes, through-balls, throw-ins and more, as ASA continues its venture into Soccer Analysis in America.
Here’s a few paraphrased thoughts from other folks who offer up articles on ASA about this issue on passing statistics:
Jared Young – The massive difference in pass data between sites is troubling and disturbing; I’ve been primarily using whoscored.com and golazo for my numbers so I may have to explore other options.
Cris Pannullo – Major League Soccer should take an initiative and define what pass means in their league; it is surprising that they haven’t given how popular things like fantasy sports are; people eat statistics up in this country.
All the best, Chris
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Separating winners from losers in Major League Soccer…
We are past the halfway point in Major League Soccer this year and if you recall from this previous article I promised I would revisit my Expected Wins analysis again at about this stage.
To continue to chart the progress of PWP, to include the data points behind the calculations, I am offering up some diagrams on what the data looks like after:
- The 92 game mark of the MLS Regular Season (184 events).
- The 183 game mark of the MLS Regular Season (366 events).
- The same data points for World Cup 2014 (128 events).
For background details on Possession with Purpose click this here.
A reminder of how things looked after 184 Events (92 Games)…
Trends indicated that winning teams passed the ball more, completed more passes, penetrated the final third slightly less but completed more of their pass attempts in the final third.
For shooting; winning teams shot slightly less by volume but were far more successful in putting those shots on goal and scoring goals.
For details you can enlarge the diagram and look for your specific area of interest.
As for how the trends show after 366 Events (183 Games)…
Winning teams now average less pass attempts and complete slightly fewer passes.
There is a marked decrease in pass attempts into the opposing final third and slightly fewer passes completed within the final third.
In other words – teams are counter-attacking more and playing a style more related to ‘mistake driven’, counter-attacking, as opposed to positive attacking leading into the opponents final third.
As for shooting; winning team are now taking more shots, with more of those shots being on goal and more of those resulting in a goal scored.
In my opinion what is happening is teams are taking advantage of poor passing accuracy to generate and create turnovers .
In turn those turnovers are generating cleaner and clearer shots given opponent poor positional play on the transition.
My expectation is that more teams will now begin to focus on bringing in newer players that have better recovery skills and can defend better.
In contrast, here’s how these same data points look after completion of the World Cup of 2014… there is a difference…
Winning teams average more passes attempted and far more completions than losing teams.
In addition winning teams penetrated far more frequently than losing teams, and that increase in penetration also translated to an increase in passes completed within the final third.
With respect to shooting; winning teams shot more, put more shots on goal, and scored far more goals.
Clearly what we see here is that quality in player skill levels also translated to an increase in quantity.
That should become even more apparent in looking at the PWP outputs for MLS and World Cup Teams…
Here they are for MLS at the 184 Events point this year:
A quick review of the data outputs shows winning teams averaged 51% possession and are 2% points better in overall passing accuracy.
That passing accuracy advantage also carried into the final third but when taking shots losing teams averaged more shots taken, per penetration, than winning teams.
Bottom line here is that winning teams had those fewer shots taken generate more shots on goal and more goals scored than losing teams.
After the 366 Event point this is how those same outputs look…
Like the indicators, in the PWP Data points, the percentages here are beginning to reflect the counter-attacking style of football taking over as the norm.
Winning teams now, on average, possess the ball less than their opponents… wow… mistake driven football is taking hold across the MLS.
As for Passing accuracy within and outside the final third…
Winning teams continue to be better in passing – and that level of accuracy is driving a large increase in shots taken, per penetration, by winning teams compared to losing teams (almost 2% different).
That is a marked difference (4% swing), from earlier, where losing teams shot more frequently, per penetration, than winning teams.
In addition that increase in shots taken, per penetration, also results in more shots on goal, per shot taken, and more goals scored, per shot on goal.
The margin between winning teams, and losing teams, for goals scored versus shots on goal, at the 184 Event point versus 366 Event point, still remains > 29%.
