Quote of the Weekend

Balzaretti broke down in tears after scoring for Roma against Lazio in the Rome derby. Roma won 2-0.

Five Things We Unlearned This Weekend

1. The media have not learned their lesson about using the expression ‘title-decider’ early in the season…

That really does say “have not.” And we did unlearn this on several fronts, because while the papers have gone to lengths to imply that Manchester United’s 4-1 derby defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad has a heavy aura of meaning, most did not come out and use those deadly words above, often softened by the gratuitous adjective ‘potential.’ The Independent went so far as to coin a ridiculous and thankfully uncatchy expression for it: “a title warning,” but thankfully didn’t cross the line. The Daily Mail painted the loss merely as a disappointment, and even Jon Champion who, as head announcer for the Premier League’s broadcast partners, is in part responsible for spinning potential crap into gold for the viewers at home, came close to calling it a title bout only to warn against that kind of hyped stupidity. Baby steps.

2. …but at least they’re aware that Man United have often been slow starters in the league

Twitter, rather intelligently, only allows users to retweet once per tweet, but there are times where I wish I had at least three or four. Or ten. As in Duncan Alexander and Simon Gleave’s timely reminders tweeted out during the Manchester derby:



At least one otherwise excellent round-up for example compared the success of Pellegrini and Moyes to date with a favourable eye to the former, conveniently forgetting a certain 3-2 loss to Cardiff and a disappointing 0-0 draw with Stoke.

It was a great game, it may have exposed some potential flaws in the United set up but more likely featured several players in a bad moment (including Valenica, and Ashley Young, whose career is a bad moment) who were a little shell-shocked from an opening goal and without their star striker. Anyone extrapolating from here to May should do so at the risk of their reputation. But United have had slow starts in the past, and have won seasons in which they were on the receiving end of a bad result.

3. Sunderland had faith in Paolo Di Canio when they appointed him

A certain podcast host may have mentioned in May of this year that he believed Paolo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland manager was a stop-gap measure, and that Ellis Short would likely be rid of him in short order. This devilishly handsome host may have also mentioned that while Di Canio’s fiery temper may have been well-suited to a bitter relegation fight, it would not work over the long haul of a nine month season.

And so here we are today with Sunderland rocking a 0-1-4 record and Di Canio sacked, purportedly for a post-match team talk after a 3-0 loss to West Brom that was less hair dryer and more blow torch. Steve Bruce has his own views on what happened:

“You cannot manage in the Premier League these days through a fear factor,” Bruce told Talksport. “You’ve got to be able to manage individuals. Man-management has become more relevant in my experience than coaching.

“Once you get yourself in the Premier League they’re all good players and you’ve got to find a way of getting the best out of them.”

As someone wiser than me mentioned on the Twitter, Ellis Short should be held accountable for Di Canio’s six month jaunt as well. After all, the idea that Martin O’Neill would have failed where Di Canio succeeded in keeping the team in the Premier League is tenuous at best. Moreover, the risk means Sunderland are conducting a managerial search over a month into the season, without the benefit of time.

Anyway, yelling at people to improve maybe isn’t the best man management strategy.

4. The shuffling of the deck chairs for financial gain at Napoli couldn’t ever improve on the three tenors of old.

Well it’s early, but as Paolo Bandini wrote earlier today, Napoli are on one helluva roll:

Napoli’s supporters hope that Sunday’s result will prove the herald to a similarly glorious new era. Their team have made an impressive start to life so far under Benítez, with five wins from as many games across all competitions. The first three of those came against some of Serie A’s lesser lights, but successive victories over Borussia Dortmund and Milan are rather harder to ignore.

Yes it’s early, so there is plenty of season left for it to go pear-shaped. But having praised myself in the last point, I will tear strips off myself here for doubting at the start of the season whether Gonzalo Higuain would fill the gap left by the departure of Lavezzi and Cavani in recent seasons, breaking up Serie A’s famed “three tenors” of football.

