The other lesson is that the side with the next-largest budget after the top four should not lose hope. Arsenal just needed Liverpool to underplay their wage bill for a few years while Wenger steered his side to 70-point seasons, which was enough to maintain the Gunners’ position in the Champions League. Last year, Liverpool didn’t need the good fortune of Manchester United having perhaps the worst points-to-wage-bill season on record, but they could have made the Champions League with a merely good season as well.
For teams on the lower end, the lift is much more strenuous. The following graph of inflation-adjusted wage bills shows just how difficult it is to build a 70-point squad without elite resources.
In the weighted average, these 50 players scored about 52 goals above expectation for Real Madrid or Barcelona, and they scored about 41 goals above expectation for other clubs. This result suggests that most—perhaps 75 to 80 percent—of the “superteam” effect is a relatively simple equation. Real and Barca spend large amounts of money to buy players who are excellent finishers as well as being elite in other aspects of the game, and there is nothing surprising about guys who cost over $50 million clinically dispatching a few extra chances. They do the same playing for Udinese, Arsenal or Valencia.
While this is broadly true at the population level, there is one striking exception. Gonzalo Higuaín has simply been a different kind of player since leaving Real Madrid for Napoli two years ago. He had been one of the most deadly finishers in La Liga, scoring 75 non-penalty goals from 263 shots, beating his expected goals (58 xG) by nearly 20. For Napoli Higuaín has scored 27 of 191 shots, exactly matching his 21 expected goals. Indeed, Higuaín accounts for a significant amount of the variation between “superteam” finishing and “other club” finishing. While greats like Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have maintained finishing rates around their career averages, this is not true for every player equally.
These complaints arise every time an attack sputters out near the penalty area with a difficult pass that doesn’t quite reach its target. Clubs that focus on intricate passing attacks through the center of the pitch, most famously Barcelona and Arsenal, regularly field such complaints from fans and pundits alike. And yet, statistical analysis can demonstrate the value of attempting that one extra pass within the penalty box.
The statistic here is something I call “danger zone passes.” The “danger zone” is the region in the center of the 18-yard box from which most goals are scored. DZ passes refer to passes which are played from within a few yards of this central area.
In general, if you get the ball at your feet in this region, you typically have at least a five or 10 percent chance of scoring with a reasonably taken shot. Choosing to pass essentially means letting that opportunity go by, but there are great benefits to passing if you can connect with a teammate in a better position.
There is, then possible attacking value from a corner kick conceded. The more players a team commits forward to playing the corner, the more vulnerable they are to a quick counterattack up the gut.
From the roughly 13,000 corner kicks which did not result in a shot, about 1,800 lead to a counterattack that reached the opposition final third. There were 526 shots from counterattacks off corners and 72 of them were scored. That is a scoring rate about 40 percent better than average. This means that when a team concedes a chance from a counterattack, it is often a high quality chance like McCarthy’s.
Published at ESPN.
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.
Published at SB Nation.
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.
Published at the Washington Post.
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.
Published at ESPN.
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.
(Note: these didn’t turn out so great.)
Published at SB Nation.
The hardest part of building an international football ranking system is dealing with strength of schedule. By raw goals ratio, the three best teams in the world over the last several years are Brazil, Spain and Germany. That sounds good, but fourth is… Iran. Without accounting for schedule, there is no way to do this sort of analysis.
Published at SB Nation.
Now, one of the peculiarities of shot quality is that there are lots of ways, tactically, to take good shots. Arsenal are the classic example, they pass and pass, looking especially for through-balls into dangerous areas, and eventually look to “pass it into the net.” The traditional passing game is our primary model of high-quality shot-taking, but in fact it’s not the only one.
The exact opposite tactical method, the “go 4-4-2 and put crosses in” strategy, also produces high-quality shots. If your primary strategy around the box is to get the ball wide and try to play crosses into dangerous areas, you’re going to be taking relatively few low-value speculative long balls. And even though shots off crosses from close areas have lower expectation than normal shots from these areas, they’re still a lot better than shooting from outside the box or from wide areas in the 18-yard box. A bunch of those dots in the top right are Arsene Wenger’s clubs, but another good portion are Tony Pulis.