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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Swansea 0 - Chelsea 1 Match Analysis

Any analysis of this game is largely academic as it became a case of Attack vs Defence after the first quarter of an hour once Chico had been sent off.  Both offences in isolation are yellow card fouls, but usually the ref will give a 'any more and you're off' warning to someone, especially so early in the game.

The second foul was very similar to Chico's foul on Barkley against Everton that led to a penalty, not a hugely dangerous area and just gets sucked in, it's the kind of situation where the risk associated with a mistimed challenge greatly outweighs the reward if the attempt is successful.

It's a strange situation given his influence last season that pretty much everyone seemed to want Michu not to start this match, but until he's match fit the team is arguably better off with Pablo playing the attacking midfielder role and there are insufficient games left for him to play his way to fitness.  I'm hoping his ankle didn't suddenly start feeling sore yesterday after the starting line-up was announced as the though of relying on N'Gog from the bench is a scary one (would have preferred Emnes/De Guzman to come on in that situation).
Shots by Minute: Post the sending off, Chelsea had 23 shots to Swansea's 5 with Swansea having only 2 efforts in the 2nd half (Routledge's shot and Bony's header from subsequent corner).
Possession wise it was even more one-sided, especially after the break and there was a 15 minute period just before the Chelsea goal where Swansea were under huge pressure and attempted only 6 passes.  This makes it even more galling to concede from a situation with a throw from fairly deep in the Chelsea half.
After an even 1st half (pass wise), apart from a little flurry after the goal Swans were unable to string any passes together
You can still get odds as big as 20/1 on Swansea going down (most bookies offering around 10/1) and there are 4 games left where there is a reasonable chance of getting points and with our goal difference 36/37 points would probably be enough, but going into the final game against Sunderland needing a result doesn't bear thinking about, not least because I'm starting to get images of Fabio Borini relegating us (thank God Ki won't be eligible to play as that'd be even worse).

Positives from the game were Wayne Routledge's performance along with some great touches and backheels from Bony (i'm going to be a big Ivory Coast fan in the summer after lumping on him being Top Scorer at 500/1).

Other Posts
Away Support: How Clubs spend the £200k Away Fans Fund
Match Predictions: Are you Smarter than Lawro 

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka

Saturday, 12 April 2014

How clubs spend the £200k Away Fans Fund

I was thinking about writing a piece about away fan activity in the Premier League anyway but then earlier this week Southampton announced they were drastically reducing prices for their final away game of the season at Swansea.
Southampton announcing the discount on Twitter earlier in the week
Much is made on their site of it being a chance to ‘give back to fans’ but I’m a cynical guy and also know about the Premier League’s Away Fan Initiative.  It’s often referred to as the Away Fan’s Fund (see BBC article) although that’s slightly misleading in that 'Fund' suggests some sort of ‘charitable’ donation from the Premier League, when in reality it’s a plan for all 20 Premier League sides to commit £200k each per year of their revenue for this and the next 2 seasons (so £12m in total) on the Away Fan experience.

There's a couple of reasons my hunch Southampton's activity is a 'Oh Shit, we've got to spend this money' rather than a planned approach.  The first is that coach travel goes on sale 6 days after the tickets which seems odd.  The second was this forum piece I found which details a response from the club earlier in the month to a Southampton fan:

I can advise that the away supporters initiative was created for clubs to use to improve the experience offered to visiting fans. This could be used either for our supporters travelling to other clubs, or supporters visiting us. 

The £200k was not a donation by the Premier League to all clubs in the league, this is a top end figure that they suggested should be put aside to improve this experience. The £200k is paid for entirely by the club. 

Currently SFC have put money into improving the away fans concourse areas and provided supporters with a family fun day as part of the Fulham match day experience. 
We are still looking into further options for this, when decisions are made they will be announced on our website. 

Knocking £30 off the ticket price, heavily subsidising coaches and offering a free meal means that this will cost Southampton around £60k in tickets alone for 2,000 fans and possibly closer to £100k overall depending on cost of coaches.  If this gesture is above and beyond the £200k fund then I'm happy to stand corrected and not be so cynical in future,

This ambiguity of ‘Away Fan Experience’ has probably in part led to a wide variation in approaches from clubs, some have kept it simple with regular ticket discounts while others have taken a more proactive approach and others have seemed to sit on their hands.