So how about teams in the World Cup???
Like earlier, winning teams not only passed the ball more frequently they possessed the ball more, by 5% (52.56% to 47.89%).
So contrary to what others might think – tika-taka is not dead, it’s just been transformed a wee bit…
With respect to passing accuracy…
I’m not sure it can be any more clear than this – winning teams averaged 82.40% and losing teams averaged 80.46%.
What makes these outputs different from MLS is that the level of execution is far higher in passing accuracy; by as much as 6%.
To put that in perspective; if a team looks to attempt 500 passes in MLS that equals 380 passes completed – compared to 412 passes completed by World Cup teams; clearly the level of execution is much higher.
That difference of 32 passes completed can have a huge impact when penetrating and creating opportunities within the final third.
What makes it even tougher is that the quality of defenders is significantly higher at the World Cup level as well.
With respect to penetration and creation within the final third…
World Cup winning teams averaged 2% greater penetration per possession than winning teams in the MLS.
By contrast World Cup winning teams generated fewer shots taken per penetration than those in the MLS.
Does this speak to better defending? I think so…
What I think is happening is that quality gets the team into the box, but then the quality of the defenders and goal keepers, in that confined space, is taking over.
This should be evident, even more so, when seeing that winning teams in the World Cup also put fewer shots on goal per shot taken than winning teams in MLS.
And that also translated to goals scored for winning teams in the World Cup also scored fewer goals scored per shot on goal…
All told, winning teams in the World Cup displayed slightly different (average percentages) than winning teams in MLS with one exception – passing accuracy.
And given the importance of the tournament it’s no wonder…
Without having the data, yet, I’d expect that the better teams in the EPL, Bundesliga, and other top European Leagues that difference in passing accuracy would remain.
As for the difference in possession (winning teams clearly possessing the ball more than losing teams) I’m not sure – mistake driven football, if memory serves is an approach Chelsea have used in the past…
I’d imagine it’s a pendulum type effect – as more teams work towards mistake driven football more teams will strengthen their ability to recover and open the game up a bit with direct attack to force the opponent from pressing so high.
I’ll be looking for additional trends as the year progresses to see if direct play increases – perhaps a good indicator of that might be even fewer penetrations and more crossing?
With respect to statistical relevance of the data and the outputs generated…
In every case the relationships created, be them Exponential or 4th Order Polynomial all had correlations that exceeded .95.
In other words the variations are minimal and should really reinforce just how tight the difference is between winning and losing in a game of soccer…
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Vancouver and beyond???
While the result, and how that result was achieved, will certainly not be lost on the soccer world I do feel and think there is a cause for concern to consider as the Timbers prepare for Vancouver, and beyond, this Sunday.
The decision to replace Lucas Melano with George Fochive in the 85th minute.
As a caveat, this view is not intended to be a player-specific critic – but more about the general team performance (reaction) given the substitution, what might be drawn from it, and how the impact of that substitution might influence decisions made as the playoff run continues.
And no – no heat maps or passing charts – you need video analysis for this assessment.
In watching the overall tenor of the game (before and after the 85th minute) I’d say the ability of Sporting to possess and penetrate was better, not worse, after George Fochive came on.
And for most of us this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Throughout the course of this season the Timbers have played somewhat deeper (ceding possession) in working a double-pivot tactical strategy that plays more to counter-attacking than possession-based attacking.
This approach has been a two-edged sword; usually the opponent comes away without scoring a goal, but alas, so it also goes for the Timbers.
That said, unfortunately, we have seen some teams win – and win big – (Philadelphia, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy come to mind).
So should we really be surprised that Sporting got the equalizer near stoppage time and a second goal in extra time?
I don’t think so, and that remains a cause of concern for me as the Timbers move forward against Vancouver, and beyond.
First off – I sense it is reasonable to expect that over the course of a season, when playing one basic tactical approach, players will develop patterns of behavior (on field habits) that they’ll play to, regardless of some finite, tactical adjustments made by the head coach during the game.
