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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Premier League - Sides of Attack

In a recent piece on Zonal Marking they looked at which sides teams tend to attack on.  The piece was interesting but I felt charting the % attacked down the left/right/middle for each of the 20 teams resulted in something that was too busy and difficult to interpret.

Using the data from whoscored.com I've created my own version which just plots % attacked along the left and right hand sides.  As the total for left/right/middle equals 100% you can infer the proportion attacked down the middle by the relative left/right values.

Man City and Chelsea figures same as average split overall: 36% Left, 35% Right, 29% Middle


If you consider Man City / Chelsea's value to be the centre and then compare how different each team is to the average.  For most teams there is a strong inverse correlation between attacking down either flank i.e., if they attack more down the right they attack less down the left as the proportion of attacking down the middle doesn't vary as much as the left/right values.

There are a few teams however who stand out as being different to the rest:

Blackburn - Slightly above average along the left, a long way below average along the right, having the second highest proportion of attacking along the middle

Fulham - The mirror image of Blackburn with average on the right, way below average on the right and the highest proportion of attacking down the middle

Everton - Average along the right, a long way above average along the right so therefore below average through the middle

Wolves - Heavily left sided and slightly under average on both right side and through the middle

Swansea/Stoke - The mirror image of Wolves, heavily right sided and under average on both left side and middle

Although Swansea and Stoke for example have similar preferences for attacking sides, this will manifest itself in different ways.  For Swansea, the Rangel - Dyer combination along with Williams' diagonal balls from the left side of defence results in a large proportion of attacks along the right.

Stoke are not just a set-piece team but it forms the biggest source of their goals: 45% of Stoke's goals have come from Set Pieces (which excludes Penalties) compared to the league average of 24%. 

If you follow the logic that you want to maximise set pieces then you want to put the ball long and relatively close to the touch line to maximise the chance of a corner/throw in or a foul from any challenge for the ball.

Why so much down the right hand side?  My theory would be that as the majority of footballers are right footed, having a set piece on your right hand side makes it easier for an attacker to kick the ball goalbound compared to a defender having to clear the ball.

Also, for a defender to get there first, their body angle is likely to result in a clearance to touch (and another set piece) rather than a clearance down field. 

It might not please the purists but it's generally pretty effective as I had to witness as Stoke beat Swansea 2-0 at the Britannia with both of the goals coming from set pieces from attacks down the right hand side (from Stoke's point of view),  one from a corner, one from a throw in.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Swansea 0 - Everton 2

Two games against Everton this season and two Shots on Target in those 180 minutes highlight that we were up against an extremely well organised side who in Steven Pienaar in particular (along with an impressive cameo from Fellaini) have quality combined with an impressive work ethic.

Sigurdsson again had the most shots of any Swansea player with 5, with Graham only having 2 shots all game

At Goodison, Swansea only managed 5 attempts on goal in what was a sensibly defensive approach which worked in the previous game against Newcastle
It’d be far too simplistic to say that having a “They don’t like it up ‘em” approach against Swansea is the best way to deal with our passing game but with Norwich and now Everton both having done the double over us would suggest that a pressing game can pay dividends.

One of the more noticeable aspects of the game was how deep Leon Britton was having to come to receive the ball, which in turn pulls Allen and Sigurdsson further pack making Graham even more isolated than usual.

Leon's passing v Everton and Man City, highly accurate as always but deeper vs. Everton compared to Man City.

Sigurdsson made almost a third fewer passes against Everton compared with against Man City and only made 8 forward passes in the game compared with 18 against Man City and 18 against Fulham.

With Leon playing deeper, Sigurdsson's areas of activity were more that of a central than an attacking midfielder

It’s a huge credit to Wayne Routledge’s performances that Dyer, last year’s player of the season and a strong candidate to retain that accolade this year was not particularly missed in the games against Man City and Fulham.

Against a side however who press, Dyer’s pace and ability to go past players is a huge asset as any opposition pressing will naturally leave bigger gaps behind.  In the Everton game no Swansea player attempted more than take-on despite the fact that 5 out of 6 of them were successful.

With Leon dropping deep the game saw a sort of swapping of roles with him and Steven Caulker seeing Caulker often playing further forward.  Comparing the passing of the two centre backs on Saturday, Caulker’s forward activity can be seen along with a number of Ashley Williams’ trademark long diagonal balls. 

A recent Whoscored.com stat suggested Williams makes the most inaccurate passes in his own half of any Premier League player, this will in part be due to the sheer number of passes made but also due to the ambitious crossfield balls.