The Football Supporters' Federation have played a large part in getting this initiative set up and have details on their website of what some clubs have said they will do but I've also found a few examples from Fans Forums/Supporter Groups that highlight the vastly different attitudes to the initiative.  It's not meant to be a comprehensive list or bashing certain teams but highlights that even something as seemingly straightforward as this ends up with a dozen different solutions.

Manchester United at their Fans Forum had this:

MB outlined the away fans’ initiative. Each club has set aside £200k. The Club could spend this money on its own fans travelling away, fans visiting Old Trafford or a combination of both. 
...
Kiosk vouchers for away grounds were discussed, as was the availability of transport for the disabled. But the most popular idea was a £5 discount on the cost of away tickets. The Club agreed to implement this and further investigate funding the remaining league matches that may not be covered (ie a £5 discount might just stretch to 16 games, assuming current allocations). 

This is the approach a number of clubs have had with a straightforward reduction in ticket price although some have given deeper discounts than others, the picture below is from a letter from Arsenal to the 'Spirit of Shankly' supporters group:
Stoke have given free coach travel for the whole season and other clubs have gone for bigger discounts (or free/discounted travel) for specific matches.  As a Swansea fan, I know the club have made a lot of effort with regards to the initiative and were probably slow to trumpet their work as I saw a greater amount of coverage of Newcastle and Aston Villa offering reciprocal price deals even though Swansea was the common link.

Aside from reciprocal deals, Swansea have tried to have some sort of 'Thank You' at every game, ranging from free food to a free programme to discounted travel and free scarves.  I appreciate the gestures and the effort made, but personally I'd rather the £3.50 (if full price is charged) that is being given to another club in return for a programme was used elsewhere as I'll discuss later.

Everton's approach to the initiative is quite different to a lot of other clubs (from a Shareholder's meeting with Robert Elstone, Everton's CEO):
We spoke for a while about this initiative and the different approaches that clubs had taken to investing the £200k per year that has been set aside by the clubs to enhance the away match experience. Mr Elstone reiterated what he had said in previous meetings that this is supposed to be about filling the away ends of grounds. He noted that the ticket price subsidy the Club had announced for our own fans accounted for about 25% of the total spend.
Additionally the Club would soon announce a new role of ‘Away Fan Ambassador’ who would be available 8am through 8pm on match days to support the needs of away fans including providing live updates (presumably through social media platforms) of things such as traffic and weather updates.
He is though really frustrated by the actions of what he called the ‘less proactive clubs’ who’d used the whole £200k to simply knock a few pounds off tickets for their own fans, especially those clubs who have a 100% away following anyway and so their actions are very unlikely to increase attendances.
He has (or will) asked the Premier League to be more specific about their expectation for the use of these funds as the scheme continues in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
This from a Newcastle Fans Forum in late Feb was also interesting:
TC(Fans Rep): "What is the Away Fans Fund being spent on?"

LM(Club Rep) explained that the Club has to disclose its spending in this area to the PL and will be doing so shortly. LM will also be attending a meeting with the PL and club supporter liaison representatives next week where this subject will be discussed and ideas shared.

The board stated that it does not agree with the concept of subsidising away match tickets as this simply means it has to hand money over the home club, which doesn't discourage it from setting fair prices. Instead, the Club has pursued reciprocal pricing deals with other clubs but that this still represents a loss of revenue for those participating, which is offset against the Away Fans Fund.

TC agreed with the principal of reciprocal pricing and thought it was a good idea.

The Club disclosed that a significant amount had already been spent on the visitors section at St. James' Park this season, with the Away Fans Fund designed to be spent on the clubs' own fans who travel and the designated away end in their stadium.

The Club is funding away travel for the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association (NUDSA) to Hull City next weekend, with tickets, travel, food and stewarding all provided.

Gareth Beard explained that NUDSA was unable to travel in large numbers to other PL away fixtures due to the lack of available space for disabled supporters.

The Club asked supporters to continue sending in ideas. The Club also noted guidance from Fans Forum members that discounted travel was not universally popular due to supporters who travel from different areas and on other forms of transport not standing to benefit.