In addition, it’s my belief that the tactical move to replace Melano had a negative impact on Darlington Nagbe’s ability to influence the game – if the Timbers are working towards more attacking, and possession-based ball movement with five attackers, then it stands to reason they’ll be doing less of that with four attackers.
Meaning Sporting is going to have more of the ball.
So, when you’re up one goal with less than 15 minutes to go, at home, do you really want to set the conditions for the opponent to tactically, by default, and through general pattern of behaviour, have more of the ball? Not really…
In thinking about this game it brings to mind an example of what I mean.
Recall the devastating draw the US Men’s National Team had with Portugal in the 2014 World Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann made (in my view) a decision that was also cause for concern, that many missed.
He pulled Graham Zusi and replaced him with Omar Gonzalez – in other words he pulled an attacking midfield player, on the left side, and replaced him with a central defender.
This decision meant (tactically) the US Men’s National Team had no-one occupying, and therefore defending, the same exact zone where Ronaldo delivered the cross that got Portugal the equalizer.
Almost the exact same thing happened last night…
Melano got pulled and replaced with Fochive.
In turn, after the initial corner ball was cleared (to the zone one might expect Melano to patrol after a defensive clearance) Zusi delivered an equalizing cross where he was under absolutely no pressure – he had clear time and space to deliver his cross just like Ronaldo had against the US Men’s National Team!
But the real issue here isn’t that specific example, it’s bigger than that and also cause for concern; especially if this (up one goal) scenario occurs again.
So while all the hoopla goes towards the stunning, and heart stopping result, of yesterday Caleb Porter has much to consider.
For me, I think it’s worthy that the Timbers will be conducting some in-depth video analysis to better understand (throughout the entire game) how the impact (and influence) that Melano had on the game compared and contrasted with the impact (and influence) Fochive had on the game.
And I don’t mean with respect to the individual player’s and their execution but with respect to the overall tenor of team performance, in attacking and defending, for both Portland and Kansas City.
Bottom line here:
The game had a great scoreline, with the players and tactics used up to the 85th minute. Did the change in tactics (with that player substitution) alter the construct of the game enough to create a condition where Sporting may have been more likely to score a goal?
I think it did but my view isn’t the one that matters. So as an analyst – I would submit that question needs to be asked – and I sense Caleb will do that.
Perhaps another, less talked about decision, was Caleb Porter’s decision to open in a single-pivot.
For me, that sets the stage on his intent to continue with that approach, as a first choice option; others may view that differently.
And while I think and feel that is a very reasonable path forward, in battling the teams who like to counter-attack, I also think it’s sets the stage for future player decisions.
By that I mean, if you run (by choice) a single-pivot, do you really need five central defending midfielders on your roster?
And can you sustain a reasonable attacking path forward with just two players (Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri) who can command the attacking responsibilities associated with that approach?
I’d say no…
So all the while the playoffs are happening there oughta be someone in the front office looking at attacking central midfielders to shore up what appears to be a very good tactical shift on the part of Caleb Porter.
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:
- Teams who won games in MLS last year with less than 50% Possession,
- Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in overall Passing Accuracy (77%) and,
- Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in Passing Accuracy within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (66.8%),
- Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts fall below the League Average (428.01), and
- 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:
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:
- Other teams in MLS figured out the counter-attacking/direct attacking nature of the team and changed their defending habits accordingly, or
- 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:
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…
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.
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.
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Colorado Rapids, The Loss of Drew Moor was More or Less?
If you follow the Rapids I’d expect you hope for a far better season coming up than what you saw in 2014.
Just how ugly was it? Well…… they weren’t near as bad as Houston, San Jose, Chicago, Montreal, or that defunct team called Chivas, but they were pretty bad compared to the rest of the West.
And with the addition of Sporting KC and a newly revamped Houston, led by a very crafty Owen Coyle, the hill to climb will be even tougher.
