martes, 5 de noviembre de 2013

How to get into the Top 4


How can a team ensure a top 4 finish in the Premier League and Champions League qualification? Most will say it's simple - win matches.

However, taking a less simplistic view, this article aims to discuss what is needed in each type of game over the course of the season (from the relatively easy to the very hard) in order to get into the coveted Champions League spots.  Based on these assumptions we can track clubs' progress throughout the season, keeping in mind the varying fixture difficulties of each club, and therefore try and see the bigger picture of how the season is playing out.

As a Liverpool fan, this is written from a Liverpool perspective, and would therefore probably serve well for the other top 4 pretenders (Spurs and Everton) as to what we aspire to this season - if any of these three clubs reach the target outlined below, it would have to be seen as a successful season, as it would almost certainly ensure Champions League qualification.

However, it can also serve the established, title-challenging Champions League sides, who might see the target as a minimum requirement for the season, and who also, with new managers and indifferent starts, might be very happy with this minimum total come the end of the season.

This will also enable us, at the end of the season, to easily see where each club which does not make the top 4 might have failed - was it a case of not competing against big teams? Or not putting smaller teams to the sword? Poor away form, or throwing away costly points at home?


The fixture model is based on two (admittedly less-than-perfect) assumptions:

1. 76 points will guarantee at least 4th and is therefore the target: 

The league is looking like it's becoming incredibly bunched at the top, so maybe this is a dangerous assumption to make - Spurs only managed 5th with 72 points last year after all. However, it would be unrealistic for Liverpool fans to expect more than 76, and really if Liverpool reached this target and didn't qualify it would be incredibly bad luck.

2. The league can roughly (and perhaps slightly crudely) be divided into two-tiers - the top 7 and the bottom 13

Yes Southampton have been fantastic so far this season and can not be compared to Crystal Palace, and no Liverpool, Everton and Spurs perhaps can't be placed in the same bracket as the usual top 4 of the last few years, but for this to work a line must be drawn somewhere, and this is the best place.  Most would agree that these top 7 clubs are the only clubs who go into the season with a genuine chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and they have been the only teams who have consistently finished near the top of the league in the last several years.

The Model

Following these assumptions, we can break down fixtures (and expectations and targets from these fixtures) into 4 broad categories.

1. Home against bottom 13 teams
2. Home against the other 6 'top 7' teams
3. Away against bottom 13 teams
4. Away against the other 6 'top 7' teams.

What is needed in each category to reach 76 points?

Category 1 

These are games you expect to win, and anything less than a win is bitterly disappointing. However, the odd slip-up is inevitable and it's incredibly rare to see even a title-winning team (never mind a team hoping to compete for 4th) put together a perfect 13 wins here.

Target: 2.5 points per game 

This allows for roughly 3 slip-ups in the 13 games. 2.5 ppg leads to 32.5 points (obviously this can not happen so lets round down to 32 points). At least 10 of these games need to be won in order to achieve the target, and preferably the 3 not won would contain at least two draws.

Category 2 

Any home game must be targeted with a win, even against tough opposition. However, the quality of these teams makes it impossible to expect the same type of return as against the weaker teams in the league, and a draw is only a slightly disappointing result. 

Target: 2 points per game 

Most would be happy with winning one and drawing the other in these games, (or alternatively winning 4 and losing 2) to give a decent points tally of 12 points.

Home total: 44 points

Category 3 

It's a cliché, but it's more or less true that no game is easy in the Premier League, especially away from home. However, against the perceived weaker teams you certainly are looking to win if you want any chance of making the top 4. Although more slip-ups have to be accounted for, due to the difficulty of playing away.

Target: 2 points per game 

Draws are fine, as long as they are followed up by wins the following week. Though the inevitable odd loss will mean slightly more wins are required to boost the points tally. 2 ppg, or 26 points would be a good return from these games.

Category 4 

The most difficult games. In general, if you come away with a point from these games then it's job done. You take what you can get here.

Target: 1 point per game 

If you can sneak a win in one of these games then you're looking good to reach your goal of 6 points from these games.

Away total: 32 points

Combined total: 76 points

If you can meet or exceed the above targets, top 4 should be guaranteed.  Even staying very close to this target should give you a very good chance, though considering the current competitiveness at the top end of the table, dropping below this target would put yourself in a risky position.

How are Liverpool doing do far?

Category 1: PPG: 2.25 (Target is 2.5) 

A home loss to Southampton means Liverpool are falling bit short here at the moment. It's early days and Southampton are possibly the toughest of the 13 'second-tier' sides to be faced at home, but it will be imperative to keep this ppg as close to 2.5 as possible over the season.  

Category 2. PPG: 3 (Target is 2)  

Small sample size is an understatement but in the one match in this category, 3 points were taken against United.

Category 3PPG: 2 (Target is 2) 

So far so good, matching the target with 2 wins and 2 draws in the four away games in this category. 

Category 4PPG: 0 (Target is 1) 

The loss to Arsenal means Liverpool are not yet off the mark here, though like category 2, it is far too early to say if we're meeting expectations or not.


Following this system, Liverpool have had four '2.5-point' matches, five '2 point' matches, and one '1-point' match.

So the overall target for these matches would have been 21 points. With 20 points Liverpool are very slightly behind the target.  However, the current form in relation to fixture difficulty prolonged over a full season would see Liverpool finish with 72 points - certainly enough to be in the conversation for top 4 and maybe enough to reach it.

Here is how the Premier League table looks like following this model, and where each team stands in relation to the target:

1. Arsenal   +3.5 points
2. Chelsea  +1 point
3. Tottenham - 0 (Neutral)
4. Liverpool -1 point
5. Man City -1.5 points
6. Everton -2 points
7. Man United -3 points

On current form in relation to this fixture difficulty model, Arsenal are on course to reach 89 points, and are therefore the only team so far that is displaying truly title-winning form. However, we can see that their much-vaunted 5 point lead is not as big as they think - due to their relatively easy start, in this model Chelsea are only theoretically 2.5 points behind.

