Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

I'm the gaffer, I gaff things. I also make a lot of gaffs. Follow me on twitter @7amkickoff.

Kasper

Leicester set to win the weakest Premier League title ever

We all follow the Arsenal; over land and sea (and Leicester!) — traditional

With a five point lead in the table Leicester City are on the verge of being crowned English Champions. First they need to beat Arsenal, the only team who have handed them a convincing defeat this season, and also one of their only real title rivals. But if they beat Arsenal, the remaining twelve games of the season should be a victory march for the little club from Leicester. And if they are crowned champions, Leicester will be the luckiest team to ever win a Premier League title.

What makes the Leicester story so unique is that they were bottom of the table last December and they are top of the table this February, that in itself is simply never done. In the modern era, where teams are built to win with vast sums of money — Chelsea, Real Madrid, Man City, PSG, and so on — frugal clubs typically have to find a new way to win their respective leagues. They have to find special value. 

The classic way to do that is to play counter attacking football. In Spain, Atletico Madrid epitomizes this approach; they are a stalwart defensive team who hit the opposition with rapier like counter attacks. Atleti won La Liga two years ago allowing 26 goals in 38 games. They scored 23 fewer goals than second place Barcelona that season but finished the season with a respectable +51 goal difference based on their counter attacking philosophy.

This season Atleti are playing even more amazing defense than two years ago. They have only conceded 11 goals in 23 games. And despite scoring 22 fewer goals than league leaders Barcelona, they are only 3 points off the top of the table and sit one point above their profligate neighbors, Real Madrid. Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has created a thrilling style of football which is able to challenge huge spending teams. And he has built that team on the foundation of solid defense.

Leicester also play counter attacking football but the difference between Leicester and Atletico is that Leicester have gotten away with significantly less than stellar defending up to this point.

When Atletico won La Liga in 2014 they only averaged 13 shots per game for offense, which is very similar to the way Leicester are playing, with their 13.2 shots per game. But the difference is the quality of Atletico’s defense, they only allowed the opposition 9 shots per game, while Leicester is allowing 13.5. No team that I have found has won any of the top leagues with a negative shot ratio. Please, correct me in the comments, I would love to be wrong. Even Montpellier, who surprised everyone winning Ligue Un with Giroud as the main striker, had a positive total shot ratio.

“Ah but Tim!” you say “what if Leicester are allowing shots but the shots are really bad?” It’s a good question. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

This chart illustrates what I’m talking about, comparing Arsenal, Leicester, and Tottenham.

Leicester-Arsenal-Spurs

First, a little help reading my chart: goals scored and conceded doesn’t count own goals; big chances does include penalties; and “SiP” is “shots in prime” which refers to shots taken in an area that extends from the 6 yard box in a circle up to the penalty spot — average shot conversion is 9.5%, SiP conversion for the top teams that I polled this year is almost 24%.

Leicester have only created 45 big chances from open play (54-9 penalties) and have allowed the opposition 32 big chances (34-2 penalties), a 1.4:1 ratio. Meanwhile, Arsenal have created almost 3:1 big chances against their opposition and even Tottenham have an almost 2:1 ratio (it is 2:1 unless we remove their penalties).

This indicates quality of chance creation. Arsenal are creating bags of quality chances, they just aren’t finishing them. Both Spurs and Leicester are finishing their big chances at or near 50%, Arsenal just 33%. The average conversion for all the top teams that I polled was 42%. This explains why Arsenal have a large number of big chances created but a smaller goals scored total.

It’s a similar story with shots in prime. Again, Arsenal are league leaders in this stat but just like big chances the problem is that the Gunners lack quality finishing up front. In terms of big chances Ramsey and Walcott have combined for 4/24 — 17% finishing. And in terms of finishing when in close, Ramsey, Walcott, and Alexis have combined to go 7/100 for shots in the 18 yard box. 7% finishing. This is atrocious considering that across the League on all shots taken the average is 9.5%..

