How to Scout the Stats

Published at ESPN.

How to Use Stats to Find the Next Bargain Transfer:

Furthermore, Tadic was heavily involved in Twente’s attack beyond just attempting shots. I built a statistic for involvement in build-up play which measures how often a player contributes to the open-play attacking move that led to a quality chance. If he completes a pass or a cross, or wins the ball with a tackle or interception in the build-up to a shot, he gets credit for being involved. Tadic led the Eredivisie in expected goals chance involvement by a significant margin.

When Southampton purchased their Tadic they were not only buying a player with impressive goal and assist numbers, but a player whose underlying stats reflected his consistent contributions to his team’s attack. When scouting for bargains, this sort of well-rounded contribution to the attack is precisely what you want to look for.

The Premier League’s Mid-Table and Why It May Be Here to Stay

Published at SB Nation.

Why West Ham and Southampton Can Stay in the Race:

This year, the expected goals table shows these non-traditional powers in strong positions. So far, the underlying statistics are more impressed with Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle and Stoke than with Spurs, Liverpool, Everton or even United. West Ham have attempted 96 shots from the danger zone this season, the fourth best in the league, while Southampton are second with 99. These numbers lap those of the traditional clubs they’ve displaced. Only Manchester United is within 20 danger zone shot attempts of West Ham (they have 77) while the other sit below 70. In multiple key statistical measures, these unlikely teams have been outplaying their moneyed competitors.

This change affects the competitive ecology of the Premier League. It has been common for the league to have a glut of below average sides making up a desultory mid-table. These teams have no meaningful chance of contending for European qualification, but they should stay in the top division by taking enough lucky points off the top seven and beating up the bottom five. These sides would typically put up expected goals ratios between 0.450 and 0.500. They were below average but not so bad that they became interesting.

Why Manchester United’s Win Streak Won’t Last

Published at the Washington Post.

Manchester United Is Winning, But That Won’t Last:

In fact, over these six matches, Manchester United has conceded overall better quality chances than it has created. There was a run of time between the Southampton and Liverpool matches when United had scored four of its last five shot on target. The following graphic shows the chances created and conceded by United. Black boxes mark goals. The array of quality chances (six from inside the six-yard box) which United’s opponents have failed to put away is spectacular.

The Bundesliga Is the World’s Most Exciting League

Published at SB Nation.

How the Bundesliga Became the World’s Most Exciting League:

So what is going on here? The Bundesliga features more goal-scoring, more shooting, and much more attacking at speed than any of the four other largest leagues in Europe. It seems unlikely this should just be random chance.

Indeed, there is one man most responsible for the Bundesliga’s speed explosion. Jürgen Klopp. The Borussia Dortmund manager introduced his version of the high press to Germany years ago, and his ideas have spread.

Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen are all playing aggressive, high-pressing styles, while Roger Schmidt at Bayer Leverkusen has introduced a shockingly fast new style which appears to have turned Klopp’s gegenpressing up to eleven.

Wage Bills in the English Premier League

Published at the Washington Post.

How Wage Bills Predict Outcomes and Who Does Best with their Money:

But even within a stratified system, better- and worse-run clubs stand out. I did a quick regression based on points and inflation-adjusted payroll to find the expected points for a club based on its total payroll. This does not include transfer spending, but for most clubs transfer spending tracks with wage bill reasonably well. The results can be seen at the end of the article. A few top clubs stand out. In the scatter plot below, I have marked a few clubs in particular. At the top end, you can see the impressive numbers of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and David Moyes’s Everton teams. At the bottom end, Newcastle United shows up as a consistent underperformer regardless of who has been in charge.

On Payroll and Depth during the Holiday Fixtures

Published at ESPN.

How Payroll Predicts Holiday Outcomes in the EPL:

Clubs with wage bills among the top four in the league tend to do very well no matter the circumstance, but particularly at the New Year. They average about 2.0 points per match over most of the season; during the holidays, that rate jumps 10 percent to 2.2 points per match. This means that every festive period, one of the four richest clubs wins a match they otherwise would have drawn or lost. Given that the title and fourth place races are often decided by a point or two, those extra points at the holiday can make all the difference.

At the same time, not every high-payroll club sees the benefits of depth every year. If a high-payroll club like Manchester United or Arsenal goes on a run through the winter fixtures, it should not be surprising, but such a run is in no way guaranteed.

Tactical Analysis of Bayer Leverkusen

Published at SB Nation.

(The debut of gegenpressing statistics.)

The Breathtaking Rush of Schmidt’s Leverkusen:

The attack is structured to create shots as quickly as possible. Bayer Leverkusen have attempted 27 shots where the strike was the first action in the attacking move. That is, 27 times a Leverkusen player has recovered or won the ball and immediately looked to goal and taken his chance. On top of that, Schmidt’s men have attempted 62 shots from attacking moves of seven seconds or less. (To calculate these statistics, I have removed shots from set plays and shots off rebounds.) This is how those rates compare in the Bundesliga:

If you’re looking for a Premier League analogue, you can stop. There isn’t one. The side with the most shots to start an action this year is Sunderland, with 18. Arsenal lead in the seven seconds or less category with 42 fast shots. But Arsenal have fired off only 10 shots from the start of an attacking move, and Sunderland have just 21 attempts in the seven seconds or less bucket. If you want to see this style of football, you have to watch the Bundesliga. (Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund run closest, but they are still not nearly as quick to shoot as Leverkusen.)