I’ve no doubt many of the headlines on the English Premier League this week dig into Manchester United’s convincing win over Crystal Palace… That’s probably appropriate for most but I, often times, like to write about the un-obvious.
So even though Angel Di Maria looked great – I’d offer he was a stud playing amongst English school boys… perhaps something like Lionel Messi (Barcelona) playing Levante in La Liga???
Anyhow, well done to Man United – they finally won a game!
The exciting match, for me however, was the Aston Villa (1 – nil) thrilla at the Kop…
Who’da thought the Villans would be sitting where they are after four games? Tom Hanks no doubt… 😉
Well, perhaps in hindsight (after week 10 or so) that run of 10 points, in these four games. might not be quite as much as it seems today.
Bollocks you say – we will see 🙂 A very tough match against Arsenal comes next on Sept 20th, 7 AM PST…
Anyhow, like the latest on the Bundesliga and La Liga, I’ll be taking a look at the early races taking shape on relegation; in particular the four bottom dwellers, and how they compare in the Possession with Purpose Family of Indices.
My analysis on the CPWP Strategic Index, filtered by passes, above and below the league average of 450, will follow in a blog a bit later this week.
For now the Composite (CPWP) Strategic Index through Week four:
Although taking a hit from Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, Swansea City still shows pedigree in the CPWP Strategic Index. Other teams doing well include Man City, Chelsea, and with a rather large move up the Index, Manchester United.
Hovering midtable in the Index, but gathering points, as noted, is Aston Villa – another sleeper (but maybe not) is Southampton.
How soon the have’s and have not’s split up, in this Index, is unclear but I’d expect Week 10 or so will begin to show a bit more clarity in who’s consistently performing well and who isn’t.
In terms of the late starters in the League Table there are four teams; Crystal Palace, Burnley, West Brom, and Newcastle; all sitting on two points.
For the remainder of this article I’ll concentrate some thoughts and observations about them and save some individual analysis on Aston Villa, and Southampton, for my new blog later this week.
Like the Bundesliga and La Liga CPWP Indices, the R2 for this Index, after Week 4, shows well – it’s .73…
Attacking (APWP) Strategic Index:
Given the early season outburst from Chelsea is it any wonder they sit atop this Index – with an average Goals Scored of 3.75 would you really expect my Index not to reflect that amount of fire power?
So how about those teams who’ve started with just two points each in the first four games?
- Crystal Palace – 7th worst in APWP – the telling statistics on this side of the pitch are two things; possession percentage average is 36.69% (3rd worst) and their goals scored per shots on goal is 29.46% (9th worst). What is interesting here is that Southampton sit below Crystal Palace in that statistic (29.17%) but their overall possession percentage is 52.91%. That significant difference in the amount of possession spells the biggest reason why Crystal Palace sits where they sit. In other words the statistics are indicating that if Crystal Palace can retain more possession of the ball they should, by all counts, increase their goal scoring output.
- Burnley – 2nd worst in APWP – the telling statistics here are also two things: shots taken, per penetrating possession, is 7th lowest and their goals scored, per shots on goal, is 3rd worst (12.50%). The striking contrast here is that the other teams who show patience in taking shots, per penetration, (lower averages than Burnley) are Man City (9.18%), Arsenal (9.92%), Man United (10.09%), Spurs (11.1%), Everton (11.13%), and Southampton (12.9%). What this clearly indicates is that the, higher scoring, possession based teams are behaving exactly like some of the higher scoring teams in MLS – they are showing patience in shot selection compared to penetration. With Burnley clearly not a possession based team (43.61%)are they trying to show (patience – perhaps???) where in fact they might produce better results if they simply increase their shot volume per penetration? In other words, with just a glimmer of time and space, as opposed to more acres of time and space, they need to shoot more often???
- West Brom – 3rd worst in APWP – pretty simple to offer up analysis here – they are 4th worst in putting shots on goal, per shots taken, and they are 2nd worst in scoring goals, based upon their volume of shots on goal… Perhaps they need a better striker or two???
