Much of football is still a tantalizing mystery. For example—where does a talented manager end and an individually gifted team begin?
Earlier this year I argued, in response to a Jonathan Wilson piece, that Barcelona under Tito Vilanova had fundamentally changed since the departure of Pep Guardiola:
What’s interesting is that the data, particularly on Barcelona, confirms some of Wilson’s impressions whilst contradicting others. He writes for example that “Tito Vilanova’s team looks more direct than Guardiola’s and is perhaps a touch more functional,” an assertion that is borne out a bit by the data. The team this year, as compared to Guardiola’s, has a lower total shots ratio (.585) in the league, meaning they’re taking fewer shots and conceding more than last season, when the club averaged above .650.
However, Barcelona’s La Liga PDO—a metric which adds their shot percentage to their save percentage—is 1135, a reflection both of luck and the incredible efficiency and skill of their best attacking players, with Messi leading the way. Whether a false 9 or not, there is a lot of evidence that the club relies on their star forward, who’s scored 25 of the club’s 54 league goals.
So it’s clear that while the team didn’t show the outright dominance it once did under Guardiola, it was nonetheless extremely effective in attack. This is in some ways similar to Manchester United’s Premier League form.
Since Jordi Roura took over for Vilanova there have been some disappointing results against their rivals Real Madrid and in the Champions League round of 16 first leg against AC Milan. Whether this is a one-for-one causal relationship, or a coincidence, or Barca’s PDO dropping back down to earth a little, is uncertain.
But the known unknowns here should be compelling for all fans of the sport. They speak to United’s Champions League failure amid their relative Premier League success. They speak to the central problem of whether Gareth Bale is the underlying cause of Tottenham’s run of form, or simply a reflection of Villas-Boas’ ability to field a team regularly able to outshoot its opponents. And in Barcelona’s case, they might tell us whether one of the best midfield engine’s in football history might still need someone to drive it in the right direction.
QPR could face financial challenge if relegated, report shows a surge in wages.
Uefa decides not to punish Ferdinand.
Coloccini breaks bones in his back, sidelined for about two months.
Conte confident Juve can compete against the big European clubs.
Preview to Lazio vs Stuttgart. Macheda has mixed emotions playing against his former club.
Adil Rami hoping to stay with Valencia despite links to Arsenal.
Di Maria injury not confirmed, but may miss two weeks.
Rangnick believes relegation may be in Hoffenheim’s best interest.
Badstuber to undergo more surgery.
Bit and Bobs
This must be one of the best corner kicks in the game.
Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.