Since the above, Newcastle have now set up £10 discounts for trips to Stoke and Arsenal, possibly like Southampton have realised they need to get the £200k spent.

Approaches by club therefore range from basic discounts to 'fan experience' activities to using some of the money to refurbish a clubs away end.  Fans who support Everton away on a regular basis might argue that they'd rather had the extra £50-£60 back in reduced ticket costs but at least Everton appear to have a coherent strategy as to what they are doing with the money rather than blowing it all in one fell swoop.

The moral of the story for me is that if you give clubs too much room to interpret what the reasoning is behind the initiative a some of them will look to tweak it to their own advantage.  Personally I'd recommend a simple plan where an extra category of tickets is set up and 16-21 year olds ticket prices are set half way between Adult and Child.  So for Swansea for example where Adult is £35 (for most games) and Child £17.50, introduce a £26.25 bracket.

Obviously not everyone under 21 is poor and everyone over 21 rich, but this seems to me to be a simple way of encouraging the kind of people you want to keep coming to matches for the good of the game.

Other Posts:
Match Predictions: Are you Smarter than Lawro 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Hull 1 - Swans 0 Stats and Chalkboards

Two steps forward, two steps back.  After the smiles post the Norwich game and talk of 'unbeaten runs' and 'only way is up' this was another reminder that we're not safe yet.

Reading Twitter after a defeat is never the wisest thing but seen plenty of people being outraged that other people were outraged enough to want their money back after that performance, I imagine 1 person (if that) complained and then things snowball. It was certainly not that bad.

This match felt pretty flat throughout with Swansea's best chances arguably coming on the counter-attack, unfortunately once Hull went ahead they were pretty happy to sit on their lead and only registered a single shot in the second half.
Swansea going for around 30 minutes post Hull's goal without a shot although perked up after the introduction of Pablo.
It's a bit unfair to single him out given he only came on at 83 minutes but having a quick look through the player stats this evening I was curious to see what Lita had managed during the game and this was his chalkboard:
Nothing to see here
There's still plenty of winnable games to come and relatively little risk of relegation but it'd be good to get this season chalked off as soon as possible to get a head start for planning for next year.

Other Posts:
Hamstrung: Playing Time and Injuries compared for Pablo/Ozil/Aguero
Leon: 5,000 Passes in the Premier League
Match Predictions: Are you Smarter than Lawro

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Swans 3 - Norwich 0 Stats and Chalkboards

I've felt like a result like this has been coming but it's the stage of the season now where results are more important than the performance but it's great to get both like on Saturday.

Arguably the big difference between this game and the previous home games against Palace and West Brom was the second goal before half time, it doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to picture a scenario where we'd have beaten either of those teams equally comfortably had we gone in at half time 2 rather than 1 up in those games.
Shots by Minute: Norwich 2 down before having their first shot and only 8 in the whole match, half of which were
Bony now has a Goal or Assist in 10 of 15 games he’s played for Swans in 2014 (and 6 of last 7 games) and De Guzman with most goals in the Monk Era so far with 5 in 731 Minutes (equivalent of just over 8 games).

Apart from Ash's block on the line this was a fairly comfortable victory and means the focus starts to move (a little bit) from the fight at the bottom to achieving as high a position as possible with 11th place still a realistic ambition.

Last season each place in the league was worth an extra £700k, this years TV deal means this has been significantly increased so I'd imagine it'll somewhere around £1m a place so once the first task of Premier League survival is sorted there's £5-£6m extra up for grabs for a range of teams from West Ham downwards.

Other Posts:
Hamstrung: Playing Time and Injuries compared for Pablo/Ozil/Aguero
Leon: 5,000 Passes in the Premier League
Match Predictions: Are you Smarter than Lawro

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Arsenal 2 - Swans 2 Stats and Analysis

It's difficult to know what to make of that game: Being in front for over an hour, conceding two goals in 60 seconds, an equaliser with Leon in the box and a final few minutes where Arsenal seemed to have given up (or at least given up defending).