- Newcastle – 6th worst in APWP – two things here as well – perhaps??? The most striking observation here, for me, is that Newcastle average 55.7% possession (6th best in the EPL) but when converting that overall possession, to penetration into the opponents defending final third, they are third worst at 21.13%. And that final clarity in gaining penetration also finds itself influencing goals scored – they are 4th worst in goals scored. Perhaps they need a couple of better midfielders???
Moving on to Defending (DPWP) Strategic Index:
Manchester United have moved up top here and clearly, Aston Villa, with that HUGE clean sheet at the Kop, have kept themselves in good stead as well.
In looking at the four bottom dwellers – here’s there positional standing and some key observations too:
- Crystal Palace – 2nd bottom of the DPWP – two things here. Their average opponent possession is 63.31% (3rd worst) and they are also 3rd worst (28.78%) in conceding penetration. Now that might not be a bad thing when working towards a successful counter-attacking approach but they are 9th worst in seeing their opponents put shots taken on goal and 8th worst (36.46%) in seeing those shots on goal get converted to goals scored. The contrast here is Aston Villa; they actually cede more possession (64.39%) than Crystal Palace, but they have the 2nd best defense in limiting opponent shots taken, being on goal, and the best defense in preventing those shots on goal from being goals scored. Perhaps Crystal Palace need better midfielders and defenders, as well as a better Goal Keeper? In other words a whole new defense or a completely different defensive scheme???
- Burnley – 7th best in DPWP – this Index rating might actually be an early indicator that the Burnley record isn’t quite reflecting how well this team is playing. Granted goal scoring is critical – but for most – a strong defense usually sees a team through when fighting relegation. With them being 7th best the only thing that stands out to me is the amount of possession they’ve conceded – opponents average 56.39%. In seeing that, they’ve already played Chelsea, Man United, and Swansea City, a hard slog to be sure. Overall, I’d offer, if they keep their confidence, they should continue to move forward at a better pace than some other bottom dwellers like Cyrstal Palace.
- West Brom – 3rd worst in DPWP – interesting here is that they are 2nd best in limiting opponent penetration into the final third (just 19.04%) but even with that minimal penetration they are 8th worst in conceding shots taken, that are shots on goal, and 4th worst (48.21%) in seeing those opponent shots on goal hit the back of the net. Seems like their defensive approach within the 18 yard box leaves quite a lot to be desired… A team that is successful in clogging the choke point into the final third probably should do better as the amount of defending space naturally gets smaller inside the 18 yard box. Is it too early to say they might need two better centerbacks and a better goal keeper?
- Newcastle – 10th in DPWP – midtable of the Index and some are no doubt scratching their heads on why Newcastle finds itself at bottom of league table. For starters their opponents average just 44.30% possession, and their opponents really don’t penetrate that much compared to some other teams (7th lowest – 21.9%). It appears what is happening is that, even with small amounts of possession and penetration, the opponents are taking a higher volume of shots per penetration; resulting in the 2nd worst percentage of shots on goal, per shots taken, (43.64%) and the 9th worst, goals scored, per shots on goal. Put another way the positional defending, inside and around the 18 yard box (appears??) weak. Perhaps they give their opponents too much time and too much space as they transition in positional defending after the opponent penetrates???
All told, it’s clearly early days but I think patterns are already beginning to develop.
To be honest I’m quite jazzed to be offering up PWP analysis on the EPL – I do wish Blackburn were still in it – and perhaps even Leeds United! More teams from the north!
Anyhow – two sides of the table to review and next week I’ll take a closer look at the top end…
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For those not familiar with this phrase – Passing domina temprana (Passing dominates early) – get used to it as my Possession with Purpose analyses moves to La Liga.
I’ll get to the details behind that view a bit later but first a look at the traditional analysis on PWP plus an early focus, like with the Bundesliga, on the slow starters.
The Composite PWP (CPWP) Strategic Index through Week 3:
The clear leader here is Barcelona – as noted last week a team passing Barcelona might find it difficult (both on the pitch and in the league table).
Knowing that I’ll prefer to wait on digging into Valencia, Seville, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid till a bit later.
For now, since this is a relegation league, like everyone else in the World apart from Major League Soccer, let’s take a peak at teams who’ve opened at a snails pace: Levante, Espanyol, Cordoba, Almeria, and Rayo.
- Levante – bottom feeder – the worst in team performance to begin – enough said.