From a Liverpool perspective, to be in fourth in this table shows that a nice opening set of fixtures only partially accounts for the impressive start to the season.  Even taking into account the relatively easy opening run, Liverpool are still where they want to be at the end of the season.  

However, the glass-half-empty view would be that of the teams they perhaps targeted to finish ahead at the start of the season (Everton, Spurs and Arsenal), two of them are currently ahead of Liverpool in this model.  The two Manchester clubs are behind Liverpool, but they would be expected to improve their poor start to this season which has seen them fall behind what would surely be the bare minimum expected at the start of the season.

All in all, Liverpool fans can be happy that, with a decent chunk of the season gone, they are in the ballpark of what needs to be achieved, even when accounting for fixture difficulty.

Throughout the season, this model could be useful to help understand where teams really are in relation to their targets. Fixture difficulty is not spread out evenly for all teams until the last match of the season (just compare Arsenal and United's start), and this model perhaps gives a truer and less variable-influenced indication of where each club stands in the Premier League.

viernes, 2 de agosto de 2013

Diego Costa to Liverpool? Thoughts from a Liverpool and Atleti fan

Since moving to Madrid a few years ago I've been a regular at the Calderon and I've adopted los colchoneros as my second team.  Here's my view on the potential transfer.

The Fee

I think Liverpool would be overpaying.  If you were to ask me yesterday to put a value on Costa, I would have said £12-15m, so £21m certainly seems steep.

Would he improve Liverpool's first team?

Yes I believe he would. I think he would be good enough to get in the first eleven and at least offer a very different option to the current players.  Liverpool do not have a forward player of his physicality or playing style.  An added aerial threat, particularly for set pieces would not go amiss either.

Is he a marquee signing?

This is a word that has been bandied about a lot lately, even by Gerrard.  What is a marquee signing exactly? Does the fee Liverpool would pay for Costa make him one? 

From what I understand of the meaning of the term I would say no, he is not. For example I don't think he would be in the top 5 key players at the club if he were to sign.  He would improve the team, but not hugely, not significantly in my opinion.

What position is he?

Atleti often play a 4-4-2 and he plays as one of the two strikers. However, he's more of a forward who drifts wide and deep, so would probably fit in on one of the wide roles of the front 3. If Liverpool were to sign him it'd be a pretty clear signal that Rodgers intends to use Coutinho predominantly as the central playmaker.  Playing Costa in behind Suarez or Sturridge wouldn't really work, as you would probably have to play a 4-4-1-1 and I'm not sure this fits Rodgers style and the wide players Liverpool have. 

Costa most definitely is not a playmaker sort.  He does not have the guile, the technical ability or the vision to play behind the striker in this role.  With Suarez and Sturridge battling it out for the central role, with one of them maybe being forced wide, Costa would almost certainly be signed to play as a wide forward.

Can he make it in the Premier League?

It's been said that he's physical, gives as good as he gets, and this is true.  He won't be bullied out of games by physical defenders.  He will in fact relish this challenge, and he could make it a very difficult afternoons work for those who are up against him.

Maybe something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that he goes down really, really easy.  Probably comically easy for a lot of Premier League fans (in La Liga they would be slightly more forgiving).  A lot of the freekicks he wins are borderline dives and he certainly goes to ground at the slightest contact if he thinks it will benefit the team, yet he tends to get away with it in Spain.

A big question mark over Costa would be whether he would have the same joy in England where referees are far more lenient and prone to let more physical challenges go and let the game flow as much as possible (this is not a stereotype - the stats show that the way the game if reffed in Spain and England differs hugely).

To give you an idea of Diego Costa's freekick winning ability, last season he was fouled (or I should perhaps say 'fouled') 3 times a game on average, the second highest amount in the whole of Spain. The highest for any player in the Premier League? 2.5

Now obviously this should be seen as a positive, as winning frees gives you a potentially dangerous attacking position, or it can buy you some breathing space, get the other player booked and so on.

However I think it's also an indication of how easy he goes down, and I'm not sure how much luck he would have with the refs in England.

Diego Costa was winning a considerable amount more free-kicks than anyone in the whole League last season, and this when he is a big, big lad (188cm and 85kg). When you consider that players who top these stats are usually fast, tricky, slight players it gives you an indication of just how effective he is at winning frees (and/or how easy he goes down).

He often tends to shield the ball, wait for the defender to make some contact from behind, and then fall on top of the ball. And last season the ref inevitably whistled. Even watching from a pro-Atleti perspective, some of the fouls given his way last season were very generous and I would not see many of them given in England.

I would fear that English referees would not be swayed by how easy he goes down, and this is quite a big part of his game and his effectiveness, so this could be an issue.

Either way, if Liverpool are planning on signing Costa, it would be advisable to practice attacking set-pieces because with Costa, Suarez and Aspas Liverpool would have a lot of players who tend to get fouled an awful lot.


It's been said. He's a nutter. Highly aggressive, petulant, win-at-all costs, call it what you want. If signed, Rodergs will really have to reel him in, explain cultural differences, maybe use Suarez as an example of what not to do.

However, it has to be said that with this comes a hard working, battling attitude.  His workrate, his teamwork is excellent and any manager and set of fans would value that.

I think that, like Suarez or Rooney, the good can not be separated from the bad when it comes to his attitude and application on the pitch.  His petulance and aggressiveness are innately attached to his work-rate and desire to win.

Overall, it could be argued that his potential lack of discipline is more than made up for by his positive mental qualities.

I would say that this is a positive more than a negative on the whole, especially if he can be tamed somewhat.

He is a fighter first and foremost, in all the positive and negative meanings of the word.


Overall, I'm surprised Liverpool are in for Costa and also surprised about the fee.