What you see with Leicester’s numbers is that they are allowing the opposition a ton (106, a ton and 6) of shots in prime, more shots in prime than they are taking, but what they are doing is converting at 13.5% points above the opposition. And what’s even stranger is that their goalkeeper isn’t even saving them: Arsenal and Tottenham have the two best keepers in the League. Cech has saved 75% of the shots in prime he has faced and Lloris 68%, Schmeichel is only saving 56%. And it’s similar for big chances: Cech is saving 59%, Lloris 50%, Schmeichel 41%.

One last quirk about Leicester’s season. Penalties make up 28% of Leicester’s big chances scored, 17% of their big chances created, and 15% of their overall goals scored. They need penalties to win the League and the good news for them is that they are facing Sunderland and Norwich in the final 12 games, the two teams who have conceded 7 penalties each.

This is not a model of football I have seen yet: allow the opponents to take more shots than you, to take great shots, don’t have a great keeper, don’t create a whole lot of shots for yourself, win a bunch of penalties, and hope that your team can convert shots at a vastly superior rate. But it does indicate a huge drop in quality at the top of the Premier League.

I’m not saying that Leicester suck. They lead the League in goals scored and are tied for 6th in goals allowed and, of course, they have the most points, which is the only stat that matters come May. Instead, what I suspect is happening is that Leicester are exploiting weakness in the league, specifically finishing. Chelsea’s Mourinho-induced collapse, Manchester City’s struggles in away games, Arsenal’s injury record (and atrocious finishing), Manchester United’s anti-football under van Gaal, and Liverpool struggling to rebuild because they don’t seem to understand the transfer market, have all created a vacuum at the top of the table. Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal, and City are all historically the best finishing teams in the League and they are simply not doing it this year.

And Leicester are.

Qq

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Manchester United v Arsenal

Sunday is the title decider for Arsenal

I know I promised yesterday that I would talk about the other teams in the title hunt, Tottenham and Man City but I have run out of time for that post. So, instead, I’m going to write that tomorrow. If you take nothing else from this post take this: Sunday is a title decider for Arsenal, win and they have a chance; lose and they are out of it.

Right now the gap between Arsenal and Leicester is 5 points and there are 13 games left to play. If Arsenal lose on Sunday that gap goes to 8 points and 12 games left to play. So, what? You think, 8 points is easily overcome.

Nope.

Leicester are currently averaging 2.12 points per game and Arsenal averaging 1.95. If they win they rise to just 2.15 but Arsenal drop to 1.85. A 0.30 points per game difference. In order for Arsenal to make up the difference, 8 points, the Gunners would have to average 0.67 points per game MORE than Leicester.

Arsenal have a stronger schedule than Leicester, facing 5 top teams away while playing in the Champions League and the FA Cup. Leicester only have the Premier League left to play and after the Arsenal match they have a run of 9 games in a row against middle-table and lower teams. They do finish the season with Man U away, Everton at home, and Chelsea away, three tricky games.

But even if Leicester lose to West Ham, Man U, Everton, and Chelsea if they win the other 8 games they will finish the season with 80 points, 2.10 points per game. For Arsenal to catch Leicester, they would need 33 points from their last 12 games, in other words they would have to win 11 of their last 12 games. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

Now, it’s possible that Leicester will slip and drop points against teams like Swansea or Newcastle, so let’s say they fall off a cliff and earn just 1.5 points per game from here until the end of the season. A meager 18 points to bring their points total to 74.

If Arsenal lose to Leicester on Sunday, and then Leicester goes on their terrible run, in order for Arsenal to catch them, the Gunners would still need 26 points from a possible 36 to finish the season, 2.16 ppg.

That’s what Arsenal are facing on Sunday; win the game and the title race is on, lose the game and the race is basically off, tie the game and stay where we are but one game closer to the end. All games are must win games, this one is just more must win than others.