- Espanyol – while they sit on just one point they are near mid-table in CPWP – that means they are either performing pretty good in attack – or they are performing pretty good in defense – or – they are weak in both, but not REALLY weak yet…
- Cordoba – On two points and near bottom; Malaga have four points and are placed further down – perhaps??? the APWP and DPWP will help shine a light on that?
- Almeria – not quite as good in overall performance compared to Espanyol – but they are higher up the CPWP food chain.
- Rayo – like Almeria and Cordoba they are on two points – oddly enough they are on the positive end of the CPWP Index – more to follow on that.
Next up Attacking (APWP) Strategic Index:
As for the bottom feeders… here you go:
- Levante – again – bottom of the pile. They almost look oxygen starved given their major drop off to the right of Villareal…
- Espanyol – mid-table of the Index – so not overly dominant in APWP – perhaps this means they are roughly mid-table in the DPWP Index?
- Cordoba – about 1/3rd the way up from bottom – nothing eye catching at the moment and certainly showing better team attacking than Malaga.
- Almeria – like Cordoba – about 1/3rd of the way from bottom; are both these teams showing early indications they might be better placed, in the league table, a bit later this year? Hard to say – we will have to wait and see.
- Rayo – again, up near the top half – I suppose that means their DPWP leaves a bit to be desired. Of course the other issue might be who they’ve already played so far this year… Elche, Deportivo, and Atletico Madrid… somehow; even without watching this team play I suspect they won’t stay in the bottom third for long… It would be interesting to hear thoughts from those who follow La Liga a bit closer though.
Moving on to Defending (DPWP) Strategic Index:
As expected – a team with huge passing numbers is likely to be in the top half (at least huge by Barcelona standards). More interesting, and good stead for Villareal, is their position near the top of DPWP.
In looking at the early relegation battle here’s how the bottom five look:
- Levante – near bottom; and given past history on some teams in MLS – I’d say they are an early bet to get relegated – even after just three weeks; provided their defense doesn’t perform better compared to others.
- Espanyol – ah… here’s where things get a bit dodgy; they seem okay in attack and overall yet their defense is what is letting them down. Does that continue? We’ll see…
- Cordoba – like Espanyol – they are near bottom in DPWP – that means of course, that the opponents are not only completing good numbers of passes, but it also means they are penetrating, creating and generating shots taken that hit the back of the net – all told they’ve conceded four goals and scored just two.
- Almeria – a bit higher up the DPWP Index, this may provide an early indication that this team is slightly better than the two points that they have. More to follow…
- Rayo – again quite good and not expected given their APWP and CPWP – those two draws against Deportivo and Atletico Madrid have done them well… as noted in the APWP thoughts; I’d offer this team may not stay in the bottom third for long.
Now for the “more to follow” on this league being a passing league – the CPWP Strategic Index for teams where they have exceeded the league average in volume of passes (415):
Note that Rayo and Levante are in this mix… In considering the poor performances for Levante so far this season is it better or worse that they are attempting to mix it up with some of the other teams who are really – really good at passing?
I wonder if Levante also has games that are below the league average of 415 passes?
To answer that question here’s the CPWP Strategic Index where teams’ passing volume has not exceeded the league average:
Only Rayo is not in the mix for the current bottom dwellers – again that seems to reinforce that Rayo may end up being a bit higher in the table as the season plays on.
In addition, note that Villareal were a better team in overall performance (positive ~.4) when exceeding the league average compared to (~-1.2) when falling below the league average. Having played Barcelona skews that Index rating here I’m sure…. On the flip side they defeated Levante and drew nil-nil with Granada.
And of the teams that don’t pass a lot – does this show (already?) that teams like Deportivo, Eibar, Atletico Madrid, and Real Sociedad are better in counter-attacking and direct attacking than a team like Eiche, Villareal, or Athletic Club?
I’m not sure – but it sure does raise some interesting questions as PWP comes to La Liga.
Before moving on; I wonder how this Index will look at the halfway point of the season… time will tell.
A wrap up of sorts for the five bottom dwellers with a focus on overall passing accuracy:
- Levante – 3rd worst = 70% – the key stat here appears to be goals scored – they have none.
