Billed as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s biggest test to date as Manchester United’s interim manager, after some so called easy games, came at Wembley on Sunday afternoon and although it ended up a test of sorts it wasnt perhaps the sternest he had been expecting.
Games against Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth and away at Newcastle United had all ended with United winning all four games scoring 14 goals and conceding just the 3 and chuck in a 2-0 win in the FA Cup against Reading at Old Trafford and Solskjaer’s reign had started better than he could have imagined and with what seems a reinvigorated group of players the win on Sunday means it continues.
Mauricio Pochettino likes a diamond, we know that and it was no surprise to see him deploy it again on Sunday. Dele Alli will always be at the tip with the powerful yet somewhat cumbersome Moussa Sissoko on the right hand side, Christian Eriksen on the left and due to Eric Dier still out injured Harry Winks started in the screening role at the base. Diamonds can be complicated and need excellent discipline and bravery in the players positioning especially in attack to defensive transitions and this game was no different.
A diamond midfield is of course variation of a 4-4-2 but with no natural width. Given that Sissoko and Eriksen arent wingers and given Spurs have limited natural wide men at the club this becomes a natural set up for Pocchettino in many ways. Call it what you want some may say its a 4-3-1-2 and it can be interpreted that way but this depends on the the number 9 position (Dele Alli) floating around in midfield in positions ready to receive and turn with the ball to feed the two front men and not dropping in to make a four man midfield.
I thought Son’s defensive role in the game was interesting. He didnt really look to be interested in pressing Luke Shaw down the Spurs right hand side instead leaving that to Spurs right back Kieron Trippier and himself concentrated on pressing United’s central defenders with Harry Kane as Spurs looked to use their usual high intense pressing strategy. Not unusual perhaps but ‘Sonny’s’ game is all about pressing in the wide areas as well as up top.
Sissoko’s presence around United’s Paul Pogba meant the latters ability to get on the ball and execute those ranging passes were restricted, well for the first half at least until Sissoko picked up an injury just before half time and Pogba’s freedom thereafter ended up being the difference come full time. Alli kept a (sort of) eye on Nemanja Matic as did Eriksen on Ander Herrera and this meant United’s midfield were suffocated and didnt have the angles and free players to be able to make any meaningful possession count.
United’s game plan seemed focused around trying to draw Spurs on to them and hit them on the counter and on a few occasions in the first half they did threaten in this way with Martial and Rashford having some joy. The fact United kept Rashford and Martial as high as the Spurs defensive line and Lingard not far off them signalled their intent.
As my xG timeline shows above Spurs managed to restrict United’s attacking threat in the first half with some low xG shots. But it was on the stroke of half time that United managed to create the one opportunity that would end up with them coming away from Wembley with all three points.
United had the idea to make sure Rashford and Martial stayed in the half spaces in between the Tottenham full backs and centre backs with Jesse Lingard occupying a more central role meaning the Spurs back four were stretched and with full backs Trippier and Ben Davies playing in their usual 10 yards inside the opposition half positions this then caused issues for Vertonghen and Alderweireld on who to pick up and when to shuffle accross not only due to the fact Rashford and Martial were in the half spaces but also if United decided to switch the play one of the two United front men could be in on goal, and so it proved.
It was no coincidence that Sissoko’s substitution on 43 minutes looked to have had an impact as Pogba was able to take a touch and dig an exqusite pass out over and into the right hand side channel in between Vertonghen and Davies that Rashford had been occupying since the first minute and fire a neat right foot finish across Lloris and in to the far corner, United’s occupancy of the half spaces from defense to attacking transitions had paid off.
United defending late in the game
A quick end to this post and i wanted to take a brief look at United’s defensive strategy toward the end of the game.
This is where i think Solskjaer deserves credit for the changes he made later on in the game.
After Pocchettino had brought Fernando Llorente on for Harry Winks in the 81st minute United knew they would be facing a barrage of crosses from the Spurs full backs especially from the Spurs right and side and the right foot of Kieron Trippier. So on came Diogo Dalot to add some more steel in front of Ashley Young at right back to halt Ben Davies charges down the flank and his crossing ability but also Marcus Rashford was deployed down the left hand side to cope with the pace of Trippier as United moved to a 4-5-1 shape with Romelu Lukaku as the lone striker chasing down loose clearances when United had managed to clear the ball long upfield. This essentially cut off the high ball supply in to the United penalty area with a relatively low number of those types of balls being crossed in and Spurs instead having to try to play their way in through the centre of the pitch which United had simply re-enforced with men.
A quick intro into PPDA & other defensive pressure metrics
PPDA or Passes Allowed per Defensive Action, isn’t by any means a new measure used in assessing a team or players pressing intensity, and there are others of course, but it has been around since at least 2014 and if my memory serves me well this is the earliest I could find (statsbomb.com , don’t ask me who first used brought it to the fore though!) but its not really until recent times that Wyscout and the like have started to add it to their post match reports and also to the longer term team/player stat tables.
This is obviously good news for those of us who cant afford the high prices of a well known company and, although I would agree their endless lists of statistics is hard to rival, other data collection companies are doing a sterling job in the same areas nowadays.
Back to PPDA and what it can bring to the table as a metric. PPDA comes under the banner of ‘defensive actions’ PPDA measures the passes an opponent is allowed to make before the team we are looking at makes a tackle, interception or a duel of some sort. There is a simple formula they and I use when measuring this and it is the following
PPDA= Passes made by an attacking team / Count of defensive actions
So in theory the higher the PPDA number the lower the level of pressing intensity and vice versa the lower the PPDA number the higher level of pressing intensity.
In this post i will take a look at the differing ways in which the teams in the EFL Championship tend to press using not only PPDA, but also a couple of other metrics, and also the different intensity’s in how they do it and hopefully we can see some trends in using these measures to then be able to see how the teams tend to transition from defence to attack using their given styles or pressing.
PPDA in the Championship
I think we all know where is the best place to start. Leeds United.
Marco Bielsa is a well known advocate of the intense, high press and although i stupidly haven’t used the x,y data of where Leeds tend to win the ball back the most in this post, it is clearly in the middle to final third.
No surprise then that the Elland Road outfit and current league leaders are at the top of the PPDA table above. With an average of just over 6 passes allowed to the opposition per minute of possession ( 2 more of second placed Derby County) Bielsa’s stamp on this Leeds side is evident and although these numbers alone don’t give a crystal clear picture they are a huge indicator of Leeds pressing style and intensity.
To sum up we can gather that Leeds’ have a high intensity pressing style but what about some of the other teams in the Championship? Now of course I don’t watch every team on a regular basis just like most people don’t but I know this league and I have a good understanding of how these teams play.
Now obviously just because you have a high PPDA number it doesn’t mean you will be bottom of the Championship without a prayer. Middlesbrough are a case in point. Tony Pulis prefers a mid or deep block and tends to sit back a tad more than some other sides tend too and this is evident by their 10.79 passes they allow their opponents before making a tackle etc and this is also backed up by video from what i have seen. Swansea City are another strangely positioned team in this table. Swansea tend to defend very deep anyway and like to invite teams onto them and hit them quickly in the transitions from defence to attack with Leroy Fer recycling the ball in central midfield with the creative Bersant Celina.
