The Analyst Diary: February 15
Turf Moor was a tough place to go for Liverpool on Sunday, in the sense that the driving Lancashire rain made the game a battle, albeit one in which the visiting side prevailed. It was Liverpool’s seventh win in eight Premier League visits to Burnley, and even people completely committed to the Tough Place To Go™️ concept now realise that for the big clubs, it very possibly isn’t. But fewer people will know that Burnley are embroiled in the worst spell of top-flight home form in their entire history. One win in 20 games – against Brentford in October – is the reason Sean Dyche’s team have gone from perennial survivors to relegation semi-certainties. That 20-game spell started in February last year, and it’s been a steady decline since. Seven of the 20 games have seen Burnley record a higher xG total than their opponents, but the most recent instance was that sole lonely win against Brentford. Turf Moor is a tough place to go for one team, at least, and that team is Burnley.
Much attention has been paid to Leicester’s difficulties defending corners this season but this issue is compounded by a lack of effectiveness at the other end of the pitch whenever they are awarded one of the achingly cool restart kicks that were first introduced in 1872. So far this season Brendan Rodgers’ team have created just seven chances from corners, fully 30 behind Liverpool. The fact that Klopp’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s Manchester City lead this category (followed by English thinker Graham Potter’s Brighton) is unsurprising in some senses, they are the top two scoring teams after all, but it does counter the view in some quarters that big name overseas coaches don’t see the value in the humble corner, and that they meet up in high-end wine bars and laugh about English fans getting vocally excited every time the linesman points his flag down towards the quadrant.
This isn’t the way football works but wouldn’t it be useful if teams could save some of the goals they rack up in big wins and store them up for future games against the same opponents? Maybe it could be called the Southampton Protocol, because after Saints lost 9-0 at home to Leicester in 2019-20, they then drew 1-1 in the same fixture the following season. And after Southampton’s 9-0 defeat to Manchester United in 2020-21, they… drew 1-1 in the following season. 10 goals across two games for United and Leicester and a total of four points. It’s really not the sort of ratio you love to see.
New Year New You
Football seasons look all nice and neat once the campaign has finished and someone – no-one knows who – has lovingly uploaded it all to Wikipedia but in truth a 38 (or 46) game mission is invariably a series of rises and falls within the same term. New Year should have no real impact on how a team plays but it’s a neat divider roughly halfway through the season for most clubs, and while some have improved in 2022, plenty have gone the other way.
If we take something relatively basic like shot conversion rate, we can see the biggest improvers in 2022 so far have been Norwich City (up from 4.1% before January to 14.6% in 2022), followed by Wayne Rooney’s Derby County (up from 9.2% to a superb 18.6%) and goal-mad Fulham (up from an already decent to 13.6% to a monstrous 22.9%).
Conversely, the biggest fallers since New Year are Blackburn (down from 16.9% to a measly 2.2% including last night’s inevitable 0-0 draw at WBA), Leyton Orient (down from 14.3% to 2.0%) and Watford (down from 11.3% to a barely understandable 1.5%). Finally, let’s pay respects to Luton Town who are the only team to have maintained their pre-New Year conversion rate precisely in 2022. 12.5% in both instances. Fair play.
Jadon Sancho is that rare thing in 2022, a Manchester United player whose form seems to be improving as the weeks go by. His goal against Southampton was his first in the Premier League at Old Trafford and was created on the right flank by Marcus Rashford before being converted by the left-sided Sancho. Sancho’s successful deployment on that side of the pitch seems to have confused some people, labouring under the that just because Sancho was the long-suggested solution to United’s “right sided problem”, that he absolutely didn’t do most of his effective work at Dortmund last season on the… left hand side. Ah, well, nevertheless.
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