Firstly, I did not expect this to be the profile of the player Rodgers was looking to bring in.  If you had mentioned an Atleti player who I thought could fit in perfectly at Liverpool I would have said Arda Turan, who could link the midfield to the attack in a central attacking-midfield role, while also being able to play out wide to good effect.

Obviously, as mentioned earlier, this targeting of Costa (whether it goes through or not) would be a huge hint that Rodgers sees Coutinho as operating in predominantly a central role next season, and that we are therefore looking to strengthen our wide forward position.  This might give us a clue to future targets if this move breaks down.

Secondly, I think the fee is huge, and on the back of Rodgers' comments recently that suggested we may not see any further major signings, was not expected.  He has not really achieved all that much in his career to warrant a fee usually reserved for some of the very top players in the game.  However, it may be a case that no other target that Rodgers feels will really improve the first team is available and that he is willing to overpay in this instance.

Liverpool certainly wouldn't be the only team to overpay in a window which has seen some staggering fees, and most fans would surely be happier at overpaying and improving the team than not spending at all.

There was a stage last season when a fellow Atleti-supporting friend of mine actually suggested Costa was more important to Atleti than Falcao, and that he offered much more than the goal-poaching Colombian. It's definitely true that Costa is about much more than goals, so don't judge him on his goal stats - he's not a number 9. However, I would fear that Costas' excellent performances at the end of last season were possibly more of a purple patch of good form, where everything was going his way (such as the system the manager was using and how he fit in the team, referee's decisions, confidence) rather than evidence of a truly top class player who can produce that over the course of a whole season in a very competitive league.

Another worry would be that Atleti generally play quite direct and I believe their style is fairly different from Liverpool's - I would wonder about his ability to fit in to Rodgers' possession-based, fluid system. We would have to trust that Rodgers knows what he's doing in this regard.

However, despite these worries, Costa is a player who would improve our team and the bid shows there appears to be intent to spend. These are both positives.  I'm not sure he's the perfect fit, but time will tell.

An improvement to the first team is always welcome and the various possible line-ups we could put out including Costa would certainly not be easy for defenders to face.

Indeed, a possible frontline of Aspas, Suarez and Costa would be a nightmare for defenders and referees alike, and they would all carry a fighting, dedicated, winning attitude on to the pitch, the type of attitude that Rodgers hinted he wanted last season. 

All Stats taken from

Follow me on Twitter: @ErwinMorzadec

martes, 26 de febrero de 2013

What Went Wrong? - The 5 Premier League Players Who Have Seen The Biggest Drop in Form This Season

As the old saying goes, form is only temporary. But what makes a player's performance suddenly drop in quality from one season to the next? Injuries, personal problems, being played out of position, moving clubs, loss of confidence, lack of motivation, falling out of favour, managerial changes, the ageing process – there are many reasons why a player can go from being one of the league's top performers one season to putting in mediocre or poor performances the next.

Using unique player ratings from, this article looks at the top 5 drops in form from last season to this season so far, and aims to analyse the possible reasons for these dramatic drops in form.

(*Note: Only players with total appearances in each season greater than the average number of Premier League appearances in that season are discussed in this article. Therefore the likes of Papiss Cissé and Gylfi Sigurdsonn are not included due to the fact they did not play more than 19 matches last season).

5. Antonio Valencia

Last Season's Rating: 7.40                                                Last Season's Ranking: 9th
This Season's Rating: 6.91                                               This Season's Ranking: 114th
Rating Drop: 0.49                                                                 Ranking Drop: 105 Places

It seems harsh to include Valencia in this list as he is not by any means having a terrible season. A rating of 6.91, while not spectacular, is respectable and has the Ecuadorian close to the top 100 Premier League players so far this season. But according to whoscored ratings, there has been a steep drop in performance compared to last season where he was one of the ten top performers.

What went wrong?

The short answer is that Valencia has stopped being the same lethal assist-machine he was last season. In 27 appearances last season (5 of which came as a substitute) Valencia notched up a hugely impressive 13 assists, the second highest in the league. When taking into account the amount of games played, nobody could top Valencia's assist-per-game ratio – close to 1 assist every 2 games. He was on fantastic form down the United right-flank, a constant outlet capable of beating his man and providing the perfect ball for a United player (usually Rooney) to slot home. Valencia also chipped in with 4 goals of his own.

This season he has assisted just 4 goals so far, with his assist-per-game ratio dropping to about 1 assist in every 5 games – not terrible, but a significant drop nonetheless. He is also yet to score in the Premier League this season.

There is one key stat which explains this drop in assists (and by association his rating) – his cross accuracy. Last season a massive 35.3% of Valencia's crosses found their man, whereas this season this has dropped off to a less impressive 19.8%. Looking at the dribbling stats, Valencia is still maintaining an effective ability to beat his man, but his end product as represented by his crossing and key-passes-per-game (down from 2.4 to 1.4) has not been as effective.

Why it went wrong

The arrival of Robin van Persie and, to a lesser extent, Shinji Kagawa. United made two key signings in attacking areas in the summer and this upset the status-quo in United's offensive play that Valencia so enjoyed.

This was evident from the first match of the season against Everton when he was forced to play right-back to accommodate the new personnel. Rafael has since nailed down this spot and Valencia has returned to his favoured right-wing position. However, the system has changed somewhat and so has the main man in attack.

A big reason for Valencia's excellent performances was his understanding with Rooney. He seemed to know exactly where and when Rooney was going to make his run. The introduction of Van Persie as the main centre-forward has broken up this relationship as Rooney generally plays a deeper role to accommodate the Dutchman. Valencia has not been quite as effective as a result.

Another reason could be that Valencia has been singled out by defenders after his deadly performances last season. While it would be unfair to label Valencia a 'one trick pony', he is a direct winger who generally tries to beat his man on the outside before putting in a right-footed cross. Defenders may have 'worked him out' or perhaps have simply began administering special attention to Valencia, doubling up on him or fouling him to nullify his threat – he is being fouled more than last season (up from 0.6 a game to 0.8) and has also been dispossessed more (up from 1.1 per game to 1.5).  