With only 40% possession, this was the lowest % of the ball Swansea have had in the league this season by some distance, but this will in part be due to Bony's early goal meaning there a greater incentive to be more defensive although there were plenty of misplaced passes too (although to some extent that's kind of a vicious circle as if you're defending deep and under pressure it's much harder to find an out ball so possession gets given up and the process repeats).
Pass Volumes over Time: Arsenal dominating possession throughout the game but after around 35 minutes really start to rack the passes up
Action area heatmaps per 15 minute periods: Arsenal pretty much camped in Swansea's half but relatively little danger.  Swansea having odd moments of pressure but not sustained activity in final third
Despite dominating the ball, there were only occasional moments of incision from Arsenal prior to the two goals and although there was the odd case of riding our luck with defensive scrambles, Vorm only made two saves all match.
Shots by Minute: Swansea score with first attempt and only have 1 more in first half.  Arsenal created relatively little in the 2nd half other than two incisive moments in 60 seconds (and no further attempts afterwards)
After going ahead against Palace and drawing late on, then going ahead and losing late on against West Brom, to have the lead for over an hour and then seemingly throwing it away so quickly here would have had a massive impact on confidence going in to the Norwich game.  Thankfully Arsenal's meekness combined with Leon's determination meant that instead we left with a point and everyone on a high.

It could have of course been even better, I was amazed after the equaliser how Arsenal's defence seem to disappear, I understand that they needed the three points but they were leaving such big holes at the back that instead of penning us in and making us sweat like they had done for most of the match, they invited the counter attack and there were a couple of opportunities even before the one at the end for De Guzman.

It was good to see the return of Michu to the starting line-up, taking him off after an hour was absolutely the right thing to do as he's still coming back to full fitness and Norwich on Saturday is crucial, but I was impressed that Monk was willing to do this as I'd argue Laudrup overplayed Michu when he came back initially from injury (90 minutes on his return v Hull and then another start 6 days later against Norwich after which he was out for 3 months).  Playing De Guzman on the left hand side was also an interesting call, I'm not sure if it worked or not as the early goal changed the dynamic of the match.

Below are a few other charts of some stats on the game, be interested in any thoughts on which are of interest and which a just too much information.

Passes per Minute by Team: Swansea with the odd period of control but generally found it difficult to string a lot of passes together

% of Total Passes by both teams that were made by Swansea. Little of the ball in first 10 minutes, Swans with just over a third of possession at time of Arsenal's 2 goals with increased possession in final 15 minutes but still under 40% overall
Other Posts:
Hamstrung: Playing Time and Injuries compared for Pablo/Ozil/Aguero
Leon: 5,000 Passes in the Premier League
Match Predictions: Are you Smarter than Lawro

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Everton 3 - Swansea 2 Stats and Chalkboards

I keep telling myself it'll all be OK in the end and that our season won't be defined by games like this one or the one against Arsenal on Tuesday, but we're starting to run out of matches to do something in now.

On the bright side, from all the bookie's odds and predictive models people have put together we're still only around a 10-15% chance of being relegated, luckily games are running out for everyone else as well.

This was yet another game where a promising first half fell away and the match pretty much over after an hour with Everton's 2 goals early in the 2nd half.  I've seen plenty of criticism of Bony's substitution but if Monk felt game was done then there's some sense in it to keep Bony fresh and to give Michu minutes.

Shots by Minute: Swans starting well with a couple of early efforts and a strong last 15 minutes of the first half but the good work undone early in the 2nd
Pass wise it can be seen that after the Everton goal, Swans had the vast majority of the ball and Everton only attempted 3 passes in the last 5 minutes of the first half.
Passing Stats Pretty similar up to Everton's goal with Everton ramping it up again at the start of the 2nd half
A (very) small positive is that we scored the best goal of the game with Bony's finish coming at the end of a move that from Right to Left and back to Right:
Bony goal: Some nice passing and movement and an easy finish for Bony
Looking at the stats from the match, one of the ones that stuck out for me was the attempted take-ons (dribbles) with Swansea only having one successful which came via Chico.

Plenty of activity for the Swans in the right kind of areas but snuffed out by Everton (and in particular by Leighton Baines).
For me the Arsenal game represents a sort of a free hit, if we have another first half like we've had in recent games then there's no reason to think we can't repeat the exploits of the win at the Emirates last season.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Are you smarter than Lawro?