In saying that my End of Season run continues with the Colorado Rapids; here’s links to my other End of Season Analyses plus my link to what Possession with Purpose Analyses 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?
My Revised Introduction to Possession with Purpose
New for this article, and future End of Season analyses, are my Game to Game Diagrams trending team performance throughout the season. More to follow on that…
In addition, in offering up my information, I’ll look to identify strengths and weaknesses that also include my thoughts on what primary positions the team may need to upgrade in order to be more successful next year.
To begin, as usual, the CPWP Strategic Index:
There’s CRFC; 6th worst in the CPWP Index (stuck between the Canadian teams, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact).
So in simple terms they weren’t that good.
Meaning Pablo Mastroeni has a multitude of “higher quality” boots he needs to find in order to compete in what should be an extremely tough Western Conference next year; especially with the addition of Kansas City and Houston Dynamo.
Of course the challenge here is that every team is looking to get better next year – and while they’ve added Michael Harrington as a Fullback I’d imagine they need to do “Moor” than just that… anyhow – moving on.
So where to begin on what positional areas need upgrades?
Defense First – here’s a look at where Colorado finished in the Defending PWP Index:
All told, Colorado had the worst Road Goal Differential in MLS (-24) Yet they were only 7th worst in DPWP. Is that an early indicator that they need a new Goal Keeper – or – an early indicator they need more than just one Fullback, along with the return of Drew Moor?
I’m not sure, but here’s their trends from game 1 to game 34 in Defending:
Opponent Possession percentage: (Below)
Throughout the course of the season it seems Colorado had the majority of possession compared to their opponents; indeed the opponent averaged 49.14% possession.
All told the opponent possession percentage was 7th lowest in MLS last year – when on the road the opponent possessed the ball 52% of the time – while at home the opponent possessed the ball 46% of the time.
In general it appears that the opponent was more likely to cede control of the ball, for the most part, when visiting Colorado – while Colorado appears to have ceded control, somewhat, when traveling.
In considering the overall opponent possession percentage I’d offer it was not a significant, single indicator, that drove overall poor team defending performance – we’ll have to look elsewhere.
Quick explanation – I’ve added another statistical calculation into my analyses – in this case, and with all the following diagrams, I’ve added the mathematical equation of the Trend Line for the stretch of 34 games.
What this shows is whether or not there was a trend in team performance – for example – in the Opponent Possession Percentage I’ve indicated there is a Slight Positive Slope – this means, over the course of 34 games the opponent had a tendency to increase their amount of possession (from game 1 to game 34).
For analytical purposes a trend line may be used to spot increases or decreases in team performance – in this case I’ll refer to the loss of Drew Moor (I think around game 23) as a point of interest.
If I had to draw a conclusion it would appear that after game 23 the Rapids opponent possession percentage increased – it did – by a margin of 5% points.
As a point of interest – in EVERY instance except Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – the opponent’s of Colorado either increased their volume of activity or improved their team percentages in execution from Game 24 to Game 34 versus Game 1 to Game 23!
As I’ve noted many times – I’m not an analyst who digs into how individuals impact their team performance on a regular basis – but it would be rude not to identify such compelling information as this.
By the way – it’s actually “expected” that Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession would decrease – this is a trend for all highly productive teams – to include those super teams in Europe as well…
Opponent Passing Accuracy: (Below)
With Moor – 75%; without Moor – 79%
Overall – not bad – 6th best in MLS at 76.45%
The trending increase isn’t all just down to one Center-back – Midfielders and Fullbacks (with appropriate positional play) have a significant role in decreasing opponent passing accuracy!