Four, (Leeds, Forest, Derby and Norwich) of the current top 7 in the league table are also the highest intensity pressers in my table two of which occupy the automatic promotion places so hard work does get you places right? Kinda but not if you are Ipswich Town. Their PPDA of 8.52 is better than most EPL teams so to me this all points to a hugely dis-organised pressing style.
Its all very well in practice pressing as hard and as fast as you like, or not depending on the style of play the manager decides to employ, but it has to actually work in reality. So we can look at a measure called Challenge Intensity as this is an actual success rated metric.
Leeds United once again top the list and this backs up the PPDA graphic above not only that but this shows that Leeds are pretty successful when they decide to press and with a CI of 6.2 this is very impressive indeed. Somewhat bizarrely Ipswich are again up the top of a list so what is going on at Portman Road? Can it be that the Tractor Boys are trying to press and just not being successful? They are tackling at a high rate but yet sit bottom of the Championship table by some margin, weird. Maybe they are getting run ragged most weeks and having to tackle a great deal more. Someone should delve into them a bit more but as i said before my thinking is they are just so disorganised when they press that they are having to tackle a lot more.
Leeds and Ipswich are two very good examples of how good a pressing style has to be organised to be successful, or not.
Boro’, West Brom, Sheffield United and Gary Monk’s Birmingham City are all high flyers in the league table yet all have relatively low CI ratios and are not that much higher in the PPDA table pointing to possible preferences to deep blocks and compact styles of defending with transitions to counter attacking styles of play if your a supporter of these sides you will know better than me.
I hope the charts above have given some good arguments and some proof as to which teams like to press, how they do it and at what sort of success they achieve when doing it. Now by no means am I stating that the measures in this article give definitive reasons to everything involved in pressing styles but I think it goes a hell of a way in showing what can be achieved when applying these metrics to the data.
I wanted to go a bit further, and this area is more subjective. Can we try to identify what a team does post-tackle (ok, in general)? Do they lump it forward looking for the tall striker? Do they play forward and more direct through the lines? Or maybe passing to wider areas?
A quick look at a teams possession and passing rates is directly related to a teams pressing style and I’m going to use, yes you guessed it, Leeds United as an example. As we know Leeds tend to press quickly and successfully in relation to other teams in the league but does this mean they have the lions share on average of the ball in a game?
In a word yes they do.
Only Swansea City and Sheffield Wednesday have a better PPM (Pass Per Minute of Possession) ratio than Leeds with Norwich City unsurprisingly very close behind them. This metric can also be used to determine which teams may play a more possession based game than others see Derby, Brentford and Forest for example.
So Leeds do indeed keep hold of the football when they have won it back and not only do they tend to retain it well but also move it around quickly with just over 13.5 passes per minute pointing to a solid possession based style of play.
I’ve dragged this on too long already but one last thing before I wrap this up. Its all very well having the ball a lot but does it go into areas that can hurt the opposition?
Erm, so yeh Leeds are…look they get the ball into attacking areas and at a high rate.
I’ve stuck this graphic in here to show the ball progression of the Championship teams and there are some anomalies. Troubled Ipswich are getting the ball in to the final third on a regular basis but what happens after seems to be the problem with only 21 goals score all season. Preston are another side which we may not expect to see up near the top of this graphic but having scored 38 goals maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised after all.
Norwich, some may feel, are out of place here but watch them play and although they are battling with the aforementioned Yorkshire club, the two promotion hopefuls play quite different styles of football with Norwich much more passive in the early stages of their build up play.
The Championship is a hugely competitive league and only the 3 hardest of hard workers will be lucky enough to reach the promised land of the Premier League.
Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any thoughts or comments on this pressing issue (see what I did there?) let me know on here or on Twitter @ThatGarateyjc.
I havent had the time to write any articles of any kind lately so i thought i would post some recent data visuals i have sent out to various clients over the past few weeks with some brief explanations of what they entail, enjoy and any questions feel free to contact me on my social media channels.
A recent model of mine i have been working on is an expected points model some of which i have posted on here before (search this site and you will find explanations for the model). This one is an updated SkyBet League 1 table. I compile these concurrently for all English based leagues and these are a useful tool in seeing how a team ‘should’ be doing and i keep these up to date on a weekly basis.
These are my brand new pass sonars inspired by the guys at @AnalysisEvolved. They are designed to show the pass directions of a team. This example is of PSG in a 3-4-2-1 shape. Again i can compile these on any team in the world if i have the data. Below is Thiago Silva’s individual pass sonar.
The first graphic in this set is an xG timeline designed to show the xG of two teams in a certain game and the second and third graphics are pass maps of the two teams from the same game.
This viz is showing Brentford’s Neal Maupay’s shot map so far this season (it needs updating as it is from earlier on in the season).
This screenshot is from a recent opposition report for a few clients i compiled. This shot shows a brief set piece analysis but is part of a detailed 20 page report.
Another xG graphic this time showing Aston Villa’s rolling xG and xGA for the season so far.
RB Leipzig’s ELO rating throughout the last few years this one created using Python software.
Using a mathematical equation called a convex hull we can show the positions that a given player seems to intercept the ball on average this viz shows Hernandez and Pavard’s success for France at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and was inspired by David Sumpter a well known mathematician after i had read his book Soccermatics.
Again using a convex hull we can determine some passing networks in the Spanish team against Russia and once this is from the 2018 World Cup.
Above is some tactical analysis from the Dortmund Bayern game.
And finally player radars. These are becoming an increasingly popular tool when scouting players and a lot of data is able to shown in one eye pleasing visual.
I have always been of the opinion that the games between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are one of the top ‘derby’ games in world football and always seem to produce an entertaining game full of goals and excitement and this one was no different. Of course these are not officially classed as derbies but just as is the case of Manchester United and Liverpool games the rivalries are sometimes more intense than the games against there respective city neighbors.
Despite having only beaten Bayern once in the last 6 meetings Dortmund had started the season in tremendous form winning 8 games and drawing 2 out of the 11 games played. Bayern had also started the season in reasonable form but their form had trailed off a touch and losses away to Hertha Berlin and Gladbach at home and a draw again at home this time to Freiburg meant Dortmund fancied their chances.
If you watched the game i think you would agree that Niko Kovac’s Bayern side dominated possession even though the possesion stat say it was marginal (57%-43% in Bayern’s favour). Both teams set up in variations of a 4-4-2 with the Lucien Favre had set Dortmund up in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape with a flat back four and four across midfield with Marco Reus just behind a solitary Mario Gotze up front.
Bayern also shaped up in a variation of a 4-4-2 when defending similar to the home side with a flat back four and four across midfield with Müller just behind Robert Lewandowski. The difference in shape between the two sides seemed to be Martinez and Goretzka playing almost side by side in the centre of the Bayern midfield whereas Weighl, who struggled and was hooked at half time, and the excellent Witsel looked to play in more of a double pivot with the former playing at least 10 yards deeper than the Belgian international.
The influence of Ribery
Franck Ribery had his best game in a Bayern shirt for a while and gave Dortmund right back Łukasz Piszczek a pretty hard evening down the Bayern left hand side and if it wasnt for Dortmund winning the game he would have received my man of the match award. His tireless defensive work as well as his constant running at Piszczek was a key feature and it was clear that Bayern were consistently looking to do this during the game.
The doubling up and the constant threat of the overload on Dortmund’s flanks was also another key feature of Bayern’s play and this is visable in my pass map below.