Today, one of those is the club’s current top scorer in Serie A with four goals, Marek Hamsik, but Real Madrid imports Jose Callejon and Higuain are right behind him tied for three. Their combined output may surely drop, but Napoli’s goal-against record in Serie A is tied with Juve at 3, and indicates relative defensive solidity. Stay tuned…

5. Last minute pre-game injuries/illnesses only happen to Ronaldo

Robin van Persie is expected to start against Man City on Sunday, but gets scratched due to a groin injury. Gareth Bale pulls out of his home debut against Getafe for Real Madrid as he picks up a thigh knock in the pre-match warm-up. Theo Walcott could not start against Stoke because of an “abdominal muscle problem,” the nature of which is still unknown to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Are players reaching peak fitness, and falling more and more prey to injuries under the lightest of pressure? Or are training sessions more rigourous now than they ever have been? Or is this all just a giant coincidence which I’ve cleverly used to spin out a fifth Thing We Unlearned This Weekend? YOU be the judge.

Tactical Notes

So you’ll notice in this week’s rolling TSR and PDO table this week (see table and explanation for terms below) that Spurs continue to completely dominate in shots ratio, despite scoring only five league goals, tied with Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle.

Maybe Spurs are taking a lot of shots but missing the net? Nope. While I don’t include the shots on target ratio, Ben Pugsley keeps tabs on it and Spurs are in first there as well, across all game states (tied, close).

Okay, what about their PDO? It’s above 1000, with 107.56. But then when we break down where exactly the luck is coming from, things get a little more clear: Spurs save percentage is 92.86%. That is incredibly high, the highest in the Premier League. Their shooting percentage is at 14.71%, which is the second lowest in the Premier League. Now some of this probably comes down to luck, and some to some wayward finishing, whatever. Chances are it will improve as the season progresses. Because while shot dominance tends to win league points over the long haul, Spurs have their impressive save percentage to thank for saving their blushes so far.

GIF of the Weekend

Ajax got beat bad by PSV, 4-0. At one point, it appeared the ref was more efficient at tracking back than the Ajax players:

Interesting Read of the Day

Zach Slaton writes that the goal drought in the Premier League maybe wasn’t such a bad thing:

Those worried about a lack of goals can rest easy.  Odds are teams will start scoring more goals throughout the fall just like they’ve done with each passing year.  That won’t change the fact that the rarity of the goal is good for the game – it keeps the analytics community on its toes, it helps demonstrate the value of team optimization, and it keeps the game exciting via the absence of the event.

Rolling Total Shots Ratio/PDO Table for the Premier League

Total shots ratio is shots for/(shots for + shots against), and it calculates shot dominance. It correlates very well to points finish in the table…for a better explanation, read this. In a few weeks’ time, we will include an expected points total in the table.

PDO meanwhile is just (sh% + sv%)*1000, and it is a rough measurement for luck, as these statistics tend to regress to the mean over time (except at the extreme positive end). A team with a low PDO should be expected to improve as the season progresses.

Finally, final third touches are a good predictor of future goals scored. Grayson has a post on the matter here, which breaks down the work of Mark Taylor.

Team P Pts TSR PDO Sh% Sv% Final 3rd Touches
Arsenal 5 12 0.531 1094 35.5 73.9 1036
Tottenham 5 12 0.750 1085 15.6 92.9 1187
Manchester City 5 10 0.618 1133 40.0 73.3 1042
Chelsea 5 10 0.687 1079 22.2 85.7 1039
Liverpool 5 10 0.477 1078 18.5 89.3 885
Everton 5 9 0.598 923 23.1 69.2 1044
Southampton 5 8 0.563 988 13.0 85.7 864
Manchester United 5 7 0.547 980 28.0 70.0 1065
Swansea 5 7 0.511 915 23.3 68.2 852
Stoke 5 7 0.453 1021 20.0 82.1 861
Hull 5 7 0.411 963 31.3 65.0 656
Newcastle United 5 7 0.605 850 25.0 60.0 869
Aston Villa 5 6 0.480 1042 37.5 66.7 687
West Bromwich Albion 5 5 0.465 1098 33.3 76.5 751
West Ham 5 5 0.419 1233 50.0 73.3 736
Cardiff 5 5 0.304 1193 40.0 79.3 574
Norwich 5 4 0.408 958 23.1 72.7 879
Fulham 5 4 0.286 1025 23.1 79.4 616
Crystal Palace 5 3 0.394 917 25.0 66.7 636
Sunderland 5 1 0.489 814 27.3 54.2 773