Opponent Penetration Percentage: (Below)
With Moor – 21%; without Moor 23%
Overall – 6th best in MLS at 21.55%
This trending increase, like above, is not all down to one Center-back missing; the same applies here for Midfielders and Fullbacks as well…
Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession: (Below)
With Moor – 15,88%; without Moor – 15.80%
Overall – 2nd lowest in MLS at 15.86%
And with a slight negative trend it did mean the opponents offered up fewer shots; but in cases like these the opponents usually ended up putting more shots on goal and more goals scored.
Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken: (Below)
With Moor – 39%; without Moor 45%
Overall the worst in MLS at 41.07%
So that overall status is not down to just missing one Central Defender – it’s more than that as they’ve been pretty poor in this category across the entire length of the season.
And yes, reduced Shots Taken does see an increase in Shots on Goal so the real pain begins to show…
Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal: (Below)
With Moor – 29%; without Moor – 49%
Overall 5th worst in MLS at 35% – again confirming that reduced shots taken increases opponent shots on goal and opponent goals scored…
Regardless of the loss of Drew Moor – it shouldn’t be down to the loss of just one player to see such a huge trend in allowing goals scored against… wow… more than the addition of Michael Harrington and the return of Drew Moor is needed here.
As I’ve noted before – rarely do I focus team analyses with respect to the influence of one single player – but in this case an exception needed to be made.
But… these increases in opponent execution are highly unlikely to be down to the loss of one player – Midfielders and Fullback have a role in this effort – and any Head Coach knows that if there is a weakness in one particular area then the rest of the team needs to help steer the opponent out of that area… in looking at this information it would appear to me that Mastroeni failed to get the rest of his starters to do a bit of extra work in defending!
That may be a bit harsh but it’s a team game and the leader of the team is the Head Coach…
Moving on… as with any game – if the defending side of team performance takes a hit it is likely the attacking side of a team performance will take a hit – as I work through the Attacking PWP I’ll offer up the “with and without” Drew Moor there as well.
My hope is that there isn’t that much of a difference… I’ll explain why in my Closing statements…
All told it would appear that the Colorado Rapids fell far short on the Attacking side of team performance – 5th worst, overall, in MLS.
Possession Percentage: (Below)
With Moor – 52%; without Moor – 48%
Overall 7th highest in MLS at 50.86%; but we’ve seen that can be a deceiving statistic when looked at on its own.
Passing Accuracy: (Below)
With Moor – 78%; without Moor – 76%
Overall 9th best in MLS at 77%
A good sign that the loss of Drew Moor did not create a huge impact in overall passing compared to other teams in MLS – but – it is clear that their passing accuracy dropped when Drew got injured…
Penetrating Possession: (Below)
With Moor – 21%; without Moor – 21%
Overall 4th lowest in MLS at 21% – so this was pretty low compared to other teams in MLS regardless of the presence of Drew Moor…
In this case productivity did not drop – it stands to reason, then, that upon entering the Opponents Defending Final Third their productivity in creating Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored should not drop either; let’s see?
Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession: (Below)
With Moor – 20%; without Moor – 21%
Overall 2nd highest in MLS at 20.59% – not a good sign for a team that is supposed to appear like a possession based team – this number should be on the lower end to support patience and drive shots on goal up.
With respect to the presence or non-presence of Drew Moor… in this case their Shots Taken percentage increased – meaning (with a downward trend line) they took more shots with Drew Moor on the pitch than they did without Drew Moor (13.64 without Drew) – (14.09 with Drew)…
And, it also, probably means, they were less patient in their shot taking towards the end of the season – i.e. – playing more Direct Attacking football – again the percentage increase supports that given all the other leagues I analyze showing the same trends.
Shots on Goal per Shots Taken: (Below)
With Moor – 35%; without Moor – 37%
So without Drew Moor they not only took more shots they put more shots on goal – as such team productivity in creating and taking shots did not digress – but – there is a negative slope – which means compared to the earlier part of the season their overall percentages in putting shots on goal did decline.
For me this speaks to weaknesses in attack in addition to the weakness associated with the loss of Drew Moor.