If your a coach and you want to see what a near on perfect 4-4-2 should look like in regards to keeping a rigid shape whilst in a defensive and attacking phase you probably wont find one better than the Bayern shape above.
Ribery and Alaba have been an excellent combination on Bayern’s left hand side for quite a while now and with the coming of age Gnabry and the experience of Joshua Kimmich the Bayern right is equally as impressive. Looking at the graphic above we can see the way Bayern like to move the ball and it isnt through Martinez and Goretzka, the ball is almost always fed out through Boateng or Hummels, who incidentally was constantly pulled out of position by Reus and co, and out toward Ribery/Alaba or Gnabry/Kimmich but usually the former pairing is preferred.
Lets compare the Bayern pass map with Dortmund’s.
This now gives us a bit more of a clearer picture of why Ribery was able to get at Piszczek so often and get him in a lot of one v one situations. These graphics show an average position of a player and here we can see Piszczek, for the majority, was left isolated as Sancho was used more of an attacking threat and therefore didnt seem to defend a great deal although when needed and especially in the first half did try to help his right back out but Favre clearly wanted Sancho on the front foot ready for a Dortmund counter attack. But it must be said the Dortmund right back did his best up against the Bayern winger.
Of course exceeding your xG in a game usually helps one team did one team didnt. Dortmund created some high quality chances mainly from Reus and finished the good ones off and with 11 shots on target helping the xG count scoring three in the process won them the game.
The Dortmund graphic above also shows us how the double pivot of Weighl and Witsel came into effect and also how they played in another variation of a 4-4-2. I have also added in Paco Alcacer in to the graphic, more on that later.
Just how did Dortmund win the game?
As i mentioned before the possession stat doesnt really tell us the whole story merely that both sides almost equally shared the ball (duh) but in this game we saw a prime example of the old age saying of its what you do with it that matters.
For Dortmund it was more a case of work hard and see what we can get out of the game, and it worked.
Hakimi from left back was again excellent, as was Piszcezk at right back, Bruun Larsen had one of his quieter games but it was Marco Reus who dragged Dortmund to victory with two goals and one from substitute Paco Alcacer in an impressive second half comback coming from 1-2 down to win 3-2.
Dortmund were relying on the counter attack. Using Witsel’s ability to be able to recycle the ball in the centre of midfield and then pass the ball on to Sancho on the right and hoping to use the inguinuity of Reus and Gotze.
The graphic above backs this up with Bruun Larsen and Sancho averaging quite high positions out wide with Reus often dropping into the centre circle and surrounding areas.
In 14 games against Bayern that Reus has played in he has been involved in 9 goals and scoring 5 times up until this game, there isnt a doubt that Reus is indeed a big game player. Having had 3 years worth of serious injuries the newly recalled German international has been known to have said that just playing one game would have been satisfactory after all that has happened to him. If that one game would have been this one he would of left a very happy man.
Dortmund won the game through sheer grit and determination and the introduction of Paco Alcacer on for Mario Götze was a turning point in the game.
Alcacer gave Boateng and Hummels, who was reportedly playing with a head cold, and later on Süle something different to think about as he looked to get in behind the Bayern back line and forced them to make critical individual mistakes as Bayern fell apart in the second half. Even the usual unfallable Manuel Neuer conceded a penalty after being hesitant in coming off his line to foul Marco Reus who duly converted the spot kick. Alcacer casually slotting home the winner for Dortmund in the 73rd minute.
The introduction of Dahoud for Weighl at half time was just as important after Weighl simply couldnt adjust to the pace of the game from the off and mistiming tackles and passes throughout the first half. The trustworthy Thomas Delaney also added much needed steel later on.
I thought i would add this graphic in out of interest in terms of how well Dortmund did to get the result when under a fair bit of pressure in various areas on the pitch.
The graphic above shows the winners and losers of the duels between both sets of players in the game with almost an equal share between the teams and once again it is hard to back Dortmund using this graphic as a reason as to why they won the game. But it does show the influence and graft of Hakimi and Bruun Larsen down the Dormund left hand side to thwart Gnabry and Kimmich and although Ribery and Alaba had decent games when it came to duels it was even stevens according to the data. Questionable on the eye test i must say.
Sifting through tactics throughout the game and looking at substitutions from both Favre and Kovac it seems the former got it right with his changes and in my opinion this alongside Dormund’s sheer determination and hard work coupled with an inspired Marco Reus was what won the game for the team in yellow and maybe Bayern felt hard done by but they didnt take the chamcestthe came their way and paid the price come full time.
In the summer of this year it looked as though Jack Grealish would be on his way to North London to be part of Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pocchetino’s young squad. Aston Villa fans, myself included, feared the worst and come August the 9th our worst fears were realised and Spurs bid £25 million. With Villa under huge financial pressure it looked as though Grealish was off but Spurs were told in no uncertain terms that he was not for sale, at any price. Had Daniel Levy and Co acted earlier they would have got their man or so Steve Bruce had claimed however Grealish eventually signed a new five year deal effectively doubling his wages but of course the pessimist in me says it is more than possible this is to merely increase his value for next year, I hope i’m wrong.
So to the point of this article. I have heard whispers on social media and seen a few snippets in the written media around the possible return to Villa Park of Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan.
This made me wonder that if ever that rumor ever became a possible reality would Bannan add anything to the squad? I think the answer would be well probably not. Of course there are a few others i could have analyzed and stuck in this article Duffy at Sheffield United amongst others.
Another player I coveted in the summer, and who I put forward for a move to Aston Villa, and also who I have admired for a long time now is QPR’s Luke Freeman. Third last season in overall assists with 12 and with an xA of 13.01 (Bannan and Grealish didn’t even make the top 30 in xA last season)
I have wrote about and analyzed Freeman for a few years now right back to his Stevenage days in 2011 and believe it or not he is still only 26.
Freeman, in the 17/18 season, produced his best numbers to date with 12 assists and 5 goals (16/17 season- 5 assist 4 goals and in 15/16 6 assists and 1 goal) so is Freeman getting better with age? Well, yeah. It still puzzles me as to why he doesn’t seem to get a better gig than QPR (no offence meant).
So lets compare the three players mentioned above and stick em all in a wonky table for ease of reading.
Numbers wise we can see for Jack Grealish the season of 2015-16 in the EPL and Villa’s first season in the Championship following their relegation doesnt make for great reading. Injuries played a part of course but as he reached the season of 17-18 Grealish picked up albeit gradually with 4 assists. His numbers still werent as we would have expected from a talent such as his though.
Bannan produced and followed a similar path to Grealish the past three seasons with some low numbers assist wise bar a half decent return in the 16/17 Championship season with 7 assists and beating an xA of 6.07 in which he played 44 games but his goal return has been consistently poor. The season of 15/16 saw Bannan give a return of 2 goals and 2 assists in 38 games backing up that point.
Former Bristol City man Luke Freeman had a good season last year with a huge return of 12 assists from an xA of 13.01 showing there was probabaly more to come from him especially given he also had an xG of 8.41 and scored just the 5 goals. Freeman played just the 26 games for QPR and Bristol City in the 16/17 season and still produced 5 assists again with an xA of 7.5 and scoring 8 goals exceeding his xG of 3.95 massively. The changing of clubs in the season shouldnt be underestimated of course if you think these numbers are a tad low.
The present day
Given some teams have only played 16 or 17 games in the Championship this season there is a relatively small sample size to go from but be that as it may it will give us a peak into a window of what these three attacking midfielders can offer longer term now we have looked a bit at a small part of some of the numbers they have produced in the past few seasons.
