The Analyst Diary – April 25
Don’t Get The Ball, Don’t Pass The Ball
You don’t necessarily need much of the ball to get a result in a game of football. We’re in Champions League semi-final week which means that archivists and Inter fans will be lovingly recalling how the Serie A champions, managed by Jose Mourinho, wriggled past Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2010 with a possession of 15% and 74 completed passes in the second leg at Camp Nou. Aesthetes recoiled and complained about active volcanoes but, as ever, in the long term it’s only the result that matters. And it was that very approach that Everton manager Frank Lampard — a School of Mou graduate — took at Anfield on Sunday in the hope of getting something against Liverpool. And having seen Manchester United cut open at will by Jurgen Klopp’s team in midweek, it was the only way to go for a team who have claimed just six points on the road all season.
The first half justified the approach, with Liverpool limited to just three shots, all of them off target, and the 0-0 scoreline belying just what a storied encounter it was. Goals, as they say, can be overrated. Everton continued in the same manner after the break, but Liverpool being able to bring on the likes of Luis Diaz and Merseyside derby cheat code Divock turned the game in their favour. Notably, Everton made 33 more passes in the second half than the first and by doing so, just missed out on setting a new Premier League record for the lowest recorded possession in a game.
Allan is a player who can, in some circumstances, grace the midfield. For instance, see his totals of 69 and 64 completed passes against Tottenham in March and Newcastle in February. He is unlikely, however, to forget his Sunday afternoon at Anfield where, in 73 minutes of play, he completed one pass from a total of five. And that was a kick-off. It’s only the 13th time in recorded Premier League history that an outfield player has played 73+ minutes and completed just one pass, although we should also remember Hameur Bouazza’s performance for Watford against Portsmouth in 2006 when he played 85 minutes and didn’t complete a single pass.
Everton haven’t been relegated from the English top-flight since 1951 but Burnley’s upturn in form under Mike Jackson means that Everton are now, according to our win predictor model, the favourites to finish 18th. After an intense, but ultimately unsuccessful battle at Anfield, it’s now red alert on the blue half of Merseyside.
45 Each Way
Our supercomputer didn’t hold out much hope for Watford at Manchester City on Saturday and so it proved, with Pep Guardiola’s team winning 5-1 and now notching a total of 45 goals in their last 12 league encounters with the Hertfordshire side. Older Watford fans might think back fondly to the 2006-07 Premier League season when they drew 0-0 and 1-1 with City but here’s some more good news: despite Manchester City’s modern habit of sticking many, many goals past Watford, they are still not in the top five Premier League sides for percentage of goals conceded to a single opponent.
That honour (excluding teams who have played just one season in Our League) goes to Bradford City, who saw a monstrous 12.3% of the goals they let in in the Premier League scored by Manchester United, in the form of a 3-0 defeat, two 4-0s and a 6-0. The current iteration of Manchester City appear, but as the nemesis of Brighton, while Nottingham Forest, possibly back in the Premier League next season after a long absence, had their own issues with Manchester United in the 1990s. So while Watford fans may cower when they read the name of the club managed by Pep Guardiola, there are more extreme examples out there.
Shots Not Fired
When they were good
They were very good indeed
But when they were bad they were horrid
Tottenham’s lurch between sublime play and a lack of attacking output continued this weekend at Brentford. For the second game in a row Antonio Conte’s team failed to record a shot on target and that means that 22% of the instances of a team not doing so in a Premier League game this season are by Tottenham Hotspur.
New Heights, New Lows
League One observers are properly het up about the division’s promotion race this season. With a handful of midweek games and next Saturday’s final fixtures to come, neither the automatic promotion spots nor the playoff places are decided. Wigan, Rotherham, Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday play tomorrow, with MK Dons, Plymouth and Wycombe watching on nervously.
What we do know is that, unless Wednesday melt down and lose their last two games, at least one team with 80+ points will miss out on the play-offs. And if that sounds harsh then we can confirm it very much is. Last season the sixth-placed team, Oxford United, gained a spot in the beloved post-season jamboree with only 74 points, while in 2014-15 Chesterfield did so with only 69. Excluding the abandoned Covid-hit 2019-20 season, the average number of points needed to finish sixth in the third tier since 1995-96 has been 74.2, while there have been examples of teams going up automatically in second place with only 82 points, such as Stockport County in 1996-97 and Nottingham Forest in 2007-08.
And why pick 1995-96 as a starting point for this comparison? Because in 1994-95, due to the Premier League being reduced from 22 to 20 teams, the third tier play off places, for one season only, stretched from second to fifth. The sixth-placed team that missed out that season were Wycombe Wanderers, one of the sides who could prove equally unlucky this season, albeit for a different reason. Whatever happens, by 14:30 on Saturday we will know which of the top seven can officially tweet out messages like “wow, we did all we could! 😭👍”