Overall 9th highest in MLS at 36% – above average – which should mean their goals scored was also above average – IF their strikers were doing their job…
The telling indicator here is Goals Scored per Shots on Goal…
Goals Scored per Shots on Goal: (Below)
With Moor – 27%; without Moor – 17%
A considerable drop-off —> especially when considering that Moor is a Central Defender – and unlikely to generate a huge negative impact in the attack.
With the loss of Drew Moor we shouldn’t see that significant of a drop off given he is a Central Defender…
Nevertheless, without knowing their overall position compared to other teams in MLS it does reinforce to me that the Colorado Rapids had significant weaknesses in their attacking tandem. Even more so given that their percentage of shots taken and shot taken that ended up on goal increased considerably as the season wore on.
To confirm… in this category the Rapids were, overall, 3rd worst in MLS at 24%.
Nailing it that this team lacked quality strikers given their higher than average shots on goal, compared to other teams in MLS…
All told, I’d offer that the loss of Drew Moor had minimal impact in the overall lack of attacking team performance, and especially the lack of overall finishing as the Rapids entered the opponent’s defending final third.
This team has more issues in attacking than just the loss of Drew Moor – adding some better Fullbacks and perhaps a wider midfield player (or two) should help as well as revamping their striking tandem.
For me – in my own previous experience – the loss of one player is no excuse – it’s an impact for sure but to be clear…
Head Coaches are paid to make adjustments based upon injuries or game state – given the continued decline with the Colorado defense – I’d offer Pablo Mastroeni failed to make appropriate adjustments based upon the loss of one player.
In addition, I’d also offer that Mastroeni lacked leadership, direction, and effective tactics on the attacking side of the pitch as well.
And those working in the Front Office should be concerned that a patchwork of 3-4 players is not going to put this team into the Playoffs next year
For me, adding Michael Harrington is a patchwork approach – he was pushed out in Sporting KC and pushed out in Portland – both teams were better defensively when he was moved out.
So while the return of Drew Moor will help the defense solidify – it’s still major surgery to really prepare this team for what appears to be a very brutal Western Conference next year.
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What went wrong in Montreal?
It’s way too early to imagine what sort of impact Montreal will have next year – simply too many variables, least of which is the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Nevertheless – in order to get a better idea of how they might impact the Eastern Conference next year here’s my look at how 2014 went and some thoughts on what positional weaknesses they may need to fill to get better.
As always I’ll start with my End of Season Composite PWP Strategic Index to give you a (non-results) view on where the Impact attacking and defending team performance compared to the rest of Major League Soccer:
Montreal (MIFC) are shown here just above San Jose and just beneath Colorado.
If you’ve missed other team analyses links are provided at the end of the article – for now know that I am working worst to first excluding Chivas USA.
In my view that organization was a complete embarrassment to the league (not the players – the owners) as such it’s not worth my time to analyze a team that wasn’t a team… the sooner they are forgotten, as an organization, the better.
Again – this is not an intent to disparage the players or Wilmer Cabrera – it’s intended to disparage and embarrass the owners!
As with all my end of season analysis I’ll begin with the basic statistics most rely on to tell the immediate (results based) outcomes:
Points Per Game (PPG) = .82; Goals Per Game (GPG) = 1.12; Goals Against Per Game (GAPG) = 1.71; Goal Differntial (GD) = -.59
The worst PPG of any team in MLS this year!
Given the huge disparity in team performance across all of MLS in away games versus home games here’s what those numbers look like for Away and Home Games:
Away: PPG = .29; GPG = .82; GAPG = 2.00; GD = -1.18 (the worst Away PPG of any team in MLS this year).
Home: PPG = 1.35; GPG = 1.41; GAPG = 1.41; GD = 0.00 (tied for third worst Home PPG with Colorado and Chicago).