I feel, as im sure most scouts and recruitment analysts will do also, that being able to receive and carry the ball into the final third and the danger areas in and around the box is a vital asset for an attacking midfielder to have. Its a big part of their play especially when playing as part of an attacking midfield three in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 shape as we have seen with Dean Smith’s Aston Villa at points at the start of his tenure.
So i wanted to look at the successful dribble rates of the three players i talked about above and where they tend to pick the ball up from and their ability to create opportunities from these dribbles.
First up Luke Freeman.
QPR usually play in a familar 4-2-3-1 formation with Freeman operating on the left of the midfield three and looking at the graphic above that i have produced that seems pretty clear. A success rate of 81% is well up there that much is clear and with a Total Non Penalty xG of 1.76 (he’s scored 2 goals) and an Total xA of 1.95 and 1 assist Freeman is on the right path again in a performance wise mixed season under a Steve McClaren led QPR side.
In regards to a few other measures I use in a simple, straight up AM template I’ve stuck them in a radar with per 90 unit samples and it would be interesting to stick these numbers in a AM/Winger template to see how they stack up for variance.
Just to be clear I REALLY LIKE LUKE FREEMAN! And if he turned up at Aston Villa I wouldnt be disappointed as he can play anywhere across a midfield three and on the left or right of a front three cutting inside or taking defenders on down the flanks and he can take set pieces so whats not to like? The fact that he is a VERY similar player to Grealish is the only issue but good players can always be accommodated in a team no matter what anybody tells you.
Anyway enough of the Luke Freeman love in lets see how Barry Bannan stacks up.
To put it nicely, he doesnt. Stack up that is. Bannan, as i mentioned at the start of this article, has earned plaudits from some fans and EFL television pundits alike but I just dont see it personally. Admittedly Bannan’s Wednesday team are scoring goals with a current NPG total of 20 and an xG of 19.84 (my last count on xG and xGA is about a week out forgive me) it seems Bannan’slack of contribution may not be being missed after all but Wednesday have also conceded 26 goals and with an xGA of 22.6 (only Preston have a worse record) could this explain Bannan’s issues going forward as he is maybe having to fulfill a lot more defensive duties? Possibly but maybe we are clutching at straws on the Scotsmans behalf. His success rate when dribbling with the ball is low but as we can see he doesnt seem to attempt that many anyway. C’est la vie as they say.
When we compare Bannan’s stats on the radar with Freeman’s and Jack Grealish’s he is down on pretty much every measure. Although he is still a decent midfielder I think Bannan had his time at Villa Park and there is no need to go back from his or from Villa’s point of view if indeed, which I doubt, has ever been the case.
Super Jack Grealish
Maybe its age, maybe its just that he is that good but Grealish is starting to again find the form of last season playing in a struggling Steve Bruce side.
The sheer amount of dribbles attempted let alone the successful ones that are documented in the graphic above is enough to rival that of an above average Premier league AM let alone a fellow Championship one like Freeman or Bannan.
Unlike Freeman this season Grealish has usually been deployed in the Aston Villa team behind a central centre forward, usually Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, in a 4-4-1-1 formation and not on the left of a 4-3-3 however Grealish does tend to drift out more to the left hand side and cut back inside on to his favored right foot. He also has the highest success rate of all the three players mentioned with 84%.
Grealish’s assist numbers havent quite hit the numbers he or Villa would like as yet but as the season progresses they probably will and we can see from the first table that his numbers in the areas detailed have improved year on year and progression in a player is what drives recruitment.
In my previous post on Expected Points I discussed the differing metrics I can use in roughly trying to predict the outcome of a league season in the format of a final league table. Due to the length of part one on the EPL I decided it would be easier to do a second post rather than bore everyone to tears on the first post but thanks for a massive response all the same! For the explanations of the parameters and metrics used in compiling these tables I suggest you refer back to the first post which can be found here https://wp.me/p8dqLB-8l
EFL Championship and SkyBet Leagues 1 and 2
Having been involved in differing capacities with clubs below the EPL, alongside supporting the best team in the midlands, Aston Villa (don’t @ me!), I have not only a vested interest in the Championship and League’s 1 and 2 (I will leave the National League out of these posts for now for post length reasons) but I also compile and collect these 3 league’s data throughout the season and find that they are very interesting when it comes to using various measures when producing data work.
Although there is some work published I believe that there is nowhere near enough detailed data and stat work around given the availability of various data sources however publicly available data is few and far between in all fairness. These three leagues are all well supported of course and fans maybe don’t get enough stat work done, or publicly published anyway, on their clubs but especially fans from clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. I should say that the data I used is up until and including the 6th of October’sfixtures in all three leagues.
More on Leagues 1 and 2 later but I will start with the Championship and alongside the tables I will sum up little about what I found and then see what possibilities could end up taking place come the end of the season.
As I mentioned in the first post on this subject I had my doubts about using expected goal difference as a valid measure of a team’s final league position but in the process of exploring the data and using the metrics went along it kind of grew on me a little.
Brentford fans will be pleased as punch to see their side at the top of the goal difference table but they might want to hold off due to the fact manager Dean Smith has now left the club to join Aston Villa and this of course will most probably have a huge impact on where their season goes from here. A +22 goal difference would have earned you a final league position of 5th or 6th position if we go, as we have done in our parameter, by last season’s final league table. Wolves won the league with a +43 GD with the nearest being another promoted club Cardiff City with +30 GD and of course it’s still possible to achieve Cardiff’s GD but unlikely anyone will touch Wolves’ 17/18 season total surely.
My doubts creep back in again when I see the high pressing Marco Bielsa’s Leeds team finishing the season with a GD of +14 when they already have a +13 GDat the time of writing but there is a long way to go of course and goal differences will sway, some considerably, as the season progresses. Sheffield United have started very well but xG doesn’t always match up with the reality but in theory a playoff spot, if not more, is easily attainable for Chris Wilder’s men.
So who should be worried? Well Hull and Ipswich (yes really) could be in trouble as most certainly will relegation favorites Rotherham United but the surprise (okay MASSIVE surprise!) is seeing Sheffield Wednesday at the bottom of this table. This is just not going to happen Wednesday are currently 6th in the table with a GD of +1 so how is it feasible they could finish bottom? They have conceded 15 goals with an xGA of 18.1(9th highest in the Championship) so still conceding 3.1 less than predicted, a small margin granted. And they are exceeding there xG by 4.3 goals (xG is 11.7 and actual goals scored is 15) again this isn’t a great number but it is still 8th highest in the league, not bad (I am planning on publishing all leagues current xG numbers when I get a chance). The issue is essentially conceding 18 goals and scoring 19 isn’t sustainable over a 46 game season and if this continues they will find themselves slipping down the table somewhat however not to the extent that the table above shows. Wigan, Bristol City, Stoke, Villa in 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th respectively all have similar records so the although the final table is skewed somewhat it’s easy to see how, given the four teams positions noted above, Wednesday could end up much lower down the league come May next year.
Anyway let’s move on to the final expected points table to see if we can correlate anything the goal difference table tells us.
Now this is more like it. For me this passes the eye test quite well. The top 6 sits quite well with me and the fight for the title, I expect, will be just as close as the table suggests although Sheffield United winning the title may be a stretch for me.