As well as the interaction of Rangel and Dyer, these crossfield passes are in part why Swansea have the second highest proportion of attacks coming from the right hand side of any Premier League activity (41% - average is 35%).

This was a game that could have finished 0-0 but for Leighton Baines’ superb free kick.  Personally, with a free kick in that position against someone of Baines’ ability, I’d be tempted to pack the goal line and take my chances in a mad scramble rather than let him have (for a player of his ability) so much goal to aim at.  That said, such was the quality of the strike you could have put Caulker on the line and it could well have still gone in.

Everton were deserving winners and in the last 20 minutes could have made it 3 or even more as Swansea appeared overly eager to chase the game.  A frustrating but by no means bad Swansea performance but it’s great to be considering the game as a match-up between two comfortable mid-table teams with hopes of a top 8 finish.

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using http://eplindex.com/ and http://whoscored.com/
Chalkboards: Created using Statszone http://fourfourtwo.com/statszone

Monday, 19 March 2012

Fulham 0 - Swansea 3


Last Saturday saw a performance that, in the second half especially was at a standard that gave the match a feel of an exhibition game such was the level of control of possession.  Swansea made more passes in the second half than Fulham made in the whole game, as can be seen from the comparison below of Fulham’s passing overall with Swansea’s in the second half.


Fulham whole game compared to Swansea Second Half: Fulham actually made more passes in the attacking third during the match than Swansea, but Swansea's patient play meant that when the ball did eventually go forward it was often to Allen/Sigurdsson in large amounts of space. 

Special mention must go to Leon Britton, Leon played 100 passes in total with a 96% success rate, the highest number of passes and the highest success rate of any player in the match.  In terms of the technical aspect of what he does there’s nothing flashy about it, but the constant movement and ability to anticipate where the ball is going to be and where he needs to be a couple of passes down the road to support his team mates is impressive to watch.

Only 4 misplaced passes all game and his stats for the second half were 61 successful from 62 passes.
For the season as a whole, Leon is averaging a Pass Success rate of 93.2% which is the highest for any player in any of the 5 major European leagues.

In no Premier League game has Leon had a success rate lower than 85%:

Leon's passing this season includes the 67 perfect passes at Home to Bolton and 20 of his 27 appearances having 90%+ accuracy
In the Premier League only 12 players have a Pass Success rate of 90%+, with Leon top and Joe Allen in ninth.

Despite this being a blog heavily influenced by stats, I am fully aware the figures taken out of context can be misleading.  A perfect example of that are Danny Graham’s figures: 21 touches, 13 passes and 1 shot (which was after a minute) suggest someone who had little input to the game.  In reality Graham was instrumental to the aggressive pressing game played by Swansea which when coupled with the patient possession game can mean the opposition see little of the ball for long periods of time. 

Credit must also go to Wayne Routledge who impressed in this game as he did against Man City.  He is less direct than Dyer (Routledge only attempted one take-on all game) but fits in well and his cross was instrumental for the first goal and his cut back to Sigurdsson set up the second.

At the Swans Trust Forum on the eve of the game, Brendan Rodgers was asked about whether they'd be able to keep players at the club next season.  He said that anyone leaving may get more money elsewhere, they may challenge for more trophies but he doubted they'd enjoy their football as much anywhere else.  If the players (and Rodgers himself) heed this advice then this almost unbelievable progression might have even further steps forward.

A full presentation of season so far stats (prior to Fulham game) is available here.  This contains comparisons on shots, possession etc. with other Premier League teams as well as player by player stats for the Swansea squad.

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using http://eplindex.com/ and http://whoscored.com/
Chalkboards: Created using Statszone http://fourfourtwo.com/statszone

Monday, 12 March 2012

Swansea 1 - Man City 0


A second successive clean sheet and a 11th in the league for the season was in part due to the aerial defence of Williams and Caulker, Swansea won 10 the 15 aerial duels with Williams winning 4 of his 5 and Caulker all 3 of his, with the chalkboard below showing a solid defensive aerial performance.


Overall this season, Swansea have won an average of 6.1 aerial duals per game (172 of 449 duels), by some distance the lowest in the league.  The low number will in part be due to fewer balls punted forward to a target man (Stoke have the highest number) but the % won could be more of an issue (38% won, compared to 48% by Wigan who have the next lowest aerial duels won with 8.2 per game). 

It does appear though that this have been improving of late and will be something I’ll be looking at in the next version of the season so far stats pack (previous version updated after West Brom Away available here).

The removal of Gareth Barry in the 37th minute was a rare instance of a manager making a tactical substitution in the first half.  It might be embarrassing for Barry, but when the player coming on is of the talent of Aguero he can have few complaints.