4. Michel Vorm

Last Season's Rating: 7.03                                          Last Season's Ranking: 34th
This Season's Rating: 6.53                                          This Season's Ranking: 233rd
Rating Drop: 0.50                                                            Ranking Drop: 199 Places

Swansea City's Dutch goalkeeper was labelled as one of the buys of the season last year as he helped the Welsh club to an excellent 11th place finish in their first Premier League season. His rating of 7.03 was the highest of all goalkeepers in the league and he was linked with several top clubs during the summer. However, this season, under a new manager and after suffering an injury, Vorm's form (a bit of a tongue-twister that) has regressed.

What went wrong?

Last season Vorm kept 14 clean sheets in 37 games (roughly one clean sheet every 2.6 games) yet so far this season he has only managed 4 in 16 matches (one in every 4 matches). It's difficult to pinpoint one area where Vorm's game has dropped. His save percentage has decreased nearly 5 % (from 74.9% last season to 70.1% this season), though this is perhaps not a significant drop.

His pass accuracy has also gone down slightly. Vorm is known to be great with his feet and under Brendan Rodgers' possession-based football he had the highest pass completion percentage of all goalkeepers in the league – 70.6%. This has dropped this season to 62.5%, though this may be down to a slightly more proactive, direct approach under Laudrup than a decline in the passing of the player.

Vorm is known as a great penalty stopper. Last year he lived up to his reputation, saving 2 out of the 3 penalties faced, winning vital points for his team. This year, of the 3 penalties so far faced, all 3 have been conceded. But with such a small sample size, a large degree of variance is always possible here, and it would be unfair to suggest that Vorm is worse at saving penalties this year.

Perhaps more than any other area, his low rating is most attributable to the amount of errors he has made that have led directly to goals – 3 already this season compared to none last. More than any other position, goalkeepers are exposed and punished by errors, and the consistent Vorm of last season has been more error prone of late.

Why it went wrong

To a large degree, variance. More than any other position goalkeepers will be affected by variance as the margins are so fine and so decisive – the difference between a clean sheet and a goal concession might be the width of a finger that turned a penalty round the post, or guessing the right way to dive. It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect Vorm to maintain a penalty save percentage of 66% through his whole career. Simply put, 'luck' (or, more aptly, variance) was on Vorm's side last year, whereas this year it has perhaps betrayed him somewhat.

However, there could be other factors at play. Last season Vorm's ball-playing abilities were almost as important as his shot-stopping as Swansea looked to keep possession for as long as possible to prevent opposition imposing dominance on the match. While Laudrup is far from a long-ball manager, this change in manager and system means that Vorm is not called upon quite so often to utilise his excellent passing skills.

Another big factor was the injury he sustained in October which kept him out until December, and perhaps more importantly, the form of his deputy Gerhard Tremmel in his absence. The German performed excellently (with a whoscored rating of 7.1), and a combination of this and Vorm's own shaky form has made it unclear who is the current number one at Swansea at the moment. Vorm's place is no longer guaranteed, a situation which would have been almost unthinkable last summer. It could be argued that the disruption caused by his injury and being unsure of his place in the side has affected Vorm's performances.

3. Joe Allen

Last Season's Rating: 7.11                                                 Last Season's Ranking: 24th
This Season's Rating: 6.59                                                 This Season's Ranking: 216th
Rating Drop: .52                                                                     Ranking Drop: 192 Places

With an average rating of 7.11, Joe Allen was the shining star of a Swansea side that surprised everyone last season with their excellent passing ability and possession-based football. Allen's role was integral to this system, so much so that Brendan Rodgers brought him with him to Liverpool in an attempt to integrate this style of play in his new club. However, a disappointing rating of 6.59 and a generally poor season for Liverpool suggests that he has struggled to do so thus far.

What went wrong?

Firstly, his defensive contribution has slackened slightly – at Swansea he made 3.1 tackles per game, but at Liverpool this has dropped by over a third to just 2 per game. Coupled with this is a slight drop in the amount of interceptions he has made. One might argue that this is due to having to defend less as he is now playing at a bigger club, but the fact that Swansea had the same average amount of possession last season as Liverpool this season (58%) would seem to counter this claim.

Allen was bought predominantly to retain and distribute possession through his composure on the ball and passing ability. Surprisingly enough, statistically speaking, there is not much of a drop off in this area of his game – his pass accuracy and amount of passes have only decreased minimally. There is perhaps some significance in the slight decrease of key passes played – down from 1.3 a game to 0.9, but other than this the statistics suggest Allen is passing almost as well as last season.

Offensively, Allen has contributed nothing this year for Liverpool in the Premier League – not a single goal or assist (nor has he looked close to doing so). It might be unfair to expect this from him, as the final third is not really where he is expected to do much of his work, but last season Allen managed to contribute something – 4 goals and 2 assists. While chance creation is not his game, Allen completed at least a small amount of crosses and through balls last season – this season, however, Allen has not completed a single cross or through ball. Added to this, his shot per game ratio has more than halved, resulting in a practically non-existent attacking threat from the Welshman.

Why it went wrong

Allen could point to the fact that he is still finding his feet at a new club – however his performances have not improved as the season has gone on (in fact they were better at the start of the season), and considering he is working under the same manager this excuse is negated even further.

An obvious explanation for Allen's drop in form is that he is struggling to deal with the pressure and expectation that comes with playing for a club of Liverpool's stature. Last season he had nothing to lose, playing for a team that most expected to be relegated. This season every performance is scrutinised by millions of fans worldwide. Coupled with this is the weight of expectation that a £15m price-tag brings. One can only speculate to what extent these factors have effected Allen mentally.