Brentford as we have discussed may have issues now Smith has departed. In general the top five are the same give or take (yes I know there are is no such thing as 77.04 points but you can see what we are trying to achieve here) 7th-18th is again very familiar and also the bottom 4. Sheffield Wednesday have managed to get out of the bottom four and finish 20th, probably more believable but I still have my doubts they will finish that low we shall see.
The two tables do correlate in general but with complications for teams in regards to managerial changes, injuries and schedules etc there can always be a massive swing either way on how things can change especially with two or three big wins changing goal differences up and down the table. I like the expected points tables in general and although being massively swayed by the teams xG numbers these are consistently more reliable than using current points per game. I would expect Leeds and Middlesborough to better their positions in my table but I’m interested to see how Brentford, Sheffield United and Derby progress and also how the Dean Smith effect at Aston Villa pans out.
SkyBet League 1
Four out of the last five seasons have seen the League 1 title won by a team with a points total of 90 or more and Barnsley look on course, even at this early stage, to achieve this, well maybe.
With the lowest xGA conceded (12.5 actual conceded is 9) and the highest xG at 23.1 (they exceed this by 2.9 with 26 goals scored) and scoring at 2.1 goals per game the numbers are looking really good for the Oakwell outfit so far who are in 3rd. Portsmouth and Peterborough lead the way currently and both of those sides are looking good and with the latter’s expected goal difference of -5 in my final table this again questions my thinking but 19 goals conceded with an xGA of 21.2 kind of skews the table given that Posh have currently scored 30 goals and exceed their xG by a whopping 8.8 this then answers the question of my table somewhat in terms of goal differences but again slightly questions the sustainability of Steve Evans’ teams goal scoring and goal conceding ratios over the course of a season.
Luton Town are another side that has real potential in at least achieving a playoff spot. In their first season back in League 1 and in both the goal difference tables and the expected points table the Hatters are predicted to end up in the higher echelons. With a predicted GD of +17 (last season this would get you 4th-5th position and the predicted 77 points would get you the same position wise)Nathan Jones has a real team spirit and huge work ethic ingrained into his side which I believe will all help in them in achieving a somewhat surprising top 5 finish.
Sunderland,Southend and a resurgent Blackpool all look to have decent chances of a playoff berth each come the end of the season. At the other end of the table Plymouth, who finished 7th last season but currently sit bottom of the table this season, already look worryingly frail at the back with a rather large 2.18 xGA per match (actually conceding 1.83) and with a huge total xGA of 26.3 after 12 games played they have been very lucky to concede just the 19 goals maybe they have a kind of alright defensive policy after all? Or does it say more about the shooting ability of the teams they have faced? You can decide (Hint: it’s not the first one) anyway it doesn’t make for optimistic reading and I predict them to finish bottom, and some way short of 23rd, in both of my predictive tables.
These results and metrics used are probably shoved to the back of any clubs data driven stat work at this level of football and is probably paid no attention to at all when in reality this could be massively important and relevant in a clubs performance now and in a predictive nature.
SkyBet League 2
So to the last league being covered in this article SkyBet League 2 and one of the most competitive with a standard being very similar throughout the league. There are some interesting outcomes here but let’s start at the top as it stands.
One thing is for sure so far this season. The Cowley brothers and Lincoln City side have found their promotion winning form when winning the National League two years ago. Finishing 7th last season, The Imps already have just over half the points they achieved in the whole of last season. With an xG total of 14.3 this season Lincoln have scored 20 goals at the time of writing (games inc. 6th of October remember) a plus of 5.7 xG means they sit pretty at the top of League 2 and also predicted to keep that top spot come the end of the season with a points total of 83.68 (or 84 if you like your numbers rounded up) a points total that last year would have got your team a 4th place finish stretching to 3rd (Wycombe finished in 4th with 84 points last season).
I can’t quite get my head around a +18 GD when winning a title in this league but this is what MK Dons are predicted to achieve in my goal difference table and its odd I agree especially given Lincoln already have +17 currently but in achieving fourth last season Wycombe did finish with the same goal difference so again although doubt creeps in it is still feasible, maybe. Speaking of MK Dons I have them coming very close in the expected points table with a predicted total of 78 points which last season would see you end up in either 5th or 4th position so comparing my table with last season’s it won’t be far off.
Looking up and down there isn’t much that sticks out between the two tables in terms of positioning and GD is pretty good as well with Grimsby predicting to have a -18 GD (23rd and 24th ended with -13 and -15 respectively last season) and could Mansfield end up with the same amount of points as last year (72) as predicted in my table? Can Notts County recover from a disastrous start to the season and end up escaping to 20th position with 51 points by the end of the season? in any instance it is more likely than them achieving 77 points as they did last year.
In the last two seasons 46 points or above would see you safe from relegation but using my measures 50-52 will be the probable cut off this year and the likes of Macclesfield (currently on 4 points), Cambridge (8), Cheltenham (9) and the aforementioned Notts County (12) will not be wanting to hear that I’m sure.
So there we have it I hope I have cleared up a few things and maybe reaffirmed some peoples thinking and hopes for the season ahead or maybe I have opened a few eyes to what is possible when using these metrics alongside the parameters I have used when compiling these tables.
Probably worth putting a few quid on anyway, maybe.
If there are any queries or questions in regards to the past two articles on this subject or others involving xG, xA or any predictive measures you have seen and if you think they may help when scouting teams or players or even if you think I could help your club or department in any of these areas feel free to get in touch.
Trying to predict the outcome of a team’s position at the end of the season is always going to be tricky and probably, in most people’s eyes, near on impossible and in some people’s opinions pointless however there are ways in which we can get reasonably close in achieving this. Given it’s the international break (yawn!) I thought this was a good time to publish what I have been working on.
Goals per game and goals against per game, points per game have all been used in the past to calculate the final league positions of clubs across various leagues but the future is nigh and when expected goals came along in giving us a better measure of a team’s performance across not only a single game but also longer term across a whole season we also gained a significant and more reliable way of assessing the way a league table may look at the end of the season.
I am going to be using two metrics. Expected goal difference and xP (expected points) which I believe are sustainable as they have been used in articles published before and also they are fairly accurate. In calculating expected goal difference I will use the difference between xG and xGA multiplied by the remaining games to get our goal difference totals and league position finishes and for the xP component I will use a more intricate method detailed below.
For this article I will be focusing on the English Premier League and in a few days publish another article covering the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2.
Expected Goals (make a) Difference
Using goal difference is probably not the most thought about way of trying to predict a final league table and work has been published in the past using simple goal difference and it has been proven to be a good indicator of the longer term sustainability of a team’s results but in this article I will not only put forward the case for what I believe are the benefits of using this measure but also why it may not be the best indicator.
So let’s start with the methodology used in creating the tables within the goal difference using some examples from a previous season.
The best teams earn the most points and it’s fair to say they will end up scoring more goals and in theory will end up conceding the least amount of goals over the course of the season but will this dictate their final league position? In the mind’s eye of course but in reality is it the same?
In an excellent, albeit brief, article published in 2012 on 5addedminutes.comNewcastlewere used as an example of this so rather than trying to search through seasons and seasons worth of data to try and find something similar I will use them as an example.