Bottom line here is their results were terrible – a complete and utter failure when it came to results; so is there any light at the end of the tunnel when peeling back their team attacking and defending performances, exclusive of results? Let’s see…
Attacking PWP Strategic Index:
There’s MIFC, tucked in-between Vancouver and Colorado; interesting – especially since Vancouver made the Playoffs. Perhaps there is some light that shines within?
Overall 46.92%. We already know from previous analyses that possession percentage on its own has no relevance – it’s only when you begin to combine that percentage with other key PWP indicators that patterns begin to take shape.
And since my analysis also peels back how teams perform away and at home here’s the info for those categories as well.
Away 48.07% versus Home 45.78%.
Without going further it would appear that the Impact looked to cede possession a bit more at home than on the road – that being said, given the high GAPG (2.00) on the road that higher percentage of possession might be deceiving.
The most reliable way to eliminate wasted possession is to look at passing accuracy and passing volume within and into the Attacking Final Third versus Outside the Attacking Final Third.
In away matches Montreal averaged 94 passes within and into the Final Third from 397 average passes attempted; when playing at home those figures are 93 and 405.
Knowing those figures let’s move on to Passing Accuracy to see what differences there were.
Overall 76.41%. 12th highest or 8th worst (glass half full – half empty?) However viewed their passing accuracy was not the best – and the lower the overall passing accuracy the less likely the team will possess the ball for greater lengths of time.
Shorter passing tactics usually mean more passing – great examples include FC Bayern, Barcelona, Chelsea, Galaxy, etc…
Away 75.93% versus Home 76.90%
In away matches passing accuracy within and into the Final Third was 58.96%; while at home it was 62.01%; higher at home – in truth that’s probably 5 more passes completed at home versus on the road.
So… that three percent higher amount of possession, on the road versus at home, was probably down to wasted possession.
In other words they possessed the ball more on the road due to passes being completed outside the attacking final third – not inside the attacking final third.
Overall 18.36%; the worst percentage of penetrating possession in MLS this year.
In away games their successful penetrating possession with 18.23% while for home games it was 18.49%
Looked at from a different angle – the potential penetrating possession target would have been 24% if successful on all attempts – but they weren’t.
Most probably meaning the passes, attempting to penetrate the attacking final third, were probably harder to complete.
For many that usually indicates a direct attacking approach; i.e. playing longer balls on a more frequent basis.
It might also intuit a less accurate counter-attacking style – (perhaps?) meaning the players being asked to play to a particular style weren’t skilled enough in that style – or…………. the Head Coach chose the wrong tactical approach given the skill level of players on the pitch???
Or… the Head Coach had no choice but to play to that style given the skill levels of players on his team. But! Frank Klopas also played that style with Chicago… so was it by choice given the players – or was it by choice given the inclination of the Head Coach to play direct attacking football?
Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:
Overall 21.37% – the highest percentage of shots taken per penetrating possession in MLS!
Away games 22.01% (worst/best?) Home games 20.73% (3rd worst/best?)
What this is showing is that they had the worst penetrating possession in MLS and the highest percentage of shots taken per penetrating possession.
In other words they were terrible when it came to penetration and they compounded that ‘terribleness’ by showing no patience what-so-ever in taking shots.
Another nail in the Direct attacking coffin – AGAIN – speaking to either having the wrong style/skill level of players playing a direct attacking tactic – or… the Head Coach played the wrong tactics given the skills of his players?
Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:
Overall 36.49% (8th highest)
Away games 35.17% (12th highest) Home games 37.82% (8th highest)
With the high percentage of shots taken per penetration and then a significant drop in shots on goal, given that high percentage, it again reinforces that the Montreal Impact were taking far too many shots that had no real value.
I’m not sure of their shot location selection but this pattern has been seen before with teams like Houston, Chicago, Chivas, and other bottom dwellers… in this case I’d also offer their strikers were probably less patient on the ball in finding good open space and time to take better shots.
Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:
Overall 30.22% (10th highest)
Away games 24.60% (5th lowest) Homes games 35.83% (8th highest).