But perhaps another significant reason is that he has yet to really nail down a specific role in the team – Lucas's injury in the second match of the season meant Allen began his Liverpool career covering as a deep-lying defensive midfielder. He actually did a decent job deputising here – his rating as a defensive midfielder is a fairly respectable 6.84. However, since Lucas's return, he has struggled to fit in in an unbalanced Liverpool midfield. This season Gerrard's role in the team has changed significantly – he is no longer the attack-minded midfielder who scores goals and makes runs into the opposition box. Instead he has begun to play a much deeper, playmaking role in centre-midfield, as age begins to catch up with him. This change has left Allen floundering without a position in the first team to call his own. We have seen in the losses to Manchester United and Aston Villa recently that a combination of Lucas, Gerrard and Allen is unbalanced and does not work as they all play too deep to function together. Allen was given the role of the most advanced midfielder against United, and he performed poorly. This was no surprise. As we have seen from his stats, Allen has never been an effective player in the final third, even when he was on good form with Swansea – this is not his role nor has it ever been.

Rodgers has now given up on this trio in midfield, and it was inevitably Allen who has made way to the bench. Since Lucas came back from injury Allen has had to play the majority of games as part of an unbalanced midfield, out of position as an advanced midfielder, or had to make do with just 5 or 10 minutes playing time off the bench – Allen's average rating during this period is an extremely low 6.24 (only two players in the Premier League have a lower rating than that this season).

                                                                    2. Samir Nasri

Last Season's Rating: 7.23                                                Last Season's Ranking: 15th
This Season's Rating: 6.70                                               This Season's Ranking: 194th
Rating Drop: 0.53                                                                 Ranking Drop: 179 places

Samir Nasri takes second place on this list, after failing to build on a good first season where he contributed some important goals and assists during Manchester City's successful league campaign.  His rating of 6.70 can be described as mediocre at best, but when taking into account his massive wages and the fact he is playing for the reigning Champions who are expected to win most games, it appears particularly poor. 

What went wrong?

Nasri is not assisting or scoring goals at the same rate as last season. In Manchester City's title winning season Nasri scored 5 goals and set up a further 9 in 30 appearances (4 of which were as a substitute). In other words, roughly every 2 games he was contributing towards a goal. This season, in 18 appearances (4 as a sub), he has scored just once, and made three assists, translating to a goal contribution only every 4.5 matches.

Looking at his offensive and passing stats, it's actually quite difficult to see where exactly it's going wrong for Nasri. He has maintained a very high pass completion percentage, he is dribbling past opponents with the same frequency, his crosses are seemingly as accurate and he is not being dispossessed any more than last season. However, with Nasri's role as a creative midfielder rather than a traditional winger in an attack-minded team there is one very important stat that stands out – the amount of through balls played.

Last season Nasri was one of the few through ball masters of the Premier League, playing the joint second most successful through balls per game – 14 defence-splitting passes in his 30 appearances, or close to one in every two games. Considering that playing a successful throughball results in a relatively high possibility of a goal, and given the fact that they are such a rare occurrence, even what might seem like a modest drop in this statistic can be very significant. This year Nasri has completed just 3 through balls – or roughly one in every seven games. The reason for this tail-off is not down to poor execution, but instead due to a decrease in the amount he has attempted. Last year he attempted close to 41 through balls (1.5 per game) whereas so far this season he has attempted a grand total of just 6 (.3 per game). This has inevitably led to a significant drop in scoring chances he has created.

Not only is Nasri not risking so many game-changing passes, but he is also attempting fewer shots – last season he shot at goal twice a game on average, whereas this year this has halved to just one shot per game, so his paltry goal tally of just one goal could be attributable to this.

Finally, a red card against Norwich and an error against city rivals Manchester United have both contributed towards a poor rating so far this season.

Why it went wrong

Unlike Valencia and Vorm, Nasri can apportion a certain amount of blame onto his fellow teammates – Nasri is not the only player struggling for form at City this season. Last season Nasri's club were dominant, but this year they have stuttered, failing to mount a serious defence of their title. It can be difficult to play well in a team that is struggling as a whole.

However, Nasri has been a key part of this collective failure and has stood out more than his teammates (hence his inclusion on this list) so this excuse only stretches so far. So what explains Nasri's drop in performances beyond this explanation?

The significant drop in the amount of through balls and shots attempted might suggest a drop in confidence – if a player is not attempting the risky, difficult moves that can make you look like a genius or a fool then perhaps it is because the player is not feeling confident in his ability to execute them.

However, Nasri might also argue that a lack of movement in attack has allowed fewer opportunities to play the type of goal-creating passes he played last year – key striker Sergio Aguero was injured for several matches at the start of the season and has not quite been in the same deadly form as last season; Tevez is not the type of striker that routinely looks to run onto defence-splitting passes behind the defence; Edin Dzeko is more effective converting crosses from a traditional wide-man, rather than a creative passer like Nasri; and the recently departed Balotelli was simply awful when called upon this season.

A final reason (a reason that many disgruntled City fans who have lost patience with Nasri's performances will point to) could be simply a lack of effort and motivation. His vital error in the last minute against Manchester United – where he shirked his responsibilities in the Man City wall, hiding behind Dzeko and sticking a lazy leg out which deflected Van Persie's free kick into the corner of the goal – was, for many, indicative of a player who does not show enough fight on the pitch.

1. Emmanuel Adebayor

Last Season's Rating: 7.22                                                 Last Season's Ranking: 16th
This Season's Rating: 6.58                                                 This Season's Ranking: 223rd
Rating Drop: 0.64                                                                   Ranking Drop: 207 Places

Topping this list, and claiming the undesirable title of the the Premier League player who has seen the most drastic dip in form this season, is Tottenham's Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese striker has failed to reproduce his performances from an impressive first season with Spurs where he was the fifth highest ranked striker, productive with both goals and assists, attaining an excellent rating of 7.22. This season he has seen his rating plummet, dropping more than any other other player in the Premier League.  

