Quote of the Weekend
“When we scored the first goal I thought it could be easy for us because we were playing a team that had 10 players in their box.” -Manuel Pellegrini explaining why Man City lost 3-2 to Cardiff in South Wales.
Five Things We Unlearned This Weekend
1. Manchester City will run away with the title
After Monday it seemed like the City of old—the one that burst out of the gates in the early part of the 2011-12 season—had resurfaced under the guidance of Manuel Pellegrini. After all, City had beaten an abject Newcastle side 4-0 with an attack that didn’t let up as the game progressed. Though both United and Chelsea impressed with opening weekend wins, neither seemed as threatening, as Barca-like, as City.
Maybe some us questioned whether City could keep up the fitness required for that kind of pulsating attack, or whether they’d been flattered by a Newcastle side that was still playing pre-season friendlies in their minds. But these were mere quibbles.
So of course City traveled to South Wales on Sunday and lost 3-2 to Cardiff City (their final goal was a consolation). Couple of things—if last Monday’s result against Newcastle perhaps didn’t carry as much meaning as some people thought it might, neither should Sunday’s loss. Incidentally, in the hours leading up the match I had read the early part of Chris Anderson’s and David Sally’s The Number’s Game. In it, the authors point out that over the long term, the dominant side traditionally wins matches around 50-58% of the time. Additionally, the average Premier League club score on corners roughly once every ten games. Cardiff scored two goals from corners. That could be an indication that City (as Pellegrini acknowledged) needs to work on defending set-pieces, or it could just be dumb luck. But at the very least, it’s a reminder that two isolated results do not a title make. But you didn’t need me to tell you that.
2. Daniel Sturridge’s career ended last season
Beware the Sturridge Spike! There have been many false dawns in the young England forward’s career, and with the return of Luis Suarez somewhere on the horizon, and so one should be wary about crowning him England’s next hope just yet. But, in Suarez’s absence, Suarez has at the very least proved invaluable to Liverpool’s opening two victories…literally. He’s scored their only two goals this season.
More importantly, he’s proved a bit of the anti-Suarez, taking comparatively fewer shots but making sure they’re the right ones. Though Sturridge enjoyed 6 shots for his one goal against Stoke the weekend before last, against Villa he managed just one. Which makes sense, as it was an away game against a slightly superior team. Even so, Sturridge was adroit on the ball, maintained possession well, and pitched in in defense as well by completing 6 take-ons, most of which were crucially in his or near his own end preventing any costly turnovers.
If one were to choose between volume of shots compared to goals against conversion rates, you’d take the former every time. But so far Sturridge has at least kept his name respectable.
3. You can tell everything about how dominant a team were in a single game simply by comparing the number of shots each team took.
I mean, the person who believes this is probably a straw man, but it’s important to stress the difference between shot dominance as a long-term metric, and shot dominance within the confines of a single match. To illustrate, let’s take two matches with similar shot dominance statistics: Spurs (21 shots/7 shots on target) vs Swansea (7/5), and Aston Villa (17/3) vs Liverpool (5/1).
Right off the bat, one needs to consider respective home and away advantages, which as we know have a positive correlation to increased shots and shots on target for the home side. This partly explains both Villa and Spurs’ comparatively impressive shot statistics despite differing results. But one should also be careful to weigh for game states aka score effects (a hockey term I’m beginning to think might be more apt).
Spurs spent most of the match (55 mins) at a 0-0 scoreline, and in that time registered 16 shots with 5 on target to Swansea’s 4 shots and 3 on target. Even corrected for the home advantage, that’s an impressive statistic. At an even state, Spurs had the upper hand, though there was a slight shift after Soldado’s penalty in the 58th minute (4/1 for Spurs and 3/2 for Swansea).
As for Aston Villa, even though Liverpool were the away side they had a very slight edge on shots before Sturridge’s opening goal, with 3/0 compared to Villa’s 1/0. This is too small a time span to be meaningful, but it at least demonstrates that Liverpool had a slim advantage in the opening stages. Now let’s compare shots for both teams after Sturridge’s opening goal:
While we’re dallying with confirmation bias here, this at least matches the expected pattern with a -1 game state—the trailing team takes more shots but of lesser quality. Villa, trailing at home, took more shots than Liverpool after conceding, but note that the majority—all but two—were from outside the 18 yard box, and 13 were either blocked or off-target. So while Villa took more shots it’s not necessarily correct to say they were ‘dominant’, though Liverpool could certainly have done better to get behind Villa’s defensive lines as they pushed for an equalizer.
In the end, it appeared Spurs were almost certainly the better side than Swansea, and they took more shots. But Villa took more shots but Liverpool, but they were more speculative and desperate, even with having home advantage. Though the numbers might look the same on paper, they don’t tell the same story when you examine them up close.
4. Luca Toni sleeps with the fishes
Remember this guy? While it seemed Luca Toni was on the long road to obscurity after a move to UAE Pro League side Al Nasr for the 2011-12 season, his return to Fiorentina last season saw him score a respectable 8 goals in 28 games. While his game-winning goal for promoted side Verona against Palermo in the TIM Cup barely made a ripple, Toni ensured his status in Serie A this past weekend by scoring a brace against AC Milan on opening day. Verona won 2-1.
I thin I’m not alone in missing that signature celebration, and here’s hoping the win marks a special (and healthy) season in Verona for the big man.
5. Who are PEC Zwolle?
They have won all four of their opening Eredivisie matches with 12 goals and three conceded, including a victory over Feyenoord in the opening day of the season. They were promoted to the Eredivisie last season and finished 11th. Their current points total after four matches is just under one third of their points total last season. They are in first place.
And they are my next match day date.
Cardiff beat City on the back of headers from two corners. In light of Michael Cox’s recent post on West Ham’s crossing strategy, I thought I would see if there was any method from Cardiff’s madness on the set piece. Cox cites Mark Taylor who did a great study on header accuracy and distance in yards. Proximity to goal is huge in headers, as headers are even more likely to go in than traditional shots from within six yards but drop off sharply the farther out they’re taken.
Both Cardiff’s headed set-piece goals against Manchester City came from within the six yard box. Whether this was by accident or design remains to be seen, but as Taylor demonstrates, smaller teams could do worse than by focusing on working players into this crucial area of the pitch in set-pieces. Moreover, defending teams might consider weighing the balance of taking advantage of a possible counter attack against ensuring there are enough bodies in the box to protect this space.
GIF of the Weekend
Cardiff City fans in a confusing array of red and blue kits add insult to injury by doing the Poznan after scoring against Man City.
Rolling Total Shots Ratio/PDO tables for the Premier League
|Team||P||W||D||L||GF||GA||TSR||PDO||Final 3rd Touches|
|West Bromwich Albion||2||0||1||1||0||1||0.375||909||242|