The EPL does not seem to change in regards to competitiveness from year to year and it is often spoken about that there are three ‘mini leagues’ within the EPL. In the 2011-12 season Newcastle United finished the season on a goal difference of +5 and 5th in the table on 65 points (normally this would equate to 55 points and only be good enough for around 7th or 8th position) so in theory they overachieved by 11 points and with only eight wins by a single goal and a trio of big defeats. These slender one goal margin victories can inflate a team’s final league position and although results fluctuate this may in part explain the Magpie’s final position in the table and of course there is no reason to believe this is sustainable winning by these small margins. The following year Newcastlefinished in 16th position with a -23 goal difference with a 41 points total proving that it certainly wasn’t a sustainable way to play over the course of a season.
The model above, as I explained above is merely using standard goal difference so what happens if we use expected goal difference to produce an ‘alternate’ final goal difference table.
The graphic below shows the EPL table at the end of the season when we apply this model.
The method for this is simply xGF per game – xGA per game = goal diff / 36 (games remaining) = final goal difference. Then we can assign a final league position based on the given clubs goal difference.
This is where I have some doubts about the reliability of this method with some of the numbers a little low on the eye test but we shall see in time. When referring and compiling anything along these types of lines looking at previous data sets is vital and it is imperative to go back and look at a previous season or seasons. For simplicity, we will look back to last season’s final EPL table.
Manchester City topped the goal difference charts with a +79 goal difference and finished as champions and in my table above this year they could finish with a +69 GD, a Liverpool (4th last year with +46 GD) are expected to have a +40 at the end of this year so all looking pretty rosy so far in comparison.
Things get a tad shady when we go a bit further down my table. Watford are expected to end up with a GD of +26 and a possibility of finishing 4th when last year they finished on -20 and ended up finishing in 13th on 41 points, quite a large margin and unlikely I think it is fair to say. Bournemouth, with an expected GD of +19 and a final league position of 5th (it should be noted I have placed them above Spurs for alphabetical order purposes only in this table), performed significantly worse last season with a -16 GD and a points finish of 44 points, one would assume they are unlikely-ish to finish in the Europa League positions this year.
But is it so inconceivable that Watford could finish above the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United? In truth it probably is but it is interestingly comparable in that last season The Cherries finished only 2 places and 3 points in front of The Hornets with only a -4 GD in the favor of Eddie Howe’s men. Judging by my table they will be closely matched again this year only higher up the table. However unlikely that maybe this is a useful comparison when identifying which teams in the league are consistently going to be your closest rivals in terms of gaining points throughout the season and I’ve only compared one season to another of which one is predicted but the trend is already (slightly) evident.
The bottom four look a fair bit more ‘believable’ in regards to their final league positions but I still think this table is slightly skewed somewhat given Cardiff and Fulham are playing in a different league after being promoted last year so their data is less reliable even though Neil Warnock’s side look nailed on in finding it tough going getting out of the relegation places.
Now we have identified a kind of mini trend in regards to comparing two team’s possible similarities in scoring and conceding goals to end up with similar goal differences and final league positions come the end of the season I now want to look at my alternative method of calculating a points finish.
xP (Expected Points)
I will start with the methodology again to briefly get a gist of what to expect and to give some clarity.
I will use Burnleyas a quick example. Using an adapted Poisson distribution calculation we input Burnley’s xG per game in the first column and their xGA into the second column this then spits out the expected points per game they should achieve we then multiply that by the remaining games (36) to give us Burnley’s expected points finish from there we can assign them a final league position. This is similar to what betting agencies would use in a type of Monte-Carlo type calculation. Simple, right? My math symbols are poor at best so I will leave them up to smarter people than me but the methodology is the same regardless. On to the table.
Although this is my personal preferred method of calculating a team’s expected points finish it, like any predictive model, is never going to be 100% perfect as Manchester City’s 103 xP finish in my table may show… but hang on a minute didn’t they did finish on 100 points in winning the title last year? So perhaps I am being too harsh on the model, myself and Pep Guardiola’s rampant City squad. And as with the Bournemouth/Watfordgoal difference situation over the last two seasons we see a bit of consistency edging in, as we should of course if the workings are correct.
Throughout the process of compiling these two sets of equation’s my mind swung back and forth in regards to one being a better method than the other and its clear to see why. There are many similarities throughout when comparing the two tables. The top three are the same and the top five in general look very familiar, 7th to 11th are fairly similar as are the bottom four.
One team sticks out above the rest though. Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Nuno Esporito Santo has carried on the form and style of play that has seen his Wolves team comfortably go up as champions in the Championship last season with their infamous 3-4-3 shape. Is it possible that they could continue as they have started this season and end up in 4th spot come the end of the season? Of course if we go by the goal difference table most definitely not as they would finish 7 places below in 11th, something to ponder whichever way your opinion might sway.
Arsenal are starting to come round to Unai Emery’s way of thinking so I would expect them to finish higher than the predicted 8th but my confidence in that happening isn’t helped by the fact in both tables they are only a place or two apart and this would also, obviously, depend a fair bit on Bournemouth, Watford and Wolvesfaltering which they may well end up doing of course but in my opinion a top four, or even top five finish for the Gunners is not looking good either way.
How many teams will be involved in the fight for the last of (in my opinion) the automatic champions league spot after City, Liverpool and Chelsea remains to be seen but The Gunners have a fight on their hands from some unlikely teams at this point in the season and the end result will be interesting come the 19th of May next year.
Take it or leave it (depending on who you support)
So there we have it and make of it what you will and take from it what you want but you will probably want to disregard all of it if you are a Huddersfield United, Cardiff City or a Newcastle United fan and you may want to think about crossing your fingers and toes if you’re a supporter of the teams in the red half of Manchester and North London. Only kidding (maybe).
In recent weeks Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce has come under increasing pressure from the Villa fans especially given that his main critics may have thought, or had hoped, he be replaced by Brentfords Dean Smith or more optimisticly former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry to name but two names linked with Bruce’s job.
However new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens didnt see it that way and decided that Bruce was the man to try once more to get Villa back into the Premier League after last seasons last ditch failure against Fulham in the play off final at Wembley.
So he can do it again right?
Well for us Villa fans its not looked so likely this season, so far.
First things first it shouldn’t be underestimated the impact the loanees who have not returned to Villa Park have affected the squad and Bruce’s planning.
Snodgrass returned to West Ham and has been playing regularly for the Hammers this season. John Terry has not returned for a second year and no matter how hard the club have tried it has been made clear to the former Chelsea captain that should he sign a short term contract he would not be returning on the same wages and terms as he was the year before mainly due to Villa’s on going financial issues but also this being the last year Villa will receive any parachute payments. Sam Johnstone, much to the annoyance that he could easily have stayed with Villa for another year, went to a promotion rival in West Brom, Lewis Grabban went on to pastures new and Josh Onomah returned to Spurs.
So blaming a squad lacking the quality of last year from a squad that mainly Bruce himself has built since being appointed in October 2016 is not the kind of thing fans want to hear. Neither is ‘the results will come’ or ‘the players are working hard’ or even ‘we are a big club and know where we should be’ or the most presumtious of them all, ‘we will be there and there abouts at the end of the season’, how can he be so sure? See @Myoldmansaid on Twitter for his amusing quotes for ‘Brucie Bingo’.
But the main issue that seems to get the fans up in arms, including me, is the consistency in playing some players out of position.
The benefit of being involved in football on a daily basis, especially doing tactical analysis and data work is being able to see certain things that some others may not. Tactically speaking. On the other hand what we have seen this season its pretty clear to everyone what has been the issues with team selection.