What went wrong?

17 goals and 11 assists in 31 matches last season translated to Adebayor contributing towards a goal almost every game last season – Van Persie, Rooney and Aguero were the only strikers that could boast better goal contribution stats. This impressive record has dropped dramatically to just 2 goals and 0 assists in 16 appearances this season. Adebayor is simply not creating or scoring at anywhere near the same rate as last season.

Looking at the stats to explain this decline, we can see that Adebayor's shooting ratio has halved this season – from 3 shots a game to 1.6, suggesting he is not getting into the same positions as last year, or is not willing to try his luck quite so often. His key passes have also decreased slightly – from 1.8 per game to 1.2. We saw in our discussion of Nasri the importance of throughballs – Adebayor played 7 successfully last season but has managed just 1 so far this season.

Added to this is a slight decrease in the amount of Aerial Duels won – an important statistic for a player of Adebayor's style – down from 1.9 per game to 1.5.

A red card after just 18 minutes in the North London derby has not helped his cause either.

Why it went wrong?

An explanation symathetic towards Adebayor would suggest that the sacking of Harry Redknapp and appointment of Villas-Boas has been the main reason for his loss of form. Villas-Boas plays a different formation and style to his predecessor, and it might be argued that Adebayor's languid style and ability to play as a target man does not fit the new playing philosophy introduced at the club.

Added to this, Adebayor might argue that he has not had an extended run in the first team. With just one striking role at the club, the Togolese international has seen his appearances limited (6 of his 16 appearances have come as a substitute), as Jermaine Defoe has been favoured in attack. Injuries, suspension and participation at the African Cup of Nations have further disrupted his season. Adebayor has perhaps not had chance to settle and make an impact in a newlook Spurs team.

The departure of Van der Vaart and Modric may also have impacted heavily on Adebayor's performance. With two key men leaving (as well as a new manager) the balance of the team has changed significantly and Adebayor may still be having trouble adapting. Van de Vaart's departure in particular will have effected him – playing in behind Adebayor last season, the Dutchman complemented him perfectly and many of Van de Vaart's 11 goals last season were set up by Adebayor.

A more cynical explanation for Adebayor's poor displays this season is his contractual situation. It might be suggested that the Togolese forward, on loan from Man City last season, was playing for a contract at Spurs, and, now that he has achieved a permanent deal, he is no longer making the same effort. Dietmar Hammann seems to hold this opinion, questioning Adebayor's mentality and focus during Tottenham's dramatic win over West Ham last night – 'talent counts for nothing if you don't have the right head on your shoulders' he tweeted.  For a player who has a history of changing clubs frequently, there might be something to this theory.

With Defoe's recent injury, Adebayor has been given the chance of a sustained run in the Spurs attack and prove his critics wrong, though the signs so far suggest he may not seize it.

A Note On Those Who Missed Out

As stated earlier, only those who have appeared in a greater number of matches than the average amount have been included. However, if we were to include those who signed in last season's January transfer window then the list would look quite different.

If Papiss Cissé had been included he would almost certainly have topped the list. He took the Premier League by storm at the end of last season, scoring 13 goals in his 14 appearances. This season he has been comparitively very disappointing, with a rating of just 6.59. Gylfi Sigurdsonn (6.44) and Nikica Jelavic (6.70) are two other players who would have contested this list, having both failed to build on impressive starts in the Premier League at the end of last season.

Mario Balotelli has played enough games in both seasons to be included in this list, but I made the decision to leave him out due to his recent departure to Serie A. However, with a rating drop of 0.68 (down from 7.01 to 6.33) he would have pipped Adebayor at the top of this list.

All statistics taken from

Follow me on Twitter: @ErwinMorzadec

miércoles, 30 de enero de 2013

Analysing Europe's Top 4 Leagues – Is Serie A Boring and Defensive?

    'The idea that Serie A is defensive is completely out of date. Anyone who's seen Roma, Napoli, Inter or Lazio recently wouldn't call it defensive.'

    'One of the greatest untruths touted about a football league is that Serie A is boring. But the mud seems to have stuck regarding Serie A'.

Replies to the thread 'Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga – Differences?' on, December 2012.


As mentioned in the previous article  and as alluded to in the quotes above, Serie A seems to have gained a reputation as being a 'boring' and defensive league. Articles such as this from refer to a 'defensive mindset [which] seems to be drilled into the psyche of the players'. When English teams face Serie A opposition in the Champions League, commentators will often warn viewers that the Italians will likely be difficult to break down due to the supposedly unshakeable national trait of prioritising defensiveness solidity at the expense of attacking or fluid football.

Teams are defensive, emphasis is on tactics, keeping a clean sheet and attempting to score on the counterattack. The Italians brought the style of Catenaccio to football, so it is perhaps natural to assume that this style prevails in their national league's footballing identity.

However, we have already seen the folly of believing stereotypes about leagues based on only watching a select few teams from a league, believing what 'experts' tell us, confusing the footballing style of a country's national team with that of its league or believing that a league's style does not change or evolve over time. The quotes above, if they are to be believed, would suggest that similar misrepresentations are being made about Serie A – they claim it is now an exciting and attacking league, and the days of Catenaccio are long gone.

Like in the last article, I will analyse statistics from the Top 4 leagues to ascertain the truth of these assertions about Serie A, while also attempting to draw any interesting conclusions from the other top European leagues in the process.

But first we must clarify an important term.

What is 'Boring'?

What does the term 'boring' mean in football? It might seem a difficult question to answer as the term is subjective. In general, something is not inherently boring. For example, the statement 'The Godfather is a boring film' is not a statement of fact, rather a subjective opinion. We have seen this in football also with the recent debate about Spain's dominant International side – some see their football as fantastic to watch, while others see it as slow, boring, repetitive and unadventurous.

So how can we possibly measure how statictically 'boring' a league is? How can we prove or disprove the subjective claim that Serie A boring?