But the thing is, Leicester should not be in this position. They are on their way to being crowned the least deserving champions in Premier League history. No team has ever won the League with a negative shot ratio. No team has ever won any league, as far as I can tell, with a negative shot ratio.

And we will talk about that tomorrow.

Qq

 

profligate

Leicester are winning the League through superior finishing

This is what I want you to take away from this post: it’s not the most consistent team who wins the League, it’s the most consistently over performing team who win the League. And right now, the most consistently over performing team in the League is Leicester City.

Now what I mean by “over performing” is specifically about conversion rates. “Finishing” in football parlance. The team that is most consistently beating the average finishing rate typically wins the League.

Last season, teams finished 9.5% of all shots taken. Chelsea won the League and lead all teams with a 13% finishing rate. Chelsea also had the best 18 yard box conversion rate (minus penalties) with 15%, League Average was 11%. And Chelsea had the best 6 yard box finishing rate of 45%, while League average was 31%.

The season before Liverpool actually led the League in bulk conversion with 14.7% but Man City was right there with them with 14.4%, League average that season was 9.8%. Arsenal actually led the League in finishing inside the 18 yard box that season with 15.75%, but… Man City was virtually tied with Arsenal at 15.1% and they took 101 more shots than Arsenal did inside the 18 yard box. So, converting at 15%, that was 15 additional goals. City also converted 7% from distance, something they actually have done consistently over the years, beating the League average by almost double every year.

The season before that Manchester United won the League by converting 50% of their shots inside the 6 yard box. That’s a ca ca ca crazy conversion rate. 30% is normal. United scored 25 goals inside the 6 yard box that season on the way to Ferguson’s tearful farewell and Robin van Persie’s retirement.

It’s not true every season that the League leader in conversion will win the League, but from what I can tell, you can’t win the League unless you’re over-performing in conversion.

Leicester have the best overall conversion at 14% while League average is 9.7% but it’s the inside the box conversion which is really crazy. They are currently finishing 17% of their shots in the 18 yard box. My research only goes back to 2009/10 but no team has ever finished a season that high. And that 17% finishing is with me removing their League leading 7 goals from penalties. If we include penalties they are finishing 20% of their shots in the box. The highest I’ve seen was the 2009/10 Chelsea team who finished 16% with penalties included.

The reason Arsenal have struggled this season is because they are only converting 9.5% of their shots in the penalty area.  Arsenal don’t typically lead the League in conversion but they have never been below 12% conversion in the 18 yard box.

To illustrate how poorly Arsenal are finishing in the 18 yard box, Leicester have scored 30 goals (minus penalties) on 176 shots. Arsenal have scored 23 goals on 238 shots. If Arsenal had Leicester’s finishing numbers, they would have scored 40 goals in the 18 yard box, an additional 17 goals over what they currently have. If Arsenal even improved to their average of 13% in the 18 yard box it would mean an additional 8 goals over their current tally.

Arsenal’s finishing in the 18 yard box is so poor because three of their players who have taken the majority of their shots in that area have been astonishingly poor finishers this season. Alexis, Walcott, and Ramsey are all finishing below 9% with Alexis the most profligate of all the Arsenal players finishing just 5% on 37 shots. Arsenal fans should be thanking Giroud every day, he’s Arsenal’s best finisher this season at 17% in the box.

profligateWhat’s boosting Leicester is the fact that Jamie Vardy is 16/64 shots in the 18 yard box. That’s 25% finishing. One in every four shots Vardy takes in the 18 yard box is a converted into a goal.

There are 13 matches left in the season. The question here is whether this is all sustainable. Will Leicester continue finishing at such a stupendous rate? Will Arsenal finally start getting some goals in the 18 yard box? Will Alexis and/or Walcott come good on their pre-season promise? Will teams stop giving Vardy so much room to run into and so many one-on-ones with keepers?

13 matches left to see.

Qq