Back in Dec 2012 I wrote a blog looking at how Mark Lawrenson's predictions were making a profit, this was also reported on by BBC's More or Less showing he was still ahead of the market at the end of the season.

I've had a look to see how he's been getting on this season to see if this wasn't just a one season wonder and if he makes better choices with football predictions than he does his shirts on Match of The Day.

To do this I've taken his predictions as collated on the excellent My Football Facts and matched that with the odds data available at Football-Data (odds as at Friday afternoon, or afternoon before for midweek games).

For the 291 games played in the Premier League so far this season (to 20th March), Lawro has correctly predicted 155 (53%) of the outcomes, but the key will be is this enough to make a profit?

Based on a £10 stake on each of the 291 games, Lawro's selections would have given you a profit of £242.20 if using just Bet365 (the first of the odds makers on the Football-Data list), £246.40 if using Pinnacle (generally the best priced bookmaker) or £287.30 if you had accounts with all 8 of the bookies quoted and picked the best odds for each selection.

Bet365 had an average market of 102.5% (Pinnacle 102%) where using the best odds gives you a market of 100.7% and a 'perfect' market would be where the probabilities of the Home/Draw/Away odds would equal 100%.
Payback if betting via Pinnacle: The first few weeks (usually 10 games per week), show as roughly break-even but over a longer period the good has outweighed the bad so far this season
In the blog back in 2012 I noticed that the majority of Lawro's profit was coming from his draw selections and it's a similar story again this season:
As for last season, greatest part of the profit is where Lawro picks a draw.  36% of these selections were correct where odds provided suggested only 29% should have been draws.
All of the above suggests a 'wisdom of the crowds' and that markets are priced accurately but it might well be (as suggested last season) that Lawro is more willing to sit on the fence than the average punter and that (either deliberately or not) Lawro is exploiting an inefficiency in market where the Draw is over-priced.

Lawro has said his predictions are done by 'gut feel' and the scores he uses tend to back this up,
71 out of  the 73 predicted Draws from Lawro he's predicted as 1-1 and has only predicted 1-0 or 0-1 scorelines 4 times in the season compared to the 58 times it's happened in the 291 games so far this season.  
At first glance it might look odd to put so many draws down as the same score but actually this has been the most likely score for a draw this season so actually makes sense if you're going for a 'quick and dirty' approach, although 1-0 has been more frequent than 2-0 maybe 2-0 sounds more decisive.

Lawro also has particular favourites (or blind sports) which when you look at his predicted table vs. the actual stick out and give the impression he doesn't know what he's doing but ultimately anyone picking on 'gut feel' will have favourites.

The predicted and actual Premier League tables (via My Football Facts).  Man Utd and Cardiff are among the biggest differences but for majority of individual games saying Man Utd would win and Cardiff lose is not that odd a prediction.
The above and last season's results show (however it's put together) that Lawro's selections have been profitable over a reasonably long period, but could more scientific methods give even better returns?

Over at EPL Index, Neil Charles has been using Opta data to simulate matches to predict likely outcomes, ultimately whether it's reading the sports pages, looking at the league/form tables or building a model like Neil has all of these are cases of taking in information and using it to make an informed decision, even if some methods are less emotionally biased than others.

Neil's model has been up and running since November and in that period for a £10 stake per selection with Bet 365 returned a profit of £140.56 (not including last weekend which Neil said was £30 up).  Over the same period Lawro's selections also placed at Bet 365 would have returned a profit of £128.40.
Return over time from Neil's bets
Obviously these figures are not definitive proof that Neil's model is better than Lawro's gut but for me do provide an allegory for analytics within football in general:

  1. Don't discount experience: Lawro might not come across like the sharpest tool in the box, but maybe sometimes he does know what he's talking about
  2. Analytics can be an improvement but it can also be a lot of work for only small gains.  Naturally I'm in the pro-analytics camp but there are rarely easy answers, it needs someone to appreciate the value in those small incremental gains on the bigger picture.  

Other Posts:
Hamstrung: Playing Time and Injuries compared for Pablo/Ozil/Aguero
Leon: 5,000 Passes in the Premier League

Twitter: @we_r_pl