Well, we have to transform 'boring' from a subjective term to an objective, measureable statistic by inferring what the majority of football fans, pundits, writers and commentators mean when they use the term. There is a clue in the other word that is also often dispariginly pinned to Serie A – 'defensive'.

The bottom line when we talk about excitement and boringness in football is goals. It goes without saying that goals are usually the most exciting moments of a football match. A lot of goals? Exciting football. A nil-nil draw or a one-nil win? Boring. This is the way football is predominantly viewed. 'One-nil to the Arsenal' was sung by Arsenal fans, while opposition fans chanted 'Boring, boring Arsenal'. The last World Cup in 2010 was widely received as a 'boring' World Cup due to its low goals tally of 2.27 goals per game. Chelsea and Liverpool's low-scoring Champions League clashes last decade were frequently labelled 'boring' and groans of despair could be heard across the football world when they were once again drawn against each other in 2009. These are just a few examples of many that reveal the common acceptance that a lack of goals generally means a lack of entertainment.

I have reservations about equating goals with excitement. For me football is about more than just goals, and at times a nil nil draw can be an incredibly engrossing and interesting match. However, for many this is probably not the case, and it is true that frequently a goalless game can be disappointing for the spectator and that usually the most memorable moments and highlights from a match are the goals. In any case, as we have seen, there are countless examples that suggest that when the term 'boring' is used in football it refers to a lack of goals. A low goal tally could also be seen as an indicator of defensive football, as a greater emphasis on defending by teams throughout a league should typically result in more low-scoring games.

So to determine whether or not Serie A is a particularly boring and defensive league, we need to examine the amount of goals scored in that league in comparision to the other top leagues across Europe.

Goals per Game

Like in the last article, we'll look at the statistics from the last full season, 2011-12, as they contain the most current and relevant complete data. If the stereotypes are true, we should expect a relatively low goals per game tally in Serie A. Here are the results.

Based on last season, there would seem to be some credibility to the stereotypes about Serie A.
They have the lowest goal-per-game tally across the four leagues, with the Bundesliga pipping the Premier League and La Liga, which all have significantly higher tallies.

So based on this evidence, it would be fair to conclude that last season Serie A was the most boring (in the previously outlined interpretation of the word) league amongst the top European leagues. However, the discussion does not end here. The labelling of Serie A as a boring league is not something new – it has been heard throughout the years. While last season is of course the most recent and therefore most relevant data, it is worth looking at an average across recent years to see if these figures represent an ongoing trend, season on season.

In this ten year representation of goals Serie A, once again, comes out at the bottom of the pile. Their ten-year-average is just .02 goals more than last season's tally suggesting it was typical for Serie A in relation to recent trends. We can also see that the Bundesliga has consistently provided the most 'exciting' football in terms of goals scored, and that last season was nothing new or exceptional.

What is more interesting is the tallies of La Liga and, in particular, the Premier League. We can see that last seasons tallies were significantly higher than the ten-year average.

In fact the Premier League and La Liga have experienced a goal explosion recently. The two most recent seasons in the Premier League have been the highest since its inception, and the one previous was also relatively high (2.77 gpg). La Liga has also seen a marked increase in goals in the last four seasons. So then why are their ten-year averages so comparably low?

The obvious answer is that their have been some comparably low-scoring seasons in this ten year period. The three seasons between 2004 and 2007 in the Premier League saw a combined average of just 2.5 goals – less than Serie A's average tally or their tally last year. La Liga had a similar tally during these three seasons – 2.51. So if Serie A is a boring league, then the Premier League and La Liga were for several seasons too, and have only recently become more entertaining.

Yet Serie A continued to have its boring reputation during these years (as was stated earlier, this is not a new tag ascribed to Italian football) when it was in fact slightly more 'exciting' than the English and Spanish leagues during these seasons.

What's more, despite Serie A coming out bottom over the ten year period, the differences between the leagues (high-scoring Bundesliga aside) are relatively trivial – just a .05 difference between Serie A and the Premier League and a further .03 between the Premier League and La Liga.

So again – if Serie A is boring, the Premier League and La Liga are barely more exciting. In the last decade there appears to be no statistical evidence to support the claim that Serie A, in particular, is exceptionally boring. So where do these claims come from?

One potential answer is suggested in a quote at the beginning of this article, which describes the idea that Serie A is boring and defensive as 'out of date'. There is a suggestion here that Serie A indeed was a boring league in the past, but has become more exciting in recent years, yet its reputation as boring has continued to pervade – or, in other words, as the other quote states, 'the mud has stuck'.

Looking at the average goal per game data from past decades should reveal whether this theory is correct.

We can see a colossal difference in the amount of goals per game in the 70s and 80s compared with the 90s and 2000s. The 1970s and 80s saw the goal per game rate barely exceed two goals – something incredibly rare in football. Indeed, this twenty-year period saw seven seasons drop below the 2 goals-per-game mark. Having looked at data across a range of leagues and years, these years are unparallelled in their consistent scarcity of goals. Serie A during these years was an exceptionally boring league.

In other words, Serie A now is nothing like it once was, and there seems to be considerable evidence to support the quotee's claim that the ideas about it are out of date – it was vastly more boring in the 70s and 80s than it is now.

One might argue that just because it was exceptionally boring in the past, that does not exclude it from being at least a bit boring now. However, we have already seen that in recent years Serie A does not stand out from the Premier League and La Liga. To further counter this claim, let's have a look at Serie A's most recent decade alongside other widely watched leagues and competitions.

In order to see if their total of 2.58 for the last decade stands out as exceptionally low, I have included probably the most prestiguous, widely watched and highest quality competitions (excluding those already examined) alongside Serie A: The World Cup and European Championships (in which, due to their infrequency and to provide a greater representation, I have included tournaments from the last twenty years), the Champions League, the Europa League (due to a lack of easily available data and it's recent change of format I've only included the last 5 seasons) and France's Ligue 1 (which is often included as part of a 'top 5' of Euorpean Leagues, but which I have left out of my detailed analysis due to the fact I think it is significantly weaker than the 'top 4' leagues).