We were all thinking to ourselves that after last year we should at least be challenging for the playoffs even should we lose Snodgrass and Terry. And now given that Villa have aquired the loan signings of Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham who scored 26 goals for Bristol City the last time he played in the Championship and Yannick Bolasie Evertons long term injury returnee, Villa really should be aiming for the play offs and maybe beyond.
Bruce has a 45% win at Villa, more than anywhere else in his managerial career it should be noted.
Players out of positions
We are all familiar with Mile Jedinak being played in the centre half position alongside the ridiculous decision to let an orthadox centre back Tommy Elphick go out on loan. But other shapes and systems have been employed over the previous weeks and I wrote a post detailing what should be done a while back regarding what would be best given the squad Bruce has.
Tuanzebe constantly out at right back (he is a centre half), El Mohamady is not a right back, Grealish isnt suited out on the left and when playing centrally he has had his best games for Villa. I could go on of course but I think we all get my drift. And this is what fans just dont get about team selection and if the average fan can see its not working why cant Bruce?
I have advocated both of the shapes above in the past as i truly believe this is the best Bruce can get out of what Villa have, yes i know its three at the back but Bruce used it in pre season and then totally abandoned it when the league campaign started without any real reason as it did seem to work ok. Granted Jedinak is still one of those three centre backs but…well it is what it is.
Now i know that Bolasie and El Ghazi arent wing backs but if the team want to start going at their opponents from the off the 3-1-4-2 is probably the way to go. Whelan or Bjarnason will screen the back four and this shape also gets the best out of Grealish which is vital.
Of course Bruce has so many options and with Hourihane playing well he has another issue in selecting a competent but attacking midfield.
I feel like im starting to repeat myself. I would still like to see the diamond above against a lesser team (if their is such a thing) just to see how it could work. To be honest, its a stretch I know and the personnel have to be spot on but at least we have defenders in the corrct positions and two centre forwards plus a decent midfield with options to go to a 4-4-2 when defending.
Slow and sidways would be how I would describe the performance against Bristol City on Friday. As my pass map shows their was very little passing between players and the focus seemed to be get the ball up to Abraham and see what happens.
Grealish, Abraham and Kodija are shown as central here but this means the three players movement could have been across the front line especially Grealish and Kodija but overall it just didnt work did it?!
Tuanzebe isnt a ambitious full back at all and simply gave the ball to Hourihane in midfield. A full back should be an attacking option. Period.
Their was no width as Bruce abandoned the 4-1-4-1 that had seen Grealish produce his best form in previous games especially last season.
Against Sheffield Wednesday although ending up being beat 1-2 Bruce nearly got this right with one exception. Four at the back. Or the player selection of that back four (have a game of Brucie Bingo im not going there again)
At home Villa should be the dominant, attacking side and the 3-1-4-2 is the way to go given the players available for that game. This 4-4-2 is disjointed and looks nothing like a 4-4-2 should look like in any game let alone when playing at home. Fans want to see ambition and see their team put on an attacking performance especially at home but this doesnt seem to happening at the moment.
These pass maps are critical in showing the lack of tactical shape in a game and I wonder how or what some players are being told to play and what their specific roles are in a game.
Villa’s xG was 2.37 in the Wednesday game meaning they had chances that warranted at least 2 goals but again they fell short. Goals win games and Villa arent scoring enough.
However long Steve Bruce remains in charge Villa fans can expect multiple shape changes and personnel in various positions and its such a shame that this is the case as their are at least 2 other set ups that would suit the squad Bruce has and thats apart from the ones mentioned above.
The indecisiveness of team selection and playing players out of position smacks of a little desperation and not knowing what is the best shape let alone the best starting eleven is worrying even at this early stage.
A new director of football has been appointed so we may see some changes now that the position has been filled and with Preston coming to Villa Park tonight I cant help but feel Bruce is on thin ice with the fans anyway so 3 points is more than a must.
“Excited to start my new chapter this season with @AVFCOfficial lets get this season rocking” – Abraham on signing for Aston Villa
So Steve Bruce finally gets his man. After a waiting game and a fair few meetings with Abraham’s agent and with other parties more than interested in signing the England Under 21 international, Abraham decided on joining Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi on season long loans to Villa Park.
Being a Villa fan myself I was chuffed to see the likes of Bolasie and El Ghazi. With Abraham I have my reservations and I have made this clear on my social media channels. Of course I will be rooting for Abraham and by no means is this an article slating the clubs decision to sign him but I hope it gives a bit more of a fuller picture of what he may or may not bring to Aston Villa this coming season.
Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham to quote his full name joined the Chelsea academy at under 8 level and progressed up through the age groups winning consecutive UEFA Youth League titles and FA Youth Cups in 2015 and 2016 and in doing so scoring 8 goals in 9 matches.
Abraham has scored 74 goals in 98 games encompassing all the Chelsea youth sides he has played in at the time of writing. You would be hard pressed to find many young players with this record.
He made his debut for the Chelsea first team under Guus Hiddink in the 1-1 draw away at Liverpool and then making his home debut starting the game against the newly crowned EPL Champions Leicester City a week later.
Still finding himself down the pecking order at Chelsea meant getting into the starting eleven would be difficult and so at the start of the 2016-17 season Abraham was sent out in loan to Championship side Bristol City.
On fire in the Championship
Abraham came off the bench to score on his Bristol City debut (the goal was later wrongly credited to his City teammate Magnússon). In September he was named Championship Player of the Month (below) scoring 4 goals which also earned him the Young Player of the Month award.
By January Abraham had reached 16 goals and was unplayable at times and was catching the eye of many a Premier League club but interested parties were met with litlle acknowledgment due to the fact Chelsea made it clear there lanky centre forward wasnt for sale.
Hitting an xG per 90 of 0.42 is not to sniffed at especially in the grind that is the Championship and he exceeded that by scoring at a rate of 0.6 per 90, an excellent return indeed. Abraham played 3425 minutes that season (38 90 minute brackets) and this seemed what helped him achieve such excellent consistency throughout the season.
Bristol City played to Abraham’s strengths something that the other teams he has been loaned out to have not. Dont be fooled by his height and think he needs shedloads of crosses to score goals he has more in his locker than that and it showed at his time at Ashton Gate.
Swansea City 17-18
In the July of 2017 Abraham signed a new 5 year contract at Stamford Bridge and then immediately signed on a season long loan to fellow Premier League side Swansea City.
But the move didn’t turn out as well as both parties had hoped with Swansea getting relegated and Abraham having a frustrating season scoring just 5 goals in 21 games.
Its clear that when we compare the two radars from Abrahams last two seasons we can see how he struggled in a Swansea team that liked to play a possesion based passing game but created very little in terms of goal scoring chances for him and the South Wales outfit ended up pretty much reliant on him.
His goal return for Swansea was poor but more noticeable was his decline in the total number of aerial wins across that season. A big, but not inconceivable, 44 separate aerial duels were lost over the course of the two seasons. Now we know Swansea werent a big crossing of the ball side but this also shows that when it came to the EPL defenders had the better of him the majority of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, Abraham is a threat in the air but equally as good with both feet. With a hold up-turn and shoot style of centre forward play Abraham is able to roll his man on the turn in a Lukaku type movement. With that being said Abraham is often left isolated in games if the style of play isnt suited to his game and being able to adapt to those different styles hasnt always been fruitful.