Not bad at home – but not good on the road. Reinforcing that the road tactics were worse in getting results than the home tactics.
In away games the percentages just get worse and worse – yet they possessed the ball more in away games.
In my view that is pretty much confirming that this team gained no value in having more possession of the ball in away games.
Indeed, I’d offer that they had the wrong tactical approach – throughout the entire season – just like Houston!
As for at home, clearly less possession worked – but they still averaged just 1.41 GPG (5th worst)… meaning that same direct attacking approach was just as ineffective at home.
So – (perhaps?) a more brutal assessment of the Impact is that, in attack, they were ineffective not only in results but in team performance.
Meaning, in my opinion, they either had the wrong style of players to play a direct attacking tactic or they had the wrong tactical approach by the Head Coach.
If thinking about finances… would it be cheaper to find a new Head Coach that will use a more appropriate attacking tactic, to fit the players on the team, or would it be cheaper to bring in a whole new suite of attackers to fit a direct attacking tactic that is way past its shelf-life!
Defending PWP Strategic Index:
Third worst in MLS.
A few thoughts before the details:
With a 2.00 GAPG in away games and a 1.41 GAPG in home games does it seem reasonable that the Impact didn’t have enough players behind the ball, even with a direct attacking approach?
Or does it seem reasonable that the Head Coach have a defensive tactical approach that was pear-shaped?
Before attempting to answer those questions here’s the bottom line on how the opponent performed against Montreal this year:
Opponent Possession Percentage: 53.08% (5th highest)
Opponent Passing Accuracy: 79.50% (2nd highest)
Opponent Penetrating Possession: 22.88% (10th highest) – Opponent Passing Accuracy within and into the Defending Final Third 67.58% (highest).
Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession: 17.25% (12th highest)
Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken: 38.63% (4th highest)
Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal: 31.63% (12th highest)
So those are the percentages against – how about the volume against?
Opponents of Montreal averaged 456 passes per game (2nd highest).
They also faced the 5th highest volume of passes within and into their Defending Final Third (123 per game).
In terms of shots taken against – 13.47 (8th highest).
Shots on goal against 5.26 (2nd highest).
Across the entire spectrum of defending the opponents pretty much possessed the ball when they needed to and had plenty of time and space to make accurate passes; not only outside the Defending Final Third – but inside as well.
That freedom of time and space allowed the opponent more patience in taking better shots that were more often on goal and resulted in more goals scored against.
Given the poor team team performance, and poor results, I’d offer this team needs at least 3-4 new defensive minded players.
In going back to the initial questions about not having enough players behind the ball – it would seem to me, given the high volume and high percentages against, the Impact didn’t have enough players behind the ball.
But the interesting thing is that with a more direct attacking tactic you’d think the Impact would have more players behind the ball because fewer players are used in that attacking tactic!?!
So what went wrong?
I’d offer (perhaps too harshly?) that the tactical approach (in attacking and defending by the Head Coach) is what went wrong.
How can a team have, statistical team performance wise AND results performance wise, so many weaknesses with roughly the same players that made the playoffs the previous season under different leadership?
Easy – the front office made a bad decision in sacking Marco Schällibaum.
For me this is another great example of how losing organizations, in the front office, fail to hire Head Coaches who are flexible in their attacking and defending tactics.
Frank Klopas is not only the Head Coach but the Director of Player Personnel, meaning his direct attacking style will not only manifest itself on the pitch it will also manifest itself within the bowels of the organization!
While I’m not an Impact ‘hater’ I really have to ask myself how I could continue to support a team like this if I lived near St. Catherine Street in the heart of Montreal. And yes, I do know the city a wee bit having proposed to my missus, in 1987, at the Old Munich Beer Barrell Hall on St. Denis Street.
In case you missed it – here’s my other MLS End of Season Analysis:
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
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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.
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):
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.
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…
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?
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!
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:
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).
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.
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.
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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:
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:
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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.