This table puts an end to the debate about Serie A being a boring and defensive league. It sees more goals than the modern era of the most famous and prestiguous tournament in the world – the World Cup. It also has a significantly higher goal rate than the European Championships. Its goal rate is comparable to Europe's premier club competition and pinnacle of club football, the Champions League. We can see that the real boring league of Europe is France's Ligue 1 which has a far lower goal rate of just 2.29.


Taking the word 'boring' to mean a paucity of goals, statistics show that the quotes at the start of this article are accurate in their appraisals – the stereotypes about Serie A being boring and defensive are as false as those that label the Premier League as a predominantly long-ball league.

The introduction of 3 points for a win in 199 4 marked the end for a defensive style which was already showing signs of being abandoned in the late 80s and early 90s. Since then Serie A has been much the same as La Liga and the Premier League, with most seasons falling into the standard range of between 2.5 and 2.7 goals per game.

Those who wish to hang on to their dismissive claims towards Italian football will be reassured by the fact that Serie A had a lower goals tally last year compared to the other top leagues, and also the lowest of the four leagues over a ten-year period. However, this is, as has been shown, a limited view of the statistics.

It would appear that many are confusing today's Serie A with the Serie A of the 70s and 80s. This is very strange considering Italian football was nowhere near as accessible to a foreign audience during this period compared to now. Also many who today spout claims about the league being boring would have been very young or not alive at all in these decades. In short, when Serie A was boring, not many non-Italians were watching it.

This serves as a possible indicator about where false footballing stereotypes predominantly originate – namely, word of mouth and repetition. We have already discussed the possible varying sources of stereotypes, but the example of Serie A seems to suggest the number one reason is uncomplicated – the stereotypes are just assumed truths, presented as a sort of footballing 'common knowledge', shared and repeated so many times that they are unchallenged and taken for fact. Despite the highly popular Gazetta Football Italia in the 90s and greater access to live matches and highlights through satellite TV and the internet in the last decade (not to mention the fact that recent decades should logically be fresher in the memory) it is somehow the Italian football style of previous decades which has remained at the forefront of the imagination of many when they think about Serie A.

In other words, it appears these claims are not based on any kind of football-watching at all. However it is worth discussing the other suggested reasons for the perpetuation of footballing stereotypes in relation to Serie A.

The comments of commentators and 'experts' can be seen as an extension of the previous point – few if any of these pundits watch or even casually follow Serie A, but they need to say something and thus revert to the easy stereotypes about 'tight' defences. These comments certainly perpetuate these false beliefs, as they are coming from supposed experts so can be repeated by fans with a sense of authority attached to them.

Another explanation could be the categorisation of an entire league based on the biggest and most successful clubs within it. We saw this with La Liga falsely gaining a reputation as a 'tiki-taka' league based predominantly on the example of Barcelona, and something similar might have wrongly influenced some opinions with regards to Serie A. The Champions League is the arena in which most fans watch teams from other countries, so many might have formed opinions (or more likely reaffirmed what they already believed) after the all-Italian final of 2003 which finished goalless after extra-time, taking this as evidence of typically defensive and boring Italian football. Some might also call to mind Fabio Capello's great AC Milan team of 1994 which won both the European Cup and Serie A. Founding their success on an incredibly strong defence, Milan somehow won the league with a paltry 36 goals in 34 matches, and their matches in the league that season averaged out at an unprecedentedly low 1.5 goals per game. The logic for many then might have been along the same lines of what is happening with Barcelona now – as the best and most famous team in their respective countries, they are the best representative of the assumed style in that country. Therefore, those following Serie A in 1994 might have logically (in their minds at least) made the invalid argument that, because Milan are boring, Serie A is too. This would ignore the fact that an average of 2.47 goals-per-game were scored by the other clubs of Serie A that season, not at all a low tally considering 3 points for a win had not yet been introduced.

A final possible reason for the false beliefs about Serie A was mentioned in the last article – a propensity to confuse the style of the national team with that of its national league. This is possibly at play with England and Spain with regards to passing style, but it is perhaps with Italy that this confusion prevails most strongly. The most successful Italian team of recent times was the 2006 World Cup winning squad, which had an incredibly strong defence. They conceded just 2 goals in 7 games on their way to victory and their games averaged just 2 goals per game. The national team has been seemingly quite defensive in the major tournaments in the modern era (since 1990), with their matches averaging out at 2.03 goals-per-game in their 59 matches (although it should be noted that the dynamics of knock-out matches where avoiding defeat is paramount are very different to league matches where the incentive of 3 points for the win encourages a more risky approach). Add to the fact that, as Fabio Cannavaro states, Italy 'have always been good at defending and shouldn't be ashamed of that' (link), and have historically produced great defenders (Baresi, Maldini, Cannavaro, Nesta to name just a few), it is perhaps understandable that people associate Italy (and by association Serie A) with defending.

Looking solely at goals-per-game as the one variable to decide such a broad, subjective and difficult concept of what exactly 'boring' means in football may seem limited. The word is often also used in relation to other factors, such as competivity (or a lack of it) and we will look at this in the next article. However, as has been discussed, goals are the essence of what we mean when we use this term. In this sense Serie A is not boring. At the time of writing Serie A seems to be following the previously mentioned 'goal explosion' trend that has recently appeared across top European leagues, notching up a high tally of 2.73 goals-per-game so far this season.

One could ignore all the goals now flying in in Serie A, stick to their guns and say that they think it's boring and that's their opinion, and it would be difficult to argue with that – however no one who makes such a claim would have watched even a small percentage of the thousands of matches played across Europe in recent years, while statistics capture the data in its entirety. I know who I trust more.

Follow me on Twitter @ErwinMorzadec