It also has to be considered a huge compliment to the way Swansea were playing, with the stats pre and post the substitution showing both the need for the change and also the positive impact it made for Man City. 
Game Statistics pre and post Barry's substitution.  Balotelli had 8 attempts on goal, with the next highest from either side having 2 attempts
Although Man City's passing volume increased significantly, as did their accuracy, the threat was generally well dealt with and little of the activity was around the edge of the Swansea area:
Passing pre Barry Substitution (left image) with a greater emphasis on direct passing, Hart made only 1 successful pass (out of 8 attempts) during the game.  Right image shows more lateral activity around the middle third of the pitch.
As we are often told by opposing fans when Swansea lose despite bossing possession, the only stat that really matters is the score.  Luke Moore has featured in all 28 PL match day squads but has been limited to only 2 starts and a further 10 appearances as a substitute.  In that time he has played the equivalent of around 3 and a half matches (314 minutes excluding injury time) so is technically speaking averaging a goal every other game.

With Premier League status all but secured, the challenge Rodgers (and the board) face is to avoid players switching off and more importantly managing their expectations around wages or their egos around looking to be at a ‘bigger’ club.  Recent history suggests the grass is rarely greener but more often than not, money talks. 

Loyalty is an overplayed sentiment in football and the sensible footballer like in any other profession will usually look to move on at the point that maximises their value.  The challenge is to persuade those who could go on to bigger things (including Rodgers) that this is best achieved by another season at least with Swansea and that the current situation is another stage in the progression and not the high water mark.

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using http://eplindex.com and http://whoscored.com
Chalkboards: http://fourfourtwo.com/statszone


Monday, 5 March 2012

Wigan 0 - Swansea 2

At the end of my previous blog after the Stoke match I stated that the Wigan game shouldn't be considered a 'must-win' but that the key should be avoiding defeat to avoid the gap starting to close between us and the bottom five.

That said, with Man City at home then a trip to a Fulham team that have just taken Wolves apart, the three points are a huge relief and barring a freak end to the season, ensure that it'll be Premier League football again next season.

Before his departure from Wolves, Mick McCarthy talked about 35 points possibly being enough for safety, and as things stand there are 5 teams struggling for every point so that could well be the safety figure rather than the legendary 40 points.

Overall, this was a hugely impressive performance by Swansea with Sigurdsson again showing, even excluding the two superb finishes, that he is the missing piece of the jigsaw.  He takes pressure off Graham and Sinclair in terms of being another player who can score (and is willing to shoot) but also allowing Allen to play a deeper role.

Sigurdsson had half of all Swansea's attempts at goal (6 out of 12) and all of those 12 Swansea attempts came while he was on the pitch.


Dyer's sending off after an hour (harsh, but I'll be surprised if it gets overturned) and Tate subsequently being brought on for Sigurdsson meant that the game went from being one that Swansea dominated to a game of attack vs. defence.

I was initially surprised by Tate coming on, but presumably Rodgers felt that Wigan would lack the ability to break down a defensively minded unit and so it proved.
Wigan shots in first 60 minutes (left image) and in the rest of the match after Dyer's sending off (right), with only 1 shot on target while having the man advantage
The difference in Swansea play to the usual tactics can also be seen in the overall passing volumes after the sending off:
Passes made from 60 min onwards, Wigan make over 3 times the number of passes as Swansea with Swansea's passing containing far more longer balls than usual
Before the sending off, Dyer's link play with Rangel was a joy to watch, as it has been so often this season.  It's a stat I regularly trot out but yet again Rangel had the most touches of any player, almost 50% higher than anyone else on the pitch (96 with Caldwell next on 66).

Rangel also made the most interceptions with 8, next highest was Figueroa with 5.  To try and avoid constantly gushing about Rangel, I should point out he has had 18 shots in the Premier League this season and is yet to hit the target (11 Off Target, 7 Blocked).

Wigan found it difficult throughout the match to get past Swansea players with only 1 successful take on compared to Swansea's 13:
Another example of Swansea's change in tactics is that only 1 of their 25 attempted take-ons occurred after Dyer's sending off
Credit must also go to Joe Allen who made 4 successful tackles (out of 4 attempts), two more than any other player and consolidates his position as the Swans player who makes the most successful tackles per 90 minutes.  It might not be the most glamorous stat in the world but it's a pretty vital one for how the Swans work.

Twitter: @we_r_pl http://www.twitter.com/we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using http://eplindex.com and http://fourfourtwo.com/statszone