- Espanyol – 8th worst = 75.08% – the key stat here appears to be the opponents ability to put a shot taken on goal – 44.09% – 2nd worst
- Cordoba – 10th worst = 76.62% – the key stat here appears to be lack of penetration (17.27% of their possession results in penetration) 3rd worst
- Almeria – 7th best = 77.72% – the key stat here appears to be controlling time and space in defending – as the opponent percentage of penetration increases so does the percentage of shots taken, shots on goal, and goals scored; in other words their defending percentages get worse as the opponent draws nearer the goal.
- Rayo – 6th best = 78.27% – the key state here appears to an inordinately high percentage of shots on goal faced versus the 2nd lowest amount of possession, by percentage, of their opponents.
Overall, even after just three weeks and the dominant indication on how passing influences CPWP, the Index is still not overly influenced by it when peeling back overall performance.
Still early days though, and the race to avoid relegation has begun.
I’ll not ignore the top half of the table but I’ll also not ignore the bottom half.
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While most were probably focused on some other battles this past weekend – and rightly so in some cases – the Timbers might just have shaken the Western Conference a wee bit to reinforce, that when they get their defense right, they will be a team to reckon with.
Before diving in though; here’s a link to my pre-match thoughts on all the games this weekend; some thoughts are smack on – while some are way off target; so it goes.
Back to the Timbers.
I don’t offer this lightly, for almost 80% of this season the Timbers defense has been downright deplorable (just three clean sheets) last year they had 10 clean sheets after 25 games.
Only now – with a major shakeup in the back-four, after that resounding Sounders smack-down, have the Timbers acknowledged that defense is first and played like it!
The star of the match, and I don’t do this often since team is always first, was a young lad by the name of Alvas Powell – here’s a great picture of him post game with the ever present, and highly entertaining Pa Madou Kah, in the background – picture courtesy of Little Imp (@stretchiegirl)
So before digging into some specific statistics about the Timbers here’s a link to my post-match article, about that game, and then the Composite PWP Strategic Index for Major League Soccer after 25 weeks:
One other technical detail that’s probably new for many – the yellow stars indicate which teams have already sacked their manager this year.
I’ll offer up a reminder a bit later on all the stars present at the end of last year.
And if you are interested in some details about why Toronto FC sacked Ryan Nelson – I’ve included this article published by MLSSoccer.com for your reading pleasure.
To summarize, based upon what I took away from the article, Ryan Nelson was sacked due to poor team performance. I’m not sure what that means to the Toronto front office but it’s meaning (could?) be intuited based upon this Index. I’ll leave that for others to decide.
So now on to overall team performance:
LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Sporting KC continue to lead the overall CPWP Index – others moving up or staying put in the top half include Columbus, DC United, Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, New England, Real Salt Lake; while New York, Colorado, and Vancouver took slight dips this week.
On the outside, looking in, the list is much shorter. Of note to me, is that only two of those teams performing on the trailing end are Western Conference teams.
Can some conclusions be drawn from that? Perhaps – but I’ll save those thoughts for when the season is completed.
Attacking PWP Strategic Index:
For the statistical types; the R2 between the APWP Strategic Index and Points in the League Table is .74 – that’s also pretty good.
Leading the league are the LA Galaxy (no surprise I’d expect). On the tail end there’s Chivas and the ever shocking Dynamo, especially for some, after beating Sporting KC this weekend. Somehow I don’t think Houston is entirely out of the Playoff picture.
With respect to Portland they are sixth best in possession percentage, passing accuracy within the final third, and goals scored per shots on goal – pretty consistent in three critical attacking indicators.
With regards to overall passing accuracy they are in the top ten at 8th best. When converting possession to penetration they are also 8th best – and in shots on goal per shots taken they are 7th best.
In looking at shots taken, per penetrating possession, (a percentage number usually better when lower than higher to infer patience) they are 11th best.
So all told, in attack, they are very consistent, and good, compared to others.
Their downfall has come in Defending PWP – here’s how the teams stack in that Strategic Index after Week 25:
For the statistical folks the DPWP Strategic Index R2 is -.66 – again pretty good but there is a tricky quirk about defending.
There remains a challenge in measuring what doesn’t happen (for the attacking team) based upon how the defense plays.
