Tottenham Hotspur 2013-2014 Season Review

Published at SB Nation.

How Tim Sherwood and Andre Villas-Boas Failed Tottenham:

What could have led a manager to look at Spurs on December 16th and decide that they should maintain the same, obviously failed defensive tactics of the previous month? Did Tim Sherwood think a disorganized press and a shifting block were the path to success? Perhaps, instead, the players just kept playing defense the same way because they weren’t instructed to change in the first place. Sherwood’s comments to the media after the Chelsea loss suggest a real failure to understand that his tactics had not been working previous to that defeat. So whether out of simple incompetence or a more complex misunderstanding of his club’s performance, Sherwood left Tottenham running a tactical set-up that was entirely doomed to fail.

On Winning and Losing Close Matches

Published at SB Nation.

Part 1: On Winning Close Matches (In Which I Predicted Cardiff City’s relegation):

How well a club does in close matches in the first half of the season does not usefully predict how well the club will perform in close matches in the second half.

I’m not saying that winning close matches is “luck.” In general, I think that winning clubs have usually played better than losing clubs. But whatever it is that leads to good performances in close matches, usually it doesn’t carry over as the season progresses. We shouldn’t use points taken from close matches as a good predictor of future points.

Part 2: On Losing Close Matches:

Even these clubs don’t  usually do better than 3-2-1 in close matches, and they average more like 2-2-1. Spurs’ 8-4-2 record so far i close matches would be among the best on this table, which is populated mostly by title contenders. I’d guess here that anything over 1.8 or so points per match in games decided by under two goals is probably unsustainable. Even Mourinho’s 2004-2005 Chelsea only took 2.1 points per match in this subset of the season.

Testing Expected Goals

Published at SB Nation.

Part 1: What stats best predict goals scored and conceded?

The concept is pretty simple. For every shot, you assign an “expected goals” value based on characteristics like the location on the pitch, whether the shot is taken with the foot or the head, whether the shot is assisted by a cross or through-ball, and so on. This is in no way a comprehensive list of the characteristics of each shot, but it provides a reasonable estimate when dealing with larger samples. A club’s expected goals, then, is the sum of all their expected goals values for all their shots.

Part 2: What stats best predict wins and losses?

The relationship between goals and points is humongously complex. As Howard Hamilton showed in his work on the “soccer pythagorean”, having three unequal possible match results creates a weird, non-linear relationship. So instead of dealing with the math, I’m just simulating the games and comparing projected points to real points. There we should expect a simple linear relationship if the projections are good.

The Value of the High Press

Published at the Washington Post.

How the high press creates attacking opportunities:

What does it mean that pressing is a form of playmaking? A great pass creates a new attacking formation. It breaks up the other team’s defensive organization and forces them to respond to a new threat at a new angle. That moment where defensive organization has broken down is the moment when an attack is most dangerous. What Klopp suggests is that while a great passer can create such moments, a high press does the same. By winning the ball back in a dangerous area while the other team is still in its attacking shape, a high pressing team can start its attack with the opposition just as out of sync as they would after being cut open by a perfect pass from Luka Modric.