England’s tall goal threat
I just want to briefly touch on Abraham’s time with the England youth sides of which he has been reasonably successful.
18 goals in 39 games for England youth sides from 2014 up until now is a fairly good return at international level. Abraham will be hoping for more after making his senior debut against Germany in the 0-0 draw last November.
England havent had a tall centre forward since the days of Peter Crouch so Abraham is still a viable option going forward but will he be able to be consistent enough and find some form with a club that suits him?
Tammy Abraham is still very hit and miss in a lot of people’s eyes.
Whether its been the clubs he has played at or whether certain managers play a style of football that suits him, its not certain what is the best set up and style to get the best out of him but Aidy Boothroyd seems to have got the best out him with the England Under 21’s so maybe Steve Bruce can take some pointers from Boothroyd?
Judging by the 4-1 drubbing away at Sheffield United today Villa need all the help they can get and with Bolasie and El Ghazi providing the anmunition Abraham may have half a chance of replicating that brilliant Championship form from his Bristol City days.
The season ahead at Villa
In my opinion he is best suited in a centre forward pairing (no false nines please) where he can be a target man with flick ons and holding the ball up for lay offs and his ability to pass well for a quicker strike partner.
In terms of formations, and considering the squad Steve Bruce has at his disposal, Abraham could play in a 3-5-2, shown below, (although three centre halves could be a problem now that Tommy Elphick has joined Hull City), or in a 4-4-2. Abraham is not effective as a lone frontman with no coach to my knowledge using him in this way. Can he play with Jonathan Kodija in a two?
Away from home Villa cannot be playing with just Kodija up front on his own, it simply doesnt work anymore maybe this is why Abraham has been brought in?Jedinak will continue at centre back whether we like it or not so now the two wingers have been brought in i believe 3-5-2 or even a variation in a 3-1-4-2 (shown below) is in Bruce’s thinking.
The only real other option is one I personally would like to see possibly in the next home game against Rotherham. The 4-4-2 diamond with Grealish at the tip is something I have pushed for for a while now. Its a tad risky with Bree in terms of game time and also Whelan could be left exposed from a Bolasie point of view but McGinn is more than capable of performing defensive duties. One positive is that this shape at least gets the error prone Jedinak out of the back four.
Whatever Bruce decides going forward I for one really hope Abraham has a good season and finds his scoring touch so Villa can mount that promotion push once again.
The critics of xG (expected goals) and xA (expected assists) will be so annoyed that I have brought this up so early on in the season. In fact some of the main supporters of the two metrics will probably frown upon it as well.
Personally, I like to start as early as possible in collecting the data and also to publish some early tables, I have my reasons and they are the following.
Have last seasons top players according to these metrics started the season as they left off in 17/18?
Are there any new players that have started the season well?
Given relegations and promotions are they any players who have performed well with their clubs?
Transfers. Have any new signings started well with their new clubs?
This is one reason why I like to get a look in early on.
Mo Salah has indeed it seems carried on his form from last season in to this one. Okay i hear you, and I cant push it any further than what it is and of course xG is a minor factor in performance statistics but Salah looks to have returned from an unsettling time with Egypt at the World Cup with confidence and his performances so far have backed that up. His xA numbers arent quite their but they will be, we all know it.
Another Liverpool man Andy Robertson has provided an assist so far and a question to be asked is does Jurgen Klopp want more of this type of attacking threat from the Scotsman this year?
Sergio Aguero is already exceeding his xG numbers and still looking like a world class striker season after season. It should be noted the xG stat is probably irrelevant at this stage (no player will get near .90 per 90 mins all season).
When we talk about assists in the EPL we tend to think of De Bruyne, Salah and Hazard and with KDB out for a few months it will be up to Salah and Hazard (I also expect David Silva, Lucus Moura and James Maddison to have decent numbers xA wise) to have excellent seasons in providing assists for their respective clubs.
According to the pundits and a lot of professional people within English football, this is probably the toughest of the four leagues to get promoted from that I have written about in this piece.
Dean Smith’s Brentford side impressed many people last year and they have began this season well again. With his preferred 4-3-3 shape, with Josh McEacharan in the heart of the midfield, Brentford play a quick, free flowing brand of attacking football and with Neal Maupay at centre forward and having scored 5 goals in as many games and 3 assists to boot Brentford have a striker in form and after his 17 goal haul last term Bees fans will hope it continues.
One of the reasons I gave earlier for wanting to look at some xG numbers this early was to see if some goalscorers would adapt to their leagues after relegation. Step forward West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez. Injury hit Rodriguez looks to have come into some early form and the Championship is suited to him theres no doubt.
Former Villa and Derby striker Andy Weimann is also playing well after his transfer to Bristol City with 5 goals exceeding his xG by 2 goals.
Can Norwich get a good return out of the much travelled Jordan Rhodes? Can Marco Bielsa do the same with the strikers he has at Leeds United until he can get new faces in in January? Both cases are in the balance in my opinion.
Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan is player who has the ability to change a game in the Championship but needs to improve on his assist tally from last year (3 assists) and would do well to repeat the 8 he achieved in the 16/17 season.
Another of Bielsa’s charges at Leeds, Pablo Hernandez, is another man who is very good on the ball and has 2 assists to his name already contributing to Leeds top of the table form.
I expect Leeds United’s Samu Saiz, QPR’ s Luke Freeman and Derby County’s Tom Lawrence to top the assist and xA tables come the end of the year especially Freeman who is more than capable of beating his 12 assists from last year.
SkyBet League 1
Walsall’s Andy Cook has had some very good chances to have at least 3 more goals than the two he has so far. His xG total of 5 suggests the former Carlisle man isnt finishing as well as he should do.
On loan Nottingham Forest hitman Jason Cummings has the opposite issue he cant stop scoring. Having scored 6 goals and with an xG of 3.93 the Scotsman hasn’t had any trouble in finding the net and in doing so propelling Posh up up the table.
Shaun Whalley’s delivery from set pieces doesnt come as a surprise to some of us hence him always having pretty decent numbers when it comes to asssits and he will pick up as the season progresses.
Sunderland’s Liam Gooch looks to be finally finding some form and long may it continue. Gooch has 3 assists already this season and with an xA of 1.95 the signs are looking good for him if he can stay injury free.
SkyBet League 2
In the table above are two reasons why I like to do these tables early.
MK Dons were relegated from League 1 last year but have began the season in League 2 unbeaten but they lack serious potentcy upfront. Kieron Agard has had some very good clear cut chances to add to his 2 goals, trust me ive seen it with my own eyes, hence his xG of 5.3. But his finishing needs a lot to desired and Paul Tisdale will need to think about this area of his squad if the Dons are to mount a serious promotion push.
On the flip side newly promoted Tranmere have a promising goalscorer in James Norwood who has scored 5 times this season and exceeding his xG of 4.07.
Assist wise bottom of League 1 Notts County have Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn. The former Utrecht and Crawley Town man looks impressive early on and although mangerless after the sacking of Kevin Nolan, County shouldn’t be in the current situation come the end of the season given the squad they have to compete in League 2.
As I have said a great deal in this article it is still very early days in the season but I hope I have given you some insight as to what you can expect from your team in the coming season.
xG and xA numbers are always open for criticism for different reasons but they are a good marker when looking at taking goalscoring chances and also the creation of chances by the main players who try to provide those opportunities.