In other words some positional activities that the defense executes are never measured – what gets measured are actual events as opposed to non-events; i.e tackles, interceptions, clearances, etc…
One of my recent articles was published with the intent to push professional soccer statistical companies to begin tracking and differentiating between Open Passes and Hindered Passes, as well as Open Shots and Hindered Shots, to help measure what doesn’t happen.
“Well an attacking player decides he can’t make a pass to a player in a forward position because the defender has the passing lane closed (hindered) – so the attacker passes elsewhere (an open pass that is unopposed).
In counting the number of Open Passes versus Hindered Passes statistical types can begin to plot maps on what areas the defense is inclined to leave open (cede) versus what areas they are inclined to hinder (defend against).
When graphing those Open Passes versus Hindered Passes you can now infer (statistically measure) what doesn’t happen; i.e the ball is “not being passed successfully here”…
Put another way – if a player has the ability to make an Open Cross – that is completed. What didn’t happen is the fullback didn’t close on the winger and the center-back didn’t clear the ball.
If the Cross was a hindered cross then the value of defending can be determined even more. If it was a Hindered Pass that results in a shot taken then the fullback was not positioned properly to block the cross – nor was the center-back positioned correctly to clear the cross… Again – a statistical measurement of what doesn’t happen…
As a Youth Head Coach that type of information would be extremely critical to know when developing training plans between games… in considering how much money is involved at the professional level I would have thought the value would be even greater. Perhaps others may have a different view on that?
I’m not sure how clear that is but I’ll try to provide a few more examples as time passes… for now my early thoughts also include differentiating between an Open Throw-In and Open Cross versus Hindered Throw-In and Hindered Cross.”
In looking specifically at the Portland Timbers this year – they 10th (mid-table) in the DPWP Strategic Index – not bad by all accounts.
In peeling back the Defending Indicators they are 4th best in limiting their opponents passing accuracy (75.73%); they are 6th worst in preventing their opponents from completing passes in their defending final third (66.75%).
In terms of Possession percentage; teams average 47.38% – 6th lowest in MLS.
When looking at opponent shots taken per penetrating possession it’s 8th worst (18.85%)- and the percentage of opponents shots taken being on goal is 9th worst (36.72%).
Most critical (the weakest link it appears) is that the percentage of opponent possession leading to penetration is 26.48% (the worst in MLS). What this means is that over 25% of the time that the opponent has the ball they penetrate the Timbers final third… All told the final indicator (goals scored per game) is 3rd worst (1.65).
So how about the game against Vancouver?
- Vancouver had 45.57% possession – lower than the Timbers average.
- Vancouver passing accuracy across the entire pitch was 82% – higher than the Timbers average.
- Vancouver had 73% passing accuracy within the Timbers final third – higher than the Timbers average.
- Vancouver had 28.49% of their overall possession result in penetrating the Timbers final third – higher than the Timbers average.
- Vancouver had 10.27% of their shots taken per penetrating possession – lower than the Timbers average.
- Vancouver had 33.33% of their shots taken being shot on goal – lower than the Timbers average.
- Vancouver had 0% of their shots on goal result in a goal scored – lower than the Timbers average.
In conclusion: Here’s what happened in simple terms.
Portland ceded some space outside and slightly higher, within their defending third, in order to minimize the time and space Vancouver had in having their shots taken end up in the back of the net.
So while Portland didn’t park the bus they did get behind the ball, as much as possible, in an attempt to minimize risk… not rocket science – just good defensive team management.
Every game, for almost every team, is a ‘must win’ at this stage of the season – the ironic thing is that phrase has really been an accurate phrase for every game this season.
The earlier you consistently win games the less ‘must-ful’ they become as the season ends.
The exceptions to this, at this time, are probably Chivas USA and Montreal Impact.
Neither have a credible chance of making the playoffs – so those early season and mid-season games they lost were really their MUST win games – and of course, they didn’t win them.
As promised a reminder on coaching changes from last year; here’s the End of Season CPWP Strategic Index showing all the teams (stars) that had changes in Head Coaches during or after the season:
Note that five out of the six worst teams in PWP team performance saw coaching changes – and seven out of the bottom ten. Will we see that sort of house-cleaning again this year?
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